Faith

It’s Sunday evening, the time I usually sit down in my office to tap out Monday’s post, stringing together impressions from the last week, often inspired by something I’ve read or heard. Classical choral music, hosted by one of the stellar announcers on my radio station, CKUA, and the purr of the space heater create an aural ambiance, and some needed warmth.

I’d thought I’d write my more-or-less annual “word for the year” post, wherein I sing the praises of having been introduced to the notion by a dear friend several years ago, then more recently shored up by a twelve-day discernment process hosted by Abbey of the Arts. Last year, in hindsight, I wrote about the prescience of having had HOME “arrive” as my 2020 word, given the onset of COVID which had all of us everywhere staying put for months on end. And that I’d arrived at NATURE as being most apt for 2021, given how much solace and settling I had found being in nature during these past nearly two years of Covid’s continued destabilization. This year FAITH came, inspired by reading something in my friend Shawna Lemay’s recently published wondrous novel, EVERYTHING AFFECTS EVERYONE. Already primed for signs and shimmers, I was alert when one of her characters, quoting Alan Watts, said:

“We must make here a clear distinction between belief and faith, because, in general practice, belief has come to mean a state of mind which is almost the opposite of faith. Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would ‘lief’ or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth on the condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go.”

I’m not sure why or how, but reading those words on that brilliantly sunny but brutally cold morning between Christmas and New Year’s Day, while Annie napped beside me on “her” loveseat, grokked my word for 2022. I let go of sense making, meaning making, and trusted the thud of certainty that landed inside, having faith that FAITH it was, and FAITH it would be for 2022.

I have just finished preparing an early dinner for us – veal marsala, pasta with a mixed wild mushroom cream sauce, sautéed carrots, perfectly matched with the Amarone gifted from friends for Christmas – the ingredients purchased and menu heavily influenced by pranzo yesterday at the Italian Centre, where we again enjoyed our vino rosso with porchetta panino only served Saturdays. While sitting in the café sipping and chewing, watching a steady stream of folks order their espressos e dolces, I talked about what I most missed about this, hard to believe nearly two years’ living a covid-curtailed life: travelling abroad. That while I occasionally miss being out and about town with friends, I most deeply yearn for the new impressions that travelling brings me.

A great traveler…is a kind of introspective; as she covers the ground outwardly, so she advances fresh interpretations of herself inwardly.”

Lawrence Durell describing Freya Stark in Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

I know I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping fresh those self interpretations here at home – walking with Annie, or during the Saturday Camino walks in the river valley, noticing the ever changing, ever constant beauty around me, and making photos and poetry from what shimmers; chronicling those impressions in my now second photo-journal of Covid life – my pre-determined final volume because at the rate we’re going, this could be another never ending story! Immersing in contemplative online learning programs and engaging in online poetry readings that inspire creative expression. Reading. My recent experiments in needle and hand work. Cooking. My biweekly circle gathering. Yes, through it all, even with grieving the loss of my professional life, and now nurturing a new one, as I reflect, I have navigated this time well. Still, I miss travelling.

And so I reminisced with him about the first time I ate a porchetta panino, at the little café in the piazzetta around the block from L’Accademia in Florence, as I waited my turn to see Michelangelo’s David. And then in Siena when we toured Tuscany and Rome together. Weaving up and down the cobblestoned streets, we suddenly found ourselves in front of the shop with the tell-tale pig sign and proscuitto legs, and scent of garlic and rosemary beckoning us in. Taking one to go, with a slice of panforte, it became a signature Sienese dinner that night in our room at the villa.

Waxing on, I told him that while there are vistas yet unseen I wished to experience – hopefully some with him, a less enthusiastic traveler – maybe due to my European roots and inexplicable fascination with Moorish design and culture, returning to countries I’ve already visited – Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Morocco – held the most allure, to deepen those already etched impressions.

“the need for sacred beauty…we can only discover the real thing though deep observation, by the slow accretion of details”

Phil Cousinea, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Earlier this week my friend from Germany called, she with whom I lived the three months I travelled solo in Europe in 2011. “Come and stay with me for a few months,” she, recently retired and finding her footing, implored. If only it were that easy. And maybe it is, or soon will be, albeit with safeguards and precautions.

Perhaps that’s where faith comes in. Rings its bell quietly to remind me that one day, I’ll return to and visit anew, those places of my heart’s desire, to delve deeper into myself, by way of the world.

“Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys.”

