I failed 7th Grade Home Economics. I would like to say that it is because I was protesting. I was angry, after all, that in 7th grade, we were divided into two classes: girls to Home Ec, and boys to Mechanical Drawing. Really. It was assumed that girls needed this class in the “womanly” arts, and boys needed the heady realm of architecture and design. Sabotaging one’s own grade, however, in order to make a protest, is rather ineffective, not to mention that it never entered my mind. Perhaps it’s because I hated Home Ec so much? No, actually, I loved the crafts and the cooking then as much as I do now. Nor did I dislike the teacher. She was a gem, kind enough and firm enough. I failed Home Ec because I didn’t turn in my assignments. I procrastinated on the paperwork for the meals I prepared at home. I did most of the projects, but never followed through to hand in the necessary paperwork.
Here I am, forty-five years later, trying to function as an adult, and still stuck in the procrastination rut, still avoiding the paperwork, resenting the details that take me out of my butterfly brain. The little thing becomes a big thing, and the big thing gets spun together with strands of shame to become a BIG thing, and I just can’t even begin.
Is it an executive function issue? Belligerence? Depression? A poor self-concept? Laziness? Being in the wrong job for my temperament? Simply being human? The thing is, I never feel like I am out of the norm, or that I have a problem, until I’m out of it and back into functioning at a more-than-mere-survival rate. Then I look back and realize that I was in a bad space. I’ve not been diagnosed with depression or an executive functioning disorder. I tend to name it laziness more than anything, which is a bad tape to play on repeat.
I wonder if I need a therapist. Or a life coach? Or a spiritual advisor? When I’m so overwhelmed by The Big Thing, the thought of adding an appointment to my schedule and expense to our tight budget feels like an Impossible Thing. But here I am now, on the other side of the most recent Impossible Task, and it’s a roof-don’t-leak-when-the-rain-don’t-come moment. And so I dither and pass it off. As difficult as it is, I feel like I need to keep telling myself the story of how bad it was so I don’t settle in to another new normal without getting myself the help that I need to keep from getting into that sort of hole again.
This past week, I did a little art therapy to keep me processing and pushing toward making a change, toward getting help. I recently opened a box in the attic and discovered the little embroidery project that I finished in that 7th grade Home Ec class, probably the only assignment I handed in for the class. A mouse had discovered it before me, and had eaten through the musical notes that Snoopy is playing. Had it been whole, I might have thrown it out, jettisoning things that no longer serve me. But something in me said, “Mend it!” And so I did, weaving embroidery thread through the mouse-chewed hole, and re-embroidering Snoopy’s pawprint eighth notes. It’s not perfect, and neither am I. The mend is visible, as are my own torn and shredded pieces, and mended pieces.
As I wove and mended, I wondered whether that was when it began, when I started playing the tapes in my head that I am inadequate to the task, that I am too flaky, too inattentive, too lazy to follow through? Perhaps.
Snoopy needed a little help to be restored, and now I will stitch the piece onto a bag or a blanket or a pillow. Or I will fold it carefully and keep it in a drawer, to draw it out when I need to remind myself that I, too, need help to get through a rough patch, to shift my process so that I can keep from falling into holes I create.
Gratitudes: 1. This morning’s sunrise: A dragon opening a heavy cloud-indigo eyelid over a tangerine iris, shooting burning rays upward, a sundog to the southeast. 2. Mending 3. Making plans, making progress 4. Seeking help 5. Such wise and merry people in my life
May we walk in Beauty!
