Into the Dark, December 11

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

Panic, a low-grade sense of not-right-ness, of un-cope-ability, wants to be the word of the day. Yesterday’s sore neck turned out to be a full-blown headache/migraine thing, and I sort of ghosted my way through the day. That all sounds like a complaint, but it sets the stage for this morning’s emotional “migraine”–when you feel bad, you feel like you’ll never feel better, you know? Like somehow, this pain in the neck, this uncertainty, this sense of doom and gloom is all it’s ever going to be.

But of course it isn’t. Pain fades. New forms of certainty and rhythm arise. Gloom and doom lift. The sun shines again. The shadows offer gifts of insight and wonder. And that’s the story of Advent for me. Sometimes, you have to endure to get through the night to the daytime. There’s my word for today: endure. I know: There’s so much joy in the lights and the music and the cookies, in the parties and the planning. Still, the walk into the darkness is an endurance test for some of us some years. Ten more days of walking into the night, and then we can turn around and start walking back into the daylight.

(And I’m okay, really. Just caught in the web of the season. Hit harder by the lengthy nights than I sometimes am. Which is why I am writing these daily reflections, of course. To make it through. To leave myself a trail of bread crumbs for next year’s journey.)


Gratitude List:
1. Today is not yesterday
2. Dinner with Dorm Students last evening
3. Twinkling lights in the living room
4. Cheese
5. Featherbed

May we walk in Beauty!


“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it—always.” —Mahatma Gandhi


“Organic images are destroyed if we subject them to linear thinking. How often we judge them as “bizarre” or “weird.” They need to be allowed to grow like plants in a spiraling movement. They carry emotional and imaginative energy as well as intellectual meaning, and as they spiral they are illumined with nuances of feeling. Hence their power to bring wholeness.” —Marion Woodman


“We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.” —Mary Oliver


“Beauty is not a luxury but a strategy for survival.” —Terry Tempest Williams


“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to [all].” —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Into the Dark, December 3

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

I am part of a church that always seems to meet me exactly where I am at the moment. Yesterday Mindy reminded us that the idea of Advent is out of sync with the cultural rush to Christmas. Advent is about silence and waiting, about getting in touch with the sense of loss, the awareness of the injustice, the fear of the darkness. I found my way there automatically this year. And the spiritual discipline of Advent is to sit with those crunchy emotions, while actively living into the anticipation for the new thing that will come. Breathing in the darkness.

We sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and Jim had asked six of us to solo on the verses. My verse was number 3: “O come, Thou Day-Spring / Come and cheer / Our spirits by Thine advent here / Disperse the gloomy clouds of night / And death’s dark shadows put to flight.” That was the verse I needed in this shadowy place.

And then Michelle, for the time of Confession, simply had us Breathe, while she read a prayer. So. My word for this Monday, the beginning of another long week, is Breathe


Gratitude List:
1. Belonging to communities of beloved people who tend each other’s spirits
2. The blue heron who flies over the highway at Columbia. I am a little frightened for him, actually. On one of his recent flights, he went too low, and was nearly hit by a car. It’s been strange, though, how in the last three days, I have seen him fly over the highway three times as I drove past, and at three different times of day. He’s restless, too.
3. The way the children have passed my by. Ellis is making a fancy speaker for Christmas, cutting out holes in the sides of an old speaker he was given for free at a yard sale, and installing computery things.
4. Poetry
5. Rituals, like the burning of candles in the dark of the year.

May we walk in Light!r

Into the Dark, December 2

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, a claustrophobic pressure in my soul. The darkness begins to feel overwhelming, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously contend with the darkness, to ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, when we proclaim the light really and truly returned, I will set it down here on the blog. Knowing how the season hits me, I will give myself permission for some minimal days, a sentence or two, or soothing words from another poet or writer instead of my own. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

I am fascinated by the light reflected in the windows on these just-past-dawn winter mornings. I keep taking photos, trying to look through the reflections back into my world, but an altered version of my world. I am Alice gazing into the looking glass. I am Lucy looking into Narnia. There is a world of possibility out there, but also back in here. The images draw me outward and inward at the same time. There is magic at the very center of our lives. Alice and Lucy and their authors knew it: We are standing in the shining door or window or mirror or lamp post between worlds, you and I. The same vast worlds of possibility that reach outward also reach inward, and sometimes we approach them on the same pathways of light and shadow.

So today’s word is Reflection. Isn’t it interesting how we’ve chosen that word for contemplating our place in the world. We need the mirror or the glass, the light and shadow, the eyes to see the deeper layers.

