Light A Candle

[Mom’s 95th birthday party, Neville Center, Cambridge, MA,  2018]

This has been a week of anniversaries: my mother died three years ago this week, my father died eleven years ago this week, and yesterday my Quaker meeting held its twelfth anniversary, all-meeting silent worship in front of Raytheon Technology Corporation. [“Raytheon wins $2B contract for new nuclear cruise missile,” July 6, 2021] Seated on folding chairs and holding signs declaring “Quakers praying for peace,” about twenty of us sat on Cambridge’s Concord Avenue’s sidewalk; an equal number sat across the street—in front of the long-term-care facility, Neville Center, where my mother had died. Alone.

For several years every third Sunday of the month, rain or shine, members of my meeting have been faithfully worshipping in front of Raytheon (and before that, in front of Textron, maker of cluster bombs.) But since my mother died, I had not felt able to show up on Concord Avenue. Until yesterday.

Sitting in delicious, warming, October sunshine and gazing at the three-story Neville Center across the street, I prayed for peace and held my mother in the Light. Is there something, I wondered, besides this little patch of Cambridge real estate, that connects my disparate prayers?

And what came to me is this: I am not alone. Seated here, my prayers for peace entwine with others’. But for many reasons, most not of her own making, rarely did my mother experience this delicious interconnectivity I feel right now.

Such sadness to realize this and yet such gratitude for my faith community; a community I might add, I sometimes struggle with.

So today, as this anniversary week ends, feeling all the feels, I light a memorial candle.

 

 

Serendipity

[An excerpt from Strands: An Apprenticeship with Grief and Loss, to be published by Barclay Press, 2022.]

In January of 2020, the same day Beijing reported its first coronavirus death, out-of-the-blue I decided to rescue family photos in moldy photo albums or crammed into shoeboxes under my bed. After buying a nifty storage box, I began to sort and organize. That same week, Ancestry.com informed me that my ancestors had been English, Scottish, Norwegian, and German. (I’d hoped to learn something startling!) A local historian contacted me, again out of the blue, to learn more about my great-grandmother, Amy, who had been a Faulkner before marrying Benjamin Franklin Wild.  (He’d preferred “Frank.”)

That synchronistic week continued: StoryCorps notified me that a family-history story set in Somerville, which I’d recorded a few years earlier, was now accessible at the Library of Congress. I reconnected with my beloved second cousin, Peter Wild. And that Saturday, I’d been invited to visit a recently-opened and beautifully organized food pantry in the roomy basement of the Mission Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ on Highland Avenue—just a few blocks from my house. From 1894 until 1975, Mission Church had been “First Unitarian Somerville,” and located next door to Amy and Frank’s mansion, now razed, where three generations of Wilds, including my father and my Aunt Amy, once worshipped.

That Sunday, still able to worship in person in the Friends Meeting at Cambridge’s meetinghouse, I reflected on that week.What does all this family stuff in one week mean? I wondered. Seated with a hundred or so fellow worshippers, we’d sat in deep quiet for over a half hour before someone stood to break the silence. And in that long and delicious time to deepen and reflect, something came to me: You call these random, all-the-same-week incidents family. Yet most of these happenstances have been about Wilds. Most of the photos in your nifty storage box are Wilds. You know next to nothing of your mother’s history.

This accurate observation had been followed by A Nudge: And isn’t about time for you to find out? Or, as I would come to view this Spirit-sourced prompt: Here is the first exercise of your apprenticeship. Go!

