DSCN8186

Gratitude List:
1.  Pete Seeger’s version of Ode to Joy
2.  Earnest community
3.  Making stuff with the boys
4.  All that is shiny
5.  Satisfying work

May we walk in Beauty!

Sometimes the professor of this course that I am taking in Shaping Classroom Communities will suggest that one option for our writing assignments might be to do something creative rather than purely academic.  This week, one of the assignments was to take a quotation from one of the books we are reading and to reflect on it.  He invited us to consider other forms of creative expression than simple essay.  Here is mine:

Woman in the Wilderness

When I was at the Jesuit monastery, I spent a few quiet hours in the Resource Room, with breezes coming in the open window, paging through the works of the Indian Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello.  Several of de Mello’s books are written as short fiction pieces, each a moment of encounter between seekers or disciples and a Master.  I have been thinking about these short pieces of writing in the weeks since, considering the possibility of working on a similar sort of writing project, incorporating some of the fairy tale images that I have been working with in my poetry.  Reading Parker Palmer’s discussion of the Desert Mothers and Fathers has inspired me to try to create some of these short pieces as a response to this Kairos prompt, with the possibility that I might expand them and add to them in the future.

“We too must stand apart from the modern alliance of knowledge and power.  We too must enter an uncharted space, beyond the familiar confines of the city of intellect, seeking another way to know and to teach” (Palmer 40).

The old woman known as Amma lived in a clearing in a forest, far from the well-worn paths of travelers and adventure-seekers.  Her cottage and its little garden could be found by pilgrims and wanderers who left the common ways and followed the trails hidden among brambles along winding streams.

 

LOST AND FOUND

A group of seekers wandered for weeks in the forest, torn by briars and terrified by wild beasts, when finally they stumbled upon the clearing where the old woman kept her small cottage and garden.

“Amma!  Wise Mother!” they cried as they rushed into her garden, “We have finally found you!”

The old one pinched off a tip of mint and crushed it between her fingers, releasing the bright fragrance into the air.  “I was not aware until this moment that I was lost.”

ON THE INDIVIDUALITY OF ANGER

“Elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn — and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb. So, let us drink a cup of tea.”  – Muriel Barbery, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”

Two young activists showed up at Amma’s door one day.  During their travels, they had encountered injustice and evil.  They had marched in the streets to lend their voices to the voiceless.  They had walked with people in great distress.  They had spoken truth to power.  But they had come to doubt themselves and their work in the world.

“You are angry,” she said to them both.  “You carry your anger with you wherever you go.”

They bowed their heads silently for a moment.  “What shall we do?” they finally asked.

“You,” she said to the first, “must carry your anger within you like the coals that start a fire.  Use it to feed you when you feel as though you cannot go on, when you feel your energy flagging.”

“And you,” she said, turning to the other, “you must let your anger go.  Put out those coals, or they will eat you up, and drain your energy, leaving you a burned-out shell.”

“Do this,” she said to them both, “and the work that you do in the world will thrive and bear fruit.”

 

JOKES

A group of serious-minded seekers came to the old woman to learn wisdom.  For weeks, they worked with her in her garden, learning the disciplines of hard work and of silence, learning the names and the ways of the herbs and the birds and the insects that inhabited the clearing where she lived.

One evening, she called to them to pour themselves some tea from the kettle, and settle on the benches around the table near the fire.

Finally! they thought.  Now she will speak to us of wisdom.  Now she will teach us how to become wise.

“So,” said the old one, looking into the expectant faces, “have you heard the one about the rabbi, the priest, and the witch who walked into a bar?”

For hours, hoots and peals of laughter rang through the trees surrounding the old woman’s cottage as Amma and the seekers told each other funny stories and jokes.  As the embers of the fire were glowing in the grate, one of the seekers wiped the tears of mirth from her eyes and said, “This was wonderful, Old Mother, but when are you going to speak to us of wisdom?”

Amma gathered the empty mugs from the table.  “I already have,” she said.

 

CONVERSION

Once, a woman came to Amma and asked to be her intern.  “You can teach me,” said the young one, “how to live a holy life.”

“Go home,” responded Amma, “and return when you are ready to be converted.”

“But,” the young one protested, “I have already been converted!  Years ago, in my childhood.  Now I am ready to learn to be holy.”

Amma knelt down and began to pull the weeds from around her broccoli plants.  “This morning, I woke up and dressed and prepared myself a cup of tea,” she said.  “And then suddenly I realized that I was not awake, that I had dreamed my waking.  And so then I awoke and dressed, made my tea, and went out to milk the jersey cow.  Then again, I realized that all that time I had only been sleeping, and so I awoke again and did it all again.  Each time I woke up, I was sure that I had reached the full state of wakefulness, and yet each time I had another layer of dream to throw off.”

