Weary

Today was a hard day. No one was able to adjust well to the heat in Room 206. We just lived through it. The allergy sufferers (including myself) are all in a bit of a pollen haze. But mostly we were in shock today. We heard early in the day that one of our buses had been in a bad accident, and we didn’t know for quite some time how our friends were doing. Kids were extra tender with each other today, quiet and thoughtful, concerned. Anxiety, heat, and sniffling made it a difficult teaching day.

I am left with layers and layers of weariness. Still, in the middle of it all, in the heat that has continued after the sun went down, there are things to be grateful for.

Gratitude List:
1. The way people focus on the important things during a time of crisis. The self-absorption of the daily disappears, and everyone focuses their hearts on the hurting.
2. Most of the students appear to have escaped the bus accident with minor injuries. I suppose one can always say, “It could have been much worse.” Still, it could have, and I am grateful for the grace of so many at home tonight with their parents. We continue to pray for the two who remain in the hospital.
3. Refried beans. That’s true comfort food.
4. Citrus. It’s therapy for an allergy sufferer.
5. Hummingbird! During supper this evening, she came twice to hover outside the big dining room window and look in at us. She has done this for the past several years in her first days back to the hollow. I like to think that she is checking in on us, announcing her return. The first time I was aware of how she (or her mother and grandmothers) seems to look in the windows was the spring eleven years ago when I was nursing a tiny new baby, and a tiny hummingbird repeatedly hovered just outside the window. Perhaps she was seeing her own reflection, but it has always seemed like a greeting.

May we walk in Beauty, in Wonder.

Meet Me at the Bridge

bridge
This photo of this bridge feels like a place of meeting between worlds. I come to it when I am holding people I love, and two of my Beloveds are in the hospital today. If you, too, are holding someone tenderly in the nest of you, meet me here today, and we will spread such a web of care and love that the strands will sparkle around our Beloveds.

I have been thinking. . .
(I think I should rename my blog I Have Been Thinking. . .  So many of my posts include the phrase.)

I have been thinking about how caring for our bodies is a holy task: Feeding and nourishing. Washing and tending. Stretching the spine and walking and exercising. I have been thinking about how this body I inhabit, familiar and creaky as it seems to me, is no less a miracle or wonder than the body of the tiny hummingbird in the nest of cobweb out there on the sycamore branch. How the rhythm of heartbeat, the vast deltas of the lungs, the moving and shifting of muscle, how all of this is miracle.

If I believe–and I do–that my own body is part of the body of Earth, and so is part of all bodies that inhabit the Earth, then each act of self-care–each shower, each stretch, each bite of food–is an act of tending to the whole, caring for this one part of the larger whole that is all of us.  And so self-care can be a prayer. I see to the needs of my own body, and send out energy for bodies in distress.

Gratitude List:
1. Yellow walnut leaves spiraling down breezes, down sunbeams.
2. Doing the thing when the time is right. Second Hummingbird still has not taken flight, more than a day after First Hummingbird flew up a sunbeam. She sits on the rim of the nest, holding on with her claws, and tests her wings, like she’s planning to carry nest and branch and tree away with her. Then she settles back into her cobweb pillows. Not time yet. Today. Perhaps today.
3. Holding the bowl. Casting the web. Chanting and rocking and praying and sending energy and holding the Beloveds in the light. Whatever name it goes by, it is a privilege to one of many people on a web.
4. Staff Development Day. Is that weird? It’s still a work day, but a shift of rhythm, and a chance to be with colleagues.  We spend so much of our time in our rooms with our students (as it should be) or skating past each other in the halls with a quick greeting. It’s nice to have a day every once in a while when we do something different, even if the work ahead seems hard or confusing.
5. Those hours when the boys get so involved in an imaginary game that they can’t stop telling each other the story of it, even when they come to the table for supper.  I want them to enjoy each other’s company, to be gathering these memories for the future.

May we walk in Beauty!

Making a Circle to Hold a Heart

heartstone
A safe circle for a heart.

Is it cold in the house of the hummingbird,
when raindrops patter softly on the sycamore leaf-roof,

when one small bird has dared the day,
flown upward through sunbeams,
trusting to wings insubstantial as mist?

