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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

She/Her

I just finished my first Derrick Jensen book, A Language Older Than Words. I have another Jensen book I am tempted to start immediately, but I am afraid if I do, my own writing won't get done- the retreat letters I've committed myself to writing, the personal journaling I haven't been doing. Of course, right now instead of doing either of those things, I am writing here.

A few days ago, I sent Jensen an email with my Convers(at)ion post, since he was in it.  Within a day I got a response from him and on the same day I received another unexpected delight. I have made an unfortunate habit of checking my email and Facebook even before I get out of bed. Since my personal Internet connection is through my iPod, it's pretty easy to be online while snuggled up in bed. Minutes before seeing Jensen's email, I saw a Facebook post that took me back over 20 years to a music-creating experience in a forest. Our group had practiced the music only loosely so that it could emerge as it was meant to, not in a static way. In the making, we, or maybe I should only speak for myself, I, lost myself in the rhythms, the sound, the beauty of the creative process.

While writing my blog posts, at least when I am most faithful to the voice inside or the voice that flows through me, I also find myself lost in the process. When I say lost, I'm really only (temporarily) lost to what is in my immediate surroundings. In fact, I feel more connected to the World around me as I try to express how the World works its way into me and through me. When I immerse myself in that Presence, I find the words I'm looking for to describe what I feel in my gut and my heart. Actually it feels more accurate to say the words find me.

Calling the World "it" doesn't feel right. I shall call the World  "She" and "Her." I am keenly aware of Her presence in my life and how She guides me where I need to go. I could call Her, this presence that is larger than I understand, God, and many times I do, but what feels right in this moment is She. And She is not only the World that I see, but the One I feel and know outside of me, all around me, and within me...when I'm paying attention...

Some volunteers and I were listening to music a few days ago. A song by the Indigo Girls came on and the time I spent in Guatemala 15 years ago came to mind.  I remember when a package from my parents arrived and I was disappointed because the Indigo Girls CD I had requested was not the one they sent me.  However, I listened and listened to the one they sent (Swamp Ophelia) and then couldn't stop listening.
While I've been away from home this time around I've had Adele, Regina Spoelker, certain Taize prayer songs, Love the One You're With, Lean on Me (sung with my sixth and seventh graders in Chatra and now with my teenagers in Nablus), and songs I've downloaded from cheesy Bollywood movies to accompany me.  Later on they will undoubtedly transport me back to these places. Incidentally, one of the Bollywood songs will not only bring me to India, but also to the Church of the Nativity where a sacred song was sung with the same tune as Teri Meri... Unfortunately, because of the association to "Bodyguard," I was more amused than moved to hear the singing...

I know that certain singers, songs, authors and books will bring me back to these months. I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo start to finish on a rainy Sunday afternoon, my first Sunday in Chatra. The Aleph I read as I traveled from Spain to Israel, finishing it on a rainy day in Jerusalem. I don't think it was an accident that I read a book by Robert Thurman about Buddhism in between the two Coelho books.  Derrick Jensen will forever carry me to Nablus.  These books seemed to come to me at just the right time...  All of these authors lead me to one message: we are all in this together and are connected to each other (whether the "other" is another person, an animal, or something like a wall), regardless of our current place or time.

When I leave, so many things (the above only a few) will remind me I was here. They will not allow me to forget the poverty in India, the Occupation in Palestine, the people who crossed my path along the way. They will remind me that I am connected to Her, the Her that is not only outside, around, and within me, but outside, around, and within every other part of creation, regardless of who did the creating. Personally, I think She leads me to the reminders, whether I want them or not.  Sometimes it's easier to forget our connection, but She keeps showing me that I must not forget.

In every way possible She seems to be saying, sometimes in a gentle whisper, other times in a blaring scream, "See him. He is you and you are him. See her. She is you and you are her. See what you call it. It is you and you are it." There is always a danger that when She speaks, I'll ignore her. Maybe that's why She is so persistent in communicating this message. On some level, I get the message.  I know it's still not sunk in all the way...

This afternoon I was talking to a couple other volunteers about teaching teenagers.  I said that what teens, or really all of us, want is to be heard, to know someone is listening and cares about what we have to say.  I said that, as a teacher, I think it's OK to disagree with or challenge what my students say, as long as I make it clear that my disagreement or challenge does not mean that I've written them off. They must know I care about them always. They must know that I know we are connected.  Earlier in the conversation, I'd said that using the title "Love Thy Neighbor" for my blog helps me to try to live up to the ideal. Teaching theology also helped me to hold myself to a high standard. Of course, I fail all the time at loving my neighbor, especially here where many of  the Israeli neighbors are violators and abusers. What does loving them even mean? I'll admit I don't know. I don't really want to admit any connection to them, but still we are bound together...

Going back to talking about students, after this afternoon's conversation I finished Jensen's book. I have a whole paper of reading notes for future reference, but let me highlight one.  He wrote, "the people in my classes, including me, did not need to be controlled, managed, nor even taught. What we needed was to be encouraged, accepted, and loved just for who we were... to be given time in a supportive space to explore who we were and what we wanted, with the assistance of others who had our best interest at heart." The kind of space he discusses allows us to feel the connections She offers us, connections to Her within and around us.  I think in my best teaching, I succeed in providing such a space, a space in which my students and I are open to Her through each other. Sadly, I can also think of too many examples where I failed, sometimes miserably, to provide such a space.  I did not help anyone feel connected and may have even caused some students to feel disconnected.  I keep trying...

Over the last few years I have become more attuned to Her.  I felt Her telling me it was time to leave my job, felt Her telling me to go to India and Palestine. I know She will tell me where to go next. She hasn't yet. I was talking to my mom about possible next steps and she was laying out an argument for following a particular path. I told her that I am not sure it is the right path. I am not sure it's the wrong path either, but I suspect it would be. The next day I was talking to a friend who said, "If it doesn't feel right, then it's probably not." Thankfully, I already knew that to be true.  She tends to be pretty clear with me. Thankfully, thus far I think I have listened to Her, even when rational thought and other people have tried to persuade me to make a different decision.

Ha! I haven't felt like I've been making decisions. I've been following the path She's cleared for me. It's that simple. People who don't seem to connect with Her in the same way don't understand the feeling of certainty I've felt each time I've made major changes in my life, whether it be buying a house, changing jobs, leaving my job, or taking an 8 1/2 month journey.

I find Her messages everywhere, in friends, family, strangers, books, songs, flowers, mountains...everywhere. I wish other people felt Her as keenly as I do.  I know some people do.  I wish everyone would.  I try to imagine the World in which we all feel Her, regardless of what we call Her.  The picture is not clear to me, since the World would be so drastically different, but I do know She is beautiful. Do you feel Her? Can you see Her?   

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