Holy Trees

The cathedral beech at the Jesuit Center.

Last year at this time, I was spending the better part of a week at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville with my favorite trees. The Jesuits are planning to close and sell the property in another year, so I will need to make one last pilgrimage in the coming year. The grounds require a great deal of upkeep and maintenance, as does the marvelous old building. The community of men who live there are aging, and there aren’t many of them anymore.

I long for someone to buy the place who could work with environmental groups to make it a nature preserve, to maintain the building as a spiritual retreat center, to keep caring for those holy trees.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!

“In one of the stars, I shall be living.
In one of them, I shall be laughing.
And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing
When you look at the sky at night.”
―The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery


“All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you.” ―Octavia Butler


“The world is not to be put in order. The world is order. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.” ―Henry Miller


“The greatest danger to our future is apathy.” ―Jane Goodall


Prayer for the World
by Rabbi Harold Kushner

Let the rain come and wash away
the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds
held and nurtured over generations.
Let the rain wash away the memory
of the hurt, the neglect.
Then let the sun come out and
fill the sky with rainbows.
Let the warmth of the sun heal us
wherever we are broken.
Let it burn away the fog so that
we can see each other clearly.
So that we can see beyond labels,
beyond accents, gender or skin color.
Let the warmth and brightness
of the sun melt our selfishness.
So that we can share the joys and
feel the sorrows of our neighbors.
And let the light of the sun
be so strong that we will see all
people as our neighbors.
Let the earth, nourished by rain,
bring forth flowers
to surround us with beauty.
And let the mountains teach our hearts
to reach upward to heaven.
Amen.

Advent 24: Go Away

The Advent/Solstice Wreath.

A couple Sundays ago, we acted three stations of the Las Posadas in church. In Mexican Christian tradition, during the nine nights before Christmas, communities gather together and walk through their towns, ending up at a different house each night. People outside the house sing songs asking for shelter for Mary, who is about to give birth. People inside the houses sing, “Go away!” The songs go back and forth until Mary and Joseph and their retinue are invited inside where the people pray together and eat and drink together.

As I think about my own preparations for the Lightreturn, for the birth of the Child of Light within me and the world, for the acknowledgement of Emmanuel–the Divine Within, I find this pageant both unsettling and inspiring. I do not want to admit my reluctance to be the Bearer of Light, to be a welcomer of the messy and chaotic coming of the Holy One into my rooms. For all of Advent, I have explored this inner inn. I’ve peered into the shadows, kept the cobwebs to the corners, shone my little light into hidden cupboards and closets, looked for treasures and traps.

I’ve celebrated the turning, the center of the labyrinth. I’ve sat here waiting, in stillness, content in my solitude. And now, when I am settled into my own quiet winter, comes the raucous god-crowd, knocking at the door and asking to come in. Something needs to be born! they call. You need to make room! It’s bound to get messy. It’s sure to get noisy. Somebody is going to need something from you. You can try to escape the fray, but the fray will come to you.

Is there room within the inn? I feel myself shrinking just at the moment when I need to expand. Remember the stretches. Arms up and out. Breathe in. Pause and expand. Sigh out that breath and let the arms fall. Room enough. Yes. There is always room enough.

What have I been creating this space for, if not for the birth of light within? If not for the child of promise, the Holy One, to enter?

Call that immanent birth the Christ-Child, call it the Divine Light, call it Deepest Awareness. Whatever you name it, are you prepared to let welcome this light into your innermost rooms?

Again, Yes. There is always room enough. Hold the stillness. Hold the chaos. Joy is dancing in the space between.


Gratitude List:
1. Pageantry and ritual that get beneath the surface of things
2. Making space for light to enter
3. My children’s anticipation of Christmas
4. Time out of time. No obligations but the daily preparations for the days of celebration. And those are slow and steady.
5. Peppermint.

May we walk in Beauty!

Advent 23: Stretching

The inner room is filling with light, with shadow.
More light and more shadow.
Long, quiet, holy darkness.
Short, sparkling light-filled days.

