Into the Dark, December 18

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

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

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


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

May we walk in Beauty!


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


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


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


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

Into the Dark, December 11

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

Panic, a low-grade sense of not-right-ness, of un-cope-ability, wants to be the word of the day. Yesterday’s sore neck turned out to be a full-blown headache/migraine thing, and I sort of ghosted my way through the day. That all sounds like a complaint, but it sets the stage for this morning’s emotional “migraine”–when you feel bad, you feel like you’ll never feel better, you know? Like somehow, this pain in the neck, this uncertainty, this sense of doom and gloom is all it’s ever going to be.

But of course it isn’t. Pain fades. New forms of certainty and rhythm arise. Gloom and doom lift. The sun shines again. The shadows offer gifts of insight and wonder. And that’s the story of Advent for me. Sometimes, you have to endure to get through the night to the daytime. There’s my word for today: endure. I know: There’s so much joy in the lights and the music and the cookies, in the parties and the planning. Still, the walk into the darkness is an endurance test for some of us some years. Ten more days of walking into the night, and then we can turn around and start walking back into the daylight.

(And I’m okay, really. Just caught in the web of the season. Hit harder by the lengthy nights than I sometimes am. Which is why I am writing these daily reflections, of course. To make it through. To leave myself a trail of bread crumbs for next year’s journey.)


Gratitude List:
1. Today is not yesterday
2. Dinner with Dorm Students last evening
3. Twinkling lights in the living room
4. Cheese
5. Featherbed

May we walk in Beauty!


“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it—always.” —Mahatma Gandhi


“Organic images are destroyed if we subject them to linear thinking. How often we judge them as “bizarre” or “weird.” They need to be allowed to grow like plants in a spiraling movement. They carry emotional and imaginative energy as well as intellectual meaning, and as they spiral they are illumined with nuances of feeling. Hence their power to bring wholeness.” —Marion Woodman


“We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.” —Mary Oliver


“Beauty is not a luxury but a strategy for survival.” —Terry Tempest Williams


“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to [all].” —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Shadow and Flame

What would you see if you could look through that window?

Gratitude List:
1. Elderberry wine. It’s a great comfort for a cold.
2. Windows, on many levels
3. Quiet and solitude
4. Color
5. DreamsThe dream as I woke up this morning went like this:
Two sisters were holding each other.
One says, “Don’t worry. Everything is going to be okay.”
The Other says, “I wish I could believe that.”
The First says, “It’s okay. I’ll believe it for both of us. You just concentrate on taking one step at a time.”
This was after a harrowing dream about trying to get somewhere that I needed to go, and trying to contact Jon to tell him I would be late, and the taxi just wouldn’t come, and my phone was blinking out, and I couldn’t remember whether I had closed the door to keep the cats from getting out.

May we walk in Beauty!


“Quiet the mind enough
so it is the heart
that gives the prayer.”
—Ingrid Goff-Maidoff


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” —Martin Luther King Jr.


“People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.” —Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


“Creative acts of social justice constitute life’s highest performance art.” —Rebecca Alban Hoffberger


“If you will, you can become all flame.” —Abba Joseph


“Become all shadow.
Become all light.”
—Beth Weaver-Kreider


“You cannot use someone else’s fire; you can only use your own. And in order to do that, you must first be willing to believe you have it.” —Audre Lorde


“The first duty of love is to listen.”
—Paul Tillich


“Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith. The opposite of faith is certainty.”
—Paul Tillich


“When you go to your place of prayer, don’t try to think too much or manufacture feelings or sensations. Don’t worry about what words you should say or what posture you should take. It’s not about you or what you do. Simply allow Love to look at you—and trust what God sees! God just keeps looking at you and loving you center to center. ” —Richard Rohr


“All through your life, the most precious experiences seemed to vanish. Transience turns everything to air. You look behind and see no sign even of a yesterday that was so intense. Yet in truth, nothing ever disappears, nothing is lost. Everything that happens to us in the world passes into us. It all becomes part of the inner temple of the soul and it can never be lost. This is the art of the soul: to harvest your deeper life from all the seasons of your experience. This is probably why the soul never surfaces fully. The intimacy and tenderness of its light would blind us. We continue in our days to wander between the shadowing and the brightening, while all the time a more subtle brightness sustains us. If we could but realize the sureness around us, we would be much more courageous in our lives. The frames of anxiety that keep us caged would dissolve. We would live the life we love and in that way, day by day, free our future from the weight of regret.” —John O’Donohue


