I Am The Bread

I AM THE BREAD

This supper a somber affair.
The feast of Passover always is, but tonight is more so.

A foreboding hangs in the air, though it appears only the man they call Jesus knows its source. The other men, twelve in total, follow their master’s lead, talking quietly among themselves, unsure of what is unfolding.

I am the unleavened bread made special to order for this gathering. My flavor is bland but when I am broken and dipped into the finest quality olive oil, I come alive in the mouths of those who chew me.
I fill their stomachs with a hefty goodness.

Now I hear the man they call Jesus say I am his body.
What does this mean?

Now I absorb my cousin, the heavy, dark red wine that each man sips, as the same man says, it is his blood.
What does this mean?

Together, I and my cousin, the fruit of the vine made wine,
are proclaimed the body and blood of this man. I know not how this is so.
But I do know that as each man slowly chews me, and reverently sips my cousin, savors us together with this man’s words, we warm their bodies as we nourish and enliven them.

Now, we are part of them and what is to come.

Now we, in each of their bodies, travel to the Mount of Olives, the home of our friend, the olive oil. 

Now, I sit heavy like a stone in their stomachs as they hear their master tell them they will fall away from him. I feel their stomachs clench around me.

One man, emboldened by that inner alchemy between me and my cousin, steps close to his master and passionately declares his love and commitment.

Now, this same man, resisting the bile rising in his gullet from us as we sour in his belly, the reaction to being told he will soon deny his master three times, more passionately denies this.

Soon, for some, our life giving to be denied, too.

– KW –

An experiment in Midrash, the ancient Jewish practice of re-imagining sacred text, I wrote this piece during my participation last spring in the Abbey of the Arts “Soul of a Pilgrim” online retreat. As weekly my photo and poem feature, I’m posting this a day early, in acknowledgement of the Last Supper, commemorated in the Christian tradition on Maundy Thursday.

Joy and Lament

I’ve been thinking about joy and lament for the past few days. How – as poet Christine Valters Paintner described them – as “sisters,” who make space for one another, even, I’d say, needing one another for a purer expression of each. I had logged onto a live Zoom call with Christine and a couple of hundred others from around the world for this year’s Novena for Times of Unravelling, another soulful offering from the Abbey of the Arts, this time oriented around the principles of their Monk’s Manifesto.

This day’s theme was cultivating creative joy by letting body and “heart overflow with the inexpressible delights of love.” Christine was clear to say this joy “isn’t about happiness, but something deeper…an opening to the capacity to taste paradise…and that this capacity for joy is in proportion to our capacity for grief.”

we’re back

A few days earlier, I sent a “thank you” email off to another favourite poet, Samantha Reynolds, who writes under the pen name of “bentlily.” I think I’ve mentioned here that every Monday I’m greeted with her past week’s offering of daily poems, her practice for eleven years of musing on life’s daily moments. Included that week was her “17 flavours of joy”, evoking my memory of the “visceral experience of joy hurting a bit, being like an arrow that pierces my heart…unlike happiness, which is lovely, but not nearly as deep, as profound, as indelible.”

Today, a full moon, and in the Christian tradition, Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Too, the beginning of Jewish Passover. And in a couple of weeks, Ramadan. A “trifecta” of high holy days among the Abrahamic religions. I always intuit a certain potency of energy and possibility during such synchronicities. Maybe even a thinning of the veil. Certainly, an opening to the range of feelings and memories evoked. Life’s joys and laments.

Before I sat down here to write, Annie and I walked to beat the forecast spring thunder showers. Of all the choices, I plugged into the just “dropped” On Being re-broadcast of Krista’s 2016 conversation with Northern Irish “Troubles” poet, Michael Longley. Called “The Vitality of Ordinary Things,” they explored the range of Longley’s poetry – his adoration, celebration and worship of wildflowers, birds, his ordinary and real life.

“I want the beauty, the psychedelic wildflowers, the call of the wild birds. I want all of that shimmering beauty to illuminate the northern darkness. We have peace of a kind, but no cultural resolution — the tensions which produced the Troubles are still there. It is important for me to see beautiful Carrigskeewaun as part of the same island as Belfast.”

