Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? 2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; 3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out –Proverbs 8: 1-3
Bernie, when you announced you were endorsing Hillary, I cried. I said good bye to Bernie, the one I could believe in, yet upon reflection, I see Bernie has not left. He has become, at least for now, the shadow government, the éminence grise who dictates policy. Bernie Sanders steps back into Senator Sanders, yet, from the shadows, his organizations, his supporters, his candidates will continue the work. He proved once again that his campaign was not about him, but about us. To hand over his legacy, the issues he supported that galvanized a generation, millions from all ages, socio-economic categories and ethnic or racial backgrounds, he had to put himself in the shadow. Even while he was speaking, behind him Hillary the bobblehead nodded to his words, clapped in the right places, knowing her limelight would come. And when she repeated many of the very same words, and he stood behind her, it is she who sounded like the echo, the parrot, as she did in the campaign when her and his speeches were indistinguishable, and we all laughed that she was stealing his lines–as we believed she stole the election. Senator Sanders did what he has always done. The Amendment King pulled truth from many sides and did the right thing. It must not have been easy, but it was right. His delegates can go to the convention and vote for him one more time. Maybe he will speak at the convention and remind the nation and the world once more whose ideas Hillary’s really are. As Hillary’s shadow, he and his supporters will remind her when she walks back a promise, a position that Sen. Sanders and Secretary Clinton both laid the foundations for today. His followers and those he endorsed for office will work for those positions in the organizations he will create to carry his legacy forward. The Shadow Knows we will be watching, holding her accountable, honoring his withdrawal today so that his will be the future to believe in.
Dr. Estes, May I borrow your mothers? Mothers, may I? Yes, they are dear, and brave. Through you they speak to me. I do not speak Spanish. I’ve always had in my family the rumors of a great great grandmother who was of a tribe family memory has forgotten. She is not of the Indios. We would not have called her Abuelita. My sister remembers a faded photograph, a woman with copper skin and red hair. A Stranger. I want your abuelitas, and their library of the earth’s wisdom written on their bodies and hearts . And so I wrote to them. I hope you don’t mind. I can cite your source, but not hers, theirs. You said to your Doctor that Abuelita Victoria could not read or write. I hope that I, another doctor, can communicate to her, them. For I seek Wisdom.
Happy women’s, mothers’, grandmothers’, keepers of oral knowledge, day, no, all days, always. We need you now, we who have lost the ways to the earth, animals, finned, winged and furred ones, and ourselves, two-legged, bereft of wisdom, tradition, understanding. Blessed, blessed Wisdom Keepers of the earth.
“Now they need us,” they whisper, “they who have lost memory, connection, roots, ancestors. Now they wish to see all the traces, clues that earth our Mother gives us, and her creatures–what? The creatures have gone? where? NO!! Aaaaaiiiii! Mis hijos, what have you done? Gone to teach us no more. Now are we truly dead, we mothers.”
Abuelitas, we grieve with you. We mourn your final death. Yes, we were lost. They told us we had ‘dominion’ over the earth. The men only, because the woman was cursed and must suffer, they said. They said, earth is ours, all its fruits and creatures. They forgot, the men, that she, too, was Mother. So they forgot to care for her. This you know from your dream time, abuelitas–do you mind if I call you that?–You have seen the smoke that poisons the air, the metals that man pulled from the earth, and other matter, other man-made things that poison the soil, the water, even the oceans. You have felt the heat, the storms, the ice melting. You have heard the men say, “no, no, this cannot be. This is not what was foretold as the end times. Or if it is, we want the end times, for then we shall be saved. We follow our Father God, who gave everything to us. He did not put ‘science’ in scriptures. This warming you speak of; earth has known it through all ages, and then cooling. This has happened before, as God ordained.”
You, the mothers, answer, “no, no. Nothing like this has happened, or not as quickly. The ‘gases’ that men have burned have never imprisoned the clean air, made it trap the sun itself. The heat has never risen so fast. We hear the cries of dying creatures, gasping for breath, forced from the ice, the land, the oceans where they have lived for ages. They move, they move where they are not meant to be. They have not had the time–ages–to change, to adapt. We hear the cries of people, poor ones, dying in the heat, the floods, the fires, the storms. Men have so few years. They force everything to move quickly. Force. That is what men do. They force women to open to them. They force the earth to do what they say: grow this, only this, here. She cannot be forced. And so the soil dies, hardens, cracks in the heat. Animals, fish, birds: all are slaughtered for their endless hunger. They say, ‘there is never enough. There must be more.’ But Earth and her creatures can only give so much, though Earth is abundant fruitfulness. Sometimes she and her creatures must rest. Men do not let them rest, men who have made night into day, confuse anumals who come to the land to breed. They force gas from the rocks, and the poisons grow. They will not heed the warnings. They burn the fossils from ages past. They are burning the time they have left. Forests burn…old, old they were… People, the invisible powerless ones, suffer. No, no, it has never been like this.”
Abuelitas, we cry for you and the earth, the creatures her children. We grieve. We cry for the dead and dying, for the pain. Some do understand. But others do not, will not. They Want, want … more room. More speed. They are chained to the cars that burn fossils. One piece of earth is not enough. Always they must move. They want the things they are used to, and everywhere there is ugliness that they do not see. They do not know that if only they could free themselves the world would be beautiful, clean. All would thrive. You our mothers, would not die, leaving us without ways to read the earth. We will be blind to its powers for healing, ease, when we need them most. Must you die, mothers?
