Animal Messengers

Sometimes when I am in a contemplative mood, perhaps doing yoga or cooking or sitting on the porch, I’ll get random images that flash into my mind’s eye. Yesterday morning as I was settling into Mountain Pose, I lifted my arms above my head as I was aligning my shoulders and spine, fingertips together. It flashed into my head that I was making the shape of an arched doorway, and I saw in my mind’s eye just such an archway in a green wood with golden light shining in through the opening, and two fawns looking at me. Deer represent unconditional love, particularly gentleness towards oneself, so I will take that as a message.

Perhaps my brain was remembering this portal archway that I painted a couple years ago. My younger son has been teaching me to use Pixlr to create digital art, so I superimposed an image of fawns I found (Creative Commons).


Sometimes we who grow up in a religious context accept the signs and symbols of religion as immutable and unchanging. Take Mary with her foot on the serpent, for instance. I have been noticing how often the snake appears in paintings and sculptures, open-mouthed, fangs bared, and writhing beneath the serene Mother’s foot.

Because I have grown up with a pretty well-rounded knowledge of scripture, I know that this is a reference to the verse in Genesis where God tells the serpent that the serpent’s descendants and Eve’s descendants would be enemies, that her offspring would crush his head, and he in turn would strike the heel of the humans. So when Mary steps on the head of the serpent, she is understood to be crushing evil (which the snake symbolizes in this story) by giving birth to the Christ.

And so, in my search for feminine images of the divine, I have begun exploring iconography and sculptures and paintings of Mary, looking for the ways in which Mary herself represents the Goddess. And also, I have been exploring the symbol of the serpent as woman-wisdom, woman-energy, kundalini. The snake represents the inherent power in the feminine.

So I can’t help but feel as though in those images where Mary is stepping on the head of the serpent that she is being forced by patriarchal religious structures to crush and destroy her own power. I think this is a truth, however unsavory, that comes through in the image–women have been forced to crush our own power because the prevailing religious structures perceive that power to be evil and dangerous. I’ve tried working with the re-interpretations of the image that some offer, that she has reached full understanding of her power and so she stands upon the source of her wisdom. She has integrated it. That’s a much more palatable overlay.

Still, because the original artworks were most certainly created with the idea that the snake is evil, and she is vanquishing it, it’s a challenge you get past the echoes of “Her children shall crush your head.”

Perhaps I need to try to create my own artwork, Our Lady of the Serpent, with a more truly Middle Eastern Mary and an integrated relationship with the power and wisdom of the serpent.


Gratitude List:
1. Relief from the aches and pains. I had let it get pretty bad. I don’t know if it’s a natural progression of arthritis, or residual effects of Covid, or results of being too sedentary. Since spring, my body has just begun to hurt more and more. I had begun to dread going walking with the family. I hurt so much. My co-pay at the doctor’s office is $80, so I kept putting off checking in with the doctor, and I didn’t really want to start a regimen of allopathic medicine for whatever has been causing my muscles and back and feet to hurt. I had considered elimination diets to see if that would work, but instead Sarah suggested adding anti-inflammatory foods to my diet. I’m eating fresh pineapple for the bromelain, and drinking tart cherry juice and eating berries for the anti-oxidants. When the pain flares, I take Aspirea Compound, from H&A (you can order some here). And I am being much more intentional about regular yoga practice. It’s taken a couple weeks to get to this place, and I’m not pain-free, but I feel like a normal 50-something now. Grateful, so grateful, for Sarah’s wisdom and knowledge.
2. Making progress, however slow, in the de-hoarding. I’m not where I wanted to be at this point in the summer, but the flow is better now. The energy is less clogged and brackish now that I have organized and released “stuff.”
3. Stimulating intellectual discussions. Some people make you feel like you’re back in a grad school classroom, with all the richness of shared ideas and the co-creation of ideas.
4. Caring communities. Empathy is still around, although it can sometimes seem in short supply. Never hesitate to show it. It builds and grows. That’s the magic of it. The more you give, the more it grows. It’s that magic penny, baby.
5. TOMATOES!

May we walk in wisdom, kindness, and Beauty!