Michael Longley in On Being with Krista Tippett, March 25, 2021

I like how he describes what being a poet and writing poetry mean for him.

“…good art, good poems, is making people more human, making them more intelligent, making them more sensitive and emotionally pure than they might otherwise be.”

Michael Longley in On Being with Krista Tippett, March 25, 2021

For me, the capacity to hold joy and lament…in one’s life, in situ.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Beloved is Where We Begin

Morocco’s Sub Sahara, 2019

BELOVED IS WHERE WE BEGIN

If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.

Do not leave
without hearing
who you are:
Beloved,
named by the One
who has traveled this path
before you.

Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.

I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from danger,
from fear,
from hunger
or thirst,
from the scorching
of sun
or the fall
of the night.

But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.

I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.

I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
bearing comfort
and strength,
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
curious insistence
whisper our name:

Beloved.
Beloved.
Beloved.

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

I included the first three stanzas of this beauty in this week’s blog, Stirrings.

Stirrings

Polar votex and mid-winter thaw. Valentine’s and Family Days. Pancakes and ashes. Blood work and cardiac test all ok. Poetry reading and writing. Online retreat and travel tours. And the reassuring rhythm of walking with Annie.

It’s been a full, few weeks yet for all of it, not much in the way of words to write.  Sat down several times and simply surrendered to not having anything to say which I’ve learned usually means I’m cooking on something. Right this moment I hear Tom Jones – yup, that one from “What’s New Pussycat” fame, now making a comeback – sing about the “talking blues.” A peculiar synchronicity. So again, I’ll rely on the words of others to give shape to what might be simmering in the sacred cauldron.

Last week, on Ash Wednesday, I received another of Barb Morris’ beautifully written – I’d say “inspired” – letters from God, this one to beloved daughters who observe Lent. I’m not sure how I first “met” Barb or encountered her letters from God, but each one has touched a chord. Words like these land especially deep in me:

“Despite what you’ve been taught, “holy” does not mean pure and unearthly. “Sin” does not mean breaking my rules and making me mad. “Penitence” does not mean listing and wallowing in all the ways you’re wrong and bad. “Repentance” does not mean promising to do better to stay out of trouble…

…This Lent, the only fasts I want from you are these: Fast from distractions that allow you to stay wounded and broken. Fast from believing you’re not good enough. Fast from making yourself small, and nice, and silent. Fast from all judgment, especially of yourself.”

Later in the week, again in response to Lent, poet-artist Jan Richardson, another wide-open-hearted woman, sent out her poem, “Beloved is Where We Begin,” from her book, Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons (2015). Here, the first three stanzas:

“If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.

Do not leave
without hearing
who you are:
Beloved,
named by the One
who has traveled this path
before you.

Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for…”

Reading it now there’s a beautiful resonance with the recently released, eight episode “3 Caminos,” a Spanish TV production about five people who meet walking the Camino de Santiago, first in 2000, then in 2006, and finally in 2020. This weekend, watching their stories unfold within the magnificent backdrops of land and location, stoked the embers of my own latent, on again-off again, dream to one day actually walk the way.

I rose early on Saturday to attend an online Lenten retreat hosted by Pádraig Ó Tuama. I’ve written here about Pádraig’s eloquent hosting of the podcast, Poetry Unbound. As poet, theologian and former conflict mediator, Pádraig brings a contemporary, justice centered interpretation to scripture. Taking three perspectives of Jesus in isolation – fasting in the desert where with nature’s befriending, he encounters the devil’s three temptations; making the harrowing journey through his own inner hell ; and in resurrection (what does it mean now to be born again after such journeying) – he shared his poetry and invited in our words and memories as touchstones for the inner work and meaning making of our own journeying in times of desert wilderness. Pausing to consider in this past nearly year of sheltering in place – compassionately retreating – being locked down (the term shifts on how long and what day) the room in which we’ve spent the most time, and what in that room we look upon for comfort, solace, grounding. Or writing a “collect” of praise and appreciation to an item or being that has done the same. Over those four hours together on ZOOM, what lingers was one of Pádraig’s recent poems, wherein he imagines an elder Irishman in the local pub, typical and traditional in his abstention from physical touching, but who – after living through the pandemic alone in his home where he first meets his first granddaughter and attends the funeral of his oldest friend via ZOOM – was taken to unabashed hugging and speaking endearingly to kith and kin. Even now as I type, my heart and eyes sting with a tender poignancy and yearning.

