I think this is going to sound vague and smug and self-serving. I think my writing here and on social media is so often heart-on-my-sleeve, but this is more raw, more personal, more sulky, and yes, more vague, too. It’s a thing I want to talk about without talking about it. Do you ever have those experiences?
I’m dealing with some resentment and rage right now. I’m used to experiencing outrage on behalf of others. It sometimes feels like it’s become one of my defaults in recent years. Less frequently do I feel outrage on behalf of myself, and I don’t know exactly where to feel it, but here it is. It’s been plopped right into my lap. I think I have become really good at being reasonable about other people’s attitudes and behaviors toward me, so when I feel deeply and personally attacked about something that really matters to me, I have to take hours to process, to sort out what is mine, and what is truly cause for outrage. It’s a slow burn, rather than a quick blaze.
I don’t want to feed the fire by giving it air. Perhaps it will become the source of poetry and story, and I can give it a voice that way. Meanwhile, I think I need to re-start my Gratitude Practice, get back to essentials, take care of my own house so I don’t set fire to the houses of others.
Gratitude List: 1. A voice. Whether it’s a whisper, a shout, an echo, a web of sound, a single word, an avalanche of analysis: Give voice to your voice. Do not let anyone take it away from you. Boost the voices of others. Amplify the signal. 2. The ones who stand in the gap, who speak out for justice for those who are oppressed, who fight for the survival of the planet, who put people above greed and money. 3. The turning. Like the turning of the season to autumn, the world is turning. Like the transition from labor to birth, the world is groaning. From the fire comes new life. May we stand in solidarity with those who are midwifing the new thing into being. 4. Three cats in the house. 5. Cool weather and warm clothes. This is a not a metaphor. This is a metaphor.
“There is still a place for you at our table, if you will choose to join us,” the young man said. “Yes,” people chorused, “even now, there is a place for you.” –Starhawk, The Fifth Sacred Thing
At the end of The Fifth Sacred Thing, when the military forces are over-running their city, Maya and the others decide on this strategy: They approach the soldiers and tell them they have set a place for them at the community table. They know that some of them, in the moment of invitation, will be shot and killed. They know the situation is dire. But they decide to appeal to the humanity of their enemies.
Can I say to the fiercely adamant Trump supporter on my Facebook threads: “There is a place for you at our table of welcome, if you choose to join us?”
Can I say it to the racists who are spouting venom and hatred?
Can I say it to the fear-mongers who scapegoat immigrants and Muslims and Latinx?
Could I say it to Mr. Smucker, my local representative, who consistently votes against everything I stand for, and for everything I stand against?
Could I say it to a denier of the climate Crisis? To a Monsanto exec?
Could I say it to Mitch McConnell? To Mr. Trump?
It’s an invitation that requires some self-reflection: “. . .if you choose to join us.” It doesn’t condone the soldier’s violence. It begs a different relationship, a sideways step across the line. It offers a way out for the individual trapped in a cycle of violent words and actions.
I am unsettled and twitchy these last few days about my own position in this story, my own lack of empathy and welcome. I’ve been working really hard at keeping the conversation to a high level. Still, in conversation this weekend, I said something to the effect that this administration has drawn the racist and homophobic cockroaches into the light. A dear and wise friend firmly and kindly called me on it. Just days after I wrote something calling out the president for calling people animals, I was calling people cockroaches. In my defense, I was being metaphorical. I didn’t intend to dehumanize, I tell myself. But what did I intend? Why use such metaphors? We tend to stomp on cockroaches. There’s a verbal violence for you. I can’t defend such language.
My friend encouraged us to look at people’s needs, to ask what needs are not being met when a person chooses, either verbally or physically, to harm another. This is the beginning of empathy.
In The Fifth SacredThing, the community was willing to risk their lives for the truth of this question. Am I willing to risk letting go of some of my protective rage so I , too, can invite people to the table? What will we be asked to risk if we offer this invitation? It’s not about destroying healthy boundaries. The community was actively standing up to the soldiers. Still, they chose to offer their enemies a choice, a way out.
My personal rhetoric in these difficult times has had a strong edge of boundary to it. I believe that to fight the evil (yes, evil) that is harming children and families and communities, we must declaim the truth. When a president uses a constant barrage of lies in order to confuse and demoralize the populace, truth-telling is a necessary and powerful act.
I wonder if there are ways that I can hold firmly to the truth-telling, and still set the tables in the rooms of my words in ways that invite my rivals to sit and eat and be nourished. Can I speak against the lies in ways that invite those who believe them to tell their stories and share their pain? And perhaps become transformed rather than entrenched?