Richard R. Niebuhr in Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Winnow to Essence

In recent seasons of being, I have had occasion to reflect on the utterly improbable trajectory of my life, plotted not by planning but by living.

We long to be given the next step and the route to the horizon, allaying our anxiety with the illusion of a destination somewhere beyond the vista of our present life…

And so the best we can do is walk step by next intuitively right step until one day, pausing to catch our breath, we turn around and gasp at a path. If we have been lucky enough, if we have been willing enough to face the uncertainty, it is our own singular path, unplotted by our anxious younger selves, untrodden by anyone else.

Maria Popova, The Marginalian, December 12, 2021

And so it goes. Learning to live my life by living, not by planning. Finding myself a couple of weeks ago, perhaps just as Maria Popova penned those words, at a crossroads in the trajectory of my life.

For years, November would find me going through calendar and files to track and complete my annual continuing competency record, a requirement for renewing my professional social work registration. Last year with the collapse of my consulting practice due to covid and budget cuts, I maintained my license under the “retired” category for a significantly lower fee, not quite ready to jump ship. This year that category was no longer available due to changes in provincial legislation. My only option would be to renew at the considerable annual fee or cancel my registration.

When I pay attention, it’s easier to discern that life has a way of pointing out the way. I’d been saying for the past year or so that I wanted to pursue writing as my next life chapter. I certainly didn’t need to be a social worker to do that. And so I said “NO” to the renewal, the finality of that chosen step arriving in my inbox the next day. A formal letter telling me that I had lost all the rights and privileges of a Social Worker, that I could no longer call myself Social Worker as it is a title protected by legislation, nor could I practice within the scope of social work practice in the province. Door slammed shut. That road closed.

Ironic that the following day, I had been invited to host a circle conversation for teachers dealing with the stress of working within the ever-shifting context of covid. As an established circle practitioner I didn’t need to be a social worker to do that.

But if you want to go your individual way, it is the way you make for yourself, which is never prescribed, which you do not know in advance, and which simply comes into being of itself when you put one foot in front of the other. If you always do the next thing that needs to be done, you will go most safely and sure-footedly along the path prescribed by your unconscious. Then it is naturally no help at all to speculate about how you ought to live. And then you know, too, that you cannot know it, but quietly do the next and most necessary thing.  

Carl Jung, Selected Letters of C.G. Jung, 1909–1961 in The Marginalian, December 12, 2021

I found myself in a similar but more complicated quandary a few years ago when deciding whether to “relinquish” my American citizenship. Consulting with tax accountants and immigration lawyers, I had to weigh a potentially hefty consequence of shutting that door – being forbidden entry into the USA. I procrastinated for several years, retainer and accounting fees mounting. Finally, in conversation with a friend, decision and direction became apparent as I heard myself say I needed to “winnow to essence.”

I’d written about this way of being in my world, describing the simplicity I sought, which was necessary then:

These words have become a mantra for the gradual process of letting go of a lot of my life’s trappings, and committing to exchange things for experiences…
Winnowing to essence. Quite a bit of not a lot. Mirroring for each other an innate way of being, born of aging.

A way of being which is now even more important for the writer I am becoming. Who I am, what with a couple of honorable mentions for poems submitted to contests, being one of fourteen from a hundred invited to read another, and another published online this past weekend. Too, the enjoyable co-editing collaboration resulting in this month’s online publication of Sage-ing: The Journal of Creative Aging, featuring submissions from several of my friends. Simplicity and solitude that have been paradoxical gifts from the pandemic. And yes, knowing loneliness as part of this creative process.

In this blur of being by ourselves, we learn to be ourselves. One measure of maturity might be how well we grow to transmute that elemental loneliness into the “fruitful monotony” Bertrand Russell placed at the heart of our flourishing, the “fertile solitude” Adam Phillips recognized as the pulse-beat of our creative power…

Rilke, contemplating the lonely patience of creative work that every artist knows in their marrow, captured this in his lamentation that “works of art are of an infinite loneliness” — Rilke, who all his life celebrated solitude as the groundwater of love and creativity, and who so ardently believed that to devote yourself to art, you must not “let your solitude obscure the presence of something within it that wants to emerge.”

Maria Popova, The Marginalian, December 19, 2021

A few weeks ago I reposted my piece on re-Wintering with its invitation to withdraw from the world to allow transformation within the gift of this season’s crucible. It’s a time when the poet doesn’t invent, rather she listens. As I write tonight, soon it will be Winter Solstice, in less than a week Christmas, and then the end of another year, the beginning of a new one. Here in the northern hemisphere, this holy season of darkness nudges me ever deeper towards the slow and simple. With a calendar free of social engagements, I walk Annie, cook, tend to our home and some emails.

