Justicia Para Todos

Photo taken from a moving car by a reluctant teenager. I tinkered with it to try to bring it closer to my memory of the moment of color.

This is the dawn of a new semester. Here on the second day of our new classes, I am trying to get a baseline writing sample from all my students, and trying to make sure that everyone knows how to submit their assignments electronically from the get-go. I’m playing Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem today as the poem of the day, and then asking them to write about what they want America (or their own country) to be.

Here are some of my reflections from yesterday:
The relief was almost as hard to breathe through as the grief has been. I felt like I do when I get off the bike and don’t walk it off–light-headed and wobbly. Even though I was extra careful with my daily grounding and breathing, it was hard to keep that energy anchored. It’s been a heavy task to carry the weight of constant destruction in these past four years, and laying down the better part of that burden was a shock to the system, especially as the anxiety of further domestic terrorism still hung over the day. Are we safe now? I kept asking myself. Maybe now? Maybe we can say we’re safe now?

We have made it from there to here. Now it is time to take ourselves from here to the next where. We are safe, but not rebuilt. I celebrate with great joy all the successes of yesterday, all the diversity of cabinet members, all the voices being called in and called on and amplified. Now we hold the leaders to the vision they offered us, and to the dream of a just and equal society, of justicia para todos.

It would have been nice to have had some indigenous representation in the ceremony, some Muslim voices. I admit that I cringed at the overtly Christian tone it set. Our new president is Catholic, and so I think it is perfectly apt and acceptable to have priests and ministers give Christian blessing to the ceremony, but I did come away with a sense that there was an assumption of Christianity. I think someone even used the words “people of faith” as though it belonged to us all. This does not destroy the beauty of so much of the ceremony, even in the prayers and speeches–but it mars it a little for me, makes me wince. I want our leaders to commit to separation of church and state, a separation that can bless the religious perspectives of a Catholic president, as well as the Muslims and Buddhists and pagans and atheists and seekers among us all.

Yesterday, after four years of a constant barrage of vicious and violent and belittling rhetoric, a young Black woman taught us how to speak to each other again. Kindly and firmly, honest about the brokenness we have walked through. She showed us how the language of poetry can craft a vision of a desired world in ways that rhetorical speeches cannot. The wildly joyful response to her words show how starved we have been for poetry, how we have longed for the uniquely disruptive vision of the Poet. I kept wanting to tell people, “I loved Amanda Gorman before Amanda Gorman was cool,” but that would have been a buzz kill–I remember how entranced I was the first time I heard her voice. “Tyrants,” she said, in the poem she spoke at her own inauguration as National Youth Poet Laureate, “fear the poet.” Yup. There has been no poetry in this past administration.

The mockingjay is not necessarily a call for violent revolution, ya’ll. As I understand the books, the mockingjay was about the networks of people committed to changing an oppressive system that privileged the wealthy, about resisting an authoritarian regime that brutalized children and families in order to control the population (sound like a familiar border-control plan?), that centered the vicious and horrific as entertainment. I don’t know if Lady Gaga and her stylists intended the association between her peace dove and The Hunger Games mockingjay, but I hope they did. It was brilliant. To me, it means that the people are still holding the powers that be accountable, no matter who holds the titles. As it should be in a democracy.

I do not pledge my allegiance to any flag or nation. I belong to the world, and pledge my allegiance to the planet and her peoples and her plant and animal life, to her networks of energy. I do like the liberty and justice for all part of our pledge, however. I do hope we can start living up to that. Especially the ALL part. Yesterday was the first time I ever got teary-eyed during the pledge. A Black woman, signing the pledge. White gloves. Eloquent hands. Her strong, clear voice. Her distinct signs that made even non-ASL speakers understand the meanings. (And then later, Amanda Gorman’s eloquent hands that seemed to be speaking along with her voice. Eloquent hands.)

Speaking of hands, I am a fan of Bernie’s Mittens, made for him by an elementary schoolteacher, by recycling wool sweaters, using fleece made of recycled plastic bottles for the lining. I hope he understands that the meme-making of the image of him sitting there in his mittens is more about how he also represents something about us rather than making fun of him. I, too, am sitting in the cold in my mittens, legs and arms crossed, watching to see what we will make of our chances. Dear practical Senator Sanders, how we need your vision to help guide us now. Be as curmudgeonly as you need to be. (And also, I think I might start swearing by Bernie’s Mittens. Seems like an emblem of power somehow. Eloquent mittens.)

I don’t really like our warlike national anthem. Never have. I prefer to think of “America The Beautiful” as our anthem. Why isn’t it? And I loved the sweetness of J-Lo’s rendition of that one, and the gorgeous intensity of her breaking in with the Spanish version of the pledge. My Spanish isn’t good, but I understood what she was saying by the time she got to “justicia para todos.” Yes, please!

Despite my dislike of the anthem, I found myself moved again, at the moment that Lady Gaga turned and gestured (eloquent hands again) to the flag, as she sang that it was still there, and suddenly it wasn’t just about war but about the fact that we had just weathered an insurrection, and no longer just the flag, but Democracy, was still there. Suddenly it all stood for so much more than war and colonialism and imperialism, but for the basic principles of democracy that we keep trying to get right, that were under attack just two weeks before in that exact same spot. I still don’t like the anthem, but Lady Gaga transformed it momentarily for me yesterday.

Keep singing, Mockingjay. We’re listening. We’re gathering.
We’re working as hard as we can to make justicia para todos a reality.
We’re ready to be that light you spoke of, Sweet Fierce Poet.