The other no longer sits more quiet than breath,
but turns her head to the thunder,
hunkers deep into her mattress of cobweb,
waits for her moment to fledge.

Gratitude List:
1. One small hummingbird has dared the day and taken first flight. Safe journeys!
2. Anticipating a weekend and time with friends
3. My wise and earnest colleagues
4. A fine collection of Maine island stones, each with a single white line across, each one a little message about pathways, direction, and destiny, about joining up and making a way where none seems to be
5. English grammar. I happened upon a really fun sentence modeling exercise, which I did with a couple of classes yesterday. One student, who struggles to understand the structure of a complete simple sentence, read out the sentence he’d built, which included carefully placed adverbs and adjectives, two prepositional phrases, an appositive phrase, a subordinate clause, and three absolute phrases. He sounded so elegant and well-spoken, but most delightfully, he sounded proud of himself.  Here is an example of a sentence using all of those pieces: In the classroom, one laid-back teenager, a young man who often has no time for grammar, proudly read an elegant sentence from his writing journal as his delighted teacher listened, the words flowing like water, the ideas sparkling in the air, the class electrified by language.

May we walk in Beauty!

Wings Wide

hummer
Just a picture of green leaves, but if you look really closely and squint your eyes and cock your head to the side, about a third of the way along the very bottom of the photo, you can make out the silhouette of the mother hummingbird’s head, her bill pointing down as she feeds her baby.

For the Vulture

When you came to rest upon the pole
and opened your wings
wide to the sky,
were you holding up that cloud, or
warming your shoulders in the sun?

Were you warning the people in the valley
that death will one day visit us all,
or reminding us that all of life
is one great cycle, with no beginning
and no end?

I felt it as a benediction,
the pastor raising her hands toward heaven
and blessing her tiny congregation
gathered under the sycamore tree.

Gratitude List:
1. Hummingbirds. I know. Every day, right? But yes, every single day, and yesterday I trained my binoculars on the nest when the mother flew away and saw two tiny needle beaks poking up above the nest’s rim. Picture a metal bottle cap–the inside of the nest is only millimeters deeper than that, and two tiny hearts beat inside two impossibly tiny winged creatures who live inside that space. My heart keeps falling on its knees.
2. Friday. I love teaching, love my new batch of students, love seeing my earnest colleagues daily. And. And. I am exhausted. The first week is a glorious whirl. At one point this week, I found myself telling one class about another class’s deadline.  One the day when I was orienting all the classes to the use of certain computer programs, I completely missed a step in the last class of the day because I thought I had told them already–I had said it so many times already. That said–I am eager for the weekend of rest.
3. Poetry. My life is so much richer for the beauty of language that surrounds me.
4. Hymn sing. Friday mornings, the faculty gathers before school to sing hymns together. It’s the perfect thing to wake up the spirit for the last day of the week. What a perfect, perfect metaphor for the work we do together, to sit and blend our harmonies once a week.
5. Solitude. (I need to carefully find my moments of solitude in the new rhythm of my life.)

May we walk in Beauty, ever ancient, ever new.

Visitors

IMAG1733
Yesterday, just after Ellis and I got home from school, all four of us were hanging out at the picnic table, talking about our days, when a vulture (I think turkey) flew low above the poplar tree and settled on the telephone pole at the end of the drive. I managed to grab my camera, and just as I  raised it and got into position for the photo, she opened her arms and turned her head like this. Like someone from an ancient Egyptian papyrus.  Holy moment.

If you don’t know me, and only read my daily gratitude lists, I wonder if my life might come across as unbalancedly charmed and positive. Five things every day to be grateful for. Happiness, joy, contentment, satisfaction. It really is all there. But every life has its challenges and pain, too.

