Today’s prompt is to write an ekphrastic poem, to take a piece of art, and to write a poem about it. All month, I have been writing a poem, and then creating a piece of AI art to go with it. As I began to create a piece of AI art to use for this prompt, the poem approached. Before I managed to create a piece of art, the poem had found its way to my notes, and so I created the art to go with the poem that went with a piece of artwork that I had imagined. And so it goes: Which comes first?
Which came first: the image or the word, the sound or the sense, the egg or the bird?
Did it happen with BANG or “Begin,” with the seed or the dream, with poem or picture, with to say, or to seem?
A project, a poem, a world comes to be in the nodes where the lines of word and image cross, the woven fibers of vision and voice interlocking, and in the silence and darkness between, meaning–like water– trickles into the spaces, into the interstices, of the living, breathing tapestry.
Becoming becomes, word takes shape and image speaks, and something new comes into being.
Gratitude List: 1. Every day right now: November Roses! 2. People telling their stories 3. The buck who whuffed at me in the grove 4. Cardinal singing in the cherry tree 5. Words and images May we walk in Beauty!
“Choosing to be honest is the first step in the process of love. There is no practitioner of love who deceives. Once the choice has been made to be honest, then the next step on love’s path is communication.” ― bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions
“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.” ―Gandalf
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. ―Rabbi Harold Kushner
I place in the hands of Time these stones: the story of this day, the people I have been near to, the songs the Fates have whispered in my ears, the colors that haunt me.
See how they turn to mist, how they glow for a moment– red, then golden, then blue– then dissipate like ash blown by a wind before I can register that they have lost their substance.
Where does memory go when it flows out with the tide, when it slips down the drain, when it is blown out with the morning fog?
I am still the child in the forest, walking blind through the swirling mists, under the shadows of the great trees. With each forward step on the trail, a little bird flutters from the pathway behind, a bread crumb in its beak. ―Beth Weaver-Kreider
“When I stopped trying to change you, you changed me.” ―Rachel Macy Stafford
If you’re just joining me in these recent posts, I am taking a trip through the Fool’s Quest, the soulpath laid out in the stages of the Major Arcana of the Tarot cards. I have been using the tarot as a tool for deep inner understanding and spiritual growth and development since 1992, and I thought it was time to do a public exploration of some of the ways in which this tool has helped me to learn more about myself and my connection to others and to the Holy One.
Once, I was telling a wise woman about something that was hurting me, a situation of betrayal and injustice. She paused and gave me her wise questioning look and said, “What do you need from X in order for you to release your resentment?”
I was a little shook. Yes, it is my resentment, I thought, and it belongs to me. Why do I want to release it? It had become a defining element of my sense of who I was in the context of the conflict. I had put on my resentment like an article of clothing , almost like a fashion statement that expressed my sense of who I was. But: Of COURSE I wanted to release it! I knew that holding onto it would just keep me caught in the past, unable to truly move forward. The question itself led me to begin doing the work of releasing the resentment, of stepping forward.
This stepping stone in the Fool’s Quest has the Fool taking responsibility for their journey, and moving forward, consciously and with spiritual will. We cannot move forward if we are mired in the past. In the traditional card, a royal person (representing someone who is using consciousness and enlightenment to guide their movement) is driving a chariot pulled by sphinxes. Sphinxes, from ancient times, represent canny wisdom and knowledge, the ability to think around a problem to solve a riddle. The black and white likely refer to the polar tug to reach enlightenment through thinking and spiritual striving and embodiment. One pulls downward, and the other pulls upward, and this balanced motion is the key to the movement and change that The Chariot card requires.
Jewish mystical tradition uses the symbol of the Merkabah (called the chariot) to symbolize this balanced movement. The Star of David is a two-dimensional representation of this balance–one triangle pointing upward, the other downward. The Merkabah is this image in 3D: an upward-pointing pyramid interlocked with a downward-facing pyramid. The Merkabah is the chariot that the prophet Ezekiel saw in his visions, the Holy One’s chariot, pulled by angelic creatures.
My own card is a representation of the Merkabah, that holy space of conscious awareness, the balanced spiritual striving and the embodied awareness. I was unsatisfied with all the versions the AI gave me when I used the word chariot in a phrase, but when I used Merkabah, it suddenly began giving me mystical and movement-filled images.
