Monday, March 30, 2015

some got swallowed up by birds

we are co-creators.

Creator of All,
birthing beauty and beauty and beauty
through our ever-birthing 
and re-birthing world,
and (she says,
wide with wonder,

we are co-creators. 

yesterday i
tried to 
give birth to peace.

sympathy pain
(i didn't know),
my body purged only blood.
grief for what i cannot.

today i know
the vessel
resides outside of me
in another

i take comfort.
what emerged from me:
precious seeds.

they dream of
nestling into fertile soil,
yearn for a chance at

i know.

some got swallowed up by birds.
 those seeds won't bloom peace.

 they fill bird bellies,
make possible new songs 
one more day
somewhere else.

is that enough? 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

From Kentucky's Soon-to-be Poet Laureate

Original image here

George Ella Lyon

Our Mother Who Art
in the kitchen
cooking us up
hallowed may we see
all that is
Your kingdom here
delivered into our hands
Your will in children
and trees leafing out
on earth
as if it were Heaven.

Give us this day
bread we could feed
the world
and snatch us bald-headed
if we try to swallow it all.

Don't forgive us
till we learn it is all for giving.
That salve you've got in a pot
on the back of the stove
only heals when everybody has some.

And heed us not
if we believe You look like us
and love us best
and gave us the True Truth
with a license to kills Others
writ inside.
Deliver us from this evil.

For it is Yours,
this kitchen we call Universe
where you stir up out favorite treat,
the Milky Way,
folding deep into sweet
our little sphere
with its powerful glory
of rainforests
and oceans
and mountains in feather-boa mist
if we don't blow it up
and ever
if we don't tear it down

(Ah women
Ah children
Ah reckon She's about fed up.
We better make room at the table
for everybody
before She yells, "OUT!"
and tuns our tables over,
before She calls it off
this banquet we've been hoarding
this paradise
we aim to save
with bombs.)

From Imagine a World:Poetry for Peacemakers

March Madness

My March Madness began a little earlier than the one that is garnering so much attention, money, and time right now. The genesis of mine was March 8th, International Women's Day. That day reminded me that I am mad that women's stories are not honored and highlighted every day like men's (and in this country, more specifically white, heterosexual, Christian, and most likely upper-class men).

As a result I did two things: 1) I started writing here nearly every day and 2) I started weaving pieces of other women's storieswordshearts into my writing. It is because I wanted to share other voices that I've been posting more here. All I've tried to do is recognize a Truth that we often overlook or even deny: our lives are already interwoven.

Mine and yours. Ours with the people we call "enemy" and the ones we may even classify as less-than-human. Ours with the lives that are scurrying, singing, crawling, swimming, flying around us. Ours with those that are pushing their way through darkness towards light as the days grow longer and warmer. They are our faithful reminders of What Can Be - Beauty offering itself up for sheer delight. Pure. Generous. Joyful.

My March Madness reminds me that I am a being with a voice, a story that is true and real and important, even if only to me. Except my better Self knows that my be-ing is not just important to me. It is one precious string, or maybe even one strand of a string in the tapestry that is Truth, that is Wholeness, that is Love. So is every other being.

Tonight I heard Matthew Fox speak, the vibrations of which will be pulsing through me for a long time. Framing his words, local musicianspoetsbeauties Kri N Hettie performed - except that's not what they did. They got real with us, inviting us to open up our minds and hearts, to prepare for the torrent of goodness, truth, energy, wisdom, and expansive vision that Matthew poured out on us. I knew I was in the company of a prophet and I feel certain that his words, echoing the words of Thomas Merton, Meister Eckhart and others, helped all of us to get a little better acquainted with our own prophetic nature.

In my Madness, I have been trying to share prophetic voices: voices that challenge and voices that inspire; voices that soothe us into deeper connection and voices that shake us out of complacency; voices that help each of us find our unique voice and those that help us see ourselves within the story of others.

After Matthew presented, four Louisvillians who are following their calling engaged in a panel discussion with Matthew. The first question: How do you know your calling and where do you find the courage to follow it? When the first person began to speak, I couldn't believe her words, not because they were outrageous, but because if I'd been asked the question, I think I'd have used the same words, maybe the exact same words. I wrote them as faithfully as I could: "I listen to the call from within, from my inner voice,and then it's not up to me. I don't do what I want to do, I do what I feel I am called to do." Amen.

Right now I am called to share words - my own and hers and hers and his and theirs and, if we're looking at the deepest level, yours, too.

My madness this month is born of a powerful energy within me that is yearning to be released. My energy comes from a much greater One that nurtures my soul: sometimes rotting it into fertile soil, sometimes trickling wetness that allows me to root and deepen and anchor, sometimes shining warm light that beckons me to reeeeach towards a new embodiment of Who I Am.

My madness does not ask me to choose loyalties for one group or another, though, at my best, I may dedicate more of myself to those who've been left out, covered up, silenced. It may look like preference, but my preference is justice; not win-lose, but win-win.

Until I've spent time in silence and know where my attention, my voice, my time, my money can best serve, my madness does not ask me to jump up in praise or distress at fleeting moments. My excitement and outcry spring from those places along the path that have enriched or depleted me.

My madness does not ask me to compete. It invites me to collaborate, to embrace, to harmonize. It invites me to challenge what doesn't serve Love.

It invites me to, as Matthew Fox described it, "wrap the Via Positiva around the Via Dolorosa." To live not in a knowledge of original sin, but in the wisdom of original blessing.

This madness of mine is rich. I pray it inhabits me long after March ends. I wish the same for you. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I sit with her until I am silent, too

Last week I was walking in the rain with a friend, every so often putting the hood of my rain jacket up or down, constantly flicking water and bits of mud up the back of my jeans. By the end of the walk, the back of my jeans legs, from the heel to the knee, were wet.