May we be worthy of our dreams.


Gratitudes:
1. Safety
2. Rest
3. Poets
4. Breath
5. Tabula Rasa

May we create justicia para todos.


“For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.”
–Amanda Gorman, excerpt from The Hill We Climb


THE LUTE WILL BEG
by Hafiz

You need to become a pen
In the Sun´s hand.
We need for the earth to sing
Through our pores and eyes.
The body will again become restless
Until your soul paints all its beauty
Upon the sky.
Don´t tell me, dear ones,
That what Hafiz says is not true,
For when the heart tastes its glorious destiny
And you awake to our constant need
for your love
God´s lute will beg
For your hands.


“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.” —From “On Pain” by Khalil Gibran

(W)Rite of Revolution

My friend Jindu and I are going to write a poem a day for a month. I kind of petered out on the November prompt-a-day process, partly because I didn’t hook up with anyone else to keep me accountable, I think.

I am seeking my poetic edge right now. I think I have settled into a dreamy voice that feels truthful and real to me, but I also want to push myself to dance it more toward the edges, to use the knife of poetry to cut through the lies which have overtaken out communal political life. I want to do, as Toni Morrison suggests: “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.”

I listened to the This Jungian Life podcast episode on QAnon yesterday. The analysts spoke of the mad shaman archetype, cult leaders like the Rajneesh or Jim Jones, and political cultists like Donald Trump. These mad shamans tap into and seem to control the prevailing group subconscious, so I put the political ones in my poem.

In shifting my voice a little, I lose the sense of what is incisive and rich versus what is schlocky and overdrawn. I think I really like this one, but I’m not sure whether it works or not. I am really good at taking constructive criticism, so if you have suggestions for making it better, or if you think it simply doesn’t work, I would value your thoughts.

(W)Rite of Revolution
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

It’s an insane season on the world stage
when the mad shamans have throttled reason,
caged the people’s psyche
to manipulate the narrative, to stir up
snakes’ nests of impotent and undirected rage
that has no urge for revolution.

When old men commit their treasons in broad daylight
with a populace too cowed to call it out,
and the well of civic sense is poisoned
and dissent is disallowed, then
we are ripe for revolution.

Can we write a revolution,
shake up a sleeping people
with glowing word-bombs and poetic lines of fire?
Can we rhyme our way to wakefulness?
Express defiance in the rhythms we lay down?

The ancient prophets called down fire from heaven
with poetic furor, and each stage of history
has its poets in the streets, calling out for justice,
eyes ablaze and wild hair whipped by Armageddon breeze.
The bodies of the tyrants’ victims line the empires’ alleys,
and naked truth has been outshone by sexy lies.

When all they know is violence, can we stand
within the golden pillars of our words, unweave
the strands of their intimidations with our poetry,
ignore the pomp and vain bravado of the ones
who make their final stand in halls of power,
reveal instead a vision of a just and equal future,
turn our backs on old men’s lies? Set Truth,
in all her naked glory, back in the center of our discourse?

Set the poets and the prophets loose in all the streets,
from Washington to Lagos, to Moscow, to Beijing.
From Caracas to Jerusalem, to London, to Riyadh.
Free the words on crumpled pages, creaking laptops,
throats constricted from the tyrants’ iron claws.
Create new incantations to freedom and democracy.
Unravel the curses of the mad shamans, unweave
their version of a twisted history.
Write a new page.
Stage the revolution
in the realm of dream and vision.


“We live in a world of theophanies. Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can only happen if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure.”
—Macrina Wiederkehr


“It was one of those days you sometimes get latish in the autumn when the sun beams, the birds toot, and there is a bracing tang in the air that sends the blood beetling briskly through the veins.” —P.G. Wodehouse


“You deserve a lover who takes away the lies and brings you hope, coffee, and poetry.” —Frida Kahlo


“I touch God in my song
as the hill touches the far-away sea
with its waterfall.
The butterfly counts not months but moments,
and has time enough.”
—Rabindranath Tagore


Clarissa Pinkola Estes:
“We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?
“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds beacons, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of of soul in shadowy times like these—to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.”


“Speak to your children as if they are the wisest, kindest, most beautiful and magical humans on earth, for what they believe is what they will become.” —Brooke Hampton


“Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God.
Every creature is a word of God.
If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature—even a caterpillar—
I would never have to prepare a sermon.
So full of God is every creature.”
—Meister Eckhart


Yes
It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.
It could you know. That’s why we wake
and look out–no guarantees
in this life.
But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.
—William Stafford


“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” ―J.R.R. Tolkien

Roadside Profusion

This is the season when chicory and day lilies bloom together, and the lace of Queen Anne, and the stars of St. John, and the tall hag’s tapers of the mullein, and the profusion of dogbane, and the tidy self-contained heads of red and sweet clover, and the yellow sparkles of sweet melilot, and the nodding pink balls of milkweed that catch you with their wisps of scent when you’ve already walked on five paces. Our roadside is rife with the buzzing and humming of pollinators.