If this daily practice of inward-looking is teaching me anything, it is that the examined life must name and engage all the feelings and experiences that enter the heart.  And the practice of intentionally naming the gratitudes isn’t about ignoring the pain, or even simply putting the difficult things into context so that I can look away and only focus on the wonder and the loveliness. Sometimes it is about looking the hardest things in the eye and welcoming them in, too. Friendship and love bring us support and companionship and deep satisfaction, but opening the heart to others means that we share their griefs, carry their pain, open ourselves to the risks of broken relationships.  Noticing the hummingbird nest in the sycamore tree brings falling-down-on-your-knees wonder and daily magic, but it also makes heat waves and storms and predators anxious realities when your heart is filled with the fragile life of tiny birds. And wonder is not only the exquisitely impossible hummingbird, but the ancient bald vulture opening her wings in the sun.

My favorite poem on this topic is Rumi’s “Guesthouse”

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

Gratitude List:
1. The vulture visitor
2. Yesterday I finally saw a hummingbird baby peeking a tiny head over the rim of the nest after the mother flew away. First a tiny ruffly wing, then the needle beak, then the round marble of a head–smaller than a marble! My heart fell down on its knees.
3. Welcoming it all, open-winged, like the vulture on the pole
4. Challenges that keep me from complacency
5. Fierce and tender mothers. My sister friends, holding each other through difficult times. Hummingbird.

May we walk in Beauty!

Stand Still

garden peach
Garden Peach tomatoes. Sweet, juicy, almost fruity. These two happen to be heart-shaped.

Reading Parker Palmer this morning, I again came across this poem by David Wagoner. I had such a strong reaction to this when I first read it a couple years ago that I can still recall how my skin felt as the words took hold.

Lost
by David Wagoner, from Collected Poems 1956-1976

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. you must let it find you.

Gratitude List:
1. She might not be gone. I was certain that the hummingbird had left her nest, either abandoning her eggs as unviable, or getting too skittish about all the activity below her. This is the sort of thing I worry about. Yesterday, I watched her zip up to the nest, and instead of sitting on it like she usually does, she perched on the rim, and stuck her beak down into the nest. I can’t be positive, but this appeared to be the behavior of someone feeding young ones. Holding out hope.
2. Jumping spiders. They’re sort of like teeny tiny puppies, only you don’t have to worry about who is going to take care of them. Yesterday, I encountered a tiny brown jumping spider who kept leaping from finger to finger. It was like she understood where I wanted her to jump to next. She would race toward me across the vast distance of my hand, and then look up at me, and then when the people at the picnic table laughed, she would suddenly stop and twist her body so she could look at them, and then we would resume our little game.
3. The village that raises the children. My kids hadn’t seen Sandra for several weeks, and yesterday when she came, they raced to her and couldn’t stop bending her ear. She listens to them, she converses at their level, but never talks down to them.
4. Also, the schools. Last night was Back to School night at Wrightsville Elementary. I love the teachers and administration and staff at this local elementary school. I love the friendly, earnest culture of the place.
5. Encountering Beauty–in words, in the visual realm, in the aural realm. Sort of like encountering that little spider–there are moments when Beauty seems to say, “I get you. I am here to play with you for this one bright shining moment.”

May we walk in Beauty!

Hawk and Heart and Hummingbird

Heart

Working with gratitude helps me to situate myself in time and place.

During these times of reflection, I am often hyper-aware of being here in this moment, right here, where I listen to the birdnews of the moment, the sounds of the day waking up, the thumps and bumbles of the smallfolk upstairs waking up.

This moment, where I look around to see the way the sun leans in or yawns behind grey haze.
This moment when I sit in expectation of the bright yellow falling leaf, the flash of birdwing across my window, the way sun sparkles on spiderweb.
This moment, in which yesterday’s movement is written in the aches and quirks of my muscles, the curve of my spine.

From the anchor of this moment, reflecting on the list takes me backward and elsewhere, to the color and shape of yesterday, to the shining white pebbles of moments past. I can pick them up and examine them, say, this one and I remember. I can watch how those pebbles are spun into golden strands sustained over time: The presence of a tiny impossible bird in this span of days. The season of the tang of tomato and the sweetness of basil. The long lazy days spent with the exploring feet and minds of my children.