As we were talking about my work in Palestine and the presentations I've been doing, she said something like she could never do the work I do because it would make her bitter and (I think her other word was) frustrated with the world. She asked how I stay grounded. I told her that prayer and reading -during my last stint, Gregory Boyle's Tattoos on the Heart  and Desmond Tutu's God Has a Dream -  offer me a vision broader than my own oh-so-limited view of the world.

But I lose sight of that vision all too easily. I get frustrated, impatient, maybe I even put on a sanctimonious air. This morning I got all worked up re-framing  the idea of "afflicting the comfortable." I didn't even know how much emotion was there until I was speaking my mind about how the idea was to encourage those with privilege to willingly give up some of their privilege so that those who don't live a decent life don't have to work so damn hard to get what every person should have simply by virtue of being human. I was thinking about "those people" who could use some discomfort.

Of course, I am one of "those people" with unearned privilege upon privilege upon privilege. There is a lot I could give up and still live an incredibly rich life. I could use some more affliction myself to urge me to better live in solidarity with others.

Solidarity - I will give up my safety (physical, emotional, social, economic) to stand with you or sit with you or walk with you, to take on some of the pain you face that I can avoid, if I want to, because of my placement in the world.

Solidarity is a choice. It is simple, but not easy. Working with Christian Peacemaker Teams, I try to practice solidarity a few weeks a year in Palestine, just a few weeks. People praise me for doing the work, as if it is something noble and not simply what I should be doing. I accept the praise and too often forget to say that any courage I show is minuscule in comparison to that of the Palestinians I know. Any struggle I have is nothing compared to those who have lived under Occupation their entire lives. Any stress I feel is usually alleviated when I leave for days off or, after my stint, return to the U.S. When I return, it doesn't take long to settle back into comfort. I come home with mixed emotions, grateful to return to safety (physical, emotional, social, economic) and disappointed in myself for so easily slipping back into a life where solidarity is not my primary modus operandi. 

Perhaps it is in an effort to keep that sensibility alive that recently I've been sharing the voices of others, primarily women. Maybe sharing their words is a small act of solidarity? Maybe it is a way to hold onto a thread of a larger tapestry? When I wrote in my International Women's Day post that I was angry, someone replied that being angry is good.

Anger can be useful, if it takes us most often not to bitterness and frustration, but to solidarity. To loving, deliberate action ("loving" being an extremely important qualifier) rather than stagnation or purely reactive in-the-moment response. To the slow movement that happens in the depths, rather than frantic splashing at the surface.

To greater care for people.

And so I share another poem.

Maren Tirabassi


     as a word
first appears in Middle English,
as it is derived from the
Old Norse - "sorrow."
The woman's stillness
casts a shadow -
that is anger.
It cannot be defined away.

She has the right to it -
you cannot take it.
You cannot extract its terrible teeth,
nor do you need to know
her reasons,
so that you can re-arrange them
into something acceptable,
or identify them
as right or wrong.
You may only know that
she has sat down
into a place
derived from old, old sorrow.

I respect her - I sit with her
until I am silent, too.
For anger is never abstract.
It is one woman,
and then another woman,
and then
another woman -
with broken stars.

I sit with her until I am silent, too. Sitting in a place derived from old, old sorrow.

This is not bitterness or frustration. Perhaps this is solidarity.

Perhaps, like the rain, it will make its way to my body- through my head, through my feet- and will seep into my being until, finally, it saturates my heart.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Where Love Calls

I thought I might include a video in my post to honor Archbishop Oscar Romero. When I went to search on youtube, I came across a video of the massacre that occurred during Romero's funeral. I didn't know about that massacre. I can't bear posting the video here. If you want to find and watch it, do so at your own risk.

About a month after the massacre, Fr. James L. Connor from the U.S. was present and shared his reflections from that day. These are this opening words:

Inside the national cathedral in San Salvador
The U.S. Government's official position toward El Salvador is badly misguided. Of that I am now convinced. Prior to March 30, I would not have said this so confidently. But that day I got a fresh perspective on the question as I huddled with 4,000 terrified peasants inside San Salvador's cathedral while bombs exploded and bullets whistled outside in the plaza where we had gathered to celebrate the funeral of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

And later in his article he wrote: 

Social analysis, they say, depends basically on your starting point: from where and with whom you view the social situation. As I sat huddled in the San Salvador cathedral with thousands of terrified peasants, I found myself viewing the Salvadoran social situation with the poor and from their perspective of weakness, terror and oppression. I was given a vivid experience of the power of evil that can permeate the institutions and behavior of who fight to uphold an unjust system.


Plaza of people who came to honor
Archbishop Oscar Romero 
The U.S. Government maintains that support of the present junta in El Salvador is the best guarantee of peace (whose peace?) and stability (again whose?), whereas I know that to support the government militarily is, in effect, to support the dominance and the aggression of the oligarchy. It is to maintain institutionalized violence. We are not, therefore, guaranteeing peace, but are continuing the silent, inexorable warfare of an elite over the peasants whose death toll was over 900 in the past 90 days. Even if there were no actual bloodshed, we are effectively denying access to basic human rights to millions of peasants by supporting the continuance of a social situation which is basically unjust, whatever the personal convictions or rationalizations of its upholders.
In choosing to sustain this situation, our Government is failing in political assessment and moral sensitivity ....

And yet, despite his witness, despite the witness of many others,  the U.S. government continued to give money and money and weapons and training to the Salvadoran government and its military that was slaughtering its own people. 

And today the U.S. government continues to give money and money and weapons and training for "the best guarantee of peace (whose peace?) and stability (again whose?), whereas I know that to support (insert current government of choice; for me- Israel) militarily is, in effect, to support the dominance and the aggression of (insert your choice; again for me- Israel over Palestine).  It is to maintain institutionalized violence." 

Reading his reflections, I return to the words of Fr. Gregory Boyle: All Jesus asks is, "Where are you standing?" And after chilling defeat and soul-numbing failure, He asks again, "Are you still standing there?"           