“People with a psychological need to believe in marvels are no more prejudiced and gullible than people with a psychological need not to believe in marvels.” —Charles Fort


“O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.” —Shakespeare, The Tempest

Response Poem

Today’s prompt is to write a response to one of the previous poems from the month. I chose my April 27 poem.

There once was a girl
who was so afraid of spiders
that when a web of song,
a web of prayer,
came floating to her
on a breeze, she ran
as fast as she could
in the other direction.

There once was a girl
who was so afraid of darkness
that when a quiet veil
of comforting shadows
fell about her,
she fell down in terror
and hid her head
until the staring sun
came out again.

There once was a girl
who was so afraid of heights
that when her friends
sang bridges that led
to safer meadows,
she could not unfreeze
her footsteps from the Earth
to flee toward the havens.

Whenever she ran from her fears,
they always caught her.
Whenever she froze in terror,
she found herself engulfed.
I would like to say she learned
to reach her hands toward her friends
and find her way home.


Gratitude:
I am grateful today for the concentric and interlocking circles of community in my life, for the people who keep their protective eyes on my children, who teach and mentor them and love them.

May we walk in Beauty!

Resting in the Shadows

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.

May we walk in Beauty!

Walking Into the Dark

This week, weaning myself from the keyboard, I jumped back into my handwritten journal-book, with pens and colored pencils, and the slower, reflective pacing of handwriting.

I have been dreaming and writing dreams, feeling the shadows of dreams flitting around my head even when the images and plotlines escape me. Vultures and daughters, bees and small children–the dream-symbols have been feeding me as I walk into the darkness of winter.

During the years when we were both farming full-time, when winter was truly a resting time, I think I had my most satisfying winters. I was able then to hibernate, to draw myself inward, to slow way down. Now in these years, when the days are so busy, and the evenings hold lists of necessary tasks, I lose myself a bit in winter. I struggle to focus in the outer world, but I don’t have the inner space to really slow down. Not really.

And so I am taking a bit of an Advent Break, shifting up my morning and evening routines, letting myself drift out of the social media spheres. It has been a good thing to take this break, to shift my habits. In the coming weeks between now and Epiphany, I will continue to make occasional forays onto this page, occasional steps into the world of Facebook, but I am going to breathe and rest and meditate and dream as I need to in these days, and hold myself to as few schedules as possible..

Blessings on your own Advent, your Dark Time, your Inward Journey. May your dreams be fruitful, and your visions be keen.

Much love.


Gratitude List:
1. Shadows and darkness
2. Dreams and visions
3. Rest and Quiet
4. Joy and Peace
5. Waiting and Anticipation

May we walk in Beauty!

Winged Heart

Fragment:
To build the bridge from where I am to where I want to be:
I will gather cobweb, shadow, feathers, rainbow.
I will weave a net of dreamings:
spider, lion, wolf, a blazing number seven,
labyrinthine city, and a tower with a thousand rooms.

Every day, I step a little closer to the chasm,
another key, a shining pebble on the pathway,
birdsong in the mist, a shifting shadow in the forest.


Rungs on Wednesday’s Ladder:
“Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.”
~ Khalil Gibran
*
Richard Rohr: “The wild beasts and the angels reside in the same wilderness. . .”
*
“There is another world, but it is in this one.” ~William Butler Yeats
*
“It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor” ~ Nelson Mandela
*
“There is always this tension between the lengths we wish to travel in life and the depths we long to penetrate in dreaming. By dreaming, I mean not only the sacred transmissions we receive in the night, but the dreaming we also do in the day: Listening to the wiseness of a moment, an encounter, a humble patch of land. Engaging with magic in an ongoing conversation.” ~ Toko-pa Turner (@ Dreamwork with Toko-Pa)
*
“God is as available and accessible as the very thing we all do constantly—breathe. Isn’t it wonderful that breath, wind, spirit, and air are precisely nothing—and yet everything?” —Richard Rohr
*
Advent At Midlife

