Monday, January 13, 2014

Incomplete Perspective

I've been thinking a lot lately about how easily I forget that my perspective is narrow and incomplete.  I too often consider my view to be the end all be all, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, when in reality it is only a part of the reality of the world, one small view of the mystery of life.  I can broaden my view by listening to others, by observing through a different lens than the one I usually use.  Last week in prayer, I used the following poem.  Its message continues to reverberate within me and so it feels important to share it.  I hope it also stops you and gives you a little to chew on.

The Right Word

Outside the door, 
lurking in the shadows,
is a terrorist.

Is that the wrong description? 
Outside that door, 
taking shelter in the shadows,
is a freedom-fighter.

I haven't got this right. 
Outside, waiting in the shadows,
is a hostile militant.

Are words no more
than waving, wavering flags?
Outside your door, watchful in the shadows,
is a guerrilla warrior.

God help me. 
Outside, defying every shadow,
stands a martyr. I saw his face. 

No words can help me now. 
Just outside the door, lost in shadows, 
is a child who looks like mine.

One word for you.
Outside my door, 
his hand too steady, 
his eyes too hard
is a boy who looks like your son, too.

I open the door. 
Come in, I say.
Come in and eat with us.

The child steps in 
and carefully, at my door, 
takes off his shoes.  

-Imitiaz Dharker, from Fire in the Soul: 100 Poems for Human Rights

May we recognize the contradictions and complexities of people and our world. May we learn to see each other, every "other" that we meet, as one deserving of our love, care, and hospitality.  May we open our doors. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Precious Gift We Take for Granted

Jordan River
In the Church today commemorates Jesus' baptism at the Jordan River.  I visited the Jordan River a few months ago, dipped my feet in it and watched many groups experience full immersion in the waters where it is said John baptized Jesus.

I was moved watching those who chose to submerge themselves in the water.  One woman in particular intrigued me.  In her white garment, as she was treading the water, she would dip her head under and come out again, face, with a look of absolute bliss, pointing to the sun.  She did this over and over again.  

Watching her and others was a pleasure.  At the same time, thoughts about consumption that has shrunk the river and pollution that dirties it nagged at me.  

This last week it was bitterly cold here, temperatures dipping into negative numbers (Fahrenheit). While hearing about friends and family with frozen and/or burst pipes and reading about the chemical spill and resulting water contamination in West Virginia, I've found myself thinking again about water, about my own privileged life in which, almost always, I can turn a knob and have instant clean water.  I've lived in and visited so many places where clean water is not a given. I've lived in and visited places where water is not a given.  I know I haven't yet learned the lessons of those places because when I come back to the U.S., I all-too-easily fall back into my over-consuming patterns: running the water full stream when it's not necessary, taking a long shower, not fixing my faucet's drip. I all-to-easily forget that while my personal water supply is endless, the world's is not.  

I have a friend whose 9-year-old daughter told her not too long ago that she (the daughter) doesn't like to take showers.  "Why not?" asked my friend.  

"Because the water is so cold when I turn the water on." 

"You can wait to get in after the water has warmed up."

"But that would be wasteful."  

This 9-year-old who is aware of the scarcity and preciousness of water does not have the experience that I do of life without constant water access, yet she is a far better protector of water than I.  I am thankful for this young teacher, who is helping my to compartmentalize my experiences less, to transfer my learning from one setting to another, to examine my privilege and its implications for others. I am thankful that she is helping me to regard water as the cherished sustainer of life that it is and to remember that it must be accessible to all of us.

In Palestine I saw very clearly what can happen when one group of people has access to as much water as they want while controlling others' access to it.  On average an Israeli uses four times the amount of water a Palestinian does. Israelis use the vast majority of the water from the aquifers in the West Bank while restricting Palestinian use of the water from their own land.  There are many people in many places who suffer from a lack of access to clean water.