Oscar Romero gave his life because he chose to stand in the right place. Those who mourned his death paid the price because the stood in the right place. 

Sometimes I have the courage to stand where Love calls me to stand. I wish that in those times I've had the guts to stand in the right place, I had not been so often looking at destruction that my own government supported. 

I hope to more faithfully stand in the right place, next to those whose lives and liberation may look different from my own, but are intimately tied to mine. I hope that someday I will not have to stand facing destruction that in any way can be attributed to the complicity of my government. I hope that I will also have the willingness to look at my own complicity in supporting structures, corporations, and institutions that commit egregious injustices and to change my ways so that I may better stand with Love. 

May we all better stand where Love calls us.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Oscar Romero- Presente!

Commitment. Solidarity. Justice. Truth. Joy. Dialogue. Conversion. Gospel. Love.

Today, on the 35th anniversary of his death, I share a few, perhaps lesser-known words of soon-to-be-canonized Archbishop Oscar Romero: strong and challenging, very challenging, particularly for those of us who call ourselves Christian and who have the privilege of privilege:

Let's not try to remake Christianity to suit our tastes. Let's not try to tame the Gospel, rather, let us conform ourselves to the Gospel and try to follow the authentic Christ, if we truly want to be saved.
- July 30, 1978

This is the commitment of being a Christian: following Christ in his incarnation. And if Christ is God in his majesty who becomes a humble man even to dying like a slave on the cross and who lives with the poor, that's what our Christian faith should be like. A Christian who doesn't want to live this commitment of solidarity with the poor is not worthy of being called a Christian.
- February 17, 1980

True poverty is to concern ourselves preferentially with the poor as if it were our own cause. And, because of this, it is also to feel that one is poor and needs strength from God in all situations.
- December 16, 1979

Let us not be afraid to stand alone if it is a result of honoring truth. Let us be afraid of being demagogues and being ambitious to receive false adulation from the people. If we don't tell the truth, we are committing the worse sin. We are betraying the truth and betraying the people.
- November 25, 1979

Let us not look for immediate solutions. We can't try to organize all at once a society that has been so badly organized for so long. But, yes, let's organize a conversion of hearts. Some know how to live in the austerity of the desert, they know how to savor the strong redemption of the cross. They know that there is no greater joy than earning your bread with the sweat of your brow and that there isn't a more diabolical sin than to take bread from the hungry.
- February 24, 1980

God is joy, God doesn't want sadness, God is optimistic, God is the possibility of everything good, God is all-powerful to do good and to love. Who can be sad given a God whose presence fills everything.
- December 16, 1979

Faced with the horrifying quantity of blood and violence left us by this week's events, I want to make, in the name of the Gospel, a new call to all sectors of Salvadoran society; to leave behind ways of violence and to look more seriously for solutions through dialogue. Such solutions are always possible as long as humankind does not reject its own rationality and its good will.
- January 27, 1980

Let his words sink in.

And then let this voice (and her words, if you understand Spanish) penetrate your soul.

Monday, March 23, 2015

To speak or not to speak

Tomorrow marks 35 years since Archbishop Oscar Romero became a martyr, shot and killed while he was saying mass. Chosen as archbishop because he didn't challenge the status quo - which at the time was brutal, state-sponsored violence against the poor - Romero surprised everyone.

Romero woke up when his friend Fr. Rutilio Grande was martyred for speaking out against the Salvadoran government and for the Salvadoran poor, working against oppression and for empowerment. Romero's eyes opened. His heart opened. He started speaking.

His words, his cries for justice, his condemnation of violence led him to join in death so many other Salvadorans, so many whose names we'll never know.

I live in relative safety. I have the power to speak and too often, I am too lazy, too "busy" to speak out against oppression and for the empowerment of people who have far less than I do, people who would risk violence, imprisonment, even death, if they used their voices. I risk very little if I amplify their voices through my own. I risk very little if I shine a light on their struggles. Perhaps it is so easy to be quiet because I lose "nothing" by my silence.

Nothing, that is, but my connection to other people. Nothing but my claim to human decency. Nothing but a fuller embodiment of the Love that I was created from.

Denise Levertov

Living on the rim 
of the raging cauldron, disasters

witnessed but
not suffered in the flesh.

The choice: to speak 
or not to speak.
We spoke. 

Those of whom we spoke
had not that choice. 

At every epicenter, beneath
roar and tumult, 
their silence. 

I do not want to allow deafening silence to win. I want to be connected to other people. I want to embrace human decency. I want to embody Love. I want to speak.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Minor Miracle

Sometimes people surprise us. 
Original found here

I believe in the possibility of transformation, even in the most unlikely of people. I've read beautiful stories of people who have done horrible things and then turned their lives around. I talk the transformation talk and write words brimming with hope of transformation pretty well. However, I am more reluctant to trust in that possibility when it comes to people I know personally who have disappointed me more than once. (Note: given that I am a perfectionist with high expectations for myself and others, it's not that hard to disappoint me more than once; I do it to myself all the time.)  A few months ago I was ready to give up on someone; I was certain that he was beyond redemption in the particular circumstances that we shared. However, when faced with the possible consequences of not changing patterns, he started acting differently. Perhaps he reached a sort of rock bottom; I don't know. But I am grateful for the change and I am also disappointed in myself for not believing in my heart what I know in my head. People can change. 

It was my turn to lead prayer on Friday morning and the poem below was one of the pieces I chose. My stomach turned as I read words I've never said before and don't ever plan to use in my own speech. In the context of this poem, I spoke them. The room went still after I said them. Silence engulfed us. 

I kept reading and the room got more tense (Why would she read this in prayer?) - or maybe it was just me - until I came to the part of the poem that made it OK that I'd read those hateful words, twice. 

