Musings

Mercy Now: There is a Place for You

“There is still a place for you at our table, if you will choose to join us,” the young man said.
“Yes,” people chorused, “even now, there is a place for you.”
–Starhawk, The Fifth Sacred Thing

At the end of The Fifth Sacred Thing, when the military forces are over-running their city, Maya and the others decide on this strategy: They approach the soldiers and tell them they have set a place for them at the community table. They know that some of them, in the moment of invitation, will be shot and killed. They know the situation is dire. But they decide to appeal to the humanity of their enemies.

Can I say to the fiercely adamant Trump supporter on my Facebook threads: “There is a place for you at our table of welcome, if you choose to join us?”

Can I say it to the racists who are spouting venom and hatred?

Can I say it to the fear-mongers who scapegoat immigrants and Muslims and Latinx?

Could I say it to Mr. Smucker, my local representative, who consistently votes against everything I stand for, and for everything I stand against?

Could I say it to a denier of the climate Crisis? To a Monsanto exec?

Could I say it to Mitch McConnell? To Mr. Trump?

It’s an invitation that requires some self-reflection: “. . .if you choose to join us.” It doesn’t condone the soldier’s violence. It begs a different relationship, a sideways step across the line. It offers a way out for the individual trapped in a cycle of violent words and actions.

I am unsettled and twitchy these last few days about my own position in this story, my own lack of empathy and welcome. I’ve been working really hard at keeping the conversation to a high level. Still, in conversation this weekend, I said something to the effect that this administration has drawn the racist and homophobic cockroaches into the light. A dear and wise friend firmly and kindly called me on it. Just days after I wrote something calling out the president for calling people animals, I was calling people cockroaches. In my defense, I was being metaphorical. I didn’t intend to dehumanize, I tell myself. But what did I intend? Why use such metaphors? We tend to stomp on cockroaches. There’s a verbal violence for you. I can’t defend such language.

My friend encouraged us to look at people’s needs, to ask what needs are not being met when a person chooses, either verbally or physically, to harm another. This is the beginning of empathy.

In The Fifth Sacred Thing, the community was willing to risk their lives for the truth of this question. Am I willing to risk letting go of some of my protective rage so I , too, can invite people to the table? What will we be asked to risk if we offer this invitation? It’s not about destroying healthy boundaries. The community was actively standing up to the soldiers. Still, they chose to offer their enemies a choice, a way out.

My personal rhetoric in these difficult times has had a strong edge of boundary to it. I believe that to fight the evil (yes, evil) that is harming children and families and communities, we must declaim the truth. When a president uses a constant barrage of lies in order to confuse and demoralize the populace, truth-telling is a necessary and powerful act.

I wonder if there are ways that I can hold firmly to the truth-telling, and still set the tables in the rooms of my words in ways that invite my rivals to sit and eat and be nourished. Can I speak against the lies in ways that invite those who believe them to tell their stories and share their pain? And perhaps become transformed rather than entrenched?

“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives,” said Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, who joined the realm of the ancestors this week. She told the truth, directly and fiercely. And she also knew the power of words to heal, the power of narrative to create a bridge to a more just future: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

And further: “Is there no context for our lives? No song, no literature, no poem full of vitamins, no history connected to experience that you can pass along to help us start strong? You are an adult. The old one, the wise one. Stop thinking about saving your face. Think of our lives and tell us your particularized world. Make up a story. Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created. We will not blame you if your reach exceeds your grasp; if love so ignites your words they go down in flames and nothing is left but their scald. Or if, with the reticence of a surgeon’s hands, your words suture only the places where blood might flow. We know you can never do it properly–once and for all. Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul. You, old woman, blessed with blindness, can speak the language that tells us what only language can: how to see without pictures. Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation.” ―Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993

I don’t know if I can do it with grace and brilliance, with fierceness and tenderness. But I can try, as Morrison requests. Language has magic to it. As a teacher of language and a writer, I take that seriously. Let’s apprentice ourselves to the powerful human magic that language offers us, to create spaces within our words where our rivals may find a space to rest and consider, where we may all be transformed, and the future may be created with love.

As an epilogue, I offer you this song by Mary Gauthier, “Mercy Now.” Click the link, sit back, and listen.

Poems, Poetry Prompts

Exile

Exile is the theme of today’s Poetic Asides Prompt:

There are bubbles of belonging inside these spaces of separation,
places where true soul contact lies, and understanding lives.
It gives the exile a chance to feel connected, even in the crowd
of loud and angry judges who seek to cut away the sinners
from the inner group of those who belong, the righteous ones.

I’m done with trying to seek favor with the hoarders of grace
who place the ancient blood rules and regulations above
the call of love. I’ve chosen my exile and it only remains
to name the spaces where the outcasts can gather together,
our Cafes of Emigres, where grace and mercy are served with the tea.

Gratitudes, Musings, Poems, Poetry Prompts

Mercy and Fear

Today’s prompt is to write a triangle poem:

Triangle: The Spell, The Sleep, The Waking
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

First is the spell, the incantation, the bright blessing.
First is the curse of the jealous fairy.
First is the vain step-mother, the anxious interloper.
First is the dawn of the golden child.
First is three wishes and a wild, wild wind.

Second is when she loses the golden ball of her voice.
Second, the falling asleep.
Second is ball gowns and tea cakes.
Second is the pampered pedestal.
Second is a red bird in a golden cage.

Third, the clocks booms midnight.
Third, the wolf howls.
Third, the cock crows.
Third, the red rider races across the pathway.
Third, she opens her eyes.


“Mercy is the willingness to enter into the chaos of another.” –James Keenan
*
“The heavens are sweeping us along in a cyclone of stars.” –Teilhard de Chardin
*
Expose yourself to your deepest fear. After that, you are free.” –Jim Morrison
*
“You need not wade through the mists and bogs to reach the moon.
You need not climb a ladder of cobweb.
You need not ride the stallions that wicker in the sea’s pounding surf.

