(Almost)-Spring Cleaning

A Rainy Day at Castle in the Clouds, Moutonborough, N.H.

Sunday, chilled, rainy, very windy, I’d almost wished there’d been a fireplace fire in the meetinghouse fireplace. Surely a hearty blaze would brighten my spirits?  But, no, I realized. If there were to be any cheering up going on that gloomy morning, it would have to come from within!

And I remembered something someone in my yoga class had said on Thursday. (Actually, this was at our pre-yoga class, when we discuss a poem someone has brought in, or the Sutras, or a piece of writing our gifted teacher wishes to share.) One woman talked about sadness, hard times, grief and loss; how we’re sometimes too eager to be happy. “There’s good reasons to feel sad,” she said.

So I let myself sink into despair. Not to “wallow in it,” as my father always cautioned when anyone in our family dared to be sad. (You were allowed to be sad in my family for about five minutes. Then you had to get over it.)  But to be honest! To honor the countless reasons we all have to feel sad.

And, mysteriously, after way more than five minutes of sitting in silence and letting myself “feel the feels,” as my daughter, Hope (!) says, Something happened. As if something inside me had been decluttered, de-cobwebbed, dusted or lemon-oiled or rearranged. As if I’d cleared a space within me to hold this sadness. And it was okay. More than okay. It was exactly what I was supposed to do.

What Joy when we do what we’re supposed to do!

New Year’s Affirmations:

Malden, MA Bike Trail, Christmas, 2017

May good people walk beside you.

May you find strength and joy in community.

May you receive “Good Will, Support, and Healing”* from others.

May other living beings guide you, teach you, sustain you.

May you find your way.

 

 

 

 

 

*One of the Friends Meeting at Cambridge’s Wednesday night sharing circle’s most cherished values.

“This Turning Year”

Winter Light at 7:39 AM, EST, December 21, 2017

Pretty sure I learned about the winter solstice from a textbook—in sixth grade, maybe. Dimly I can conjure up the rudimentary, line-drawing illustration that accompanied the text. I’m betting “solstice” had been on that week’s spelling test, too. Sound familiar?

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if Mr. Phelps, our natty, bowtied, horn-rimmed glasses science teacher, had exclaimed: “Think about it, boys and girls,” his voice rising in excitement.* “Our shared ancestors knew about the winter solstice because they noticed it! They noted, they studied, they watched the world around them, the seasons, the weather, the night sky. They figured out a way to keep track of what they’d observed. Think about it!”

Here’s what most moves me about this simple, elegant fact about those ancient souls: That we’ll never know who first figured out this “turning year” phenomena. But I’m guessing the cumulative observations leading to our understanding were collaborative, communal; I’m guessing women and children participated in that ancient data collection.

And, today, right now, December 21, 2017,  it brings me to tears to be reminded that our greedy, selfish, warring species can also be curious. Such a simple yet wondrous quality of being human. Yes.

A Winter Blessing
By Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker

In the shadowed quiet of winter’s light
earth speaks softly
of her longing.
Because the wild places are in tears.

Come, she cries to us.
Kneel down here
on the frosty grass,
and feel the prayer buried in the ground.

Bend your ear to my heart
and listen hard.

Love this world, she whispers.
Distill peace from the snow
and water the cities
with mercy.

Weave wonder from the forest
and clothe grief
with beauty.

Rest in the rhythm of the turning year,
Trace the bending arc
Rounding the curve toward justice.
And vow anew to do no harm.

The winter trees stand watch
haloed in the last gleams of the slanting sun.
Glory sings here.
Heaven echoes the call:
Repeat the sounding joy.

Make your life an answer:
Bow.
Praise.
Rise.

*For all his bowtie primness, Mr. Phelps was, on occasion, passionate. His marveling that the Russians had launched Sputnik was both unexpectedly adorable and illustrative; that my Cold War-era teacher had been so gaga about this historic event taught me something fundamental about science.