“But Amma, how do you know that, even now, you are not still sleeping, and dreaming this moment?”

The old woman shrugged.  “Perhaps I am dreaming even now.  I will do the tasks that this dream requires of me so I am ready for the next awakening.”

She clipped several nettle stalks into her basket.  “Do you still want to learn to be holy,” she asked.  “Or perhaps you would prefer to dream with me a while.”

Gratitude List:
1.  Talking through the ancestors: “Didn’t Uncle Paul look exactly like Great-Grandpa Lauver?”  “That photo of Mammy Weaver looks just like Whistler’s Mother.”  “Fancy hats?  Since when did Mennonite women in Great-Grandma’s day wear fancy hats?”
2.  The evening of Chaotic Flying Things.  This was actually last night, but I am putting it down with today’s list because it was part of the Riotous Cousin-Fest of the past two days.  My father collects interesting things that fly: gliders, slingshot airplanes, kites. . .  We spent that lovely evening last evening throwing things through the air.  The chimney swifts joined in, and a jet flew over, some small planes, too, and a hot air balloon.
3.  Cousins.  Did I say this was a weekend of Cousin-Fest?  I have had several of those lately, and this weekend was just marvelous.  My own cousin Karen from Ohio, and the kids playing with their cousins: hide-n-seek, card games, goofing off and hanging out.
4.  Building Fairy Houses.  This caught fire.  The small cousins saw the fairy house at the sycamore tree on Goldfinch Farm, and they made a tiny village of fairy houses in the woods at Mimi and Pawpaw’s house.
5.  Belly Laughs.  That game of I Doubt It/Bull/Baloney was just hilarious.  I love trying to lie to people, and trying to guess what they’re doing.How long has it been since I have had such a healing dose of uncontrollable, giddy laughter?

So much love.  So much love.  Walk in Beauty!

monarch

Gratitude List:
1.  Walking up the hill, hand in hand with One Small Boy
2.  to see if we could find the female monarch we had seen earlier on the milkweed,
3.  which was a city a-buzz with pollinators,
4.  when we saw a bluebird, and I started singing, “Bluebird, bluebird, through my window,”
5.  and One Small Boy sang it with me because it was one of his school songs.

May we walk in Beauty!

I am taking a class right now, called Shaping a Community of Learners.  We are using terms like the “invisible curriculum” and discussing the ways in which various philosophers defined the word “care.”  We are asking ourselves what it means to be a teacher, what it means to have a relationship with our students, what capacities we want to develop within our students beyond good grammar, knowledge of the world, and strong mathematical and science skills.

Today, in Jan Richardson’s Sacred Journeys, I came across this excerpt from a sermon by Dorri Sherrill, in reference to Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives who defied the pharaoh’s order to kill the male Hebrew babies.  Some people refer to this as the first recorded act of civil disobedience.  Sherrill says: “The truth is that Pharaohs, in some form or fashion, always will exist.  And as Shiphrah and Puah faced the Pharaoh of their day, so we must face ours.  We must face with courage and power those who want to take freedom because we, today, still are called to bring liberation into being, to be co-creators with God in the continual re-creation of the world.  We may not be midwives in the the literal sense, but each of us has a calling to bring to birth that which is in us and each other which, left to its own, likely will die.”

She has much more to say on the subject of courageously facing our Pharaohs, but this last sentence struck me as part of the answer to some of the questions we are asking ourselves in this class: What is the deeper role of the teacher?  The teacher assists as midwife at the birth of her students’ callings.  We help them to birth their dreams, their visions, and their destiny.

Gratitude List:
1.  For all the midwives of my life, real and metaphorical.  Those who helped me to birth my sons, those who helped me to birth my poems and books, those who helped with each vision, each idea, each dream.
2.  For the color orange.  We talk about the food cravings that people have when they are pregnant.  During my very first pregnancy, and then again during my pregnancy with Ellis, I had intense cravings for the color orange.  Weird, perhaps, but I bought orange cloth, wore orange clothes, and hung a picture on my wall of a Maasai mother and child swathed in orange (that picture is still on my wall today).  Today Ellis, clad all in orange, said, “Orange is an apt color for me.”  Yes, I believe so.  Incidentally, my color cravings during my pregnancy with Joss were purple.
3.  Mockingbird.  I think he was following us from field to field during harvest today.  Probably spying on us, to ensure we weren’t going to steal his babies, but along the way he told us marvelous jokes and stories.  Becky reminded me that sometimes they will imitate people, so I am going to start trying to teach him the first few bars of “Ode to Joy.”
4.  Cucumbers and cream cheese on sourdough bread.  A little salt.  Just right.  (And while I am on the subject of food, those boys ate tonight’s pizza supper, though I put so many veggies on it, it was more like casserole on a crust than pizza.)
5.  Working in the fields with the Goldfinch Farm crew.

