The Doorway of the Dark

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Now we enter the doorway of the dark, step across the threshold of the year into the dreaming time, the time of release and letting go, the time of journeying to the underworld.

In spiritual and community traditions across the globe, this is the season of remembering, of bringing to mind the ones we have loved who are no longer with us. It is a time to hold to our griefs close to our hearts, and to release them to the winds, like leaves. Some say that these are the days when the veil between worlds is thin, when our connection to those we’ve loved and lost may we stronger, more real.

Yesterday in my church, this took the form of a ritual of memory and grief. We came together and we spoke of loss, and we remembered together. We lit candles and we heard story and we sang.

For the past couple weeks, the robins having been settling in at the dusk each evening here in the hollow. There’s a wild chattering in the treetops, and the wingfolk draw a complex web of lines across the hollow, sailing short distances from tree to tree, tree to tree. It’s like a playground full of excitable children.

What would our webs look like, were they all made visible? Connecting point to connecting point–what lines are drawn between ourselves and those who have gone before, between ourselves and others in the world today?

I draw a line between myself and my first immigrant ancestors, the Weavers leaving persecution in Germany and settling on farms in the Weaverland Valley, invited to grow crops and flourish in this good soil, the Schlabachs making a similar move to Ohio’s fertile plains. What did they know of the ones who had farmed the land before them?

I draw a line between myself and the Water Protectors on the Dakota plains, from the Susquehanna, river of my heart, to the Missouri, whose waters are endangered by the black oil snake that approaches nearer with every passing day. I draw the line to their ancestors, the First People on these lands. This line travels through broken treaties, through colonial suppression, through Wounded Knee, through Little Big Horn. Their work today looks oh-so-frighteningly similar.

What does it mean to come from a persecuted people? To identify as the descendant of those who were forced to leave their homeland in search of safety? That is the story I live by.

What does it mean that those very travelers, those refugee wanderers seeking safety and freedom to baptize as they believed–what does it mean that they settled land where others had lived and hunted and wandered?  Did they have words or concepts to explain Manifest Destiny, Doctrine of Discovery?

Today as I stand on this threshold of the season’s darkness, I will remember back before my memory. I will hold the connection between myself and those hopeful refugees from the pain and trial of the old world to the new. I will not excuse or explain away their settlement of fertile valleys, their claim of land which had once been free.  I will neither take one the shame nor dismiss it. I am their distant daughter, as the ones who stand for Water in the Dakotas are the distant children of those who moved across these lands, belonging to the land rather than claiming it for themselves.  Today we draw new lines. We make new patterns, new webs firmly anchored to the old ones. We wing our way into the dusk, like those robins, connecting point to point, idea to idea, memory to memory, grief to grief, until we have a web that will hold us as we move into the season that approaches.

Gratitude List:
1. Tears of joy and relief
2. Tears of sorrow and release
3. How the trees are letting go
4. Circles and webs of caring
5. Community rituals

May we walk in Beauty!

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What Will You Write?

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What will you write on this page,
a blank ocean of white before you,
waiting for your mark?

The words and the images you lay upon this day
you will write with your grandmother’s pen,
with drops of blood from your fingertip,
with the blue quill of a wingfeather
dropped on the wind
from a passing jay.

Will you write joy? Will you write patience?
What will you write when grief
appears upon the page?
How will you work
around the stains of tears and sweat,
of oil and the smudges of your daily labor?

Let your words be beautiful and terrible,
your images shining and crisp,
your actions ancient,
yet newer than the fragments
of blue eggshell in your cupped hand.

Gratitude List:
1. This blank page of a school year beginning
2. My earnest and compassionate colleagues
3. The Shining Ones who will walk in my doorway today
4. The Work: Love and Learning. Love of Learning.
5. Bridges. Every moment is a bridge.

May we walk in Beauty!

More from the Monastery

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Gratitude List:
1. Those clouds after the storm.  Everything glowed golden.
2. Veggie quiche.  I can’t believe how those boys ate!
3. Playing Pokemon with Ellis.  Yes, I bought myownself a deck. He wins more than I do.
4. Getting more sleep.  My body lets me sleep until 6:30 now.
5. This circle.  You and you and you and me and you and you.

