Advent 13: Mother Holle

Do you know the story of Mother Holle? It’s one of the tales recorded by the Grimm brothers. At first glance, it appears to be a moralistic and scolding tale about the good and beautiful and dutiful daughter versus the mean and ugly and lazy one. Ugh.

You can read a simple translation of the Grimm version here. As in so many fairy tales, the mother in the story loves the mean and lazy daughter best, and mistreats the good and industrious one. The dutiful daughter accidentally drops her spindle in the well and climbs down to retrieve it. Instead of drowning, she encounters an entire world down below, helps various characters out of trouble, and dutifully works for an old woman, Mother Holle, cleaning her house and fluffing her pillows. Mother Holle gives her her spindle, sends her back up the well with gold and jewels magically clinging to her clothes.

The mother sees the girl’s good fortune and throws the other daughter’s spindle down the well. But this daughter is lazy and rude and refuses to help anyone she meets in the underworld. She is rude to Mother Holle, who tells her that because she refused to fluff the feather pillows, the snow would not fall in her own world, and so there would be a drought. This daughter returns to the upper world with tar and insects and creepy crawly creatures magically clinging to her clothes.

The defiant spirit in me resists the controlling moralism of this story, the coercive shaming of the reader into good behavior for the sake of reward. Still, there’s something deeper, something more ancient and real going on here than a simple morality tale.

For one thing, scholars concur that Mother Holle seems to be a version of an ancient European goddess, Frau Holla, or the Hulda, an agriculture/fertility goddess whose beneficence was responsible for the health of the fields and crops, for the abundance which kept families and communities fed and healthy through the changing seasons of the year. Industrious hard work by members of ancient communities ensured the health of one’s family and one’s community. Textile work–creating clothing from the fibers of plant stems and animal fur–was an almost magical process, and it was women’s work. Girls with their spindles, from these two daughters to the poor miller’s daughter in the Rumpelstiltskin story, were keepers of this great mystery of spinning straw (plant stems and bits of fur) into gold (beautiful and functional cloth).

The first daughter sensed the needs of those she met in the world of Mother Holle, and she met their needs with her own soul force. She brought her whole self into the adventure presented to her, and did what needed to be done, as a member of the community in which she found herself. And when Mother Holle asked her to work for her, she did not consider herself above the menial tasks, but did them joyfully.

There’s so much in here, but the piece that catches me for today, in this place where I am descending into the well of winter, is to notice that each task presented to the girls in their underworld journey may seem basic and mundane, but each one has a sacred significance, from the spinning they were doing at the very lip of the well to the shaking of Mother Holle’s feather pillows.

Today and in the coming days, how can I shift my seeing, as I observe the daily mundane tasks ahead of me, to feel the sacred significance of each? This stack of grading that threatens to drown me–can I look at each piece of paper as a contract between myself and the student who receives it back from me? Each is a piece of the community bond that we share, and I need to strategize a way to be present for the work.

What work calls out to you today, this weekend, this season, to be done? What is the sacred truth of the most mundane task that you must accomplish?


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

Yesterday I listened to the report on NPR about the group Parents for Peace, about family members of extremists who created a safe group for people whose family members have been part of hate groups. They welcome former extremists into the group as well–former IS members, former Klan members, former neo-Nazis–and they’re spreading a message of care and compassion. Some of the members who have themselves been part of extremist groups are part of other groups that help families stage interventions with their loved ones who are caught in up in hate groups. They hold a vision that there is a basic humanity within people that can help lead them out of a life of hatred.

Sweater Weather

Gratitude List:
1. How dreams and half-dreams bring clarity.
2. A low-impact day today. Juniors and Seniors are busy. My other students will mostly write and read quietly.
3. People who speak the truth, who aren’t swayed by money and power, who stand between the powers and the vulnerable.
4. Sweater weather.
5. Sometimes people who are blissfully unaware of the wound you are wearing give you exactly the words necessary to make it bearable.

May we walk in Beauty!

