Surprising as unplanned kisses, all you haven’t deserved of days and solitude, your body’s immoderate good health that lets you work in many kinds of weather. Praise talk with just about anyone. And quiet intervals, books that are your food and your hunger; nightfall and walks before sleep. Praising these for practice, perhaps you will come at last to praise grief and the wrongs you never intended. At the end there may be no answers and only a few very simple questions: did I love, finish my task in the world? Learn at least one of the many names of God? At the intersections, the boundaries where one life began and another ended, the jumping-off places between fear and possibility, at the ragged edges of pain, did I catch the smallest glimpse of the holy?
Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars. I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek— And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope, Tangled in that ancient endless chain Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land! Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need! Of work the men! Of take the pay! Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil. I am the worker sold to the machine. I am the Negro, servant to you all. I am the people, humble, hungry, mean— Hungry yet today despite the dream. Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers! I am the man who never got ahead, The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream In the Old World while still a serf of kings, Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true, That even yet its mighty daring sings In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned That’s made America the land it has become. O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas In search of what I meant to be my home— For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore, And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea, And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me? Surely not me? The millions on relief today? The millions shot down when we strike? The millions who have nothing for our pay? For all the dreams we’ve dreamed And all the songs we’ve sung And all the hopes we’ve held And all the flags we’ve hung, The millions who have nothing for our pay— Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again— The land that never has been yet— And yet must be—the land where every man is free. The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME— Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose— The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives, We must take back our land again, America!
O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath— America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain— All, all the stretch of these great green states— And make America again!
– Langston Hughes –
I’d been waiting until the results of the American presidential election to share Hughes’ powerful words, written in 1935. It’s been sitting in my draft file for over two months. Today, two weeks since the unprecedented attack on the Capital Building, many in the world witness the inaugurations of Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice-president of the United States. Eighty-five years since Hughes penned his clarion call. And as many have written in these past weeks, there is much work to heal from the ravages of the pandemics of racism and COVID-19. “Make America again!” May it be so.
Now we will count to twelve and we will all keep still for once on the face of the earth, let’s not speak in any language; let’s stop for a second, and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines; we would all be together in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea would not harm whales and the man gathering salt would not look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars, wars with gas, wars with fire, victories with no survivors, would put on clean clothes and walk about with their brothers in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused with total inactivity. Life is what it is about; I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us as when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve and you keep quiet and I will go.
All my friends are finding new beliefs. This one converts to Catholicism and this one to trees. In a highly literary and hitherto religiously-indifferent Jew God whomps on like a genetic generator. Paleo, Keto, Zone, South Beach, Bourbon. Exercise regimens so extreme she merges with machine. One man marries a woman twenty years younger and twice in one brunch uses the word verdant; another’s brick-fisted belligerence gentles into dementia, and one, after a decade of finical feints and teases like a sandpiper at the edge of the sea, decides to die. Priesthoods and beasthoods, sombers and glees, high-styled renunciations and avocations of dirt, sobrieties, satieties, pilgrimages to the very bowels of being …
All my friends are finding new beliefs and I am finding it harder and harder to keep track of the new gods and the new loves, and the old gods and the old loves, and the days have daggers, and the mirrors motives, and the planet’s turning faster and faster in the blackness, and my nights, and my doubts, and my friends, my beautiful, credible friends.”
– Christopher Wiman –
As we begin to live our way into this long awaited new year, I reflect on friendships… near and far, here and “home”, past, present, and yet to be known, lapsed and tended, cherished and challenging, liked and loved, beautiful, credible. Your presence in my life matters, immeasurably.
Listen hear to Pádraig Ó Tuama’s beautiful recitation and considerations of this poem.
With love, kindest regards, and best wishes for a New Year shimmering with all that is good and true and beautiful.
the year is done. i spread the past 365 days before me on the living room carpet. point to the one where i decided to shed everything not deeply committed to my dreams. refused to be victim to the self-pity. here is the week i slept in the garden. in the spring wrung the self-doubt by its neck. hung your kindness up. took down the calendar. danced so hard my heart learned to float above water again. in the summer i unscrewed all the mirrors from their walls. no longer needed to see myself to feel seen. combed their weight out of my hair. i fold the good days up and place them in my back pocket for safekeeping. draw the match. cremate the unnecessary. the light of the fire warms my toes. i pour myself a glass of hot water to cleanse myself for january. here i go. stronger and wiser into the new.
– rupi kaur –
Cheers, dear friends, and wishing you all that is good and true and beautiful for this new year. With love and kindest regards.