In my meandering way I suddenly recalled, when referring above to Rilke, words from Joanna Macy, having listened to her last week in conversation with her writing companion Anita Barrows, and Krista Tippett, discussing their translation of Rilke’s Letters to A Young Poet:

Well, it seems clear that we who are alive now are here for something and witnessing something for our planet that has not happened at any time before. And so we who are alive now and who are called to — who feel called, those of us who feel called to love our world — to love our world has been at the core of every faith tradition, to be grateful for it, to teach ourselves how to see beauty, how to treasure it, how to celebrate, how — if it must disappear, if there’s dying — how to be grateful. 

Joanna Macy, On Being with Krista Tippett, June 24, 2021

As the coming days grow darker, I wish for you time to slow down to see, treasure and celebrate beauty. May you open to the gifts of wintering. May you know gratitude in your life. May you love our world.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light

Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
who testify
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
in shadow
and grief.

Blessed are you
in whom
the light lives,
in whom
the brightness blazes –
you heart
a chapel,
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith,
in stubborn hope,
in love that illumines
every broken thing
it finds.

– Jan Richardson –
Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons, 2015

The irony of this season, where across faith traditions there is a focus on the return of the light, is that it is a time for many of us when the darker feelings of sadness, grief, loneliness and worry are felt more intensely and amplified in and around us. This poem helps me tenderly hold the tension of what and how I “think” I should feel in this time of celebration, with what and how I may actually feel. It reminds me that within each of us are “we who bear the light.”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Step Consciously into December

May you grow still enough to hear the small noises earth makes in preparing for the long sleep of winter,
so that you yourself may grow calm and grounded deep within.

May you grow still enough to hear the trickling of water seeping
into the ground,
so that your soul may be softened and healed, and guided in its flow.

May you grow still enough to hear the splintering of starlight in the winter sky and the roar at earth’s fiery core.

May you grow still enough to hear the stir of a single snowflake in the air,
so that your inner silence may turn into hushed expectation.

Brother David Steintl-Rast

On the heels of Monday’s post, re-Wintering, one of the women in my circle wrote, “It has been interesting the way our conversation last week on “wintering” has continued to resonate…. A friend shared this with me and thought you would appreciate it as well.”
As she offered, may we all “step consciously into December.”

Self-Compassion

SELF-COMPASSION
My friend and I snickered the first time
we heard the meditation teacher, a grown man,
call himself honey, with a hand placed
over his heart to illustrate how we too 
might become more gentle with ourselves
and our runaway minds. It’s been years
since we sat with legs twisted on cushions,
holding back our laughter, but today
I found myself crouched on the floor again,
not meditating exactly, just agreeing
to be still, saying honey to myself each time
I thought about my husband splayed
on the couch with aching joints and fever
from a tick bite—what if he never gets better?—
or considered the threat of more wildfires,
the possible collapse of the Gulf Stream,
then remembered that in a few more minutes, 
I’d have to climb down to the cellar and empty
the bucket I placed beneath a leaky pipe
that can’t be fixed until next week. How long
do any of us really have before the body
begins to break down and empty its mysteries
into the air? Oh honey, I said—for once
without a trace of irony or blush of shame—
the touch of my own hand on my chest
like that of a stranger, oddly comforting
in spite of the facts.

– James Crews –

Every morning I’m greeted with two poems in my inbox: one from Canada’s League of Canadian Poets, and this one from The Academy of American Poets, “Poem-A-Day.” I think most of us need a daily dose of self-compassion, or at least to be reminded that gently placing our own hand on our own chest over our own heart is a kind and loving gesture we each deserve, and need.

Much love and kindest regards to you, dear friends.

This Thing

THIS THING

There is this thing called choice
that we value so highly.
Free will, some call it,
all our decisions
left to ourselves.

There is this thing call freedom
that we value so highly.
Live free or die trying,
all our purposes
set by our own hand.

There is this thing call rights
that we value to highly.
The right to decide, to protect.
Everything sits upon it.

There is this thing called us
that we struggle to value.
Us eclipses my choices,
my freedom,
my rights.

Us means it’s harder, more complex, unknown.

