The trees, along their bare limbs, contemplate green. A flicker, rising, flashes rust and white before vanishing into stillness, and raked leaves crumble imperceptibly to dirt.
On all sides life opens and closes around like a mouth. Will you pretend you are not caught between its teeth?
The kestrel in its swift dive and the mouse below, the first green shoots that will not wait for spring are a language constantly forming.
Quiet your pride and listen. There — beneath the rainfall and the ravens calling you can hear it — the great tongue constantly enunciating something that rings through the world as grace.
Lynn Ungar (Bread and Other Miracles)
Last week when I wrote about Wintering, I was aware it was Imbolc, the ancient Celtic holy day, midway between Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, that honours the “barely beginnings” of new life. Try as I might to acknowledge that in my post, I couldn’t, needing instead to simply stay put in the depth of wintering. Maybe a prescient response to the deep Arctic cold that descended upon us this week, nonetheless, those barely beginnings are evident. Sun rising earlier in the morning, sitting higher in the noon sky, setting later in the afternoon. Hyacinth, tulip and daffodil bulbs forced in greenhouse warmth. Latent buds on trees. We wait. It comes. Winter into Spring.
Krista Tippett: Somewhere you say that snow creates a “liminal space, a crossing point between the mundane and the magical.”
Katherine May: I think snow — what I love about snow is the way that it makes a clean break. It transforms the landscape. Everything’s different. Everything sounds different. The quality of light is different. The light kind of sparkles off it. You know, before you open your curtains, that snow has landed. And for me, I just think that’s such a gift. I know it’s less of a gift if it’s there for five or six months. But it’s a break in the routine. It’s a little bit like a kind of pause. You can’t go about your normal business. School chucks out. But you get to see your world in a different way. And it’s beautiful.
I grew up in quite an unbeautiful place, and snow used to make it beautiful. And I used to absolutely love that. And I now live in a very beautiful place, and snow makes it magical instead, when it comes.
On Being with Krista Tippett, January 21, 2021
Inspired by their conversation for Monday’s blog on Wintering, and given the recent snow and its transformation of so much around me, I had to include Katherine’s poetic rendering here, as Friday’s photo and poem feature.
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.
Tomorrow is Solstice. Here in the northern hemisphere, we mark Winter’s formal arrival with the longest, darkest night. In the past month, much has been written about the unusual planetary alignment between Jupiter and Saturn, apparently coming so close together as to give the impression of one large and most brilliant star. Making its first appearance in over eight hundred years, it’s being called the “Christmas Star,” even the “Star of Bethlehem.” I’m praying for clear skies around the world so we can each take in a bit of the magic and miraculous. God knows we’re in need of some…
As is my pattern, it’s Sunday night after dinner and I’m comfortably alone in our office tapping out my thoughts for this post. I’m listening to excerpts of Handel’s “Messiah,” truly one of the western Christian world’s most beloved Christmas oratorios. Every time I hear it, I wonder if Handel and librettist Charles Jennen had any idea of the timeless magnificence they created.
Yesterday I attended a Facebook live “sing along” hosted by the historic Bardavon Opera House and Hudson Valley Philharmonic. Close to 10,000 people from around the world watched and sang. How remarkable to read of the many people who have sung their part in choirs – large and small, community and professional – every Christmas for decades. My own memories evoked…including the time I missed that long rest in the Alleluia chorus and rather inadvertently, took my own solo! For 10,000 of us to have clicked and arrived, being “alone together” for an hour, sharing memories, joy, and even tears as we stood in unison for the Alleluia chorus, time and distance magically collapsed as our hearts rang open. Truly, one of the pandemic’s paradoxical gifts.
In keeping with tradition, once again I offer my annual Solstice blessing, this year reworked with words I wrote during the pandemic’s early days, during our first pervasive “lockdown.”
May this Holyday season bring time to cherish all that is good and true and beautiful.
May its dark days invite reflection and renewal.
May you be well, and safely tucked in with your beloveds at home.
May deep rest, fresh air, and sunshine restore you and be like the warm embrace of longed for family and friends.
May any moments of anxiety and sadness be held in tenderness, with the support of others.
May strength in body, mind, and spirit allow you to embrace life’s uncertainties.
May good health be your companion, relationships enliven and encourage, work and pastimes fulfill, serve, and affirm.
May good food nourish your body, favourite memories and meaningful conversations your heart and mind.
May Nature welcome you to its beauty, magic, and wisdom.
May gratitude, generosity, and grace be your friends.
May patience, love, and kindness – given and received – be yours in abundance.
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.”