“Right There I’m Sort Of Glued Together”

Last week, doing warrior pose in yoga class, I remembered how, right after Trump had been elected, my usual teacher,  Annie Hoffman, was out of town—so we’d had a sub that day. A wonderful teacher, the sub had prepared a themed class; a series of poses and movements readying us to become women warriors. “Cool idea,” I thought; my body felt differently. Moving slower and slower as if weighted down, I finally stopped altogether.

“What’s going on?” the teacher asked.

“I’m not ready to be a warrior yet,” I realized. “I’m still too sad.” ( So she Immediately set me up in a restorative pose. Where I cried. And felt my muscles twitch and relax.)

Since the tax bill vote I’ve been in a funk. (Yes, today’s news from Alabama is definitely lifting my spirits!) After a year of being a warrior, though, I no longer deny my occasional need to crawl under my quilt for twenty-four hours. “Re-covery,” my yoga teacher quips.

When in this melancholy state, a favorite Rilke poem, “Title Poem” from The Voices, always comes to mind (Eerily apt vis a vis that tax bill, yes?) :

It's OK for the rich and the lucky to keep still, 

no one wants to know about them anyway. 

But those in need have to step forward, 

have to say: I am blind, 

or: I'm about to go blind, 

or: nothing is going well with me, 

or: I have a child who is sick, 

or: right there I'm sort of glued together. . . 

And probably that doesn't do anything either. 

They have to sing, if they didn't sing, everyone 
would walk past, as if they were fences or trees. 

That's where you can hear good singing. 

People really are strange: they prefer 
to hear castratos in boychoirs. 

But God himself comes and stays a long time 
when the world of half-people start to bore him. 

Lost

Johnny D’s Debris, November 28, 2017

Caught in another traffic jam, my husband and I agreed: “Right this minute, half the people in Greater Boston are sitting bumper-to-bumper, the other half work on the construction projects that block all this traffic.” Today, walking home from East Somerville, I glanced at the horizon and saw a skyline I’d never seen before. Where had those buildings sprung from? Iconic Somerville hotspots like Johnnny D’s? Razed. My auto mechanic’s shop, just down the street, has been usurped by a glitzy new building touting million-dollar condo’s. What? And while I know that it’s normal for people my age to view a changing world with bewilderment and alarm, the disruption and displacement and gentrification happening in my formerly working-class neighborhood right now is not a normal I can accept. Far worse, after what happened on the Senate floor Friday night, I can no longer recognize my country.

Last week my yoga teacher shared this poem with our class. Perfect timing, right?

Lost

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.

David Wagoner
(1999)

It Goes On

Harvard Square Sidewalk, Election Day, 2017

Like many “Villens,” Ralph Hergert had dual citizenship: Somerville and Cambridge. So it was not surprising that although a long-time, pivotal, and much-loved Somerville activist, Ralph’s memorial on Saturday was held at Old Cambridge Baptist Church, his spiritual home in his last years. And that his beloved, vaulted church overflowed with OCBC congregants and Villens who’d worked with him and beside him on peace and social justice issues for over thirty years.

Still the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in East Somerville when we first met, Ralph and I had many conversations about how his faith and mine, both predicated on the belief that we can experience The Divine without an intermediary, were so radically different culturally yet, in fact, so very close. Good stuff.

My favorite Ralph story: He and I worked in the same building, he as the head of the Mayor’s Office of Human Services and I as a teacher at Somerville’s adult learning center. One morning as we were both coming to work we met outside the building and, somehow, got to talking about music—specifically, for some reason lost in the mists of time, about “There Is A Balm in Gilead.” (Endlessly kind, he nevertheless pitied my ignorance of liturgical/spiritual music.) We walked inside, he walking up a flight of stairs, me walking down a flight, and when he reached the top of the stairs, he leaned over the railing. He looked down at me. He grinned. And  began singing that wonderful spiritual. His voice filled the stairwell. His voice filled my sin-sick soul.

Ralph struggled with Alzheimer’s in his last years; his disease was referenced, present, many times during his (music-rich) memorial.  Something else was present, too: a sense that The Work continues. I felt it; others did, too. That all that Ralph held dear and had worked so hard for lived. Buoyant. Enduring. Possible.