For me, in the story of the wise woman and the question about releasing resentments, the conscious act of exploring that question started the chariot moving. The wise woman was the sphinx I needed, asking me a riddle that startled me into thinking in a different way. And today, perhaps I can again begin to release my hold on the past, so I can hang in the space between my embodied experience and my spiritual striving, and move toward a future which I envision.
Gratitude List: 1. Stepping back into Daily Art Practice. 2. That cardinal out there, shiny red beacon on a rainy day, and liquid notes falling through the air like raindrops. 3. Cool June days. 4. People who ask the right question at the right moment. 5. Moving forward. Getting unstuck. May we move forward in Beauty!
“The wisdom is already within you. The gift of that wisdom was given to you many years ago when you were young. An awareness of the Spirit. A curiosity about the sacred. You were born with the light already in your soul. Over many years your insights into the holy have matured and developed. You have grown through experience to understand even more deeply the many layered reality in which you live. Now the vision of your inner self looks out onto an endless star lit sky. You have a deep wisdom on which to rely and learnings to come that will strengthen you even more.” —Steven Charleston
“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself. Perception is not reality. What appear to be faults in others may actually be reflections of our own emotional afflictions.
Remember the way people treat us is their karma. The way we react is our own.” —Trulshik Rinpoch
“They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it’s not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance.” ―Granny Weatherwax, Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites
”Nature is real and vital. Wealth is neither. How is it we grant imaginary dragons the power to breathe real fire?” —Jarod K. Anderson, The Cryptonaturalist
“Only you and I can help the sun rise each coming morning. If we don’t, it may drench itself out in sorrow. You special, miraculous, unrepeatable, fragile, fearful, tender, lost, sparkling ruby emerald jewel, rainbow splendor person. It’s up to you.” —Joan Baez
“You can tell people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire.” ―Leymah Gbowee
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” —Dr. Seuss
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” —Nelson Mandela
“Every child you encounter is a divine appointment.” —Wess Stafford
“Anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me.” —Fred Rogers
“Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.” —Nelson Mandela
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” —Frederick Douglass
“When you realize the Earth is so much more than simply your environment, you’ll be moved to protect her in the same way as you would yourself. This is the kind of awareness, the kind of awakening that we need, and the future of the planet depends on whether we’re able to cultivate this insight or not. The Earth and all species on Earth are in real danger. Yet if we can develop a deep relationship with the Earth, we’ll have enough love, strength and awakening in order to change our way of life.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
“I have said this before, and I will say it again, The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.” —John Lewis
After the Fool studies under the tutelage of the magician or medium, they begin an apprenticeship in lore and knowledge and wisdom with the High Priestess. I’m trying to unthread some of these roles from the gender binary, so for now, I am calling this person the Secret Keeper. On any spiritual path, there are stages and steps in the journey toward wisdom and maturity, and the Secret Keeper represents that careful opening up of understanding as the Fool absorbs new things.
Why might it be important for the Fool to absorb knowledge and teaching slowly and carefully rather than dashing immediately into the inner sanctum? I think of the people I watch on the national scene, celebrity preachers who, heady with the sense of power they feel with their shallow understandings of biblical “truths,” begin to preach a gospel of prosperity or nationalism, people who develop immature and twisted ideas of purity based on rule-based dogma, and then try to pass off pat and glib salesmanship as faith. A surface glance at a holy text or a shallow absorption of a spiritual principle will not help the Fool to deepen and grow, and in order to face the coming challenges, the Fool needs to go deep.
To use the churchy word, the Fool needs discipleship, the careful study and application of spiritual disciplines, in order to be grounded in the power learned at the Medium’s knee, and the knowledge offered by the Secret Keeper.
What are your spiritual disciplines? Here are some of mine: 1. I love the Search for Beauty, or as Mary Oliver puts it: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” 2. I find Gratitude Lists to be really helpful, especially when I find myself cycling into complaining and despair. 3. Writing poetry. Writing in general. 4. Trying to envision everyone as a beloved child of Godde or the Universe. I don’t do this lightly, and I would never require it of anyone else. In situations where I am trying to understand someone who hurts other people, I try to meditate on the fact that they, too, are beloved. It’s not about forgiveness or about tolerating injustice or evil, just about not losing sight of the other’s essential humanity. 5. Meditation with images, like a piece of art or a photograph or a tarot card.