The little shack in C.S. Lewis’s Last Battle, and the Tardis in the Doctor Who television series, have something in common with you and with me. Each structure–shack, time machine, and human–is bigger are the inside than it appears from the outside. Outside, a normal-looking structure, but inside, a whole world of wonders.

Here in these days of quiet and clamor, of enfolding darkness and bedazzling light, we walk through the inner rooms like we walk through the old house that recurs in our dreams, exploring the nooks and crannies, the magical spaces and the dark closets. It’s so big! I never knew this room existed! Look! Over here is a room full of treasures! This one is dark and quiet, and contains only a tiny wooden box. Whisper. Shout! These stairs end in a pantry, and those go up to the roof. Open this door. And this one.

Feel the vast spaces within you, knowable, unexplored, waiting for you to enter and experience who you are in your deepest inner rooms. Stretch your hands up and out. Draw in deep breaths. Stretch and stretch. You are larger on the inside.

As the wise man who left us yesterday reminded us:

“Be here now.” –Ram Dass

Stretch. Expand. Explore.


Gratitude List:
1. Back home with the cats
2. People who do things simply to watch the delight on the face of a child
3. My marvelous father, born on this day. What an example of tenderness and compassion he is.
4. I am pretty sure that seven-bird V that just winged its way above the hollow was snow geese.
5. Today is going to be a work day. I kind of dread hard work–I’d rather be playing with yarn or making cookies or writing poems, but when this day is done, I will feel much more free in my spirit to do those other things.

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!

Advent 15: Finding the Flow

An attempt at an automatic drawing. I think, in its purest sense, it’s supposed to be non-representational, but my mind started pulling out that tree, so I went with it. And then, there’s that bird. . .

We’ve considered the element of air as we have drawn in our breath. We’ve considered our fire, and tended our lights. Now, perhaps, it’s time to consider the element of water, as we travel deeper into this winter labyrinth.

Perhaps today’s passage opens onto an underground river, and we can settle ourselves into little boats for this part of our spiral toward the center. Or swim–walk right in and let the water carry you gently in its arms. Today, I want to think about the flow of my life.

So often, here in this dark and inward time of year, when my inward voices tell me to slow down, rest more, begin taking note of the dreams and the silences, the rest of the world turns up the pace to a frantic pitch, with parties and shopping, raucous frenzy and noise. For some of us, the response to the darkness is to push it back with activity and color and sound. I am grateful to have the festival atmosphere to dip into. The Big Party of this season is how many of us cope with the gathering darkness, and I have no quarrel with other people’s festivities. But I need to take great care in this season how I spend my energy.

One of the more common things I hear people express in these days is their exhaustion, how the constant round of parties and gatherings and things to do and prepare for completely wipes them out. In many families, this work still seems to fall to the women. I’m grateful to be part of a family where much of the pressure of holiday preparations is taken on by my partner, or else we do them jointly, together. I’m not sure I could cope with the added stress of the approaching end of semester along with a full load of holiday prep.

One way that we deal with the challenges to the easy flow of our lives in the frenzied season is simply to do less. We buy fewer presents. We have one afternoon in which we all decorate, and only a little. We focus our festivities on the kids’ school events and family gatherings.

Still, my flow in this season is choppy, blocked in places, and racing beyond my capacity to stay afloat in others. I know that my stacks of grading, and my avoidance tactics are the things that clog the passages and keep me from flowing gracefully. Somehow, I need to come to terms with the dailiness of the workload, to steadily chip away at the challenges that hinder my smooth progress. The thing is, the clogged places force the stream in other places to race along at an unmanageable pace.

If your life is a river flowing through a tunnel, what are the things that clog and impede the flow of your stream, causing the water to flow frantically and wildly in other parts of the passage? What do you need to do to shift and clear the blockages? Wendell Berry points out that “the impeded stream is the one that sings.” So perhaps it isn’t necessary to clear all blockages completely, just shift the impediments enough so that we can hear the song rather than the roar. Today, I commit myself to doing several hours of steady, unclogging work. I can already hear the echoes shifting in the tunnel. I can almost hear the song behind the roar.


