To Be Astonished

In reflection to a prompt from last week’s theme in Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist – “Creative Work as Vocation and Holy Service” – a powerful memory was evoked of a group activity of deep listening and sensing into space and collective. Thirty or so of us standing in a room led by a famous percussionist were invited to make a brief improv musical composition using only six sounds, one of each assigned to each of us, to be used only once. Like the maestro, he signaled the start and as I listened, waiting for when to make my contribution with my sound, it became apparent that staying silent was most needed for the coherence of the emerging melody.

“Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.”

Mary Oliver, The Messenger

Over the years, calling back that visceral experience has always been a profound, astonishing even, lesson of  the discernment and value of silence, stillness and spaciousness in works that matter.

Last week that memory gave me a fresh way into understanding my place right now. The waxing and waning between finally feeling – after several fallow and lost months of grieving my sudden, unexpected arrival at “retirement” –  for the first time in my life, a deep contentment with not working, AND, too,  missing the ways in which I had worked, been of service, made a living. Missing the known and felt meaning and value I gave and received for my work. Such missing occasionally “stings” as my circle of women friends are still so employed or creating their “encore” careers.

“Our daily work may rise out of our true calling in the world, or it may just pay the bills; either way, we each have a vocation. We each were given certain gifts to offer in service to others. Our calling is deeply connected to our creativity. The truths we long to express in the world and the way we feel moved to give form to beauty are signs of the Spirit at work in us. Vocation is a daily invitation to be fully who we are and to allow our lives to unfold in ways that are organic to this deepest identity.” 

Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule, 2011

So how, now in my autumn years, will this unfamiliar “non work” become my “love made visible” in counter-cultural, less obvious, silent, still and spacious ways? How, as I find myself living a long-held dream of having expanses of time and space, unfettered by plans and obligation (thanks in part to the pandemic), may creativity emerge as vocation, take form as holy service? How do I learn to be astonished?

A cursory inventory:

  • Shifting my perspective to give value to home care, meal preparation, dog walking as my labors of love.
  • Trusting that the beauty I notice and express, via written word and photograph – in my blog, on social media, in my practice of hand writing note cards sent to friends – are an offering of my life as poem and prayer.
  • Remembering my meditation and prayer, a lit candle, and passing thought for another, known or unknown, are silent weavings for healing and community.
  • Giving space for my holy grief, holy gratitude and holy love creates space for others to do so.
  • Sitting with the questions of my heart, in the tension of knowing a greater plan is at work, revealed only – word by word, brush stroke by brush stroke, action by action – in the ordinary living into each day.
  • Learning to “move at the pace of guidance,” heeding the wisdom of energies seen and unseen.

“We make what we make, we give a gift, not only through what we make or do, but in the way we feel as we do, and even, in the way others witness us in our feeling and doing, giving to them as they give to us…a work and an identity that holds both together, not only for an end, but for every step that shapes an onward way.” 

David Whyte, “Work,” in Consolations, 2015

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

A Reverie of Sacred Dance

“Keep it simple, keep it kind” to grease and ease passage through resistance into the Dance of Sacred Yes and Sacred No. Known and named resistance for one so facile with words – spoken and written – knows Body Knows and will slipstream with Her own Wisdom, shape shift to Truth.

“By the sacred yes or the sacred no I mean that affirmation or negation that comes from a deep place of wisdom and courage, even if it creates conflict or disagreement.
The sacred yes is not willful or egocentric, but rather is willing and surrendered.
The sacred no is not rebellion or refusal, but always the necessary protecting of boundaries.”

Richard Rohr, in The Artist’s Rule by Christine Valters Paintner


The Deal struck – leave words and utterances behind for Body in its silence to teach, with music of shaman’s dream to guide.

Kneel before the altar. Candle lit. Head bowed.
Stilling, silencing, falling into the cave of the heart.
Listening to a beat older than time.
Imaginal images flutter through time and space.


