Today’s prompt is to write a serious poem.

When everything is a joke,
then nothing is really funny.
When everything is grave and dour,
then nothing is truly momentous.

I need a little honey in my tea
from time to time,
and a little ginger, too,
to give it that extra edge.

Like sweetness and spice,
like bright light and gentle darkness,
we need variety in mood and tone,
and sometimes both together.
Laughter can sometimes be
the most easiest door to open
into a serious transformation.

Gratitude List:
1. Tea
2. A lovely afternoon with my parents
3. Divergence: divergence gives birth to transformation
4. There are only a few short weeks from Thanksgiving Break to Christmas Break
5. Wind chimes
May we walk in Beauty!

“What if our religion was each other? If our practice was our life? What if the temple was the Earth? If forests were our church? If holy water – the rivers, lakes, and oceans? What if meditation was our relationships? If the Teacher was life? If wisdom was knowledge? If love was the center of our being.” ―Ganga White

“Gratitude creates a sense of abundance, the knowing that you have what you need. In that climate of sufficiency, our hunger for more abates and we take only what we need, in respect for the generosity of the giver.” —Robin Wall Kimmerer

“The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying ‘This is mine’, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society.

From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.” —Rousseau

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.” —Thomas Merton

“For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” —Mary Oliver

“It is wonderful when you don’t have the fear, and a lot of the time I don’t. . . . I focus on what needs to be done instead.” —Wangari Maathai

Twelvenight: Harvesting Images

As I process the dreams I have been having, I have been making and gathering symbols of my psychic flotsam of the past week or so. A couple summers ago, we went to the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. I took a picture of a door handle that was a wing, and did some digital altering. This morning I happened upon it, and noticed that it resembles the black wings of the vultures in my dreams a couple nights ago:

And yesterday as I was bringing in the trash cans, I noticed a little pile of corn husks I had brought back from a walk weeks ago and left in a planter. I had intended to make a corn dolly. Yesterday, I picked them up and started to work, but suddenly what I saw in my head was a jester, a fool, rather than a pioneer woman. So this happened:

Neither corn dolly nor straw man, she is a corn jester, a jokester, a trickster.
Now I need to find some really good rainbow images. Oh! We did see faint sundogs yesterday afternoon! Rainbow spots.

Last night’s dream feels more like an anxiety dream than anything, but I don’t want to discount the images. I am sitting on a table in the middle of a church basement, leading a service or meeting of people gathered in a circle around me. I have to keep turning to face people in various parts of the circle. I am talking to a woman I keep calling Bibi (which means grandmother in Swahili), honoring her for the work she’s done, noting that she deserves the break that she is taking. A young man with a scruffy beard begins to pray, and I am sort of relieved because I wasn’t sure I could make the meeting go as long as it’s supposed to. But this man starts to ramble, making l-o-n-g pauses and using lots of Father-god and Lordy phrases, and I know that we’re all getting sort of uncomfortable with this almost militant gendering of the Holy One. Finally, the pastor, who is sitting next to the man, nudges him, and he sort of comes out of his prayer trance and sits up, and it’s over.

More hints at something to do with bringing patriarchal assumptions to light. I don’t know how that might be something new for the coming year. I am really tired of battling the patriarchy, tired of sidestepping them and ignoring them and waiting for them to finish. I want to jump back to wings and fools and rainbows. Hmm. Maybe instead of battling the patriarchy, I need to be the Fool to the crumbling system in the coming year.

Oh, and there’s the Bibi, the grandmother. Maybe it’s time to let the grandmothers rest and begin taking on the work they leave behind.

What are the images and messages you are receiving? What animals are crossing your path? What is catching your eye in these days of Time Out Of Time?

Gratitude List:
1. Eating and laughing with good friends.
2. Sundogs
3. Wings
4. Making things
5. Watching and Listening

May we walk in Beauty!

Sacred Circles

Gratitude List:
1. Sacred Circles: Family, friends, communities
2. Laughter and tears in the sacred circle
3. Sharing Stories
4. Birds: geese, hawks, flocks of little birds, lone crows flying above wintry fields
5. A very faint sun dog in the clouds on the way home today

May we walk in Beauty!

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
“How you get there is where you’ll arrive.” –Cynthia Bourgeault
“When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.” –Louis C. K.
“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
“Acknowledge your mission. Trust your path. Become your chosen destiny.” –Jamie Sams
“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!

Laughter and Sufficiency

Some of us in this family don’t handle the cold so well.

Gratitude List:
1. Getting organized. I am finally transferring my calendars completely to computer/phone. No more half and half, forgetting to copy something out.
2. Chili, bread, and cheese. And GREENS!
3. Red-bellied woodpecker at the feeder
4. Sufficiency
5. Laughter

May we walk in Beauty!

Re-Gathered Community

“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories . . . water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” –Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Last night, I went to my thirtieth high school reunion.  I think there were about 23 or 24 of us classmates there, along with many spouses.

We talk about the beauty of youth, and I know the fact of that because I spend my days with teenagers.  I heard somewhere once that someone had somewhat scientifically determined that we reach the pinnacle of our physical beauty around age 30, and I can understand that, too.  But for well-polished and gracefully-tempered beauty, sit in a room of people just about to enter their second half-century.  I am trying to define the essence of it this morning: there’s grace in the faces, self-acceptance, a movement beyond the scrabbling and striving of earlier years.  The intervening years since we graduated have brought terrible pain to some of us, great joys, power and powerlessness, anxiety and fulfillment, and the stories and conversation last night were carried on a stream of grace that echoed in people’s voices and showed in their eyes.  People seemed to have moved into themselves.  They are beautiful in ways that make our high school selves look raw and unpolished, our young adult selves look over-polished and grasping.  These people were shining and grace-filled, and in a way that admitted of the harsh realities that we have experienced on our way here.