Minor Miracle

Marilyn Nelson
- from Imagine a World: Poetry for Peacemakers

Which reminds me of another knock-on-wood
memory. I was cycling with a male friend, 
through a small midwestern town. We came to a 4-way
stop and stopped, chatting. As we started again, 
a rusty old pick-up truck, ignoring the stop sign,
hurricaned past scant inches from our front wheels.
The truck driver, stringy blond hair a long fringe
under his brand-name beer cap, looked back and yelled, 
          "You fucking niggers!"
And sped off. 
My friend and I looked at each other and shook our heads. 
We remounted our bikes and headed out of town.
We were pedaling through a clear blue afternoon
between two fields of almost-ripened wheat
bordered by cornflowers and Queen Anne's lace
when we heard an unmuffled motor, a honk-honking.
We stopped, closed ranks, made fists.
It was the same truck. It pulled over.
A tall, very much in shape young white guy slid out:
greasy jeans, homemade finger tattoos, probably
a Marine Corps boot-camp footlockerful
of martial arts techniques
"What did you say back there!" he shouted.
My friend said, "I said it was a 4-way stop.
You went right through it."
"And what did I say?" the white guy asked. 
"You said: 'You fucking niggers.'"
The afternoon froze.

"Well," said the white guy, 
shoving his hands into his pockets
and pushing dirt around with the pointed toe of his boot, 
"I just want to say I'm sorry."
He climbed back into his truck 
and drove away. 

Sometimes people surprise us. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

I Wrapped Them in the Same Cloth

Two days ago I removed a dead cat from the side of the road. It's the third time I've done this in my life. None of the times was I the one who killed the cat.

Do unto others...

The first time, the owner found me with his beloved pet just as I was moving it from the possibility of being run over again. He started crying. My "I'm sorry" seemed quite inadequate. I left him with the body and his grief.

The second time, I took the body from the street to the grass, went on my way, and saw later in the day that it had been removed.

The third time was two days ago. I thought I saw a dead cat on the shoulder of Westport Road, a very busy road, particularly during the morning commute. I couldn't stop immediately to see if it really was a cat. I was close to work and kept driving, trying to reassure myself that because the body was on the side of the road and not in the middle of it, I didn't need to do anything.  However, as I parked, got out of my car, walked up the stairs, greeted my colleague, and entered my office, my mind didn't stray from that little body and the people who cared for it who would soon miss their companion.

If it were my cat...

I put my things down at my desk and took a piece of cloth from my office. I had originally received the cloth wrapped around a beautiful icon that an artist friend created and gifted to me. Looking at the cloth, I had a short internal debate about whether I should use it, since I wouldn't get it back. I had a small towel in my car that I could use instead. I quickly decided that a cloth that had already been used to envelop something holy was perfect for honoring a life.

I told my colleague what I was doing, walked down the stairs, got in my car, and drove back, looking for the body. I saw it and turned onto the closest side street. I walked towards it with a mixture of sadness and dread; I also questioned if what I was doing was silly. It was just a cat, right?

I have two cats; my calico is currently sleeping on my left; my orange tabby is kneading her paws into my right leg and purring. I leave food out for a feral cat and a growing number of the outdoor neighborhood cats. They are not "just" cats.

I waited on the sidewalk as cars drove by, looking for a low-traffic chance to step into the street. I looked at the body of the large grey tabby, grateful that it seemed only to have suffered the blow that killed it and no further violence. Once the danger of close-driving cars ended, I stepped into the street, took my cloth, and gingerly scooped up the lifeless body. It was already stiff.

I put the wrapped body on the grass next to the sidewalk and walked away. It was quick. On the way back to the car, I looked at the two nearby houses and wondered if I should knock on the doors to ask if they knew this cat. I didn't knock.

As I got into my car, tears started rolling down my face. I should've stayed a moment simply to honor the life. I should've stayed to allow myself to grieve. 

Why am I crying? It was just a cat. The argument was unconvincing. And then Syria. How many people have died in Syria and because Death is so masterful at stealing lives (but not Life), bodies cannot be properly tended to? What does it feel like when people  cannot honor and mourn their loved ones as they would like? What does it feel like to know that someone deliberately took those lives? And then What was it like to witness Michael Brown's body lying in the street for hours? I didn't take the time to explore these thoughts. It was easier not to. It's still easier not to. How often do we take what seems to be the easier way, or at least the safer one, when it comes to entertaining Pain and Death?  How often does Pain stick around longer than we'd like because we haven't properly tended to him?

The tears kept rolling as I parked. Before getting out of the car, I was successful in slowing, but not stopping, the drip from my eyes. A colleague was arriving at the same time and I told her what I'd just done. She offered words of comfort. I walked up the stairs and entered the office. I kept my sunglasses on, so my other coworkers couldn't see my red eyes.

Another colleague and I started talking. A few minutes into the conversation, I was able to take off my sunglasses. The tears dried and I went on with my day, carrying a bit of heaviness with me. I took a different route home, so I didn't know until the next morning that someone had taken the body away. I hoped that seeing my attempt at care offered a moment of comfort in the shock of its discovery.

Love thy neighbor...

I think I got it right with the cat.

I didn't get it right the next day when I snapped at someone because of the way he phrased something.  Or later when I was so eager to speak that I didn't listen well. Or later when I felt a tinge of animosity towards someone over wounds she probably didn't know she rubbed salt in.

So often I don't get it right.

But I will keep trying. I hope that with practice I will learn to love and honor lives better - the lives that help me to be comfortable in my own skin and the lives that challenge me to stretch it uncomfortably. The vibrant green lives springing up around me, and the furry lives that are entrusted to my care. The lives that I notice and the ones that I don't. The lives that are no longer, but carry memory through me.

