What the Holy One Can Do with Dust (Jan Richardson)

How day dawns in Skunk Holler

That title is a quote from Jan Richardson’s Poem “Blessing the Dust.” You probably want to read it today.

Today I am home from school with a sick child. It’s a nice chance for some slow, quiet time in between checking his temperature and beating him mercilessly at a game of Monopoly.

It’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of that 40-day journey before Easter, a moon-bound season between the season of Brigid and the season of Ostara. As spokes on the eight-pointed solar wheel, Brigid and Ostara occur on the same days every solar year: Groundhog’s Day and Spring Equinox, ancient celebrations of the quickening of life in the earth, and the time of hatching and birth that is spring. But Lent is fluid, floating along the surface of the solar year, woven into the cycles of the moon and its dance with that Equinox sun. On Brigid’s February morning, we look to our shadows and consider whether the light we have within us will serve us until the spring. We take stock of our inner reserves and resources. In Lent, we take that question further, considering the question of enough.

During Lent, we look inward and wonder at the holes and spaces within. We see our lack, and instead of shrinking away in fear and despair, we say, “Yes,” and “Yes” again. Here is who I am. I know that I can be one who betrays the Holy One, one with the potential to deny my beloved. I know how I can cringe in fear, hide in shadow, whimper and whine in dread and shame. And I know, too, that I can walk toward those shadows within myself, because only in walking through those shadows will I encounter the shining lights that sparkle on the other side–also within me.

Last night, I gathered with a group of colleagues and students from my school to participate in the first of five Racial Justice Trainings (workshops? seminars? mentoring sessions?) that will happen throughout the spring. During the evening, our facilitator, Dr. Amanda Kemp, challenged us to keep a journal during these weeks of trainings, to ground and center ourselves so that we can hold space for transformation, to walk toward our fear, to challenge our assumptions and implicit biases. It feels to me like just the discipline to take up on this moon-clad journey toward Easter, to consider this time of training as my Lenten Work.

So often we get Lent wrong. We think we have to do penance for our evil ways, to enshroud ourselves in shame, to bewail our miserable selves. But when we simply throw it all off as just an exercise in self-flagellation, I think we get it wrong, too. This is a time to look realistically at who we are inside, what our strengths and our failings are. Lent is a time of discipline–not beatings and beratings, but careful training and thoughtful self-education. Amanda inspires me to take hold of this coming season as a time to consider my accountability, to look at the ways in which I participate in the unjust systems of today, just as the religious elite at the turn of the millennium participated in the destructive systems of their day. In this season, I commit myself to assess my inner world, to take stock of my role in the breaches and breaks, to walk toward my fears, to become a mender and repairer of the web.

Gratitude List:
1. Rest
2. Re-assessment
3. Seasons
4. Sunshine
5. Story

May we walk in Beauty!

Some Come In, More Go Out

My husband has gotten a job selling used books for a historical society. This is a wonderful and a dangerous thing. It feeds my addiction. I went to the society’s Winter Book Sale today and bought these:

The Amazon Queen book is apparently based on an actual ancient Egyptian papyrus. I’m eager to read it through. I already have a copy of Life Prayers, but this one will be for my classroom. The L’Engle is a daily reader, and the Billy Collins has a bargain books sticker for $1 on the cover. I bought it at book sale paperback prices for $1.50. It’s hard to read the title here: The Trouble with Poetry.

So now I had a conundrum: I am getting rid of something every day in Lent. Can I really be buying NEW stuff? So I went through my shelves and pulled these off to give away. I made sure I’m giving away more than I bought. Four in, Eight out:


Last night, I made this (perhaps) rather rash statement about my intentions for the Season of Brigid, this Lent: “That’s it then: Every day during Lent, I will jettison one physical item that keeps me from living a full interior life. Clutter tends to imprison my spirit, and this Lent will be about freeing myself from some of the bondage of my stuff. One thing a day for the season that takes us to Easter and Ostara, filling the whole season of Brigid with clearing and Cleansing.”

During the Season of Brigid, the six weeks from Imbolc (February 2) to Ostara (Spring Equinox), I like to focus on cleansing and cleaning and clearing. Brigid asks for focus and commitment; lightening the burden of the physical clutter helps me to keep my focus on my inner work.

Similarly, the work of Lent (which falls in the same season) is to give up our attachment to the things and addictions that keep us from focusing on the inner work, on the path of Love.