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives,” said Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, who joined the realm of the ancestors this week. She told the truth, directly and fiercely. And she also knew the power of words to heal, the power of narrative to create a bridge to a more just future: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
And further: “Is there no context for our lives? No song, no literature, no poem full of vitamins, no history connected to experience that you can pass along to help us start strong? You are an adult. The old one, the wise one. Stop thinking about saving your face. Think of our lives and tell us your particularized world. Make up a story. Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created. We will not blame you if your reach exceeds your grasp; if love so ignites your words they go down in flames and nothing is left but their scald. Or if, with the reticence of a surgeon’s hands, your words suture only the places where blood might flow. We know you can never do it properly–once and for all. Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul. You, old woman, blessed with blindness, can speak the language that tells us what only language can: how to see without pictures. Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation.” ―Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993
I don’t know if I can do it with grace and brilliance, with fierceness and tenderness. But I can try, as Morrison requests. Language has magic to it. As a teacher of language and a writer, I take that seriously. Let’s apprentice ourselves to the powerful human magic that language offers us, to create spaces within our words where our rivals may find a space to rest and consider, where we may all be transformed, and the future may be created with love.
As an epilogue, I offer you this song by Mary Gauthier, “Mercy Now.” Click the link, sit back, and listen.
Here’s the thing: The outrage dissipates so much more quickly now. There’s the kick in the gut when I see your name there on the email, and I think, “Here we go again,” and then a moment of panic, another of anger, and then, this time. . .
I sat there just watching what was happening inside my head, expecting the roaring in the ears, the tunneling of vision, the white light blinking in the back of my brain. And there was nothing, really. And then, what I didn’t expect: gratitude. Quiet, twinkling gratitude, and steady purpose.
That shocked me. I’m so used to the exhausting fury, the worry and self-righteous indignation. But this time I may have begun to pass the test, to rest a moment in my breathing, then focus on my center, to enter–finally–a space where I can see myself, and you, and shift the focus of the attack.
The thing is: You have been a better teacher than you could ever imagine, and likely more than you intend, and I have been a less than willing student, too eager to defend my ego in the face of your attacks.
You’ve taught me to be curious about the fury that you send my way, to stay within my heart-space, even to offer grace in the midst of your rage. I have found safety that you cannot touch, your cages will catch me no longer. I’m stronger now, and I can hold the net you toss my way, and turn it to a golden thread.
Okay, so I am getting more nervous about the coming winter by the moment here, as I watch the busy tribe of squirrels on the bank behind the house. They are eating and gathering at a furious pace. If they have inside information, we’re in for a tough one.
And this is one healthy, glowing gang of critters: Their fur is sleek, and their bodies are filled out and muscular. They look like they’ve been lifting little weights. One of them, gorging on berries six feet up in a bush, began to slip downward. She didn’t even pause in her eating, but grabbed a branch beside her, somersaulted downward, landed on her feet with the berry branch still in her mouth, and continued eating. Little parkour ninja folk. And I know that squirrels are already that way, but these are just. . .more so.
I don’t know if I have ever noticed just how russet-colored is the feathery fur on their breasts until a moment ago when one stood to greet an approaching comrade, and his breast shone chestnut-red in the morning sun. And that’s another thing. You know how squirrels stand to look around and greet each other, hands on hearts? I’ve always thought it made them look sort of timid and cute in a timorous “oh-my-heart” sort of way. These folks, whenever someone else approaches, stand like little warriors, feet apart, spines straight, eyes alert, hands on their chests in a greeting of solidarity.
These people are readying themselves for a hard winter ahead. May the walnuts and berries be plenty. May you grow ever healthier and sleeker, small ones, as you do the work to prepare your colony for what is to come.
Gratitude List: 1. Squirrels
2. There was a roseate spoonbill down on the Flats last week. They say it’s gone, but I think I’ll drive down there and just look around. I am grateful to know such a being was here.
3. Oak leaves
5. All the people doing the good work. Let’s not let ourselves get too discouraged. So much wrongness has seeped out of the cracks recently, and for those of us who want to believe in the beauty and marvel and goodness of everyone, it has been particularly painful. A friend of mine reminded me this morning that often there are still noble elements that reside within the souls of those who are living openly by greed and power-mongering and death-dealing, and we need to find ways to hold conversations that enkindle those sparks of Goodness. I’ll keep searching for that nobility while remembering that there are so many out there who continue to work and live from the depths of their Divine Spark. Like you.
May we walk in Beauty!
“Each moment from all sides rushes to us the call to love.” -―Rumi
“The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves
into the rhythms of the human heart.