The next day when I googled for clues, I discovered that I hadn’t known how to spell my maternal grandmother’s maiden name—it’s Cogill—and that I’d been spelling my maternal grandfather’s first and last names wrong, too! My ignorance humbled me; to immediately realize how little I knew seemed a gift, an opening,* an invitation to apply what Buddhists call “Beginner’s Mind ” to this apprenticeship; to be curious, openhearted, eager. A Bonus: Stumbling upon the actual spelling of my grandfather’s name had been “serendipitous,” to use a word my mother often employed (sometimes wrong), and a reminder that, indeed, way opens.*

My maternal grandparents divorced when my mother had been a toddler; her father was never a part of her life. In 1966, when she and my father vacationed in Palm Beach, Florida, her father reentered her life: “You know, Al,” she’d mused one night at dinner. “I think my father lives here.” Low lights, flowers, a delicious, expensive, seafood dinner and a bourbon or two probably contributed to Mom’s pensive mood. Encouraged by Dad— “There’s two sides to every story, Pat,” he reminded her—she called her father. Who, I want to believe, immediately jumped in a cab to meet his daughter.

Did my grandfather stand for a few moments at the entrance to the dining room scanning the tables for Mom? Did his face light up when spotted her—the stunning, middle-aged, well-dressed woman craning her elegant neck to scrutinize every man entering the room? When he’d approached my parents’ table, had all three shook hands? Hugged? What were the first things my mother and her father said to each other? Had their initial conversation been stiff? Awkward? Warm? I don’t know. As already noted, my mother wasn’t much of a storyteller. I do know that sometime during this reunion, Mom announced that I would be getting married that July.

“I’m coming,” her father declared. (In that declarative moment, did my mother remember all the times in her childhood when she’d longed for a proverbial Dad?) The dapper, elderly stranger who’d showed up—in spats—to my first wedding had been Munro not Monroe. And his last name was Horre. Not, as my mother, her sister Kay and her mother spelled it, Horrie.

I’d known—but forgotten—that Horre to Horrie spelling-change story, too; its broad outline, at least. When I’d been maybe ten or eleven Mom explained, “My mother went to court. She added the I. You’d think that with a name like Horre, she might have added a few more letters!” Too young and too cosseted to understand her quip, I didn’t get it. Twice-divorced, I can now also appreciate how my grandmother, who wanted to be called Lil and not “Grandma,” had inserted an i into her ex-husband’s last name. I love how Lil inserted her personhood, her selfhood. I.

I remember that inserted-i story. But do I also remember a veiled look, how my lovely mother might have looked away, twirled a lock of her wavy brown hair or stared at her wedding ring when she’d finished telling it? Had she “cleaned her molars” with her tongue, as my sister and brothers called this Mom-tell which signaled, “I’m done! And angry. No more. Stop!”

The serendipitous story (And it really is):  Seven months and two days before the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Munro Horre and Muriel Kershaw applied for a marriage license and earned a tiny notice in The Palm Beach Post. I only discovered my grandfather’s name misspelling because someone researching Kemp family history had apparently clipped a two-paragraph, alphabetized snippet—which had also included Munro and Muriel’s announcement. And because of “a little thing I like to call ‘The Internet,’ ” as my daughter, Hope, says, there that snippet was, waiting for me to find.

Although newspapers misspell names all the time, seeing my grandfather’s name in print felt solid. Felt real. Important. I liked looking at this little scrap of information. So I took a screen shot of this small memento of the grandfather I met once but never knew and sent it to my four daughters and my sister.

Horre. Munro Horre. Who, during my mid-sixties-hippie-style-wedding-in-a-park reception, having just met his other daughter, my Aunt Kay, sidled up to my mother and whispered, “I like you more than her!” Munro Horre.

(Spell-check keeps asking if I actually mean Horror. And maybe I do.)

Thanks to the Internet I located a Cogill family lineage tracing back to the mid-eighteen hundreds, too. I printed it out. I hole-punched it and reverently placed those family names and dates, as dry and as dusty as the begats of the Bible, in a three-ring binder. Thanks to the Internet, I learned that Lillian Cogill Horrie died in 1961 at the horrifyingly young age of fifty-nine. (No wonder she hadn’t wanted to be called “Grandma”!)

Possessing a Cogill family lineage or doing simple arithmetic to learn that Lil had been forty-two when I’d been born didn’t speak to my condition, however. * This “exercise” had not been about right-brain, three-ring binders or pouring over census records. I was not supposed to research my mother’s family’s history.