I am no longer waiting for a special occasion; I burn the best candles on ordinary days.
I am no longer waiting for the house to be clean; I fill it with people who understand that even dust is sacred.
I am no longer waiting for everyone to understand me; It’s just not their task
I am no longer waiting for the perfect children; my children have their own names that burn as brightly as any star.
I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop; It already did, and I survived.
I am no longer waiting for the time to be right; the time is always now.
I am no longer waiting for the mate who will complete me; I am grateful to be so warmly, tenderly held.
I am no longer waiting for a quiet moment; my heart can be stilled whenever it is called.
I am no longer waiting for the world to be at peace; I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.
I am no longer waiting to do something great; being awake to carry my grain of sand is enough.
I am no longer waiting to be recognized; I know that I dance in a holy circle.
I am no longer waiting for Forgiveness. I believe, I believe.
~ Mary Anne Perrone
*
“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. …Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me. When it comes to dying even. Nothing ponderous, or portentous, or emphatic. No rhetoric, no tremolos, no self conscious persona putting on its celebrated imitation of Christ or Little Nell. And of course, no theology, no metaphysics. Just the fact of dying and the fact of the clear light. So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling, on tiptoes and no luggage, not even a sponge bag, completely unencumbered.”
~Aldous Huxley – Island


Gratitude List:
1. Bridges
2. Cobweb
3. Sunrise
4. Beauty
5. Desire

May we walk in Beauty!

Facing the Shameshadow

  

      

   

      

I am home again, after four days of silence at the Jesuit Center at Wernersville. I feel refreshed, reprogrammed, reset, re-energized, rejuvenated, renovated. I needed this one more than I realized. I wasn’t admitting to myself quite the extent of the bubble I had placed between me and the world. When you live with your heart on your sleeve, it can begin to feel like you’re immune to the numbing effects of addictions and sadnesses and avoidance of the inward pathways. I think I knew that I had been veering off, not walking deeply to center, not really wanting to see myself.

It’s a long and messy story, full of my own self-absorbed wanderings. It’s about the sudden weight gain, about Facebook as pacifier, about the news cycle. It’s name is Shame. I hate it when I have to go back and work through something I have already been through, but there it is. It took me two days of walking and making art and standing in doorways to finally step through and look that Shadowself in the face and name it: Shame. I have been living by shame, and refusing to call it by its name.

The Shameshadow had been lurking at my heels, a menacing old dog. I called it Anxiety. I called it Exhaustion. I called it by the name of our new president. But when I turned and called it by its true name–Shame–it bounded up to me and began to teach me. Those other names were simply things it fed on and symptoms. It was one of those Illuminating Moments, an Epiphany. I am under no illusions. I am sure it will probably begin to lurk and growl again someday, but then I must remember that it will have more to teach me.

I don’t like that that my Shadowself so often goes by the name of Shame. I want to exorcise it once and for all, not live with it crowding my heels. But this seems to be the way of it. It returns again and again to teach me. I am grateful for the messages.

After my moment of Epiphany, I walked out to the labyrinth. At every turning, I dropped a shamebundle. You don’t want to know these, do you? It’s things like the constantly messy/dirty house, sudden weight gain, use of FB to numb anxiety, not paying enough attention to the boys, being too hard on the boys, not being the perfect teacher, not getting my grading done in a timely fashion–that gives you the picture. Some of them, I picked up again on the way out of the labyrinth, not as shame, but as ideas for satisfying my heart.

And yes, I have spoken to the Shameshadow time and again in my life. It can feel like I’ve slid back down the longest slide in the game of Chutes and Ladders, but I find the spiral a much more helpful metaphor. I have been here before, on a previous cycle, but I am spiraling onward. I am not  where I once was, just at a further loop on the spiral.

May we all find the courage to turn and call our Shadowdogs by name, and wait quietly to learn what they have to teach us.


