Life Instructions 1.0

INSTRUCTIONS

Give up the world; give up self; finally, give up God.
Find god in rhododendrons and rocks,
passers-by, your cat.
Pare your beliefs, your absolutes.
Make it simple; make it clean.
No carry-on luggage allowed.
Examine all you have
with a loving and critical eye, then
throw away some more.
Repeat. Repeat.
Keep this and only this:
what your heart beats loudly for
what feels heavy and full in your gut.
There will only be one or two
things you will keep,
and they will fit lightly
in your pocket.

– Sheri Hostetler –
(A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry)

Praise Song for the Pandemic

Season's End, Perspectives with Panache, 2019

PRAISE SONG FOR THE PANDEMIC

Praise be the nurses and doctors, every medical staff bent over flesh to offer care, for lives saved and lives lost, for showing up either way,

Praise for the farmers, tilling soil, planting seeds so food can grow, an act of hope if ever there was,

Praise be the janitors and garbage collectors, the grocery store clerks, and the truck drivers barreling through long quiet nights,

Give thanks for bus drivers, delivery persons, postal workers, and all those keeping an eye on water, gas, and electricity,

Blessings on our leaders, making hard choices for the common good, offering words of assurance,

Celebrate the scientists, working away to understand the thing that plagues us, to find an antidote, all the medicine makers, praise be the journalists keeping us informed,

Praise be the teachers, finding new ways to educate children from afar, and blessings on parents holding it together for them,

Blessed are the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, all those who worry for their health, praise for those who stay at home to protect them,

Blessed are the domestic violence victims, on lock down with abusers, the homeless and refugees,

Praise for the poets and artists, the singers and storytellers, all those who nourish with words and sound and color,

Blessed are the ministers and therapists of every kind, bringing words of comfort,

Blessed are the ones whose jobs are lost, who have no savings, who feel fear of the unknown gnawing,

Blessed are those in grief, especially who mourn alone, blessed are those who have passed into the Great Night,

Praise for police and firefighters, paramedics, and all who work to keep us safe, praise for all the workers and caregivers of every kind,

Praise for the sound of notifications, messages from friends reaching across the distance, give thanks for laughter and kindness,

Praise be our four-footed companions, with no forethought or anxiety, responding only in love,

Praise for the seas and rivers, forests and stones who teach us to endure,

Give thanks for your ancestors, for the wars and plagues they endured and survived, their resilience is in your bones, your blood,

Blessed is the water that flows over our hands and the soap that helps keep them clean, each time a baptism,

Praise every moment of stillness and silence, so new voices can be heard, praise the chance at slowness,

Praise be the birds who continue to sing the sky awake each day, praise for the primrose poking yellow petals from dark earth, blessed is the air clearing overhead so one day we can breathe deeply again,

And when this has passed may we say that love spread more quickly than any virus ever could, may we say this was not just an ending but also a place to begin.

– Christine Valters Paintner –
Abbey of the Arts
2020

As we head into our 7th month of living in the pandemic, I wanted to share this poem, now making special mention of all the teachers around the world, who as another lovely poet wrote this week: “To All the Teachers, we see you turning your hearts into classrooms where not even masks can block out your love.” bentlily by Samantha Reynolds

Praise be the teachers.

With love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Lost, Again


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

There’s a Space

There’s A Space

There’s a space I look into most mornings,
through the tall strong limbs and lacy leather leaves of
the graceful laurel willow.
The one our neighbor detests for its size and heft,
fearing a limb will snap in the wind that makes it
twist and bend to its will.
The one we love for those very reasons,
which is why we invest our time and money in its trimming
to safeguard its
health and aging glory.

This space past rooftops and beyond neighboring trees,
a keyhole into world beyond my backyard,
a periscope onto the weather.
Right now, fog hangs wet and heavy,
making for a monotone blanket of dark and light.
Yesterday, pale grey with rain cloud.
And the day before that, clear summer blue shimmering against
a emerald border.
Sooner than later, a more fragile edge, as leaves give way to bare branches,
then to be softened with snow.

Depending on where I sit, inside or out,
and the time of day I take to notice,
the perspective shifts.