What had I been gently nudged to do? To spend some time wandering through that metaphorical hallway of shadows and forgotten ancestors; that’s what this exercise had been about. To inhabit that mournful word, forgotten, but supply my own adjectives as well. Like lost. Unacknowledged. Denied. Stricken from the records. Missing. Never named. Gone. To walk past artists’ renderings of my English, Scottish, Norwegian, and German ancestors in that hallway of shadows and forgotten ancestors, to study the more recent portraits and photographs of the New Englanders listed in my three-ring binder and, at last, to discover that where Munro Horre’s portrait ought to be is an empty frame. To stand in front of that empty frame, its brass nameplate correctly spelled, to feel the sadness of his not-there-ness. To connect with my mother’s sadness. And to begin to connect with my mother differently.

This too: to connect my own and my mother’s sense of loss with humanity’s collective loss; our shared grief. All our lost, missing, gone ancestors! All their lost wisdom. All the revelatory stories we will never hear. When an old person dies a library burns down, an African proverb reminds us. What enormous loss we all carry!

My sense of loss was to become enlarged, more painful, more focused, soon after that weirdly synchronistic week. Thanks to Ancestry.com, I learned that an eighth cousin—nine generations back she and I share a common ancestor—is a young Woman of Color. More than likely our common ancestor had been male and White. More than likely our shared DNA means rape, coercion, a violent sexual assault.

Horrified, devastated, I sought guidance from family and friends—and my apprenticeship handbook.

 And found this: The cumulative grief of the world is overwhelming, Weller notes. 1 And he counsels us to literally hold this enormity in our hands, to cup our hands as if holding water in order to offer ourselves a bottom, a limit; to perform this ritual in order to contain all these powerful feelings.

Unaccustomed to ritual yet appreciative of how Weller’s suggestion both acknowledged and honored what I was feeling while offering those feelings a safety net, I held that galactic grief. I embodied it. I honored it by lovingly cupping it in my hands. I grieved my own forgotten ancestors—and humanity’s. I held in the Light my eighth cousin’s forgotten ancestors, brought to this country in chains, whose real names and those of their descendants have been lost, forgotten, erased. I grieved those unnamed men and women and children who’d once walked on this tiny patch of Somerville real estate I call “mine.” I grieved for my fatherless mother.

I held that. For a few terrifying moments, I allowed myself to experience momentous grief. But then my right brain kicked in: You can never adequately cup water in your hands. You can never hold it all. And I spread my fingers wide.

Creation Story 2.0

[Fresh water tank, Great Lakes Aquarium, Duluth, MN, July, 2021]

On a recent visit to Duluth and unable to visit the delightful Tweed Museum of Art, shut down for renovations, I discovered Duluth’s American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO). Closed because of COVID, AICHO’s website offered what I was hungry to see: an online gallery of art created by Indigenous people of the Great Lakes. (At a previous visit, I’d become a huge fan of Rabbet before Horses Strickland.)

And lo, what did I discover? Another version of the “Skywoman” creation story which begins Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass—a retelling which speaks to me. For in Karen Savage Blue‘s lyrical depiction, Skywoman reaches down; down into icy, creature-rich waters. Skywoman rescues Muskrat! Don’t you love it?

I do. So much so that I am now in the process of buying a giclee of Savage Blue’s watery, female-superstar, Love-infused depiction. (In deference to AICHO, I am not reproducing “Creation Story” here because I do not have permission to do so.)

I love that a creation story can shift. Change. Evolve. I love being reminded that creation continues. That our universe is a work-in-progress. And so are we. I love being reminded that “inbreaking” happens: “If, as I believe, the soul has its root in God, it should not be strange or amazing that fresh installments of life break in from beyond us and refresh us,” the Quaker mystic, Rufus Jones, tell us. And, yes, I’ll admit it: I love how Savage Blue has turned Michaelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” upside down and sideways!

 

 

Circles Happen

[I have been single-mindedly working on a book manuscript, Strands, to be published by Barclay Press next year, so have woefully neglected this blog. Here’s an excerpt I just finished—maybe?]