Yesterday, I worked in the herb room at Radiance, the little shop where I work one day a week in the summertime. It’s one of my favorite places. In the evening, Jon and I walked down the road. As we walked, I began to see the same beings I had been smelling and measuring during the day: St. John’s wort, plantain, mullein, red clover, chicory, raspberry leaves, thistle. Wendell Berry’s words flash into my heart: “What we need is here.” And a fragment of Mary Oliver: “The world offers itself. . .”
*****
I often dream that I am wandering down the hallways of a large and rambly and labyrinthine hotel. Sometimes it’s a school, sometimes city streets, but mostly a hotel. I go down hallways and through doors that sometimes lock behind me, into dark passages, up stairways, back into well-lit hallways with a thousand doors. Sometimes I am completely alone, and sometimes there’s a bustle of people.

The anxiety dreams are usually set here, and I have a deadline, somewhere I have to be, and I can’t find my way. Usually, for me, I’m trying to find a class I am supposed to have been teaching, and I’m probably late, and I may have actually missed teaching the class for a couple of days, and my students are completely unsupervised, and I should have had the schedule and directions with me, but I don’t, and I can’t seem to pull it up on my phone. Sometimes, like last night, I ask a helpful receptionist. Last night, I was told brightly to please take a seat and I would be helped in fifteen minutes or so. But I was already five minutes late for a forty minute class. So I set off again to try to find my way on my own.

At one point last night, I did manage to meet up with friends and colleagues for lunch in an incredibly busy dining hall (no Covid in this dream), which was nice, except I was terribly afraid they would discover that I had not taught a single class yet that day and that I had even forgotten how to get from class to class. I was so ashamed. But Ellis was in the dining hall, too, even though he was with his friends, and it was nice to see him there, and happy, and the cooks had made a huge pot of ugali, so he and I kept going back for more of that.

I had kicked off my pointy red high-heeled shoes in my own classroom, but I was supposed to go to a different classroom for every class, and I was supposed to be teaching Math and Foods as well as English, and I suddenly realized as I was rushing down the hall that I was barefoot (thank heavens I wasn’t naked this time), and I was further ashamed that people would see me barefoot because it’s against dress code not to wear shoes.

So it was a long and tiring night, and I kept waking up, and every time I went back to sleep I was back in the dream. At one point, I did manage to find a schedule, but I was already so far behind in the day that it was sort of pointless, and I couldn’t find my way anyway, so I went back and got my painful shoes and sat in on someone else’s French class.

Glad to be awake now.


Gratitudes:
For plant medicine all around, for wise women, for catfolk, for time to make and create, for the mirror of dreams, for giving up shame–anxious bit by anxious bit, for the ones who are committed to transforming themselves and society.

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


“To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world’s night utters the holy.” ―Martin Heidegger


“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


“You have to learn to get up from the table when LOVE is no longer being served.” —Nina Simone


“I like sitting at the piano. I like the idea that there are things coming in through the window and through you and then down to the piano and out the window on the other side. If you want to catch songs you gotta start thinking like one, and making yourself an interesting place for them to land like birds or insects. Once you get two or three tunes together, wherever three or more are gathered, then others come.” —Tom Waits


“The poem, I’ve always felt, is an opportunity for me to create an integrated whole from so many broken shards.” —Rafael Campo


“Which came first, the fear or the gun? The broken heart or the bleeding one? The impulse toward death or the desperate reach for love?” —Mark Morford


“A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.”
—John O’Donohue


“There is no such thing as being non-political. Everything we say or do either affirms or critiques the status quo. To say nothing is to say something: The status quo—even if it is massively unjust and deceitful—is apparently okay. The silence of many Christians is used to legitimize the United States’ obsession with weapons, its war against the poor, Israel’s clear abuse of Palestine, politicians who are “pro-life” on the issue of abortion but almost nothing else, the de facto slavery of mass incarceration, and on and on.” —Richard Rohr

For the Good of Everyone

My poetry collaborator dreams up the next line.

The grumbling is getting louder. The anxiety is rising. People are starting to toss the words “rights” and “freedom” around. People are afraid that this is all power-plays by the leadership to cow us, subject us, hold us in our places. And why shouldn’t they be afraid? When have we ever known the (mostly) rich (mostly) white (mostly) male ruling class to work on behalf of the people, to remember their sweetly quaint little title of “public servant”? Who should we trust?

The doctors. And scientists. We can, hopefully, trust the scientists and the physicians. And the story. Trust the story. Watch how it has played out across the globe. Remember Italy. Remember China.

It’s very likely that some of the governors are working out of self-interest and electability, that some are too cautious and timid, that others are hungrily consolidating power in a time when people are vulnerable. So I will trust the leaders who seem to be trusting the doctors and the scientists and the story. It hasn’t been difficult to find an example of a leaders who isn’t trusting the science, who is inexorably manipulating the narrative to feed his own ego and his own power. And if you want to start talking about freedom and rights, let’s begin with the ways in which he has been harming the freedom and the rights of the common people since the day he took office. I’m going to cast my lot in with the governors on this one.

This doesn’t have to be an American frontier epic contest between your fear and your freedom. That’s an old and worn-out trope, and it’s a false dichotomy, a fairy tale told to us by end-stage capitalism. The governors are not Big Bart riding into town with all guns blazing, ordering the women and children to cower in their homes. In this story, we make the choice to stay home, to wait, to isolate, in order to protect the vulnerable ones among us, in order to protect our health care workers.

As far as I know, my parents and my immuno-compromised beloveds are all safe. But if we resume business as usual too soon, they may all be in danger, and those you love, too. It’s not about whether or not you or I personally fear death. It’s about whether we have the deep communal compassion to do something that protects the most vulnerable among us. Remember, this is the Exile for the Good of the Realm.


