Holy Trees

The cathedral beech at the Jesuit Center.

Last year at this time, I was spending the better part of a week at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville with my favorite trees. The Jesuits are planning to close and sell the property in another year, so I will need to make one last pilgrimage in the coming year. The grounds require a great deal of upkeep and maintenance, as does the marvelous old building. The community of men who live there are aging, and there aren’t many of them anymore.

I long for someone to buy the place who could work with environmental groups to make it a nature preserve, to maintain the building as a spiritual retreat center, to keep caring for those holy trees.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!

“In one of the stars, I shall be living.
In one of them, I shall be laughing.
And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing
When you look at the sky at night.”
―The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery


“All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you.” ―Octavia Butler


“The world is not to be put in order. The world is order. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.” ―Henry Miller


“The greatest danger to our future is apathy.” ―Jane Goodall


Prayer for the World
by Rabbi Harold Kushner

Let the rain come and wash away
the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds
held and nurtured over generations.
Let the rain wash away the memory
of the hurt, the neglect.
Then let the sun come out and
fill the sky with rainbows.
Let the warmth of the sun heal us
wherever we are broken.
Let it burn away the fog so that
we can see each other clearly.
So that we can see beyond labels,
beyond accents, gender or skin color.
Let the warmth and brightness
of the sun melt our selfishness.
So that we can share the joys and
feel the sorrows of our neighbors.
And let the light of the sun
be so strong that we will see all
people as our neighbors.
Let the earth, nourished by rain,
bring forth flowers
to surround us with beauty.
And let the mountains teach our hearts
to reach upward to heaven.
Amen.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

MESSAGES TO SELF:
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Breathe in sunshine. Breathe in the fluttering of bird wings in sunlight.
Breathe out worry and anxiety and grief.
Breathe in the solidity of trees. Breathe in the stalwart courage of oak and locust and sycamore.
Breathe out worry and anxiety and grief.
(They will still be there for you to examine and explore. For now, let them go.)
Breathe in and raise your head. Drop your shoulders. Stand or sit up straighter.
Breathe the worry and sadness out the soles of your feet, into Earth. She can hold them for you.
Breathe in love and compassion.
Breathe out gratitude.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.

Today at some point, put you bare feet on Earth. Put your fingertips in water. Place your hands oh so tenderly on the bark of a tree. And breathe.


Gratitude List:
It feels like these lists are all beginning to repeat, as I sit at the same window every morning to write these lists, and my days look the same.
1. Bird life in the holler. One goldfinch is now fully suited up for summer. Phoebe is speaking its name into the cool morning. The sun turns that red cap on the downy woodpecker to fire.
2. The trees that surround me.
3. The waters that run through the hollow on their way to the River.
4. A lighter day today. The assignments are a little lighter today, and I am going to grade speeches. Enough. Enough. I have done enough.
5. Finding joys and wonders and delights to balance the sadness and anxiety.

Take Care of Yourself. Take Care of Each Other.



“What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.” —Alain de Botton


“We are capable of suffering with our world, and that is the true meaning of compassion. It enables us to recognize our profound interconnectedness with all beings. Don’t ever apologize for crying for the trees burning in the Amazon or over the waters polluted from mines in the Rockies. Don’t apologize for the sorrow, grief, and rage you feel. It is a measure of your humanity and your maturity. It is a measure of your open heart, and as your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal.” —Joanna Macy


“We should have respect for animals because it makes better human beings of us all.” —Jane Goodall


“Let yourself be silently drawn
by the strange pull of what you love.
It will not lead you astray.” —Rumi


“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” —Harriet Tubman


“The little grassroots people can change this world.” —Wangari Maathai


“Some form of the prayer of quiet is necessary to touch me at the unconscious level, the level where deep and lasting transformation occurs. From my place of prayer, I am able to understand more clearly what is mine to do and have the courage to do it. Unitive consciousness—the awareness that we are all one in Love—lays a solid foundation for social critique and acts of justice.” —Richard Rohr


“You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” —Anonymous

Beneath the Surface

This was in the grocery bags from Flinchbaugh’s, our local farmer’s market, this past weekend.

Gratitude List:
1. Yesterday’s list of gratitude for trees missed my friend Willow, who is putting on her stunning yellow dancing gown for spring. . .
2. . . .and Walnut, whose shadow arms falling across the drive invite me to find the pathways to the sun.
3. The delight of a composer-boy in his birthday gift. He’s working on a long and complicated composition on Noteflite. He’s listening through the piece now, making notes about places where he wants to make changes.
4. Teaching school from my armchair, with a little ginger cat tucked beside me, purring.
5. All that this anxiety is teaching me about living in the moment, about treasuring each joy and delight as I live it.

