In June, right after school was over, and before I had even completed my grading, I went on silent retreat at the Jesuit Center at Wernersville, probably my last time there, as the Jesuits are selling the building and grounds. I needed that healing time.
In the weeks since, I have been taking stock, clearing out my hoard (fabric, mostly, but more will come), and working on getting healthy.
Here is a little photo essay of my time on retreat:
I took along a white cloth and some red thread. I have been inspired by several instagrammer embroiderers to begin to create a story cloth, something that’s not specifically functional, but is more of a journal, a dialogue with my inner self. On one of the first days there, I was meditating on something I’d read, a Buddhist idea about the base of the spine being where the three rivers meet. I began to consider what my three rivers are. Along with embodiment, I received creativity, and magic/mysticism. So I began embroidering the flowering hand image I found framed on the wall–for creativity. Then I embroidered a full body–my body–with wings and a crown, to represent embodiment, being alive within this body. And later, I embroidered my stump, the center of my current magical work, representing the inner work and the spiritual connection to the Source of All Life. All three are connected to a center cauldron, which is the place where the three rivers meet. Other images above include some collages I made while meditating, a painting (“You can become all flame,” said the ancient desert abba), and the back of my #alonetogether sweater, which I completed during retreat.
More than almost anything, perhaps, I will miss this grand cathedral beech.
There’s something about being in isolation that makes a person want to bake. I started by trying to make hamburger buns for our first isolation birthday. The practice round was so successful with the kids, that I kept making them, and I played around with the recipe, making spiral rolls and garlic rolls. And then, just like that, I was out of yeast. And Giant was out of yeast. And Sue’s was out of yeast. No one has whole wheat flour either.
I complained on Facebook, and a friend who had just received her mail order of a pound of yeast said she would put some in the mail for me this week. What a tender gesture! I never would have let myself accept such an offer in the Before, but now, Yes, please and thank you. And such a feeling of being cared for.
My sister also ran out of yeast. As she was on a walk the other day, a neighbor who was unloading groceries from the car called out and asked her if she needed paper towels. No, my sister called from a safe distance, but yeast–now that’s a difficult thing to come by. Just a couple days later, her neighbor dropped off yeast at my sister’s door.
The sharing takes on a sacramental edge these days. And yeast. Sharing yeast is sharing something even more elemental than a cup of sugar. No matter how much I research and study what yeast is and how it (they?) does its work, it will always be something mystical, something magical, to me. Bread and wine, the elements of sacrament in more than just the Christian tradition, are both yeast-based. I once heard someone talking about the two kinds of plants–monocotyledons and dicotyledons–and how corn is a monocot and grapes are a dicot, and that the elements of bread and wine bring together those two forms of plants with the magic of yeast and fermentation. And I think I won’t try to wrap that up with a nice essayist’s conclusion. It feels like a mystery that needs to stay quietly behind the veil, hinted at, marveled at, unexplained for now.
While I await the precious gift of yeast from Joan, I have begun to capture my own wild yeasts. They say that the yeast of any place is distinctly OF that place. So these are my Goldfinch Yeasts. Is is a flock? A herd? They’ve been bubbling for days, strong and lively, and today they smell sour and yeasty. Yeast Beings, I greet you.
Capturing Yeast: I’ve done this before, but it’s been years, so I watched some videos and read some tutorials. Here’s the process I’ve been using:
In a wide-mouthed jar, I put 3 Tbsp. of flour and 2 Tbsp. of water. Mixed, covered with a special cotton cloth and rubber band (perhaps any cloth will do), and let stand in a warm place for 12 hours.
After 12 hours, I stirred. Then another 12 hours later, I added another 3 Tbsp. flour and 2 Tbsp. water. The tutorials say five days until yeast is ready for baking. This is the morning of day five for me. Tomorrow, I will find a recipe and bake. Maybe pizza dough for supper, or rolls for the boys to snack on. And some day we’ll find whole wheat flour again. Meanwhile, it’s white bread.
That’s the process. Stir every 12 hours, and feed every 24 hours. Though none of the experts have mentioned it, I suspect it might be helpful to sing to them as you stir, or to speak poetry to them. Greeting them and praising them can’t hurt.
