Advent 7: Approach with Curiosity

This is a picture of my cat Erebus through the window between our kitchen and the breezeway. Behind him are some of the houses of Legoland, but my own reflection is caught within the shadow of him, and behind me is the reflection of the window to the outside.

One of the dangers for me in this season is numbness. There is so much to do; there are so many details to keep track of, so many people with needs to respond to. Compounding this, the cold and the closing darkness make me draw inward, pulling inside myself. It can be easy to forget to feel, to live in a survival mindset, moving from task to task with an automatic and robotic air, just trying to hold on and make it through.

It helps to be conscious and deliberate in my response to the pull toward hibernation, not denying the desire, offering myself small oases of hibernation in the context of the busy life I must continue to lead. Stop and breathe. Stop and read a poem. Stop and draw a picture. Stop and smile at someone. I need to change the pace, stepping at the rhythm my body and psyche demand rather than the rush and bustle that the frantically commercial outside world demands.

It also helps, here in this winter labyrinth, to hone and practice curiosity, letting the mind out to play, opening the heart more fully to wonder and delight. Look up from the relentless task list in front of you, and let your gaze wander over the world outside the momentary ruts. Notice the colors and textures. Take an interest. Be curious. It helps to combat the dullness.

I have developed an obsession with taking photos of reflections, and reflections of reflections. In the picture above, I am caught in the reflection of a picture of my cat through a window. His name is Erebus, which is the personification of darkness and shadow in ancient Greek cosmology. Even the shadows have a wonderful variety of shade and hue. Shadows and reflections of shadows are doorways, places where worlds meet, tangible and intangible places of possibility.

How will you be changed if you decide to walk through one of those doorways?


Envisioning:
(At the beginning of Advent, my pastor asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)

This week, I have come across several articles about Rain Dove, a model who responds to critics and detractors with what one writer called ‘relentless kindness.” Rain Dove is non-binary, and receives quite a lot of hateful responses to their social media posts about their own life. A recent incident in which an angry parent posted an angry and blaming note to Rain Dove about their influence on the parent’s child turned into an honest conversation about being present for a child who needs tender-hearted adults. Rain Dove began with humor to diffuse the anger, then probed gently and non-judgmentally to find out the root of the parent’s anxiety. Then they asserted repeatedly that it seems obvious that the parent must really love and care for the child and want what’s best. I want to be like Rain Dove, practicing a vision of a world in which we approach each other with relentless kindness.

Advent 6: Examining Shadows

Every year, I have to talk myself through this. I love darkness. I love the quiet and the rest, the comfort of enveloping night. And–

And the short days and long nights also fill me with a growing sense of panic, a sense of claustrophobia, as the night comes early and the dark lingers late into the mornings. I feel the panic rise, like it does when my clothes are too tight or I’m in a crowd, closed in on all sides by people, or when the seatbelt in the car pulls tight and won’t let go. It takes a conscious effort of will and a lot of self-talk to get myself back to the quiet space where I can sit in the darkness of early evening and remember how good it is to sit in the warm yellow glow of a lamp and feel the gentle arms of darkness around me.

So, here in the sixth passage of this labyrinth walk into December, I want to look into the shadows. Perhaps tomorrow, or another day, I will look into the more metaphorical shadows inside me (they make me claustrophobic, too), but yesterday I was caught up in looking at the blues and the indigos and violets that glow in the edges of the shadows and color the deeper areas. The under-shadow of the clouds was such a blue yesterday that I wondered if my eyes are developing a more acute sense of blue as they grow aged and fuzzy. The indigos beside the blue were richer, more lustrous. I think I know why the search for indigo has been a human obsession.

This morning, the shadows cast beyond the lamplight cross shadows falling through the archway to the kitchen. The lines between create distinct zones and areas, but try to look directly at the borders between light and shadow and doubled shadow, and suddenly the boundaries blur and disappear. Stare too long at the edges of a shadow and it starts to pulse and shift.

Without light, there is no shadow. Yesterday when I got home from work, I climbed onto the picnic table to catch a photo of the glorious shadows cast by the sycamore tree onto the red wall of the barn. The moment I raised my camera, a cloud slipped in front of the sun and the shadow was gone.

On today’s journey into winter, shall we explore the spaces between sun and shadow, consider the ways that light creates shadow, hone our noticing of color and line in the deepening shadows of winter?


Envisioning:
(On Sunday, Michelle asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)

Yesterday, One of my friends told me of a woman in a retirement center who greets each person she passes with, “God loves you.” This reminds me of a student of mine who would come into class every day with a high five and a “Make it a great day, Ms. Weaver-Kreider!” And of the students who always thank me as they are leaving class. And of the people who look others in the eye, and make the effort to make that powerful human contact for just a moment in the day. Loving interaction which in which we See each other–that’s my vision for today.

