1. Longing and belonging
2. Creating and recreating
Fly well, Bright Ones!
1. Longing and belonging
2. Creating and recreating
Fly well, Bright Ones!
1. The morning mist in the hollow, covering everything like a veil.
2. Dozens of dew-bejeweled spiderwebs scattered across the lawn this morning, layer upon layer of gossamer strands, so thickly laid each makes a little cloth of web.
“Mom! It looks like bits of ice all over the place!”
Like a personal message for me, from the heart of the Mystery: Don’t forget. Everything is connected. You are part of the web. Part of the cloth.
3. The chipping sparrows twittering in their nest. Fledglings, soon. One of the benefits of poor Fredthecat’s encroaching arthritis is that I no longer fly into a panic whenever a nestful of little ones learns to fly.
4. Me and my trusty plumber’s snake Nyoka–we conquered the clog in the outside pipe that leads to the septic system, just like the guy showed us four years ago.
Shove, shove, shove, twist. (Half an hour of twist and shove and grunt and growl. Okay, and swear. Just a teensy-tiny little bit. Under my breath.)
“Hey Mom! Do you want to be a member of my Animal Rescue Club?”
Twist, grunt, sweat.
The water begins to slowly recede–SHOVE, shoveshoveshove, TWIST! G-glub. Sigh, in comes the water again, and more to boot.
“Hey Mom! Your code name in the club is Bee-Oh-Bee.”
Sploot: Nyoka uncoils and splashes kitchen sink goop into my hair. Um. Yuck.
“Great! Bob! I am Bob!”
“Mo-o-om. Not Bob. Bee-Oh-Bee.”
“Oh. Okay. But I like Bob better.”
Twi-i-i-i-st. Shove, shove.
“You can’t be in the club if you change things.”
“Okay. Bee-Oh-Bee. That’s me!”
Fizzzzzz. Bubbles on the surface. Shove? Twist? G-g-glug. Gurgle. Whoosh.
Peek. Yup, the water is gone!
“I AM BOB (Bee-Oh-Bee), Queen of Plumbers!”
5. So, the Animal Rescue Club. I am grateful for the Animal Rescue Club and its Darling Dictator.
Knocking on the bathroom door, where I am getting out of the shower, having washed the cloggulus from my Super Plumbing Job from my hair and fingernails: “Mom, you need to come see the clubhouse. If your chair is too small, I can help you fix it with pillows and stuff.”
This is a great club. They even help you with the seating arrangements.
I am toweling off. “Can you please come in soon? Fred is looking around for a lap to sit on. Even though Fred used to kill animals, he can still be a member of the club because he doesn’t do it very much anymore. And he kind of likes the red blanket in the clubhouse.”
So far, we have rescued a monarch from the driveway (he didn’t survive for very long, but we tried our best), a question mark butterfly from the spiderweb behind the house (it took a lot of gentle, careful work to get the sticky web off the wings, but we managed, and that one flew away), and a mouse from under the tractor tire (I do not remember this particular rescue operation, but the boys swear we did it).
May we walk in Beauty. On the web. Through the veil. Removing Clogs and Obstacles. Rescuing.
1. “When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” –Virginia Woolf (I had never read the first part of the quotation before. Thank you, Christine Lincoln!)
2. Christine Lincoln and the Witches Being Ducked. What a powerful Sisterhood. I have fallen in love with you all. Your magenta hair is a halo, an aura of Shine, matching the passionate person within. I am in awe of you.
3. All those images. I want to write them all here, but they don’t belong to me. I will carry them with me, deep, deep within. Such story-making.
4. The tenacity of morning glory. Over a week ago, Jon cut down the vine that was climbing up the dead sunflower in front of the house. The leaves on the vine that continue on up the balcony have long since withered, but the flowers were still blooming today!
5. The heartbeat of a moth. I held a small moth on my finger this morning, and I could feel its life force, its heartbeat, like a small motor quivering.
So much love.
1. We do not walk alone.
2. These circles are wide and many and overlapping.
3. International community. Singing with international community.
4. How I can sense you here when you are so far away.
5. Words from a friend about belonging together even if we do not agree on everything.
I think I may have just said the same thing five times.
May we walk in Beauty! May we walk singing.
My personal spiritual narrative has universalism as a fairly central theme. One of the tensions I try to keep in balance within me is that of seeing the broad picture while also aligning myself with the church of my childhood and youth, the Mennonites. Even as my own sights have taken me into far fields, something always holds my identity firmly in the soil of Anabaptism. Separating it all out into Either or Or has always felt limiting and counter-intuitive to me. Especially as I have grown to claim my spiritual story as my own, I have found that I don’t want to spend time saying, “I’m this, but not this, or this, or this.” Instead, what feels right and best to me is to say, “I am this, and also this, and this, and this.” So when my Mennonites are in a time of crisis, I can no longer say, “But I don’t really care, because I don’t really belong there anymore.” Because I do. These are my particular people.
