Whatever the Day Means to You

First of all: If this day when everyone speaks of mothers is a day unbearable to you, I wish you the spiraling green of a damp spring day, cool breezes which bring your skin alive, and birdsong which calls your spirit to adventure. If you just cannot do this day, I hope that you can make it your own. Call it the Day of the Lost and Venturesome Soul. Go forth and ride the winds with the joy of your own being in this place.

And also, I must mark this day for myself: First, for the mother who mothered me, who has shown me so much of beauty and goodness in the world, who reminds me to put on the brakes when I start sliding downhill into emotional pits. She taught me to look outside, and to look inside, to marvel, to wonder, to look at the crunchy emotions with as much curiosity as the soaring ones. She reminds me to trust my voice.

I know that not all of us have such women who raised us. In that case, I wish you nurturers in other guises, way-show-ers, path-markers, wise wells and founts of deep inner knowledge, who will mother and mentor you, no matter their gender or parental status. In my life, I have had many mothers who have been guides on this pathway, Hecates to my Persephone. Great gratitude to all of you, beloveds.

And my own mothering space is complicated, as yours might be, too. I began to lose my first pregnancy on Mother’s Day, and birthed my second in this season. I treasure these young souls in my care, and I love being their mother. And, befitting one of the besetting troubles of my own psyche, I feel inadequate to the task. I beat myself up for the many unmotherly things I have done. Still, I am grateful for this chance to grow more fully into myself with them.

On this day, I commit myself to finding my own mothering/mentoring role in the world, to point out the beauty, to encourage the inward look, to nurture, to guide, to mentor, to engage, to See.

No matter your relationship to this day, I wish you a sense of yourself as belonging in this world. Much love.

Into the Dark, December 18

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

My principal opened a faculty meeting yesterday by asking us to all turn to a neighbor and tell one good thing that happened in the day. It can be easy, when gathered with colleagues, to air the frustrations of the day, so to set the stage for a meeting by getting us to recall one good thing was to set us up for a moment of gratitude. He could hardly get us to be quiet and return our attention to the meeting, we got so wrapped up in finding the twinkling moments of the day.

Today’s word in this winter walk will be gratitude. Noticing, marking, paying attention to each bright thing that appears, each mysterious shadow that reveals itself, each twinkling moment that expands itself within me. Several friends and I do (mostly) daily gratitude lists which we share on our social media pages. It’s not to brag or to create a facade of lives in which everything runs smoothly and beautifully, but to remind ourselves and each other to keep watch, even in times of great sorrow or loss, to pay attention and take note of those things which bring joy, which bless our inner lives. In these days, even in the midst of political turmoil and injustice, there is so much to be grateful for.

Gratitude List:
1. Community of gratitude–being supported and buoyed up by others who have also chosen this work as a spiritual discipline.
2. There are lights at the end of this tunnel
3. The pianist in yesterday’s chapel–David Berry of Eastern Mennonite University. He brought energy and wonder into the space, and such music!
4. Singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” with the campus choral groups on Saturday night. One of my colleagues reminded me yesterday of how incredibly sublime that was.
5. I say this one a lot, but it’s one of the things that helps me hold onto hope in difficult days: the Good People doing their Good Work.

May we walk in Beauty!

“We must give the story of our misfortunes a home. This always seeking to start anew, to cover our eyes and elude pain, eventually only makes refugees of our wounds. They follow at our heels and seep into the background life of every new love. They become the distant, tenacious ache which howls with a silent mantra of unbelonging. We must remember and be willing to say their name. We must house our displacements, gather them close and feed them with our remembering until they acquiesce as the great allies that they are.” —Toko-pa Turner

“Maybe this is crazy, but I think the right to own a gun is trumped by the right not to be shot by one.” —Andy Borowitz

“Sit in stillness and listen to what your heart prays.” —Ruth Jewell

“The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” ―David Steindl-Rast

Into the Dark, December 12

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

One of my favorite quotations from anywhere comes from Mary Oliver’s “Sometimes.” Actually, several of my favorite quotations come from that poem, but this one is for today:

     “Instructions for living a life.
     Pay attention.
     Be astonished.
     Tell about it.”

This might be just the thing I need right now, in the endurance time, in the waiting time, in the polar opposite moments of silence and frenzy that mark this season. In this holding pattern where I find myself in the shortening days, in this time of focusing inward, it can be hard to keep my eyes up and out. But this, too, is the work of this season. This is why I am quieting myself. This is why I am breathing extra carefully and intentionally: So I can look around, and see what I can see.

I think I am quoting the Bible here: “Watch. Wait. For the hour is at hand.” Today’s word will be watch. Notice. Pay attention. And then be astonished. Today’s word has homework. What will I see, if I train my senses outward with just a little more intention than usual? And how will that affect my balance in this time–to keep part of my gaze focused inward, while part of my gaze is focused more intentionally outward?

Gratitude List:
1. The music program at my school
2. My parents
3. Watching and waiting
4. Scarves
5. Chocolate

May we walk in Beauty!