I come back to my icon, the one that had been wrapped in the cloth  that I used with the cat. It sits on a table in my office. It is two panels of Mary holding a young Jesus. On the first panel Mary is an Israeli Jewish woman and Jesus is a Muslim Palestinian boy. On the other panel Mary is a Muslim Palestinian woman and Jesus is a Jewish Israeli boy. These panels - images incorporating Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, images bringing together people who are too often pulled and pulling apart - remind me what it can look like to love my neighbor. They remind me what it means to do unto others, to put myself into another's shoes, to practice Love. Always.

May it be so. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

(females) or Rabia: One of Many Who Deserve More Than a Parenthetical Reference

Original picture found here
I had planned to post Rabia's poetry today with very little introduction. The plan changed this morning while I was listening to a recorded lecture about Islam. As the lecturer was discussing Sufism, he said something about how Sufis often organized themselves into brotherhoods and added, in what felt like a parenthetical addition, that there were prominent female Sufis as well. He continued with his lecture. At that point, I knew I needed to give the person of Rabia some attention before sharing her words.

According to her biography in Love Poems from God, "Rabia of Basra (c. 717-801) is without a doubt the most popular and influential of female Islamic saints and a central figure in the Sufi tradition. She was born nearly five hundred years before Rumi, and although it is rarely said, she, perhaps more than any other poet, influenced his writings."

She was born to a poor family and early in life, either because she was separated from her parents or they died, she was stolen and sold into slavery. It is believed that she was forced to live and work in a brothel for many years and wrote, "What a place for trials and transformation did my Lover put me, but never once did He look upon me as if I were impure. Dear sisters, all we do in this world, whatever happens, is bringing us closer to God." When she was about fifty, she was freed and spent the rest of her life in meditation and prayer and as a spiritual guide to others.

What a place for trials and transformation did my Lover put me, but never once did He look upon me as if I were impure. Dear sisters, all we do in this world, whatever happens, is bringing us closer to God. 

Our Beauty

Live with dignity, women, live with dignity, men,
Few things will more enhance our 
beauty as 

Jealous of a Pond

When God said, "My hands are yours," I saw that I could heal any
creature in this world;

I saw that the divine beauty in each heart
is the root of all time
and space.

I was once a sleeping ocean
and in a dream became 
jealous of a

A penny can be eyed in the street
and a war can break out
over it amongst
the poor.

Until we know that God lives in us
and we can see Him 

a great poverty 
we suffer. 

It Acts Like Love

It acts like love - music,
it reaches toward the face, touches it, and tries to let you know
His promise: that all will be okay.

It acts like love - music, and
tells the feet, "You do not have to be so burdened."

My body is covered with wounds 
this world made, 

but I still longed to kiss Him, even when God said,

"Could you also kiss the hand that caused
each scar,

for you will not find me until
you do."

It does that - music - helps us
to forgive. 


Since no one really knows anything about God,

those who think they do are just


Wednesday, March 18, 2015


I thought better of doing it without asking. Some people are sensitive and what I knew of her history led me to believe she might be, too.

"May I touch your face?"

She said yes. I gently put my hands on her cheeks and looked into her eyes.

"You. Are. Beautiful."

I think I said something else, I don't really remember. She beamed.

A few weeks later, the next time I saw her, she told me how much that had meant to her.

I have been thinking about her, a young woman with a story of heartbreak and resilience, whose vulnerability and strength I've had the privilege to witness.
She is a poet -
slam poetry
strong words
strong emotion

I recently shared the words of another young woman here, a weaver of words in her own right, weaving a picture that is yet to be realized -
expressing hope
broad vision
strong voice in a place where it's not encouraged

Monthly I meet with a group of women, some of whom I've know for years, some of whom are recent friends. We share stories. Our stories, our beings, in some ways so different, echo familiar choruses -
fear and comfort
certainty and questions
seeking clarity and fluidity
daring honesty

Reflecting on these vulnerablebeautifulstrong women, I recall a time recently when I tried to reveal my Self and left feeling like a vulnerableuglydeflated woman. And then another time when I didn't trust my vulnerablebeautifulstrong Self and left words (and not even particularly difficult words) unspoken. It took the reassurance of two friends to help me accept my vulnerable Self, so that I may work my way back to embodiment of vulnerablebeautifulstrong.

These thoughts bring me back, as so often happens, to Love Poems from God: 
From Hafiz:

The True Nature of Your Beloved

the true nature of your

loving eyes
your every thought, word, and movement
is always, always


From St. Catherine of Siena:

Your Hair, Your Face

What is it
you want to change?
Your hair, your face, your body? 

For God is
in love with all those things
and He might weep
when they are 

From Tukaram: 

First He Looked Confused

I could not lie anymore so I started to call my dog "God."
First he looked

then he started smiling, the he even

I kept at it: now he doesn't even

I am wondering if this 
might work on 

What if,
what if,
what if we knew own beauty, through God's eyes, always?

What if,
what if,
what if we accepted that God is in love with every part of us?

What if,
what if,
what if we used the name of the Divine when we called ourselves and others to consciousness?

What if,
what if,
what if we someday removed the what ifs?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

We Teach Life, Sir

Today I offer the words of two Palestinian women.

The first words come from a friend in Hebron - no one famous, but a beautiful soul who longs for a world where all lives are affirmed and honored. I offer her words to expand a monochromatic picture that some may have of Palestinians or of Palestinian women. She posted this on her Facebook page yesterday and gave me permission to share here:

I want to live in a world where honor and sexual freedom are not mutually exclusive, where boys are never told that "boys don't cry", where being gay doesn't require "coming out", where being oneself is not a constant declaration of war, where ethics prevail over edicts and reason over traditions, where difference is not perceived as a threat, where respect needs not be demanded, where rights need not be fought for...and most important, I want to live in a world that is not always trying to kill me.

And in this poem written in December 2011, Palestinian Rafeef Ziadah responds to the question: "Don't you think it would all be fine if you stopped teaching your children to hate?"