Gathered in that room, I know, were people of all political stripes.  Many of us sit firmly on one side or the other in the debates that are threatening to shatter our church.  But last night, we were one thing, one group, together sharing our stories.  Some stories got deeper, but many of us told the basic details.  Still, the regular tales of children and grandchildren born and growing up, of jobs and farms and hobbies–all took on deep significance.  There was an acceptance and a sense of belonging in that room, where many of us have become near-strangers over the past 30 years.

A moment of laughter appeared in the room.  Giggles and chuckles.  Then, as understanding dawned, a second wave, and a third.  And the laughter itself became a conversation.  Meaning was there, and levels and layers of meaning that went beyond the initial words that sparked the laughter.  Something holy happened in the laughter.  Did it last for five minutes or for twenty?

I feel shy and awkward with small-talk conversations with people I don’t know well.  Often I can push my way through and into small chat, but I never quite know how to navigate a room.  How long do we talk?  What about the awkward pauses?  Is it my turn to start the next piece of conversation?  It’s always easier for me when the conversation gets going on its own track, and I lose awareness of the way into the conversation, when mutual curiosity draws us together and lends energy to the forward movement of our talking.  In mingle-settings where there are lots of people, I also get a sense of wanting to connect with everyone, so I struggle to get into deeper conversation because there are too many people to connect with.  I get overwhelmed.  So the thing that I look forward to in reunions and gatherings is the group sharing.  Even though it isn’t intimate, and we each package our story into the short five-minute moment we are allotted, we all focus, for those moments, on the one person speaking.  We hear story together, and for a moment, we are a re-gathered community.

Gratitude List:
1. Middle age
2. Reunions and conversation
3. The language of laughter
4. The gravity-loosening power of music
5. October

May we walk in Beauty!

Created to Create

Gratitude List:
1. Talent show.  Belly laughs and tears in one evening.  “It is Well.”
2. Those boys laughing into the face of the Wolf.  I don’t mean any wolf–that laughter would be rude.  This is the Wolf, and that laughter is about survival, and friendship.  I don’t know how else to say this, but I was grateful to witness it.
3. How all these children are becoming who they are, growing into themselves.
4. Conversations about writing and inner landscapes.
5. Collage–all afternoon: images and scissors and cutting and pasting, children and adults, humming and singing, laughing and talking, making.

May we walk in Beauty!

Finding Time, Staying Challenged

Not so much time for poems these days.  Hardly time to catch my breath for the gratitude lists.  All is well.  All is growing and changing.  Moving.  I am tired, so weary.  I am energized, so excited.  I feel competent and capable, but I am also humbled by the fact that I have so very much to learn.

Gratitude List:
1.  More feathers.  Two days ago, as I was walking out of school, I was thinking to myself that I hadn’t found a feather yet that day, and I thought perhaps the daily feather find was at an end.  I had it in my head, the actual words “There will be no more feathers.”  But there, on the sidewalk in front of me was yet another feather.  I have been telling my students that they get to make the meaning of their stories, and I told some of them about the feathers.  I can be the scientific naturalist and say that I find a feather every single day because there are owls in the trees at night eating little birds and crows fighting as they fly above my house and school.  I can say that the Universe is offering me little gifts to remind me that I have wings, that I can fly.  I can say that I just have keen eyes for feathers.  Whatever it is, I am really glad that they keep finding me.
2.  This is a weird one for a gratitude because it’s a difficult story.  But I learned this story this week about how a group of Prussian Mennonites, during WWII, actually sent a letter of support to Hitler.  It was chilling to hear how they unquestioningly thanked the fuhrer for his dedication to the “Fatherland” and to Christian principles.  So sobering.  And a good reminder to myownself to pay more attention to my commitment to my spiritual work than to the work of politics, to keep the political in the perspective of the spiritual.  I am grateful for reminders to be true to the deeper realities.
3.  The laughter of my new friends, my new colleagues.  Belly laughter builds community.  And after the in-breath of focused work together, we need the out-breath of laughter together.
4.  How sleep brings answers.  I went to bed last night anxious about the chapel service I have to prepare for school on Tuesday, not sure what I would say or how I would present my own story.  I woke up this morning knowing exactly (sort of) what I am going to say.
5.  Small kindnesses.  At the end of the day Thursday, I put two bags of trash at my classroom door so I would trip on them and remember to take them out to the big bins.  A student I have never met stopped and peeked in the room and asked it he should throw them away for me.  Little thing, but it made my day.  Probably my week, too.  Or semester.  

May we walk in Beauty!

All in the Bowl

Into that bowl of my heart,
along with my rages and furies,
with recent betrayals,
with my crushing self-doubt,
with your anxieties and your tears

(yes, let me keep them there, too
you know as well as I do
and as well as the Universe knows
that when my crying time comes
as it unfortunately and inevitably
comes to us all
you’ll be running to catch my tears
in a bowl of your own, and not because
I hold yours now–no, it will be because
it’s who you are
it’s what you do
it’s what we do)

into just that bowl,
along with all that,
I place

a small white stone
bee, bee, bee, crocus, bee
concentric circles of friendship
the feel of the sun on my hair
deep rumbling rolls of laughter like thunder.

May we walk in Beauty.

Shedding the Skin

2013 September 059
Safe in the hollow of the tree.
You will be sustained and held.


Gratitude List:
1.  Good humor, light-heartedness, the way laughter heals and draws people together.
2.  Sustenance
3.  The lessons of snake: shedding the skin, renewal
4.  Finding the thread of the story
5.  Study

May we walk in Beauty.