Gratitude List: 1. Blue grosbeak 2. Cardinal 3. Goldfinch 4. The green flowery smell of mid-May 5. Always something new to learn. May we walk in Beauty!
“A witch ought never to be frightened in the darkest forest, Granny Weatherwax had once told her, because she should be sure in her soul that the most terrifying thing in the forest was her.” —Terry Pratchett
“Oh, God, make me a hollow reed, from which the pith of self hath been blown so that I may become as a clear channel through which Thy Love may flow to others. I have left behind me impatience and discontent. I will chafe no more at my lot. I commit myself wholly into thy hands, for thou are my Guide in the desert, the Teacher of my ignorance, the Physician of my sickness.” —attributed to Abdu’l-Bahá
“Truth is an agile cat. It has more than nine lives.” —Joy Harjo
Silence by Hafiz
A day of Silence can be a pilgrimage in itself. A day of Silence can help you listen to the Soul play in marvelous lute and drum. Is not most talking a crazed defense of a crumbling fort? I thought we came her to surrender in Silence, to yield to Light and Happiness, to Dance within in celebration of Love’s Victory!
I’m behind again on the daily poetry, so I’ll pull another from a previous day. The prompt was to write a 3-5-line poem which was a story of loss and redemption. I cheated (it was my own prompt anyway) and made it six lines. Not sure where the angels came from, but there they were. I’ll receive them.
Rebirth by Beth Weaver-Kreider
The onslaught may feel like it’s carrying you away, but in the morning, though fear remains, though pain, though worry, though the guardian still waits at the gateway, Resolve will awaken within you, and you will have the strength of angels at your back.
Listening to Mamuse’s “We Shall Be Known By the Company We Keep” over and over and over again these days. If that’s the case, Friends, I am in a good place. The company of You is so wise, so tender, so articulate, so compassionate, so justice-serving, so playful, so winsome, so deep.
Gratitude List: 1. “Always we begin again,” said St. Benedict, and I am finding his message a simple and comforting reminder. 2. So many people committed to justice and democracy and goodness and saving the planet. 3. Pink, pink, pink, pink trees! 4. Dawn chorus 5. Wise friends. Such wise friends. May we walk in Beauty!
“The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one’s curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day. Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length. It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.” —Diane Ackerman
“I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.” ―Wendell Berry
“A crone is a woman who has found her voice. She knows that silence is consent. This is a quality that makes older women feared. It is not the innocent voice of a child who says, “the emperor has no clothes,” but the fierce truthfulness of the crone that is the voice of reality. Both the innocent child and the crone are seeing through the illusions, denials, or “spin” to the truth. But the crone knows about the deception and its consequences, and it angers her. Her fierceness springs from the heart, gives her courage, makes her a force to be reckoned with.” —Jean Shinoda Bolen
“Go as far as you can see; when you get there you’ll be able to see farther.” —Thomas Carlyle
“At the end of the day, I’d rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I exclude.” —Eston Williams
“Free me. . .from words, that I may discover the signified, the word unspoken in the darkness.” —Byzantine Prayer
“Father, Mother, God, Thank you for your presence during the hard and mean days. For then we have you to lean upon. For those who have no voice, we ask you to speak. For those who feel unworthy, we ask you to pour your love out in waterfalls of tenderness. For those who live in pain, we ask you to bathe them in the river of your healing. Dear Creator, You, the borderless sea of substance, we ask you to give to all the world that which we need most—Peace.” —Maya Angelou
“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” —Leonard Bernstein
Stillness. One of the doors into the temple.” —Mary Oliver
“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” —Harper Lee
“Some days, you don’t know whether you are stepping on earth or water or air. Place each foot carefully before you and offer your weight gratefully to whatever it is that holds you.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider
My year has turned again to my starting day. Here I am, marking the end of year 54 and the beginning of year 55.
I always like to do the numerology assessment of my birthday. Like my dreamwork at the turning of the year from December to January, looking at the meanings in my numbers gives me something to contemplate and focus on in my inner work for the coming season.