The dailiness of the list also takes me forward into time. This has become my homework, the job I carry with me into each day. It is one of the anchoring ropes which I hold as I step into uncertain future, feeling my way in the grey mist as I go. Stepping forward with the search for gratitude on the agenda means I must go with an open heart, an open mind, searching not only for things, for items to check off my list, but for connections. It means walking into the future as into a puzzle, looking for five pieces of the coming day that will help me to shape the meaning of the picture that surrounds me.

I have been wondering lately at how this has become a habit, how I feel anxious and unmoored if I miss my daily list. For years, it was a thing I would do on occasion, as the mood hit, but in the past several months, it has become a deeper spiritual practice. I shift it from time to time, asking myself questions, or writing the list as a poem. Still, instead of becoming boring or tedious, it has become ever more a place where I can talk to myself, remind myself who I am, where I am, what I am doing here.

Gratitude List:
1. Getting into the “zone,” that headspace where you get so wrapped up in the work that you don’t notice time passing.
2. Situating myself in time and space.
3. Hummingbird. Please bear with me, but this lives with me as a constant thrill of electric delight in this season. Almost every time I walk outside my house these days, I see her. If she is not on her nest, I can wait and watch quietly, and I will hear her dzipping a zigzag through the air, or I’ll catch a flash of movement through the bright spaces between the leaves of the sycamore. Always. My heart is so full of hummingbird.
4. Hawks. The youngster who lives here in our hollow has begun to settle down and accept her emergence into independent adulthood. Her cries have become more purposeful, less demanding and sulky. She’s finding her way. At the same time, friends of mine on temporary sojourn in a hospital hours to the south of me have been watching a hawk from the hospital window. She has become the Guardian, the One-Who-Watches. In these days, when my heart is here in this place and also in that place, I find comfort in our taloned watchers, a sense of the thread that crosses distances. My heart is full of hawk.
5. The powerful truth of thread, of yarn. How ideas and love and dreams are spun like yarn, twisting people and thoughts together, expanding and lengthening through time and space, connecting, always connecting. How threads are woven and knitted together to make cloth, unifying, incorporating different people and ideas together, connecting, always connecting. How diversity of color and texture within a cloth is part of what makes it beautiful. The image that keeps returning to my mind these days from Madeline L’engle’s Wrinkle in Time, of the distance from one end of the thread to the other, but how a wrinkle brings the ends together–I think this applies to distant hearts as well as to tessering through space. When we tune our hearts to each other (an act which I call prayer), we create a wrinkle that brings us together, no matter what sort of distance in time or space or belief separates us.

May we walk, always, in Beauty.

Instructions to Myself

fort2
Just two kids playing in their fort.

Instructions to Myself:
1. Make eye contact.  Even with the people you live with.  Especially with the people you live with–it’s easy to take their solid presence for granted and forget to look them in the eye.
2. Give people the smile they need.  Only some people need the broad and open smile.  Some need a quiet I-see-you smile.
3. Cultivate curiosity, not only about ideas and facts, but about people.
4. Ask.  Don’t tell. This is hard for me, because I like to tell. Learn to draw people out in conversation.
5. Don’t hide your awe. Sometimes people are just waiting for someone to show them the doorway into wonder.

Gratitude List:
1. (In Tanka)
Impossible things
that actually exist,
like the hummingbird.
how she hovers, how she hums,
how she flies like a whisper.
2. Also bats, which are creatures of impossibility.  How they dart and wheel in the circle of space underneath the poplar and sycamore trees, feasting on the wing, right here where we are, as if they enjoy our company.
3. The crisp, cooling crunch of cucumber.
4. All those owls.  Two or three screech owls whinnying in the bamboo grove, and further off, a great horned owl, echoing through the hollow.
5. The way Beauty surrounds us, taps us on the shoulder, breathes in our ears, wraps us in Her veils of wonder.

May we walk in Beauty.  Beauty ever ancient, ever new.

Hummingbird in Rumi’s Field

Female Rubythroat

http://blog.kittykono.com/2012/06/female-ruby-throat-hummingbird.html

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.

Ideas, language
– 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.”

Gratitude List:
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.
3. Hummingbird
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.

May the Lost Ones Find Their Way Home

Gratitude List

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.