SACRED YES sees ancient Sun Dancer, pierced with deer cord bound to Tree in Life Hoop’s center. Face to the sun, sweat and blood streaming. Is this not a Sacred Dance to the Sacred Yes of Life? 
Elephant Matriarch swinging her massive head and trunk, warning all to beware as she guides her family through danger.
Arms suspended as Seaweed floating on the ocean’s surf. Then outstretched seeking surfer’s balance as he rides the Wave.
Now bald Eagle silently soaring, high wide view of land and sky.
Hold hair tight like Kali, Durga.
Bounce and bound like Ape.
Silent belly rumble and laugh. Inhale deep. Exhale deeper like bellows.
Not a word. Not a sound.
Felt Sense Flashes.
All a truer expression of that commitment to Life through its ages, when all Bodies knew.
Then rest, dream of YES, slip into Dream Time to bring it through, to be it, to be with it.
No words needed. Body knows.
Space surrounding Body holds vibration and emanation of this Dance to SACRED YES.

SACRED NO awakens to Tibetan bells.
Flowing gentle melody instantly illumines Sacred No is always in service of Sacred Yes. In obedience bows to Life.
Bending forward to purge the false yes, compliance, making small, resentments and envies – all taken as truth those lifetimes of lies.
Rising up, strengthen arms and legs, back and front, shake head free of delusion, break free of an invisible bondage as concrete eggshell shatters.
Drum beat evokes fierce warrior. Strike and chop and kick and stomp. Claim and proclaim. Power and empower.
Swoon with sudden sick feeling as Ego slips in guised to taint and turn the Sacred against itself.
BIG MEDICINE here.
Stand still. Is not standing still on one’s ground like Mountain the Sacred Dance of the Sacred No?
Then sway and soften into Life, like Tree who knows to withstand Storm he must give and bend.
Be fluid, fluent like River flows.
Dance SACRED NO as betrothed partner to SACRED YES.
Shape shift through Ego’s seduction. Discern the step.
Quiet presence, fierce with fight.
When to be loud with silence, soft with strength.

“A thousand half-loves must be surrendered
to take a whole heart home.”

Rumi

Peace and Presence

Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.

Ian Maclaren

It’s 5:00 am. I’ve been awake for a few hours, so instead of tossing, got up to tend to a personal matter weighing heavy. Some preliminary thinking and writing. Enough to settle so that I can turn towards this new week with more peace and presence. For it’s a week that weighs heavy with many things, with tomorrow’s presidential election and all that’s been activated in its anticipation, near and far. It’s a week that needs my peace and presence. Because truthfully, it’s the only thing I have that might be of some influence, or good.

Through our commitment to developing our inner monks we might remember our deep and profound connection to one another in the midst of daily life.

Christine Valters Paintner, Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist

Attentive these days to how much media I take in, but still the anxiety, tension, uncertainty and fear are out there in the social field and seep in. During my closing reflections to this past week’s Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist course, I was struck by Christine’s words on connection and community. Among a group mostly from the USA, I wrote that I’ve lived in Canada all my life, though was born in the USA, and until recently had US citizenship. I shared that my only sibling recently moved there, right on the border which, closed since March, means she’s heart achingly close yet so far from her children, grandchildren and our elderly parents living in Canada. I have dear friends and other family there. So I pay attention – in broad strokes – to the last four years and now with the presidential election a few days away.

I admitted that regularly I have cursed and raged at the man called POTUS, but that quite suddenly, a few weeks ago, I felt a deep shift as I let sink in that truly we are all of God. Too, that what I see, is only a miniscule moment in the long arc. I came to realize that he is as I am. I stopped raging and ridiculing and instead, using the power of prayer and imagination – the wedding of contemplative and creative – chose to envision a different outcome, in a kind way. I made the connection to “metta” (loving kindness) meditation, whereby I wish those with whom I have animosity and bitter feelings well-being and happiness, or in this case, a peaceful transition of leadership.

I was hesitant posting so political a reflection. Yet this is what I am so present to, and what speaks to me of the truth of the invitations offered by this Abbey of the Arts program. I am helped to remember I have a quiet capacity to be and bring change, a peace and presence to the personal and the political.