When Laurens van der Post one night In the Kalahari Desert told the Bushmen He couldn’t hear the stars Singing, they didn’t believe him. They looked at him, half-smiling. They examined his face To see whether he was joking Or deceiving them. Then two of those small men Who plant nothing, who have almost Nothing to hunt, who live On almost nothing, and with no one But themselves, led him away From the crackling thorn-scrub fire And stood with him under the night sky And listened. One of them whispered, Do you not hear them now? And van der Post listened, not wanting To disbelieve, but had to answer, No. They walked him slowly Like a sick man to the small dim Circle of firelight and told him They were terribly sorry, And he felt even sorrier For himself and blamed his ancestors For their strange loss of hearing, Which was his loss now. On some clear night When nearby houses have turned off their visions, When the traffic dwindles, when through streets Are between sirens and the jets overhead Are between crossings, when the wind Is hanging fire in the fir trees, And the long-eared owl in the neighboring grove Between calls is regarding his own darkness, I look at the stars again as I first did To school myself in the names of constellations And remember my first sense of their terrible distance, I can still hear what I thought At the edge of silence where the inside jokes Of my heartbeat, my arterial traffic, The C above high C of my inner ear, myself Tunelessly humming, but now I know what they are: My fair share of the music of the spheres And clusters of ripening stars, Of the songs from the throats of the old gods Still tending ever tone-deaf creatures Through their exiles in the desert.
– David Wagoner –
Astrologers are saying that come Monday, December 21, Winter Solstice, a rare astrological alignment of planets, not seen since the 1200s, will occur. Jupiter and Saturn will align so closely that it will appear as a radiant point of light being called the Star of Bethlehem or the Christmas Star. Here in the northern hemisphere, we’re being instructed to look to the southwestern sky about 45 minutes after sunset. As the next such great conjunction won’t happen again until March 2o80, this would be the time to witness such a “miracle.”
“Look how calmly the trees abandon their autumn leaves, scattering jewels on the ground, soon to become mulch. These serene beings are apt teachers for us. Just see how they send their life-essence down into their roots as the days shorten and darken.”
Pir Zia Inayat Khan, The Zephyr Newsletter, December 2020
Last Monday, when I walked with Annie to centre myself and find my words, when I listened to the poem that released the floodgate of tears and cleared the way for the inchoate to become articulate, I found myself attracted to Nature’s images that evoked a “hanging on.” Despite all that gives way to a northern winter – daylight and warmth, green grass and foliage, garden fresh vegetables, robin song – still there is much that persists.
And I thought, how fitting a metaphor for this year’s Advent. Now in the third week, the one characterized by the rose-pink candle of joy, I wondered how do we hold the tension, no, how do we live and be in the tension of hanging on expectantly, when so much has let go? How do we negotiate our familiar and counted upon traditions of joy and celebration, in the face of myriad losses and uncertainties, persistent isolation and loneliness? How do we wait in joy for the promise inherent in this season, given so many shattering impacts of 2020? Not an intended pun, but truly a pandemic paradox, of pandemic proportion.
While I don’t have answers to my own questions, let alone any “sage” advice, I am reminded of Rilke’s wisdom to not strive for answers…to live the questions for now…though admittedly, not quite able to love them. But perhaps there are some hints from others, whose words have shimmered as they’ve crossed my screen this week, in remarkable resonance and synchronicity.
“I’m feeling a bone deep exhaustion now, yet I’m also feeling a resistance to the softness and rest that this season urges. There is too much to do to rest. And to be soft in the face of all that has happened in 2020 — that is a world of hurt I’m not sure I can bear. My experience of this season’s impulse to look back and take stock has a new intensity too. There is a great deal I long to recover about pre-pandemic life. But I don’t want to go back to a “normal” that would lose all that this year taught and gave us to live into.”
Krista Tippett, The Pause, December 15, 2020
In the past few days, I walked and listened to another of my favorite podcasts, Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us. In the most recent episode, she looked back over all she had learned from reading and prepping for two seasons worth of interviews, to more fully understand her very first episode on “FFT’s” (friggin’ first times) dropped in the early days of Covid-19. Her recent neuroscience “expert,” David Eagleman, confirmed Brené’s emergent hypothesis that our brains – and we – are exhausted with mapping so many new responses to this year’s unprecedented number of FFTs. The antidote to so much changing so fast is our attention, our acknowledgement, and rest, plenty of rest that restores us, and our brains. The image that comes to mind after today’s snow showers: clearing the walks and roads of snow that keeps falling. No sooner do you get it clear, then you need to do it again, and again, and again.
In this same episode, Brené shared a quote that succinctly sums up life as we know it now:
“‘History is the study of surprises.’ This line captures the world in which we live, we’re living history, surprise after surprise after surprise. And just when we think, we’ve had all the big surprises for a while, along comes another one. If the first two decades of the 21st century have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty is chronic; instability is permanent; disruption is common; and we can neither predict nor govern events. There will be no ‘new normal’; there will only be a continuous series of ‘not normal’ episodes, defying prediction and unforeseen by most of us until they happen.”