“You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” —Brené Brown
“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things I had no words for.” —Georgia O’Keeffe
“Nothing good comes of forgetting; remember, so that my past doesn’t become your future…” —Elie Wiesel
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” —Mitch McConnell, February 7, 2017
“They can shut me up, but they can’t change the truth.” —Elizabeth Warren, February 7, 2017
“Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” —Harriet Beecher Stowe
“You have to impose, in fact—this may sound very strange—you have to decide who you are, and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you.” —James Baldwin
“There’s still a lot worth fighting for.” —Dr.Jane Goodall
“You’ve heard it said there’s a window that opens from one mind to another, but if there’s no wall, there’s no need for fitting the window, or a latch.” —Rumi
“Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Whether through prayer, ritual, poetry, or song, gratitude solidifies our relationship with the living mystery. It rejoins us to the intangible wholeness from which we feel disconnected. As we remember ourselves to the holy in nature, we are forging our own belonging.” —Toko-pa Turner
“Stories surround us like air; we breathe them in, we breathe them out. The art of being fully conscious in personal life means seeing the stories and becoming their teller, rather than letting them be the unseen forces that tell you what to do. Being a public storyteller requires the same skills with larger consequences and responsibilities, because your story becomes part of that water, undermining or reinforcing the existing stories. Your job is to report on the story on the surface, the contained story, the one that happened yesterday. It’s also to see and sometimes to break open or break apart the ambient stories, the stories that are already written, and to understand the relationship between the two.” —Rebecca Solnit
“We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. . . . “We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom.” —Ursula K. Le Guin
A friend who is gathering data for his doctoral research asked me to do a project for him related to mindfulness. When I agreed to log my reflections for a week, and chose the first week of 2021, little did I know exactly how important mindfulness would prove to be.
Monday, 4 January 2021 A Welcome Space
As I thought through the process of this project, I decided I wanted to let the images and reflections happen without a lot of prior planning–a somewhat in-the-moment mindfulness. I was in my silent classroom in the morning, teaching short lessons via Zoom, with longer spaces between the periods. My classroom has a sort of joyfully cluttered visual aesthetic, and my bulletin board is an example. I tack up my own doodles and collages as well as student artwork, notes about books they tell me I need to read, quotes to remind us of our work in the world, along with the schedules and the lists of the business of school. I am hoping the message my students take away from this is the importance of celebrating each moment, no matter how mundane (and life in school gets draggingly mundane). I hope they see my own artwork not as pieces to be admired but as reminders to express their own inner worlds in art and poetry. I hope they are reminded by the quotes and posters to seek justice and to work against the -isms that break our social contracts.
I include here the little close-up of the collage with the woman and the phrase: “Look how many of us there are now” because I think it’s a reminder to connect to others who seek peace and justice and goodness and kindness, and also because–minimal as it is–it’s one of my favorite word-poem collages.
Tuesday, 5 January, 2021 Mending and Making
In the riot of images and posters on my walls and the books and objects on my shelves, I want to make my classroom a place I want to be, and where my students want to be. Even when the work is overwhelming or I am experiencing challenges that make me dread the day, I want my classroom space to be inspiring and engaging and restful.
I’m caught up these days in the concept of making and mending, both in the physical world and in the inner work. Then of course there’s the layer in which the physical act is itself a symbol of the inner work that becomes a ritual or prayer for the work of social justice and of teaching. One of my social media pleasures has been following makers and artists and crafters on Instagram. I find images of mending and handwork and art to be soothing and settling; they help me to shift my inner space into focus a little better when things in my work-life or the state of the nation cause me anxiety or sadness.
I love my striped scarf. I wear it several days a week, even though it was torn. In the fall, I made a couple dresses out of old men’s dress shirts, and I noticed that the one striped fabric was similar to my scarf. At first I zigzag-stitched pieces into the holes, but as that began to fray, I embroidered a blanket stitch over top to make it more secure, creating what my Instagram maker heroes call a “visible mend.” The other piece in the photo with my scarf is random embroidery on a piece of denim, which I made up as I went along.
Sort of like teaching, that: Even after a couple decades of teaching, I am still making it up as I go along, beginning with an idea of what I want to see, but shifting and adapting in the moment depending on the alchemical mixture of students in my class, current events, and the mood of the moment. And sometimes the thing I try to do frays, like my initial mend in my scarf, and I need to add another layer, letting the “mend” itself become part of the pedagogical design in the moment, making the process conscious. Perhaps a visible mend is like our metacognitive processes, where we analyze how we think.
Wednesday, 6 January 2021 How the Light Caught Our Shadows
When I took this photo, I was feeling a vague anxiety about the upcoming events of the day in Washington, DC, chatting briefly with students at the beginning of classes about the significance of the ceremony of counting the votes.. I teach in a Christian school of the Mennonite denomination, and so having religious images like the Madonna of the Streets in the classroom is acceptable. I had also brought along my mala beads, a more Buddhist or universalist tradition. I made them this summer as a way to ritually and prayerfully ground and center my attention when busy-ness or anxiety threaten my peace. Every morning when I enter the classroom, I spray the sage-based Clear Space Mist–its scent reminds me to let go and teach from my center.
