Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Tension of the Opposites

Sitting in the tension of the opposites is apparently where I find myself these days.  I’ve been reflecting on our recent trip to the Czech Republic and Austria.  So much beauty, both natural and cultural.  I fell in love with beautiful Prague and the charming Czesky Krumlov.  I admired the artwork of Alfons Mucha and Klimt.  We had the sweet companionship of friends and family.  I was thrilled to see the Artemis of Ephesus in the museum in Vienna.  And the Austrian Alps – what words can truly describe their grandeur? 









Then there was the old Jewish Quarter of Prague and Terezin.  There was beauty – the Spanish Synagogue, for instance, and the old cemetery.  And there was also the horror and sadness of the names of all the Holocaust dead covering the walls of the Pinkas synagogue.  And then there was the strangeness of Terezin itself.  The Nazis had adapted the fortified town of Terezin as a ghetto and concentration camp. They evicted the Czech residents and interred primarily Jews from Czechoslovakia, as well as Jews deported chiefly from Germany and Austria, and some from the Netherlands and Denmark. More than 150,000 Jews were sent there, including 15,000 children.  Although it was not a death camp, about 33,000 died in the ghetto.  And of the 15,000 children only 100 survived the war.



But going to Terezin… It is a charming little town, once again inhabited by Czechs.  The odd paradox of this fine little town and the horrors that happened here….it is hard to take in.  Only in what they call the small fortress do you really get a sense of the nightmare.  

We were there around the same time as Charlottesville was happening here at home.  The synchronicity was chilling.



But doesn’t this all make sense in a larger context?  We are, many of us privileged and (relatively and so far) safe, yet horrified by what is happening in our country both naturally and politically.  Shortly after we came home we got word of the sudden death of a friend.  Hurricane Harvey hit, and all the California fires.  And yet, I, for one, am in almost daily contact with the most beautiful and wonderful of granddaughters, for whom I have to have hope. 


How do we sit with it all – the beauty and the horror?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Breath in. Breath out: A SoulCollage® Story

Most days I do readings with my SoulCollage® cards.  Sometimes it's just a single card as an orientation or focus for the day.  Other times I'll have a particular question that I draw cards to answer.  It's rare for me to feel unsatisfied with what I get, and often it's jaw-droppingly accurate.  But there's another way I use my cards, and that is as writing prompts.

Today I pulled these 3 cards in order to tell a story:



This is what emerged:

Things were beginning to get clear.  By sitting quietly and allowing the old skin to shed, she got in touch with the waters and the sands drifting in the wind.  She hunkered down further, feeling the rocks beneath her anchoring her to the earth, sensing the covering of protection around her and the open way to new life.  Breath in.  Breath out.  Clarity.

The world around was going to hell in a handbasket.  (She wondered where that expression came from.)  The air was growing toxic.  Even the waters gave no purchase to the flocking birds.  Saints of the old religion still watched, but they were darkening and fading away.  Soon they would be no more than the grains of drifting sands.  The bird calls were growing deafening as they searched for a safe place.  Breath in.  Breath out.

Climbing her way out of her thoughts, she had to ascend through the father line, for wasn't it the fathers who had brought all of this on?  Even the good fathers, the blessing fathers, who in one sense could not be termed culpable, even they bore some responsibility.  They praised women.  They may even have revered them, loved them, honored them.  But they did not truly listen to the women or regard their values as primary.  They assumed that women could not really know.  

But bearing children provides another perspective.  Mothering women cannot view children as worthy sacrifices.  That story goes way back, at least as far as Abraham and Isaac.  An old story the fathers tell of devotion to their God.  Women (other than those persuaded or forced to adhere to the ways of the fathers) never accepted that story.  Their Goddess - Asherah, Isis, Astarte, Demeter - however they named Her - had different stories.  Yes, the Great Mother could be fierce and even frightening, but Her ways always were in support of life.