Gratitude List:
1. The Iron Lady Trail. My Project Manager says I shouldn’t call it that, that it’s still unnamed, but he initially called it the Iron Lady, and so I’m calling it that for now. Josiah is marking and clearing a series of deer trails in the woods above the pond. He calls himself the Project Manager, and her has enlisted his progenitors to assist with the cutting of poison ivy and brambles. Yesterday after our schoolwork, we cleared a side trail that links the Iron Lady (I mean Unnamed) Trail to a second entrance to the fields. This one emerges from the woods beneath a curving limb of a cherry tree. For too long, the poison ivy has kept us out of the woods. We are going to try to keep the trails maintained so we can have some passages through the woods.
2. The passion with which my kids follow their interests. It can be tiring to listen to hours of discourse on the minute differences between the Tesla models, or how to build a very detailed something-or-other in Minecraft, or the many reasons why a particularly obscure piece of technology is either illegal or shady or brilliant. Still, I love that they can be passionate about things that have near-zero interest for me.
3. Homemade oatmeal protein bars. I don’t know why I got away from making them. And of course, I have no recipe, so I have to go back and recreate it. The ones I made last night are too crumbly. But they taste good!
4. The veils of green appearing through the woods.
5. I am loving the poetry-writing process right now. It’s very much like the energy of April 2012 (I think that was the year), when I felt something click and sizzle. This is perhaps less giddy, more grounded, but it tingles. I’m especially grateful for my poet-community right now.

Take care of each other. Walk in Beauty!


The Soul, it sees by synesthesia
Tasting light caressed by song
A touch is like a descant fire
resonant and strong.
—Craig Sottolano


“I’m not as cooperative as you might want a woman to be.” —Carrie Fisher


“The unconscious wants truth. It ceases to speak to those who want something else more than truth.” —Adrienne Rich


And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
-—Raymond Carver’s Late Fragment, inscribed on his tombstone


Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation.

The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last.

All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
—David Whyte


“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
―Mother Teresa


“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”
―Linda Hogan


“This will be our reply to violence:
to make music more intensely,
more beautifully,
more devotedly than ever before.”
―Leonard Bernstein

Freedom in the Mind

“It is our mind, and that alone,
that chains us or sets us free.” —Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

That quote is one I have had tucked away in the unlikely event that I would end up in jail or in a hospital, or sheltering in place during a world pandemic. Hmmm. Well, here we are. I think quotes like this can be used inappropriately, to make people feel like they’re not working hard enough at the inner life if they’re feeling caught and trapped. On the other hand, I am finding it profoundly liberating to keep reminding myself that the claustrophobia and sense of entrapment in this experience is partly self-imposed, that I can be free, even in confined conditions. And to be honest, I am hardly confined, here on the farm. But that shows me even more deeply how the sense of being chained or free in a situation like this has more to do with my inner work than with my outer situation.


I’ve been posting twice on these April days of Poetry. Once in the morning for musings and quotes and gratitudes, and a second time in the afternoon, when I have written my poem for the day.


Gratitude List:
1. Though I miss Room 206, my current office/classroom is a pleasant, well-lit place.
2. My coworkers and students (present and virtual) are lovely people.
3. Such hope-filled Zooming with beloveds yesterday.
4. I’m wearing my bracelets today. I don’t usually wear them around the house, but I have missed having the clink and the flash of color.
5. In the midst of this terrible uncertainty, there is much to be certain of: love, spring, birdsong, laughter. When I sit on the recliner, I know that within ten minutes there will be a cat on my lap–that is a comforting certainty.

May we walk in Beauty! Take care of each other.


“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.” —George Orwell


“We must live from the center.” —Bahauddin, father of Rumi


“Some days I am more wolf than woman and I am still learning how to stop apologising for my wild.” —Nikita Gill


“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” —Albert Einstein


“Writer’s block results from
too much head. Cut off your head.
Pegasus, poetry, was born of Medusa
when her head was cut off.
You have to be reckless when writing.
Be as crazy as your conscience allows.”
—Joseph Campbell


“Ask yourself: Have you been kind today? Make kindness your daily modus operandi and change your world.” —Annie Lennox

Balancing the Energy

This is the little zen garden in my classroom. It was constantly changing throughout the day as different students would rake and arrange it. I miss those moments.

Since I have been working from home, I have noticed–along with the uncomfortable energies of anxiety and irritability and grieving–a positive energy shift. In normal life, I am often exhausted and worn down. I can’t sleep past 5:30. I get home, and all I want to do is sleep. I try to get to the big grading projects, and it’s like trying to walk through a wall inside my brain. I start to feel like I am a lazy procrastinator. The sense of inadequacy makes me feel more tired and run-down.

In the two and a half weeks since I’ve been working at home, I find that I have to remind myself to stop working. I have to make it a point to take breaks. I feel like I have the energy to work like I need to, to do ALL the grading.

As I have been pondering it, I realize that the energy shift has to do with introversion and extraversion, with being an ambivert–both intro and extra. I think that in many public spaces I present primarily as an extravert, and I love that part of myself. When I am teaching, the interaction with students, whether one-on-one or in a class setting, is one of my great joys. I love pushing myself outward, meeting the other, making connection. But the constant extraversion, and the need to be “on” all the time, takes a toll on my emotional energy. The introvert never gets fed.

Grading, while it’s a solitary sort of task, is (I think) an extension of the extraverted element of the working day. In normal life, I just hit a wall and can’t seem to get past it to push myself out there to do the next thing. My extravert side is exhausted and run-down, and my introvert can’t find the energy to get back into balance.