What seems to be simmering are the stirrings of the mythic, heroic journey, this time held within the season and story of Lent. This time more sobering because of the pandemic’s isolation.

Saying yes to the call, wittingly or otherwise.
Crossing the threshold alone into the desert.
Encountering what frightens, tempts, challenges and strips naked.
Waiting in uncertainty and in vulnerability.
Moving blindly through and into an unknown future.
Letting go to let come loss and grief.
Clearing the way for the new.
Being unaware of benevolent helpers.
Remembering blessings that accompany.

Alone. Together.
Again and again.

I’ll end with some wonderous words from Vancouver poet Samantha Reynolds. Writing a poem a day as “bentlily,” every Monday my inbox shimmers with seven gems from the week before. This, her Valentine, All I want from love:

“May our love for each other
grow tall enough 
to reach forgiveness
and big enough
that it can never 
be misplaced.”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends, as you make your way during this season of waiting and beyond.

My Way

Praise What Comes

Winter Path

Praise What Comes

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?

– Jeanne Lohmann –

Make America Again

Chicago Skyline, 2010

LET AMERICA BE AMERICA AGAIN

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.”

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.

Nature

“Give me one wild word.”

Terry Tempest Williams, Finding Beauty in a Broken World,
in Abbey of the Arts, “Give Me a Word for 2021”

NATURE. My word for 2021. Again, not so much chosen as received through the twelve-day process of deep listening and discerning hosted by the Abbey of the Arts. If this word – NATURE – has even a portion of prescient relevancy as last year’s word – HOME – I’ll become converted to this as an annual process.

“For last year’s words
belong to last year’s language,
And next year’s words 
await another voice.”

T. S. Eliot in Abbey of the Arts,
“Give Me a Word for 2021”

By registering and dedicating time to the daily lessons, I crossed a threshold into that liminal, imaginary space where symbols and signs, whispers and words, prayers and dreams have potential to bear fruit for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. 

“A door opens in the center of our being
and we seem to fall through it into the immense depths which,
although they are infinite, are all accessible to us.”

Thomas Merton in Abbey of the Arts, “Give Me a Word for 2021”

In an early lesson derived from the practice of Lectio Divina, I reviewed last year (yes, that year!) as a form of sacred text over which to meditate and select an image or event that “shimmered.” Without question it was my time outdoors – whether in urban nature by the river, suburban treks through the golf course, sitting in my treed back yard, walking through villages and cities in Andalusia, or getting lost on the Lost Lake trail in my provincial park – that inspired, soothed, challenged, settled. 

Another day’s lesson of taking a contemplative walk has become so much a part of my daily routine during these many months of pandemic life, satisfying both Annie’s and my need for fresh air and movement and giving reassurance there is life beyond our house, that it simply confirmed my knowing of Nature’s promise and powers.

Still, to stay open and not prematurely settled, I noticed my dreams as per another day’s lesson, and when consulting a soul friend was prescribed, that day I just happened to open the “year in review” e-letter from beloved friends – they whose practical life wisdom and deep reverence for Nature serve as meaningful mentoring – and read their closing words which echoed and amplified my knowing:

“May the bigness and mysteries of Nature
carry our hearts through all concerns.
Let us trust the stones, the waters, the trees, the fungi.
Let us befriend the birds, the fishes, the animals, the plants.
Let us befriend one another.”

Ann Linnea

Allowing the word time to “ripen” by holding it gently while still wondering what else; illustrating the word visually through phone photos that caught my attention as we walked the snow-covered park paths; and committing to a “word rooted” practice, which for me is simply a re-commitment to heed Annie’s after lunch nudge, I feel settled that this word has come this year for me. 

