Advent 20: The Last Day to Walk In

If this journey into the December darkness is a labyrinth, today we have come to the second to last turning, the final passage before we turn inward to the center circle. Today is the approach, the last moment in the labyrinth walk, when I am usually asking myself, “Have I missed anything that I need to lay down, to let go of, to relinquish?”

Inanna gave up–willingly–all her symbols of personal power in her underground search for her sister, until at last she came to the deep central chamber naked and unadorned. No pretense, no mask, no tool, could hide or protect her when she entered the chamber to greet her sister, who was all moving shadow, all hidden secret.

What are the last unexamined scraps of our deep selves that we have left unexamined? What personal power have we yet failed to turn over to the guards at the gates?

Yesterday while I was folding clothes, I listened to LeVar Burton read the short story “Navigators,” by Mike Meginnis, about a boy and his father who play a video game whose heroine, instead of gathering powers as the game progresses, slowly gives up her powers. Each item they find in their hero’s journey disables something of the video character’s power. As she lost strength and speed, they began to notice other hidden aspects of the game, places they could hide, and ways their hero could escape rather than fight. It struck me how much this is like the Inanna tale.

So much there is that I want to fight for. I don’t want to enter this next doorway defenseless. If I am going to keep participating in this battle for justice for the children, for those who seek asylum and justice, for the planet herself, don’t I need to keep my fighting powers intact? Don’t I need to gain strength and power instead of letting it all fall away?

And there, I think, I am beginning to come toward the kernel that I might be trying to learn in this year’s labyrinth. In November, I experienced a significant hit to my ego, a sideways blow that made me question myself and my sense of belonging. Trying to respond with vulnerability and yet maintain my sense of safety took a great deal of inner energy. I raged a little bit that fate would keep bringing me this particular lesson–Didn’t I do the chapter on ego back in 2003? Haven’t I been through all the review sessions? Haven’t I already passed all the levels of this test?

There’s always one more test. You’re never really done. I stand here and hold my fragile ego in my hands, my own words from past lessons and tests ringing in my ears: Begin the lesson again. Lay it down. Break it open. One. Final. Thing.


Gratitude List:
1. Punctuation. I put a couple little punctuation jokes on the the board yesterday. Most of my classes smiled politely, but one class suddenly broke into an intense discussion of how we use punctuation in texting and social media these days, how it’s changing, how punctuation has suddenly become necessary to help create the emotional context for digital communication. It took twenty minutes of the class period, but it was such delightful intellectual analysis that I was happy to set aside the plan.
2. Those bright and shiny student brains and hearts. In three classes, we concluded Julius Caesar yesterday. At the end, I asked them to consider their own ideals for their countries. What is the purpose of a government? What should be the relationship of government to people? In two of the classes, more than five countries were represented, and in all of them were students from both sides of the US political spectrum, but in all three classes, the ideals brought forth were the same.
3. Examining the last shreds of ego to relinquish to December darkness. Today is the last leg of the inward journey. Tomorrow is the dark and quiet inner chamber. And then we begin walking toward the light.
4. Breaks from the routine.
5. Pops of color in the grey.

May we walk in Beauty!

Advent 16: Companionship

Last summer’s wren nest from the behind the light switch in the shop. Even claustrophobic people love the cozy symbolism of a nest.

Today, as we Breathe-Step-Stop-Listen, Breathe-Step-Stop-Listen, Breathe-Step-Stop-Listen, a song and a poem to sustain us on this walk through Day Sixteen toward Advent. Thank you for walking with me. Only five more days until Sunreturn, Beloveds. We are going to make it.

When I compare this year’s more deliberate and careful wander into the dark of December with last year’s panicked careen, I am filled with gratitude. I know I tried last year, but I had decided that I was going to try a keto-based way of eating last fall, and my deliberations were focused on that, and less inward. It was only when I reached the growing light of late January that I realized how deeply I had sunk into winter’s numbness. Last year, I probably should have checked in with a therapist to keep me coping. This year, I am watching and ready to make that call, in case I feel myself sinking into the pool of sadness. If the season weighs too heavily, or the cold seeps into your spirit, I encourage you to be ready, too, to check in with a professional.

Funny, isn’t it? Usually, we look for the light at the end of a tunnel, meaning we’ll be out and into the fresh air, but while this journey into the well of December may bring us to a lighted chamber, we have to turn and walk out again the same distance before we get back out of the tunnel. Still, that moment of coming to center and pausing, then the turning, and setting our faces toward the return journey into the light–oh, how I long for that moment. That will be so joyful. Five more days.