These days, the grading and the school communicating is pretty much all I have for that crucial connected part of my work-life. My introvert is being fed with lots of quietness and stillness, even in this crowded house. I pace myself. I have re-taught my body to sleep until 6:30. The grading and the school communications give my life purpose and structure. The wall between me and the grading projects is gone. I just sit down and do the next thing. I actually feel (mostly) adequate to these particular tasks.

But I miss my students terribly. I can hardly bear that I might never see some of them again. I know that some of them are hurting and struggling, and I don’t know how to be Present through a computer. When this is over, I will happily go back to physical school. Despite what I am learning about myself and my energy, I don’t think I am meant to be a cyber-school teacher. I need faces and classrooms. While I think that my teaching can be perfectly adequate from home, there’s nothing like the magic of exploring ideas about literature and writing in a real-time class. And there are costs to this kind of work. I NEED to have a life outside of school, and now that school has invaded my home, there is almost nothing that is not school. I must set boundaries, and leave some work unfinished.

I think I will need to hold some of this sense of empowerment and adequacy that I am gaining in my introverted time when I return to extraverted life. Perhaps this current sense of being adequate to the grading tasks will stick to me a little more solidly and I will be able to manage my ambiverted self with a little more balance and grace.


Gratitude List:
1. National Poetry Month! Something to break up the steady monotony of constant school. Today’s prompt is to write a new world poem.
2. Chipping sparrows. They’re so sweet, sort of timid, smaller than the white throats, and they wear those rusty caps. When they come in to the bird feeder, they sometimes hover for a couple seconds before they alight.
3. The sound of a woodpecker rat-a-tatting in the walnut tree.
4. Vanilla in my coffee. I make coffee shakes in the mornings: hot coffee, a little butter a little coconut oil, half-and-half (if I have it), and a scoopful of vanilla protein powder. Blend and drink.
5. How the altered times are teaching me things about myself, things I knew in my head, but didn’t have the space within which to explore the deeper truths.

Take care of each other!


Words for the Day of the Holy Fool:
“The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.” —Julian of Norwich


“Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.” —Carl Jung


“The historical Jesus probably looked like an average Syrian refugee. You know…the ones we turn away.” —Rebecca James Hecking


“Poems are maps to the place where you already are.”
—Jane Hirshfield


“Be still, and the world is bound to turn herself inside out to entertain you. Everywhere you look, joyful noise is clanging to drown out quiet desperation. The choice is to draw the blinds and shut it all out, or believe.” —Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson


“When you do not know you need mercy and forgiveness yourself, you invariably become stingy in sharing it with others. So make sure you are always waiting with hands widely cupped under the waterfall of mercy.” —Richard Rohr


“All four gospels insist that when all the other disciples are fleeing, Mary Magdalene does not run. She stands firm. She does not betray or lie about her commitment to Jesus—she witnesses. Hers is clearly a demonstration of either the deepest human love or the highest spiritual understanding of what Jesus was teaching—perhaps both. But why—one wonders–do Holy Week liturgies tell and re-tell the story of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus, while the steady and unwavering witness of Magdalene is passed over—not even noticed? How would our understanding of the paschal story change if instead of reflecting upon Jesus dying alone and rejected if we were to reinforce the fact that one person stood by him and did not leave? For this story of Mary Magdalene is as firmly stated in scripture as the denial story. How would this change the emotional timbre of the day? How would it affect our feeling of ourselves? How would it reflect upon how we have viewed, and still view, women in the church? About the nature of redemptive love?” —Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopal Priest


“When I feel this fog rolling in on me, I light fires of affection in the hearts of others. I tell them in tangible ways how the life they live makes me live mine differently, how precious and important they are to the rest of us. That fire then becomes like a beacon which burns through the grey and which I can sail towards.” –Toko-pa Turner


It’s good to leave each day behind,
like flowing water, free of sadness.
Yesterday is gone and its tale told.
Today new seeds are growing.
—Rumi

Leading the Monsters

I was an usher at a school production of Beauty and the Beast this weekend. There are wolves in the show. Actors dressed in toothy masks chase Maurice through the woods, and later the Beast chases the wolves away from Belle. I checked in with some of the kids in the audience about the wolves. Some of them thought they were scary. They all loved the wolves, scary or not.

One mama of a small child said, “A wolf ran past and growled in my face. I growled right back!”

I thought that might be a good way to deal with scary creatures. What a marvelous way to answer the things in my brain that scare me: growl back. I said I might try that in my dreams the next time I was confronted by a scary thing. I would growl back, right in its face.

The small child said, very matter-of-factly: “I wouldn’t do that. I use my candy.”

Candy? We pressed her for details.

“I leave a trail of wrappers for them to follow.”

Now I was getting confused. I thought we were talking about monsters. “Who do you mean by them?”

“The monsters,” she confirmed. “I want to see if they’re smart enough to follow the trail of wrappers.”

Instead of running from the monsters, instead of simply confronting them with their own growling attacks, this fearless child does psycho-social experiments on the monsters in her dreams. I’ve heard people say that one way to deal with the unknown, to respond to strong emotions, is to stay with your curiosity, to keep yourself in the place of wonder. This tiny person has worked that one out for herself in her dreams. Hmmm. How smart are these things, really?