Little did I know how I would need the calming of prayer and image and scent by the end of the day. Just before the final period, I had been watching the Senate discussion of Arizona’s votes, when people began to rush around in the chamber, the VP tried and failed to call the room to order, and the screen went blank. I thought it was a glitch, and went on to begin Act 5, scene 3 of Lear in my AP Literature class, listening to a student read Edgar naming Edmund a traitor to his family and the state, standing up to his brother’s treachery. I still have not sorted out the timely irony of this. When class was over, a colleague came down to my room with the news that the chambers were overrun by violent insurrectionists, and that she was feeling more anxious than she did on 9/11.
Despite all my mindful intentions of the morning, I gave in to the anxiety. My calm frayed.
Thursday, January 7 2021 REVOLUTION / ReLoveUtion
This is January’s calendar page in my Amnesty International Calendar. It’s an image of a people’s march in LA, women marching for missing and murdered indigenous women at the 2016 Women’s March. After a protest that became a bloody insurrection on Epiphany yesterday, I focused on the images on my calendar for grounding. I attended that worldwide march in 2016 in Washington, DC on the day these women called for a ReLoveUtion, called for recognition and action to investigate brutality toward indigenous women. For that March, when we felt our vote was disenfranchised, we knitted pink hats, we danced and sang with strangers in the streets, and we admired each other’s signs. We cleaned up after ourselves. We helped each other find good perches from which to better hear and see the speakers.
Yesterday was different. The morning’s anxiety became the afternoon’s reality.
Today I grounded myself in one of my art/spirit practices. Last year, I began doing found poetry and image collages on my calendar pages at school, so today, I sat still, took a deep breath, and pulled strips of words from a can I keep in my classroom. My friend Mara gave it to me, full of strips of words cut from magazines, as a wish for good fortune when I took this teaching job. I need to replenish it, I see. Mara and I call ourselves strippers because we make poetry from strips.
This one reads:
The dark night begins when we realize that all our spirit-heritage did not get along outside our house, for the maps inside a chamber whose wall seethed with a spaceless carpet of creatures, assigned to us in the doldrums like parts in a movie
you can relax and calm the waters a bit Writing has been my cell
As I put it all together, I could feel myself moving out from the weight of the seething spaceless creatures and into the calming waters of my monk’s cell. Writing. Relaxing.
It’s a difficult week for mindfulness, an essential week for mindfulness, when all my practices are being tested. I am thrown off-balance, grateful that I don’t have to be in the pressure-cooker of in-person classes, but wishing I could generate more discussion in the Zoom-rooms. At least my 8th period AP Lit class was eager to talk, even on Zoom, sharing a range of honest reflections about yesterday’s events, clearly repudiating the violence and openly complimenting the midnight speeches from both sides of the aisle.
Friday, 8 January 2021 Feather of the Day
In the summer after I got this job, as I was preparing to teach, I realized one day that I had found a feather every day for a week. I began to keep my eyes peeled. The streak continued. For about eight weeks, with only a couple exceptions, I found a feather every single day. Of course, we lived beneath two giant trees, a poplar and a sycamore, with wonderful places for owls to sit and eat their midnight meals, so there’s that. And I was out in the fields every day, harvesting vegetables, so I was out in nature more than I was in the house. Still, as I tell my students when I relate this story: It’s my life, and I get to choose the meaning I wish. So, I chose to honor the gift of feathers as a reminder, in a time when I was making a major job shift in my life from farmer back to educator, that I would have the resources I needed to fly. I began posting photos of my daily feathers on my social media, along with short poems I wrote.
This morning, as I am lost in the fog of the week’s terror, I happened upon a crow feather on the sidewalk on the way in to the school building. I choose to take it as a sign, a message that I can still rise through the fog, and like the crows, beat my wings in the winds, still find joy.
I opened my computer, in the hour before the day’s Zooms, to find a letter from a parent of a student in my 8th period class, worried that I had wasted precious class time yesterday in discussing politics, which has nothing to do with the subject at hand, and which made her daughter anxious. She and her daughter decided to close the Zoom before we got to reading the last few pages of Lear. Sigh. I believe it is urgent that teachers offer their students an opportunity to respond to the events and crises in their real lives with the same analytical and critical lenses and skills they use for their literary analyses. I’m not sure how I will work with this in that class in the final week of the semester. The mother did ask that I dismiss her daughter from class if the talk turns to politics. I DO want my class to feel like a safe place for everyone, but I think we need to talk about unsettling things that happen.