“No, not yet. Not if our daughters and other wise ones, unheeded, listen. Much is lost to us already. But much remains, more hidden, but not to us. This will be our secret, daughters. We will help you change so we and earth can live. And if you, together, cannot, will not, we will help you live in the shadows, find what remains. And maybe we can all live. Change. Renew.
Thank you, mothers. Always you have been good to us. Brave, strong. Happy Mothers’ Day. All days. Always. Thank you, Dr. Estes. For letting me, us, borrow your mothers.
“De nada,” they whisper. “Do not accept Nothing as your future. Gracias. Grace to you.”
My center city church’s choir has long sung Spirituals (I dislike the word Negro but that was the word used when they were written and popularized) to commemorate Black History month. The image of a racially diverse choir happily celebrating with a similar congregation couldn’t be more mistaken. This is a largely white, legacy church (there are a few active members who are people of color) that has been in existence since 1610. Its members have historically been privileged whites, since it was the first Congregational (read at that time Puritan) church in Waterbury, CT at a time when property ownership was a criterion for church membership. It has since spun off several churches, and re-merged with some of them. It became a member of the United Church of Christ (UCC). The corporate memory harks back to a long unbroken history of being the ‘mother church’, and to a golden era when its members were the wealthiest factory owners, financiers, politicians in the area. Times were good; money was plentiful, and church activities were many and elaborate. Passion plays were in full costume and staged, a Gilbert and Sullivan company as well. These are the musical memories of the lifelong members.
Before I joined the choir, I remember a Spring concert some years ago with a past director when they sang a Duke Ellington oratorio. The choir members, largely composed of members who still sing today, expressed a fair amount of discomfort. They did not think they should be singing ‘their’ music. Singing Spirituals for Black history month was introduced by a subsequent academic church music director with impeccable credentials who had taken a seminar in Spirituals; surprisingly, I do not remember any controversy. There was still discomfort: about the rhythms, the language written in dialect, but the songs went off without too much difficulty and without congregational repercussion.
This year, as with all things this year, has been different, at least with the choir. Many spirituals have as a surface meaning the desire for release from this life and joining God, Jesus, relatives in heaven, freed from all suffering, and that had never been a problem. First we did “Hush,” a favorite, where people joke by using an Elvis ‘hUUUUsh’ (dipthong /u/) pronunciation. I wonder whether an African American woukd have found the pronunciation by whites offensive. There were no negative remarks about “Death come creeping in my room.” The next was “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child:” there was some murmuring, but it was a beautiful arrangement. No death here, and “sometimes” can mean that ‘I’ do not always feel like a motherless child. Again no deeper meaning even hinted at. The trouble—not as in “nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen”—came with “Soon I will be done with the troubles of the world.” It is another longing for death song, but resistance surfaced at the “No more weeping and wailing” verse. It has a challenging rhythm in the harmonies; it is repetitive, and we weren’t even taking all the repeats. Somebody remarked, “they sure did a lot of weeping and wailing.” I reacted quickly. “Don’t you think they had something to be weeping and wailing about?” Silence. No response. We sang a bit more. Then someone else said, “they were really whiny.” I was beyond words. A little more joking, and we went on. After rehearsal I wanted to make sure I was understood, and said to the first man who spoke, “They were slaves. They were ripped from their mothers’ breast (dramatic, trying to he humorous) when parents and children were sold to break up families.” Oh, yes, I’ve forgotten another verse, “I want to see my mother,” a cause of further hilarity. “Motherless child” redux. He replied, “I certainly don’t want to rip anyone from a breast.” I gave up, beyond anger and shock.
I have heard some members of the congregation express, in an analysis of the church neighborhood, fear about getting out of the car. There have been break-ins, theft, prostitution… Animus seems to be directed more toward Hispanics–despite the hundreds of neighborhood children that come to the Haunted House or Easter Egg Hunt–mostly because of language. A lot of the attitude came from those who had moved to suburbs or safer neighborhoods, and have memories of how the neighborhood ‘used to be.’ However, never before have I heard such a blatant instance of white privilege as in this choir incident. Last week came the rebellion: “This song is depressing. Do we have to sing it?”
I’m sure most if not all were clueless that someone could be shocked by what they said. They didn’t think anything was wrong with a few jokes. That, my friends, is a definition of white privilege: being so immersed in cultural assumptions that ‘everyone’ feels as they do. They would most likely say I was making a big deal out of nothing. Given the context of deciding to sing Spirituals—that is to say, none—no one really talked about what these songs mean. “Hush” can mean what it seems to, being quieter to hear the voice that was calling the speaker’s name. I’ve already mentioned it could be Death. A deleted verse says it was Jesus. It happens that my research into many of these songs’ meanings took me to sermons–sermons that I wish had been preached at our church. The desire to be released by death from pain and suffering, glad for the protection of religion, is a motif in many Spirituals. There are however other meanings. “Hush” was a warning, a code sung to the slaves by the conductors of the Underground Railroad to signal that the bounty hunters, or the slaves’ master, were looking for them. “Hush stations” were forbidden meetings where slaves would gather to sing their songs of freedom. There was a spot on the Underground Railroad route along the Ohio River called the Jordan, often a metaphor for dying, but also a code for freedom on the other side of the river (Rev. Nancy S. Taylor, Oct. 28, 2012, Old South Church).