“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”
—Agnes De Mille

“But in a society seeking sameness and assimilation, while fleeing its most painful secrets, creative people are inevitably marginalized or even punished… Artists often raise the questions society seeks to mask and in doing so provoke its ire.” —Carol Becker, in “Surpassing the Spectacle”

“Write it on your heart
that every day is the best day in the year.
He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day
who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.
Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with your old nonsense.
This new day is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

“To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”
—Mary Oliver




I’ve been away from the blog for a couple weeks, finishing up my semester, caught in the whirlwind, keeping my head above water. I haven’t been making gratitude lists, but I’ve been noticing. Instead of the long sustained gratitude practice of noticing several things in a day and keeping them in my memory for evening’s contemplation, I’ve been a grateful butterfly, slipping from flower to flower on a breeze, noticing in the moment and passing on to the next shining thing. I think it’s good to practice this kind of immediate presence as well as the deeper holding of a daily meditative contemplation.

During the last two days, I have been feeling the tug toward the sustained contemplation again, so here, again, is a Gratitude List:
1. This is the season of peonies and foxgloves and naked ladies: The flowers of the Grandmothers. I feel as though the Grandmothers are reminding us that they are still among us. They support our Work.
2. Today’s sermon, and the image of Godde as a child, holding our faces in her dimpled little hands and gazing into our eyes, looking at our wounded parts in awe and wonder, seeing the beauty and tenderness in the parts of ourselves we reject or hide or minimize.
3. Yesterday’s visit from a black rat snake. Such a magical creature. Ellis petted it. We got to watch it slither through the long grass, tasting the air with its tongue.
4. Our Lady of the Flowers is sitting on a nest of lichen and cobweb in the sycamore tree, right where we can watch her from the porch.
5. Changing of season. School is almost over. The grading will get finished. We will go on vacation. I will write. I will share tea and conversation with friends. Green will keep happening.

May we walk in Beauty!

Write Your Own Lexicon

Gratitude list first today, and then a task:

Gratitude List:
1. Words, dictionaries, semantics
2. Romance
3. A day of not-snowing
4. Sourdough bread
5. Lovey-dovey cats.

May we walk in Beauty!

Today’s task is to start your own dictionary.  I think I am going to call mine Words of Power, or Word-Hoard, or maybe Crazy Beth’s Lexicon.  It’s a project that will take more than today, of course.  I think I’ll put the words in the book that I put together every year (I can’t bring myself to say scrapbook,  but that’s essentially what it is.)

I haven’t yet read all of Kathleen Norris’ Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, but the idea has inspired me for some time now: to think about words that hold particular meaning for me in my own spiritual wandering and wrangle the semantics.  These are my own personal T.A.R.D.I.S. words: like Doctor Who’s time machine, they are bigger on the inside than they appear from the outside.  As I have carried them about with me over time, they have taken on nuances and shades of meaning that may not have been there when I first picked them up.  They’re luminous and numinous (and those are both words that ought to make my list), shining from the inside, and suggesting that there is Deeper Meaning in the world.

This is the one I have chosen to define my spiritual story.  I want to be a Noticer.  It’s not a new idea, not my own, just a word that I have picked up and tinkered with.

Be conscious, be awake, be observant.  Live in the present moment.  Be here now, said Ram Dass.  Don’t walk past the color purple in a field and not notice it, says Alice Walker.  Be mindful.  Notice the white gull in a wintry sky, the way dawn creeps up over the river, the sound of the bluebird in the maple tree, the smell of gill-over-the-grass when you walk upon it.

Notice the way your lover’s eyes twinkle and sparkle when he’s trying to make you laugh, the way your child’s muscles relax as she settles onto your lap while you’re reading, the way your friend’s eyebrows crinkle when she tells you something that makes her worry.  Notice the way energy flows between people, the way the air crackles around someone who is feeling the power of her ability to communicate, the way the shadows creep around someone who is feeling depleted and anxious.

Every Christmastide–those 12 days between Yule/Christmas and Epiphany-ish–I pay extra close attention to my dreams, watching for images and words that I might harvest for the coming season of my life, to give shape to my emerging story.  This year, I woke up one morning not with a dream remembered, but with a single word waiting for me: Bridge.  Last year or the year before, I wrote a poem for an organization called Bridge of Hope which helps to set up community safety nets for women and children who have experienced homelessness.  My Waldorf friends speak of the Rainbow Bridge as the place where the souls of children come from the other world to this place, and where the living pass to the realms of the dead.  We create bridges between people, between places.

Build bridges between myself and my deeper self, between friends from diverse circles, between ideas that feel oppositional.  Build bridges of light and hope, of spiderweb and dreams, build bridges of words that cross chasms where lurk despair and rage and fear.  I’m going to be working on this word for the whole year.

Others I will add: Palimpsest, Graces, Luminous / Numinous, Web

What words will make your list?


for Leigh Phillips

Tell me something soft, you said,
and all I can think is the soft bellies of my hens,
the place on the inside of the elbow,
or the tender skin on the head
of the woman of Goose Creek
who has shaved her hair
and walked into her story.

Soft, like the ashes that have cooled
when the burning is done,
when you sift the remnants of the past
between your open fingers.

Even the word loss has a softness to it,
the rounded vowel, the soft hiss at the end.

Are there breezes in your Brooklyn,
soft whispers in the air?
Can you hear how a tree in Pennsylvania
murmurs with your voice
into the soft and tender wind?


Gratitude List:
1.  Noticing.  Today I have been thinking about the spiritual practice of noticing, and of all the ways
2.  My parents have taught me to notice.  How noticing keeps me conscious of
3.  The present moment.  How the present moment is
4.  The Exquisite Doorway between past and future.  How that transition from past to future is always taking place, as naturally as
5.  Breathing out and breathing in.

May we walk in Beauty.  Namaste.