Here is a poem on light by John O’Donohue. If you like it, you might consider buying yourself a copy of his To Bless the Space Between Us.

For Light
by John O’Donohue

Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death
In its own way turns into life.

In the glare of neon times,
Let our eyes not be worn
By surfaces that shine
With hunger made attractive.

That our thoughts may be true light,
Finding their way into words
Which have the weight of shadow
To hold the layers of truth.

That we never place our trust
In minds claimed by empty light,
Where one-sided certainties
Are driven by false desire.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.

That the searching of our minds
Be equal to the oblique
Crevices and corners where
The mystery continues to dwell,
Glimmering in fugitive light.

When we are confined inside
The dark house of suffering
That moonlight might find a window.

When we become false and lost
That the severe noon-light
Would cast our shadow clear.

When we love, that dawn-light
Would lighten our feet
Upon the waters.

As we grow old, that twilight
Would illuminate treasure
In the fields of memory.

And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found word.

Gratitude List:
1. Sweet Habanero sauce on scrambled eggs.
2. Taking the world a step at a time
3. Creative projects. I need to draw and crochet and knit and take pictures right now. Zentangles, especially, are helping me to meditate and keep my heart open right now.
4. Hot showers and how they wake you up.
5. Yoga. Balancing. Stretching.

May we walk in Beauty!

Shadow and Flame

What would you see if you could look through that window?

Gratitude List:
1. Elderberry wine. It’s a great comfort for a cold.
2. Windows, on many levels
3. Quiet and solitude
4. Color
5. DreamsThe dream as I woke up this morning went like this:
Two sisters were holding each other.
One says, “Don’t worry. Everything is going to be okay.”
The Other says, “I wish I could believe that.”
The First says, “It’s okay. I’ll believe it for both of us. You just concentrate on taking one step at a time.”
This was after a harrowing dream about trying to get somewhere that I needed to go, and trying to contact Jon to tell him I would be late, and the taxi just wouldn’t come, and my phone was blinking out, and I couldn’t remember whether I had closed the door to keep the cats from getting out.

May we walk in Beauty!


“Quiet the mind enough
so it is the heart
that gives the prayer.”
—Ingrid Goff-Maidoff


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” —Martin Luther King Jr.


“People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.” —Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


“Creative acts of social justice constitute life’s highest performance art.” —Rebecca Alban Hoffberger


“If you will, you can become all flame.” —Abba Joseph


“Become all shadow.
Become all light.”
—Beth Weaver-Kreider


“You cannot use someone else’s fire; you can only use your own. And in order to do that, you must first be willing to believe you have it.” —Audre Lorde


“The first duty of love is to listen.”
—Paul Tillich


“Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith. The opposite of faith is certainty.”
—Paul Tillich


“When you go to your place of prayer, don’t try to think too much or manufacture feelings or sensations. Don’t worry about what words you should say or what posture you should take. It’s not about you or what you do. Simply allow Love to look at you—and trust what God sees! God just keeps looking at you and loving you center to center. ” —Richard Rohr


“All through your life, the most precious experiences seemed to vanish. Transience turns everything to air. You look behind and see no sign even of a yesterday that was so intense. Yet in truth, nothing ever disappears, nothing is lost. Everything that happens to us in the world passes into us. It all becomes part of the inner temple of the soul and it can never be lost. This is the art of the soul: to harvest your deeper life from all the seasons of your experience. This is probably why the soul never surfaces fully. The intimacy and tenderness of its light would blind us. We continue in our days to wander between the shadowing and the brightening, while all the time a more subtle brightness sustains us. If we could but realize the sureness around us, we would be much more courageous in our lives. The frames of anxiety that keep us caged would dissolve. We would live the life we love and in that way, day by day, free our future from the weight of regret.” —John O’Donohue


“People with a psychological need to believe in marvels are no more prejudiced and gullible than people with a psychological need not to believe in marvels.” —Charles Fort


“O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.” —Shakespeare, The Tempest

Shifts

Gratitude List:
1. How time shifts grief to a different space. This is the week, thirteen years ago, when my first child would have been due. I lost the pregnancy early, at thirteen weeks, but I was new to the horror of loss in those days, and it hit me like a truck. Today, it sits differently in me. Still, it wants to be noticed, to be remembered.
2. The light is coming back. We still have a long way to walk until Sunreturn, but it will come again. This year is harder than some, the claustrophobia more intense and grinding, and it’s hit me earlier. I am grateful for whatever lessons it has to teach me.
3. Coffee and chocolate
4. Getting it done, slowly but surely
5. Innovation and change

May we walk in Beauty!