“Motherless child” certainly has the meaning discussed above: separating mothers and children. After recounting the story of one mother who experienced all her children taken from her. Msgr Charles Pope remarked,
the oppressed are not the only ones stripped of humanity and a “long way from home.” The oppressor too has to a great extent sinfully lost his humanity and become hardened by insensitivity and cruelty. And he is a long way from home, the home where God’s mercy and love reign supreme. Spirituals have a way of moving the spirit and asking questions that probe the depths (Community in Mission: Creating a Community of Mission blog.adw.org).
It was the insensitivity of the oppressor that shocked me in the perfectly ordinary choir members. Perhaps “oppressor” is too strong a word for people who seem perfectly innocuous, but therein lies the problem. It is when attitudes seem banal yet are inherently destructive or at very least dismissive that they are the most pernicious. “Weeping and wailing” seems an exaggerated reaction, but not to exaggerated cruelty. ”Whiny“ trivializes the very real inequity and racism whose structures were forming during slavery. We are not talking about petulant toddlers who are not instantly gratified: we are talking about motherless children and childless mothers whose basic human needs were brutally ignored. It is the historical ignorance of an inhuman practice of systematic exploitation that crosses every stratum of society and human activity that is shocking.
I am complicit. We are a choir, which is a strong bond. We rehearse, work hard together. Research has shown that we breathe together. Our heartbeats synchronize. When in ‘performance’ mode–not really: we sing during worship and for more ceremonial occasions–we give all we have to enhance the worship and spiritual experience of the congregation. In the liturgy it is called “giving the gift of music.” We believe in the truism that “singing is praying twice.” We pray together before worship. However, we are not one in spirit. I know from Facebook and elsewhere that we differ, in economic circumstances, social class, political stances. While I recklessly post things that I am quite sure would anger some, I do it anyway. They have rarely responded to my more controversial posts. I’m not sure “hush” is the best response, but it is the most polite, the way we can pretend that everything is fine, that we don’t have these gnarly issues that divide us. “These are not the droids you seek. Move along.” Our pastor promised me we would be dealing with ‘gnarly’ issues in a small group. That hasn’t happened yet.
We’re not ‘over’ racism just because until this year we’ve never overtly mentioned it. Our African American president whom people excessively vilify as someone who is seen to have undermined every value of what “makes America great” has not brought hope and change. Mr. Trump and his fans, in eschewng “political correctness” in favor of blatant racism and bigotry have begun to desensitize us to the rhetoric. Perhaps that is why I was so shocked by the choir incident. I have been complicit in the silence. We depend on silence to get along, not “weeping and wailing.” Sen. Sanders and his supporters’ outspokenness about what we just ‘don’t talk about’–as well as that of Mr. Trump–is part of what is shocking many during this election season. “Hush! Somebody’s calling my name.”
When President Obama, also a member of the United Church of Christ, sang “Amazing Grace”at the funeral for the Charleston Nine, well before the excesses of this election season, he wasn’t just singing a song that is not a spiritual, but written by a slaver who repented of his trade. Mr. Obama was reclaiming his heritage, praying for understanding and a change of attitude toward mercy and the gifts of bringing people together. He wasn’t whining, or “weeping and wailing.” Unfortunately what he gets back are whines that all too easily turn into hate. Perhaps that was the embryonic stance I was shocked to see in my church choir, who just maybe have no business singing ‘their’ songs–unless we give everyone a context for them. That is what Black History month should really be about.
First Congregational Church of Waterbury sanctuary after Hanging of the Greens
Advent Week 4: Sunday “God With Us”
Have we ever known Jesus to be with us? Thank you, Christianne for sharing the image of Jesus down on the floor with your brokenness. That is so encouraging and ‘uplifting’. I’ve only had one experience like that. I was having a post-cataract procedure where they clear with a laser cells that grow around the eye. People falsely refer to it as the cataracts “coming back.” As it was not surgery, I was wide awake. I was placed in a chair with my head in a brace. I was terrified: knowing the laser was coming, and frightened beyond measure that I would somehow move and have the eyesight of my ‘good’ eye destroyed. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder from behind, and a voice saying “It will be all right.” I am not one to have experiences of this type, let alone in a sterile medical environment. However I *knew* it was Jesus. I don’t know how. I felt immediate peace and reassurance. I have never felt so calm. After the excessive anxiety it was a shock going through my entire body. The procedure went as planned and I was calm for the rest of it. Thank you, Christianne, for helping me remember this experience. God is really with us.
Advent Week 4 Monday: “A Blessing for Sanctuary”
I’ve come to this late, yet it still is a gray day… Sanctuary. Immediately the image comes of the sanctuary where I formally worship,
all dressed in its finery for Christmas. Yet a more visceral memory surfaces, a greater acceptance and welcome. I had just lost a nonviable fetus and I was in deep grief. My then in-laws were encouraging me to get over it and go to a Broadway show. No one understood. I went to see a long-time friend and stepped into his embrace. He said nothing, just stroked my hair and held me tenderly. My world was changed; I did not know there could be such unconditional love and welcome. I had longed for that safety and acceptance, had not known what it was I longed for. I could not stay there. I had to go to a world I was to leave, and try to explain that my sanctuary was not there. I did not know the nature of that blessing, then. That I had to become a place of safety for others because of the blessing that had been given me, that such a blessing was possible. That I knew I was beloved and beautiful and entirely acceptable in this blessing, even when wounded. I had to show this to others, to become the blessing. I found community and spirituality of a different kind in the process. My journey continues.