Two voices of resistance countering a narrative that misses, or covers, so much of the picture...A narrative that claims that these women, their families and friends, are terrorists, that they are hateful, that they are evil. A narrative that attempts to silence or punish those who dare to bring light to a more complete picture. The perpetrators of the narrative succeeded in killing Rachel Corrie, but they did not kill her message.

May these women someday know the depth and breath of freedom in its most expansive sense. May we all know such freedom. May we work to create it.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. 

- Lilla Watson

Monday, March 16, 2015

On the anniversary of her death

Today on the anniversary of her death, it seems only right to share the words of Rachel Corrie.

Rachel was working as a peace activist with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza when she was crushed to death on March 16, 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer as she was protesting the demolition of a Palestinian home.

Earlier this year, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Israel military was not responsible for her death and that it was a "regrettable accident."
Home demolitions in Palestine continue. The Occupation of Palestine continues. Injustice, injustice, injustice in Israel/Palestine continues. It is with a heavy heart that I post her words.

January 2003
We are all born and someday we’ll all die. Most likely to some degree alone.What if our aloneness isn’t a tragedy? What if our aloneness is what allows us to speak the truth without being afraid? What if our aloneness is what allows us to adventure – to experience the world as a dynamic presence – as a changeable, interactive thing?
If I lived in Bosnia or Rwanda or who knows where else, needless death wouldn’t be a distant symbol to me, it wouldn’t be a metaphor, it would be a reality.
And I have no right to this metaphor. But I use it to console myself. To give a fraction of meaning to something enormous and needless.
This realization. This realization that I will live my life in this world where I have privileges.
I can’t cool boiling waters in Russia. I can’t be Picasso. I can’t be Jesus. I can’t save the planet single-handedly.
I can wash dishes.
February 7, 2003
Hi friends and family, and others,
I have been in Palestine for two weeks and one hour now, and I still have very few words to describe what I see. It is most difficult for me to think about what’s going on here when I sit down to write back to the United States. Something about the virtual portal into luxury. I don’t know if many of the children here have ever existed without tank-shell holes in their walls and the towers of an occupying army surveying them constantly from the near horizons. I think, although I’m not entirely sure, that even the smallest of these children understand that life is not like this everywhere. An eight-year-old was shot and killed by an Israeli tank two days before I got here, and many of the children murmur his name to me – Ali – or point at the posters of him on the walls. The children also love to get me to practice my limited Arabic by asking me, “Kaif Sharon?” “Kaif Bush?” and they laugh when I say, “Bush Majnoon”, “Sharon Majnoon” back in my limited arabic. (How is Sharon? How is Bush? Bush is crazy. Sharon is crazy.) Of course this isn’t quite what I believe, and some of the adults who have the English correct me: “Bush mish Majnoon” … Bush is a businessman. Today I tried to learn to say, “Bush is a tool,” but I don’t think it translated quite right. But anyway, there are eight-year-olds here much more aware of the workings of the global power structure than I was just a few years ago.
Nevertheless, no amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can’t imagine it unless you see it – and even then you are always well aware that your experience of it is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli army would face if they shot an unarmed US citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and the fact, of course, that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown. I have a home. I am allowed to go see the ocean. Ostensibly it is still quite difficult for me to be held for months or years on end without a trial (this because I am a white US citizen, as opposed to so many others). When I leave for school or work I can be relatively certain that there will not be a heavily armed soldier waiting halfway between Mud Bay and downtown Olympia at a checkpoint with the power to decide whether I can go about my business, and whether I can get home again when I’m done. So, if I feel outrage at arriving and entering briefly and incompletely into the world in which these children exist, I wonder conversely about how it would be for them to arrive in my world.
They know that children in the United States don't usually have their parents shot and they know they sometimes get to see the ocean. But once you have seen the ocean and lived in a silent place, where water is taken for granted and not stolen in the night by bulldozers, and once you have spent an evening when you haven't wondered if the walls of your home might suddenly fall inward waking you from your sleep, and once you've met people who have never lost anyone, once you have experienced the reality of a world that isn't surrounded by murderous towers, tanks, armed “settlements” and now a giant metal wall, I wonder if you can forgive the world for all the years of your childhood spent existing—just existing—in resistance to the constant stranglehold of the world's fourth largest military—backed by the world’s only superpower—in its attempt to erase you from your home. That is something I wonder about these children. I wonder what would happen if they really knew. As an afterthought to all this rambling, I am in Rafah: a city of about 140,000 people, approximately 60% of whom are refugees – many of whom are twice or three times refugees. Rafah existed prior to 1948, but most of the people here are themselves or are descendants of people who were relocated here from their homes in historic Palestine—now Israel. Rafah was split in half when the Sinai returned to Egypt.
Currently, the Israeli army is building a fourteen-meter-high wall between Rafah in Palestine and the border, carving a no-mans land from the houses along the border. Six hundred and two homes have been completely bulldozed according to the Rafah Popular Refugee Committee. The number of homes that have been partially destroyed is greater. Rafah existed prior to 1948, but most of the people here are themselves or are descendants of people who were relocated here from their homes in historic Palestine—now Israel. Rafah was split in half when the Sinai returned to Egypt. Today, as I walked on top of the rubble where homes once stood, Egyptian soldiers called to me from the other side of the border, “Go! Go!” because a tank was coming. And then waving and “What’s your name?”. Something disturbing about this friendly curiosity. It reminded me of how much, to some degree, we are all kids curious about other kids. Egyptian kids shouting at strange women wandering into the path of tanks. Palestinian kids shot from the tanks when they peak out from behind walls to see what’s going on. International kids standing in front of tanks with banners. Israeli kids in the tanks anonymously – occasionally shouting and also occasionally waving – many forced to be here, many just aggressive – shooting into the houses as we wander away.
In addition to the constant presence of tanks along the border and in the western region between Rafah and settlements along the coast, there are more IDF towers here than I can count—along the horizon, at the end of streets. Some just army green metal. Others these strange spiral staircases draped in some kind of netting to make the activity within anonymous. Some hidden, just beneath the horizon of buildings. A new one went up the other day in the time it took us to do laundry and to cross town twice to hang banners.
Despite the fact that some of the areas nearest the border are the original Rafah with families who have lived on this land for at least a century, only the 1948 camps in the center of the city are Palestinian controlled areas under Oslo. But as far as I can tell, there are few if any places that are not within the sights of some tower or another. Certainly there is no place invulnerable to apache helicopters or to the cameras of invisible drones we hear buzzing over the city for hours at a time.
I’ve been having trouble accessing news about the outside world here, but I hear an escalation of war on Iraq is inevitable. There is a great deal of concern here about the “reoccupation of Gaza”. Gaza is reoccupied every day to various extents but I think the fear is that the tanks will enter all the streets and remain here instead of entering some of the streets and then withdrawing after some hours or days to observe and shoot from the edges of the communities. If people aren’t already thinking about the consequences of this war for the people of the entire region then I hope you will start. I also hope you'll come here. We’ve been wavering between five and six internationals. The neighborhoods that have asked us for some form of presence are Yibna, Tel El Sultan, Hi Salam, Brazil, Block J, Zorob, and Block O. There is also need for constant nighttime presence at a well on the outskirts of Rafah since the Israeli army destroyed the two largest wells.
According to the municipal water office the wells destroyed last week provided half of Rafah’s water supply. Many of the communities have requested internationals to be present at night to attempt to shield houses from further demolition. After about ten p.m. it is very difficult to move at night because the Israeli army treats anyone in the streets as resistance and shoots at them. So clearly we are too few.
I continue to believe that my home, Olympia, could gain a lot and offer a lot by deciding to make a commitment to Rafah in the form of a sister-community relationship. Some teachers and children’s groups have expressed interest in e-mail exchanges, but this is only the tip of the iceberg of solidarity work that might be done.
Many people want their voices to be heard, and I think we need to use some of our privilege as internationals to get those voices heard directly in the US, rather than through the filter of well-meaning internationals such as myself. I am just beginning to learn, from what I expect to be a very intense tutelage, about the ability of people to organize against all odds, and to resist against all odds.
Thanks for the news I’ve been getting from friends in the US. I just read a report back from a friend who organized a peace group in Shelton, Washington, and was able to be part of a delegation to the large January 18th protest in Washington DC.
People here watch the media, and they told me again today that there have been large protests in the United States and “problems for the government” in the UK. So thanks for allowing me to not feel like a complete Polyanna when I tentatively tell people here that many people in the United States do not support the policies of our government, and that we are learning from global examples how to resist.
My love to everyone. My love to my mom. My love to smooch. My love to fg and barnhair and sesamees and Lincoln School. My love to Olympia.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