“This is not just a referendum on US democracy; it feels like a referendum on our aspirations as human beings.”

Otto Scharmer, “The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn,”
Medium, October 31, 2020

And then there’s this, a good and necessary poem making the rounds, and later today, a walk in the neighbourhood with Annie.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

Self Portrait

For the past couple of months I’ve been participating in another Abbey of the Arts online program. “Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist,” a thirteen-week study into the archetypes of contemplative and creative – two of my deep affinities – was another of those intentional activities undertaken to flourish during these darkening, distanced days. Again, each week corresponds to a book chapter, this time, The Artist’s Rule, authored by abbess-host Christine Valters Paintner.

Too, each week follows a similar agenda. Monday is a live video session with a couple of hundred of us tuning in globally as Christine welcomes us into the week’s theme, guides us in meditative reflection and journaling, gives the week’s overview and invitations for creative process, and answers questions. Tuesday features a scriptural interpretation by Christine’s husband and theology teacher, John. Wednesday is devoted to the sacred practice of Lectio Divina, listening with the “ears of the heart” to a scripture or poem, pondering on a word or phrase that “shimmers.” Thursday and Friday are for creative expression via writing and or art making. Saturday for closing reflections and “catch up”; and Sunday for rest and integration – what I like to think of as the yogi’s savasana. Throughout we’re invited to share our reflections and comment to each other, with the proviso that no advice be given. Instead it’s the application throughout of what “shimmers.”

Last week – our seventh and midpoint – focused on “Inner Hospitality and Welcoming the Stranger.”  Scripture, Rumi’s poem “The Guest House,” and Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness” were frames for supporting the encounter with our inner strangers.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Hebrews 13:2

I’m struck how often synchronicity is at play, with the “unexpected” appearance of a poem, a podcast, a picture that deepens, resonates or brings a touch of humor. This favourite appeared on Facebook a few days before the week’s scripture:

Thursday’s creative expression was an exercise to get in touch with our inner strangers via “gush” painting. I welcomed this as an invitation to return to a practice I had left several years ago. I painted according to my teacher, Michele Cassou, and her intuitive process painting outlined in Life, Paint, and Passion: Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneity.

I’ve written in other blogs about my experimentation in this process, but shared last week in the course, the “back story” of having bought Michele’s book for $2.00 where it sat on my shelf for a few years. That one summer, re-intrigued by the cover, I read it in one sitting. Mesmerized by the paintings, and knowing in my core she was writing truth, and that being sprinkled with Rumi, what was not to love? That I immediately searched online for a class and remarkably discovered there was a retreat being held in – of all places – an obscure little town where we lived before moving to Alberta. It took a few years before the stars and my schedule aligned, but I went for a week, for three consecutive years, to have the requisite hours to go to Taos, NM during my sabbatical year and study at Michele’s master class, where upon my return home,  I hosted painting weekends – a life saver for me and those many who attended, mostly women from work – each of us coping with the dismantling of our department and huge work stress-uncertainties.

Too, I shared that consistent with the “gush” practice, and how I entered into this activity, it’s never about product, but about process: attempting to paint spontaneously, allowing the colour and image to come to guide, without meaning or interpretation, without choosing, but following that often, nearly mute impulse. Typically, not shared, as like pages from a journal, paintings often reveal truths and vulnerabilities that others, upon reading or seeing, or our own critical selves, might judge, and then frighten and subsequently inhibit ourselves from expressing. So, too, when a painting is acclaimed, perhaps even a more insidious trap.

Given it had been a few years since I’d last painted in this way, so long that my tempera paints had dried, I took a “practice run”…just to get back into feeling the brush on the paper, my body into gesture, my head out of the way.

A second painting emerged, attracted to colours and a style that have always evoked creativity, life, vitality, desire, the ooze of life and inner fire.

“This is your body,
your greatest gift,
pregnant with wisdom you do not hear,
grief you thought was forgotten,
and joy you have never known.”