Here is a video of Brian Claflin and Ellie Grace singing “I’m Gonna Walk It With You.” Whether our journey is the descent into winter’s darkness, or the determined march toward justice, I am glad of your companionship. You can support Claflin and Grace by buying their music at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8boCrXOp9M.


I wrote this poem a few years ago, but it feels like it fits this moment, my deep gratitude for your companionship on this journey.

Stepping Toward the Solstice

We stand in the shadows.
Hold my hand.
The darkness suffocates.
Look this way,
to where the sun shines briefly
through a curtain of ice.
This. This one moment
will sustain us for the next steps.


Gratitude List:
1. I made an enormous dent in my Impossible Mountain last night. Part of my relief today is the amount of work I accomplished, but a greater part of the relief is the feeling of that dam being unclogged. Still so much to do, but I have returned to the truth that Will builds Will. An act of will creates the possibility for more acts of will. As long as I keep that energy, I should make it.
2. Great gratitude to Nancy, for listening and sharing the story. I think I needed an accountability partner, and I used our conversation yesterday as the slingshot to get me around the hardest bits of the Impossible Task.
3. A new warm thing. I stopped at Goodwill and bought myself a new warm fleece jacket-thing. It’s for wearing around the house at home, and it’s cozy, and it’s a wild cat print, so it makes me feel a little fierce. Is that a middle-aged woman thing, to want to wear wildcat print? Or maybe it’s just a Leo thing. I know that some consider it a tacky thing, too, but I’m not fussed about that. It’s warm and it’s fierce, and so Merry Christmas to me.
4. The sacred moments within the mundane.
5. The anticipation of a snow day, even when it doesn’t seem like it’s going to pan out.

May we walk in Beauty!

Spiraling Inward

It isn’t a labyrinth, exactly, although it serves the same prayerful purpose. If you look closely and use your imagination, you can see that I shuffled a spiral in to the base of the maple tree.

November was going to be for morning serious writing sessions for me. I was going to get right down to writing, first thing, before the household wakes up. Somehow it hasn’t quite unfolded with the grace I had hoped for. My mornings have been more frantic and last minute as I try to rearrange my brain from that deep space to the focus of the day. Easier to continue to focus my morning writing on the quick little projects that I usually work on. I don’t feel like this is a failure so much as a recognition that the work that I normally do in this time is all writing practice. It’s just not writing toward a particular end goal. I have to find a different time of day for the goal-centered writing.

And editing. This is not the first time I have been working with the goddesses who descend–with Innana/Ishtar, with Persephone–and I feel a little like I am rewriting, like what I need to to organize what I have already written before I start the new stories.

Today, I am going to set myself a little writing goal. I am going to write Skinny poems: They’re eleven lines long. Line 1 is a phrase that catches your attention. Lines 2-10 are one word each. Lines 2, 6, and 10 are the same word. Line 11 uses the exact same words as the phrase in line 1, and these can be in any order that works for you. Le Hinton introduced us to this form on Friday, and it’s captured my attention, especially since I have gone googling Le’s Skinnys.


Gratitude List:
1. Inner work that helps me to bear the walk into the darkness.
2. I received a sweet gratitude from a student yesterday, something that reminded me of who I am and what my purpose is.
3. Yellow labyrinth-spiral of leaves beneath the maple tree.
4. Reaching small goals.
5. Rice and refried beans wrapped in a tortilla with all the fixings. It’s simple comfort.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude Questions

  

Gratitudes, in Question Form:
1. What brought you sudden joy? Walking the labyrinth I mowed into the parking lot, and hearing the screech owls begin their whinnying conversation as I was on the outward laps. What do I take with me into this season? Screech owls calling in the bamboo.
2. What was a relief? Coming home to the air conditioned room.
3. What made you smile? Hearing a boy, as he set up a puzzle in the living room: “We can call ourselves puzzle people, can’t we? We’re puzzle people.”
4. What made you think? Reflecting on the themes and ideas in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” And Michael Booth’s words in chapel about owning our stories instead of letting them own us.
5. What challenge did you face? Heat. Being exhausted from heat. Talking over the sound of the fans and air conditioning unit. I made it through, faced the challenge. I can’t do this for too many more days, but I think I can do another day.