Gratitude List:
1. Enough. Enough work to keep me occupied. Enough time to do what needs to be done (I do not feel this one deeply, but I am trying to live it).
2. Live choral music
3. How stories interact in my own personal narrative, shifting my interpretation and experience of my own unfolding tale.
4. Christmas cookies, especially those peppermint ones a student brought to school on Friday.
5. The flight of birds, high-flying flocks, and the furtive dashes of little birds seeking seeds in the chill. Be warm and filled, little ones!

May your day have warmth and light.

Combustible Child

I was a little obsessed yesterday with the way the sun shone through the wine and water glasses.

In the dream, there is a combustible child, who is likely at any moment to burst into flame: hair, chest, shins on fire. I am the child, running to escape a mob of children. Their fear and their curiosity and their rage torment me. I just want to be alone, so I can burn in peace. I burn, but I am not harmed. But my fire can burn the buildings of the town, and the trees.

Also I am a child in the mob. I run with the others, trying to catch the combustible child. I want to protect him. I know that some of the others mean to kill him, and I want to be the first to find him, to warn him, to help him. But he is always ahead of us.

We are in the labyrinthine passages beneath an old mill building. I am the child, running and hiding, afraid the light of my burning will show the children where I am. I am also seeking the child, fearful that he will hurt himself, or burn the building down, but mostly that the other children will hurt him.

I have found a way to the roof of the old mill. The others are still mostly down in the underground passages. The building is wood, but it is not burning beneath me, although other buildings have burned in the past. Down below, I am a child in the mob; I hear two children talking. They have discovered one of the secrets of the combustible child: “I think he was the one we thought had drowned there in the lake. Remember?” I have to find the combustible child and warn him.

(I welcome comments and thoughts about my dreams. I don’t feel comfortable with the “Your dream means” sort of interpretations, but speculative and conjectural comments and questions are better for helping me to think through what might be going on.)


Gratitude List:
1. How tears sometimes bless the receiver of tears. Sharing emotion, like sharing bread.
2. Laughing with loved ones
3. Pumpkin coconut pie, venison pie, chocolate pumpkin cheesecake pie
4. Sweet soft cat. I’m a little grumpy because Thor was chasing Sachs all around the house, thumpily and hissily. I could not get him to stop. I came downstairs to the recliner, hoping it would distract him, and I could get back to sleep. No. I held him and gave him a lecture about chasing kitties. No. Every time I settled down to sleep, he was off and thundering. The minute I turned on the light and picked up the laptop, he jumped up beside me, rolled onto his back, and fell into a deep sleep. Sigh. And am I grouchy? No, I just love this soft warm breathing presence beside me. I’ll nap later.
5. Belonging. I don’t always feel like I belong, or like I understand the unwritten rules of certain groups, even though I think I am a pretty good observer of human nature. So when I am in a group whose rules accept everyone’s awkwardness and oddness unconditionally, which loves each one not in spite of our oddities, but because of them, then I feel safe. Then I feel belonging. I am especially grateful to those of you who know how to extend unconditional welcome in ways that make everyone believe they belong.

May we walk in Beauty!

Combustible

On these November days, instead of writing a daily poem, as I have for most of the past eight Novembers, I am writing short pieces of prose: fiction, meditation, dream. This morning’s piece was simply a telling of last night’s dream:

Combustible

The hillsides are covered with loosely growing trees, not quite close enough to be woods, and yet woods, for all that. Some places are woodsy enough that no sky shows through, though there is space enough between to see through them down the hillside to where the paths curve and separate. To the east, the trees open out toward bare grassy hillside and the smell of the sea. In the shade at the edges of the wood, three tidy white-washed Baba Yaga huts stand on stilts in a sandy courtyard, and further off, beyond the first grassy hill, smoke rises from a little village.