“Some say you’re lucky
If nothing shatters it.
But then you wouldn’t
Understand poems or songs.
You’d never know
Beauty comes from loss.
It’s deep inside every person:
A tear tinier
Than a pearl or thorn.
It’s one of the places
Where the beloved is born.”
―Gregory Orr


“And the wood is tired, and the wood is old, and we’ll make it fine, if the weather holds. But if the weather holds, then we’ll have missed the point. And that’s where I need to go.” ―The Indigo Girls


“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” ―Joseph Campbell


“Friendship … is born at the moment when one says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”
― C.S. Lewis


“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
―Thomas Merton


“To say ‘I don’t know’ is an unparalleled source of power, a declaration of independence from the pressure to have an opinion about every single subject.
It’s fun to say. Try it: ‘I don’t know.’
Let go of the drive to have it all figured out: ‘I don’t know.’
Proclaim the only truth you can be totally sure of: ‘I don’t know.’
Empty your mind and lift your heart: ‘I don’t know.’
Use it as a battle cry, a joyous affirmation of your oneness with the Great Mystery: ‘I don’t know.’
(To revel in this reverie can be a respite, a vacation. Any time you feel ready, you can return to the more familiar state of ‘I know! I know! I know!’)” ―Rob Brezsny


“Declare amnesty for the part of you that you don’t love very well. Forgive that poor sucker. Hold its hand and take it out to dinner and a movie. Tactfully offer it a chance to make amends for the dumb things it has done.
And then do a dramatic reading of this proclamation by the playwright Theodore Rubin: ‘I must learn to love the fool in me—the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. It alone protects me against that utterly self-controlled, masterful tyrant whom I also harbor and who would rob me of human aliveness, humility, and dignity but for my fool.’” ―Rob Brezsny


“We all receive water from her, we receive food from her, we receive air from her, anything that is received as a gift from the Earth and from nature has to be a commons, it cannot be privatised, that is why privatisation of life forms through patents or water through privatisation schemes driven by the World Bank, or the privatisation of the atmosphere and the air through carbon trading and emissions trading are all illegal and illegitimate in a legal framework based on the Earth’s rights.” ―Vandana Shiva


“The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don’t turn against him; they crush those beneath them.” ―Emily Bronte


“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.” ―Susan B. Anthony


“To truly know the world, look deeply within your own being; to truly know yourself, take real interest in the world.” ―Rudolf Steiner

Poem a Day: 12

The prompts today are “spirit” and “eggs.” And it is Easter, so that wants to weave into the mix. One of my favorite moments in all of the New Testament stories is the moment when Mary Magdalene is weeping in the garden, and asks the gardener where they have taken her beloved, and the gardener turns, and it IS her beloved, and he says her name. This feels like one of the holiest stories to me.

Grief is the Egg
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

“Grief is not your problem.
Grief is not the sorrow.
Grief is the medicine.” —Martin Prechtel

There are people who sing when they weep,
who wail for the dead in poems,
chant the wandering spirits into seeds
that will sprout in the new world
as trees, or storms, or whales.

Grief is not the rock that entombs you.
It is the egg of the thing to come,
the precious perfume in the alabaster jar
that finds its way to praise life and living
even as it anoints the dead.
The egg and the seed are the medicine.

Grief is no dead end road.
It is the curtain rent in two,
the woman weeping in the garden:
“Tell me, if you know,
where they have taken my beloved.”

Grief is the egg of the moment,
radiant with sunlight,
just before the gardener turns,
and you hear your name.

Breath Lifts Spirit

Look what the goddess does when she is sad:
She takes up a tambourine, made of taut skin
and rimmed with castanets of brass,
and she begins to dance.
The sound blares out wildly,
reaching even to the depths of the underworld,
so loud, so clamorous is it.

Look what the goddess does when she is sad:
She finds the wildness in herself,
and as she does,
she finds that there is joy there too.
–Patricia Monaghan (attr. to Euripides)


Gratitude List:
1. One young snow goose in the flock of a thousand Canadas across the road from my parents’ house yesterday.
2. Anticipation: I have an education conference coming up at the end of the week, and I always look forward to the feeling of a little retreat. All the mundane tasks are taken care of. I get my own little room with my own little bed. I love getting to talk to colleagues and others, but also having time completely to myself.
3. Stories that inspire and heal
4. How breath lifts spirit
5. All the people who are working for justice.