Marion Woodman, Coming Home to Myself, 1998

The third felt the most unexpected, unbidden, honest. A self portrait. Evoked perhaps from the poem I’d shared earlier in the week describing the impact of getting Bells Palsy in 2013.

“We have lived our lives
behind a mask.
Sooner or later
– if we are lucky –
the mask will be smashed.”

Marion Woodman, Coming Home to Myself, 1998

A powerful depiction of the often felt, though less obvious to the outside world – unless I’m stressed or tired – lingering effects: the loss of facial symmetry, the odd tingly sensations and itchiness especially around my nose and cheek, my mouth that droops, my eye that dries or tears up. Not chewing as well, nor singing because of the loss of strength in my palate. Even speaking can be challenging some days. A shyness that developed, though perhaps it allowed for a truer introverted aspect of self to emerge. It certainly broke open my life –shattering the mask that paradoxically invited in a truer relationship to self, in my marriage and in my life. With a daily felt and seen reminder of how lucky I am.

And, in another stroke of lovely synchronicity, this, from the Vancouver poet, bentlily, appeared on Facebook, hours after painting:

“When I start to feel nervous about letting my creativity run free, it’s always because I am afraid of what people will think of what I create. And yet wanting the world to love what you make is not the problem. It’s natural (and financially, it’s very reasonable!). The problem is when I start thinking more about “you” than I do about me…But I still have to trust that if I write my poems for me, you will come. Because if I am too preoccupied with how and what to write for you, eventually, no poems will come at all because I will have lost the “me.”

bentlily by Samantha Reynolds, Facebook, October 23, 2020

Here’s to creativity off leash. Wild and messy and free.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

What’s Asking To Be Seen

I’m standing on the cusp of the seasons, now dressed for winter when I walk Annie. Gloves need to be swapped out for mittens, trail runners for Blundstones. Tomorrow, we’ll go shopping for a new winter coat for Annie, as I think with age, we’re both feeling the cold more. Today there’s a skiff of snow on roofs and yards, the shallow pond froze last night, and during yesterday morning’s river valley walk, the shoreline was edged with ice. Yet, still the red, golden green and light brown falling leaves.

This autumn, one particularly resplendent in colour and warmth with sunshine most every day, I felt the invitation to “see” what was on display and unfolding while Annie and I walked. She, ever patient, and I, and with my early generation, single lens phone camera in hand, stopped in front of a red amur maple, reminiscent of my Niagara youth. Glowing, almost vibrating vermillion, I was awestruck and until now, never thought my phone could capture what I was seeing. It was the beginning.

“I take my camera out into the world, and it invites me to slow down and linger over these moments of beauty. It opens me to wonder and delight.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Then it was the roses, full blown blossoms and buds, still. And the sweet peas – always an irony for me with an April birthday, and them the designated flower.

The dandelion, harbinger of spring, peeking among the dried leaves. The golden ash against our signature blue sky. Ruby globes of crabapple, sun-kissed cherries, orange mountain ash berries.

Sunflower sentinels bordering a walkway. And the skies.

One day the clouds had me spellbound. Later that day, after I’d shared their magnificence on Facebook, friends said they, too, had noticed and appreciated I’d stopped to notice, to press, to share.  Another day, later in the season, I was smitten by treetops in their yonder backdrops.

And throughout, always that amur maple marking autumn’s reign.

 “…this is one of the wonders of photography: to be able to frame a moment in time and, within my gaze and absolute presence in that particular moment, to discover holiness. In that single moment, I am reminded that all moments are holy.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Framing these moments during our neighborhood walks has easily transferred into chronicling my weekly trek in the river valley. The “Camino de Edmonton,” a thirteen-week staged event to correspond in distance to a final leg of the Camino de Santiago, finds twenty or so hardy souls meeting every Saturday at various rendezvous points in the city for an 8:00 am start. There, I bring my Lumix “point and shoot” hung around my neck, tucked securely into the hip belt of my Deuter pack.