Advent Week 4 Tuesday: Unexpected Gifts
I have often wanted to talk directly to God. When I became Jewish in a former marriage, part of what was appealing about Judaism was it was the ‘source’ of Christianity. It was the ‘real deal,’ and I could wrestle with God, and not the ‘intermediary,’ Jesus. At least 🙂 that’s how I saw it then. My Advents/Christmases in my journey back to my Christian roots have been “painful, messy, frightening, unexpected, and amazing.” So many of those I’ve heard called the “pew people” seem superficial, and I could never admit something as scandalous as painful and messy. Very few of the “upper church” attend the Longest Night service that takes place in the “lower church,” the chapel below ground where, it happens, my now husband and I were married, because at that time it housed a community advocacy agency of which my husband, a pastor, was the chair of the Board. Now it houses what was originally a ‘street church.’ Ending that service was a healing, a praying with, which is not part of my church tradition. Somebody from our church had to go up and pray with our pastor, so I bit the bullet and stood. I blurted out to my pastor the trauma of the military funeral I had attended, and my anger at all the hate in the world (precisely the wrong reaction), my need for God with us in the world, God with skin on. That is the joy of Christmas. God is ready to get messy. Nothing is more amazing or humbling.
Advent Week 4 Wednesday: Joy
Imagine the fairly well-known story of a child intensely expecting something special for Christmas, the little boy who was so optimistic that when he wanted a pony his father, wanting to teach him a lesson in reality, gave him a pile of excrement. His father found him searching through the stinking pile muttering, “There’s gotta be a pony here somewhere.” Not all lessons of disappointment and unrealistic expectation are so dramatic, but joy does not always come even when we prepare for it. We are now in a season when we’re ‘supposed’ to feel joy. If what is expected does not occur then there’s a disconnect: we recognize the necessity for ‘Longest Night’ services around the Solstice. To be able to acknowledge grief among all the “joy to the world” is an important step. There are times the opposite occurs: joy arrives unexpectedly when we least anticipate it. We feel it in the all body tingling, shivers, chills of a musical note, a favorite image with its associated memories, a unique hue of light. I have come to recognize that sensation Jan calls ‘quickening’ as ‘spirit’. A long time expectation that never met me was pregnancy; with all the stories of improbable pregnancies and births in this season, I have the unspeakable memory of an unviable, lost fetus that, had I remained pregnant would have entered life around this time. That memory never fades, and comes unexpectedly. The other day I got angry at a Richard Rohr meditation–not a very welcome feeling. Joy though is indomitable, and those shivers of deep peace will come. It is not happiness as much as a resonance. We are living in the archetypal realm during this Advent time. I was at a military graveside service yesterday, something I had never witnessed. The grace and dignity of the salutes, folding the flag, taps, hit me unexpectedly. But what ripped me apart were the gunshots. All peace vanished in that loud startling sound reminding us of what war is, let alone the mass shootings so strong in our national consciousness. All I could pray was “peace, peace, peace: let no country or person ever again kill in a country’s or religion’s name. Never again should there be need for these kinds of ceremonies.” The incongruity of this feeling struck me when looking at my Facebook picture with a light saber filter in anticipation of seeing that long-awaited movie about galactic war that is equally archetypal. Yet the joy of the dream of peace is most likely the most disappointing. We never give it up, though; we never stop wanting it, waiting for it, waiting for those prophecies to be fulfilled. Then when the hope and light come through, in a glimmer we can shiver with the grace of that expectation coming unawares, despite the overwhelming longing preoccupying us. We still know joy, even if it’s hidden in a nasty pile. We were created ro be joyful, but it is still a grace when it comes.
Christmas Eve 2015: “How the Light Comes”
There is no single source of light. It is the universe where the light shines: unspeakably old, lights of the galaxies, the nebulae, and dark matter everywhere. All is connected. Stardust formed us; stars come as light to surround us. They encircle and permeate every body, every heart. Woman, the mother, dances in that starlight with Wisdom who played wirh the stars at their creation. Stars come through the ages to find me when I am hurt, nowhere, looking at numbers that trace not constellations but the depths of last year’s formlessness and loss. They find me, a speck of dark matter, and fill me with light, and I am illumined. Thank you, Christianne, Kirk, and Jan for bringing me throughout this season both the darkness and the light.
Christmas Day 2015: “Where the Light Begins”
Yes, the light has always been, and I’ve squinted to see it. It has opened my eyes, but maybe only a little. I am not sure I have ever really let it in. We saw the full moon last night when we had thought we would not, because of the clouds: they broke open last night and there she shone, full and triumphant. I am “willing to be dazzled.” Previously I have written of this experience of too bright, true light as blinding, yet this word, “dazzled,” is so much more fitting. ‘Yes,’ I say to the light, overcome, dazzled. I have always said yes to the light, whatever I could glimpse, even if just a sparkle out of the corner of my eye, but not really YES!! Like God With Us, light is coming, has come, and will come again, always already here. Yet while there have been moments when I have battled it, I still have been dazzled. Perhaps, now, it is beginning to not just open my eyes but penetrate and open up my body. Why do the scriptures say Mary was ‘overshadowed’ by the Spirit? When spirit is light, even Moses veiled his face yet it glowed. Perhaps, not quite as Mary, because I would not ever be as chosen, as blessed. But maybe I can glimpse what it would be like to be favored, maybe out of my brokenness and darkness, I feel myself finally worthy, beloved, and can truly shine from within. So may it be.