Gratitude List: 1. Yeast 2. People who share yeast 3. Bread and wine 4. Awaiting oriole 5. The promise of a new week.
May we walk in Mystery.
“To light a candle is to cast a shadow…” ―Ursula K. Le Guin
“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.” ―Claude Monet
“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” ―Malala Yousafzai
I called through your door, “The mystics are gathering in the street. Come out!” “Leave me alone. I’m sick.” “I don’t care if you’re dead! Jesus is here, and he wants to resurrect somebody!” ―Jalaludin Rumi
“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.” ―Jalaluddin Rumi
“Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terror, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.” ―Anaïs Nin
“Everything has boundaries. The same holds true with thought. You shouldn’t fear boundaries, but you should not be afraid of destroying them. That’s what is most important if you want to be free: respect for and exasperation with boundaries.” ―Haruki Murakami
“All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it to those around us.” —Richard Rohr
One of the subjects that keeps snagging my poetic attention is the landscape manuscript–how everything around us (not just the landscape) has a “text” that we might understand, if only we could read it. When I’m driving down the road and thinking about a knotty issue I am trying to resolve and I see three crows standing quietly in a winter field, or seven geese suddenly fly overhead in a raggedy V across my view, or something in the way the sun shines on the remaining leaves of that old oak seems to have a message for me–it’s as if there’s a deep text in the world that could be understood if only I knew the letters. And of course the landscape does have messages, and they can be read. It’s what farmers and meteorologists and hikers have done forever. It is what ecologists and environmentalists are doing right now, to save our lives.
And sometimes the visual and aural messages in my environment do seem to align themselves in perfect messages that feel like they’re meant for me, specifically, to read. Again, this is whimsical and playful rather than scientific. And it also captures my attention. I’m not going to make a judgement about whether or not the Holy One Herself, or the Universe, or the faeries, set up yesterday’s little alignment just so my heart could see it, but I will claim the whimsy, say that the synchronicity caught my heart, and then I will use it to construct the next steps of intuitive meaning for the shape my ponderings take in the coming days. I’d rather step into the future making meaning from the rich webs of whimsy and coincidence that surround me than refusing to gather the symbols that dance through my life and live with meaning defined only by the hardest of logic.
I was driving across the Route 30 bridge, listening to the most recent episode of “This Jungian Life” podcast, on the Trickster archetype, because my friend had recommended it to me. I was thinking about the Fool, and how I hoped that this archetype would inform my activism in the coming year, speaking truth through the lies in the way only the Fool can. The theme of the podcast suddenly turned to the way that tricksters throughout history have been challengers of suppression and repression and autocratic rule, how they act as a corrective when a person or a system becomes too rigidly rule-based and oppressive. There was a “click” in my brain at the coincidence of thought and outer message.
At that moment, my eye caught the new Sight and Sound billboard at the end of the bridge—shining purple, it advertised their upcoming production of Queen Esther, and one of my favorite Bible phrases, from the book of Esther, took up the central space in large letters: “FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS.” Again, an internal click.
As I passed the billboard, a large vulture swooped low above the highway. Click.
Yes, it’s whimsy and intuition, poetry and dreaminess, rather than hard science or pure logic or cold reason. While I need the latter, while I value science and logic and reason as important mental processes, I think a world that makes meaning without the more poetic processes is bereft of the spark of spirit.
And so it is settled, this day before Epiphany. My word, my archetype, my guiding principle, for the coming year is the Fool. Sacred clown. Jester. Trickster. I’ve been considering how the Fool subverts the dominant paradigm (to use an old phrase) to speak the truth behind the lies. In a political milieu swimming in falsehoods, how does the Fool speak truth? Lear’s Fool spoke from deep love and tenderness, was not afraid to speak harsh truths right to the king’s face, and kept repeating the truth from various angles until the truth shone in.
Even the travelers whose arrival we celebrate today and tomorrow, the Wise Ones, the magi, have an element of the Fool. Magi, Mages, Magic, Image, Imagination. The truth they first told Herod was too bald, too open, too dangerous, and so, when they were presented with the deep truth of this Child, they disobeyed the king and fled home a different way, tricking the King. Still, the consequences were grave and terrible for too baldly proclaiming the truth to the king in the first place. This is lesson to be deeply conscious of to whom and how the truth is presented. The Fool must be wise.