One more thing about the monastery. My friend Ruth Ann and I decided to take our silent retreat at the same time this year. We spoke together about our intentions and hopes before we sank into silence, and then we surfaced into a quiet reflective conversation at the end. In between, we left books in the hallway outside each other’s doors. Having a silent witness and being a silent witness was a powerful experience. It was a deep and powerful level of Companionship that mirrored and enhanced the work with the inner Companionself.


Jan Richardson:
did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
*
“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.” —William Stafford
*
“There are years that ask the question and years that answer.” —Zora Neale Hurston
*
“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.” —Hafiz
*
Sign on a stone at the monastery: “I am now.”
*
“One puts down the first line. . .in trust that life and language are abundant enough to complete it.” —Wendell Berry
*
“Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee.” —Job 12:8
*
“Sometimes the truth depends on a walk around the lake.” —Wallace Stevens
*
“Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.” —Emily Dickinson
*
“The contemplative stance is the third way. We stand in the middle, neither taking the world on from another power position nor denying it for fear of the pain it will bring. We hold the dark side of reality and the pain of the world until it transforms us, knowing that we are both complicit in the evil and can participate in wholeness and holiness.” —Richard Rohr
*
“Always we begin again.” —St. Benedict
*
Thomas Merton: “There are only three stages to this work: to be a beginner, to be more of a beginner, and to be only a beginner.”
*
“If the Angel deigns to come it will be because you have convinced her, not by tears, but by your humble resolve to be always beginning; to be a beginner.” —Rainer Maria Rilke
*
“When you have stood at the edge of the pool
and concentrated your will upon it,
a moment will arrive to ask you the question,
“What do you see?” and you will not know
whether you are gazing at the surface
or into the depths, or into the very woods itself.
All will be one, and it will be into your own soul
that you are gazing.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” Rumi
*
“Ask much,” the voice suggested, and I startled.
Feeling my body like the trembling body of a horse
tied to its tree while the strange noise
passes over its ears.
I who in extremity had always wanted less,
even of eating, of sleeping.
Agile, the voice did not speak again, but waited.
“Want more” –
a cure for longing I had not thought of.
But that is how it is with wells.
Whatever is taken refills to the steady level.
The voice agreed, though softly, to quiet the feet of the horse:
“A cup taken out, a cup reappears; a bucketful taken, a bucket.”
Jane Hirshfield


Gratitude List:
1. What the Shameshadow will teach me if I will listen
2. Clearing
3. Doorways
4. Beech Cathedral and Labyrinth
5. The Art Room at the Jesuit Center
6. Cloister walks–there is something deeply TRUE about archways. Something in my spirit recognizes the deep significance of archways, even if I cannot find the words to explain.
7. Being home again. Establishing the summer rhythms.

May we walk in Beauty! With sunshine sparkling all around.

Falling Apart

shadow

Today’s poetry Prompt is to write a Falling Apart poem.

Falling Apart
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

First: Everything begins to work in sync. From within the random chaos,
a pattern emerges, a rhythm, a mutual response between working parts.
Cooperation and tunefulness abound. Order prevails.

Second: Before long, the sameness of the patterns and the rhythms
begins to grate on the inner ear. A background whine hovers
just within earshot. Orderliness begins to thump and thud.

Third: Some of the ordered bits begin to stumble, miss a step,
misfire. Still, the march plods on, and the bumbling is only a hiccup
in the ordered scheme of things. Weariness sets in.

Fourth: A counter-rhythm develops. Syncopation sets in. Suddenly,
a wild dance whirls through the march. Chaos returns with a will.
The order has been subverted, the structure shredded.

Fifth: All sense of order has fallen apart. Randomness reigns.
The beauty of the wild begins to appear–itself–as a sameness.
Colors and sounds and sensations begin to sort themselves.

Sixth: Everything begins to work in sync.

Gratitude List:
1. More wonderful family time together. Nate riffing on the piano. What a musician!  Jon’s delicious lasagna. Uno has to be one of the best family games.
2. Shadows. Secret scenes and messages in the shadows.
3. Watching the boys take on creative projects and take pride in their work.
4. Thanksgiving Break. It wasn’t long enough, but it was wonderful while it lasted.
5. Dark Chocolate: Lemon Pepper Ginger.

May we walk in Beauty!