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 most 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

Have We Learned?

I’ve been pondering for the past week what to write for this post. I’d thought of taking a pass, but I made this promise to my writerly self that I’d show up twice a week to post in this space devoted to writing. I may have copped out a bit, using the Friday posts for a poem – occasionally one of my efforts – accompanied by one of my photos. Pretty simple, leaving only Mondays for something more creative .

Right now I’m feeling “written out.” I just finished the first draft of an important email. One of those brave and necessary, fence mending, relationship tending emails. The kind that takes a lot of time, mental focus, heart connection and honesty to find the right words, to convey right tone. I’ll let that sit for a while before pressing “send”.  And for the past three weeks, I’ve been journaling and writing a bit of poetry in response to prompts from the online course, The Soul of a Pilgrim. I’ve mentioned it in a couple of recent posts, remarking on its timeliness for these times, its resonance with my contemplative nature.

This course, derived from the host Christine Valters Paintner’s book of the same, features weekly one of her eight practices of pilgrimage, each grounded in scripture, and then brought to life each day through several creative processes – lectio divino (reflection and writing to words that shimmer in a reading); Midrash, an ancient Jewish tradition of writing what’s imagined, or as a character in a reading, akin, I think, to Jungian “active imagination”; visio divino or contemplative photography; and Midrash movement, free expression movement or dance, with or without music, inspired by the reading.

Week 1, “Hearing the Call and Responding” evoked my poem, Hearing the Pilgrim’s Call, as the week’s integration. In Week 2, the practice of “Packing Lightly,” the visio divino process inspired the closing poem in my post, So This Is The Camino.

Last week, Week 3, the practice of “Crossing the Threshold,” I finally overcame a curious resistance to the movement exercise, odd for one who danced before she walked and as a young girl intuited how to use dance to move through stuck times, ground in turbulent ones. During the lectio divino, despite the scripture selection (Miriam at the Sea of Reeds, Exodus 15:19-21) immediately calling forth wonderful memories of walking a small pilgrimage of ceremony and celebration in Andalusia in 2017, my own experience in Midrash movement was anything but celebratory, as my exterior reality collided with my interior journey.

Despite my photos that captured that celebration, and resonated with the scripture reading, I journaled:

“Today, I danced Miriam, with an actual tambourine. And I simply could not let go into the celebration, as my exterior world, where my province has just announced its staged ‘re-opening’ plan – to begin today – is creating deep unease and grave concern. ‘Too much, too fast, too soon,’ I posted on Facebook last night, adding I hoped my concerns would prove unfounded, though much time would only tell. Many replied, mostly women, in agreement. So, a figurative dance with women…with my tambourine of caution, not of celebration.”

That caution carried through into my contemplative camera walk. A series of images of thresholds. This one. These words. Outer world amplified by the inner life revealed.

A well worn path abruptly ends
opening onto an expanse of space and sky.
Trees, like sentinels, guard against distraction.
Gravel now becomes greening fairway,
dry gold patches reveal winter’s hardship.

An urban golf course, my off season nature walk and refuge
whose birdsong and cloudscapes invite
my reverie and prayer.

But today this medicine must give way to golfers,
who, like so many, have bemoaned
a long winter, a late spring, a country-wide lock-down.

Too much, too fast, too soon my province’s plans for 
a re-opened economy, 
to say nothing about we the people, the citizens, the communities, the society.
Prevalent paradigms persist
that what’s good for one is
de facto
good for the other, 
without naming me, asking us.

Threshold crossed to
get on with it,
get it over,
get it right.

But have we learned? What?
Will we remember? How?
Will we get it right?

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