And you too have come into the world to do this

I had planned to share something else today, but after saturating myself in sunlight, as many others are doing on this warm springy day, I have put what previously seemed right aside to soak in some Mary Oliver.

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
    but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."


It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Minute by Minute: Marian and Storm

Every time I give a talk at CrossRoads Ministry, I read a passage from Marian Wright Edelman's "Twenty-five Lessons for Life": Lesson 18: Be a can-do, will-try person. But today Lesson 19 is what I need to pay attention to. Maybe you too?

Lesson 19: Try to live in the present; don't carry around unnecessary burdens from a yesterday you will not live again or a tomorrow that is not guaranteed. To escape Washington, Congress, and the child care battles of 1990, I went on a marvelous Outward Bound adventure. Participants were given a little books of quotes. One by Storm Jameson hit home: "I believe that only one person in a thousand knows the trick of really living in the present. Most of us spend 59 minutes an hour living in the past, with regret for lost joys or shame for things badly done (both utterly useless and weakening) or in a future which we either long for or dread. ... There is only one minute in which you are alive, this minute, here and now. The only way to live is by accepting each minute as an unrepeatable minute, Which is exactly what it is - a miracle and unrepeatable." 

May we take life not one day at a time, but one minute at a time, savoring the present, living fully into every unrepeatable miracle. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Desert Mother

From A Monk in the Inner City by Mary Lou Kownacki:
Original image here 

I first saw the name Amma Syncletica in the book Desert Wisdom by Yushi Nomura. As a younger seeker, I was seized by the tales of the desert fathers and eager to sit at their feet. What a surprise to find a woman's name among all those abbas. My consciousness of the women's issue was just kindling, but I remember feeling great joy. A desert mother!

In the mid-nineties I was asked to do a book review of The Life of Blessed Syncletica by Pseudo-Athanasius. By the time I finished the book, I knew that I had met a good and strong woman, one whom I would have trusted as a spiritual teacher.

Why would I trust her with my darkest fears, my most embarrassing thoughts, my deepest secrets?

Concern for the poor is my litmus test for a spiritual teacher, and Syncletica had a great consciousness of the poor. She preached and practiced almsgiving, giving away all her possessions to the poor. The first teaching she shared with the women who gathered around her was, "Do no violence to poor persons, for they are needy."

Next, I was awed by her self-knowledge, evident in the discerning spirit that is so critical to a guide of souls. With great depth and clarity she pointed out the pleasures and pitfalls on the spiritual path; for example, when sadness is helpful and when it turns destructive, the differing temptations in youth and middle age, how easily asceticism can turn to pride, how to spot false humility, the place of anger in spiritual growth, and the battling of demons.