May we walk in Beauty!

The stories converge.
The strands on this web meet,
connect, and twist outward again.

This is a bowl of stones, holding prayers:
a shining soul who just received a terrible diagnosis,
another bright spirit who is caring for a suffering loved one,
another, walking the confusing labyrinth of a broken relationship,
a quiet spirit grieving a loss that never seems to heal,
an eager heart aching with loneliness,
a disappointed one,
a tired one,
and you?

A stone for each of these I love,
and also, one for the bright cardinal
who comes with messages of hope,

one for the courage of the activist
climbing high and challenging oppression,

one for hope, one for love, one for tenderness,
one for patient remembering to give yourself time,
to cut yourself a break, to let yourself cry,
to remember your truest, greenest, most powerful self,

and one for the spider who brings all the stories
together in a web, binding us all into one.
One story.

Gratitude List:
1. Change
2. Stability
3. Prayers, stones, and feathers
4. Watchfulness
5. Root beer floats

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude List:
1. Science: The boys watched Bill Nye the Science Guy today.  They learned about mixing moss and milk or yogurt and then painting it on a surface, so we did that tonight.
2. Magic: Ellis used his moss mix to make a carpet for the faerie house under the sycamore tree.  Then they both ran inside asking to fill sea shells with milk and honey as a gift for the faeries.
3. Prayer: I am so sad and disheartened by the continuing medical struggles of a beautiful, wild, and gentle soul that I know.  I feel so hopeless and helpless, and prayer is a line that I hold onto.  Thin sometimes that line is, but real.  And strong.
4. Dreams: Last night’s dream was unsettling.  Still, I think it had a message which I will take to heart, a message for which I am grateful.
5. Poetry: During tonight’s class, three of us read papers on poems we’d read–William Stafford, Madeleine L’Engle, and Mary Oliver.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude List:
1.  This: “Sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt. ” —President Obama
2.  Bree Newsome–She climbed that flagpole and took down that obscenity.  She’d had enough already.  When they put cuffs on her, she held her head up, smiled, and recited the Lord’s Prayer as they walked her out.  We showed the video to the boys–“Sometimes,” I told them, “people break laws for good reasons.”
3.  Cat on my lap on a chilly evening.  His head is so heavy on my right wrist, I might have to quit typing.
4.  Shifting and re-making spaces.  Ellis wants space of his own, so I am giving him my “Room of Her Own” and moving my space up to the attic.  I’ll have to see what it’s like in weather changes, but right now it feels just right.  Even more my own than the little room was down below.
5.  Tending the head space, as well as the heart space.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude List:
1. Love wins.
2. Fried tomatoes for breakfast
3. Such a birdy day: titmouse fledglings, nuthatch, crows, cardinals, goldfinch, swallows. . .
4. Dream visitors: turkey, this time
5. Tomato sandwiches for supper

May we walk in Love!

Marvel and Wonder

How would things change if, every time we approached the word God in our speech, we would instead use the word Love?  Parker Palmer does this sometimes, and it is powerful: We are made, each one of us in the image of Love.

Would we be less judgmental, more likely to be little versions of Love ourselves?

***

Last night in the Dreamings, I was in a green field of clover and vetch at the edge of a wood.  I was out in the field and standing just outside the trees and looking at me very intently, watching and observing me, was Turkey.  I was gathering blue feathers in the field, and a teen-aged boy was walking up the path toward me.  Turkey watched.  I wanted to be friendly to the boy, but I didn’t want to encourage conversation because gathering the feathers was a private and personal thing for me and I wanted to be alone to contemplate.

I have been reading Jamie Sams’ words about Turkey, a symbol of the Give-Away, the “deep and abiding recognition of the sacrifices of both self and others.”  She seems to be a symbol of reaching a new and deeper place.  Feathers are gifts to me, symbols of my communication with Spirit, and blue feathers are about finding my voice.  I feel like Turkey was watching me, like the “woman of that place” in the Denise Levertov poem, to be sure that I was noticing and appreciating the gifts, both the social and the contemplative moments (especially the contemplative rhythm of summer), the voice, being in the presence of Spirit.