“the graced eye can glimpse beauty everywhere, seeing the divine at work in the hidden depths of things. It is so easy to let our senses be dulled and to settle for the ordinary.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Most often walking alone, safely distanced, I settle into my pace and breath, letting my gaze soften, slowing to see with eyes of the heart onto what is asking to be seen. Again, vistas full to bursting with autumn’s abundance. Yet, at the same time, growing more visible with every week, the giving way to emptying, the baring, the decaying and the dying that is winter.

“We don’t have to go out and try to take ‘beautiful’ photos. We simply need to pay attention and foster a different kind of seeing.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

And accept the invitation to see what’s asking to be seen.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Camera shy Annie.

Praise Song for the Pandemic

Season's End, Perspectives with Panache, 2019

PRAISE SONG FOR THE PANDEMIC

Praise be the nurses and doctors, every medical staff bent over flesh to offer care, for lives saved and lives lost, for showing up either way,

Praise for the farmers, tilling soil, planting seeds so food can grow, an act of hope if ever there was,

Praise be the janitors and garbage collectors, the grocery store clerks, and the truck drivers barreling through long quiet nights,

Give thanks for bus drivers, delivery persons, postal workers, and all those keeping an eye on water, gas, and electricity,

Blessings on our leaders, making hard choices for the common good, offering words of assurance,

Celebrate the scientists, working away to understand the thing that plagues us, to find an antidote, all the medicine makers, praise be the journalists keeping us informed,

Praise be the teachers, finding new ways to educate children from afar, and blessings on parents holding it together for them,

Blessed are the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, all those who worry for their health, praise for those who stay at home to protect them,

Blessed are the domestic violence victims, on lock down with abusers, the homeless and refugees,

Praise for the poets and artists, the singers and storytellers, all those who nourish with words and sound and color,

Blessed are the ministers and therapists of every kind, bringing words of comfort,

Blessed are the ones whose jobs are lost, who have no savings, who feel fear of the unknown gnawing,

Blessed are those in grief, especially who mourn alone, blessed are those who have passed into the Great Night,

Praise for police and firefighters, paramedics, and all who work to keep us safe, praise for all the workers and caregivers of every kind,

Praise for the sound of notifications, messages from friends reaching across the distance, give thanks for laughter and kindness,

Praise be our four-footed companions, with no forethought or anxiety, responding only in love,

Praise for the seas and rivers, forests and stones who teach us to endure,

Give thanks for your ancestors, for the wars and plagues they endured and survived, their resilience is in your bones, your blood,

Blessed is the water that flows over our hands and the soap that helps keep them clean, each time a baptism,

Praise every moment of stillness and silence, so new voices can be heard, praise the chance at slowness,

Praise be the birds who continue to sing the sky awake each day, praise for the primrose poking yellow petals from dark earth, blessed is the air clearing overhead so one day we can breathe deeply again,

And when this has passed may we say that love spread more quickly than any virus ever could, may we say this was not just an ending but also a place to begin.

– Christine Valters Paintner –
Abbey of the Arts
2020

As we head into our 7th month of living in the pandemic, I wanted to share this poem, now making special mention of all the teachers around the world, who as another lovely poet wrote this week: “To All the Teachers, we see you turning your hearts into classrooms where not even masks can block out your love.” bentlily by Samantha Reynolds

Praise be the teachers.

With love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Lost Together

Portland Fire Dancer, Perspectives with Panache, 2012

LOST

“The map is not the territory” —Alfred Korzybski

All the old signposts have fallen,
wood cracked and rotted,
atlases crumble, a pile of maps
flutter and dart like hummingbird
wings, the GPS signal is out of range.

Her compass slips from her hand,
the only thing she knows is that
she walks in circles now,
the trees ahead familiar
but really nothing is the same.
She wanders for hours, days,
weeks, loses track of the nights
as one tumbles into another.

Finally, she stops, builds
a bonfire from all the old maps
still in her pack, invites others
who wander by to gather,
each of them savor warmth
from flame and kindness,
laugh while they tell stories
of how they once knew the way.

