If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
Mary Oliver, Devotions (2017)
“There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be.” Posted by a friend mere days before Russia invaded Ukraine, I saved this gem for its reminder, and the abundance of joy described, never imagining the mind-numbing poignancy of its prescience.
My writing here has been episodic, due in part to Russia’s horrific war on Ukraine, for which I am at a loss for words. So as you may have read, I have relied on those from others (again, my plug for Mark Gonzales’ In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty – please consider buying and sharing it far and wide.)
Too, I’m quite full of my own words, preparing a manuscript of poetry for publication, riding the slipstream created at the start of the new year, when I submitted 22 pages for a chapbook contest. Both longshots. Both labors of my love. Both my ways of fighting back. Both my ways of saying,
Beauty made from love matters makes a difference during days of such madness.
“But this week, we entered yet another hard, shocking chapter in the life of the world.”
Krista Tippett, The Pause, March 5, 2022
Yes, here we are, the global community, again trying to keep our collective hearts open in the hell that is war. These weeks in Ukraine. Before that…and before that…and before that…In a recent poll close to 70% of Canadians believe we are poised for a third world war. (Global News, March 3, 2022) With the invading leader stating that all sanctions levied by the west are akin to a declaration of war (Reuters, March 5, 2022), anxieties, already exacting their cost during the pandemic, continue to manifest in myriad ways within and among us.
“Trauma isn’t limited to the mind or body of a singular person. It has the ability to have a cumulative impact on an entire people…When an entire society is desecrated, demonized, invaded or imprisoned, it reshapes the cultural gene pool of that entire generation. What is trauma then, but a collective and cumulative phenomenon.”
Mark Gonzales, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty, 2014
Last week I wrote in my regular Friday photo and poem feature that I had been reminded by a friend with whom I had shared Mark Gonzales’ In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty. Selecting a piece for that post, I scanned other of his entries in preparation for my virtual women’s circle, wanting to offer into the centre a “start point” inviting us to each speak to the impact of the current world events:
“In this moment, an echo is occurring across the globe. It is the human spirit craving to be reminded one does not need permission to grow.
In this moment an echo is occurring across our hearts. It is the realization that love has its own logic.
Live. Love. Grow. Even if one cannot make life more beautiful, at least make it more bearable. This should be considered the base for being human.
May the passion continue. May the circle expand.”
Mark Gonzales, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty, 2014
We felt deep resonance and relevance with Mark’s words as each of us took our turn speaking, passing our virtual talking pieces through several rounds of conversation. Our time together marked easefully with several substantial pauses for silence. One by one, we shared evoked images and memories, silent tears and fears, wisdom borne of dreams, intuition and lived experience. By the end of our two hours together, soothed and more settled. Life made more bearable.
In my imagination, I see copies of Mark’s book, translated so all can read, dropped from the skies into the hands of every person on earth, much like the millions of propaganda leaflets dropped from planes during World War II. Instead I’ll end with more of his good words, medicine to heal our aching souls and make life more bearable:
“What better way is there to shift a paradign than by speaking in ways that encourage dreams, laughter and imagination. For those acts of creativity are not luxury, short sighted or simplistic, they are essential.”
“In this collective environment, an isolated story transforms into a personalized submission into an anthology of shared experiences and unique memories. With each new telling, we cocoon to butterfly that sees each breath we have left in this life as an exercise in evolving our own narrative.”
“This is way for you who battle with self-doubt and hyper criticism, I remind you we are a generation experimenting with healing in public. Be fierce. Be forgiving. Hardcore is a façade and a trend.”
“Educate the human heart. Elevate the human mind. Grow the human soul. This will be our generation’s idea of a multi-taking model of learning.”
Look up. Look around. Listen. See and hear the echoes of your wounds and dreams all around you. Know that you are never as alone as you think. We may even be in the majority. Each point of connection with another transforms them from stranger into ally in the healing process.
If you read this and still feel abandoned, walk with head high knowing there are generations of ancestors inside of you. We will survive this era as we did the eras before: using the skills we have, inventing the ones we need.
On those days when the spine or soul become tired, imagine all of humanity whispering a twelve word prayer inside your ear: “we are not the children nor the descendants of a weak people.”
Mark Gonzales In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty 2014
Several years ago, I “met” Mark Gonzales via this remarkable collection of piercing, pithy poem essays. Last week, as war in Ukraine grabbed hold of our world by its throat, a friend reminded me that I had introduced her to his work. Any page would have been perfect today. I expect I’ll turn to Mark’s words for my Monday blog. In the meantime, if this sampling touches you, buy his book, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty. There is no better time.
“It’s a piece of deep psychological acuity, carried in many religious traditions: that each of us is defined as much by who our enemies are and how we treat them as by whom and what we love.”
Krista Tippett, On Being, October 31, 2013
Fitting food for thought as we, the world, contemplate the current circumstances unfolding in Ukraine. A simplistic response to vilify the invaders and yet…
We see Russians courageously take to their streets and squares in protest. We read of notables resigning from posts refusing payment from their government. We know people who know people, Russians whose roots run deep and like us all, whose hearts bleed red.