So. The Fool. Those black vulture wings are also in my consciousness. And the echidna, a hybrid creature who survives and thrives because it is more than one thing. Those mists and rainbows, veiling and shattering, scattering light. Wading in the water: Do you want to be well? And Aslan’s words to Lucy: “Courage, Dear Heart!”
There is one more thing, a more abstract word rather than an archetype: Orenda. It comes from the Iroquoian language systems, and it refers to the spiritual power that exists in all things, the energy that we transmit between us, that we can access to change the world.
Okay, and there’s one more thing. My friends. Community. Last night’s dreams were a succession of anxiety dreams. In several scenes, I was trying to find Joss, and just couldn’t make contact. In several scenes, I had little fiddly school details to remember and take care of while I was rushing around trying to do other things. In several scenes I was in a car, constantly missing my exit, needing to turn around, but unable to get around another car or to fit my car into the space of the turn-off. Finally, standing on a sidewalk, about to throw my phone on the ground because I couldn’t get it to make a simple call to Joss, a group of my college friends walked up. Nancy took my phone and got it to dial Joss. Gloria put her hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes, and started to tell me a helpful story. The others gathered around. I could feel everyone’s presence. And I calmed down. Friends. I get by with a little help. . .
What are your messages from the coming year? What words and images coalesce for you? What synchronicities in your inner and outer landscape call to you to listen and follow?
Gratitude List: 1. Friends. How even in my dreams, my beloveds appeared to bring me peace. You. The little connections that are bigger than you know. The way the web of our connections holds us up, and holds the world. 2. The spiritual force within each one of us that enlivens and enlightens and helps us to bring change and goodness into the world. 3. Synchronicity and coincidence and making meaning where it comes. 4. Image and imagination and magic. 5. Being greeted throughout the day by cats.
Gratitude of Resistance Fourteen: The CryptoNaturalist–an account I follow on social media accounts. His name is Jarod K. Anderson, and he has a podcast (I don’t find time to listen to podcasts, but if you do, I think you might want to check him out). Short, wise, pithy epigrammatic notes about the humans occupy in the context of the universe. Here’s a recent example: “We are so quick to invent magic. To purchase magic. To bruise our fingers trying to squeeze magic from concrete and asphalt. What pale imitations we find compared to the poignant wonders we discover when we simply ask questions of our living world and bother to learn the answers.”
Gratitude List: 1. Housecleaning. It’s not something we do with great regularity or relish here, and it’s very hard to clean a room with Legos strewn across the floor. Today, I got them to clean up the Legos and the techie junk that’s been cluttering up the whole downstairs for quite some time, and I vacuumed like a wild woman. I like to sit in the livingroom now.
2. Meeting a goal
3. Cool days
5. Good people working for good.
Today’s prompt is to title the poem the name of a plant, and then to write the poem.
(for the people who sit in their trees to stop the pipeline)
The women themselves are oaks
in this ocean of oak,
in these groves of trees–
Sycamore, Poplar, Pine–
riding their boats,
tiny houses high in the boughs of the oak trees.
Riding the waves of storm,
surfing the wind high up in the branches,
they have no safe port, no harbor,
no safe place to re-supply.
Below them, the sharks circle,
waiting for the first sign of weakness.
But their friends, too, have made a circle,
a web to hold the women who sit in the oaks.
The women are watching and waiting.
They are protectors.
They are the guardians.
They are trees and the mothers of trees.
They know the secrets of the acorn.
They know how long it takes an oak to grow.
They have the patience of mountains.
Gratitude List: 1. Warm spring weather
2. Spring breeze
3. Reading books together
4. The defenders of the earth
May we walk in Beauty!
