The Healing Power of Story

imag2077

I am overwhelmed by too much to do, but if I can find a spare twenty minutes today, I am going to write a letter to the president to ask him to intervene on behalf of the civil rights of the nonviolent protesters who are trying to block the Dakota Access Pipeline. In early September, the Obama Administration did step in with a temporary injunction which seems to have been completely ignored. Will you join me?

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You know how sometimes when you wake up in the morning, there’s a fragment of something from your dreamworld swimming around in your brain? A piece of a song, an image of a snake with wise eyes, a voice calling your name. . .  A couple days ago, I woke up with a voice that seemed to be calling me: “Sister!” That was all.  Still, it sits in my consciousness days later. Who is calling, and why?

Gratitude List:
1. The color orange. Spring time is about all the shades of greens and violets. Autumn is the whole range of gold through orange to red.
2. The words of Rumi. This one: “Let yourself become living poetry.”
3. Sleep. I don’t get enough of it, and I don’t want to jinx this long insomnia-free run, but I have been sleeping deeply and well in recent weeks. One of my great pleasures is the moment I can let myself fall into sleep each evening.
4. Circles of friendship and support. The way love flows across invisible lines, holding those who watch and hold the space.
5. The healing and integrating power of stories.

May we walk in Beauty!

Visitors

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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!

The Guest House

Wall

The Guest House
by Rumi
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’re 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 whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Before I left for the monastery, I collected several poems and quotations and short essays that I wanted to take along for pondering and meditating: David Whyte’s short piece on Rest, Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman. My parents each gave me separate Einstein quotations about Mystery, and my mother pulled this Rumi poem out of her own journal-book and handed it to me.  These became the texts which helped to frame my thinking.

On my final morning in Wernersville, I sat down with my friend to talk about our times of solitude, and at one point she began to quote this very poem!  I tend to absorb synchronicities like this with the weight of Messages.  When, in three days, two different people offer me the same set of words, it makes me perk up my inner ears a little more intently.

This was my third solitary retreat at the Jesuit Center.  The first time, many years ago, I was wounded, needing to recover my sense of myself after some significant re-arranging of my own ego.  Last year, I was exhausted, needing to re-establish my connection with my inner self after a heady first year of high school teaching–I was psychically hungry for introvert time.  This year, while I felt a deep inner need for solitude and quiet thought, it felt less like a time of recovery than a time of shifting and integrating and re-structuring.  This year, the question is less one of how I heal than of how I carry retreat into my daily life, how I grow and expand my contemplative work into my non-retreat life.

In a way, going on retreat is like playing at being a monk.  The word monk is etymologically related to the Greek word monos: singular, alone.  My work in these days following my monastic moment is to integrate that singleness of purpose, that enriching inner solitude, into my daily life.  This is where Rumi’s poem comes in.  After three days of quiet reflection, I want to slam my door on the noise, the dark thoughts, the interruptions. I want to hold on to that sense of peace and quiet with every ounce of my inner strength. Instead, Rumi invites me to be hospitable to the distractions and interruptions, to welcome them all–laughing–at my door.

That third stanza, particularly, about inviting in even the crowd of sorrows who clear your rooms of furniture, reminds me of the story I just read about Abba Eupreprius, a desert father who was robbed of all of his few possessions, except for his walking stick.  When he discovered the loss, he picked up his walking stick and ran after the thieves, calling, “Wait!  You forgot something!”  Can I be that hospitable?  Even to the thoughts and hurts that grind at my ego?  Even to the griefs and anxieties that threaten to destabilize my inner rooms?  To welcome them as guests who are clearing me out “for some new delight”?

Gratitude List:
1. All the guests who arrive at my “guest house,” and Rumi and my beloveds, who remind me to be hospitable even to the challenges
2. Mystery, wonder, delight
3. Yesterday’s quiet and cooperative hours of play.  There was almost no fighting whatsoever.  I know that the fighting is part of their work, part of how they teach each other, but it’s nice to have some moments of other kinds of learning.
4. Putting a puzzle together, how it makes the mind work hard to visualize, then re-formulate the vision, how it offers the brain and the heart a metaphor for problem-solving
5. Metaphors, symbols, tools

May we walk in Beauty!

Back to Work

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Gratitude List:
1. Back to the rhythm, with lots of extra prep time under my belt.
2. The words of Rumi.  Today: “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd.”
3. The helpers
4. That wren out there, welcoming in the morning
5. Onions and mushrooms sauteéd in butter

May we walk in Beauty!  Beauty all around.

