Tender Mercy

I’m at a loss for words.

There is nothing I can write today that isn’t already being penned by those more astute, more qualified and more proximate to the rioting south of me in the United States, this time catalyzed by the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis. To say the collective outrage is palpable would be a gross understatement. As I write, headlines appear on my screen reporting increased aggression and violence from police towards protesters. And all the while, the nation’s “leader” resorting to his m.o. – ironically one he tried to shut down this week – tweets with the effect of throwing gasoline on fire.  To say these already volatile scenarios in American cities are being intentionally and strategically inflamed by bands of out-of-state Neo Nazis and white supremacists, taking their lead from the one in charge, might be speculation bordering on truth.

So I borrow from the words of others to help me find my own.

And a perspective I heard yesterday in a zoom conversation.

“We need to connect the demand for justice –
which is an outpouring of love –
with tenderness.”

Omid Safi
Islamic scholar and teacher of The Heart of Rumi, May 30, 2020

Over the years at summer folk festivals across my province, I’ve heard American songwriter Mary Gauthier sing one of her most memorable songs, Mercy Now. Released in 2005, its relevancy persists as a poignant anthem for these times. Reading the lyrics over at her website for an excerpt here, I realized, with a heavy heart, that every word is as pertinent today as then. Maybe because her gift is to write with a sparse honesty about our human condition.

“…My brother could use a little mercy now
He’s a stranger to freedom
He’s shackled to his fears and doubts
The pain that he lives in is
Almost more than living will allow
I love my brother, and he could use some mercy now

…Yea, we all could use a little mercy now
I know we don’t deserve it
But we need it anyhow
We hang in the balance
Dangle ‘tween hell and hallowed ground
Every single one of us could use some mercy now…”

Mary Gauthier, Mercy Now, 2005

I’ve completed the seventh week in The Soul of a Pilgrim with its practice of “embracing the unknown.” This, too, a reality of the human condition, despite our best efforts and delusions to think we know one moment beyond this one.  An early morning practicing the art of contemplative photography, framed by this theme, bore these ephemeral gifts of tender mercy in image and word.

Please, can I have a God who
within me
beyond me
enboldens, encourages, enthuses
me and we

to be better
to do better


for self and kin of
every tribe and colour
every love and gender


so that me and we
may always love, live and breathe


free.

(inspired by “Please, Can I Have a God,” by Christine Valters Paintner, in The Soul of a Pilgrim, 2015)

Too Much, Too Fast, Too Soon

Photo from Dr. Eileen Villa, Twitter, May 23, 2020, Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park

In a Dark Time

Do not rush to make meaning.
When you smile and say what purpose
this all serves, you deny grief
a room inside you,
you turn from thousands who cross
into the Great Night alone,
from mourners aching to press
one last time against the warm
flesh of their beloved,
from the wailing that echoes
in the empty room.

When you proclaim who caused this,
I say pause, rest in the dark silence
first before you contort your words
to fill the hollowed out cave,
remember the soil will one day
receive you back too.
Sit where sense has vanished,
control has slipped away,
with futures unravelled,
where every drink tastes bitter
despite our thirst.

When you wish to give a name
to that which haunts us,
you refuse to sit
with the woman who walks
the hospital hallway, hears
the beeping stop again and again,
with the man perched on a bridge
over the rushing river.
Do not let your handful of light
sting the eyes of those
who have bathed in darkness.

– Christine Valters Paintner –
2020

Prescience

ONE FINE DAY

Saw the wanderin’ eye, inside my heart
Shouts and battle cries, from every part
I can see those tears, every one is true
When the door appears, I’ll go right through, oh
I stand in liquid light, like everyone

I built my life with rhymes, to carry on
And it gives me hope, to see you there
The things I used to know, that one fine

One fine day

In a small dark room, where I will wait
Face to face I find, I contemplate
Even though a man is made of clay
Everything can change that one fine —

One fine day

Then before my eyes, is standing still
I beheld it there, a city on a hill
I complete my tasks, one by one
I remove my masks, when I am done

Then a peace of mind fell over me —
In these troubled times, I still can see
We can use the stars, to guide the way
It is not that far, the one fine —

One fine day

– David Byrne and Brian Eno –
2018

David Byrne, founder of my favourite dance band, Talking Heads.

Worrying

I Worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

– Mary Oliver –
Swan, 2010

Or in my case, danced.

One Morning

The Way It Is

One morning you might wake up
to realize that the knot in your stomach
had loosened itself and slipped away,
and that the pit of unfulfilled longing in your heart
had gradually, and without your really noticing,
been filled in—patched like a pothole, not quite
the same as it was, but good enough.

And in that moment it might occur to you
that your life, though not the way
you planned it, and maybe not even entirely
the way you wanted it, is nonetheless—
persistently, abundantly, miraculously—
exactly the way it is.

– Lynn Ungar –
2015

Sheltered In Place

Today, When I Could Do Nothing

Today, when I could do nothing,
I saved an ant.

It must have come in with the morning paper,
still being delivered
to those who shelter in place.

A morning paper is still an essential service.

I am not an essential service.

I have coffee and books,
time,
a garden,
silence enough to fill cisterns.

