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
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
“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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.” —Elie Wiesel
The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.” —Wangari Maathai
“Language helps develop life as surely as it reflects life. It is the most important part of the human condition.” —Jane Yolen
“It is through beauty, poetry and visionary power that the world will be renewed.” —Maria Tatar
“And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” —William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”
As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses For the people hear us singing, bread and roses, bread and roses.
As we come marching, marching, we battle too, for men, For they are in the struggle and together we shall win. Our days shall not be sweated from birth until life closes, Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread, but give us roses.
As we come marching, marching, un-numbered women dead Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread, Small art and love and beauty their trudging spirits knew Yes, it is bread we. fight for, but we fight for roses, too.
As we go marching, marching, we’re standing proud and tall. The rising of the women means the rising of us all. No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes, But a sharing of life’s glories, bread and roses, bread and roses. —James Oppenheim
Gratitude List: 1. Cornbread for breakfast 2. The process of re-balancing. There’s always a wobble or three. Sometimes abrasions and bruises. But the balance returns. 3. Blue sky through winter trees 4. The writings of Robin Wall Kimmerer 5. Planning. I love planning the shape of a class. The challenge for second semester classes is timeliness. I struggle to plan a class in July that I won’t teach until January, and when I do my planning so far in advance, the liveliness in it has died by January, and I have to rework and reassess again in the weeks before class begins. But this planning process is part of what brings the energy for the new thing emerging.
I am grateful for deep, deep sleep during this Twelvenight. How blessed it is to rest well and soundly.
The consequence, of course, is that I do not remember my dreams, except as impressions, or fleeting images. Last night when I went to sleep, I asked for a word to come to me in the night. I would like a word to contemplate in the coming year, and I was hoping that the deep-self Fool might cast one up out of a dream as it sometimes does.
This morning I woke up not with a word or a narrative or images, but with a sense of the small standing up to the big, pushing back the tide of largeness that threatens to overwhelm the tiny.
Of course my subconscious would toss me such a morsel after yesterday’s meander with anxious demons. This potential for war with Iran has me panicky and anxious. I think I am managing the worry, mostly, but it takes a lot of deep intention and careful breathing. Of looking for news and analysis. Of ignoring news and analysis. Of connecting with others who believe that the people must stand up and say that we do not want war, that we have no quibble with the people of Iran and Iraq, that we want peace for our children and for the children of Iran. That the big powers must not have the last word about the world where the small ones will live.
And so the message of the morning is of the small ones pushing back the big ones. This coming week, Women in Black, a local Lancaster group connected to a worldwide peace movement, will stand silently on our courthouse steps with signs expressing our desire for peace. We may read Iranian poetry. We may weep. We may simply stand silently, as women have stood for decades, for centuries perhaps, in the public square, to tell the powers that be that we do not sanction sending the young ones to die in old men’s wars.
Then we will walk down the block to join in a larger community protest against war with Iran.
They will tell you that you are unrealistic. They will tell you that you do not understand. They will tell you that we must kill before we are killed. They will tell you that world affairs are for the patriarchs to decide. They will tell you to go back to the hearth and the kitchen and the children. And then they will take those children and turn them into machines for their wars. And we must be ready to stand between them and our children. A flowing river of women, of grandmothers, of sane men, too, standing between the powers of the angry old men and the children of the US and Iran. Take my hand. Hold the line.
Gratitude List: 1. The women, and men too, who are pledging to be Love in the face of hatred and war. 2. Despite appearances to the contrary, reason and humanity do often prevail against the powers of the angry old men. 3. Interspecies relationships. I love waking up curled into a ball with a small creature tucked into the circle of me and purring. 4. The poetry of Rumi and Hafez, from Persia, modern-day Iran. And for the poetry of modern Iranian poets. Yesterday afternoon, I read poems by Forough Farrokhzad. 5. Morning mist is magical.