Her eyes meet another,
hand outstretched, together
their breath rises in white spirals
into cold air and they
stay still long enough
to learn to love the quiet ache,
the old longing to be sure,
to see the country of certainty
as a memory receding
like an evening horizon until
there is only the black bowl of sky.

They begin to hear the whisper
of breezes, the secrets of birds,
follow the underground stream
that runs through each of them,
and they no longer ask
which way to go,
but sit and savor this
together, under night sky
illumined by fire and stars.

– Christine Valters Paintner –

Real Work

Marches have continued around the world this past week protesting racial injustice and police brutality. In my city, right now receiving the much-needed steady soaking from a weekend of rain, it is estimated that 15,000 people gathered during Friday evening’s sunshine and warm weather on the grounds of our provincial legislature. Wearing masks, carrying signs, “taking a knee”, all thankfully without the eruption of the violence other cities have recently seen, though social distancing protocols to stave off infection from the other pandemic, COVID-19, were hard to maintain.

Diego Romero, Digital Journalist for CTV News, “Fight for Equity: More than 10,000 people rally against racism at legislature”, June 5, 2020

Initially, I had planned to attend, but my best intentions gave way to accepting I was unable to put myself at risk due to chronic health factors, and a growing anxiety that signaled my need to pay attention. While I would miss the march, I would be in this fight for the long haul.

After concluding my participation in the eight week The Soul of a Pilgrim program this weekend, come Tuesday I’ll begin a twelve-week book study, reflection, and conversation of White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, hosted by a small group of thoughtful, seasoned practitioners of The Circle Way. Together, we will create a safe and strong container to do our real, hard, and necessary work of identifying both within and without the systemic impacts of white supremacy and racism. It is a beginning of a long and real journey.

“It may be that when we
no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we
no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey…”

Wendell Berry

Mindful of so much that has been happening in the world around me, this past week had me thinking back to a year ago when I experienced my first Peer Spirit Wilderness Quest. Hosted and guided by the founders of The Circle Way, Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin, with their quest guide colleague, Deborah Greene-Jacobi , the stars and my schedule had finally aligned to make the trek to the eastern slopes of Washington’s Cascade Mountains. With “hindsight being 2020,” I’m grateful to have gone last year because this year’s quest had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Months before my departure, I was thoughtfully and carefully prepared with packing lists, activities to discern my intention, clarifying conversations, and closer to the date, travel and weather details.  Once arrived, I joined a beautifully multi-generational, cross-cultural cohort of eleven men and women, some who had travelled from as far as Australia and Germany.  Once settled, we soon began in earnest, readying our tent sites and ourselves to fast solo on the Sacred Mountain for three days and nights.

Sitting and sleeping alone, with the sun and moon, the stars and the clouds, the wind, groves of aspen, spruce, pine and fir, birds and bugs as my companions, created a mighty connection and opened a portal through which I felt the wisdom and life giving and saving gifts of Nature. I did not return with answers to questions, nor even clarity as to first step directions to take. Instead, I was filled to overflowing with gratitude and reverence for all and everything that had brought me to this point in my life. I felt a deep appreciation that was beyond words, with no regrets. And I experienced an inner consolidation of hard l/earned presence.

The wilderness quest is very much akin to the pilgrim’s journey. Both are predicated on a final stage of “coming home” to oneself and one’s community, and to incorporation (in corpus – in body) of lessons learned, questions discerned, gifts received. (Again a synchronicity with this first year anniversary is that this last week’s eighth and final practice in The Soul of a Pilgrim is “coming home.”) This to then to awaken to the next call to begin again. Last year’s quest still reverberates and compelled me to follow the energy to The Soul of a Pilgrim. Now both call me into the work of dismantling my racism, taking guidance from this kind and compassionate wisdom:

“What continues to be the deepest wisdom for me
is the call to release my effort, the summons to fall into
the embrace of the One who offers an abundance of nourishment.
I’m learning to trust in the unfinished nature of things.
This calls me to give my heart to my work,
as I always strive to do,
and then wrap myself in the shawl of humility
to honor my own limitations.”

Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim , 2015

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