But always the same
my gratitude for this opening
onto another moment of the day,
into a life that is mine to claim.

– KW –

Wild Geese

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

– Mary Oliver –

Close In

Start Close In

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To find
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
listening
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

– David Whyte –
 River Flow: New and Selected Poems

Summer

Hermitage Pond, Edmonton, Alberta

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

– Mary Oliver –

A Couple of Covid Summer Days

Driving along a prairie east west highway, see
tawny hawks sit still and solemn on weathered wooden fence posts
gazing out over the sun yellow canola fields
bordered by green grass and blue sky.
While crows hop on the edges of pot-hole ponds,
and others soar on invisible cloudless slipstreams.

The linden tree we planted to replace the “sacred” grove of aspens,
(those four slender white trunks and limbs finally reached their natural end)
is now in full golden blossom, gives off that
subtle, yet distinguishable sweet fragrance
attracting big-bottomed bumblebees by the dozen.

This day I sit on the café patio of a favourite garden store.
The masked hostess initially said there’d be an hour wait,
then quickly waived it and me to the perfect table.
Such kindness these days so easily
brings me,
touches me,
moves me
to tears. Thankful for sunglasses. I can see out. She can’t see in.

Creamy globes of hydrangea, some in pots, others topiary trees.
Their petals flutter in a balmy breeze I’ve longed for ages to feel.

Piano muzak and signature water fountains, my aural companions.
Another day of cloudless blue soothing warmth.
Background melodies blur nearby conversations,
but accentuate my silent solitude.
Those familiar invite a slippery slope of remembering when

I was last here…lunch with friends,
Winter cold.
Swaddled in sweaters and down, toques, gloves and coats.
Warm in the glow of time shared.

Floating down the river as a teenager with my girlfriends, or
lounging on the air mattress in the cold quarry waters.
Music blasting from the boom box above.
Carefully passing the joint,
we be jammin’.

My spoon glides through
the layers of light whipped cream,
denser coconut cream,
then break though oven crisp pastry.
My raison d’etre this favourite dessert.

Pachelbel’s canon whispers, evokes
body memory to breathe slower, deeper.
And then, like that golden dragonfly I watch
my thoughts
lift and land lightly

a friend who lost her husband to suicide
another her brother
won’t linger too long here,
just enough for a steady pause and heartfelt prayer.

Finally a long awaited week of summer
where the yellow circle weather icons make it possible to plan

a picnic,
a patio visit,
an alfresco dinner with friends,
another day long road trip.

Slugs shrivel. Flowers flourish.
Farmers’ crops and home gardens ripen,
promising a bounty this week.Perspectives with Panache, 2020Hallelujah! Cohen’s chords now proclaim.
Bill received and paid.
Thanks be given.

My Guest House

THE GUEST HOUSE

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

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

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

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

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

– Jelaluddin Rumi –
    translation by Coleman Barks

Lost Together

Portland Fire Dancer, Perspectives with Panache, 2012

LOST

“The map is not the territory” —Alfred Korzybski

All the old signposts have fallen,
wood cracked and rotted,
atlases crumble, a pile of maps
flutter and dart like hummingbird
wings, the GPS signal is out of range.

Her compass slips from her hand,
the only thing she knows is that
she walks in circles now,
the trees ahead familiar
but really nothing is the same.
She wanders for hours, days,
weeks, loses track of the nights
as one tumbles into another.

Finally, she stops, builds
a bonfire from all the old maps
still in her pack, invites others
who wander by to gather,
each of them savor warmth
from flame and kindness,
laugh while they tell stories
of how they once knew the way.

Her eyes meet another,
hand outstretched, together
their breath rises in white spirals
into cold air and they
stay still long enough
to learn to love the quiet ache,
the old longing to be sure,
to see the country of certainty
as a memory receding
like an evening horizon until
there is only the black bowl of sky.

They begin to hear the whisper
of breezes, the secrets of birds,
follow the underground stream
that runs through each of them,
and they no longer ask
which way to go,
but sit and savor this
together, under night sky
illumined by fire and stars.

– Christine Valters Paintner –