Joy. A quick burst of light, an intense sense of gratitude. I think of many moments: seeing our grandtwins for the first time, being grandparents, marrying my beloved. Wonder! A good unexpected outcome actually happening. Finding something I’d lost. Incredible amazement. This is not my usual state, so these moments are transient. I know joy does not last, that there will be pain and worry, but it’s a timeless moment so it doesn’t matter. When I was a child, the intensity of joy would be followed by bitter disappointment as my dysfunctional family reasserted itself. Joy was sometimes just absence of pain. Joy will be with me at our church’s festive service this afternoon, though it will be hard to feel it. The program is hard on the body and voice. When I least expect it, spirit, the shiver I get when music and soul are one, will come; then, a quick flash, and joy abounds. It might last; if might not: we always have to look ahead, be prepared for the next anthem, the next hymn. At the end, the contentment of giving joy through music may spike to joy filtered with exhaustion… Then we get to eat and sit down. Joy! Joy is the Joy of Christmas dinner our church offers the community. Hundreds will come; another hundred will have meals delivered. It gets exhausting when we are inundated, but it’s good to be there, good to make even a day’s worth of difference, good to see the faces of the people. Good to get a meal to go when we crash at home.mit will be food, perhaos even joyful, to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Christmas day. Joy occurs when my intense gratitude from what our tenant was doing for us–decluttering, preparing the way, repairing–met his intense gratitude from no longer having to worry where he will sleep, or about living with danger and injury. My joy was tempered with amazement, that he could be so happy because of something I’ve done, and an unexpected awkwardness when in the presence of such joy. I am not worthy. Joy is passing joy on, to a neighbor who needs a handyman, to my tenant who needs a job. Still bewildered by others’ gratitude, because I had had such trepidation, had not given selflessly… Joy is transient, but real, and can result from a gift we can give others, or from others’ gifts to us. It is abundance, a glimpse of the reign of God. Grace. Undeserved, but given, experienced anyway.
Advent 3 Monday: As at a Festival
“…fierce, fragile, fierce…” “The thin, thin place…” (Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace) I didn’t do much imagining today, because my mind was still back on our “festival” yesterday, as we sang and hung the “garlands of gladness.” Yes the idea was to be festive, to rejoice in the coming, to prepare the sanctuary, yet those ‘behind the scenes’ i.e. participating in the majority of the festival with “loud singing,” are not as immersed in the experience as the congregation might be. Little criticisms or glitches strengthen the veil between the mundane and the divine. We are fierce in our singing for the people, yet fragile. We are so easily broken; still we cling to our fierceness for the festival, for the people, for praise (not praise of us–‘the choir was so beautiful’–but praise for the One who is with us. At the end of the service the sanctuary is darkened and only the tree is lit, and the candles. We sing “Silent Night.” Then the veil thins and rejoicing, more as wonder, stillness, seeps through, like the “waters of salvation.” We are in the darkness yet also we are the light that the darkness cannot overcome. We are the darkness and the light shines more brightly. We are all illuminated with rejoicing, because, warts and all, we are in community, even if just for that brief moment. God sings, through us, to us all, the vibration in our bodies, the tones that flow forth. It is so rare to act “as in a time of festival”, to create a festival for ourselves and feel worthy of the exaltation. And doing this as we do every year, we get a little jaded. But it is all the more important when the times are dark, when people darken with fear and hate, that there be a whisper of singing, a glimmer of light. These are enough to bring back the festival for a heartbeat.
Advent 3 Tuesday: Light Bearer
The term “light bearer” brings to mind Mary named Theotokos, God Bearer. I am not nearly as exalted. Yet those called to proclaim justice in the world are also light bearers. Their light must shine so injustice may be illumined, so allies can find them. There seem now to be more broken things than whole. Can I be a broken lamp and still be a light bearer? The Jewish tradition speaks of the universe having been broken, and the task of tikkun olam is to bring together the shards so the world might be whole. I don’t always feel myself a particularly strong light, but within my heart, when darkness doesn’t threaten–or even when it does, because the darkness is deep just now–is what the French call a chappelle ardente, a chapel of many candles, which would serve as a vigil around the dead, or simply a vigil, perhaps for peace. I see the memory of the Black Madonna’s, La Vierge noire’s chapel at Chartres Cathedral in France. The overhead lights were very bright; her darkness glowed even darker: blue-black. Many people come and simply touch her feet. Others bring flowers: the ardent devotion is palpable. She and the child are clothed in gold, a further contrast to her blackness. As I sat among the flowers and candles, she called my name… I asked did anyone say hello to me while I was sitting there? No. I asked when I returned to the cathedral in later years whether in the past the lights were brighter, and people said no, they’d always been that way. I realized that against all odds I had been called by name by a dark Our Lady, a manifestation of the divine feminine, to the light. What would have been more incongruous to a younger self than to be called by a Roman Catholic Mary to call out injustice? I have written in previous meditations why color and light are so sacred ro me, and so they remain. There have been long corridors of time when I have felt broken, when I could not find light, but now, more and more, I know it must always be there, and it is my duty to shine what light I have to illumine my truth, bring it to others, persist in hope when it seems most fleeting.