Almost every Wednesday night for the past thirteen years, Friends Meeting at Cambridge has hosted a meal and a sharing circle for “the formerly incarcerated and those who care about them.”* Our circle the outgrowth of another sharing circle begun years ago in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, our circle has replicated the JP circle’s thoughtful rituals. We, too, eat dinner together first, our shared meal in the commodious Friends Room—a gourmet meal lovingly and bounteously prepared by my husband. (Cooking is his ministry; he also helps to prepare FMC’s Sunday lunch.) After cleanup, we, too, set up chairs around a cluster of flickering candles but, because our sage-cleansing ceremony has set off FMC’s smoke detectors once too often, summoning an embarrassing convoy of Cambridge Fire Department equipment to Longfellow Park, rain or shine or freezing temperatures, we troupe outside to ritually cleanse ourselves. The lights turned off in the Friends Room, we sit in a circle around the flickering candles. We review the circle’s guidelines and values. An ornately-carved walking stick is passed clock-wise; only the person holding the talking piece may speak. Like the JP circle, our time together ends with the Serenity Prayer.

These days, Zoom offers another, pared down, and far-less-satisfying version: no meal, no sage, no physical circle, no candles, no talking piece, no closeness or breathing in harmony with one another, and when we say the Serenity Prayer? It’s pretty raggedy. Sadly, several central members of our circle have decided they “don’t do Zoom” and have opted out.

Like so many mixed outcomes because of this pandemic, not being able to perform the sage ceremony has been both a loss yet an unplanned but welcomed opportunity to reflect on this sometimes-questioned ritual. Over the years, some have rightly pointed out that this practice comes from a Native tradition—and is therefore an appropriation. I respect that. Other circle members do, too.

When we can all safely meet again in person, however, I will share a recent opening which has allowed me to consider this aromatic ritual in a new but still flickering light.

The backstory to this opening: Inspired by a wonderful poem by Judith Offer, “On Studying Sacred Texts,” during Covid Summer at our pre-meeting for worship forums, various members of the FMC community took turns reflecting on various writings, like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” or Arundhati Roy’s “The Pandemic is a Portal.

One sacred text we studied, “Skywoman Falling,” comes from the oral tradition. Although this creation story from the Shenandoah and George people begins Robin Wall Kimmerer’s seminal book, Braiding Sweetgrass, “Skywoman Falling” is a story shared, told, passed down from generation to generation, as people sat around a fire. Like, ah, a sharing circle?

Had the JP sharing-circle originator, Father Brian Murdock, understood humans’ shared circle history? Had he and others intuitively replicated rituals our ancestors had performed? Had he remembered that all humans once sat around fires? When we’d first visited the JP circle, for example, we Quakers were told that prison lighting so harsh and obtrusive, returning citizens would relish a sharing circle’s dim, gentle, soothing lighting. But don’t all of us, returning citizens or not, prompted by the lingering smell of burning sage and the flickering candles in the middle of a circle, remember when we’d sat around a fire and told the stories of our village or shared our own truths? Given how dangerous making eye contact had been behind bars, the JP organizers had also explained that each person ritualistically make eye contact before speaking to be a necessary trust-building exercise. But when we deeply look into another eyes aren’t we, in fact, reinforcing what a nomadic community 0r a village or an extended family does? We see each another. Literally. We value, we honor each person. We acknowledge our shared space. Like the signs in my neighbors’ windows these days, we affirm, “We’re all in this together.”

After hearing how the “Skywoman Falling” story resonated with our forum speaker, I was moved to ask that “circle” of Zoom tiles, “Who are you in this story?” And, like our speaker, several people shared wonderfully open and honest answers.

My answer would have been, “I am the old woman, the crone, seated near the fire to warm her old bones. I am the one telling this story. Again. Like my grandmother, I embellish here and there, add a little something someone in the circle may need to hear that night. My voice rises and falls but when I talk about Muskrat, it becomes husky with love and gratitude.”