May we walk in Beauty!

Be Softer With You

“Be softer with you.
You are a breathing thing.
A memory to someone.
A home to a life.”  ―Nayyirah Waheed
*
Late Fragment

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
*
Powerful words from Rob Brezsny:
“The real secret of magic is that the world is made of words,” said Terence McKenna in “Alien Dreamtime,” “and that if you know the words that the world is made of, you can make of it whatever you wish.”

Here’s my version of that hypothesis: What world you end up living in depends at least in part on your use of language.

Do you want to move and breathe amidst infertile chaos where nothing makes sense and no one really loves anyone? Then speak with unconscious carelessness, expressing yourself lazily. Constantly materialize and entertain angry thoughts in the privacy of your own imagination, beaming silent curses out into eternity.

Or would you prefer to live in a realm that’s rich with fluid epiphanies and intriguing coincidences and mysterious harmonies? Then be discerning and inventive in how you speak, primed to name the unexpected codes that are always being born right in front of your eyes. Turn your imagination into an ebullient laboratory where the somethings you create out of nothings are tinctured with the secret light you see in your dreams of invisible fire.
*
“The power of love is stronger than the power to destroy.”  ―Vandana Shiva
*
“And then–
and then your eyes will open
as if waking from a dream
or waking into a dream
and the dew-drenched grasses
will sparkle before you
like gold in the morning
and you will know.

You will know what it is
you have come for.” ―Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
“Writing is one of the most ancient forms of prayer. To write is to believe communication is possible, that other people are good, that you can awaken their generosity and their desire to do better.”  ―Fatema Mernissi
*
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” ―Robin Williams as Mr. John Keating in Dead Poets Society
*
“Well, I don’t only think that the biosphere is in trouble, I know it is. I just have to look around in the environment, in which I live.
In my own part of the part of the world, I keep telling people, let us not cut trees irresponsibly. Let us not destroy especially the forested mountains. Because if you destroy the forests on these mountains, the rivers will stop flowing and the rains will become irregular and the crops will fail and you will die of hunger and starvation. Now the problem is, people don’t make those linkages.”
—Wangari Maathai
*
“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”
—Robin Williams


Gratitude List:
1. Holy Ground: The Earth we walk on, our callings, our destinies
2. Sacred Flame: The burning bush, the kindling of compassion, energy, the spark of life
3. Hallowed Water: Cleansing, purifying, nurturing life (May the waters all run free!)
4. Sublime Air: The breath of life, inspiration, drawing us out, pushing us onward
5. The Indwelling spirit: Vivifying, transforming

May we walk in Beauty!

Re-Integrating

tattoo

Quiet, thoughtful, tired today. So much to absorb from my three days of learning to keep circles. Now the work is to learn to apply and integrate the practice into my work, into my Work. And after three days of circling with twenty-five others, that specific circle itself must settle in like a seed and germinate within. And now, somehow, I must now reintegrate into the world outside the circle.

I think it would be good for me, sometime in the next two months, to sit in circle with people who are planning to vote for Trump, people who are planning to vote for Clinton, and people who are voting for Stein or Johnson. Perhaps some non-voters should be in there, too. I could not be the Circle Keeper, but I think I would come out of such an experience a much healthier person, hopefully less anxious, less furious.

Gratitude List:
1. Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Spirit
2. Autumn is in the air
3. The circles expand out and outward
4. Poetry, how it says things that cannot articulated in didactic words
5. We are more alike than we are different

May we walk in Beauty!

Living in the Empire

Tomatoes

Tomato season is upon us.  Those speckled romans in the upper right hand corner appear to have done a little hybridizing with the Amish pastes–so many of them are chunky and round.

I had a conversation with a wise man yesterday (my father).  My book on the desert mothers and fathers caught his eye, and he told me about what he had read about the movement of these communities into the deserts of what is now Syria and Palestine and Egypt–that they appear to have been reacting to the Christianization of empire in the 4th and 5th centuries.  Watching how their spiritual path had been taken and used to unify people under military and nationalistic banners, they chose instead to retreat into the deserts.