The trees are sinewy and resinous, Mediterannean, not pine—more like laurel, if laurel were thirty feet tall. The trunks are thin and many-branched, but open, and the leaves are mostly at the crowns, letting light filter magically through. All is green and blue and twinkling golden. Though there are no people, there is the sense of people, the presence of people doing people things.

In your head, a soundtrack starts to play, a woman’s voice talking about a sudden and catastrophic event, how one moment one notices the short bursts of steam rising from individual trees, curiously taking in the strange phenomenon, and then, suddenly, the whole wood will combust, not a long-burning, raging conflagration, but a whoosh of fire that’s there one moment, and in the next is gone, leaving bare and charred hillsides. You wonder why there are no signs to warn visitors off the paths. And then you notice the explosive bursts of mist and steam puffing from random trees on the hillside below you. Should you start to get nervous? If the voice is correct, it could happen at any moment. But you are entranced, curious, unable to give yourself to fear. You turn onto a path that leads up the hill toward the Baba Yaga courtyard, intending to explore the little huts, to see if anyone lives there. At the edge of the courtyard a long tube suddenly rises, like a cannon being aimed for a blast, and powerful jet of water bursts into the air, raining down on the little houses, raining down on you, sparkling through the sunlight, wetting the trees. Looking back the way you came, you can see several more of the water cannons discharging their spray through the groves and woods covering the lower hillsides.

You wander through the small village beyond the Baba Yaga houses, where people wander, eating foods from the markets, taking pictures beside the quiet houses, murmuring to each other. You look back over the hillsides where you have been wandering, and the trees have vanished. At the edge of the village, the green grass ends at bare soil. Everything is gone. Despite the water precautions, the woods and pathways are gone. An enormous yellow bulldozer rumbles over the destroyed land.


Gratitude List:
1. Dreams and their messages
2. Many sources of light
3. The lull after the grading storm. There’s so much more to do, but after a weekend of fierce grading, I took a break last night and rested.
4. The line of orange light along the horizon at dawn
5. New England clam chowder when it is made well

May we walk in Beauty!

Through the Veil

This is Catherine Witwer (1833-1905), married to Isaac Weaver. My Great-Aunt Elizabeth Nolt Weaver (her granddaughter) said that she cared for women in childbirth (a lay midwife, I think), and then cared for their older children in her own home so the mothers could recover. Aunt Lizzie told me that people called her Mammy.

They lived at the White Hall Mill on Weaverland Road near Union Grove. My Great-Grandfather John W. Weaver was their son, and his son Daniel was my grandfather, who is my father’s father.

All sorts of ancestors, known and unknown, line the spiraling staircases of your DNA, watching, singing, remembering for you. What will you carry forward as you walk through the veil of this season?


Gratitude List:
1. The way the sun slants through colored leaves in this season when we step further into the darkness.
2. Stepping forward.
3. The light we carry inside ourselves.
4. Knowing, as we walk into this tunnel of seasonal darkness, that we will walk out again in a season to come.
5. The bright candle flame of a new idea.

May we walk in the glow of each other’s lights.

Reflected Light and The Road to Faerie

Cherry Lane: In the Eastern Orchard, Cherry and Pear and Wild Rose

Gratitude List:
1. Red berries and autumn leaves and morning mist. And afternoon walks through the fields and orchards.
2. A day off. It’s a working day, but one I can take at my own pace. (Last night was really rough with gastro-intestinal issues, so I am especially grateful that I don’t have to go anywhere today. And I feel much better this morning.)
3. Maddy Prior and Steeleye Span and their fierce and folksy ilk–my soundtrack for today.
4. Reflected light.
5. You, my beautiful beloveds. How the right word always seems to come at the right moment. Sometimes I need to stew and fret and grumble for a while within the maze of my own troubles, but when it gets hard to breathe there always seems to be a thread in this amazing tapestry that I can grasp onto. May our webs and weavings grow ever outward to hold all within our reach.

May we walk in Beauty!