I Have Fallen from the Tree

I create seasonal checklists to retain my sanity and some semblance of my identity. As a stay at home parent of a five year old and a four year old, I have found this to be the simplest way to not forget myself. This checklist isn’t things that I need to do, but rather anything I would like to do if I have a spare moment or simply need to feel like I am human. It hangs on my refrigerator and is there for me— not the other way around. The list might look like:

  • Enjoy a glass of wine
  • Have a phone date with _______
  • Clean out the cupboards
  • Learn something new
  • Memorize a poem
  • Visit Montana
  • Hike the Appalachian Trail
  • Try a new recipe
  • Support a small business
  • Walk a hundred miles

It is so fulfilling to check off a box— because it is what I want. It is crazy, realistic, hopeful, everything and nothing. And every season as I sit down to create my list, I always include “Witness Something Beautiful.” I have marked it off every single time and I think it is because I am looking. Today, I checked that box again.

I was walking over to my neighbors, to help her put on her socks, when I happened to walk under a tree and was lavishly rained upon with leaves. I paused and thought, “I didn’t witness something, I was apart if it.” Clear blue skies, golden leaves raining down, and I was in the middle. Cool. I continued on my path with a heart-full smile, finished the mission, and began the short walk back. I come to the same tree and as soon as I walk up to it, it begins to rain leaves again. A holy, irreverent moment ensued.

“OKAY! I get it! You are here and present! But you know what?!?!?” I began talking to God about how I know he is there and she is good, but I have all these unanswered questions, doubts, frustrations, anger, and heartache. And in the stillness between moments, I heard a reply and was given a gift.

Thomas Merton wrote, “There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.” My faith has evolved so much since I made it my own 28 some years ago. I was sitting in a Wednesday night class when someone announced their decision to follow Jesus. I remember so clearly bowing my head and silently praying, “Uh Jesus? If that girls needs you, then you better get in here and change me cause I need you way more.”

My vision of who God was, was a simple cleaner upper of humanity. And sure, to a certain degree that is true. But as I have aged and ever so slowly matured, I have come to see that he is also okay with us being dirty. Wrestling in the mud with the hard stuff. He is okay with our doubts, our fears. God can handle our honest anger. Because we learn more about ourselves and therefore more about God when we do. When we ask the hard questions. When we wrestle with our humanity. When our hurt, pain, and anger overtake us. When our joy is complete, the cup is overflowing, and peace surrounds us. If we are willing to take the deep breath and explore the moment and all that moment involves, we can learn about who we are and who God is. If we are looking and listening.

And today, I was.

Me.

My Environment

Right now my environment is in chaos!  We are getting ready to have our living room and bedroom re-carpeted.  We have odd furniture in the kitchen and other rooms, and the room that was set up as quiet space is filled with years of clutter from sentimental accumulation.  I miss this room.  I feel it’s absence because I had gotten used to the aroma of the scented candle and the routine of entry into that quiet space with it’s slanted ceiling.  There are things that I can’t find right now because the usual place has been misplaced.  But, Lord willing, this chaos is not forever.  I will bring order, a new order with fewer possessions, by the end of the month, after the new carpet is laid.

Outside the leaves are changing color.  It is cooler and the wind has begun to pull the leaves from the branches of our hackberry tree.  It is here, in this environment that I sit in silence, listening to the wind and the migrating birds.  Giving peanuts to my neighborhood squirrels, who have gotten used to me.  I seldom see my neighbors, even though the fences are low.  It seems we have become an indoor society, venturing out only to deposit our garbage in bins or to mow.  So if I walk the neighboring blocks, where the houses have numbers, but the people inside have names, I will seldom if ever encounter any of them.  But, my backyard, with it’s blooming mums and nasturtiums, is a place, an environment that holds a peace in this changing season.  It welcomes me when I accept the invitation with its aroma of autumn.

In some ways, my interior environment seems to be a reflection of the environment I live in.  A mirror of sorts, or maybe the source?  My interior is both a place of chaos and a place of changing color.  I find myself sorting through an accumulation of interior sentiments.  Anger as I walk through the election process and read about racial injustice.  I feel the frustration of being held in isolation.  I am sad, angry, frustrated… right along side my feelings of delight and enchantment… at seeing pictures of grandchildren, or feeling satisfied in the deep discussions with family and friends.  But I’ve also lost inner places or things that have grounded me in the past, things like scripture, or journaling, and centering. For those seemed to require a place that is lost in the chaos of carpet.  I find that it is in my outdoor environment, my natural environment where I find a place that my mind isn’t circling and cycling from one thing to the next.  But, where it rests and wonders.  Where thoughts of what’s next can take root and maybe grow.