There’s a tension today between the almost glib tone of Monday’s reflections about creating safe space in the classroom, and the knowledge that my careful and intentional teaching created a space that felt unsafe for a student. Part of me wants to shrug and say, “Can’t win ‘em all,” but isn’t that sort of the whole point? We’re trying to win ‘em all–not let any fall through the cracks. I’ll start by reflecting on the differences between unsafe and unsettled.
Saturday, 9 January 2021 The Rhetoric of Insurrection
Here is a poem I wrote about the insurrection. I needed to find a way to put some of the rage and confusion into words. I will not read this one to my students. I don’t even know anymore how to sort out what is acceptable to say in the classroom. In a school connected to a peace church, I want to help my students analyze the events of the week in terms of how to be peace-builders in this most harrowing of situations. And here I am, sitting in my own puddle of rage at the peace-breakers. I have been so careful not to speak ill of this president who galls me to my core. But now, when his lies have brought us to this point, when I want my students to look with clear eyes and hearts toward the building of an equal and just society, how can I talk about this event without drawing the lines? Here’s the poem:
The Rhetoric of Insurrection by Beth Weaver-Kreider
The landscape is littered with lies, seeded with falsehoods like landmines, like bombs hidden in the halls of justice. The fabric of reality is stained, torn and twisted, threads cut and tangled.
It’s nothing new, this rhetoric of insurrection. For years now, they’ve been spreading it on, lie by lie, suggestion by suggestion, layer by seditious layer, whipping the masses into a frenzy of rage and disenfranchisement.
Now is the time for clear-headed cleaning, gathering threads of Truth where we find them, patching and weaving, healing the fabric, stitching and mending, finding our way to the source of the lies and destruction.
Long before terror and chaos pillaged the building, the lies were laid to pillage the truth, to bend the will of the gullible and power-hungry masses to do the silent bidding of the suited pirates who have laid the groundwork of sedition.
Calling for calm and understanding only veils the carnage, drawing another layer of lies to cover the wreck. Now is the time for the stark strands of truth to stand out and carry the narrative back from the brink of destruction.
My peace has been broken, my balance shaken, my mindfulness marred. And yet, if there’s ever a time when spiritual practices must be meant for, it’s now. Gratitude. Mindfulness. Grounding and centering. Visualizing and affirming peace. Why practice the disciplines only for the pleasant and easy times? The whole point is to create inner spaces that cannot be destroyed by outer earthquakes. I’m not in shambles, only shaken. And that itself is a spiritual discipline, a mindfulness practice, to–as they say–feel all the feels. Like Rumi’s “Guesthouse,” I want to welcome them in, meet them eye to eye, know them as part of me. Only then can I start to clean up the shattered pieces that the earthquake knocked to the floor.
Sunday, 10 January 2021 Three Strands to Braid
Strand 1: My teaching actually brings me to mindfulness today. In Themes in Literature class, we’ve been studying The Zookeeper’s Wife, a story of a Warsaw woman who, with her husband and her community and a widely-effective Underground Resistance, saved hundreds of lives of Jewish people and resistance fighters during the Nazi occupation of Poland. We’ve been considering the characteristics of people who, instead of getting caught up in fear, turn toward the terror, and do the work that comes to them to do, to save and protect and rescue.
Strand 2: My husband’s father died on Epiphany, twelve years ago. Last night, my husband was going through some of his papers and came upon some letters and writings his father had tucked away from his days as a Seafaring Cowboy, one of the hundreds of young American men who, in the wake of WWII, tended cattle and other livestock on ships bound for Europe, to aid in rebuilding after the devastation of the war. This photo is of a series of postcards he brought home, images of Gdinya, a town near Gdansk, where they docked. In his letters, we learned that he took his first ever plane ride to visit the destroyed city of Warsaw. He wrote of the devastation of the city and the farmlands, noting that the retreating Nazis had blown up dikes, which flooded the arable farmland. Here, in this trove of papers, my own life intersects with that of Antonina Zabinski, the zookeeper’s wife, in a very small way.