Ask: “What would happen if I. . .?” And then engage. Instead of running away from the things that scare us, what would happen if we turned our curious minds to wondering about the fears themselves, and left a glittering trail of candy wrappers to see if they follow? How could I do this with my big worries: About the state of my country? About climate change? About the future for my children?

What if, instead of getting lost on the endless hopeless trails of anxiety about the unknown, I would simply walk forward toward whatever possible solutions the future might hold, leading the monsters behind me? Poke them. Prod them. Tickle them. What will they do?


Gratitude List:
1. Being in a show again. Along with my usual ushering duties, I sang with a small group in the pit, to boost the sound on the big chorus numbers. It was a delight and a joy to participate in a really small way.
2. The show is over. Wondrous as it was, I am glad to get back to a regular schedule.
3. Last night, I sent my application for a writer’s residency. Now I can let go of that. I’m a small fish in a big pool for this one, but even applying has been delightful, thinking about Edwidge Danticat (the judge) reading my writing.
4. The poetry of Julia Esquivel and Ernesto Cardenal, both Guatemalan poets. I’ve been reading her poetry in response to an article about her in Sojourners magazine, and last night I heard that Cardenal had died, so I have read some of his poetry in response. They both use their words to confront the violence of systems and empires.
5. I heard geese in the dawn a few minutes ago. It’s particularly haunting to hear them so early. I like haunting sounds, like geese in the dawn, like a faraway train whistle, like a solitary sparrow in a quiet hollow, like leaves rustling underfoot.

May we walk in Beauty!

Spider

Josiah was really quiet in the other room just now, and then he said, “I count eight bluebirds.” I joined him, and he pointed out not only eight, but more than a dozen, in the branches of the sycamore and the walnut, on the ground beside the shop, in a patch of yellow aconite. And all the while someone else–house finch, perhaps–was singing a spring song. Spring is on its way. Listen for the things the morning birds are telling you, feel it in the breezes, even on a chilly day. It’s coming.


Gratitude List:
1. The great cloudowl, one morning last week, that flew above us in the morning sunrise, grey feathers spread above the coming sun, magenta belly borne by the sun rays rising.
2. Pretzels with creamy pub-style horseradish
3. My incredible students. Students Council sells singing serenades for Valentines Day, and all day Friday, my classes were briefly and beautifully interrupted by wandering minstrels singing love songs.
4. The Emergency Women’s Shelter. Volunteers staff a 40-person shelter in St. Mary’s church social hall all through the coldest months of the year. This is a web, a safety net, a community basket.
5. Bluebirds waking into spring.

May we walk in Beauty!


My friend Sue asked me to weave some poems and bloggy bits together for a talk at her church this morning. The concept is Longing and Belonging: Creating a Culture of Care in Community. Here’s what I put together.

Culture of Care: Longing and Belonging

Good morning–I’ll start with a poem:
Take a breath
Sit down
in the silence
of the room
of this moment
in time

watch how the moments 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

Feel the vast spaces within you,
knowable, unexplored,
waiting for you to enter
and experience who you are
in your deepest self.
Listen for the whisper
of your own voice
in the echoes of your dreams.
Stretch your hands up and out.
Draw in deep breaths.
Stretch and stretch.
You are larger on the inside.

First, I want to point out that I am a poet, not a preacher; not a theologian, but a dreamer. As an English teacher, I teach students to create a strong and arguable thesis, to develop careful supporting details and evidence, and to conclude their argument with a discussion of the implications and applications. When I approach questions that deal with inner landscapes and spiritual ideas, however, I am less likely to work in the realms of supportable arguments and more in the world of metaphor and image, spinning ideas of different colors and textures together to make a whole web. It’s less linear, and more circular–like a web. Some of what I am going to share today is prosey bits I’ve pulled off my blog, some is poetry–mine and others’–and some is connective tissue, more lines drawn to hold the web together. So, let’s speak of longing and belonging.

One of the phrases that Sue offered me for this morning was to consider how communities create cultures of care. Let’s draw a bright asterisk of shining strands with that one, the foundation strands of the web, anchored in human relationships of listening well, of speaking truth, of the deep desire for connection, of belongingness, and of knowing that we are beloved children of the Creator of the One Who Made Us.

Since we have just come through Valentine’s Day, here’s a little Valentine poem about the web of community:

To all my Valentines,
you and you and someone else:
we draw these webs between us,
made of chocolate and sunlight and tentative smiles
and the toothy grins of our children
and the hope of helping out a little bit
and seeking our roots and our sources together
and following traditions
and breaking traditions
and going a little bit wilder
and dancing until the chickens come home to roost.
When your heart goes skipping through windows,
you’ll know one of us is thinking of you.

One of the books I am reading at the moment is Matthew Fox’s Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God. While he finds whimsical and imaginative images as well as historically and theologically-based ones, I am pretty sure that he does not include Spider in his list. I hope no one here is too arachnophobic. But if we’re to spin out this metaphor into a strong web on this asterisk of community care which we have placed into the room, we have to place The Holy One at the center of the web, spiralling outward, still making the world, watching her strands, feeling the way the energy of the web shifts as breezes blow past and events occur along its lengths. And we, too, are spiders, spinning our own smaller webs among the spaces between us, emulating the one who Spun it all into being.

We live in a woodsy area, and we just can’t keep all the critters out of our old house. One morning, I walked in morning darkness into the kitchen, and right into a spider’s web. I wrote a little poem about it. I don’t think I knew at the time that I was writing about God.