We were in Chartres Cathedral on a November evening, when the group was alone. The interior no longer had the late spring or early summer’s light to guide us theough the stained glass windows. Even with all the candles we had lit around and leading to the labyrinth it was still dark. We had not realized how much the earlier nights’ light had made a difference. One could barely see the labyrinth path. I was to go first, because my job was to station myself at the North Door where participants could exit. I said I did not want to carry a candle, that my eyes would adjust, and they did. I had become accustomed to the darkness. Suddenly light glared: the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, founder of Veriditas and the leader of the pilgrimage’s evening labyrinth walk, had summoned other facilitators to hold gigantic tapers outside the circle to illumine the way. The light blinded me, and it’s enough that I am legally blind. I had learned to balance the light and darkness, and did not need additional light. Yet whom we at the time called the Light Goddesses, whom I am now calling Light Bearers, attained a sacred function, just as at the approaching Winter Solstice, celebrants light bonfires to symbolize the return of the light after the Longest Night, and ancient monuments such as New Grange and Stonehenge have designated areas where the rising sun’s light passes exactly through the aperture. Those moments are holy. The taper bearing figures were glowing, hieratic priestesses of the blinding light. Perhaps this light was helpful for others, but for me it was a barrier. I said later, after I had been in the outer darkness of the Cathedral “where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth,” that now I knew why the pilgrims of the Middle Ages were said to have walked the labyrinth, symbolizing the journey to the New Jerusalem, on their knees. They quite literally could not see the path…
How easily we can get used to our own darkness, so that it seems as if it were light. Plato in “The Cave” describes a situation where people were living in the dark, and the figures they could see, which they believed real, were but shadows cast by a fire. The Philosopher wants to journey to find the real outside in the mythical to the inhabitants sunlight. The others refuse to go, saying they are content with their reality. The Philisopher, in order to be able to survive the journey, would have had to have made it gradually, not suddenly, as happened to me. To be a light bearer to justice, many burning with zeal risk blinding those who for so long have believed the images projected to them on their screens, from Fox News, their preferred political candidates, their religious leaders. They prefer their reality: it is safe. They are frightened by change, by a brighter light than that to which they have become accustomed. Light bearers, in order to resist their own burning out, or blinding, withering others to ash by their flame, must proceed gently, slowly, compassionately, accustoming others to the light of justice. Slowness is not in the nature of most activists. We must have a spiritual grounding, have learned contemplation, become accustomed to the subtleties of alternating light and darkness. We are accompanied by Wisdom, who calls us to follow her ways. She gives us fire, and she also gives us joy–not happiness, but that deep, peaceful grounding in the divine–that gives us the patience to be light bearers in an ever darkening world.
Advent 3 Wednesday: Expectations/ Expectation
Expectations. At work you’re not considered worth anything if you didn’t exceed expectations, but then again no one was supposed to get that rating because then your supervisor was going ‘easy’ on you. Catch 22. I wasn’t fired because of performing below expectations, but according to someone else’s agenda, because I exceeded expectations when I contributed above my pay grade and was recognized for it. Penalty! Didn’t play the game according to the secret rules I never knew. We know about the expectations of the holidays, and I’ve managed through the years to perform increasingly below expectations. Cards? Waste of paper and postage, and I didn’t like getting a ton of cards I’d only recycle or give to a program. Gifts? try being an academic and buy and mail gifts during finals and grading. Doesn’t happen. So gifts and cards have diminished on the receiving end as well, which is OK. We certainly don’t need more stuff. And my sister is the world expert at little cute useless things I call from my time of being Jewish tchachkas. So, since we’re in an area where we don’t have near family, we forego gifts to each other for the most part and instead give gifts to one another as we need them. We don’t cook a Christmas dinner, but instead go serve a meal at the church’s Joy of Christmas dinner. My gifts to family this year are in the name of rescue or environmental agencies, food for veterans and the like. My stepdaughter, one year when we gave her the gift of sponsoring a goat for a family through Heifer, said, “well, I guess I should be glad for the goat.” Relationships are better now. However, I’m getting a bit teary as I’m writing this. My stuff-loving side still likes surprise presents. I don’t really like performing below expectations; I mentioned when getting my hair cut that this was the first time I was hearing Christmas music, and the reaction was sort of, “well bah humbug to you, too.” I think, bottom line, that performing below expectations in the ‘Holidays’ side of Advent/Christmas is counter cultural, the right choice for my spirituality, my own sanity and the environment, but I gotta admit that there’s that little kid wondering what Santa Clause was going to bring her. And I’m wondering what special gift I can give my husband that he doesn’t know about yet…
Advent 3 Thursday: “A Blessing for After”
I’m not sure which ‘yes’ I was seeing/feeling in this blessing from Jan Richardson’s Circle of Grace. There was one that did have radiance, the universe turning on its axis, a world changing ‘yes’ that meant I would leave everything I had known and become until that point and go somewhere unknown. The mirrors offered to me were not always benign. I was terrible, selfish, unfeeling. Others offered courage, blessing that I didn’t see as myself either. I only knew I had to be pressing forward, both misunderstood and beloved, very much alone until I found the one who was waiting, who held for me the mirror of radiance, love. Now in this time of retirement, discovering a new self, a new life, the ‘yes’ is not as radiant yet there is a glow in the doing, lighting the way dimly on a pathless terrain. There are many who purport to have a mirror, offer to share their secrets–for a cost. Be wary of spiritual or creative entrepreneurs: they reflect not me, but themselves: they prey on my lostness. I must find the way to my better, more creative self precisely by taking wrong turns, encountering dead ends: in my amazement I find a maze, not a labyrinth. Someday I may find my Elizabeth. Something in her will recognize what I am carrying; somewhere in me will bring forth a song of praise and justice. The mirror becomes a magnifier.
