1. Gentle rain
4. Cecropia Moth Cocoon
5. Mockingbird: he is effusive, irrepressible, ebullient, buoyant, rhapsodic
May we walk in Beauty!
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.
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”