May we walk in Beauty!

Words that Lead Me Through the Labyrinth

Gratitude List:
(Reprise from 2016)
1. Words that lead me through the labyrinth
2. Words that open doors and build bridges
3. Words that nudge and tickle and surprise
4. Words that scour and scrub and wake me up
5. Words that wonder and question and probe
6. Words that frame and structure and organize
7. Words that soothe and hold and bless
8. Words that weave people together

May our words be the right ones for each moment.

How You Get There


I am signing off for a few days. I am going to the woods with some of my beloved community, to sing and laugh and play together, to walk the labyrinth in the woods, to listen for birdsong and look for tiny fungi in the leaf litter, to breathe and to wander. I will see you here in a few days.


“I remember nothing more about that night, except knowing that the enchantment of that moment would be with me forever, how what was burning so intensely in my heart could manifest itself in all of nature and how a song could thread itself through a needle, and stitch it all together, for one other-worldly, soul-aching, heart-breakingly hopeful glimpse of Nirvana.” –Excerpt of blog by Gloria Talcove-Woodward
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“How you get there is where you’ll arrive.” –Cynthia Bourgeault
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“When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.” –Louis C. K.
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“Never apologise for your sensitivity. It is the thinness of your skin which makes you brave. You are willing to live. You are willing to be alive.” –Dreamwork with Toko-pa
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“Acknowledge your mission. Trust your path. Become your chosen destiny.” –Jamie Sams
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“You are what you eat eats.” –Michael Pollan


Gratitude List:
1. Fridays: Week’s end, Faculty Hymn sing, the anticipation of rest and time in the woods with beloveds
2. Yesterday’s clouds, which were dragons and caves of flame and featherbeds
3. Teenagers and their enormous hearts
4. Monarch and dragonfly
5. Sharing laughter. What warmth of human connection when someone says, “Hey! Wanna hear a joke?” The social connection of good, healthy humor, how it bonds people together
6. (I am breaking the rules today and adding another) Playing with sentences. In a couple different classes right now, we are playing with sentence structure, copying the forms of professionally-written sentences, writing poems based on set formulae of absolute phrases and participial phrases. For some, it’s a bit tedious, but it has been delightful to watch the twinkle in the eyes of others when they begin to get it, to feel what it’s like to write a really elegant sentence.
7. (while I am at it. . .) Yesterday’s chapel talk by Brenda Martin Hurst. She reminded me of how much work has been done by so many to create a world and a church in which girls and women are valued as much as men and boys, and how much work there still is to do. I am grateful for my mother and others who worked with such love and courage and sheer will to begin to pave a way for women’s voices to be more fully heard in the Mennonite Church. This, more than anything, gives me great hope that some day we, too, can break through the wrongs against which we raise our voices.

May we walk in Beauty!

I Need a Dragon

dragon
This is known as the Ljubljana dragon. One legend says it was killed by Jason and Medea, while they were still on friendly terms. Other legends say it was the ancient Slavic god Veles.

I don’t intend this as a poem. My thoughts tonight are fragmented as I consider the shifts that are occurring in the world in the next twenty-four hours.

Tonight I need a dragon.
I need a fuzzy pink hat with cat ears.
I need a photo of Michelle Obama saying, “. . .we go high.”
I need a soulful labyrinth.
I need to hold selenite and labradorite in my palms.
Tonight I need to pray and breathe and center.
I need a friendly ghost to tap me on the shoulder and wink.
I need a warm cat on my lap, purring.
I need a cup of tea with milk and honey.
I need a wild wind to blow.
I need a spot beside the heating vent.

Let’s keep reaching out, holding onto love, holding on to what is right and good and full of beauty. May we remain grounded in our desire to protect and heal that which we love. May we keep wide awake and aware, bearing witness, staying vigilant and conscious, grounded in our centers, offering our strength and power to those who need it. May justice roll down like waters.

I know of some people who are choosing to walk labyrinths tomorrow morning. I will be dancing through labyrinths of language in my classroom. During our chapel tomorrow morning, we will be celebrating the life and words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gratitude List:
1. The way breath and heartbeat simply happen.
2. The way breath births language.
3. The way language gives shape to meaning.
4. The way language carries the rhythm of heartbeat and breath.
5. Dragons

May we walk in Beauty!