Writing a poem was the final day’s lesson. Today, my haiku in tribute took form:

This new year my word.
NATURE, my holy Teacher,
Healer, Guide, and Friend.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Home Came Knocking

HOME.

This has been my word for 2020. Remarkable that when it “arrived” a year ago as my word for this year’s soft focus and intention, it would have been so utterly prescient and enbodied. For me, and most everyone on the planet! I wrote in late January of 2020:

Not chosen but invited, it arrived early in a simple, elegant process offered by Abbey of the Arts, called “2020, Give Me a Word.” Developed for the twelve days of Christmas, but available in early December, I’d received an email invitation to “create some space each day to listen and see what word comes shimmering forth from the dailiness of my experience.”

At first, “at home,” which evoked being home and staying put. Perhaps wise counsel given I’d had another autumn full of travel. This time I’d become quite ill during my last trip in early December, a visit with a friend I’d not seen since the passing of her husband. A disappointment for us both when first, our great plans for trekking in the desert mountains became dashed by my excruciating case of plantar fasciitis. Then, a viral infection contracted days before departure had me reach for the emergency cipro to be well enough to get back home without an ear-blocked, cough-racked flight. Just recovered and now into a serious grip of Arctic winter cold, staying put, at home, has been the order of the day.


But as the twelve days passed, with a new practice offered each day to evoke or ripen – a contemplative walk in Nature, writing a poem, illustrating the word visually, attending to my dreams, consulting a soul friend – “at home” became distilled to “home.” Still that comfort with being at home (the best place to be when you’re sick and it’s ridiculously cold outside), but now with a spaciousness that allows mystery to unfold, shadow and surprise to emerge, dreams to awaken.

Last week, browsing somewhere, I came across these wondrous words in an essay, “To Find Your True Home Within Your Life.”  Home came knocking.

"The mystic Thomas a Kempis said that when you go out into the world, you return having lost some of yourself. Until you learn to inhabit your aloneness, the lonely distraction and noise of society will seduce you into false belonging, with which you will only become empty and weary. When you face your aloneness, something begins to happen. Gradually, the sense of bleakness changes into a sense of true belonging. This is a slow and open-ended transition but is utterly vital in order to come into rhythm with your own individuality. In a sense this is the endless task of finding your true home within your life. It is not narcissistic, for as soon as you rest in the house of your own heart, doors and windows begin to open outwards to the world." -  John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (1999), 93.

With hindsight being 20:20 – forgive the pun – as I read these words now, I’m awe stuck. Last December’s onset illness persisted for over two months and many times since, I’ve wondered, as have many who suffered similar symptoms then, was this an early iteration of COVID-19? While I’ll never definitively know, because the blood work done in December was before we knew of the virus, I do know I don’t remember ever having felt so wretched and exhausted for so long, and thankfully, none of the people I encountered during that period became ill.

There have been gifts during this near year of sheltering in place, being home with minimal distraction and the noise from society. One, paradoxically, amidst losses and griefs – experienced and sensed, personal and collective – has been a deeply felt contentment and joy that manifests most obviously every morning, and several times a day, in “kitchen dancing.” The unabashed delight in a new day, unscripted, unfettered by obligation or need to muster myself. The simple pleasures of tending to Annie. Our daily walks in the neighborhood where she sniffs and I see Nature’s subtle and not so changes. Planning and preparing dinner to enjoy with my husband. Home care. Writing. This in marked contrast to years of waking with a feeling, albeit habituated, of anxiety and dread. Except for the three months living in Germany while I travelled through Europe in 2011, I don’t recall feeling such sweet enthusiasm for my life.

And that perennial guiding question of what now to do with my wild and precious life, has now, ever so subtly and gradually, given way to trust in its gentle unfolding.

Perhaps it’s a function of age, and my commitment to a conscious tending, but a most profound gift of this year, of living in this memory-making pandemic time, has been coming into rhythm with my individuality, of finding my true home within my life, of resting in the house of my heart.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Annie with My Kiss Spot

Christmas

THE MOOD OF CHRISTMAS

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

– Howard Thurman –

Winter Solstice

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.

With much love and kindness, dear friends.