Over the past few days, scrolling social media and participating in online seminars, I’ve been struck with the extent to which we are calling forth the balm found in poetry and prayer, in the arts, dance and song. Evoking the highest good in us, for us all. With poetic irony and prescience, this published in 2009 by Ilya Kaminsky, a poet born in Odessa, Ukraine, now living in the United States after being granted asylum with his family:
We Lived Happily during the War
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
protested but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house—
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money, our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.
Let us hold the centre, dear friends. Present with what is unfolding. Poised amidst conflict within and without. Persistent in remembering the best in who we are.
Let us take note of the ever-present beauty around us. Remain open to the mystery in the mundane. Tenacious in our tenderness. Committed in our care.
Living our lives as poem and prayer.
“Do you think it’s an accident that you were born at a time when the culture that gave you life is failing? I don’t think it is. I think you were born of necessity with your particular abilities, with your particular fears, with your particular heartaches and concerns… I think if we wait to be really compelled by something… something big, well… we’re going to wait an awful long time and I don’t know if the state of our world can tolerate our holding out until we feel utterly compelled by something. I think it’s more like this, that we have to proceed now as if we’re utterly needed given the circumstances. That takes almost something bordering on bravado, it could be mistaken for megalomania easily, though I don’t think it is. It had a certain amount of nerviness in it or boldness for sure, something that’s not highly thought of in the culture I was born into unless you’re a star or something… regular people aren’t supposed to have those qualities. I say they are of course. That’s what we’ve got to bring to the challenges at hand, not waiting to be convinced that we’re needed but proceeding as if we are. Your insignificance has been horribly overstated.”
If you don’t feel like starting a new project, don’t.
If you don’t feel the urge to make something new,
just rest in the beauty of the old, the familiar, the known.
If you don’t feel like talking, stay silent.
If you’re fed up with the news, turn it off.
If you want to postpone something until tomorrow, do it.
If you want to do nothing, let yourself do nothing today.
Feel the fullness of the emptiness, the vastness of the silence, the sheer life in your unproductive moments.
Time does not always need to be filled.
You are enough, simply in your being.
– Jeff Foster –
Reflecting on my current involvement in another online offering from The Abbey of the Arts – an 8 week exploration of the archetypes of Visionary, Healer, Sage and Warrior – this recent Facebook post spoke to me. Over the past two weeks, we’ve considered the Healer. I shared with the group The Nap Ministry, the creation of Tricia Hersey to uplift and give legitmacy to the radical act of napping and resting, as embodied resistance.
I’m thinking about how our now noticeably longer days engage our energies and invite more activity. I’m thinking about how easy it is to be seduced by that outward pull and upward rising, when the body-mind-spirit might still need the deep rest encouraged by winter. I’m thinking within the archetypal energy of Healer, that I need to remember “time does not always need to be filled” and that I am enough, simply in my being. And I’m thinking, so are you.
Have you not wounded yourself And battered those you love By sudden motions of evil, Black rage in the blood When the soul, premier danseur, Springs toward a murderous fall? The furies possess you.
Have you not surprised yourself Sometimes by sudden motions Or intimations of goodness, When the soul, premier danseur, Perfectly poised, Could shower blessings With a graceful turn of the head? The angels are there.
The angels, the furies Are never far away While we dance, we dance, Trying to keep a balance To be perfectly human (Not perfect, never perfect, Never an end to growth and peril), Able to bless and forgive Ourselves. This is what is asked of us.
It is light that matters, The light of understanding. Who has ever reached it Who has not met the furies again and again? Who has reached it without Those sudden acts of grace?
– May Sarton –
I’ve had this poem in my “draft” file since last November. I think the wise Parker J. Palmer included it back then in the monthly newsletter he co-authors with songwriter-musician Carrie Newcomer. Given my musings of late, shared in this week’s blog, coupled with current news, it feels like the right time to bring it into the light. To remind me of my own angels and furies. To help me see the light in darkness.
You darkness from which I come, I love you more than all the fires that fence out the world, for the fire makes a circle for everyone so that no one sees you anymore. But darkness holds it all: the shape and the flame, the animal and myself, how it holds them, all powers, all sight — and it is possible: its great strength is breaking into my body. I have faith in the night.
Rainer Maria Rilke translated by David Whyte
This gem came within an email this week where, in the Northern Hemisphere, various divinations by animals foretold of six more weeks of winter. Despite daylight hours growing, this pronouncement still means many more hours of darkness. I imagine that to “have faith in the night” that we will awaken come dawn, might have been one of those experiences that filled with awe our earliest ancestors. This photo, taken my first night on Morocco’s Sahara, could be the sun rising. Life’s circles and cycles, as too this week, Imbolc, the Celtic celebration of the first glimmering of spring, falling midway between Winter’s Solstice and Spring’s Equinox. Also, the feast day of Brigid, the patron saint of, among many things, poetry. Speaking of which, Whyte’s translation of this piece from Rilke evokes his own much loved poem, Sweet Darkness, read here by him.