It must have first walked
the morning paper, as if loosened ink
taking the shape of an ant.

Then across the laptop computer — warm —
then onto the back of a cushion.

Small black ant, alone,
crossing a navy cushion,
moving steadily because that is what it could do.

Set outside in the sun,
it could not have found again its nest.
What then did I save?

It did not move as if it was frightened,
even while walking my hand,
which moved it through swiftness and air.

Ant, alone, without companions,
whose ant-heart I could not fathom—
how is your life, I wanted to ask.

I lifted it, took it outside.

This first day when I could do nothing,
contribute nothing
beyond staying distant from my own kind,
I did this.

– Jane Hirshfield –
April 2020

Time to Be Slow

P1040118

This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.

– John O’Donohue –
To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Big Pause, Big Questions

“All is well. While you take this big pause,
we have a lot of housecleaning to do.”

Wind Whispering

It’s early Saturday morning, the pause between Good Friday and Easter in the Christian tradition. I woke at 3:00, not an unusual experience. With a stomach ache. Too, not unusual these days. It’s been a good month or so since I’ve been in “compassionate retreat.” As I’ve written – day in, day out – not an unusual experience except… And those exceptions are what can throw me into the surreal reality of life now as I, we know it. Or don’t. And there’s the rub.

In these many days – which day is it? – from my read, media sources are full of conjecture and narrative trying to explain life now. How we got here. Where we’re going. Who’s to blame. How to fix. And much, much more. My meaning-making, pattern-seeking mind can be temporarily soothed or agitated as I scan, read, note, share, comment, talk it out, depending. But bottom line is there is so much I don’t know, and know it’s too soon to know, that my habit of needing to know is a fix.

Molokai, Perspectives with Panache, 2007

A few weeks ago, I took a chance to comment in the blog of a woman whose way of writing, and orientation to life, to faith, I really like, I feel kindred with. Took a chance because I was about to offer a very different perspective from the other comments on her post which had laid out, in a helpful way, the metamorphosis change frame revived and embellished by life coach Martha Beck. Here’s a slightly edited version of what I pondered on her page:

I’m going out on a limb to offer another perspective borne from l/earned life experience.

Several years ago, after a particularly raw, vulnerable time of loss and interior dishevelment, I attended my monthly community of practice gathering (we are life and leadership coaches, process designers, facilitators, educators – a kind and highly “emotionally – relationally intelligent” types) wherein the host offered a process based on these stages of metamorphosis. While I knew the cognitive calm and soothing this stage model offered, I also knew at a deeper level, that its comfort was based on Mind’s role of searching for patterns to make meaning and sense of, what was for me at that time, incomprehensible.

I knew at a deeper level, to follow this model, would be an abandonment, sabotaging even, of my own inner process. That giving in to the “oh, I know, what comes next is the butterfly” would prevent something totally new from coalescing and emerging, as I exchanged comfort for uncertainty, premature pattern for chaos.

I knew I was in the patternless void, the soul’s dark night, the mystic’s desert.

Could I trust that the patterns of stars in that black void of sky might emerge, though NOT be the constellations that I knew before?

That is the question for me now.

Pattern will emerge from this chaos, but most likely, unlike what I/we have ever seen, or ever known before. It might not be – most likely will not be – a butterfly that emerges from the messy imaginal cells. That is what I needed to let go of then, and need to now. This is where faith, trust, love come into play.

What new forms of being and living and loving can we breathe into those formless imaginal cells if we allow them their time?

What new stories are wanting to be written if we are patient for the words to emerge? If we trust we are each writing the new story with every choice we make (even the “no choice” choices), every day we live our lives as prayer?

What holy grief, holy gratitude, holy love, can we evolve together?

So here I sit, best I can. Big pause. Big questions.
Big breath in. Big breath out.

“I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir,
to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms
and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.
Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it,
live along some distant day into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1986

A Holy April Blessing

Perspectives with Panache, 2005

During these days of “compassionate retreat,” this April, across holy faith traditions, invites in a closer relationship to the divine, however we know that to be.  Too, the “super” full moon in Libra – the biggest of the year – with its astrological emphasis on balance, harmony, and being in right relation with all, welcomes Passover and Easter and amplifies the significance of these holy days.  I take a moment to reach out from our home – where we are well – to yours…

May you be well, safely tucked in with your beloveds.

May the moments of anxiety and unease be few and far between.

May grief with what is now over and what is now lost, be borne with an open heart,
and flow through you as the fresh watered river.

May deep rest, fresh air and sunshine restore you and be like
the warm embrace of missed family and friends.

May good food nourish your body,
favourite memories and meaningful conversations feed your heart and mind.

May the slow and quiet bring you clear insight and deep illumination,
helping you discern your next wise step.

May gratitude and generosity, kindness and grace be your constant companions.

– KW –
2020

What Traveling Gives Me

Iceland, Perspectives with Panache, 2018

What’s needed are eyes that focus with the soul.
What’s needed are spirits open to everything.
What’s needed are the belief that wonder is the glue of the universe
and the desire to seek more of it.
Be filled with wonder.

–  Richard Wagamese –
Embers, 2016

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