*from the circle’s flyer

“From Me to We”

Yesterday during meeting for worship, I found myself remembering the first time I’d facilitated a forum* on Zoom— just days after the shutdown began. Since I am often uber-responsible for everything, even things beyond my control, that our speaker, Abraham Sussman, couldn’t turn on his camera that morning had been my fault, of course. Couple that  unfortunate technological glitch—and my “culpability”—with how non-stop terrified I’d been in those earliest days of the pandemic, I’d been one hot mess that late-March Sunday!

Much to my amazement, during the quiet of a Quaker meeting yesterday, I realized that despite my off-the-charts anxiety that morning, I actually remember Dr. Sussman’s (disembodied) talk! Entitled “Comprehensive Compassion: From Me to We: The Path of an Evolving Humanity,” the noted therapist and Dances of Universal Peace co-leader said something like, “Humans have adapted for ions. Our species will find a way to get though this pandemic.”

3,886,302 people have died so far from the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak as of June 21, 2021, 21:34 GMT, a horrifying loss neither you nor I nor Dr. Sussman could have possibly imagined in March of 2020.

Consciously or not, you, I, we live with that loss. We carry it. We feel it. This weight, this sense of ongoing loss; this, too, is how our species adapts. We can both celebrate the myriad of creative, endearing, amazing, community-building ways our species got through the past two years—and we will perpetually mourn those who did not.

 

 

*An hour long session held before meeting for worship, forums offer my faith community the opportunity to listen to speakers speak about their spiritual journeys and to reflect upon their own.

“Attention Must be Paid”

Saturday, a gorgeous spring day, I was sitting, maskless, on a Cambridge Common park bench chatting with a new friend when I stopped mid-sentence: “Oh!” I crowed happily as a bicyclist zipped past us. “He made it.”

“You know him?” my new friend asked. Politely, I think. My “he,” a dark-skinned, straight-haired older man, had flown by us so fast I doubt she’d had time to take him in.

How to explain? Because, no, I don’t know Bike Guy—although I think I may have seen him perform, years ago, in a locally-produced play. A Harvard Square regular, he might be a waiter, too. I do know that in the summer he wears the skimpiest of running shorts. Lipstick red. Sometimes, in tacit acknowledgement of our inter-connectivity, I wave as he breezes by. Sometimes he waves back.

Like the older and dark-skinned and theatrically-dressed Sombrero Woman, who weekly pushes her laden shopping cart past my house while combing my neighborhood’s recycle bins for redeemable cans and bottles, Bike Guy is my regular, too. As is Goldilocks, a heavy-set, pale-skinned older man with shoulder-length ringlets always found on a park bench outside my neighborhood’s skating rink. Bike Guy, Sombrero Woman, and Goldilocks are touchstones in my life. Their routines overlap with mine. When I don’t see them I worry. Especially these days.

I have’t seen Goldilocks for months. And maybe he’s happily settled somewhere; maybe he moved in with his grown daughter in Florida. But maybe he ended up on a Somerville Hospital ventilator. Maybe he didn’t make it. Like thousands of others this past year, maybe Goldilocks died of COVID. Alone.

How do we collectively acknowledge our missing regulars? How do we collectively mourn?

 

 

All Of A Peace?

Back in October a gifted Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg, offered a “Ten-Day LovingKindness Challenge” course online—recommended by my friend, Diana Lopez, who draws upon the wisdom of multiple faith traditions. Salzberg’s accepting, compassionate voice guiding me through a series of increasingly challenging scenarios, by the tenth day, I could inwardly whisper, “May you feel safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease,” to, as Salzberg prompted, “someone filled with anger, jealousy, fear, greed.” (Can you guess who I chose to be the recipient of these metta prayers, Reader? Hint: He was still in office at the time.)

“Your mind will wander,” Salzberg noted, both her words and her gentle voice assuring me that this was okay. It’s the intentionality, she explained. When we bring our consciousness back to the repetition of the four lovingkindness statements, back to the practice, back to the center, again and again and again, that matters.

