EWK 4 001


Gratitude List:
1. The violin trio
2. October morning mists
3. Rising. (Or did I mean falling?)
4. The Ma and Pa Railroad.  History.
5. October afternoon sun

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude List:
1. Morning Moon and her two planetary companions
2. The way the leaves leaped from the trees like birds in the rain-breeze
3. The golden shine beneath the storm
4. A teeny tiny toad in the the leaf litter after the rain
5. The way the mist rose out of the Millstream by the old footbridge this morning and settled over the field like an old woman’s hair

May we walk in Beauty!


Gratitude (no list today, but this):
Some days, the lesson plan sort of dissipates in the face of something else that takes over.  That happened today.  A couple times a week, I offer my students short, ungraded writing exercises at the beginning of class, just to keep the writing muscle toned.  Today, we wrote micro-fiction, trying to get a story into 6 words, but letting ourselves go up to 15, or maybe 20, and even more in a few cases.  In every class, there were teeny-tiny stories that took my breath away.

During 8th period, the stories kept coming, and people kept sharing, and it felt wrong to cut it short.  Something in the back of my head kept saying, “Umm.  We were planning to work with Dependent and Independent Clauses, and Participial Phrases and. . .” and another part of my brain (fortunately) told that first part to please sit down and be quiet a while.

One boy, who had been out of class for a couple weeks, told his tiny story.  Immediately a couple of the others raised their hands and wanted to talk about what they thought it meant.  Suddenly students were doing deep literary analyses of their classmates’ micro-stories.

Then a girl wrote a tiny story and explained that it was about race, and about how, even when you are successful in this culture, if you’re black, there’s a sense in which it’s never quite enough.  Nobody raised a hand to tell her differently.  They listened.  Oh, how they listened.

And then a boy raised his hand, the same one who recently returned to class, and he began to speak powerfully about resilience.  I worried for a moment that the girl might think he was telling her how she ought to feel, that because she didn’t know his story, she might think it was directed at her.  When he was done, she said, “I get what you are saying.”  Their eyes were shining as they left class today, and I didn’t do a thing but witness.

I am so glad that we did not study Participial Phrases today.

May we walk through our stories in Beauty!

Gratitude List:
1. Re-member-ing
2. Quest-ioning
3. Cred-ulity and in-cred-ulity
4. Couer-age and en-couer-agement
5. Breath

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude List:
1. Dahlias
2. Mariah’s healing oil/massage/energy treatment.
3. Reading L’Engle to my children.
4. Fannie Lou Hamer
5. Goals

Seek Beauty.



Not much time to focus on poems these days.  A small boy needs Mama time.  A cat needs a snuggle that cannot handle a computer.  I feel a need to keep working the contemplative muscles, so here is a little bit of free association for the morning.

In my head every poem begins
“This is the story. . .”
Inside my heart every story starts out
“A lived at the edge of a great, dark forest.”

What did you do when the song began?
Did you huddle beneath the leaves in the bears’ den
or step into the sunny clearing,
trusting the shining threads that fell upon your ears?

Gratitude List:
1. Sleeping in past 6:30
2. My current reading stack: Ruth Gendler’s Book of Qualities, Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water, and Mary Oliver’s Felicity.
3. Sweater weather
4. Embracing the transitions
5. Story

May we walk in Beauty!

“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories . . . water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” –Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Last night, I went to my thirtieth high school reunion.  I think there were about 23 or 24 of us classmates there, along with many spouses.

We talk about the beauty of youth, and I know the fact of that because I spend my days with teenagers.  I heard somewhere once that someone had somewhat scientifically determined that we read the pinnacle of our physical beauty around age 30, and I can understand that, too.  But for well-polished and gracefully-tempered beauty, sit in a room of people just about to enter their second half-century.  I am trying to define the essence of it this morning: there’s grace in the faces, self-acceptance, a movement beyond the scrabbling and striving of earlier years.  The intervening years since we graduated have brought terrible pain to some of us, great joys, power and powerlessness, anxiety and fulfillment, and the stories and conversation last night were carried on a stream of grace that echoed in people’s voices and showed in their eyes.  People seemed to have moved into themselves.  They are beautiful in ways that make our high school selves look raw and unpolished, our young adult selves look over-polished and grasping.  These people were shining and grace-filled, and in a way that admitted of the harsh realities that we have experienced on our way here.

Gathered in that room, I know, were people of all political stripes.  Many of us sit firmly on one side or the other in the debates that are threatening to shatter our church.  But last night, we were one thing, one group, together sharing our stories.  Some stories got deeper, but many of us told the basic details.  Still, the regular tales of children and grandchildren born and growing up, of jobs and farms and hobbies–all took on deep significance.  There was an acceptance and a sense of belonging in that room, where many of us have become near-strangers over the past 30 years.

A moment of laughter appeared in the room.  Giggles and chuckles.  Then, as understanding dawned, a second wave, and a third.  And the laughter itself became a conversation.  Meaning was there, and levels and layers of meaning that went beyond the initial words that sparked the laughter.  Something holy happened in the laughter.  Did it last for five minutes or for twenty?