Jim Collins, Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0, 2020
Hmmm…grim news of foreboding, or the sudden, fresh wakening from somnambulant dis-illusion? Another paradox and invitation to find a middle way, perhaps?
I’ve lost track of the number of times this past year I’ve heard myself say aloud or think the wise words from a past, wise teacher: the trick to living paradox is knowing “it’s all true.” That both sides of the coin are the same coin. That 180 degrees is a straight line connecting what appear to be opposites. That the yin always contains a bit of yang and vice versa. And that there is a field between right doing and wrong doing where I will meet you.
“There is a time for stillness and empty-handedness, a time for holding vigil in the darkness. Winter keeps a secret that is vital to our soul’s knowledge of itself. Before long, the days will lengthen again. But now is the time to be rooted in the silent, patient earth as the planet heaves through the ebon emptiness of space.”
Pir Zia Inayat Khan, The Zephyr Newsletter, December 2020
Yes. This is so very true. And so too, for so many of us right now, is the isolation and loneliness that fills us with sorrow, worry, grief. That keeps us sleepless when we need rest for our bodies and brains and hearts, and to recover our resilience.
Last week, once again in my favorite Italian grocery store, as I maneuvered my cart into the checkout line, I looked up to see our dear friends. The last I saw them was a year ago, sitting at our cozy round table, enjoying a kitchen supper. Nothing fancy. Just simple Tuscan cooking, fine wine, and edifying conversation. It was a delicious evening, one we anticipated repeating sooner than later, upon our return from Andalusia last February. Sure, now we talk on the phone, exchange “love notes” in the mail or via text, but to lay eyes on each other, bundled and masked, brought tears to our eyes. There we stood, huddled among the pasta and olive oil – probably closer than two meters – impelled to express our love, our gratitude, the miraculous of our chance meeting, the angels that must have conspired for us then and there.
“…we need to accompany each other right now and beyond this season, in what none of us is called to bear and do alone. To honor the many losses we scarcely know what to do with. To dwell with reverence before our exhaustion and our resilience. To cultivate the expectant waiting that is the spirit of Advent. To ponder how we want to live once the virus releases us back to each other. “
Krista Tippett, The Pause, December 15, 2020
Since I last wrote, Covid-19 vaccinations are now being administered around the world. Here in Canada, the first to be inoculated was an elderly woman from Quebec. Here in Alberta, our health care workers are to be first in line. Touted as the light at the end of a long dark tunnel, it’s not lost on me that this hoped for miracle comes during our darkest hours, both literally and figuratively. Personally, I sit in another paradox: knowing it will be many months before I have access to this anticipated release from the virus’ silent, deadly grip and can let go of extraordinary vigilance and precaution, countered by the desire to hang on to the many subtle gifts of this time – a slowing down to savour simplicity and deepening stillness, noticing inner shifts and outer expressions, renewed appreciation and gratitude, a growing and steady contentment. Just as my love of winter’s darkness has grown over time, and I wince knowing that come next week, we’ll once again be on the upswing to more daylight, I hear a whisper of caution to not squander what has been so hard won, an invitation to make anew.
“We will not go back to normal, normal never was. Our pre-Corona existence was not normal, other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends, we are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature.”
Sonya Renee Taylor
Now, I literally wait for the linen and yarn and needles to arrive to start stitching.
We place ourselves in circles and huddles, knowing somehow that this way of being together signs the shape of our dreams and longings.
From space we see ourselves round, connected to one another, facing each other, with all our differences dancing around the sun together.
For centuries we have been trying to bring the circle down from mystery skies, to set it stone solid in our hearts, to memorize the knowing of each preciousness equally gift to the circle of whole.
Spirals etched in red rock canyon story the journey out of and into the center then holds all things together. Stonehenge pillars and lintels dragged for miles, scraped into meaning, set in sacred formation with sun and moon. Conical mounds heaped into remembrance ritual the lives of elders who circle the fire of the tribe. Everywhere and ancient the circle is repeated, shaping us to its original wisdom.
Give us each day or daily hunger, to be more than we are now, to be less solitary selves doubting our place, to be more a circle of connection and acceptance, spherical harmony of the heavens.
Each one a single voice, a sacred story, but always in the larger circle of meaning and mystery.
– Gary Boelhower –
As a practitioner, teacher and past board member of The Circle Way, our financial support ensures the practice and resources reach far and wide. Perhaps more than ever, our world needs the skills to sit together in our collective stories of grief, injustice, dreams and longings. Consider The Circle Way in your gifting this season.
Thank you, dear friends. Much love and kindest regards.