I like the word “jettison” that I used there. I think it might become my theme-word for the season. It feels a little drastic, like perhaps the ship is sinking. Although I don’t feel that sort of desperation, I like the sense that it lightens the burden, lets the boat float higher in the water.

Today’s objects to let go are my four brass candlesticks. I have kept them on top of Grandma Weaver’s glass-fronted cabinet, where they have slowly been tarnishing and gathering dust in the years we have lived in this house. Since we have had children, we rarely burn candles, for fear of tipping and burning. They belong to an earlier stage of my life, one that I let go with joy as I continue to live into the next stages of being a mother. First Baby now has a startling peach-fuzz mustache. I suppose I’ve become a little dusty and tarnished, too, in the years of that transformation.

As I carried the candlesticks out to the giveaway box, they rang against each other, and made such sweet music, I almost returned them to their shelf for the joy it gave me. But no, someone else will polish them and love them and treasure them, music and shine and shimmer and all.

Coyote in the Bosque

This morning we saw a coyote in the bosque.

Gratitude List:
1. Geese
Skeins of snow geese embroider
cloud to Mary’s blue robe.
Veins of geese like rivers
flow across the sky,
deltas of birds, calling,
filling the air with invitation.
2. Coyote
A golden shadow flashes,
golden as the forest floor,
across the creek and up the hill
through the bosque.
3. Solitude
Even the cat has stopped yelling,
and the only sound in my head
is the clock ticking
on my grandmother’s mantle.
4. Walking Barefoot Through Lent
Bare feet on the ground,
feeling the Earth,
connected, walking
in the footsteps of Moses,
Martin, and Malala.
5. Sun
You can’t get that angle in summer
the way the sun casts tree-shadows
all across Skunk hollow,
pathways to secret destinations.

May we walk in Beauty!

Thinking About Lent

2014 March 001


I am a big fan of 40-day journeys in any religion. And, while Mennonites used to eschew anything that seemed too much like a high church tradition, in my growing up years we began to explore the idea of Lent with more and more fascination.   I don’t always choose something to give up, and I don’t always go about it very intentionally, but I like to mark the season, to be aware of the changes in the world and in myself during these 6 or 7 weeks, to be a cheerleader for others who are walking this journey with deliberation and intention.

In the solar year of 360-odd days, you can divide that up into eight roughly equal pieces of pie, which are all about 45-ish days in length.  It is no surprise that we seem to choose 40 days as our time period for initiation journeys that lead to personal transformation.  I like to live by those seasonal segments. And Lent, like Ramadan, is a floaty sort of journey, never at the same place in the year. Mysterious. Moon-chosen.  While I can trust to the regular rhythms of Solstices and Equinoxes and their cross quarters, Lent and its riot of a starting party, Mardi Gras, jump out of nowhere with a bright “aha”!

I know why people repudiate Lent, and I can understand the concern with the “I’m a worm” sort of processing that sometimes gets attached to it.  I believe in the free spirit, the hopeful soul, in loving and treasuring our own selves.  But things can always be interpreted in so many ways, and I think Lent can be a powerful time of remembering our place in the cosmos and our connection to Radical Love. It’s a chance to re-set our habit life, to Choose to live with intention, rather than to be slaves to our addictions. And this can be a joyful experience.

I did not set out to write this with a specific Lenten Intention for this year, but as I have been writing, two ideas have begun to crystallize.  They are both related to the general theme of Self-Care that seems to have worked its way into my story at this time.  I try to work with these things in everyday life, but perhaps giving them the weight of Lenten Intention will help me to establish them more clearly in my living.

One has to do with my relationship to Things.  Periodically, I have gone through periods of time when I try to give away at least one thing every week.  This Lent, I will try to go through the house every day and choose at least one thing to give away.  It will serve to de-clutter the house, but also to help me re-set my attachment to stuff.

The other has to do with eating joyfully.  Last night I shared a joyful meal with friends who are leaving the country for several years. I want to make memories around tables.  I want to deepen and expand my understanding of the powerful connection between the Earth and my body.  I want to become ever more attuned to what nourishes me, body and spirit.

Whether or not you make a specific journey this Lenten season, I wish you the power of your intentions, the hope of new life springing forth, the embrace of Radical Love, and a deeper connection to your own Source.