Back to Basics: Gratitude

Gratitude List:
1. Dreaming of crows. The way poet/priestesses unpack the images. Snuggling my shadows.
2. Today I had so many opportunities to do my WORK. Teaching is my vocation, and I love so much about it, but the best thing about it is that it lets me do my Work. It includes tears and hugs and hard conversations and so much self-reflection.
3. Curiosity. When people get curious about each other. Curiosity is a fine engineer, building bridges of gossamer web and light across chasms. But stronger bridges than you can imagine.
4. This fine boy of mine, who keeps being ahead of himself in so many ways. Perhaps what I mean to say is that he is ahead of my perceptions. Or that he grows into whatever space he enters. With grace and thoughtfulness. . .and curiosity (there it is again). He leaves a stage of childhood behind tonight at his eighth grade graduation.
5. Cool breezes. This means exactly what it says, because my room is hot as a sauna. But then it means more than that because your poems and your wisdom and your presence in the world are cool breezes to me, my friends.

May we walk in BEAUTY!

Collegiality

This past week in Wooster, as I got to know the other teachers in my class, I began to think again of the beauty of collegiality, of having people who are all doing the same sort of work. I love my actual work colleagues, and I love the extended circle of colleagues, of people all working on similar tasks and issues in the world.

This morning my friend Tracey told me about a dream of hers where I had a cameo. During our short Messenger conversation, that word popped into my brain again: colleague. We have different professions, but we’re colleagues in this next layer of Work in the world, in the deep layers. When we talk together about what we’re doing to try to make change in the world, about how we’re involved in emphasizing and nurturing Goodness, we’re engaging in professional development as colleagues.

Another friend, someone I don’t know in real life, a woman I met through a mutual friend on Facebook, called me on the phone this week, just to talk about how we can create a network of people who support each other in this Work of pushing against the cruelty of the current US immigration policy of zero tolerance family separation. Her call reminded me that I am not just raging into the storm, but that I am part of a web of people doing the Work. Colleagues.

We’re colleagues, you and I, whenever we collaborate on this Work. I am greatly blessed in friends who willingly and tenderly mentor me in the Work, often without quite realizing that they are doing so. Let’s keep our hearts and eyes open for every opportunity for collegial collaboration in the coming weeks, every chance to build up the Staff in this job we have of making the world a better place.

This task ahead can feel so huge, so insurmountable. And I’m not entirely hopeful for the future, as least in the immediate sense. But we’re not going to be overcome while we sit passively by. We are rising, together, a host of colleagues in the Work of Goodness, like a great wave, to confront the powers that would destroy the vulnerable.

Take hands. Face into the wind. Stand strong. We will hold this ground together.


Gratitude List:
1. Colleagues in the Work
2. Mentors who teach by word and example
3. The young people who are rising
4. Family: blood and heart
5. The creative urge

May we walk in Beauty!

Ride the Wave


Today’s prompt is to write a poem titled __________ Wave.

Ride the Wave

If you watch closely
as it approaches
you can begin to feel
the energy enter your body
before the water
even takes shape.

Enter the sound and the color
before the matter engages you.

And suddenly you are part of it,
caught in the song of it,
bound in the curve and the crash
and the pull of the wave.


Gratitude List:
1. Speedwell and dandelion and grape hyacinth and violet and deadnettle. The little quiet beauties that catch your eye when you’re least expecting it. “Wake up now,” they say.
2. Spring in the air
3. People who put their souls and hearts into what they do. Art that is more than technical perfection, but is a reflection of humanity.
4. Getting some of the work done. Not nearly enough. But some. The load begins to lift.
5. Blooming. Flowers, children, teenagers, relationships, work, ideas.

May we walk in Beauty!

Transformation

Gratitude List:
1. Wise voices. I am grateful for the people who are willing to take their time to wisely and compassionately and fiercely and gently mentor others. The ears of my heart are listening. This week has brought some important wise voices my way. If you are one of these people, you likely know who you are. I am holding great gratitude for you.
2. The first semester grades are in. I have been a bit of a mess, either scratching away furiously at the grading or avoiding the grading or being anxious about the grading. Now I am here, in this moment, in this semester. I can live this teaching space now without dragging a bagful of yesterday’s teaching around with me.
3. Images of transformation: the snake shedding her skin, the turtle diving down to sleep in the winter mud, the caterpillar hardening her chrysalis.
4. Hot tea
5. This work. I do mine, and you do yours, and our webs connect, and the world changes. Thank you for being part of the web.