One way to look at the numbers is to take the current date and reduce it numerologically: 8+10+2021 = 14 = 5. It’s a pretty straightforward reduction: You add the digits in each number together, and then add them all together. This is a 14 year for me. In the tarot major arcana, the 14 is Temperance. I can get behind that as a contemplation for the coming year. How can I create balance in my life? How can I keep one foot on land (practical) and one in the water (emotional/spiritual)? How can I create and maintain healthy flow in my life?
The 14 reduces further to 5, which is my Life Number. This is the number of the Hierophant, the keeper/teacher of the mysteries. The hierophant passes on wisdom and knowledge. This feels doubly significant to me this year as I enter my 55th year. How am I passing on the knowledge and wisdom I have gained from my mentors and teachers? How can I be more deliberate about when to speak and when to keep silent? What is the body of wisdom that I have to share?
Affinity Numerology dot com tells me that “54 tends to follow whim. It has an urge to be adventurous, yet is pragmatic and tries to focus and be reliable. . .The essence of the number 54 is continually focused on making life better for people. It isn’t always effective, as it also has an inner urge to express its sense of personal freedom.”
It also tells me that “54 has little, if any, judgement of lifestyles, societal expectations, religious beliefs, and political practices — in fact, it revels in the first-hand experience of a wide variety of cultures.” Unfortunately I have failed in that realm this year. Ugh. I have become the judgiest version ever of myself. I blame Covid and its attendant rage. Sigh. Maybe I can incorporate some of that into year 55.
55, according to the same site, suggests I might extend the adventuresomeness of the 54, to deepen the adventures, to claim my independence. I like that vision. So I sit in the space between reliability and independence, with adventure as the thread that ties them together.
Whatever meaning I choose to take from my numbers, the fact is that I have reached the milestone of another year. My hair is definitely grayer. My aches and pains are cycling through with more intensity. I made it through a bout of Covid, through Jon’s job change, through masked teaching and Zoom/hybrid classes, through the long languish of the pandemic. A year ago, I was pretty certain that this birthday would see us out the other side of the pandemic, yet here we are. I’ll be masked again this fall to teach. The numbers in both my counties (Lancaster and York) continue to rise. I am, by turns: angry, tired, despairing, eye-rollingly-weary. I have a low tolerance for people who will neither get the vaccine nor mask up. I am experiencing a dearth of empathy for people who don’t see this the way I do–I consider this to be a moral failing on my part, but I don’t know if it’s something I can control. I am really anxious about the rising cases in children.
Still, it’s a new year for me, a chance for a reset, with a chance to be better at balance, at flow, and at choosing how to pass along what wisdom I have gained. It’s a season for adventure, in whatever way I can grasp hold of that.
And there’s this:
Gratitude List: 1. Last night, we had friends over for a farewell party for some of our beloveds who are returning to East Africa after several weeks in the US. We sat at picnic tables in the lawn with a cool breeze blowing through the hollow, and walnut leaves like fairy leaves flashing golden as they drifted down around us. Bittersweet, to say goodbye and to be among people I treasure so deeply. 2. The house is pretty clean. I’m not going to go down the shame-vortex in order to get to this, but needless to say, things had not been very clean for some time. Now they are, and I feel my spirits lifted. We should have company once a month. 3. Also bittersweet, today was my last day at Radiance for the summer. It’s sad to leave, but I can’t be sad when I reflect on the gift of being able to work there, surrounded by good and shiny souls, good smells, and so much to learn. Grateful for the connection to Sarah and Laura, to Chris (and Natasha, although our paths didn’t cross this summer). Grateful for herbs and textures and scents and magic, for all that reconnects me to the Divine Feminine. 4. Sensible shoes. Comfortable, sensible shoes. When my feet feel good, my body feels good. 5. Rain. We just got a thunder-boomer in the holler. The air sparkles.
May we walk in Beauty!