Good stuff.

“I Praise”

“Sam,” a ceramic created by Shelly Ann Moore.

“Despairing for the world,” I spotted her just as she about to get off the 85 bus. In a white, lacy, off-the-shoulder blouse and no-nonsense dark skirt, a black, canvas bag touting the name of whatever tech/Kendall Square conference she was about to attend slung over her bared, coffee-brown shoulder, she exuded confidence. Anticipation. Smarts. “Young, gifted, and black,” indeed. ( Need I add STEM-strong, too?) And, suddenly, because women like her lived in this broken world, too, my grief lifted.

A few weeks later, having just bought “Sam” at a craft fair in Ventura, California, I told my husband and brother-in-law that story. Falteringly I tried to put into words why this figurine so powerfully spoke to me.

“You suddenly saw another version of the future and a world you wanted to live in,” my brother-in-law offered.

Close.

Yes, mysteriously, Sam does somehow invoke that lifting, hope-filled moment on the 85 bus.

She does more, though. Weighted, burdened, as all Women Of Color are, nevertheless Sam persists, she stands, bending but unbowed. Because she’s “under the Power” as Shelly Ann Moore, her creator, put it. And, thus, ironically, her clasped hands remind me of a favorite poem by, yes, an Austro-Hungarian man:

O tell us, poet, what you do. –I praise.
Yes, but the deadly and the monstrous phase,
how do you take it, how resist? –I praise.
But the anonymous, the nameless maze,
how summon it, how call it, poet? –I praise.
What right is yours, in all these varied ways,
under a thousand masks yet true? –I praise.
And why do stillnesss and the roaring blaze,
both star and storm acknowledge you? –because I praise.

 

Me 2 (Duh)

While seated in a waiting area at LAX Monday morning, two women of a certain age and class and race arrived at Gate 23. Loudly.  Grandly. As if making an entrance at a cocktail party. As if they were the only people traveling to Boston that morning. As if Alice Harvey characters in a New Yorker cartoon. As if the waiting area were their own, personal space. Operating on that assumption, one of them, the redhead, threw her jacket over a waiting area chair—connected, of course, to another, back-to-back chair—so that her insouciantly-thrown jacket obstructed the empty chair on the other side vacated by my husband. (Who sat on it when he returned.)

There was something so egregiously la-di-da about that redhead and her blonde BFF! So infuriating. So annoying that the middle-aged man whose family, I am guessing, originated from the Indian subcontinent, seated at the end of the row, caught my eye and raised his eyebrows. So I got up and whispered to him, “I hate white people!”

Oh, my, Reader, how he laughed! “You know,” he told me. “I will remember this for weeks and will still laugh!”

But here’s the thing, Dear Reader. When it was time to board I realized that I, too, had insouciantly thrown my jacket on the chair beside my husband, thereby forcing people to sit somewhere else.

So, yeah: Me, too.

Our Thoughts and Prayers

Backyard Helicopters

At a wedding Friday, I met a young woman working in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos—aka Lesbos. Because I’d asked her to, she contacted me Sunday (in the midst of packing, no doubt), with info as to where to contribute. (Now you can, too.) “I’ll hold you, your colleagues, and the people you are serving in the Light,” I emailed. “That’s Quakerese for a daily mindfulness,” I elucidated.

I see the two of us on Friday in our nicest wedding duds and best jewelry, holding wine glasses, perhaps: removed. Happy. Touched by a lovely wedding. Today, back on Lesvos, weaving between rows and rows of tents filled with Syrian families, does that young woman even remember our chat? Does that lovely wedding now seem a very, very long time ago? And far, too far away? Do all the best wishes, the thoughts and prayers and being held in the Light by well-wishers Back Home kind of seem beside the point today?! I would imagine so.

But she, and the small piece of this troubled, broken world she invokes, is still with me. She has enlarged and brought her backyard into clearer focus. This morning as two helicopters, like vultures, circled my backyard, I held Syrian refugees and the people of Puerto Rico and all those who lost their homes from northern California wildfires and all who suffer in the Light.