Advent 3 Friday The Blessing of Elizabeth
Responding to this blessing. I first went back to the Big Yes that changed my life, and the wonder of the blessing for me is not that objects could somehow be the same as in that moment before the world changed. Instead, I bring to mind objects I have cherished since my ‘yes’: lovely pieces of art whose contours my hands can touch, caress: raku bowls with a shining metallic patina of blues and purples transformed by the fire. There are stones smoothed and polished by wave or river, engraved with a sacred word: wisdom, peace… Crystals, prisms that reflect the light in different colors, were once set in the ceiling of a lower deck on a ship to allow light in. I’ve used these for labyrinth walks. A carved wooden finger labyrinth, the grain underlying the grooves of the path: labryses, rosette, lunations. All these objects acquired in my new life are imbued with craft, artisanship, beauty, that other hands have touched, shaped, and embody the incredible power of yes: yes to the art, to the sense of home my yes has brought me. My second ‘yes’ is to my own creativity that I express in words, manipulate, rearrange, replace, craft. They are less tangible than these other objects. In other times they would be pencil or inked marks on paper. Now the marks are electronic patterns. Elizabeth blesses me among women, the fruit of birthing that is within me even though I only briefly held long ago a few cells of another being. Inchoate thoughts so long to be shaped into words, sentences, structures that will go wherever, sink without trace, be born too soon, or fly. Elizabeth laid hands on my chest as it joins the throat, and my forehead close to the crown. All words are thought, then words spoken, vibrate however subvocally as they, through my eyes and hands, transform into pixels of black letters on white light, so insubstantial yet as weighty as the blessing enacted and become true on my body. I join the flow of blessing and blessed response; I am the blessing: blessed among women, as I seize the power to create, say yes to exposing my innermost soul and being to the world. Blessed be the thoughts, the body, the words shared among women, the first ‘fruit’ that truly will be born into the world: an essay next February. A birthing, a beginning. I do not bear a saving messiah or preparer, just shaped words, thoughts that will enter other minds and bodies and so be transformed, as my objets d’art have been, becoming refuse floating in the light, or treasured objects. I am conscious, attentive, very aware of the words I shape and bring to life. They are of darkness and light. No child will leap in a mother’s womb at their coming forth, but maybe they may may grow in the pondering, become full of wisdom and truth.
The following was written to a friend after I’d read a post from her, and the meditation on ‘with-ness’, with gratitude for this Still Forming community.
As for the dark uncertain times, well, I know I’ve faced the darkness and aloneness and survived. I know I am with the love of my life; I was with him when he met the darkness and survived, when he had a heart attack years ago. His chronic disease means he is always a companion to darkness. While I may worry for him and his illness, I accept I cannot protect him, must be with him, be a witness for him. So far the things I have worried about have not happened, but some have and others will. I as much as I’m able trust the God who is with us, and I will be the presence for my husband, as long as I can, as God Holy Wisdom will be the presence for me/us. So joy can come in the morning, I know I’ve done much of what matters in this world. Immanuel. deo gratias. Be well, and know you have a whole circle of with-ers.
The Shoulder Season of Advent
This meditation is based on a reflection posted in the Still Forming Advent Meditations group by Krista Tippett from “On Being” with the above title. She says that Christmas is for extroverts, while Advent is an introverts’ season.
I’ve always thought that “…there is deep joy in the in-between places, the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other moments…” Why joy? These moments could feel plodding, or the in-betweenness can cause impatience. But the joy comes from the capacity for, the craving of solitude, the time when anything is possible. This is a time when I can anticipate glory and light, while I still know that only the day-to-day will get me there, wherever ‘there’ is. Advent is an ‘always-already’ : that which is waiting has always been with us, has already come, has not yet come. The ‘I’ who is anxious and impatient wants to know ‘when?! ‘ ‘what!?’ Yet the waiting allows me to imagine something greater than I could ever have imagined. And then be surprised.
A Blessing for Waiting
Waiting is not easy for me. I constantly scurry about, look for information, resources. I do not do. And so I wait, not so patiently, for what? A sign? A synchronicity? An intervention? Am I right to wait? Should I be doing something now? How can I discern? Let go. Breathe. Be. Rest in the presence, if I let myself listen. To borrow a meditation prompt for centering prayer from Cynthia Bourgeault : Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am. Be still. Be.
This meditation is in responnse to a post by Kirk Squires, “When Christ Comes Disguised as our Lives.”