Stand a Moment

Gratitude List:
1. Sharing rainbows with strangers
2. Monarchs everywhere
3. The many years of shade the old Poplar has given this hollow
4. Good quick air-clearing rain
5. Tenderness and kindness are still to be found, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places

May we walk in Beauty!


Words for Tuesday When the Tree Comes Down:
“Drop your maps and listen to your lostness like a sacred calling into presence. Here, where the old ways are crumbling and you may be tempted to burn down your own house. Ask instead for an introduction to that which endures. This place without a foothold is the province of grace. It is the questing field, most responsive to magic and fluent in myth. Here, where there is nothing left to lose, sing out of necessity that your ragged heart be heard. Send out your holy signal and listen for the echo back.” ―Toko-pa Turner
***
“A child needs the same things a tree needs: Earth. Water. Sun. Air.” ―Unknown
***
“What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money.” ―Wendell Berry
***
“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.”
―Barry Lopez
***
“There’s a flame of magic inside every stone & every flower, every bird that sings & every frog that croaks. There’s magic in the trees & the hills & the river & the rocks, in the sea & the stars & the wind, a deep, wild magic that’s as old as the world itself. It’s in you too, my darling girl, and in me, and in every living creature, be it ever so small. Even the dirt I’m sweeping up now is stardust. In fact, all of us are made from the stuff of stars.” ―Kate Forsyth

The Fountain Is There

Today’s Prompt is to write an unlucky poem. I’m going to pull a phrase from the Leonard Cohen quote at the top of today’s list, and follow the ideas of Rob Brezsny in the quote at the end of the list.

Bahati Mbaya
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

All the lengths we go to
to armor ourselves against fate,
to shield our hearts from destiny:

Bad luck, we say. Just tough luck.
Dumb luck, 
we tell ourselves.
Lady Luck has not seen fit
to reward the risks we’ve taken.

I’m talking in my own ear here,
singing myself a lullaby,
crooning in Swahili:
Bahati mbaya, Mdogo.

Maybe I just can’t get there
from here. It’s not in the cards
or the gods are not smiling
upon my endeavors.

How we do make ourselves unlucky.
How we do call the losing hand.
How we do set up the game for failure.
How we do fail to take a stand.

I’m racking up my rejections,
calling in my losses,
wrangling my failures,
bearing my crosses.

Bad luck is luck all the same
and the odds are good
if we hang on to hope
that the next roll of the dice
could turn this game around.


“It is fabled that we slowly lose the gift of speech with animals, that birds no longer visit our windowsills to converse. As our eyes grow accustomed to sight they armour themselves against wonder.” —Leonard Cohen
*
Denise Levertov:
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.

I have seen
The fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes
found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.

The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
frowned as she watched–but not because
she grudged the water,
only because she was waiting
to see we drank our fill and were
refreshed.

Don’t say, don’t say there is no water.
The fountain is there among its scalloped
grey and green stones,
it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,
up and out through the rock.
*
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
—Leonard Cohen
*
“Remember that day in the woods
when everything was so dark, so dreary
and you were so terrifyingly alone?

How can it be that these are the same woods
and you the same soul
and everything shines so,
and everything is filled with life?” —Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
“Acquiring problems is a fundamental human need. It’s as crucial to your well-being as getting food, air, water, sleep, and love. You define yourself–indeed, you make yourself–through the riddles you attract and solve. The most creative people on the planet are those who frame the biggest, hardest questions and then gather the resources necessary to find the answers.” —Rob Brezsny


Gratitude List:
1. How everything shines so in autumn
2. Breathing
3. Stretching
4. Untangling threads
5. Listening for deeper rhythms

May we walk in Beauty!