No, my prayers don’t solve the Syrian refugee crisis. They are merely a tool with which to dismantle my complacency.

May that dismantling bear fruit.

 

 

Bowed

One of my neighbors teaches at Harvard Divinity School, a fifteen minute walk. So I often see him pass by on his sidewalk commute. Yesterday morning and, again, today, he walked past slowly, head bowed, his tall, gangly body folding into itself, into his grief. Yes. His grief. You know and I know what news he woke up to yesterday. You know and I know what is breaking his heart. We know what crushes him. It crushes us all. Again? Again? Dear God.

No, I am not comforted as I watch him walk past. (And, yes, I will continue to do what I can do change our unconscionable gun laws.) My neighbor’s grief speaks to me, though. It touches me. It is public—and, literally, moving.

Which is why, I guess, I feel compelled to write about it.

 

 

 

 

Upstream

“Umbro” (Shadow), Union Square, Somerville, MA, August, 2017

There was a time in my life when I told myself,”If I/we can just through this [insert Crisis of The Week here], I/we will be just fine.” This went on for years. Slowly it came to me: there’s always a crisis. Stop saying “If I can just . . . ” and start looking at why this keeps happening. Figure out how to protect yourself from constant fear and anxiety. Figure out what’s going on, upstream, to keep this constant flow coming, coming, coming? (And so, Dear Reader, I did.)

Nevertheless, it took Naomi Klein’s amazing No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics And Winning the World We Need to recognize that the scenario I once knew so painfully is everyone’s, now.

Here’s the bit that did it for me:

Experiencing Trump’s tsunami of Oval Office decrees—seven executive orders in his first eleven full days, plus eleven presidential memoranda issued in that same period—has felt a little like standing in front of one of those tennis ball machines. Opponents might swat back a ball or two, but we’re all still getting hit in the face over and over again. Even the widespread belief among many (or is it hope) that Trump will not last his full term contributes to the collective vertigo: nothing about the current situation is stable or static, which is a very difficult position from which to strategize or organize. (p. 135)

Precisely.

So how do we find our collective footing when we’re all getting hit in the face? (As I write this we are, again, on the edge of nuclear war with North Korea. Dear God! And I marvel that my computer allows me to write those terrifying words without shuddering—and turning itself off.) Naomi Klein offers us a handbook.

Let’s get started.

 

Foundational

Sounding Board, New Bedford Quaker Meeting, New Bedford, MA. September, 2017

Years ago, for about a year, I was my Quaker meeting’s First Day School Coordinator, i.e., the principal of a pre-K—12 school open one hour a week and taught by volunteers. Dimly, very dimly, I understood that, for example, when I met with newcomer parents, I spoke for not only my meeting but, in a sense, the entire Quaker world: its history, its faith, its practice. (Yikes.) So, silly as it sounds, now, when a peach-colored scarf mysteriously appeared on my coat rack one day, I decided that I’d use that scarf to, ahem, ordain myself. If called upon to, indeed, be A QUAKER, that castoff scarf became my stole or vestment. Praying for guidance, praying for the right words, praying to listen with love, praying to be open to Spirit, I ceremoniously draped that scarf—which, luckily, went with everything I wore—around my neck. (Writing this, I still feel its soft cotton warmth against my skin.)

More recently, when my Quaker meeting offered training to become a “pastoral caregiver” I was, at first, not interested. “Why do I need training to do what I am already doing?” I thought. (and, yes, frankly, am doing pretty well!) But, again, dimly, I intuited that this seventeen-hour training, created by The Community of Hope International, was exactly what I was supposed to do.

How right I was. For not only do I get to explore delicious—and challenging— subjects like pastoral care and Benedictine spirituality and humility and healing (and lots, lots more) with others from my faith community but when, girded and guided by this training, I do pastoral care, every month I will have the opportunity to talk with others about “God in the Hard Places.”

Yum.