Tuesday’s Quotes (long, but hey, it’s my birthday): “There is one masterpiece, the hexagonal cell, that touches perfection. No living creature, not even human, has achieved, in the centre of one’s sphere, what the bee has achieved on her own: and if intelligence from another world were to descend and ask of the earth the most perfect creation, I would offer the humble comb of honey.” —Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life Of The Bee, 1924
“Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.” —Coco Chanel
“If it is bread that you seek, you will have bread. If it is the soul you seek, you will find the soul. If you understand this secret, you know you are that which you seek.” —Rumi
“By virtue of the Creation and, still more, of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see. On the contrary, everything is sacred.” —Teilhard de Chardin
Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with a love like that — It lights the whole world. —Hafiz
“The Seven of Pentacles” by Marge Piercy Under a sky the color of pea soup she is looking at her work growing away there actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans as things grow in the real world, slowly enough. If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water, if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food, if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars, if the praying mantis comes and the lady bugs and the bees, then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock. Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground. You cannot tell always by looking what is happening. More than half a tree is spread out in the soil under your feet. Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet. Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree. Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden. Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar. Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses. Live a life you can endure: make love that is loving. Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in, a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs. Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen: reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in. This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always, for every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting, after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.
“In these cataclysmic times, living in what Michael Meade calls the ‘slow apocalypse,’ despair can be dangerously seductive. Our lives may feel inadequate to the terrible momentum of our times, but it is in those moments that we must remember the difference between despair and grief. “While despair traps us in the bog of despondency, grief carries us into life. Grief calls us into a deeper engagement with those things that we love. And even as we are losing them, grief wants to exalt their beauty. “If we let grief move us into expression, it will sing the blood into our songs, colour the vividness into our paintings, and slip the poetry between our words. “Rumi says, “All medicine wants is pain to cure.” And so we must cry out in our weakness, our ineptitude, our beautiful inadequacy and make of it an invitation that medicine might reach through and towards us.” —Toko-pa Turner
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
You know how a little task, left to smolder, grows and builds until it’s a raging, impossible fire? I let that happen this past semester with some of the grading that needed to get done. It just got out of hand. I can make all the excuses: the distraction of election and insurrection, winter depression, the frustration of trying to work with assignment submissions online and students who simply cannot seem to figure out how to submit so they email you or leave the documents in their shared folder. Still, it was me not getting it done.
My friend Gloria says she’s read that incorrigible procrastination (my adjective) is related to low self esteem. I think I must have work to do there, and of course that feeds into the sense of depression and the further procrastination.
Last night, at about three, I finally put the first semester to rest. It’s a relief, but the chronic nature of my procrastination has now created a lingering sense of inadequacy that dogs me, makes it hard to celebrate joyfully.
But here is a breathing space: Today is Brigid’s Day. Brigid was a goddess of the British Isles, who became conflated with Saint Brigid. Notice her in whatever guise she calls to you–she is the Teacher I need for this moment. She calls for commitment to your purpose, calls for responsibility and accountability. Not a heavy and forced and angry accountability, but a joyful and purposeful walk into your destiny.
Like our friend the groundhog takes stock of shadows and light, of what will be needful for the next six weeks as we walk out of winter and into spring, today (this season) is for taking stock, for considering what inner and mental health resources we may have on hand, what we will need to search out in the coming weeks, in order to make it through.
So, on the night when so many of my friends were tending their hearthfires in honor of Brigid, and meditating on her healing and inspiration, on how she stirs the Earth and Her creatures to waken, I was finishing a task, slipping in just under the wire to be accountable to my work, celebrating this seasonal shift toward awakening with my own wakeful process, my commitment to my task, late and haphazard as it felt.
The wakefulness of this moment, when the Earth begins to stir beneath her blanket of snow, requires acknowledgement and tallying of the past, and striving and moving into the future. Commitment to make a change. I have been telling myself at the beginning of every semester that I will be on top of things THIS time. And still, I fall and I fail. Perhaps I need to get some help in this coming season. Our school, in conjunction with a local mental health organization, offers at least one free session with a trained counselor in a year. Perhaps my commitment on this Brigid’s day should be different than my usual bombastic “I can do this myself!” Perhaps it should be to seek help, find resources that will support me to meet my goals.
Gratitudes: 1. Resolve 2. Awakening 3. Wisdom of the Grandmothers 4. Snow Day 5. This cat Sachs, who is trying to rest in the circle of my arms as I type. He keeps putting his paw on my hand. He is purring. He likes snow days as much as I do.
May we walk in wisdom and Beauty!
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.