First set the warp, the plain, stable threads that hold the pattern in place – the infrastructure of joy, the girders that hold up all we build of meaning, or justice, or peace. Use strong threads left by those who have gone before. Only then pick up the weft, the colored thread that you will use to weave accordingly to your plan. Choose carefully – this is what the world will see, each tiny act that builds the bright pattern of your life. Yes, the threads will tangle or knot or fray, and the flaws will show. Oh well. Tuck in the ends as best you can and start again. This is not the time to stop your weaving. So much is pulling at the great design.
WARP and WEFT An engaged community inspired by the virtues of beauty, hope and simplicity. Texture foretells of mystery and transformation. Beauty, the loom for creativity. Inspiration, the weft. We, the warp. Beginning.
“Women are spinners and weavers; we are the ones who spin the threads and weave them into meaning and pattern. Like silkworms, we create those threads out of our own substance, pulling the strong fine fibres, out of our own hearts and wombs.”
Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted, 2016
Gently teasing threads to weave together this week’s post, most vivid are my impressions from the deeply soulful virtual spaces in which I’ve been sitting this month. To name a few:
The monthly Poets Corner Sunday gathering featured Ellen Goldsmith and Lynne Ellis reading several of their poems for healing;
A brief exploration of the wisdom of Mary and the sacred feminine presented by a favourite teacher-writer, Christine Valters Paintner, over at the Wild Luminaries series from Seminary of the Wild.
Spinning together these threads, the pattern emerging is my noticing how, in each gathering, women figured predominantly as sources of inspiration and wisdom – either in founding and-or hosting the groups and conversations, or in presenting, writing, teaching, sharing. Noticing how they, their process, and their offerings to the world, reflect and embody qualities of the sacred feminine as described by Christine Valters Paintner:
attending to synchronicity
listening deeply to the natural world
trusting the wisdom of underworld of shadow
honouring vulnerability as strength
embracing slowness and spaciousness
valuing being over doing
Struck by the conversation between Sue Monk Kidd and Terry Helwig – long-time friends and supports to each other’s writing – each described how shedding what no longer matters, simplicity, and literally driving in the slow lane to avoid the felt obligation of rush, make it easier to see, hear and embrace what matters now. How women make each other braver to follow their intuition, honour their vulnerability, do their inner shadow work.
“I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
‘I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.’
Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think.”
In her words written and spoken, Robin Wall Kimmerer poetically teaches students and her readers how to listen deeply to the natural world, to appreciate indigenous world views and the truth in “all my relations.” Echoed in our book salon conversation, rich in individual perspectives, impressions, and associations, I came away with deepened regard and much deeper regret for all that had been taken away and lost through the colonization and residential schooling of our First Peoples.
“It’s time to make some new threads; time to strengthen the frayed wild edges of our own being, and then weave ourselves back into the fabric of our culture. Once we knew the patterns for weaving the world; we can piece them together again.”
Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted, 2016
On Saturday I woke to an email announcing that my ekphrastic poem written in response to a track from an electronic music album had been accepted for its anthology. For payment! With a contract coming! The feedback and edits from my writer-in-residence were terrific, just what I need to help this self-taught poet-in-process develop, and realize my innovative contribution to the leadership anthology: “poetic” process observation-recordings of our meetings, and synthesizing chapters into poetic “pauses” to introduce or close chapter sections.
Right about now, two years ago, we were getting ready to leave for a winter sojourn in southern Spain. A couple of weeks, mid to late February, travelling by bus and train through Andalusia – Sevilla, Aracena, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga and then back to Sevilla. And then upon our return home, the world would change. Today, nearly two years later, unprecedented impacts from the pandemic continue to roll out like an endless line of falling dominoes.
In response to a friend’s blog last week, I wrote “this seems to be the time and the place where the art, the poem, the story, the prayer, the silence, the conversation, the thank you, the kiss, the embrace may comfort, soothe, sustain and help us find our way.”
“Women can heal the Wasteland. We can remake the world. This is what women do. This is our work.”
Child stirring in the web of your mother Do not be afraid Old man turning to walk through the door Do not be afraid
– Joy Harjo – How We Became Human
Every day I receive and read several poems from various sources, including social media. Not too long ago I read a brief musing on poetry by philosopher, author, activist Bayo Akomolafe: “Poetry is the language of the apocalypse. When cracks appear, when tensions materialize and split the familiar open, the least thing you need is precision. The least thing you want is to simply get to the point. Well, the poet casts his eyes beside the point, beneath the surfaces, where the exquisite sprouts.”
As we step into this new year, one where cracks and tensions continue to be evident, continue to split open the familiar, this poem felt right as an offering and evocation of the exquisite. A prayer of sorts to greet the day, to remember the power of thoughts and beauty, to not be afraid.