To Have Enough

“The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.” –Frederick Buechner
*
“Those who are willing to break a conspiracy of silence are guaranteed to meet with the disapproval of others. Having a dissenting voice naturally exiles you from the group, but this rejection is a validation of the bravery having such a standpoint requires. It’s also a marvelous training in originality and acts as an agent of attrition. It teaches you who and what is in alignment with your integrity, strengthening those affinities within and without. It’s important during such times of change to practice self-love, comforting the brave & terrified rebel within who doesn’t want to be alone and grieves those losses none the less.” –Dreamwork with Toko-pa
*
“To make a living is not to make a killing. It’s to have enough.” –Wendell Berry
*
“None of us are getting out of here alive, so please stop treating yourself like an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There’s no time for anything else.” –Nanea Hoffman
*
“God is love, without asterisks.”  –Father Stratis
*
“Poetry is a life-cherishing force, for poems are not words, after all, but fires for the coal, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread for the hungry.” –Mary Oliver
*
Written on seeing a photo of that circle bridge in Germany: “Always she went through her days with a feeling of being a half, an arc. The bridge of her spirit went out from herself to the world, most certainly, yet somehow all seemed partial, unfinished. There came a bright golden October morning when she looked outward to see the way her own story was reflected everywhere. In the flight of wren from stalk of goldenrod to quivering branch of sycamore. In the calling back and forth of the owls in the bamboo wood. In the branching willow withes reaching to touch the surface of the pond. And suddenly the circle was complete.” –Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
“Poetry begins as a lump in the throat . . . a homesickness, a lovesickness.” –Robert Frost
*
“Poetry seduces you and entices you into being a searcher for the Mystery yourself. It creates the heart leap, the gasp of breath, inspiring you to go further and deeper; you want to fill in the blanks for yourself.” –Richard Rohr
*
“To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower.”
–William Blake


Gratitude List:
1. Golden mornings
2. How the light shines through
3. October
4. The table is Wide
5. Open hearts and arms

May we walk in Beauty!

Cast Aside the Jug


“People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” ―Thomas Merton
*
“Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen” ―Robert Bresson
*
“We have to learn to love people even if they are not giving you what you want… and then not take it personally. If you feel hurt, you have to recognize that they are not hurting you because you are you, but because they are them. You have to try not to be so hard on yourself.”
―Krishna Das
*
“If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” ―Meister Eckhart
*
“You will stand at the center of your story
and decide in this moment who you will be.
You get to decide how you will play your part,
and that will help to decide the outcome.”
―Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
“And may the light shine out of the two eyes of you, like a candle set in two windows of a house, bidding the wanderer to come in out of the storm.” ―Celtic Blessing
*
“If you are doing the right thing for the earth, she’s giving you great company.” ― Vandana Shiva
*
“The outward form of things passes away, but the essence remains forever. How long will you be besotted with the shape of the jug? Cast aside the jug, and seek the water. If you look too closely at the form, you miss the essence.” ―Rumi
*
Or she:
“If the believer understood the meaning of the saying
“The color of the water is the color of the receptacle,”
He would admit the validity of all beliefs and
He would recognize God in every form and every object of faith.”
If the believer understood the meaning of the saying
“The color of the water is the color of the receptacle,”
He would admit the validity of all beliefs and
He would recognize God in every form and every object of faith.
~Ibn ‘Arabi
Ibn ‘Arabi
*
Last Year’s Gratitude:
“How everything connects. Your heart and mine. The hummingbird and the vulture. Poems and stories and art. The thin spidersilk of prayer, spun out across impossible chasms.” ―Beth Weaver-Kreider


Gratitude List:
1. Lying on a bed with a cat snuggled up on either side of me.
2. My surprise 50th birthday dinner. My sisters and my mother took me out to John Wright Restaurant. I am so fortunate to have these incredible women in my life.
3. Crawfish Etouffee
4. Saturday afternoon naps (and waking up and realizing that the poison ivy covering every inch of my body was only a dream)
5. Walnut trees. The walnut by the barn is the last to get dressed every spring, and the first to disrobe in the fall, but the way she plays with the light in her leaves is the finest art.

May we walk in Beauty!

Watching the Swans

You know the story of the girl who had twelve brothers? Their stepmother wanted to get rid of the brothers so her own son would inherit the family fortune, so she turned the brother to swans. The girl discovered the treachery and traveled to the Fairy Queen where she learned how to break the spell–she had to harvest and dry, spin and weave nettles into cloth, and then sew the cloth into shirts.  After many terrible trials, she finally managed the job, but an emergency kept her from completing the twelfth before she had to free them, so the youngest brother lived the rest of his life with swan wings.

Of all the compelling elements of this story that I return to again and again, the part that always takes me into the enchantment is the longing the girl feels when she sees the swans flying. The story taps into the human sense of ache and desire that comes with watching the strings of birds flying so high above earth, and hearing the wild barking of the swans as they travel northward.

Sometimes I am the sister, determined to save the others, to bring it all ’round right in the end. Sometimes I am that youngest brother, part human-part swan, doomed to live between great longings, grateful for both lives, exhilarated by the power of straddling worlds.

Gratitude List:
1. A sweet day off chaperoning a field trip with my second grader and his class to Nixon Park
2. Tundra swans
3. Gulls carpeting a field in white
4. Getting some exercise
5. A good novel (right now it’s Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster of Hed series–third time through)

May we walk in Beauty!