“The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up—ever—trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?” —Terry Tempest Williams
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. That is what is happening as we see people honestly confronting the sorrows of our time. And it is an adaptive response.” —Joanna Macy
“No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.” —Virginia Woolf
“Close your eyes and follow your breath to the still place that leads to the invisible path that leads you home.” —St. Teresa of Avila
“You can build walls all the way to the sky and I will find a way to fly above them. You can try to pin me down with a hundred thousand arms, but I will find a way to resist. And there are many of us out there, more than you think. People who refuse to stop believing. People who refuse to come to earth. People who love in a world without walls, people who love into hate, into refusal, against hope, and without fear. I love you. Remember. They cannot take it.” ―Lauren Oliver, Delirium
“You can never leave footprints that last when you are walking on tiptoes.” ―Leymah Gbowee
(In these days between Solstice and Epiphany, between Christmas and Three Kings’ Day, I mine my dreams and experiences for images and words that I will use to fashion into the word or phrase or idea that I will carry as my guiding concept into the New Year. I call this process “making my dream bundle.” So far, it’s only words on a page, but perhaps today, I will write the words and find symbols so I can carry it around with me for now.)
As I wait and watch for the words and images that I want to carry into the coming year, I have stumbled back into a word cluster that has always fascinated me. Gnosis, a word rooted in ancient languages, means knowledge–particularly spiritual and mystical understanding. Deep awareness. Stand a pillar next to that, a gnomon, and you can tell the time, a gnomon being the part of the sundial that casts the shadow, or any pillar or column that allows you to interpret the time by the shadow it casts. The gnomon is the indicator, the perceiver.
Now add another of my favorite words: gnome, a word coined by the philosopher/physician/alchemist Parcelsus in the early 1500s, meaning “earth-dweller,” to refer to the archetypal being of earth. Whimsical, perhaps, and also powerful, as archetypes so often are. It also has a homophonal cognate relationship to gnosis, and some writers assume that Paracelsus saw the earth-dwellers as keepers of deep knowledge as well.
I’ll tuck Gnowledge and Gnosis, Gnomon and Gnome, into my dream bundle, along with the heightened dream images, the bald eagle that sat in the tree outside my window, the stump that wears a ruffly skirt of oyster mushrooms, even in the frigid days of winter. Mycelium, the secret network, the fungal source of the mushrooms that are simply the above-ground visible flowers of the mycelial web. Web, network–put them into the dream bundle.
Maybe I’ll slip gnu in there, too, just for whimsy’s sake.
I should have known that the book I am reading with my Themes in Lit class (The Zookeeper’s Wife) would invade my dreams. In last night’s dream, I am running from the Gestapo, trying desperately to keep hidden. A friend hides me in her massive house. I hide in the attic. I hide in tiny rooms. Finally, as they’re closing in, I slip into the pool, and hide beneath a raft. The Gestapo give up and go away.
As I was running from room to room, listening for their footsteps, and finding claustrophobic little hiding places, I kept thinking about how I was endangering the lives of all of the people in the house, knowing that if I were to be caught, everyone in the house would be shot on the spot.
Because it’s such a direct correlation to my reading, I wonder if it belongs in the dream bundle, but it’s really become part of my inner life in the past month, this story of people who chose the dangerous path of saving people’s lives at the risk of their own. Thousands of Poles in WWII risked their lives to create a vast network that created false documents, hid Jewish people and resistance fighters, and sent them to safe places in the countryside or out of the country. I think this belongs in the dream bundle. I already put Network into the mix. I’ll add resistance, and risk, and doing good because it is the thing to do.
Gratitude: 1. My brain and heart are beginning to settle. Yesterday’s quiet and rest, almost-boredom, was a necessary grounding. I received a set of wisdom cards yesterday that I am exploring. The archetypes are rich and meaningful , and a helpful tool for meditation. Settling. 2. This cat Sachs, who is lying next to me with his front paws on my right arm, purring, purring, and occasionally singing to the birds who come to the suet block on the balcony. Makes it hard to type, but he’s good companionship. 3. Chocolate. And flaming figgy pudding. And grapefruit. 4. Zoom. It’s not a hug, nor is it the long, slow, hanging out with beloveds. But it will do in a pinch. 5. Sunshine and snow.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Beauty!
Joyful Kwanzaa to my friends who are celebrating the first fruits: Today is Umoja, or Unity. With you, I will reflect on ways in which we can bring unity in divided situations in the coming year.