So, sitting quietly and allowing the old skin to shed, she breathed and prayed for a new way, a new life, a resurrection for two-legged ones.  But even more so for the earth itself.  Even if humans had, so far, ruined everything they touched, maybe it was not too late.  There were still rocks, water, birds, and the sands drifting in the wind.
****************

I am holding one last SoulCollage® session before Fall, next Sunday, June 25th here in Oakland.  Our theme this month is "Radical Joy."  There's still space; let me know if you're interested.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Rising Up Rooted

Some time back my friend Jane turned me on to Sharon Blackie’s If Women Rose Rooted.  If you don’t know it (and especially if you’re of Celtic descent) you might want to get a hold of it.  It’s full of stories, both personal and mythic, all on the theme of the importance of place and of connection to the land.  It’s not surprising that I love this book – its theme is so similar to what I’ve been learning from Deena Metzger.  Indigenous cultures not only know this, they live it.  Think of those who have stood at and for Standing Rock.  As Blackie explains, though, most of us come out of and live in a modern wasteland.

The book led me to the poem by Rilke that inspired its title (here translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows):

How surely gravity's law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing ---
each stone, blossom, child ---
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth's intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from things,
because they are in God's heart;
they have never left him.

That is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

It’s curious how you can read a poem and gloss over it, and then some time later encounter it as if for the first time.  I read The Book of Hours years ago, but this poem did not move me then.  I guess now is the time I need it!

I am, of course, learning the poem for our next salon and for Rumi’s Caravan (July 8th here in Oakland).  Like the book, the poem points me in the direction of where I want to belong, and how.  Learning this poem is a gift I give myself; it works on me as I work on it.

The one area I felt Blackie short-changed a bit is how city dwellers can connect more deeply to the land.  She doesn’t ignore it, but her discussion on it is pretty brief and perfunctory.  We are not all so fortunate to live in the countryside.  Most of us who do not walk outside of our houses directly into wild nature have to work a lot harder to feel and sustain the connection.  We are certainly not supported by the wasteland culture to do so.

So here are some of the questions I am living with.  How do I root myself to this bit of hillside in Oakland where I have chosen to live?  How do we be faithful to the land?  What does the earth have to teach us?  How can we rise up rooted?



 View from our deck

Monday, February 13, 2017

Obstacle

The sapling sprouts
on a slope
above a large rock.
As it grows, very slowly,
over years and decades,
it sinks roots down,
over and around the
cold, gray stone.
Some take the easiest path,
plunging straight down into
the topsoil.
Others must stretch
around the rock’s sides or
up and over the top,
tasting the naked air,
seeking, seeking,
the earth’s hold.
At last,
even these 
find purchase.
The stone is now
surrounded
by roots.

Rather than blocking
the tree’s path,
rather than causing
instability,
the rock becomes part
of the tree’s character.
The obstacle
is now intrinsic
to the nature of
the tree.
Distinct and original,
the tree survives,
thrives,
holding the rock in
its radical embrace.


One of my SoulCollage® cards.  It inspired this poem and some thoughts about dealing with obstacles.



Saturday, January 7, 2017

We Need Each Other Now

Preparing for tonight's salon, I can't help but notice that most of the poems moving me right now are deep and dark.  I've been wandering around an area of the underworld that I've been calling the doldrums.  Well, it is the dark of the year, Mercury is still retrograde, and the times are pretty tough, and like everyone else, I have my own peculiar set of trials.

We were surprised by how quickly the salon RSVPs poured in.  It's unusual for us to have a waiting list.  Of course, there are all the last minute cancellations, and the forecasted storm will have an impact on the turnout, but the feeling we've gotten is that people are truly hungry now for community and for things that will nourish the soul.  I'm hoping for that kind of evening.

A little poem came to me this week that I plan to share tonight, along with a small ritual of passing around and lighting a candle.  For anyone who can't be with us, here it is:

We need each other now.
In truth, we always have.
But as things disintegrate,
as chaos and disorder reign,
we become like bones,
scattered and
stripped clean of all
that is inessential,
Let’s reassemble ourselves,
the way Isis did with Osiris,
or La Loba with her wolf bones.
Let’s find a new configuration,
this part mine, that part yours –
Perhaps something original
will emerge, or
something ancient.
Let’s light a candle now, friends,
so we can see how

to begin.



Yesterday, while getting dressed after my swim at the YMCA, I noticed an older (yeah, older than me) African-American woman, the only other woman in that area of the locker room.  She looked at me and wished me a happy new year.  Of course, I wished her the same, and said, "Let's hope it's a happy new year." She responded, "We have to make it one."

So, here we go.  Let's make it one.