Third, she had great leadership gifts, proof that God's spiritual giants come in both genders. The great Sufi  poet and mystic Rumi was struck to the ground upon meeting his spiritual elder, Sham, which translates as "the sun," so brilliant and dazzling was his inner light. Her biographer, Pseudo-Athanasius, pays Syncletica the same compliment. He compares her to the sun, claiming that "those who try to mirror the radiance of her life fall victim to confusion of mind, dazzled, overcome, unstrung by the magnitude of her achievements." Obviously, she was "the sun" for many women, firing them with a burning desire for God. Her description and critique of the plight of women in her society are remarkable for a fourth-century anchorite. No wonder women flocked to her. And there is no doubt about where she would stand on today's feminist agenda.

I am both amazed and grateful that Pseudo-Athanasius preserved the teachings of a woman. He must have been an unusual man. But I wish that Syncletica herself or one of her young women followers had edited the texts. Let us hope that in monasteries around the globe women are writing and promulgating the insights of the ammas who now live among us. If we do not do it for our own, it will not be done. Here is to Societies of Syncletica springing up across the land. Wherever women gather, may they raise a toast to you, Amma. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Some People

Another poem from Fire in the Soul: 100 Poems for Human Rights 

I dream of a world in which this litany does not exist...

Some People
Rita Ann Higgins

(for Eoin)

Some people know what it's like,

to be called a cunt in front of their children
to be short for the rent
to be short for the light
to be short for school books
to wait in Community Welfare waiting-rooms full of smoke
to wait two years to have a tooth looked at
to wait another two years to have a tooth out (the same tooth)
to be half strangled by your varicose veins, but you're
198th on the list
to talk into a banana on a jobsearch scheme
to talk into a banana in a jobsearch dream
to be out of work
to be out of money
to be out of fashion
to be out of friends
to be in for the Vincent de Paul man
to be in space for the milk man
(sorry, mammy passed away in her sleep, overdose of coal in the teapot)
to be in hospital unconscious for the rent man
(St Judes ward 4th floor)
to be second-hand
to be second-class
to be no class
to be looked down on
to be walked on
to be pissed on
to be shat on

and other people don't. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Making Life

Short and sweet and so true...

From Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller:

Making bread is an athletic event. Not only does it require dashing around to several stations of the bakery as you check rising loaves or mix ingredients or haul the mixing bowl out of its cradle - but it also takes muscle power to activate the gluten in the dough. Even people who wouldn't be able to tell a poolish from a biga know that to make bread, you have to knead it. Push and roll, push and fold, a rhythmic workout on your floured countertop. Do it right, and you'll release a protein called gluten - strands that let uneven pockets of carbon dioxide form in the loaves. After seven or eight minutes - long enough for your mind to have made a to-do list of chores around the house, or for you to replay the last conversation you had with your significant other and what he really meant - the consistency of the dough will transform. Smooth, supple, cohesive. 

That's the point where you have to leave the dough alone. It's silly to anthropomorphize bread, but I love the fact that it needs to sit quietly, to retreat from touch and noise and drama, in order to evolve. 

I have to admit, I often feel that way myself.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Rich Woman, Poor Woman

Truth can be messy, particularly when it is incomplete (which it always seems to be). So often we believe that our own story is The Truth. While I may claim My Truth, I cannot claim to know The Truth. We share ownership of The Truth. We are burdened by its weight at times; and sometimes Truth's beauty lifts us. Only when we share our truths, claiming our own and recognizing that of others, shall we be liberated. May we know that day.

 The following poem from Fire in the Soul: 100 Poems for Human Rights  was written in Chile in 1973 shortly after the CIA-backed coup d'etat of Chilean president Salvador Allende. The author and translator are unknown.

I am a woman.
I am a woman.

I am a woman born of a woman whose man owned a factory.
I am a woman born of a woman whose man labored in a factory. 

I am a woman whose man wore silk suits, who constantly watched his weight.
I am a woman whose man wore tattered clothing, whose heart was constantly strangled by hunger. 

I am a woman who watched two babies grow into beautiful children.
I am a woman who watched two babies die because there was no milk. 

I am a woman who watched twins grow into popular college students with summers abroad.
I am a woman who watched three children grow, but with bellies stretched from no food. 

But then there was a man;
But then there was a man;

And he talked about peasants getting richer by my family getting poorer.
And he told me of days that would be better, and he made the days better. 

We had to eat rice.
We had rice. 

We had to eat beans!
We had beans. 

My children were no longer given summer visas to Europe.
My children no longer cried themselves to sleep.

And I felt like a peasant.
And I felt like a woman. 

A peasant with a dull, hard, unexciting life.
Like a woman with a life that sometimes allowed a song. 

And I saw a man.
And I saw a man. 

And together we began to plot with the hope of the return to freedom.
I saw his heart begin to beat with the hope of freedom, at last. 

Someday, the return to freedom.
Someday, freedom.

And then,
But then,

One day,
One day,

There were planes overhead and guns firing close by.
There were planes overhead and guns firing in the distance. 

I gathered my children and went home.
I gathered my children and ran. 

And the guns moved farther and farther away.
But the guns moved closer and closer. 

And then, they announced that freedom had been restored!
And then they came, young boys really. 

They came into my home along with my man.
They came and found my man. 

Those men whose money was almost gone -
They found all of the men whose lives were almost their own.

And we all had drinks to celebrate.
And they shot them all. 

The most wonderful martinis.
They shot my man. 

And they asked us to dance.
And they came for me.

For me, the woman.

And my sisters.
For my sister. 

And then they took us,
Then they took us,

They took us to dinner at a small, private club.
They stripped from us the dignity we had gained. 

And they treated us to beef.
And they raped us.

It was one course after another.
One after another they came after us. 

We nearly burst we were so full.
Lunging, plunging - sisters bleeding, sisters dying.

It was magnificent to be free again!
It was hardly a relief to have survived.

The beans have almost disappeared now.
The beans have disappeared. 

The rice - I've replaced it with chicken or steak.
The rice, I cannot find it. 

And the parties continue night after night to make up for the time wasted.
And my silent tears are joined once more by the midnight cries of my children, 

And I feel like a woman again.
They say, I am a woman.