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” —Mary Oliver
“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.” ―Susan Sontag
“People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped; by influence, by power, by us.” —Wendell Berry
“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” —Mary Oliver
“When you understand interconnectedness, it makes you more afraid of hating than of dying.” —Robert A. F. Thurman
“It’s quiet now. So quiet that can almost hear other people’s dreams.” ―Gayle Forman
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ―Thich Nhat Hanh “There is still a window of time. Nature can win If we give her a chance.” —Dr. Jane Goodall
“By virtue of the Creation and, still more, of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see. On the contrary, everything is sacred.” —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“I am as conscious as anyone of the gravity of the present situation for [hu]mankind. . . . And yet some instinct, developed in contact with life’s long past, tells me that salvation for us lies in the direction of the very danger the so terrifies us. . . . We are like travelers caught up in a current, trying to make our way back: an impossible and a fatal course. Salvation for us lies ahead, beyond the rapids. We must not turn back—we need a strong hand on the tiller, and a good compass.” —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
I have absolutely no recollection of dreaming last night. The door between sleeping brain and waking brain is shut tightly. No narratives or images come from that world into this today.
This morning when I looked out the window at 5:35, the darkness was touched by a hint of grey. Dawn is slipping slowly and silently back the clock. Light returns.
The quotation in the image I attached above is from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “Fergus and the Druid.” Fergus the King has relinquished his crown and abdicated his responsibilities as king, and he asks the Druid to teach him knowledge, to give him wisdom. Finally, after a little bit of back-and-forth, the Druid offers Fergus a bag of dreams. Though I put the words with the Fool, the Druid is much more earnest than the Fool, more shamanic, seeking wisdom in all things, pursuing knowledge. The Fool just trusts that the wisdom necessary for the moment will arrive when it comes. The Fool is both younger and older than the Druid, more foolish, and wiser.
Going back to school yesterday meant a different kind of mental focus, put me in more of a Druid zone, seeking knowledge with deep intention. But of course Teacher is an archetype of its own, the one who passes on knowledge and wisdom, seeking it like the Druid, drawing it out of the people themselves, helping them to find it. Druid, Teacher, Queen/King/Ruler, Fool: We are so many people at once, aren’t we?
On a morning when the dream-door is closed, still I carry with me the bag of dreams I have been dreaming. Today, they wrap me round as I go out again, stepping out as the Fool, the Druid, the Teacher, carrying my little bag–of dreams, of wisdom, of story. May your own dreams feed you and wrap you round.
Gratitude List: 1. Pie. Yesterday was pie day in the faculty lounge. One of my colleagues is a masterful pie-maker. Once a year, he brings eight or ten pies for us to sample. It’s the best snack day of the year, and it made yesterday a celebration instead of a foggy slog. 2. My shiny students. Many of them were as tired as I was. So many of them just want to be done with the semester already. Me, too. But there’s joy and hope and community there, too, and for some students, school is the safe place, the belonging place. I am grateful that school can be that haven for those who need it. 3. Yesterday’s chapel speaker. It was mostly a personal introduction for a member of our school community, but he was engaging and lively. He caught students’ attention on the first day back from break. He made us laugh, he made us think. 4. Resolutions and intentions. I know all the reasons to be cynical about New Year’s Resolutions, but here’s the thing. New Year’s Day can be like the moon, and I can use the gravity of this day to help boost my energy as I create an intention. I have been wanting to maintain a higher daily step-count, but I sometimes I need the extra artificial push of a New Year’s Resolution or an outside challenge to motivate me. Here’s to the attempt! 5. Dawn is inching back the clock. Day is slowly lengthening.
The song is sort of like the Christmas version of Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall. Will it ever end? It goes on and on, repeating the lists of ducks and swans and rings and dancers and servants until you just want the song to be done already! And it’s always on, in a thousand versions, all during the holiday season. But does anyone really know much about the Twelve Days of Christmas?
Like so many of our modern syncretistic celebrations, the Twelve Days of Christmas is a mishmash that holds within it the tradition of Catholic and Orthodox days of feasting and/or fasting and pagan mysticism and revelling, in this case Yuletide and Saturnalia. Shakespeare used this period as the setting for his play Twelfth Night, in which people take on different identities, and things are never as they seem.