Find the Antidote in the Venom

summer-2009-160

Gratitude List:
1. “Find the antidote in the venom.” –Rumi quote I found yesterday, but echoed in Pema Chodron’s piece about dealing with chaos.  This has been important to me as I consider the balance of nonreactive non-judgmentalism while trying to establish and maintain firm boundaries.
2. The UNICEF club at LMH–they came up with an idea to bake cookies and sell them to the school’s advisory groups for snack for the last meeting before Christmas break.  It is an excellent educational/fundraising experience for the club, the advisory groups get a delicious treat, and the club advisor discovers that baking cookies doesn’t have to be a frustrating experience.  Everybody wins.
3. The lessons keep coming at the moment I need them.
4. That morning sun
5. The comfort of darkness

As salaam aleikum, shalom, paix, peace. . .

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.

Wherever You Stand

<Poetry Prompt 24: Write a poem that responds to a statement or quote>

“Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.” ~ Rumi

Be the spark, the knowingness,
the mother of the moment,
be the dream, the home, and the hope.

Wherever you stand, be the stone
and the wind.  Yes, be the wind
in the trees of the soul of a place.

Wherever you stand, be a memory,
a hope of the future remembering
how
once
we all lived together in peace.

Gratitude List:
1.  CaringBridge.com –A wonderful communication tool to keep friends and communities updated on the health of someone who is in critical need of prayer and caring.
2.  Stories of forgiveness, of grace, of communities and people choosing the higher path.  Perhaps when I feel the need of vengeance, I can be inspired to instead follow in their steps.
3.  Watching Ellis become absorbed in minute crafting details.
4.  Candles and prayer
5.  Cornmeal mush

May we walk in Beauty.

All Saints

The dreams of All Hallows night are supposed to hold meanings and portents.  I dearly hope mine doesn’t qualify.  Here’s a look into my anxious and twisted brain: I spent the night running from the Taliban.  I would wake up, breathe a sigh of relief that the dream was over, and fall right back to sleep and into the same dream again.

Today is All Saints Day.    Here are some of my personal saints:

All Saints Gratitude List:
1.  Harriet Tubman, who followed her dreams out of darkness, but who didn’t stop there.  No she didn’t stop there.  She walked back into the darkness, back into the nightmare and brought so many back with her.
2.  Dirk Willems, 16th century Anabaptist martyr, who took his chance for escape when the lake froze by the tower where he was being held for refusing to recant his beliefs.  Months of deprivation had made him thin and lean, and he skidded across the ice to safety and freedom.  His well-fed pursuer, however, broke through the ice and started to drown.  Dirk Willems ran back across the ice and saved the man’s life.  He was re-captured and later put to death.
3.  Rumi, because his words are sublime.
4.  Wangari Maathai, who planted trees in Kenya, because the Earth needs trees to breathe and because women need sustaining work of their own to support their families, particularly when they are alone.  So she brought women together into supportive communities, where they supported themselves on the stipends they received from planting trees.
5.  Jane Addams, suffragist, social worker, agent of change.

Namaste

Anger, Thursday Prompt, Gratitude List

A Word on Anger

You know the burning fury,
when a line of silence
as loud as a scream
begins to work its way upward
from your shoulders
over your ears.
The red waves
behind your eyes
begin to pulse forward.
Time stops.
Your hands turn to claws.

Feel it,
feel the cold grip,
the white-hot brands,
and step lightly to the side.
Look at that anger,
I’ll say to myself,
like the saint in Be Here Now.
What an interesting anger!
What a shape!  What a color!
Oh, notice, notice,
notice how the red begins to blur
the edges of your vision.
Notice how the sounds
are seared into silence.
No one else has an anger quite like this one.
This one is mine, all mine.

A New Prompt
Mmm.  This is getting hard, coming up with my own prompts each day.  I think am going to try a rondel.  Here are Robert Brewer’s directions for rondel.    I’m not sure I’ll be too careful about syllable count–I might blow that off entirely.  I might go to that random phrase generator to start myself off!
Gratitude List

1.  Bright red
2.  Tea and cookies and Marie’s wondrous Christmas tree!
3.  Every night right now, I am incredibly grateful for the coming of sleep.
4.  Post-Christmas de-cluttering.
5.  The poetry of Rumi.

May we walk in beauty.