May we walk in Beauty!

Here are some more things that I wrote at the Monastery:
6-15-15, Wernersville Jesuit Center

When I left the beech tree, I thought I would go sit on a bench beside a cobbled patio to put on my sandals, then find the labyrinth on my map.  The patio turned out to be the labyrinth.

Thinking about the animals that have come to my visions this year.  Lynx came to me at the year’s turning.  Macaw dropped me a feather.  Lioness and jaguar have both been reaching me in dreams and waking dreams–their messages are about leadership and impeccability.  This morning as I left the boys, a swallow flew low overhead.  And here in this place, catbird seems to be following me around.

6-16-15
In the main stairway, every time I go up and down the steps, I feel a need to greet the statue of Jesus with the open heart every time I pass him on the first floor landing.  “Hi, Jesus!”

This morning as I walked away from some contemplative time in the Cathedral of the Weeping Beech, I thought I saw a bird dying, thrashing in the grass a small distance from the gazebo.  A soft light caught the twitching, and as I walked closer, the energy did not seem to be about distress.  Suddenly it resolved in my vision into a fawn–the twitching wings were ears.  It was a small one settling in to wait for the mother, shaking the little bugs out of its eyes.

Walking this afternoon: “What makes you sad?” ask the trees.  I ask this question of myself, but somehow, it takes on new shades of meaning in their language.  I tell them all of it, how it hurts me when natural disasters happen, but that the things that make me saddest are the things the people do to hurt each other and the Earth.  Not just the intentional hurts, but the hurts born of people’s greed and lack of desire to know and to notice.

“What makes you angry?” the trees asked me then.  And many of the things were the same.  Perhaps I need to learn to differentiate better between my emotions.

Something in these questions from the trees unlocks doors within myself that I couldn’t seem to open before.

I was carrying the weight of these things with me when I reached the Mary statue, and something profound happened to me there.  I suddenly felt as though I knew about how her heart is broken again and again and again.  How she holds it all.  There she is, holding the Babe of wonder, her face filled with love for this Child of Promise.  There she is, holding the body of the young man, her son, her face filled with love and grief.  The serenity of her face holds within it the extremes of wonder and grief, love and anguish, that she knew.  She pondered these things in her heart: was she pondering how the act of opening herself to great love also opened herself to great grief?  But choosing to do it anyway, joyfully, because love is always worth it, and our hearts were made large enough and strong enough to hold it ALL.  I wept and wept and wept, holding on to her feet and looking out with her over the valley.

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I need to keep making the story my own.

Big Heart, Big Grief

Alas, but the wee mousekin has died.  A small boy is learning that terrible and beautiful lesson that we all must learn throughout our lives, again and again and again: that when you open your heart to great love, you open your heart to great grief.  But oh, his heart broke so.  And so did ours, as we tried to be present, to help him be present, to witness that small death.  And of course, he is fine, and chattering on about the hamster that a wee mouse made space for in our idea for our life.

Amid all the sadness of that loss, and the excitement of making a new small friend, I hope he will never forget that day of tender care for one of the tiniest creatures.  I hope he will always remember how, when he would put his long slender fingers into the bin where it lived, the big eyes would turn eagerly toward him, and wee Shiver would scurry eagerly onto his hand and burrow her tiny face into his palm.

 

Gratitude List:
1.  For the big-hearted boy, for the chance–no matter how painful–to learn of grief early and gently, to name the feeling and mark it in his heart.  For his readiness to open his heart again.
2.  For the man who sat with the boy and wept with him silently, not asking him to process or discuss–only to witness and experience his emotions.
3.  For being recognized in the lists of poets from the Poem-A-Day challenge last April.  It’s not like winning a contest, really, but just having some of my poems noticed amidst the many that were posted feels kind of good inside.  I feel like I’ve joined a community of poets.
4.  Change.  Just enough.  Not too much.  Not too little.  In that place between too quiet a routine and too unbalanced a life.
5.  Camp.  I know I put this one up here just a few days ago, but that was gratitude for how well camp went for my boys.  Today I put it on the list for how it gives me a little breathing space in the clamor of summer demands.  Quiet.