The earth is not outside us; it is within:
the clay from where the tree of the body grows.”
“There were far worse strategies in life than to try to make each aspect of one’s existence a minor work of art.”
―Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline
by Denise Levertov
Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillant fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer.
“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Just go ahead and live positively; go to the side and do it differently. Don’t waste time with oppositional energy.” ―Richard Rohr, writing about the thinking of Dom Helder Camara
“The heart of faith is the call to love one another. . .” ―Avis Crowe
“A child looking at ruins grows younger but cold
and wants to wake to a new name
I have been younger in October
than in all the months of spring
walnut and may leaves the color
of shoulders at the end of summer
a month that has been to the mountain
and become light there
the long grass lies pointing uphill
even in death for a reason
that none of us knows
and the wren laughs in the early shade now
come again shining glance in your good time
naked air late morning
my love is for lightness
of touch foot feather
the day is yet one more yellow leaf
and without turning I kiss the light
by an old well on the last of the month
gathering wild rose hips in the sun.”
—W. S. Merwin, The Love of October
“I’m not funny. What I am is brave.”
“My soul is sore when I learn how our people are tortured, when I learn how the rights of those created in the image of God are violated.” —Óscar Romero
I copped out a little on the Lenten unloading today. I was tired and cranky, so I pulled out several pieces of jewelry. I know I have too much jewelry, and it’s not particularly painful or brave to give away jewelry.
I find rage to be exhausting. It’s a seemingly constant barrage of tragedies born of our lack of political will to stand up to the NRA and fight for the lives of our nation’s children. If you want to be pro-life in this day, #breaktheNRA. Don’t vote for any politician who gets political money from the NRA.
Gratitude List: 1. As always, the music chapels at school are a lift and a treasure. students show tremendous courage and vulnerability to go on stage and perform. And they’re incredibly gifted.
2. The helpers. Mr. Rogers says to look for the helpers.
3. Rain and rest. Sleep-inducing rain on the roof.
4. It’s almost Friday
5. Cats. Whenever a human is sick, the cats seem to feel it their bounden duty to sit upon the sick one until she feels better. Cats are natural Reiki masters. I am not sick, really, but I caught that cold, and cat therapy has helped.
I have been ranting for the last couple of days. Here’s the gist:
Quote by Nancy Shulman:
“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than “politics.” They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.”
Dallas Megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress said: “Apart from the vocabulary attributed to him, President Trump is right on target in his sentiment.”
To the contrary: The word “shithole” is nothing compared to the vulgarity of the sentiment he expressed.
I have been quietly not openly calling myself a Christian for years now, because I do not like the look of Christianity in this country. I now openly walk away from the name. I continue to be a Follower of Jesus, in an Anabaptist and Universalist sort of way, with an emphasis on the feminine nature of the Great Mystery, and a belief that the Great Mystery is within everything and everyone. But I can no longer categorize myself as a Christian. I do not belong in any way, shape, or form to the same group as this man. No, we clearly are not following the same Jesus. Yes, this is judgemental. Yes, it is not being accepting of differences. There are differences I will not accept. Racism and xenophobia have absolutely no role in the realm of Jesus. If that is Christian, I am not that. I will have no part of that. Rather than trying to claim the term as something that embraces me as well, I walk away from it.
I will not check myself in as a Christian on polls and forms. If you ask my religion, I will no longer tell you that I am “a Christian, just not one of those.” Public Christianity in the United States is nothing I recognize as having anything to do with Jesus.
There are many people I know who continue to claim and reclaim the word, and I do not judge them. I, however, feel that at this point in time, I need to make a clear distinction between what I believe and what seems to be the path of U.S. Christianity.
This is no shock. We knew he was racist. Still, putting it into the public discourse so baldly demands that public figures, especially ones who follow Jesus, repudiate the language. One can say that this is not surprising, that he’s been doing this all along. That is true. But this is a level of unstatesmanlike public discourse that needs to be addressed right now. Robert Jeffries certainly did. His counterparts need to speak up. Now.
I believe in the path of Love, but this is one of the biggest challenges to that, even more than Dick Cheney. It was easier when it was abstract, but having an actual person to work it out with is really hard. I should probably take a FB break and read more Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron and Richard Rohr. Still, I feel a need to be part of the conversation. Somehow, I think these things need to happen in tandem: the inner work and the outer work.
Let’s keep talking about how to manage this. If not to Love, if not even to stop hating, at least to manage it all, to not be drowned, ourselves, in the hatred.