The Fountain
by Denise Levertov

Don’t say, don’t say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen

the fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes

found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.

The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
frowned as she watched — but not because
she grudged the water,

only because she was waiting
to see we drank our fill and were
refreshed.

Don’t say, don’t say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped
green and gray stones,

it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,

up and out through the rock.

– See more at: http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/blog/2013/03/15/denise-levertov-the-fountain-2/#sthash.1onaRPdD.dpuf

Gratitude List:
1. Gentle rain
2. Studying
3. Tomatoes!
4. Cecropia Moth Cocoon
5. Mockingbird: he is effusive, irrepressible, ebullient, buoyant, rhapsodic

May we walk in Beauty!

***

cecropia  Cecropia 2

The cecropia moth cocoon has been attached to the bar of the cast iron plant holder for almost a year now.  I knew it was dead, but I didn’t want to think about it.  Today, Jon and Holly opened it up.  Jon could hardly get his knife through the shell of the cocoon.  Cecropias are silk moths, and this cocoon had hard strands of silk surrounding a paper-like material that was tougher than cardboard (silk and “cardboard” visible in second picture).  Inside was this magical faerie mummy being.  You can see her head to the right side of the first photo, and her legs folded down the center.  Wrapping the head and legs are her two long, feathery antennae, and her wings drape gracefully around the rest of it.  I am so sad that she did not have the chance to emerge.  Still I am fascinated by this incredible moment of transformation frozen in the moments before emergence.

***

I am taking a class right now for professional development, called Shaping a Community of Learners, through the Anabaptist Learning Institute.  One of the recent assignments was to respond to one of William Stafford’s poems, or to choose another poet’s poem which speaks to the spiritual life of the teacher.  I chose Mary Oliver’s “Landscape.” The assignment briefly discussed Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future, which I reference in the paper.  I discovered the Oliver poem when I was reading this OnBeing blog entry by Parker Palmer.

Here is the paper I wrote:

I love the poetry of William Stafford–his ethic of care for humans, animals, and the earth; his hope that acknowledges the journey of anxiety and despair that it takes to get there; his ability to find a moment of worship in a clod of earth.  I excitedly read through all the options listed.  I was focusing on a couple possibilities when, just last night, I came upon a post Parker Palmer wrote for the OnBeing blog, in which he responded to Mary Oliver’s “Landscape.”  I am not sure that Mary Oliver fits the category of Christian Poet exactly, but my own spiritual journey has been so constantly fed and nourished by her words that I think her work will fit the parameters of the assignment.

Landscape
Mary Oliver

Isn’t it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn’t it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I’m alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky—as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

I want to read Howard Gardner’s work on the five aspects of mind sometime.  Meanwhile, I want to add “Open-heartedness” to the list, or perhaps to begin a list of various aspects of the heart, and begin with this one.  Mary Oliver’s poem “Landscape” holds this idea of open-heartedness for me.

Oliver writes “. . .if the doors of my heart / ever close, I am as good as dead.”  If I close the doors of my heart to the darknesses that surround me–to the poverty and racism and destruction of the earth, to last week’s massacre in Charleston, to the desperate plight of refugees fleeing places of conflict–then I also close my heart to the lecture of the moss, the posture of the oaks, the imaginings of the crows.  As I hone my sensitivity to the story that comes from the world around me–to the “lecture[s]” from the natural world, my sensitivity to the plight of other humans and other parts of the earth is also heightened.  But I do not want to shut off that part of myself, because I believe with Oliver that to close those doors is like dying.

My students bring me these darknesses.  They come to class and they ask what I think of the latest Painful Thing in the News.  I think I do a disservice to them if I minimize or ignore their questions and their need to come to terms with the harsh realities.  If I want my teaching to be transformative, I think I need to incorporate these things into the discussions, connect what is happening now to the readings that we are doing.  I need to listen to them process and discuss and think critically about the issues that beset us,  and encourage them to think about and write about these things.  If my students and I are in training to be people of service to the world, to teach and model peace and reverence in our lives, then part of our work is to know of the difficult things and to find ways to respond.  Part of my job as their teacher is to model ways to keep those heart doors open while finding ways to “disentangle [ourselves] from the darkness,” as Palmer writes in his response to this poem.