A few weeks ago, I had a Facebook conversation with several friends about the books we loved as children because someone we loved read them to us. The conversation was brought on by a post by the author Kate DiCamillo, who wrote about her elementary school teacher reading her The Island of the Blue Dolphins. Kate DiCamillo is herself the author of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. On Friday, at the Kreutz Creek library book sale, I bought a copy of Edward Tulane. When Joss saw it, he said his Library teacher had read it to his class, and that it was one of his favorite books, and he said we were going to take a break in our reading of Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising in order to read it. We just finished reading it now, on the porch, and even though I knew what was going to happen, even though my heart had been broken and mended with Edward’s half a dozen times already, when the absolute perfect ending happened, I went to pieces and sobbed. Oh. It is exquisite. It is now one of my favorite books, too.
from the room of this minute
into the room of the one to come
we scuttle and race
trailing the detritus
of our days like the stuff
falling from a half-open suitcase
appointments and obligations
litter the ground behind us
and we are gasping
grasping for the next
take a breath
on the floor
of the room
of this moment
watch how the minutes flow over you
when you release your grasp
on the one ahead
watch how the space of this room
takes shape around you
watch how your breath
blooms into the air
Quotations for a Snowy Sunday Morning, Audre Lorde’s Birthday:
“There is a pivotal juncture in every Heroine’s Journey when she stands alone. Instinctually she is led by the depth of her convictions to take a stand – to name the unaddressed – to call out of hiding the secret malaise in her community. To bring to the surface some yearned-for truth. She arrives at a standpoint not without doubts, but in spite of them. Worse than the criticism such disobedience can invite, may be her rejection from those who are at odds with her truth. But the silent prayer which keeps her company in the night is that it is not for her critics that she raises her voice, but for those who would otherwise be made voiceless.” —Toko-pa Turner, “Belonging”
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” —Voltaire
“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” ―Mary Oliver
“This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor … Welcome and entertain them all. Treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” ―Rumi
“Persephone walks abroad. The crocus have opened their golden throats and the earnest melissas are gathering pollen as an offering to their queen.” ―Beth Weaver-Kreider, a few Februaries ago
“I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.” ―Audre Lorde
“Wherever the bird with no feet flew, she found trees with no limbs.” ―Audre Lorde
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me, and eaten alive.” ―Audre Lorde
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” ―Audre Lorde
“And we must ask ourselves: Who profits from all this?” ―Audre Lorde
“Your silence will not protect you.” ―Audre Lorde
“And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” ―Meister Eckhart
Gratitude List: 1. I love writing poems in November, and I am always relieved when November is over.
2. Some days, you just let the students hijack the lesson and magic happens as they tell their own stories.
3. Morning mists and magenta sunrises
4. Trying again after you fail
5. The open spaces of a weekend
Today’s Prompt is to write a “good for nothing” poem:
Good for Nothing
by Beth Weaver-Kreider
This poem has not practiced its lines,
it hasn’t memorized the tricky bits,
it doesn’t know the plot shifts.
This poem might be good for something,
but more likely it’s a time-waster.
More likely, it’s just addlepated.
This poem knows it isn’t going anywhere.
It knows it’s got a short shelf life,
so it will just take this country minute
to saunter into the middle of the room
and bow, and tell the only story it knows:
about the poem that has not practiced its lines.
“When Tolkien needed someone to place in the face of the great rising evil in his story, he chose the small ones. You and I are the small ones, friends. Let’s join hands and stand together. Let’s work together, speak together, sing and whisper and shout together.” —EWK
“We have been to the moon, we have charted the depths of the ocean and the heart of the atom, but we have a fear of looking inward to ourselves because we sense that is where all the contradictions flow together.” —Terence McKenna
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” —Audre Lorde
“Don’t operate out of fear, operate out of hope. Because with hope, everything is possible.” —Winona LaDuke
Our deepest fears are like dragons
guarding our deepest treasure.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
by Barbara Crooker
Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not
despair. Praise what little there’s left:
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees. Praise the meadow
of dried weeds: yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer. Praise the blue sky
that hasn’t cracked yet. Praise the sun slipping down
behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves
that covers the grass: Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,
Sugar Maple. Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy
fallen world; it’s all we have, and it’s never enough.
“Look at everything
as though you were seeing it
either for the first or last time.
Then your time on earth will be filled with glory.”
Gratitude List: 1. Synchronicity
3. The bravado of the Fool
4. The wildness of crows
5. Reminders to be true to myself