I don’t understand how this re-direct works but its Mystery intrigues me—and tapers my disbelief. Still intrigued, I pondered this Mystery at meeting for worship yesterday. In that Zoom quiet, the phrase “The peace that passeth understanding” came to me. (At some formative stage of my life, I’d internalized King James language, apparently!)

Mystery: it’s all one thing, right? All of a piece/peace?

Peek Experience (No, that’s not a typo)

These days, I’ve noticed that when my dear friend Alex is asked how he’s doing, he’ll often respond, “Given the givens? I’m . . . ” Alex is also the first person I know to use the phrase radical acceptance. Indebted to Alex’s namings, I’ve been mulling over Three Givens that powerfully inform my spiritual life and, sigh, I have no choice but to radically accept, right!?

The first Given, of course, is Death. (There is some controversy as to who first quipped The only certainty is death and taxes. Benjamin Franklin? Mark Twain? I’m going with Anonymous—who, of course, was a woman!) I am going to die. So what is it I plan to do with my one wild and precious life ?

Radically accepting the second Given requires faith—and deep humility: contrary to Corinthians 13, even as an adult, I can only see through a glass darkly. I can only know in part. I can be as loving and compassionate as Paul counsels, I can be faithful and live up to the Light that has been given me—but there’s more; there will be deeper understandings. Always. There will always be  continuing revelations. After reading Isabel Wilkerson’s   Caste:The Order of Our Discontentsfor example, I am painfully aware that what seems the natural order of things* isn’t!

The third Given—and what most interests me right now—makes me sad but there it is. A Given. So maybe I should radically accept? And it’s about the transitory nature of transcendent moments; aka peak experiences. What can’t we instantly recreate such glorious moments; these sneak peeks at All That is Holy and Divine, huh?  Why, when I whisper All my relations before I begin eating dinner every night, do I only remember that moment when those three words encapsulated All? (Another sigh.)

Here’s the feeble light I can shine on this question for now; this light comes in the form of another question: maybe it’s my longing, my yearning to connect to All that matters?

Hmmm.

*Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred, it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things. 

Grounded

Urged to do so, I dutifully watched the first two episodes of the Ken Burns’ documentary on Ernest Hemingway—and, much to my surprise, look forward to the third. (Thank you, PBS, for making such wonderful programs accessible to luddites like me who do not own a television.)

Why surprised? Because although I define myself as a writer and am proud of my very modest body of work, it is a very modest body of work! So I’d anticipated that spending hours learning more about one of the most successful writers of all time would reinforce my own sense of inadequacy—which waxes and wanes but is undeniable. Delving deeper and deeper into Hemingway’s story, however, I felt solidified.  Confirmed. Grounded. “My oeuvre may be skimpy as hell—but I am glad I’m me.” Another way to put this might be: “Thank you, God, for making me a woman!”

I began to work on my craft after my first daughter was born; in those earliest days I’d copied out passages I found particularly well-written. I’d study these bits, word by word, coma by semi-colon, partly to learn from such close reading and partly, I think, in the childish hope that the genius of that particular writer might magically become my own. So, in Episode 2, when I heard the excerpt from A Farewell to Arms I’d copied long ago read aloud, it was a wonderful moment, like suddenly remembering a beloved teacher but also remembering myself as the yearning, open-hearted, grateful student. And to be reminded that every time I begin a sentence with And I know whom to credit!

Here’s the thing: leafing through the battered notebook containing that A Farewell to Arms excerpt, I found so much more to remember. For I’d copied out bits from Alice Munro, Virginia Woolf, Paula Gunn Allen, Shirley Hazzard, too. I’d written poetry; many poems had been about being a mother. A harried mother. An anxious mother. A mother in solidarity with mothers in my neighborhood. I’d written journal-like entries about my struggles to find time to write. I’d written outlines for possible stories, novels, a screenplay. (I have actually completed some of those projects, too. Some.) And pep talks, lots of pep talks/coaching!