Blessing for Election Day and Beyond

JClabyrinth
I find myself doodling and drawing labyrinths again–it always seems to happen when I am thrown off-balance. Here is one of my favorite labyrinths, up at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville.

Today’s Poetry Prompt is to write an Activity Poem.

Blessing for Election Day and Beyond
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

May we be spinners of webs,
catching each other,
wrapping each other
in silken threads
to keep us all from falling.

May we be builders of bridges,
creating firm pathways
so all may walk safely
over the chasm
or meet in the middle.

May we be wanderers,
willing to walk in the wild places,
seeking each other
when distance has
broken our circles.

May we be dreamers
and planners, wishers
and makers, devising a future
where everyone
may find a home in love.

Gratitude List:
1. A pileated woodpecker sailing through the treetops and sunshine on the way down Ducktown this morning. It has been a long time since I have seen one.
2. Getting the grades in. What’s the old saying? “The wonderful thing about hanging by your fingernails is it feels so good when you’re done.” Yeah, that.
3. The promise of a warm and comfortable bed very soon. I admit it, small as that hour is, the time change is challenging for me. I always feel like I need extra sleep to handle it. I am off to bed VERY soon.
4. Jon Carlson’s thoughtful reminder in chapel this morning: The really important thing is Love. I will carry that with me like a shiny pebble into the day tomorrow, and the days that follow.
5. You, my friends. You keep bringing me back to center when I start to fray around the edges. What bright and brilliant community.

Hold on tightly. Breathe deeply. Smile at each other often. Get some sleep.

Finding the Questions

imag1876
I spent last week quietly anticipating another walk of the Camp Hebron Labyrinth. On my Saturday morning walk own to the woods, I kept thinking how different the paths and the distances seemed in just a week. The thought appeared in my head: “It’s a different journey now.” Even though I am walking a similar path and toward a different destination, the journey keeps shifting and changing. Just moments after I had begun to ponder what I meant by thinking that, I arrived at the labyrinth to find that a tree had fallen across it.

I recently found this piece of paper on which I wrote, in the summer of 2015, a series of examen-type questions. I think I probably have already written these in the blog, but I am going to put them here again so that I can ponder them this week. I wouldn’t use more than five of them a day, probably, and for similar ones, like the first four, I would spread them out over days, to see how the different ways of asking almost the same question evokes different internal responses.

How did Mystery encounter you today?
How did you encounter Mystery today?
How were found by Mystery?
How did God/dess seek you?

What awakened you?
What vision brought your spirit awake?
What nudged you? (Or nudged you forward?)
Where does your heart sit?
What gave you wings?
What do you take on your journey?
What do you tuck into the corners?

What quickened within you?
What brought your senses (or your heart, your spirit, your brain) alive?
What do you take deeper?
What do you take into prayer?

What is the weight that you carry?

And not that I am thinking about it again, I’ll add some more from today’s heart:
What itches? What makes you uncomfortable?
What feels unsettled?
What skin are you shedding?
What muscles are you stretching?

Gratitude List:
1. Bridges, and bridge-building language and actions
2. Gathered Community
3. Getting the work organized, making a plan
4. Treasuring each other
5. Waking up–I am struggling with the actual physical process this morning. How much more intense it can be to wake up in other ways. May we always be open to the pull to wake further, to bring our dreams into the wakeful spaces.

May we walk in Beauty!

Wide and Close

JClabyrinth

Panorama photos provide interesting, and often slightly disturbing, perspectives.  This one captures the way the labyrinth at the Jesuit Center is in a little protected space, but also how it has a view of both the monastery and the grounds.  But the benches on either side of this photo are placed next to each other, on either side of the entrance to the labyrinth.

Gratitude List:
1. Learning a new thing.  I have been making empanadas, expanding my dough repertoire.
2. This kiddo is cutting and pasting magazine pictures, making his own little book of pictures he likes.
3. Reading with children.  This is connected to visceral memory from my childhood.  I sometimes say that I became an elementary school teacher years ago just so I could read to kids like my mother read to us.  Then I had kids so I could read to kids (there may have been some other reasons).  I cannot read CS Lewis or JRR Tolkien without hearing my mother’s voice.  My children will not be able to read Redwall without hearing my “interesting” attempts at various accents.  I sit on the couch, and no matter how hot it is, they snuggle under my wings.
4. Summer’s pacing.
5. Goldfinch Farm Crew!

May we walk in Beauty!