– Gretta Vosper –
Take a Deep Breath, 2019

I first met Gretta Vosper in autumn of 2019 when she keynoted an event at which I facilitated a session on creativity. An ordained minister of the United Church of Canada, Gretta is, paradoxically, a self-professed atheist. Unlike most in the gathering that weekend, I was completely unfamiliar with her and her reputation for a radical, fierce commitment to justice. But like most present when she spoke, I was deeply moved, to tears actually.

Recently re-reading her self published chapbook, Take a Deep Breath: A Poetic Pursuit of Justice (2019), I came across this poem which shimmered with remarkable prescience and current relevancy.

Any Small, Calm Thing

“Ours is a time of almost daily jaw-dropping astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people…”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times

I’m not sure where this post is going. I only know the starting place is one of a vague worry, discontent and gnawing frustration, riding the surface of a deeper, less articulate grief. All mixed with genuine awe and appreciation for the remarkable autumn weather – still colour, still sunny, still without snow.

It is Hallowe’en evening as I write. Samhain in the Celtic tradition, it is the time of thinning veils between the worlds of living and dying. A threshold into the liminal, poised on the cusp of seasons changing from the fullness of harvest to hibernation’s cold and dark.

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone,
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own…

David Whyte, Sweet Darkness, excerpt

My husband just got off the phone. His friend from southern Alberta, a long time, multi-generational beef rancher, said his calves sold for a ridiculously low price, despite beef selling in our grocery stores for a king’s ransom. The $87,000 he and his son just spent on hay to feed the cattle over the winter, because they couldn’t grow any due to a record-breaking drought – yes, the one that persists, giving us, paradoxically, this remarkable weather – might not be enough if the forecasted La Nina hard, cold prairie winter comes to be.

This week’s news was featured headlines on the backlogged and broken supply chain – container ships on fire, hundreds of containers lost in the sea off the west coast when a storm bomb hit, extreme staffing shortages compounded by inconsistent vaccination policies – soaring inflation rates, something any of us shopping for anything knew months ago. Perhaps more of Covid’s unintended consequences. Too, Facebook’s announced its rebranding as “Meta,” a potentially ominous Orwellian empire.

Last week we returned to live theatre to see the award winning, evocative, and masterfully written, produced and acted production, BEARS, “the story about a Metis oil sands worker and his perilous and transformational quest through the Rockies.” (The Citadel playbill notes)

Last night I finished reading Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive (2019), a first-hand description of navigating domestic abuse, poverty and its numerous Catch-22 ‘support’ services, single parenting without familial support, undergirded by her unrelenting need for an education and to write.

Sent by a dear friend, yesterday I watched a two minute video, Don’t Choose Extinction, produced by the United Nations Development Program – an organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change – to precede the current UN climate summit in Scotland.

“You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times

Like those disparate chips of color in a kaleidoscope, a slight shift brings into focus, in my pattern seeking way of being, an image that, as Dr. Estes writes, evokes jaw-dropping astonishment and righteous rage.

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts — adding, adding to, adding more, continuing.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul…

Like persisting with fiddling to remove my earbuds to say hello to the neighbor I’d met last winter as we both walked our beloved aging dogs on the golf course. I’d seen her and “Sunny” a couple of times over the summer as Annie and I walked down her street. I always stopped to say hello and catch up a bit. Last week as I approached her house and saw her talking to another couple, I held Annie in, persisted and fiddled when it might have been easier to wave and walk on by. The couple asked if I wanted to pass them, all of us still Covid cautious, and I said no, that I wanted to say hello to my neighbor. Finished with their conversation, thanks and farewells expressed, they graciously moved on. Looking at my neighbor I asked how she was, and then I heard her story: that her Sunny dog had been put down Thanksgiving weekend, the outcome of a sudden visit to the emergency clinic after taking a turn for the worse and not eating. Too, her mother had died a few weeks earlier, but she was sadder about Sunny. Was that awful of her, she asked. I assured her it wasn’t, that Sunny had been her constant companion, her mother aged. Had they made a mistake because in that last hour at the clinic, Sunny had rallied, full of energy, eating handfuls of the “chocolate kisses” in the quiet room where the final injection would be administered.

It was another of those glorious autumn days, brilliant blue sky, trees full of colour, her gardens still beautiful in their waning. I invited her to look around and consider how it is that autumn pulls out all the stops, gives us such glory and colour, rallies before all dies for the winter’s rest. Her eyes filled with tears of understanding. That, she said, was something she could hold on to when doubt returned and sadness threatened.

In hindsight I knew why I had persisted and fiddled, how it was that I had responded to soul’s subtle signal to help another.