I’ll end with this one:

Hold the image in your mind

Make it clear and true

Then all you do

Follows naturally.

 

 

 

 

What I’m Adding for Lent: Week Six

Week Six:

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”

So the Aramaic word, waahboqlan, can mean “forgive” but it also can mean “embrace with emptiness.” Which instantly recalls my yoga teacher, Annie Hoffman, talking about learning how to let go of attachment/old hurts/holding on to negativity, etc. “It’s like the command people give to their dogs when the dog comes upon something tasty but maybe disgusting on the ground: ‘Leave it!’ ”

I’ve heard dog owners give this command a couple of different ways; both are useful as I struggle with my own embracing with emptiness:

The first version gives those two syllables equal weight. they’re firm, stern, no-nonsense. (During menopause, when I sometimes struggled with anxious thoughts, telling that panicky inner voice to “Shut up, shut, shut up!” was ridiculously efficacious!)

The second version is almost a question. “Leave it?” my voice rising as if to acknowledge, “Yup, darlin’. I get it. This is hard. You’ve held on to this hurt for a long time. And, let’s be frank. You’ve enjoyed being pissed, right? But just do this.” It’s a coaxing voice. Forgiving.

And isn’t that the woman’s voice I most need to hear?

Week Five:

Give us this day our daily bread.”

So lachma can be both “bread” and “understanding.” And the verb, here, has several variations; my favorite is “animate with fruit”! But hold up. It seems as though the last Aramaic word in this sentence, yeomana, hasn’t been translated?  Hmm.

So what to do? Maybe I’ll just do what I’ve been doing since Ash Wednesday: let women suggest possible interpretations and meaning and metaphors for this prayer. “This day” + lachma =  Caroline Fox’s famous quote, right?  Especially its last bit: Live Up to the Light that thou hast and more will be granted thee.  You’ll receive more understanding, more light tomorrow. Next week. The same Source that animates with fruit will offer you further enlightenment—if you’re listening to your Inner Guide.

Week Four:

. . .on earth as it is in heaven:

“In the fourth and most central line of the prayer, heaven meet earth in acts of compassion,” Douglas-Klotz writes.

The Aramaic scholar’s words immediately conjure up for me one of my favorite places is the world, Crete, and standing on the beach, the  blue-green Mediterranean behind me, looking up at Mt. Ida, the birthplace of Zeus. There, at its snow-capped peak, where clouds obscure the delineation between earth and sky,  is where early Cretans believed earth met heaven.

If I can connect with how joyful, how grateful, how filled with love I’d felt standing there on a perfect day in March of 2003, can I remember to let go of whatever keeps me from acknowledging—without ceasing—Spirit’s abiding Love?

Week Three:

“Thy will be done . . . ” The word will tripped me up this week; “tzevanach” in Aramaic. Which translates as “desire” but bears an ancient, layered meaning of “harmony and generation.”  Which might mean, again, a verb, a motion towards, an inexorable, cosmic, supreme force ever-striving, yearning for balance, harmony, Love?

I don’t know for sure; I suspect others don’t either. But I certainly relish the idea of praying to, acknowledging that inexorable, cosmic, supreme force!

 

Week Two:

I found “Thy kingdom come . . . ” very confusing. Something in the original Aramaic hinted at a nuptial chamber? Other ancient words implied co-creation—and possibility, too? I couldn’t wrap my brain around it.

But on Sunday, at meeting for worship, someone read that lovely quote, “Live up to the light that thou hast and more will be granted thee.” And I saw a deep and powerful connections  between those Aramaic-to-English keywords and the message of early Friends: that the kingdom of God is here and now and  accessible. That when we live up to the light we are in right relationship with Spirit. We’re co-creating the beloved community. And we’re promised  updates. Continuing revelation. We’re in this together.

Week One:

Giving up something for Lent lost meaning for me years ago; this year my reluctance to take away rather than to add seems particularly appropriate as we collectively mourn the over 500,000 Americans who have died from this pandemic. Such an enormous loss!