Take care of each other!


“Mathematics is the language with which God wrote the Universe.” —Galileo


“The way that I understand it, dreaming is nature ‘naturing’ through us. Just as a tree bears fruit or a plant expresses itself in flowers, dreams are fruiting from us. The production of symbols and story is a biological necessity. Without dreams, we could not survive. And though it is possible to get by without remembering our dreams, a life guided and shaped by dreaming is a life that follows the innate knowing of the earth itself. As we learn to follow the instincts of our inner wilderness, respecting its agreements and disagreements, we are also developing our capacity for subtlety. This sensitivity is what makes us more porous and multilingual, bringing us into conversation with the many languages of the world around us.” —Toko-pa Turner



“There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.” ―Guy Gavriel Kay


“Even the simplest of rituals is a way of acknowledging the unseen, the unspoken-about, the holy, which feeds our lives with its inexhaustible generosity. Ritual restores us to one another and to that grander coherence to which we all belong. Devoting your time to a ritual is like tending to a living bridge between the seen and the unseen, keeping that reciprocity alive.” ―Dreamwork with Toko-pa


“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” —Nelson Mandela


“Beneath the surface, there is a deeper and vastly more authentic Self.” —Cynthia Bourgeault

Among Trees

Yesterday, in her online sermon, my pastor used the Psalm 23 text, and emphasized the sheltering aspects of the psalm. At one point, she was discussing the sheltering canopies of trees, and she intimately described this weeping beech tree who lives on the campus of the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA. We cannot travel there now to sit beneath her branches, but here is a photo. I will meditate within her shelter today, through the images I have of her, but I will also physically sit on my porch under the sheltering canopy of my sycamore friend.

Do you have a tree friend? If you can do so without breaking your rules of sheltering in place, why not find a tree today, someone whose bark you can feel beneath your hands, whose branches filter light and air above you, whose presence can hold you steady in these unsteady times.

Below is a paraphrase of Psalm 23 that another of our pastors read during our online service yesterday. I love it.


Psalm 23
Nan Merrill | March 2010 (Vol. XXIII, No. 3)

O my Beloved, you are my shepherd,
I shall not want;
You bring me to green pastures for rest
and lead me beside still waters
renewing my spirit,
You restore my soul.
You lead me in the path of goodness
to follow Love’s way.

Even though I walk through the
valley of the shadow and of death,
I am not afraid;
For You are ever with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they guide me,
they give me strength and comfort.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of all my fears;
you bless me with oil,
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will
follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the heart
of the Beloved
forever.

~ from Psalms for Praying


Gratitude List:
1. The weeping beech at Wernersville. How she is present even at a distance.
2. The sycamore who holds our home in the hollow beneath her sheltering arms.
3. That little oak up the hill, who was a tiny sapling mere years ago, and now rises twenty or thirty feet at the top of the bluff.
4. Jacarandas and frangipanis, baobabs and acacias, the trees of my childhood.
5. The trees that you are. Together, we are a massive forest of shelter and presence. Thank you for your steady breathing, your strong presence.

Take care of each other.


“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic. . .the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.”
—Charles de Lint


“My invitation to each of you—student, faculty, community member—is to find a story of someone who has made a change, small or large, whether the consequence was their life or their comfort, and I want you to share that story with at least one other person, something that inspires you to step beyond the boundaries of your courage into a new world beyond the measure you ever thought you could make.” —Kevin Ressler, in 2017 memorial for M. J. Sharp


“What you will see is love coming out of the trees, love coming out of the sky, love coming out of the light. You will perceive love from everything around you. This is the state of bliss.” ―Miguel Ruiz


“My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.” ―Alice Hoffman


“Sometimes I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”
—Jonathan Safran Foer

Leaping Spirits of Trees

Gratitude List:
1. Today is not yesterday. Yesterday I never quite came out of the fog. This morning I already feel crisper than I did at any point in the day yesterday, so hopefully that was just a blip. I feel ready for this one.
2. Homemade cookies. MCCL kids, for making those kits: Thank you!
3. People who are anchors. You know who you are. My life is so much better for your presence. Thank you. (Actually, maybe you don’t know you’ve anchored me. It might be the kind thing you said, or the story you told, or the little quote you posted on social media, or the way you talk about someone you love, or the way you genuinely look people in the eye when you talk to them, or the way you take a deep breath and stand up straight when you have something hard to do: I notice, and I am inspired and anchored just by being near you.)
4. Also, people who are speaking and living truth. Especially in times when so much truth is being so cynically bartered for power. Thank you.
5. For the trees, for the “leaping greenly spirits of trees” (even when you are no longer green, your spirits still leap greenly: holy, holy): Thank you.*

May we walk in Beauty!
*e. e. cummings reference

Spiraling Inward

It isn’t a labyrinth, exactly, although it serves the same prayerful purpose. If you look closely and use your imagination, you can see that I shuffled a spiral in to the base of the maple tree.