May we walk in Beauty!

Elemental

Fire Cider

Gratitude List:
1.  Birds.  Kestrel on a Wire.  Snow geese in a corn-stubble field.  Bluebirds muttering in the chestnut tree: “There now.  Everything is going to be okay.”
2.  Music.  So much good music yesterday and today.  Indigo Girls’ CD: Nomads, Indians, and Saints–for some reason I came back to it all fresh again yesterday.  Then the Blossom Hill String Band.  This morning’s singing and tears.
3.  Holding it all in the Bowl of the Heart.  It all has to go in there together, and somehow the mix of it all, all the beautiful and difficult and tender and angry and wretched stories, all in there together–somehow it feels right.  That is how it is meant to be.
4.  Spring, She rises.  The footsteps of Persephone are visible now everywhere I turn.
5.  Fire Cider, Elderberry Tincture, and Kombucha.  Good Medicine.

May we walk in Beauty.

All Souls Day

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Aunt Lizzie (Elizabeth Weaver) and
Grandma (Marian Weaver) quilting
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Is that Aunt Gladys or Aunt Sharon in the front?

Today is the third day of All Hallows, the day of All Souls, remembering particularly the ancestors, and those we love who have died.   My experience of grief has so often been grieving with people I love who have lost someone.  So today I am thinking of Eli and of Peter, of Julie and Raymond, of Joyce and Elaine and Gerald, of Cory, of Lee, of Harold.  And I am thinking of my grandparents, of Aunt Lois and Uncle Victor and Uncle Irvin, of Uncle John and Aunt Anna Lou, of Uncle Paul.

Today, for All Souls,
A Gratitude List for Ancestors and Loved Ones:
1.  for Ellis Kreider, Jon’s father, gentle and twinkly, earnest and thoughtful
2.  for Grandma, Marian Weaver–I still miss her
3.  for Aunt Lizzie, who could tell you stories all day without a pause
4.  for my blood ancestors and those of my children, for that marvelous branching and intertwining, like feathering tree roots going back and back
5.  for the ancestors of this place, the people who walked these woods and hills, hunting and foraging, traveling, centuries ago

May your memories hold you.

(Oh, and Happy Birthday, Mockingbird!  I missed it.  Yesterday was the birthday of this blog.  I began it last year as a place to put the poems that I write in response to Robert Brewer’s Poem-a-Day Challenge.  I got caught up in the whole experience of the days of All Hallows this year, and missed yesterday’s poem.  Tomorrow I will begin that process again.  I may have to double up my poems for a couple days to catch up.)

The Way You Walk Toward Healing

Gratitude List:
1.  Brown thrashers on the lawn in the gloaming
2.  The hope of the hummingbird (soon, soon!)
3.  Such pleasant temperatures and cool breezes
4.  Wise friends
5.  The way you walk toward healing.
And I mean you.
So many people I know have lived
through such losses.
Lived, and then chosen
somehow, to put a foot forward
then another, to take the next breath
when your chest has been crushed by grief.
Perhaps you cannot understand this
or perhaps you can:
you have unleashed into the world
such bigness of grace
in those moments of choosing
just the next step, the next breath.
It may have felt like a slog
or like nothing, or hell
but you walked on, you breathed.
Take it for what it is worth:
some learning soul somewhere
has noticed and seen it
for the grace that it is.

May we walk in beauty.

Gratitude for the Open Bowl

I have written this poem before.  The one about the Open Bowl.  How I will hold the circle of my heart to encompass it all.

Not just the little birds singing the dawn into being or the silent toad under her litter of leaves, not just the achingly beautiful green of the fields in spring or the blue eye of the speedwell, not just the snugglesome child or the soft feathers of a hen.

Not just that.  Not only that.

But also the brooding ache of estrangement, and the dull thud of the impossible choice, the anxiety over an ill child, the grieving of a friend.  Also the deaths of the bees, the scarcity of monarchs, the oil-covered ducks.  The deep sadness of all that we are losing so wantonly.  The rage, the helpless and blinding white fury at the destroyers, the greed-mongers, the war-profiteers, the glibly malicious purveyors of illness and oppression.