Strand 3: And then, just before I went to bed last night, I happened upon a Facebook post about Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Jewish Hasidic rabbi who escaped Warsaw mere months before the Nazis began bombing the city. Hasidism, according to Diane Ackerman, the author of The Zookeeper’s Wife, is a strand of Judaism that emphasizes living in radical celebration–not a partier’s absorption, but a life of wonder and amazement. She mentions Heschel only briefly, in the context of Rabbi Shapira, another Hasidic rabbi, who stayed in the Ghetto and ended up dying in a concentration camp, who had to hold for his flock the tension between the horror they were living, and the call to be deeply engaged in the life of the spirit, deeply, mindfully celebrative. He developed meditations and mindfulness techniques to offer his people a way to bridge that space without denying the everyday terror, but also maintaining a heartful connection to everyday beauty and wonder. Here in the US, Rabbi Heschel, a scholar and professor and anti-war activist, became a supporter of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and joined the Civil Rights Movement.
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. . . . Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” ―Abraham Joshua Heschel
I know I did a lot of intense dreamwork last night, but the images and ideas are fleeting once again. I think I need to wake up and get writing before The Talker wakes up and starts his lengthy discourses on video games.
I’ve been meditating more on the gnomon, the sundial’s indicator. The perceiver. The indicator. Standing in its singular spot, the gnomon casts a shadow that shows the seeker where she is in the map of time. The gnomon must have a shadow in order to guide others to the truth of the moment. How can I be a truly helpful truth-telling guide if I do not know my shadow? If I do not stand boldly in the light of the sun, knowing that my shadow will flow out behind me for all to see? Perhaps this is the next step toward maturity.
Gratitudes: 1. Mending: I have a couple pairs of leggings that are developing some serious ladders, so yesterday I tried a woven mend that I saw on bookhou‘s Instagram videos last week. Mine ended up a little messy, but I definitely see the possibilities, and I have lots more holes to practice and improve on. 2. Last night I received a really moving message from a former student, talking about how, when I made the write poetry in Creative Writing class, he thought it was stupid, but when he had intense healing work to do after a painful time, he discovered that poetry was what he needed to be able to express what had happened to him. My heart hurts for the pain he must walk through, and it sings for the delight that something my work offered would be helpful in his healing. 3. For several months, I have been grieving the loss of a necklace I made. It has a bead and a pendant friends of mine brought me from East Africa, a large quartz crystal given to me by another friend, a cube of limonite Jon found on the farm, and a large garnet I bought at Radiance. Normally I am pretty philosophical about losing things, but this necklace was so attached to my web of beloveds and grounding places that it was a grief to lose it. Yesterday as I was re-arranging one of my altar spaces, I found the necklace, tucked in a corner where I had put it in a place of honor. It feels so good to wear it again. 4. How chakra meditations help to center me in my body. When I study religions and philosophical frameworks, ideas that separate the essential human from the body, that seek to raise the spirit/soul/essence out of matter in order to meet God or reach enlightenment, have always seemed incredibly suspicious and upside-down to me. My strongest sense has always been that the pathway to truth and knowing–gnowing–is by going deep, by centering myself within the body. Matter–matrix-mater matters. While I reject western materialism that clings to things as a superficial source of happiness, I think my pathway is material, enmattering. 5. How our Shadows can become our Guides. I am ready, I think, to take up this work. Having explored my shadows and begun to develop a sense of their shape and depth, I stand in the light and watch to see where they point.
May we walk in Beauty!
Honoring Kwanzaa with those who celebrate it: Today’s Principle in the Kwanzaa celebration is Kuumba: Creativity.