These are the High Holy Days, Time Between Time, another period in which to meditate on the coming of the Light. These are also the days of the Lord of Misrule, when a young person or a peasant would perform the duties of the Lord of the Castle for this season, usually ordering wild parties and feasting and dancing. The Fool is ascendant, and the King takes orders. Having just finished a study of King Lear, I am pondering the strange wisdom of the Fool these days, and the foolishness of kings. No, I’m not making a political jab here. This is more inward, more mystical. We each have our own Ego-Ruler who sits on a golden throne and arranges things as they ought to be in order to maintain meaning and order. We also have an inner Child-Fool, who wants to set things tumbling, to play, to shift the patterns of inner law and order.
Have you ever noticed how much our modern depiction of Santa’s elves and their hats resemble to old Medieval fools and their foolscape? I have a slowly-growing theory that the Fool/Clown is so crucial to our human sense of equilibrium, and that this ancient western Medieval character of the Fool so satisfyingly fulfilled that role, that we have maintained the Fool in the character of Santa’s elves.
The “elf” hat my brother gave me for Christmas twenty years ago would look perfectly reasonable on Lear’s Fool. And here’s another thing: One of our favorite family Christmas movies is Elf. What is Will Ferrell’s Buddy if not the quintessential Fool? He doesn’t fit in “polite” society. He doesn’t know how to behave. He’s embarrassing and childlike. And he’s the wisest person in the story. The father kept trying to order things in his fashion, kept trying to maintain meaning in the only way he knew how: making money and having corporate power creates a safe social order. But Buddy came into his realm and, in that utterly cringey moment, sang, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” And the world began to topple.
This is a season when we recognize that the social order is not cast in stone, that kings fall and fools rise. Buddy the Elf gets a cynical city to believe in Santa Claus. The Fool leads the mad King through the storm and the fens. And, in the story that Christians are celebrating, a tiny baby turns the world upside-down. The child of a poor and insignificant family on the far-flung edge of the empire comes to upset the social and religious order.
Jesus is the Fool. He wanders, he questions, he turns everything upside-down, he tells his listeners, over and over: “You have heard it said, but. . .” This Holy Fool disobeys the law and order that have been set up by the people in power to maintain the power structures. Perhaps some of the struggle that Christianity faces today is that we keep wanting to make him the King. We want the seeming sense of the powerful ruler, and we eschew the seeming foolishness of the Fool. But in truth, the Kings are all mad and the Fool has wisdom to offer, if only we will hear.
His mother knew, didn’t she, when she spoke her prophecy poem while he somersaulted in her womb. He fill the hungry with good things and send the rich empty away. He will cast down the rulers from their thrones and raise up the lowly. Amen, Hallelujah. Here comes the Holiest of Fools.
Dreamwork: If we keep up the labyrinth metaphor, these are the days of the walk out of the labyrinth–having considered what we lay down and let go on the inward journey, we now look at what we pick up for the coming year. I use Twelvenight for dreamwork. It’s more live Sixteennight for me actually, because I start really paying attention at Solstice. I mine my dreams for words and images that will accompany me into the coming year. I let the Fool of my dream-brain inform the Queen of my waking brain, offering up seemingly disjointed and disconnected ideas and words and pictures to break down the logical-intellectual meanings my day-brain has created.
This year, the valerian in the medicine I took to fend off that cold seems to have kept me sleeping well for days after. I have been sleeping deeply and satisfyingly in the last couple of days. This means I am not remembering much in the way of dreams. But this morning I woke up with this somewhat grammatically-challenged phrase in my head: “There’s more than two ways to think about it.”
My day-brain is a little offended. Duh! I’ve done that one already. I’ve meditated on both/and as a solution to either/or thinking. I’ve read everything by Richard Rohr on non-dual thinking. This is one of my core concepts. But the Fool wants me to learn it again, so who I am to fight it? More than two ways. . .
Gratitude List: 1. Fools and foolishness 2. Wisdom from unexpected places 3. b n v <–Sachs wrote that when he walked across my keyboard. Yes, Fuzzy Friend, I am grateful, so grateful, for the cats and for kitty kisses. 4. Chocolate 5. Days warm enough for me to take a walk.