This is why I write gratitude lists.  I will hold all of these stones in the Open Bowl of my heart.  Some moments, the bowl is so brimming with the rages and the despairs that I don’t know if I can bear it.  And then comes a moment of pure numinous wonder and delight, not to erase the other things, but to ease them.  To make the bearing of them bearable.

These difficult ones, they are there for a reason.  I hold them, too, because they demand my soul’s attention.  They call me to my work here in the world.  I refuse to walk the world with blinders on.   But there is also so much joy to be found in the midst of it all.  So much joy.  So much love.

I have written this poem before, and I will write it again.  Perhaps every day I will write it, until I understand what I am writing.

Here are six shiny stones for your consideration:

Gratitude List:
1.  Green, green, oh the green!  Green says, “Have you been watching?  Have you been paying attention?  Surprise!”  Oh, yes, yes, and. . .
2.  Hello, Little Daffodil, whose name is full of goofy whimsy and whose cup overfloweth with sunshine.
3.  The spaces between.  I will gaze into them, breathe into them.
4.  Doubt.  And the places where faith and trust and safety rest even within doubt.
5.  An afternoon with my parents and uncles and aunts.  Putting puzzle together with Mom and Uncle Henry.  My father and Aunt Ruth and Uncle Harold playing harmonica trios to old hymns while the rest of us sang and hummed.  (“When through the woods and forest glades I wander and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees, when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the birds and feel the gentle breeze. . .”)
6.  The Navajo People, whose sacred phrase I have borrowed for my little daily prayer:
May we walk in Beauty.  So much Beauty.

2013 April 016

The Song of the Toad and the Little Birds

I am playing around with throwing some random pieces together to see how they fit.  This is a collage I will likely cut apart again and re-formulate at another time.  Perhaps.  Unless it seems to live as I live with it a little.

This is the blank page, the tabula rasa
the cloudless blue sky waiting to see
how the weather will fill it.
Sleep shrouding sense
muted and whispering.
This is the field in the springtime
ready for planting.

I cannot tell you everything.
I cannot tell you anything.
How can I be more explicit?
You disturbed the bee at her labor.
Your dreams broke the silence
of my garden.

We do not come this day bearing flowers.
We do not come this day singing songs of victory.
Weaving our silence
Bearing our candles
These are the gates we will enter
Bearing the weight of the war in our eyes.

What is the job of this poem?
So many things conspire to keep me asleep.
The heart is the vessel of response
not the information-gatherer.

There it is.
There it is again.
Coming back to the story
–always–
of the toad and the little birds.
Glittering.  Hard and cold.
Be watchful.  Be bold.

 

Gratitude List:
1.  There was a dairy farmer “who loved the land and his animals, and took very good care of them. . . .  He was a loving person with a very kind heart.”  For his kind heart and the gentle daughter he raised.
2.  For the beautiful Pequea Valley and a fierce wind to scour the worries away.
3.  For the silent and tricksy activism of my husband.  I cannot tell you what it is, for then it would no longer be his silent revolution.  Just know that behind the scenes he is making the world a better place for us all.  (No, he is not the real Banksy.)
4.  For the serious and earnest nature of my people, for their singing, their love of conversation, their care of the bereaved.  You sit in a Mennonite funeral and you can smell the food cooking downstairs and you know that everyone will be taken care of.
5.  For love, because we can love each other even when we don’t agree.  Because when it comes down to it, love is really what we need.

Much love.  So much love.

“Oh look!” said Joss.  “Roxanne [the car] has a mustache!”

2013 March 060

Look for the Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Mister Rogers

Look for the helpers.
I cast a line from me to you.
You cast it outward to those you love.
Fill that web, that basket, that nest, that bowl
with our open wounded hearts,
our prayers, our stones,
our candles, our feathers,
the white hair of our grandmothers.
Something to hold the children,
the mothers, the fathers,
a bowl that will witness and hold the grief.
We will be the helpers.