Today, the word came out that the Lancaster Mennonite Conference, a large and historic group that belongs to the Mennonite Church USA demoniation, is considering pulling out of the larger denomination. We have a history of such divisions, but this one is big, and it affects a lot of people I love. My own church is not part of this particular conference, so it does not directly affect me. If I am honest, this impending church divorce between Lancaster Conference and MC USA pains me more than I let on. If I don’t touch that painful place, then it just boils out as glib snark. When it was just me sitting on the fringes, I could pretend not to care. Now, though: Now I have stepped onto a web that includes so many tender young people. Now I love so many of the teenagers who stand to become the most lost in the wake of this divorce. Just this week, at Mennonite World Conference (where many denominations of Mennonites from around the world gather together every six years), Remilyn Mondez of the Philippines spoke of growing up in a church in conflict: “Remember, there are children and young people who are trapped in the midst of church conflict,” she said.
Today, as I was outside with my Chromebook, writing with a friend about some of my worries, especially for the youth, the hummingbird reappeared. This time, she moved from the corner of the building, right to me, at eye level, only a foot or so away. If you listen to such things, hummingbirds are messengers who travel between worlds. I choose to believe that this one had a message of comfort and hope, and also a task–to commit to the work of caring for these who may be caught in the middle of the mess.
Before I read the letter that announces the proposed “divorce,” I had spent some time with Parker Palmer’s reflections on Rumi’s poem:
“Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down
in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
– even the phrase “each other” –
do not make any sense.”
I see us out there, with Hummingbird, in that field, keeping our heart-eyes on the fragile ones and the young ones, opening our ears and our palms to listen, to lie down in the grass where “ideas, language–even the phrase ‘each other’–do not make any sense.”
1. Rumi’s field
2. The nest Josiah made in his room by spreading blankets and pillows over the floor–Fredthecat approves. He has found a new favorite napping spot.
4. Molly Kraybill’s 100 Women photography project. From 1 to 100. I began at 100 and worked my way back through the spiraling decades to 1. Then I went back again to 100. All those faces. All those changes.
5. Tonight. We’re going back for the final Mennonite World Conference service tonight. More singing. More thoughtful words. More time with these thousands of loving and messy Mennonites. More holding one foot in the center and another on the fringe.
May we walk in the fields.
The Stones are prayers
2. rose quartz
5. tangerine quartz
May we walk in Beauty.
1. Still, that new name for God keeps ringing in my ears, making me want to pronounce it, feel how it sounds through my own throat: Ja kon kudho. Remover of Thorns. I hear it in the voice of Mama Nyakyema of Bwiri village, tender, a murmur. I hear it in the voice of the twinkly-eyed man who used to stop me in the street whenever he saw me to make me practice my Swahili and to give me new Luo words. I hear him saying it carefully as he always did for me, so my English ears can hear it, make sense of it, and repeat it back. A little song in it, low on the kudho with a pause in the middle of the word. Soft j, almost a dy. And the dh almost a th, but not quite. Sounds that invite your spirit to sit down and rest a moment.
2. Hummingbird. I was talking with a customer about hummingbirds today. She said sometimes she goes out into her garden with the intention that she IS going to see a hummingbird. Invariably, one appears. Not fifteen minutes after she left, I was working at the table outside, and I heard a tiny whoosh in my ears. About two and a half feet away, a female hummer hovered for about ten seconds at the corner of the building. Long enough for me to say, “Well, hello! I was just talking about you!”
3. How speaking a new thing makes it real.
4. The web. When my heart aches for someone I love, I grab the strands, feel you there, and you, and you. Sense the presence of so many who hold the world together in so many ways. Keep the light shining so all the lost ones may find their way.
5. Learning to refuse the invitations to enter the cage, not with anger or fear, but simply to go on whistling by.
May all the lost ones find their way home.
There is so much that I am grateful for today, and all the smaller pieces are made possible by the main gift. My parents bought a week-long pass to go to Mennonite World Conference, being held this week at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg (it will likely be another 40 years or so before it’s in this area again). Then they told us they wanted to keep the kids one day and give us their passes so we could experience a day of the conference. I’ll write the short-hand list of gratitudes, and then give fuller explanation below.
1. Beginning with Doubt
2. Heaven–Saints and Songs
3. “Nou Se Wozo”
4. Education that Transforms
5. Losing Cynicism
6. Being given a new name for God
1. The theme of today (the first full day of the conference) was Walking in Doubt and Conviction. The speakers in the morning shared about the power of doubt, how doubt is what forms the questions that compel us to seek answers, how doubt keeps us honest. The first speaker, Rebecca Osiro from Kenya, spoke about how poverty and oppression can cause people to doubt. The second, Tom Yoder Neufeld from North America, spoke about how wealth and privilege can cause people to doubt. They wove a balance between their words. The third speaker, a young woman from Ethiopia–with the perfect name Tigist Tesfaye Gelagle–spoke of an analogy she had heard about doubt and conviction being the two pedals of a bicycle: you need them both to make the bike go. Even outside of a religious context, I think these would be some very powerful ideas. Questions generate answers, producing forward movement. I have a rather intimate relationship to doubt as part of my own spiritual story, so this was a perfect beginning to the day.