All night the spider
spins her careful message,
stringing the gossamer web
across the kitchen:
You are not alone.
Fine strands connect you
to the Universe.
Remember,
you belong in the net
of all that is.

Perhaps the spider had other ideas about the meaning of that event.

Before belonging is longing. The writer Starhawk says that the glue at the center of the universe is love, is desire, is the longing for connection. The Creator gives us a clue in the very structure of the atom, of particles whirling around a central core, continually seeking their source, longing toward center, drawn outward in the spin, but longing always inward. And in the center of our own human atoms, our individual webs, is that very craving for connection.

And sometimes that feels like a design flaw, doesn’t it? This deep longing we carry within us, that seems to be imprinted into the very strands of our DNA, when unfulfilled, leaves us feeling awkward at best, and cut off and isolated at worst.

The 12th century Persian Sufi poet Hafez writes of this longing in this poem. (This is a Daniel Ladinsky translation.) He also offers a way to respond to the sometimes overwhelming desire to be loved and noticed and accepted:

Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise
Someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a
Full moon in each eye that is always saying,
With that sweet moon language, what every other eye in
This world is dying to hear?

So there, at the end of the poem, is the beginning of the answer to how to deal with the pain of the longing for belonging: To offer the words that everyone else is longing to hear. Build our own connections.

Contemporary US poet Martha Collins writes similarly in her poem “Lines”:
Draw a line. Write a line. There.
Stay in line, hold the line, a glance
between the lines is fine but don’t
turn corners, cross, cut in, go over
or out, between two points of no
return’s a line of flight, between
two points of view’s a line of vision.
But a line of thought is rarely
straight, an open line’s no party
line, however fine your point.
A line of fire communicates, but drop
your weapons and drop your line,
consider the shortest distance from x
to y, let x be me, let y be you.

What would our webs look like, were they all made visible? Connecting point to connecting point–what lines are drawn between ourselves and those who have gone before, between ourselves and others in the world today? Between ourselves and the planet? And God?

As we circle the lines of our webs outward, line to line, we move from the deep longing to offering belonging to others. The principal of the public elementary school where my fifth grader attends (he happens to be a Messiah College grad) taught his students the South African Zulu greeting, “Sawabona,” which means, “I see you.” The response is “Sawabona shikhona,” which seems to mean: “Because you see me, I am here.” Our ability to look at each other, to catch and hold eyes, is one of the possible keys to belongingness. What a powerful tool to offer to elementary students, a script for belonging and connection in each spoken greeting.

My good friend Gloria, a professor in EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, often signs off from our typed online conversations, “I See you,” capital S. It is neither a flip nor a throwaway greeting, but a deeply honoring gift, acknowledging our belonging to each other. What is this longing for belonging that we have encoded within us but a desire to be truly seen and cherished? I See you. How simple. Like Moana, we can look into the burning rubble of each other’s pain and say, “I know your name. I know who you truly are.”

Here’s a poem I wrote after a wonderful evening with a group of my college friends, a group of people who have offered each other an unconditional and unwavering belonging, love, tenderness:

Sit with your beloveds in a circle,
and feel the truth of how your hearts
are woven together
every bit as real as that basket
under the hall table
where a fine cat is purring.

You will hear the echoes
of the ego towers that have fallen,
see the memory of rubble in the eyes.
Say out loud, “I see you.”
Say, “I witness.”
Weave the new strands together.
See how your stories
are one singular tale.

Feel the starlight
making a net around you,
a silver basket reflecting your own.

When we build conscious webs of connection between ourselves, in churches, in classrooms, in families, in friendship groups, among strangers, we participate with the Creator in a mystical act of creation. We mirror the invisible webs of energy and force that surround us, that are built into the very structure of the created order. One of our greatest scientists–Albert Einstein–said that in the end, of all the natural forces present in the world, the greatest is love.

A year or two ago, I wrote a piece on my blog about how my church’s celebration of World Communion Sunday brought me into connection and community on a day when I was feeling a deep disconnect with US Christians. I feel a strong bond with the people of my church, but it had been a week of US Christians doing and supporting some pretty terrible and unjust things, and I was angry. While I have no problem taking communion with my church, I had a memory in my head of taking communion at Ephrata Mennonite Church, when we would file through the little room behind the pulpit, sit with the pastors and bishops, and answer the question, “Are you at peace with God and man?” I wasn’t feeling at all at peace with many men, and quite a few women, too. I wanted nothing to do with a wider communion that included people who could glibly support an administration that tore children from their parents and locked them up in detention centers. Even within my own beloved community, I wasn’t sure I could see through my rage to participate in a symbol of unity with Christians everywhere.

I’m pretty sure it was the bread that made me weep. The cup was on the table, but there was no bread. (Truth be told, I was already in tears by that time, from the moment of the offertory song: “She’s got the whole word in her hands.”)

“Today’s bread comes from all around the world,” they said. But where was the bread? It was not the lack of bread that made me weep, but the bringing of it. As they spoke of pita, and the Syrian people who have been caught between warring fronts for seven years, a mother brought her children and pita to the tables, children who have relatives in Lebanon, Syria’s neighbor and a country healing from its own civil war.

Then while a mother and her child brought tortillas, the bread of her homeland Honduras, to place upon the tables, they reverently recalled to us those from Central America who have suffered, whose children have been torn from parents’ arms when they come to our borders seeking safety.

And then while a father from Indonesia brought his son with steamed Indonesian bread for the tables, they spoke of the tsunami and devastation.