Namaste!

Going Somewhere

Today’s prompt is to write a Going Somewhere poem:

This poem gets up before dawn.
It listens for the rustle of a thousand starlings
waking in the hollow, and follows them out into the grey.
This poem feels the splattering of rain on its face
and the tingle of autumn chill on the skin.
It keeps its face tilted into sky
as the leaves twirl and flutter
out of the morning sky.

This poem has somewhere to go.
It’s going where the geese go,
following those ragged lines
sprinkled across the sky.

When you wake at midnight,
you will hear it calling through the darkness,
urging you to adventure,
tempting you to take your risks
and pack your dreams into a bag
to follow where it leads.


“Poets are kind of like—it’s a bad metaphor, but—canaries in a coal mine. They have a sense for things that are in the air. Partly because that’s what they do—they think about things that are going on—but partly because they take their own personal experience and see how that fits in with what they see in the world. A lot of people might think that poetry is very abstract, or that it has to do with having your head in the clouds, but poets, actually, walk on the earth. They’re grounded, feet-first, pointing forward. They’re moving around and paying attention at every moment.” —Don Share
*
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” —Maya Angelou
*
“We need poets to change the world.” —Justin Trudeau
*
“…Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.”
—from “How to Be a Poet (to remind myself)” by Wendell Berry
*
Morning Prayer
by Phillip Newell
In the silence of the morning
your Spirit hovers over the brink of the day
and a new light pieces the darkness of the night.
In the silence of the morning
life begins to stir around me
and I listen for the day’s utterances.
In earth, sea and sky
and in the landscape of my own soul
I listen for utterances of your love, O God.
I listen for utterances of your love.


Gratitude List:
1. The weekend, right on time
2. Language that builds bridges, that invites conversation, that includes spaces for listening
3. Autumn skies
4. How good it feels to be warm after I have been chilled
5. This wall of photos of our ancestors

May we walk in Beauty!

Remembering How to Dream

“I would like to paint the way a bird sings.”
–Claude Monet
*
“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” –Vincent van Gogh
*
“Do unto those downstream as you would have those downstream do unto you.” –Wendell Berry
*
Every step you take is a doorway to somewhere new,
a choice between what was and what will be.
Do not fear the darkness behind you
nor the mists that rise in your path.
Pause on the threshold a moment.
Take a deep and aching breath,
and straighten your shoulders.
Release the past with gratitude
for all that it has taught you,
and step forward in strength and beauty.
–Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
Mary Oliver:
“Soon now, I’ll turn and start for home.
And who knows, maybe I’ll be singing.”


Gratitude List:
1. Rest
2. Dreaming
3. Work
4. Play
5. Silence

May we walk in Beauty!

So Many Fragile Things

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” ―J.R.R. Tolkien
*
“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire” ―Teilhard de Chardin
*
“There are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts.”
―Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders
*
“Grace met us right there. It meets you right where it finds you, but it does not leave you where it found you. It moves you toward breath; moves you towards things being a little bit better: wow. Grace WD-40. Grace is water wings. Grace makes you shake your head with wonder, and laugh and cry.” ―Anne Lamott
*
To Be Of Use
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
*
“The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.” ―Oscar Wilde
*
“No single voice will be able to take control if everyone in the circle has a voice.” ―Kay Pranis
*
” I look up at God every day, and I say, “You are SUCH a show-off.” I have to shake my head and laugh. Maybe God does, too. If He or She does not have a sense of humor, I am doomed.” ―Anne Lamott


Gratitude List:
1. The protesters, showing us how to make courageous choices
2. In the new day, the crisis of the previous night pales
3. Today’s songs, especially this line: “. . .unseen wings, protecting, hide you.”
4. Catching up
5. Living with cats

May we walk in Beauty!

Hidden Trails


Trail across Cabin Creek, where the foxes and coyotes and deer cross the creek and enter the bosque. That’s poison ivy on the cherry tree at the front left–poison ivy is the protector of wild places.

Gratitude List:
1. Lots of work getting done
2. Sheltered places
3. Sleep
4. Voices of sanity and calm amid the clamor
5. Making plans for solitude and rest

May we walk in Beauty!