Mirrors and Reflections

One of my recent obsessions is taking photographs of light reflected in windows, so that it falls on the landscape outside, or seems to hover between realities, like a doorway or window between worlds. Mirrors, reflections, shadows: light and shadow create images that show us another version of reality, enable us to see things from a different perspective.

At the beginning of the year, instead of choosing a single word for my meditations throughout the year, I felt a nudging on Epiphany day just to keep the three that had risen to the top of my list: Bird, Bridge, Boundary. They’ve been weaving and reweaving themselves through my contemplations in the past month. And a week later, I felt the compulsion to add a fourth: mirror.

The season of Brigid calls us to consider mirrors and reflections and shadows, those otherworldly, deeper layers that offer us images of who we really are in the world. Look. Then look deeper. See, then See again. Open your eyes, and then open your eyes, and then open your eyes. The Groundhog takes on a priestly role, reminding us to examine what reflections we are making in the world, what shape is the shadow that we cast behind and around us.

Two nights ago, I dreamed about going on an adventure with one of my beloveds. I wrote and told her of the dream the next morning. During our conversation, she offered me the gift of mirroring, of showing me the shape she sees me casting into the world. It was a different image than my own perceptions offered me, and gentler. My own sense of inadequacy, my fierce judgement of myself, has cast another layer of shadow into my own perceptions, and made me see myself with too critical an eye. It took the gaze of a friend, the tending perception of another, to shift the view for me.

Light is funny that way. Send it through water, and the image is distorted, shifted slightly. The kingfisher knows this, and automatically corrects for refraction, aiming straight for the minnows despite the tricks of the light. I’ve let myself be seduced by the critical angle of the light, viewing myself with a distorted lens. It helps to have a beloved willing to gently mirror a different perception back to me. My contemplative lens will be clearer now, and perhaps my work will blossom as I view it through another’s eyes.

I’m intentionally mixing the images here: mirror, light, shadow, image, refraction, reflection. Their meanings are like different layers of light viewed in the reflections on a window, each with its own truth to offer, but all part of the layered image.

May your reflections in this season bring you insight into your truest self.
May your beloveds be tender mirrors to guide you to images which help you blossom.
May your inner gaze be kind, offering yourself space to grow and change.

Postscript: This image of the back pages of my grandmother’s copy of The Mennonite Community Cookbook is also a reflection of sorts, a mirror that shows me my reflection in the past, in my own ancestors, or perhaps their reflection/refraction into the image of me. When I am searching for a recipe, fanning the pages with my thumb, there’s a moment when I feel this little arc in the paper, this spot worn away by the years of my grandmother’s own thumb flipping the pages of her cookbook, and I can almost feel her reflected into the moment, into me.

A Brilliant Brigid’s Day

Song for Brigid’s Day
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

Do you feel how the world comes alive?
How even underneath its coat of snow,
inside the bright crystals of the ice,
something in the Earth is stirring?

Within your own eyes I see it rising–
in this breath,
and now this one–
the Dreamer is awakening.

The dawn has come,
spreading its golden road before you,
asking, “Will you step upon the pathway?”

As you move out onto the road,
Brigid’s sun upon your face
will trace your outline full behind you,
defining you in the Shadow
which will be your soul’s companion
into spring.

–2018

Brigid’s Day has dawned bright and sparkling. The groundhog and her rodent kin have seen their shadows. The crone can merrily wander through the woods edge and hedgerows to gather firewood for the next six weeks of winter.

And here’s one of the sacred truths of the moment: If I’m willing to look deeply into the reality of my own shadows, if I’m willing to know them, to understand how they reflect me and show my inner realities, then I have nothing to fear from the shadows. I have nothing to fear from the coming weeks of winter.

Yesterday after I got home, I went out to shovel the drive so it would be easier for Jon to get up the slope. My neighbor came out to help me. She loves to shovel snow, she said. She loves winter, especially when it’s cold and snowy. And for those moments with her, shoveling and talking together, I too loved the cold and the snow. For the beauty, for the exercise, but mostly for the neighborliness.

Questions to Contemplate in the Season of Brigid
This is the season of sunlight and shadow:
What is the shape of my shadow?
How does it hamper me?
How does it hold me?
How does it tell me the shape of my soul?

Brigid is the Smith, she who works the forges:
What within me is being tempered this season?
What is being shaped and shifted?
What sacred patterns are being traced along my edges?
What useful tool am I being forged to become?

Brigid is the Healer.
The waters of her well bring wholeness.
What spaces within me need the touch of her waters?
What dis-ease drains my vitality?
How can I offer the waters of healing to others?

Brigid is Patroness of Poets.
How do words shape my reality, like iron is shaped in the forge?
How do my words bring healing, like water from the well?
How can I speak poetry into the cold and the shadows
of the season which is upon us?
Can I offer my daily words with the care and the artfulness of the poet?

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!