I feel shy and awkward with small-talk conversations with people I don’t know well.  Often I can push my way through and into small chat, but I never quite know how to navigate a room.  How long do we talk?  What about the awkward pauses?  Is it my turn to start the next piece of conversation?  It’s always easier for me when the conversation gets going on its own track, and I lose awareness of the way into the conversation, when mutual curiosity draws us together and lends energy to the forward movement of our talking.  In mingle-settings where there are lots of people, I also get a sense of wanting to connect with everyone, so I struggle to get into deeper conversation because there are too many people to connect with.  I get overwhelmed.  So the thing that I look forward to in reunions and gatherings is the group sharing.  Even though it isn’t intimate, and we each package our story into the short five-minute moment we are allotted, we all focus, for those moments, on the one person speaking.  We hear story together, and for a moment, we are a re-gathered community.

Gratitude List:
1. Middle age
2. Reunions and conversation
3. The language of laughter
4. The gravity-loosening power of music
5. October

May we walk in Beauty!

As I read the first line of Eavan Boland’s poem “The Lost Land,” I felt as though I knew exactly what the second line was going to be.  I was almost shocked when I read her second line and saw that it was not what had happened in my own head.  I think that means that I need to write my own “daughters” poem.  I’m not sure where it will take me.  I have been mulling different places to take it for a week or so now.  If I can find a breath between the stacks of grading, I’ll try some exercises to shake it out.  Here, for now, are the first two lines.  The first is stolen from Eavan Boland, and the second is the compulsion line that forced itself out before I could read further in her poem.

I have two daughters.
Their names are Memory and Loss.

Gratitude List:
1. Autumn breezes.  Thermal delight.
2. Breaking through.
3. Apples.
4. Walking through the doorways.
5. Water.

May the waters flow free for all.  May all people find safety.  May we walk in Beauty.

I am coming to realize that there is a difference for me between a spiritual practice and a spiritual discipline.  I have tended to use those words interchangeably, particularly when I talk about my gratitude lists.  In the past month, my gratitude lists have been sporadic as I try to settle myself into the rhythm of school.   As I take a moment now to breathe, and wonder whether it has made a difference, it hits me that the lists are my discipline, the form that anchors the spiritual practices of gratitude and attentiveness.

I have been asking my self whether I have been living in shallower layers because I have not been careful to write my lists.  I think, however, that it is the commitment to being attentive which really keeps me working in the deeper layers.  And while it is possible to do so without a particular discipline, having a regular discipline that anchors me into that work of attentiveness does keep me grounded in the deep layers.

A spiritual discipline can become an empty shell of a form it if is not practiced with intention and care.  A spiritual practice can float away and dissipate if it is not anchored by deliberate spiritual practices.

Gratitude List:
1. The recent sunrises from the crest of Mt. Pisgah: magenta, tangerine, aquamarine, violet.  Mist caught in the folds of the foothills.  Wraiths of fog skuthering over golden fields.
2. Safe places.  Creating places of safety, in the outer world, in the inner world.  We make plans to build houses and shelters for people.  I think about what sort of blueprint there might be for us to intentionally build our inner selves into safe and sheltering spaces for those who are frightened or injured or outcast.
3.  The whimsical childish conjecture from my scientist has begun to feel distinctly like real-life physics lessons, and I realize that the wild speculations have been preparation for continued curious pondering about the nature of the world.  Yesterday, it was that the undertow of a previous wave helps the next one to break.  He is figuring out these things on his own through observation even before he learns them in the classroom.  I can only sit back and marvel.  This is a reminder to me as a teacher to always build on my students’ natural awareness as much as possible, and to keep sparking their curiosity.  Even grammar has logical and reasonable patterns.
4. The chuckles and humming of contented children.
5. Flocks of a thousand swallows racing back and forth along the island, filling up on insects before they hop out over ocean for their journey south.  We did not see monarchs or dragonflies this year, but the winds were really strong, and I think they may have been waiting in thickets and woods until the coast is clear (so to speak).

May we walk in Beauty!

DSCN8468 DSCN8473

. . .and spider and little brown bat, whom we call Otis.  The bat’s full name, in Latin, is Myotis lucifugus, and when there are two of them roosting up in the barn, we call the other Lucy.  Screech Owl’s Latin name is Otus asio.

Gratitude List:
1. The bald eagle rising above the trees by the River on my drive home, pumping its wings as it rose toward a cloud that was rimed by a golden halo of sun.  I am sorry we have made them such a symbol of military force.  Writing about this eagle, I feel as though I must wade through layers and layers of shallow and odious symbology to get to the way it carried my spirit as it rose with powerful pulls of its wings, swimming upward through air, and how the sun lit the cloud from behind.
2. Monarchs buffeted by every little breeze and puff of air, making their laborious way southward.  So many of them.  Each sighting brings me a stab of joy. One fast truck can send them spinning and looping out of their way, but they persist.
3. Student music at school.  I am blown away by the talent of these young people.
4. Restorative Justice.  Discipline that thoughtfully encourages young people to look at the breach in relationships and how the breach can be mended.  Empathetic and compassionate accountability.  The principals at my school are wise and empathetic in their work with this, and this week we learned that the principal of our sons’ public school is also working with implementing restorative principles in the local school.
5. Cool air I can breathe in.

May we walk in Beauty!


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