This I can say: I love You. I love my family, my students, my colleagues, my Beloved Friends, the sun and the earth and the animals. The moon. Those who are downtrodden and beaten and excluded. And because of that Love, I must fight the Wrong that these men are unleashing.
I have a sense that my hatred will not be an effective tool in that, though I have not managed to quell it. My anger can go either way, to push me to toward effective Work, or to enmire me in the bogs.
I cast a line from me to you, a line of Love for all that we love in common.
“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.” –Elie Wiesel
I have been neglecting the grounding work of my gratitude lists during a couple of days when I desperately needed the grounding.
Gratitude List: 1. The fine musicians and singers at my school. They are really given the opportunity to learn and to shine.
2. A long weekend
3. Bright souls, all around
4. A warm hat and slippers
5. Being surrounded by stories
This year, and this week, I understand more than ever why the ancient ones celebrated the eves of the High Holy Days as well as the days themselves. This year I found that before I could enter into the delight of Sunreturn, I had to settle into the darkness with more intentionality than ever. I needed the comfort of the shadows, and I couldn’t move toward the sun before I acknowledged the darkness at a very deep level. The eve of Solstice became the day for breathing in the shadows, feeling the blanket of darkness surrounding me.
So as the sun rose today on the first of Sunreturn, instead of my usual feeling of wild escape from the claustrophobia of the inward walk, I felt a reluctance to leave, a deep gratitude that–although I relish the shine of bright winter days–I still have ahead of me more short days and long nights to ponder the darkness, to become familiar with the tender shadows.
This is a good time to ask ourselves what our shadows really are. What are those parts of ourselves that seek darkness, that live within us, but with undefined edges, and hidden faces? Rage, I think, is one of mine–an emotion I return to time and again, each time with a deeper awareness of what it offers me, and still I cannot quite see it clearly. It is veiled within the shadows. I think my need for solitude and quiet belongs to my shadow-world. It’s like an instinct, a reflex, something that rises within me, and I must be alone and silent.
May this be a blessed time of shadow-walking for you, a chance to more deeply seek and see your inner self.
Gratitude List: 1. Living with someone who can always make me laugh when I get stuck in an angry rant.
2. The clouds of the morning, reflecting on the River
3. Candy canes
4. Reading To Kill A Mockingbird with students, watching their faces as they realize who it was who brought Jem home after the attack.
5. Reading Julius Caesar with students. There’s so much in there about power and ambition, about loyalty and betrayal, about honor and loss of it.
Gratitude List: 1. The amazing choral concert at my school tonight. I can’t quite find the superlatives to describe our choir director without sounding like I am over-blowing the talent of our choir director. World-class would not be an exaggeration.
2. Cool mornings. Warm afternoons.
3. Sonneting with students.
4. This practice, which keeps me from wallowing in rage for at least a few minutes in the wake of today’s health care debacle. I admit that I am really struggling tonight to move out of the rage into a contemplative place. I don’t want to reflect. I want to throw things and say things I’ll probably regret. So. Breathe. Breathe again. Breathe again. Feel the rage, but don’t let it be the only answer.
5. Writing sonnets with the Creative Writing crew.
As I have aged, my flames
have tempered my steel,
my temper has blazed, then waned,
my temperature flared
and lowered and raised.
I have strutted and fretted
my hour on the stage
written my rage on the page,
and wielded my words like a sword.
Now I stay in a more temperate range.
I attempt to remain more balanced today.
A gentler temperament has pacified
the brash face of the past.
Temperance need not steal the voice,
nor make a canary of the screeching harpy.
Simply, the word-sword no longer slashes
with indiscriminate hacking,
but a well-balanced metal
now guides the blade.
I am pushing myself to work outside my comfort zone, to shift out of the mind-rut that has caught my wheels this last week. It’s hard for me to assess the strength and weakness of a poem when it steps so far out of my typical poetic spaces.
TOMORROW’S PROMPT: It’s such an orderly progression. The Fool must learn about Temperance before she encounters the Devil. What bedevils you? What holds you bound? That’s the Fool’s encounter tomorrow. Addiction, cruelty, bondage to fear and uncertainty, repeated cycles of patterned behavior and habit that keep us from growing: that’s the bedevilment.
Gratitude List: 1. Chapel today was an outdoor celebration of Earth Day: drums, art, poetry, sheep shearing, fly fishing, and all sorts of other interactive activities for students to be in nature. They returned to class with winsome smiles and wind in their hair.
2. A thousand shades of green
3. Ferns. They grow inches every day.
4. Pushing outside the boundaries of habit.
5. Tiger swallowtails