Draw back the curtain and open the window.
Breathe the bracing air and listen:
The whinny of an owl, the click of the bat,
The grunt of a buck and the distant roar of the train.

The full moon will spill a milky road before you.
That is all the pathway you will need.”
–Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
Joseph Campbell: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.”


Gratitude List:
1. Robins gathering in the hollow in the growing dusk
2. Russet. Nice word. Nice color.
3. The steeples of Wrightsville. This really is a lovely little town nestled into the hills of York County.
4. Falling leaves. Rilke’s poem really got into me. There’s nothing quite like translation to put a poet inside your head.
5. Moon moon moon moon mooooooooooooon

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Musings

Balancing

      
Doesn’t this just feed your soul? My mother’s windowsill. I passed it through a painting filter, which I like, but really, the beauty of the original colors is rather perfect.


This is not a joyful thing. Perhaps it is a gratitude of sorts. It’s more a simple relief. The man who caused the bus accident has turned himself in. It was an uncomfortable loose end that has been bothering me, not because I want revenge, but because it needed resolution.

In my advisory group today, one young man asked that we pray for the driver (before we knew he had turned himself in). This was the second or third time that this particular young man has asked for us to pray for someone who has done something wrong, or made a bad choice. I am moved by the layered depth of his compassion, and it leads me forward into hopeful spaces. May we all learn to love with such a sense of everyone’s humanity.


Today in an English 101 class, we were talking about the role of the Muses in the Greek pantheon, and one girl who had zoned out looked up and asked, “What about the moose?”

I think there needs to be a poem about the Moose of Poetic Inspiration.


Gratitude List:
1. Our Lady of the Flowers zipped past the window again today. I swear she paused in her humming for the briefest of moments and looked into the house at my boy in his red shirt.
2. Graces: I get teary when I talk about it, but it just needs to be said–All our children survived that accident. They likely have wounds that we cannot see, and some of them may experience flashbacks and anxiety. Others are still healing from physical injuries. But: They are alive. Every time I see pictures of that little bus on its side, I am astounded at the miracle of their survival.
3. The Administrative folks at my school. I think I have mentioned before how grateful I am for them, but today I had another chance to see the principals in action, responding to an issue with grace and firmness, holding the balances of accountability and tenderness. When there is harm, they name it, and then seek to care for those involved. They are true leaders.
4. Cobalt Blue
5. Following the pathway lit by the tender hearts of these young folks.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Musings, Poems, Poetry Prompts

The Opposite of Justice

Perhaps I could find my way to the doors of Justice
if only I could balance these tablets of Beauty and Rage,
could hear the wind in the trees while the harpies are shrieking.
Will I throw off the balance of nature if I listen to their song?
Or will it ruin the arc of the story if I shoo off the bird-women
and sit by the River with the wind in my hair?

What is the opposite of justice? Is it injustice or mercy?

On one side of the story is a silent horse, white as a ghost,
patiently waiting in tall meadow grasses. On the other side
of the river, of the fence, of the tale, three vultures in trees
open their wings to the sun. Between them, a poppy,
red as blood, sways in the morning breeze.

TOMORROW’S PROMPT:
In the old Norse story, Odin All-Father, ruler of the gods of Asgard, hung himself upside-down from the World Tree Ygdrassil for nine days and nights in order to gaze into the depths of the Well of Urd to learn the meanings of the runes, the ancient alphabet. He accepted no help from anyone, and hung in limbo between life and death until he had gained their secrets. Tomorrow, the Fool encounters the seeker for knowledge, the one who is willing to sacrifice comfort, to risk death, perhaps, in order to gain wisdom that will benefit the world. I never thought about it this way before, but Odin’s relentless search for knowledge reminds me of scientific thirst. What would you endure in order to gain wisdom and knowledge?

Gratitude List:
1. Poetry Read-Aloud Day in Creative Writing Class. There is a magic to the random collection of poems chosen by students. Suddenly a work by Robert Frost is informing the words of Tupac Shakur, or three students in one class all choose Langston Hughes poems. Magic.
2. Playing in the sandbox with a small person. If I am there and designing labyrinths and rocks gardens for my character (who happens to be a rather beat up truck), he takes up the burden of telling the story of the play that we are making up, his demolition derby cars zooming around the sandbox, knocking each other over the hills.
3. Springtime birdsong. My heart lifts and lifts. (Was I really that completely caught in the whirlpool of winter? Each day something new in me thaws.)
4. People of Peace
5. Problem-solving. Finding the language.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes

Music and Story

wordcloud

Gratitude List:
1. More wonderful student music last night at my school–everything from fiery Vivaldi violins to Christmas pieces to a gentle jazzy rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie.”  I went with my boy, who plays cello and trombone.  He, of course, had to sit right behind the sound booth, so he could watch that action.
2. Mercy.  From the Old Etruscan for “exchange.”  Cynthia Bourgeault speaks of “inter-abiding” with the Divine.  Mercy.
3. Poetry Unit with the 9th Graders.  When I announced that we are starting poetry in my three English 9 classes, I only heard one groan (and that from the obligatory groaner–there’s one in every crowd–I could say, “Hey Gang, time for candy!” and this one would groan).  They left class chatting about the poems they were going to write.  Aaaaah.
4.  The intersection of this world and the real world.  Yesterday when I was dropping off some Scholastic forms at the library, I ran into a friend from online, someone I have only met in person three or four times, but whose heart is dear to me.
5. Story.  Narrative. Literature. The way people’s hearts gather ’round, as at a campfire, when someone says, “Let me tell you a story.”

May we walk in Beauty!