They reminded us of Puerto Rico and of hurricanes and of how it feels not to be believed when you tell your terrible stories, and a grandmother and her small one came forward with a baked loaf like we eat in the United States.

I thought perhaps I couldn’t take Communion today, I who want nothing to do with so many who call themselves followers of Jesus. I thought perhaps I shouldn’t. Perhaps the anger would keep me away from the table. Until the table was filled with bread and tears. Until grief stepped in to the place of anger, and I, too, felt like I could belong at the table.

When they are babies or small children, each child at my church is held and blessed by one of our pastors, and told: “You are known and loved by God.” You are known and loved by God. You are known. You are beloved. Whatever your word for that great and unknowable–but personal and tender–Mystery, know this today and always: The One who is the Source and Cause of all being, all Beauty, all Knowing, all Making, loves you. Knows you. As intimately as a painter who cherishes the tiny green dot of color in a painting, which she knows is there, which she placed there with purpose. You are deeply and singularly beloved. You are Seen, capital S.

There is a moment, in the baptism story of Jesus, when the Spirit of the Holy One appears in the form of a dove and speaks to those gathered, saying, “This is my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.” My prayer for you, for me, for all of us in this coming year, is that our significant dawnings and discoveries may be accompanied by the absolute shining certainty that we are the Beloved Children of the Universe. That the One who watches us, who wings above us, who blows through us, who shines light into our confusion and grief and fear, the spider at the center of the web of all that is, is well pleased with us. It is one of my most deeply held beliefs that this is true, although it is sometimes hard to hold onto. You are Beloved. I am Beloved.

I’m going to end with a poem I wrote one Thanksgiving as I was pondering the building of tables instead of walls. We are all the travellers and pilgrims. Like Moana and her people, we wander. And like Moana, we carry within us and upon us the maps which will bring us home to each other. And we are all of us the home, holding within us webs that reach outward to draw each other in.

Blessing for the Visitor

May you who wander, who sojourn, who travel,
may you who make your way to our door
find rest for your tired feet and weary heart,
food to fill your bellies and to nourish your minds,
and company to bring you cheer and inspiration.
May you find comfort for your sorrows,
belonging to ease your loneliness,
and laughter to bring you alive.
And when your feet find themselves again upon the road,
may they remember the way back to our door.

You are Beloved

When they are babies or small children, each child at my church is held and blessed by one of our pastors, and told: “You are known and loved by God.” Whatever your word for that great and unknowable–but personal and tender–Mystery, know this today and always: The One who is the Source and Cause of all being, all Beauty, all Knowing, all Making, loves you. Knows you. As intimately as a painter who cherishes the tiny green dot of color in a painting, which she knows is there, which she placed there with purpose. You are deeply and singularly beloved.

Gratitude List:
1. Contemplating Longing and Belonging, and the Web upon which we all live and move.
2. Deep sleep. Somehow, at this point of middle age, sleep has become a regular visitor to this list–perhaps because it’s not so regular in real life
3. How dreams teach me about myself
4. Artistic processes–whether it be collage or poetry or doodles, or simply seeing and listening
5. All my Beloveds. You’re in my heart, on my web. I cast a line from me to you today. Take hold.

May we walk in Beauty!

Truth and Lies

Winsome Chaos: I pulled random words from my word pool tickets to label photos and objects.

Why are poetry and fiction so important in human cultures? What is it about the imaginative telling of a thing that thrills listeners of all ages, makes our minds sit up–criss-cross applesauce–and hang on the smallest word of the storyteller? Nonfiction and biography, the “true” story, is also compelling and engaging, but there is something about fiction, about the fantastic, the imaginative, the made-up, that sets fire to human imagination, across times and cultures.

Ursula Le Guin, in her profound introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, wrote of truth and lies in storytelling: “I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth. The only truth I can understand or express is, logically defined, a lie. Psychologically defined, a symbol. Aesthetically defined, a metaphor.”

In his famous essay, “Of Truth,” Francis Bacon discusses how the human mind bends toward the lie, how earlier philosophers spoke of poetry’s vinum daemonum, wine of the devil, the lies that draw the reader down the delicious pathway of imagination.

In my own estimation, Madeleine L’Engle got most deeply at the heart of this in her discussion of the differences between truth and facts. “Truth,” she said, “is what is true, and it’s not necessarily factual. Truth and fact are not the same thing. Truth does not contradict or deny facts, but it goes through and beyond facts. This is something that it is very difficult for some people to understand.”

“Tell all the truth,” said Emily Dickinson, “but tell it slant.”

More steps in the creation of meaning: Finding the deep truth within the fictive or poetic “lie.” Seeking new and startlingly relevant meanings in the strange juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated facts and ideas. One of my students added the word “speaking” to her word pool. “Is it okay,” she asked, “if I put this word with a photo of a woman with a zipper across her mouth?” Yes, oh yes, please–that’s the point here. And in that little “lie”–the woman, unable to speak, labeled “speaking”–you may have told a deeper truth than any of us can express in straight talk.


Gratitude List:
1. People who let themselves cry. There’s a priestly quality to profound and honest tears in public gatherings. Suddenly everyone has just a little more permission to be human, too. Feelings are invited into the circle.
2. A day off.
3. The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., the way his words continue to echo their challenges today. Will we listen to the challenges as well as the inspirations?
4. The deep truths that make themselves available in poetry and fiction and art.
5. Red cardinals in the sere winter landscape.

May we walk in Beauty!