November was going to be for morning serious writing sessions for me. I was going to get right down to writing, first thing, before the household wakes up. Somehow it hasn’t quite unfolded with the grace I had hoped for. My mornings have been more frantic and last minute as I try to rearrange my brain from that deep space to the focus of the day. Easier to continue to focus my morning writing on the quick little projects that I usually work on. I don’t feel like this is a failure so much as a recognition that the work that I normally do in this time is all writing practice. It’s just not writing toward a particular end goal. I have to find a different time of day for the goal-centered writing.

And editing. This is not the first time I have been working with the goddesses who descend–with Innana/Ishtar, with Persephone–and I feel a little like I am rewriting, like what I need to to organize what I have already written before I start the new stories.

Today, I am going to set myself a little writing goal. I am going to write Skinny poems: They’re eleven lines long. Line 1 is a phrase that catches your attention. Lines 2-10 are one word each. Lines 2, 6, and 10 are the same word. Line 11 uses the exact same words as the phrase in line 1, and these can be in any order that works for you. Le Hinton introduced us to this form on Friday, and it’s captured my attention, especially since I have gone googling Le’s Skinnys.


Gratitude List:
1. Inner work that helps me to bear the walk into the darkness.
2. I received a sweet gratitude from a student yesterday, something that reminded me of who I am and what my purpose is.
3. Yellow labyrinth-spiral of leaves beneath the maple tree.
4. Reaching small goals.
5. Rice and refried beans wrapped in a tortilla with all the fixings. It’s simple comfort.

May we walk in Beauty!

Story of Descent

Gratitude List:
1. I am sinking so deeply into the story of Inanna as I write these mornings.
2. How stories of descent help me to live into the growing darkness of the season
3. How a walk can bring clarity
4. Anticipation, though today and tomorrow will end it: I am going to the Literary Festival at Millersville tonight and tomorrow. With the intensity of excitement this has brought me, I wonder why I have not done more festivals and conferences and workshops for writers.
5. The trees are still orange and golden.

May we walk in Beauty!

Pathways of the Heart

Mountaintop  42068733_360534797822346_7202145227302807350_n(1)

Looking back through some of my previous blog posts, I came upon this again this morning, something that keeps leaping out at me from the past to remind me to open my throat. Today Joss is nine and Ellis is twelve. They must have been three and six at the time of this story:

This morning when we were playing with our gnomes, Joss decided that the gnome house was on fire, and he raced to get a group of gnomes to put it out. “Red! We need all the red gnomes!” Exactly–to put out a fire, it takes lots of red gnomes. Ellis chimed in, “And Minus! We need the Minus Gnome! Because a house with fire Minus the fire is just a house!”

Sometimes I sure would like to use some of Minus Gnome’s magic on me. An anxious Beth Minus anxiety is just Beth. Angst-ridden, anger-struck Beth Minus angst and anger? Beth. So that’s a nice little thing to do with meditation. Of course as soon as I began to work with the idea, it hit me again that the angers and angsts are so often born of compassion and caring, and for those I have been seeking the services of Multiplication Gnome. I need to untangle the compassion from its attendant anger at injustice, its partner anxiety at losses to those I love.

Wow. Look at those words that I wanted to get rid of: Angst, Anxiety, Anger. . .I looked them up, along with their sister Anguish. There at their root is angh-, which comes from the Indo-European language tree, and generally refers to distress of some sort. That lovely vowel–ah–cut short in the back of the throat, closed up along with all hope of breath: Angh!

Fear, shame, anger, distress: what sound emerges when you truly feel them? Angh! Choke.

But still, that lovely vowel–ah–the first we say in so many languages: Mama, Abba, Baba, Dada, Nana, Papa. The opposite of the choke, our family names, our names for the Ineffable Mystery: they release the breath in a tender sigh. Ah. There we go.