“I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.” —Michelle Obama, Becoming
“The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one’s curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day. Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length. It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.” —Diane Ackerman
A string of beads has a thread running through all the beads, keeping them together. What we need is a thread too—of sanity and stability. Because when you have a thread, even though each bead is separate, they hang together.” —Sogyal Rinpoche
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” (From the Talmud)
“The earth has music for those who listen.” —George Santayana
“By our love and our need for love we become for one another midwives of the true self.” —James Finley
“Civility will not overturn the patriarchy.” —Mona Eltahawy
“The opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice.” —Bryan Stevenson
“Aging is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.” ―David Bowie
“In a political culture of managed spectacles and passive spectators, poetry appears as a rift, a peculiar lapse, in the prevailing mode. The reading of a poem, a poetry reading, is not a spectacle, nor can it be passively received. It’s an exchange of electrical currents through language.” ―Adrienne Rich, 1993
“A revolutionary poem will not tell you who or when to kill, what and when to burn, or even how to theorize. It reminds you… where and when and how you are living and might live, it is a wick of desire.” ―Adrienne Rich
“More firebrand women. More dragon spirited women. More loud women. More angry women. More hard women. More intimidating women. More history-making women. More rebel women. More rebel women. More rebel women.” ―Nikita Gill
Anything we do, no matter how routine or mundane, can be a ritual, a prayer, a magical spinning of webs of healing. This week, as I have been repairing a quilt, I have been pondering/praying/spinning webs for the mending of the raggedness of the world.
When we got engaged over thirty years ago, Jon and I bought ourselves a glorious Sunshine and Shadow wedding quilt. For a few years, in one of the places we lived, we hung it on a wall, where it was fabulously set off by the natural woodwork of the doorways and window sashes of the house. But for much of our marriage we kept it in storage, waiting until we had a perfect wall again to display it. About ten years ago, I brought it out and said that a marriage quilt belongs on a bed. If it gets damaged by everyday use, so be it. We’re looking a little bit more ragged and worn ourselves than we did back in 1990, and it just felt wrong to keep something so symbolic tucked out of sight out of fear that it might become damaged.
And it has indeed become worn and ragged, but only in one of its colors. The heathery olive green was apparently a less sturdy fabric than the rest, and over time, it became completely shredded. It was my intention to go to a fabric store and try to match the color exactly, but I just don’t ever seem to find the time to make excursions like that, and so I put off fixing it for a couple years. Finally, during lockdown, I began to wonder why I was so attached to the replacement color matching the original exactly. I had some green with the same intensity of vibrancy as the other colors in the quilt. So I cut some patches and started to cut away the old and tattered fabric. (I didn’t think to start photographing the process until I had already repaired eight of the patches.)
And while I have been appliqueing the new patches into the design, I have been thinking about the raggedness of brokenness in our world, and especially in this country, where things have actually never NOT been ragged and torn. Unlike our wedding quilt, which began in beauty, and which represents a marriage and family that respects and values the true humanity of all its members, this country may have had some beautiful aspects when seen from a distance and through certain lenses, but the colors in the American quilt were created from the blood and bones and sweat of enslaved people and from the genocide of those who lived here before the Europeans came along with their ideas of Empire. This quilt we call the United States may need to be completely remade in order to create a thing of true and lasting beauty.
What are the elements and colors of beauty and grace that we think we want to keep when the quilt has been repaired? Democracy? What a lovely and marvelous ideal! But it’s never actually been a true and shining democracy for all of us. Can we find a fabric to replace that one? This time, let’s choose a strong fabric, one that weaves us ALL into the warp and weft, that offers everyone a voice. It’s going to take a great deal of energy and time and personal labor to cut away the ragged and corrupted edges of that one, and stitch the new and stronger pieces in its place.
We’re going to need to examine our communal ideals, one by one, and carefully trim away the ones which have become torn and tattered so we can stitch new, more vibrant colors made of stronger, more inclusive fabrics into their places. Perhap then we can save this quilt of a country. ‘Til all is said and done, we’ll probably be replacing the batting and backing, tearing out rows of quilting, finding new threads and better materials. The next version of this American quilt may not look much like the original, and that is a good thing. The original was never so vibrant and meaningful as so many people thought it was. It’s always been corrupted, moth-eaten, and tattered. Now is the time to create a true America, the one we thought we had, but real and solid and vibrant.