Kirk, thank you for your honesty. Advent had begun well for me, yet yesterday I was in a funk. Recurrent worries resurfaced, and I got angry about not finding a curtain rod… I’m angry at the world, my limitations, impatience, and it’s of course not really about the curtain rod. It’s at God who through Isaiah is promising a world of wonder and hope that it’s increasingly hard to believe in. Instead we get Donald Trump and fears of fascism rising, outrage, indignation. We get Bernie Sanders snubbed by Time magazine, progressive ideas swallowed up by rising national hysteria. Is this Jesus the iconoclast coming disguised as chaos and messiness, who promises us peace then promises the sword? I do not want to cause dissension here by bringing up politics and yet it’s inescapable. The world has always been messy and disappointing; in Jesus’ time of the Roman occupation it was no different. The paradox of belief in the coming and ‘the reign of God is at hand’ in contrast to the current historical reality was no less then than it is now. Perhaps we need Jesus’ disruption in disrupted times, not only angels and stars. A baby can be plenty disruptive, as was John the Baptizer’s ministry. God doesn’t always do peaceful and pretty. It’s for these times that we have Advent, a stilling so we can notice the cacophony around us, and The Longest Night at the Solstice for those for whom Christmas is not merry, let alone the season holy. No one said holiness was not messy; it questions the dominant discourse, and perhaps even brings about the world promised. Change is not easy, and darkness will not go gently into the dying of the light. But the darker the darkness, the more will we see the slightest glimmer of light when it comes.
Prepare, clear the path, be open to possibility. It’s what I’ve been doing since I lost my job, was on unemployment, then had to prepare for early retirement. So: not as quickly as I might have, downsizing, possibly relocating, preparing finances, and not quite knowing how to prepare because for all the advice out there, there’s not one word for me. Now I’m being asked to prepare in quite a different way. I have been invited beyond my comfort zone to rent space in my home to someone who has done work for us for years. I wasn’t prepared for this, but doesn’t God tell us to welcome the stranger? It’s a wilderness word, wild and somewhat out of control, and I don’t yet know whether we can let it in. It is too invasive just now but maybe, if I can open to letting in someone who is sometimes homeless from life events, it could be sweet, a strange sweetness different than any I have ever tasted. Scary sweet.
OK, God, What’s up with this? Twice I had written up to a certain point in this response and twice I lost it. Since this meditation, and blessing, is about ‘losing it’, I guess that’s a perfect message. So you’re taking me though the muck and sadness yet a third time, those ruptured, breaking times? What do you need to break in me? Yes, I’ve been too long in the far country, lost in the storm and the sorrow. I’ve had every sense of what I thought had meaning in my life—my profession, a sense of self, the type of person I thought I was—broken away. The fracture, the splintering, has been an endless Kristallnacht; I can no longer have the life I thought I had, be the person I thought I was. I have been hiding too long in the cocoon of despair, that hardened chrysalis from which there is little hope of emerging. What does it take—Richard Rohr says “great love or great suffering”–to break the false, dualistic self, fragment into the larger self that can entertain paradoxes at the cost of all egoic, financial or professional security. What depletes me are the details, decisions, research, advice I need for a modicum of security. Security. Is that what I’m clinging to, hiding from myself? Well, God, Wisdom, you know I’ve crossed the threshold, and welcomed a relative stranger into my home. It’s the right thing to do. It may not be the safest or the most comfortable, and even though the Christmas carol does promise “Good tidings of comfort and joy,” that is a human promise in the prayer that “God rest ye, merry gentlemen.”
All God promises through the angels, and it hasn’t happened much yet, is “Peace on earth, and good will to all.” Good will. The charity, the honest attempt. This phrase is rendered in more recent translations as “peace to those with whom God is pleased.” I sincerely pray so. I’d be in some pretty exalted company…say, Jesus at his baptism and his transfiguration, when he is called Beloved…. As Henri Nouwen says, we must all consider ourselves as God’s beloved. The one thing I had not noticed when I ‘d worked with this blessing before (with Jan’s permission in a workshop) is that this a “Blessing to Summon Rejoicing”. I had not thought of the journey of storm and sorrow “far from where your comfort lies” as a summoning, something so magical—or prayerful. When Holy Wisdom gives us joy, she also calls us to speak and act against injustice. This presence in the world is joyful, but also troubling; the world will act against us, because we are trouble, and troublesome. Yet still we are joyful, and that is the surprise ending, the unexpected turn (as in conversion, a turning of heart?) When walking the labyrinth it is the turns that are so disconcerting, so troubling. Sometimes they are a full 180 °, and sometimes these turns come in rapid, dizzying succession. The walker, while progressing toward the center, a journey of letting go, is literally walking in the opposite direction than previously. This happens a number of times in the circuits. The only thing possible is to trust the path. So “when…then” is sudden: no transition. When I made the decision to welcome this man into our home, I had not yet consulted with my beloved life partner, my soul mate, which could be troublesome…After I decided, during a conversation with our helper when it made sense to speak, I took the dogs out. For once our new foster dog, an emaciated shih tsu senior, actually had eaten without too much fuss, and came when I called. I was laughing at their antics, and realized I had “laughter in my mouth,”and while not exactly ”shouts of joy on my tongue” it was definitely a ‘turn.’ I did speak to my husband later and while he wasn’t exactly shouting with joy either, he knew I had to do what I did. There’s still a lot to work out. I hadn’t really known that my tears were watering the ground, causing grain to sprout, and maybe bread, a kind of eucharist, communion, maybe community, maybe feasting… Is there a blessing for this? Well, yes. It’s Jan’s.