When I get really stuck in the Angh, I can dislodge that choke with a little Hahaha, a great belly laugh to force the air back through, a little spiritual CPR, so to speak. Or skip down the street with a Tra-la-la, a little song to start up the rhythm of breathing again. Or a little eureka, a bright discovery with a great Aha!

So the next time I wake up at three in the morning, suddenly filled with the dread of what is happening to this world that I have brought these light-filled children into, or choked with shame for some harshness I have spoken to their tender hearts, I think I will apply the Ah!, the Mama, the Ha! and see if that breath can be a lullaby to take my spirit back to sleep.


Gratitude List:
1. Breathing through the angh- to the aaaaaah
2. Long sleep last night
3. Re-orientation: Not getting stuck in the ruts of rage, but carrying the coals tucked in my apron to use at need
4. So many names for the Great Mystery
5. Building relationships with those who are not human: ducks, cats, trees, rivers, stones. . .

May we walk in Beauty!

Tree Beings


Recent bits and pieces. Lots of imaginings with Trees lately.

And here is a photo of shadows of branches on my wall. I have run it though a couple filters. Can you see the Tree Being gazing at you?

Gratitude List:
1. Young Adults. Those shiny folks who spoke in church this morning.
2. I’m not grateful that I got poison ivy, but I am grateful for its lessons. It reminds me of boundaries, and of the work it takes to re-establish a boundary that has been breached. It reminds me of the need to take care of myself, and gets me working with jewelweed, which is another good herbal ally to work with.
3. Summer suppers: tomatoes sandwiches with mayonnaise, corn on the cob, steamed green beans.
4. Rivers. The Susquehanna especially.
5. Weaving. Poems, stories, songs, words, people, ideas.

May we walk in Beauty!

Hold Your Heart


These days, my heart feels a little like a shredded blanket that I am trying my best to hold into one piece, and my guess is that yours might be a little tender right now, too.

When my children fight, and I have to speak sternly, or tell them for the fifteenth time to clean up after themselves, I suddenly get teary: So many mothers have been wrenched from their children. How dare I speak anything but total tenderness to these kids?

Or they show me the projects and ideas they’re working on, or they read out loud something funny in their books, and I suddenly get teary: What must it be like to be torn out of your children’s lives? To wonder if anyone is appreciating their humor and tenderness and genius in the way that only you can? To not know if they will be cared for and comforted?

My arms hurt with ache of the loss, like they did after my own miscarriages. I feel that wrenching in my womb, that sense of not being able to go back to the before, when everything was okay.

In the day since the president signed his grandiose Executive Order to stop the separation of families, I only come up with more sadness, more questions. I am having trouble sorting out the information, and I wonder if this was the intent: To offer an obvious outrage, then set out a “solution,” but a solution with fangs.

These are things that I don’t like, and things that I want to continue to call my representatives about:
1. The 2300 who were torn from their families must be reunited with their parents. Now!
2. Indefinite detention–that doesn’t sound so good. Refugees, asylum seekers–they’re going to be placed in detention indefinitely. How far is this from a concentration camp?
3. I think I understand this new plan correctly: Entering the country without paperwork will now be a criminal offense instead of a misdemeanor. Is that right? That’s getting pretty intense. And that would then lead to children being taken from their parents anyway, right?
4. The language that these folks are using to talk about deterrents and following the law is still pretty brutal and cruel-sounding.
5. The president’s EO feels like a smokescreen, to further obfuscate the cruelty and inhumanity that is occurring. It all feels so carefully orchestrated to me–Like they played with these children’s lives not because they really thought it would even provide the deterrent they claimed, but because they wanted to exhaust our outrage so that we’d be ready to give up and accept this EO as an answer.
6. Blogger John Pavlovitz used the analogy of someone running recklessly and intentionally over people with their car, then blaming it on someone else. When they finally stop running over people, you don’t praise them for stopping. You stand up and speak out.


Gratitude List:
1. The girls and women of Sense of Wonder Camp. I love telling stories to that group. This year, their theme is leadership, and they’re including the collaborative leadership and listening process of The Council of All Beings.
2. On the way home from Sense of Wonder, I saw a foal nursing from a mare. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. Tender.
3. All the Tree Beings: Sycamore, poplar, oak, pine, walnut, willow. . .
4. These goofy, goofy cat people.
5. Snakes and snakes messages. Snake sightings are becoming at least an every other day occurrence in the holler right now. Time to shed old bad habits and pick up new good ones.

May we walk in Beauty!