And again, today walking the golf course with Annie and my husband, as we passed by the bench at the first tee, I spotted a woman sitting with beverage. Ushering them ahead to wait, I quietly approached and asked if she regularly sat here. Would she be the same woman who had helped me last winter, when sitting there she’d seen me slip on the ice and fall smack on my keester, Annie startled by the suddenness? That during the time I heeded her advice to sit still and rest, make sure I hadn’t injured myself, she told me that her husband had passed two months earlier and that she came most days to sit on the bench with her tea, they being devoted golfers? Yes, it was her. Yes, her husband had died a year ago this month. Yes, it was still, after a year, a tender time, I had offered.

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul…

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my new gig as co-editor of SAGE-ING: The Journal of Creative Aging. I mentioned that while I was thrilled to have a ready platform to publish my poetry and pieces of contemplative, non-fiction impressions, what especially delighted me was the opportunity to invite others to submit their stories of creativity’s impacts and influences. Writing to a friend who accepted my invitation and submitted several of his poems for consideration:

“What was most lovely for me about receiving your email yesterday was that it helped coalesce and give words to something that’s been cooking inside – the moving through loss and grief I’ve felt this past year with not working to “feeling” this as a beauty-filled opportunity with SAGE-ING to be of service in another way – by inviting others to submit their stories. It means I can offer the gift of “seeing” another – and I know how deeply valuable that is for each of us. So thank you! I feel as if I have come through the eye of the needle so to speak…”

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul…and be helped in so doing.

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires … causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these — to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both — are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

I sometimes forget

this I remember…dancing with Bellathea for her birthday

I sometimes forget
that I was created for Joy.

My mind is too busy.
My Heart is too heavy
for me to remember
that I have been
called to dance
the Sacred dance of life.

I was created to smile
To Love
To be lifted up
And to lift others up.

O’ Sacred One
Untangle my feet
from all that ensnares.
Free my soul.
That we might
Dance
and that our dancing
might be contagious.

– Hafiz –

One of my great joys is dancing outside, barefoot on the grass, during warm summer days at live music events – Edmonton’s and more recently Canmore’s folk festivals. So these past two COVID summers, I’ve missed dancing. I danced before I walked, or so goes the story told by my mother…she relieved for the Mickey Mouse tunes on TV that got my attention so that I pulled myself up in the playpen and bounced while she cooked dinner. Now I kitchen dance mornings listening to my radio station, CKUA, and often when I’m cooking dinner. My feet “untangled” from so much that had “ensnared” me, there’s a freedom and lightness that reminds me of my call and my joy.

On Prayer

ON PRAYER

You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.
All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge
And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,
Above landscapes the color of ripe gold
Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.
That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal
Where everything is just the opposite and the word ‘is’
Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.

Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately,
Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh
And knows that if there is no other shore
We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.

~ Czeslaw Milosz ~

I took this photo last weekend during my weekly “Camino de Edmonton,” where a group of us walk through the river valley – from east to west, in twelve stages of eight to fifteen kilometers – from September to the end of November. This is the city’s railroad trestle bridge constructed in 1908, a still-standing, functional testament to what built Canada “from sea to shining sea.”
Earlier in the week, I “saved” this poem and knew it would be the perfect complement, or my photo the perfect complement to it.
Synchronicity in the married beauty of word and image.
My life as poem and prayer…and photo.

Thanksgiving

Last week I received a friend’s monthly newsletter update. GG and I met at my first ever writer’s retreat. She is also an artist who made the umber clay rattle stamped with the dragonfly I received at my first ever quest. If I lived closer, in the same country, I’d regularly visit her in her studio to partake of her wise and soulful classes, to bask in her warm and joyful spirit.

In preparation for her upcoming SoulCollage class, she’ll use this video of Joanna Macy as inspiration. As I watched and listened, I was struck by Joanna’s description our gladness for being alive – our thanks for life – as a politically subversive act. Too, for using our gratitude as the ground for being present with our suffering, our mourning, and our grief.

JOANNA MACY: Climate Crisis as a Spiritual Path from Old Dog Documentaries on Vimeo.

So from my country of Canada, where we celebrate Thanksgiving today – again under a pandemic public health state of emergency – I share Joanna’s words, and those she has translated from the poet Rilke’s Book of Hours – with gratitude to GG. May we love it all, and let life through in the biggest doorway of our being.

With much love, kindest regards, and gratitude for your presence in my life, dear friends.

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