We got to talking about how our own direct spiritual ancestors, Mennonite Anabaptists in Switzerland in the 1500s, were also confronting the ways in which faith and spirituality had become a tool of empire and state-building. They refused to baptize their babies into the state church, choosing to untangle their spiritual story from the story of the religious city-states.  Many of them paid with their lives.  Many of them fled that empire for the new world.

Today, I think we also live in a time of empire-building, when the engines of state appropriate and exploit spiritual dogmas in order to consolidate power.  We have no desert to flee to, no new world that holds the promise of a life lived according to principle outside the boundaries of empire.  And perhaps flight is not what is called for in these days.  Perhaps the work of today demands that our desert monastic cells and our new world communities be villages of spirit, grounded inside ourselves.  Perhaps our work is to build and strengthen what St. Teresa of Avila, in the 1500s called the Interior Castle, the spaces inside ourselves that experience the life of the spirit in deep communion with the Great Mystery, a place where political and empirical powers hold no sway.

And then, how does the tending of our own inner gardens inform our daily living in the empire?  How will I explore my anxieties and concerns about things like elections and drone warfare and poverty and refugees in light of my inner journey?  How will I act in the outer world, if I am informed by my own inner amma in her quiet desert cell?  What will our communities of spirit look like here, within the belly of the empire, if we do not set ourselves apart in desert communities or sail away to a new land?  How do we keep our circles wide and inviting, our conversations holy and uplifting, our actions principled and full of resolve?

The movement of spirit that I see today is not defined by a singular religious group or sect.  It crosses religious boundaries.  The Muslim seeker and the Christian seeker, the Sikh, the witch, the Buddhist, the agnostic, and the universalist–it is one spirit community, working together to live with intention and purpose, with compassion and wisdom, calling forth that longing to experience the life of the spirit within each other and with everyone they meet.

Gratitude List:
1. I found the hummingbird nest yesterday.  It’s been a couple years since I found one.  I just happened to be looking at the right place at the right moment when she flew in and settled on her nest.  What a miracle of existence is the hummingbird.
2. This seems petty, but it’s a biggish deal to me: the warning lights in the Prius went off.  I decided to drive her for small errands yesterday because we couldn’t get a car appointment until this morning.  After two or three stops, she stopped giving me panicky lights.  My mechanic says to just keep watching for the lights and hope she was just resetting something.  I was afraid of a huge repair bill.
3. The inner work.  Knowing you’re out there, and so many others are with us, tending our inner gardens, building and connecting communities of spirit.
4. How sleep refreshes.  I felt really run down yesterday.  Jon said maybe I didn’t eat enough.  I thought maybe it was the humidity.  My bones ached.  I thought I might never feel rested again.  A good sleep has done the trick this time.
5. Inter-species friendship.  Here’s Fred, talking to me about breakfast.  I had to give him my attention and respond to his questions and snuggle and feed him.  Now he has settled quietly into the chair right beside me, companionably.  What a great guy.

May we walk in Beauty!

Being a Body

DSCN8041
I think it is time for me to start planning my retreat to the monastery when school ends this spring.  I want to go sit under the boughs of the cathedral tree again.

Gratitude List:
1. Gulls by the hundreds flying in the dawn across the River
2. Watching the freshmen really take up the work of deep discussion
3. How one foot just goes in front of the other.  Then the next one.
4. The sense of sight.  As my eyes age, I am more and more keenly aware of how appreciate clear vision.
5. Being in a body.  Incarnation.  There is so much to learn in this body, and I spend entirely too much time wishing it were different in some way, like I just did by wishing that my eyes weren’t aging quite so quickly.  And every moment, every itch, every ache, every noticing, is a chance to learn something about the interaction of spirit and matter.

May we walk in Beauty!

Mouse in the House

radish
The room is a little dark, and it’s a Chromebook photo, but you can get the idea of the sweetness from this.

Gratitude List:
1. Tabea’s radish mouse
2. Steadily working on the “slow, gentle ripening of the human spirit.”  –Cynthia Bourgeault
3. Distilling thought into words
4. Listening to 9th grade short stories
5. Moderation.  Balance.

As salamu alaykum.  Walk in Peace.  Walk in Beauty.