2. My voice is hoarse from the delicious experience of singing with thousands of Mennonites and Anabaptists. Three of the all-time highlights of my life have been singing at Mennonite World Conference in France in 1894, singing at MWC in Winnipeg in 1990, and singing today at MWC in Harrisburg. The final song, spontaneously requested by the day’s moderator, was a reprise of yesterday’s processional: “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In.” Sublime moments.
Earlier in the evening, Dr. Carol Ann Weaver led us in a song, “First, the Gamelan Orchestra will play through it, then we’ll sing two verses, then the Orchestra again, then we’ll do two verses, and then. . .we’ll be in heaven.” That was pretty much how it happened.
3. Daryl Snider and Frances Crowhill Miller played “Nou Se Wozo.” (The link is only the end of the song, but a beautiful part of it, thanks to Larry Zook.) A song of resilience in the face of trauma and anguish. A gift. “Don’t forget: We are Wozo!” (Resilient reeds.)
4. We took in a workshop on Education that Transforms. This seems to be, as much as anything, the deep theme of Mennonite/Anabaptist education: transformation. Empowerment, Changing Perspectives, Heart full of Love. Learning from educators around the world!
5. The earnest and good-natured Pollyanna that you may see when you see me is not an illusion or a lie. I truly do look for the positive and seek to be joyful. Still, I am sort of like that one naughty relative at your family reunion who simply won’t make it through the reunion without a hidden flask. Well, maybe not at your Mennonite family reunion, or mine. Except for me. And it’s not filled with aged Scotch. It’s filled brimful with cynicism. I only take it out for occasional sips, but I feel like I need it as a sort of buffer, a protective coat between me and the real world.
During the years when I was losing my religion, I fought a really long and hard battle to break out of the cage. Not everyone goes through it with such intensity, but for me it was a serious struggle. I had dreams during that time of being incarcerated in a maximum security prison, of being beheaded by a mild and gentle Mennonite woman in a covering. When I walked back in the church’s back door, I did so on my own terms, always with an eye toward the doors and windows, to be sure that the escape routes aren’t blocked. And every once in a while, I take out my flask of cynicism and remind myself that I can still leave again any time I want. I have, however, encountered very few cages in the place where I have landed.
Still, it was a little disconcerting today, in the middle of a rather large group of gathered earnest people, to realize that I had completely misplaced my cynicism. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Today, I just loved being a Mennonite.
6. One of the ways that I have maintained my relationship to the church on my own terms is to collect names for God. There is no way that I am going to put the God-Bird back into its cage, so I keep trying to expand my knowledge and consciousnss of that Divine and Mysterious Presence. This morning, Rebecca Osiro repeatedly spoke of God as The Thorn Remover (Ja Kon Kudho), and the other speakers took up the use of the term. I like the concept of the Divine as a Remover of Thorns.
May we walk in Beauty!
Tomorrow, we are going to Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg. I was reluctant to sign up because the abstract idea of the crowds and the planning and the getting there and all of it made me a little anxious for some reason. But my parents are giving us a day on their passes. Feeling lucky to get a chance to go.
1. I think Somebody handed Michelangelo the brush this evening and said, “Go to town!” Those clouds. That sunset. Tonight I had a brief moment of really understanding magenta.
2. Magenta wants its own number. It looks so nice snuggling between tangerine and violet.
3. Hearing about the opening of the Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg. The ones who told me had tears in their eyes as they described the procession of Conestoga people who came forward and told Story: the history of European and Native interactions, the loss of land, the Paxtang Boys. I wish I could have been there.
4. Getting my hair done. I am upping my appointments lately–four or five a year instead of two. I like to be pampered once in a while.
5. Watching a tiny hamster savor her first blueberry. Cuteness is sort of sublime sometimes. I think there’s a spiritual muscle that responds to cuteness, but we trivialize it because it so often gets a schmaltzy, saccharine over-sentimentalization. But cute draws us out of ourselves in a way similar to awe, I think.
May we walk in Beauty!
1. Corn on the cob, zucchini fritters with sour cream, and thick slabs of Mr. Slabaugh and Lemon Boy tomatoes.
2. Spiritual Practices
3. The voices of the Mystics: Hafiz and Rumi, St. Julian and St. Hildegard”
4. How writing it down helps me to understand it better
5. The little air conditioner. Today, more than ever.
May we walk in Beauty!