So this lenten season I’m spending a little time every day with a remarkable little book, Prayers of the Cosmos: Reflections on the Original Meaning of Jesus’s Words by Neil Douglas-Klotz. An Aramaic scholar, Douglas-Klotz has translated the Lord’s Prayer back into the language it had been originally spoken—and, oh my. According to him, not just “something” has been lost in translation!  As my shero Joanna Macy says, “For many of us who want to peel away centuries of dualistic, patriarchal forms and recover the life-affirming beauty of our Christian roots, nothing could be more welcome than this exquisite little volume.”

In the spirit of Increase not Decrease, I will add on to this post every Wednesday until Easter.

February 24: First gleanings after Week One:

The Aramaic version of “Our father who art in heaven” reminds me of this wonderful passage from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass:

“Puhpowee, she explained, translates as “the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight.” As a biologist, I was stunned that such a word existed.
The makers of this word understood a world of being, full of unseen energies that animate everything. I’ve cherished it for many years, as a talisman, and longed for the people who gave a name to the life force of mushrooms. The language that holds Puhpowee is one that I wanted to speak. So when I learned that the word for rising, for emergence, belonged to the language of my ancestors, it became a signpost for me.”

 

 

 

 

This is Me, This is Us

Today, here’s how I’m remembering a moment at the end of the documentary, “Knock Down the House.” It’s election night and Alexandria  Ocasio-Cortez arrives at a Bronx or Queens function hall—or maybe it was a restaurant?—to join hundreds of her supporters and campaign workers as they all await the election results. But the security guy at the front door won’t let her in.

“No, no, I’m—” she argues. And the way I remember that filmed moment, the future congresswoman points to her shoulders, to herself; to her body. Because that’s who she is. She’s not an ID. She’s not her driver’s license or her signature on the rental agreement to book that space. She is not her own face on a campaign poster. She’s The Incomparable AOC; she identifies as a woman.

Today, reading her painful account of what happened when an angry mob occupied the Capitol on January 6th, I learned that like millions of others, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is a survivor of sexual abuse. How she cinematically describes her horrifying, triggering experience that afternoon; how, although she’s received multiple death threats and misogynist slurs and knowing she’ll receive ugly blowback she nevertheless bravely declares: #Metoo; how she speaks her vulnerable truth to power in the halls of Congress? How she connects the forceful voices in Congress urging, “Let’s get over that Capitol attack. Let’s move on”  to what survivors of sexual abuse are told over and over? I am so moved. And so grateful.

Another she-ro of mine, Joanna Macy, the great eco-philosopher and visionary, speaks of “The Great Turning”: a shift from the Industrial Growth Society to a life-sustaining civilization. May AOC’s illuminating account contribute to that great, paradigm-shifting turning!

 

 

 

Not In The Wind?

Quakers often quote that passage from 1 Kings when a depressed and confused Elijah, standing on top of Mount Horeb, experiences a wind so powerful it rends mountains and shatters rocks—but subsequently hears God/Spirit/The Holy in a low murmuring sound.

“Possibly the experience of prophetic inspiration,” my Oxford Study Edition of the New English Bible posits. “Not possibly,” most Quakers would say. “Absolutely!” (My edition notes other Old Testament inbreaking moments when God, indeed, is found in “natural phenomena”: I am now coming to you in a thick cloud, so that I may speak to you in the hearing of the people, and their faith in you may never fail,” God tells Moses in Exodus 19, for example.)

Three weeks after a furious mob rended and shattered our Capitol, I find myself wondering if I can find prophetic inspiration in both that low, murmuring voice, aka a still small voice, and that terrifying, powerful and roaring wind on Mount Horeb?  Raised in a binary, Yes/No, War/Peace/, Here/ There world—and definitely aware of my own, raging, vengeful “seeds of war” whenever I think about what happened on January 6th—can I discover something beyond, something greater than, something different from my heretofore Murmuring/Roaring cosmology? I don’t know.

I just know my Inner Teacher asks me to wonder.