One way to keep imagining our “strong, thick wings” so that we may “burst up into the sky” is to maintain an inner life that contemplates the world of nature, and the depth of spirit of the people all around us.  I hope that I can model for my students the reflective work of listening to our inner voices, to finding the deep wisdom in the people around us, and to reading the text of the natural world around us: reverence, wonder, awe, spiritual observation and noticing.  That work, which Oliver describes in her poem, helps to balance the work of staying aware of the pain of the world.

In the past year, as I have been teaching at LMH, I have become more aware, too, of the fact that it is not just a one-way street, that it isn’t just about how I model this idea of holding our heart doors open for both the reverence and the shadows, but that they already have these capabilities within them.  They are already doing this work.  If I can find the right questions and poems and the right listening attitude, they bring their own transformative wisdom to the table.

(Parker Palmer’s OnBeing blog post: “Poetry as Sacrament: Disentangling from the Darkness”

http://www.onbeing.org/blog/poetry-as-sacrament-disentangling-from-the-darkness/7692)

Gratitude List:
1. Learning to swim.  How and when did that boy learn to swim?  Last September, he was nervous and just barely able to keep himself afloat.  Throughout the winter, after several sessions with his grandparents in the pool at Landis Homes, he has become a fish.  Today he was jumping off the diving board and swimming most of the way across the pool.
2. They keep eating vegetables without complaining.  No one has complained or fussed about supper for two nights now, and they both keep asking for seconds.  No one even mentioned the zucchini I grated into the roux I made for the macaroni.  They just ate it.
3. Poets.  Poetic conversation.
4. Reading with the boys.  We have gotten back into the rhythm of reading together again.  We finished The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler tonight and started a book of Patricia Wrede’s short stories.
5. A clean house.

May we walk in Beauty!

Featured image

My friend Mara Eve Robbins, a poet with gift for exploring the landscape of the heart (and I keep wanting to insert more and more notes about her here, such as the fact that she is the one who got me started on the spiritual practice of gratitude and that she is the person who helped me finally name myself Poet), hosts a Tanka Tuesday thread on her Facebook page every Tuesday.  She posts a tanka (5/7/5/7/7 syllable count) and invites friends to respond.  In the true conversational spirit of tanka, these little poems sometimes develop into rich and heart-opening conversations.

This week, I joined in one of these poetic conversations with Mara and my friend Daryl Snider (another heartful poet who weaves his words into powerful music).  They both gave me permission to re-post the conversation here.  I wanted to share it, to offer a way in which healing and hopeful conversations can occur outside the realm of intellectual discussion.  Sometimes we would write one stanza at a time, and sometimes several.  Each bold name is the author of the stanza or stanzas which follow.  I love the way this one carried our ideas like little leaf boats in a stream, how it felt finished when it was finished.  Still, I ached for it not to be ended–even putting it here, I felt like I wanted to keep it going, on and on and on. . .

It began with this tanka by Mara:
This can hold many
missing elements, or can
still miss the many
elements that are held. When
will a new path be forged now?

Daryl:
Hold on elements,
for you are elemental:
simple, being, true.
To be is the way; the path
is the traces of footsteps.

Beth:
As the poet said,
“We make the road by walking.”
Sometimes I follow
the roads others made before,
those footsteps in shifting sands.

Daryl:
Steps of one walker
leave tracks that only steadfast
trackers might follow.
Roads trampled by hungry herds
Leave nothing living behind.

Mara:
Elemental, my
dear Daryl. Flesh on earth, bare
to consequences.
What fire in the center holds
true when accuracy rains?

Beth, I follow your
steps into the shifting sands,
strengthened by fragile
threads. We make a road again
and again that’s more traveled.

Daryl:
Heating elements
give off the fury of fire.
Lighting filaments,
yes, the finer the better,
give the luminance of light.

Yet the energy
at the source of heat and light
is always the same.
That which burns me at the core,
transforms and Illuminates.

Dear Mara and Beth,
Your lights shine bright on my path,
pushing me to play
with words that say more and less
than I ever intended.

A poem’s value
is not in accomplishment
but in the doing:
Time spent doing nothing else
but being … still.

Yet now I must go
and succeed in something else,
something that will make
unpoetic evidence
of bodily existence.

Mara:
Leaving the small cloud
under the larger cloud, rain
waits for the sunrise,
packs suitcases of water
to carry into drier places.

Beth:
I have returned here
to this place of words, pathways:
a-quiver now with
the way these words leave a trail,
clear, for my heart to follow.

Mara:
The flow of trust finds
replenishment or dries up,
waiting for rain. Strong
sun today must find a way
to infuse with light what waits.

Two catbirds; holly
tree. One scolds and one defends.
Flash of underwing.
Open window. Everything
to be done waiting for this.
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