“That’s the way things come clear. All of a sudden. And then you realize how obvious they’ve been all along.” —Madeleine L’Engle
“In all religious systems the danger is that the logical structure and rational doctrine will obscure the mystical vision.” —Bede Griffiths
“Note to self today: Do not feed the monsters. Monsters are those thought threads that denigrate and disrespect self and others. Some are wandering thought forms, looking for a place to land and live. Some are sent to you deliberately or inadvertently. They can come from arrows or gossip, jealousy or envy. Or from just…thoughtlessness. Instead, have a party. Invite your helpers to the table. Give them something to do. They want to be helpful. And just celebrate. Feed the birds. Second note: A positive mind makes a light slippery surface and anything not of it, slides off.” —Joy Harjo
Omid Safi: “In many languages, the words for “love” have a connection to words for “seed.” In Arabic and Persian, a word for love (hubb) comes from the seed that is planted in the ground. Sometimes a seed of love is planted in the heart’s ground through a glance, a touch, a word. The seed of love falls on the heart’s soil. Is it a hardened earth, a rock-covered surface, one that will have the seed washed away with the first water? Or is it a soil that has been prepared, tilled, softened up, opened up again and again and again, ready to embrace the seed of love that would surely come?”
“We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities.” —Wendell Berry
“A spirituality that is only private and self-absorbed, one devoid of an authentic political and social consciousness, does little to halt the suicidal juggernaut of history. On the other hand, an activism that is not purified by profound spiritual and psychological self-awareness and rooted in divine truth, wisdom, and compassion will only perpetuate the problem it is trying to solve, however righteous its intentions. When, however, the deepest and most grounded spiritual vision is married to a practical and pragmatic drive to transform all existing political, economic and social institutions, a holy force – the power of wisdom and love in action – is born. This force I define as Sacred Activism.” ―Andrew Harvey, The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism
“If you’re really listening, if you’re awake to the poignant beauty of the world, your heart breaks regularly. In fact, your heart is made to break; its purpose is to burst open again and again so that it can hold evermore wonders.” ―Andrew Harvey
“I pray for the gift of silence, Of emptiness and solitude, Where everything I touch is turned into prayer:” ―Andrew Harvey, Light the Flame: 365 Days of Prayer
“Now, it’s not like Jesus was against name-calling or anything. He slung around Hypocrite, Fool and Brood of Vipers with the best of them. But I find it fascinating that Jesus reserved his name-calling for the religious community and never for the broken down or broken hearted. Never for the excluded. Never for the lonely. Never for the outcasts.
“Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t tell us to love the sinner; Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. And then Jesus goes on to define our neighbors as those who are despised, rejected, excluded, ignored, and bullied.” –Beth Woolsey
This weekend, I mended things. Each one of the four of us had an item of clothing with at least one hole. I am learning to darn knitwear. Some are easier than others, but I definitely got a little better as I went along. One special shirt was losing its SOUND CREW letters, and was full of little holes. I patched up the holes the best that I could and stitched the letters into place. On my own knit cardigan, instead of darning the holes closed, I stitched a thick ridge of thread around the edges of the holes, making a decorative element rather than trying to cover up the problems.
In this walk through the shadowy tunnels of the December labyrinth, I wonder how the mending metaphor can work for me in other ways. At times, it’s easy enough to repair a communication breach: stitch the edges together, and call it done. The line of repair might be obvious, but it stands as a reminder of the care needed for good communication.
Other times, relationships need serious reweaving, one person patching a new warp, and the other weaving a new weft back and forth, catching the frayed and slipping threads as you go. That’s tedious work, but the resulting repaired relationship can come through stronger and more interesting for the art and care put into the mending. Or sometimes, we work together to make the pain of the break in a relationship into a thing of beauty, a decorated memory of the hole we fell into. I have a few of these relationships in my life, and I treasure them with the sort of obstinate intensity that I lavish on a favorite article of clothing that will never be thrown away because the mended spots have become a part of the essential beauty and truth of the garment.
What needs mending today? How will you approach that which must be rethreaded, restitched, tended with threads of connection?
Envisioning: (At the beginning of Advent, my pastor asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)
Have you heard of ICU nurse Lori Wood, who was working with a 27-year-old-patient who needed a heart transplant? The young man was both autistic and homeless, and unable to get a heart transplant if he had nowhere to go afterward and no one to take care of him. In order to ensure that he could get all the care and treatment he needed, Ms. Wood adopted him, took him home, and cared for him. She wasn’t trying to be a hero. She was living her vision of true humanity.
(While this isn’t a situation that shows someone choosing a peaceful response to potentially violent situation, I think it’s not too far a stretch to call the experience of homelessness and the lack of health care for people in poverty a violent situation. Ms. Wood was offering an intentional compassionate response to a systemic violence, so I am going to say it fits the parameters of the exercise.)