In India not long after the rainy season, I saw the several places where the mighty Ganges River was no more than a stream; in some places all I saw was a dry river bed.  Something must change.  
dry river bed in India

I am very sorry for all those who had problems with pipes freezing and bursting and who are likely still in the process of getting necessary repairs done. I do not wish the expense of time, money, or wasted water on anyone.  However, I do hope that living without water for a short time will help us (and I absolutely include myself in this) to use less water, to value more what we do use, to remember that there are many people who live without access to clean water all the time, and to do something to change that fact.

A couple of local organizations doing great work in this area include:
Water with Blessings: and
Water Step:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Work in Progress

January 1, 2014

Today marks the start of a new calendar year, but my new year actually started a couple months ago.  I had just returned from Palestine when I went on a personal retreat.  I spent a few days in Joy, one of the hermitage cabins at Cedars of Peace. I thought I'd go there and process the previous 3 months.  I thought I'd cry.

As it turns out, I wasn't ready for the processing or for much of the crying.  Thankfully, some of both have happened between then and now.  I've written already about the crying.  The growth, the lessons unfolding happen in fits and starts, often unanticipated, often with the discomfort that stretching can bring.  I am trying to be gentle with myself and let them happen when they need to.  Sometimes I am more successful with this, sometimes less.  I am better at not forcing the growth.  I am not as good at allowing it to happen when it is "inconvenient," which, of course, it very often is.

While walking on the grounds of Loretto, while looking out my cabin window, while sleeping (I was surprised at how much sleeping I did), my mind was not quick to look back, but it was ready to look forward.  For the first time in two and a half years, I was going to have a job that I'd be in for the foreseeable future.  I knew that I'd be in the country for at least six months (and now I know that I'll be around a whole year from when I came home).  I could plan with a little more certainty than I'd been able to for quite a while.
Anticipating some future-thinking, I had brought colored index cards, colored post-its, colored pens.  I wasn't quite sure how I'd use them, but I thought they might come in handy.  I had a new journal.  I wasn't ready to write in it with any color other than black.  Since then, I've had some green, some orange, some pink writing days. The post-its went untouched. The key to future-thinking seemed to be the index cards.

Green cards were my money cards (go figure).  I wrote down my new anticipated income, debts that needed to be paid, small purchases I'd like to make, larger purchases I'd soon have to make, home repairs I dreamed to make.  I've crossed a few items off the list already.  I've added others.

Orange cards had to do with writing.  Truthfully, I didn't write much more than headings on those cards. And I haven't done much writing since I've been home.  I believe that will change.  I want that to change.  Tomorrow I'll be going to my first Women Who Write meeting.  I can't wait.  Perhaps after that meeting, I'll have more for my orange cards.

Purple...dreams... If I were writing them today, I might call them resolutions.  The words on these cards include "run the mini-marathon again; marathon?" (now that I know I'll be in the country until November, I can replace the question mark with an exclamation point); "travel somewhere new within the U.S."; "talk about Palestine"; "listen to those who disagree"; "laugh." These cards contain a long list of people I'd like to share time with.  I've gotten to do so with some of the people already; many I'd still like to see.

Yellow: these are my question cards.  While I loaded information on to the other colored cards, the yellow cards contain single, very broad questions: "Spanish classes?" "CPT?" There are a few others.  I'm sure there will be more.

When I finished my future-thinking, I found a cloth pouch to put the cards in.  I carry them in my purse.  This means they are ever-present with me.  This means I can cross off an item or add an item at any moment.

This means I won't forget them.

In considering my cards and when my new year started, I offer this: today may or may not feel like a new beginning.  If it doesn't, that's OK.  Maybe your new start isn't meant to happen on January 1.  If you do feel like you're starting a new era, take some time to define what you want that era to look like, feel like, smell like, taste like, and write it down. The clearer the picture, the better.

And then, with each new day, paint a few strokes in your life to make the picture in your mind become a reality.  If you make a wrong stroke, let it dry, and paint over it.  Or maybe just let it be.  You never know what unexpected beauty it might add to the final picture... or the work in progress... because that's what we all are... beautiful works in progress.

Peace and blessings to you this New Year's Day.