So maybe this quote by Parker Palmer applies.  With its background idea of letting go of ego, and instead of being the spotlight, fading into my environment.  The acknowledgement of patience…extreme patience, as I give myself to attentiveness and openness to what it next.  It seems as though it is not an invitation to fade into and sleep as Rip Van Winkle did, but rather to go quiet, let go of my fears and become awake, fully alert and attuned to the environment.

“The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient. It knows how to survive in hard places. But it is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently by the base of the tree, and fade into our surroundings, the wild animal we seek might put in an appearance.” -Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life

To continue in the dense underbrush, the frenzy and chaos that is part of my interior and exterior life, will not sustain me.  It is a place of safety, not sustenance. So I will go to the place that has opened for me and if I can let go and go quiet with patience, I might hear, see, or experience something wild that becomes the voice of the Sacred for me.

A Rent Veil

This was once my home. The lean-to for the tempest. The cross it welcomed the pain. The silence invited the joy. And the spirit could be heard.

It certainly is the passing of time. But maybe also it… Or me… Or both. For, here now, I am broken. I mourn.

“Sanctuary!” I cried, “Sanctuary!” But now, now I simply cry. For what was once a den of refuge has since become a den of thieves.

The Stranger We Meet

 I have been meditating on the parable of the Good Samaritan for about two months in relationship to the death of George Floyd, and then the poet, David Whyte in a recent online seminar talked about the Good Samaritan as meeting the stranger!  It got me to continue thinking about different aspects of the parable.  Wondering if I was the wounded person?  Well I’d written a poem about that.  Wondering if I was one of the people who walked by?  And why would I do that? What would I be afraid of?  Wondering if I was the Samaritan and did I walk by only to come back?  And what drew me back?

Wonder if I’m still the wounded person and I find myself looking at me? Do I know where those wounds come from?  Am I willing to help this wounded me or will I walk on as though I haven’t seen?

Yesterday (July 22) I was out for my walk and almost home.  A little girl ran up to me and told me her name, I told her mine.  Then she spelled her name for me.  She is 6 and had just turned 6.  She was riding a little scooter with pink wheels which I appreciated very much.  She couldn’t have a birthday party because of the virus….didn’t I know.  She is in kindergarten like my grandson and where does he live?  Very far away.  And her tooth so loose it is dangling, hanging by one thread and I think it will come out today and she is very excited, because it’s her first!  Well, I should go, I told her (because she is talking to a stranger and I worry about her openness).  Which way am I going?  Up the block and to the right.  So I’m going this way and then that?  Yes.  Ok, let’s go.  Wait, I say and ask, do your parents let you go around the block?  Yes, my dad says its ok.  So she rides the sidewalk and I walk the boulevard.  I notice the slope and am sure that it is fun to ride down and then hear that the other side of the block is better and she will show me.

I move onto the street and around a car, and there she is waiting for me, because she is faster with her wheels than I am with my feet.  I move around another and there she is again loving the game she is creating out of absences.  And when we reach the other side of the block, I stop and watch as she sails down the slope of the sidewalk to the alley.  She knows I have watched, and when she stops, she turns and waves and yells goodbye.

I met a stranger yesterday morning and so did she….but, which one am I?

The Good Samaritan

I stand looking at the body
whose blood 
lays in rocky ruts,
the angles are all wrong.
Here I stare,
standing with this person
whose breath 
is jagged as the rocks. 

 … Third in line, yet all alone,
I stand as outcast 
so tempting to pass on.
To simply move aside.
For who am I?…
   Not my problem.
   Not my neighbor.
   Not my friend.
   Not my business.
… I could pretend 
that I have not seen.

Yet I cannot unsee
how ugly are these wounds,
or move along alone.
I cannot move aside.
From some unknown place
I must find the strength 
to heft this body
into healing space

…I must pay
for I cannot move aside.

 

 

As I’ve thought and wrestled with the tumult our society finds itself in…the political divide and the racial wounds, the parable of the Good Samaritan came to mind.  The story of a man, a person, who had been robbed and beaten, and left half dead on the road must be prefaced with the question that was asked of Jesus:  Who is my neighbor?  So Jesus tells the story.  

First came  a priest, then a levite, and both passed by.  Then a Samaritan (third in line) came along and had compassion on the fellow who had been beaten and left half dead.  He bandaged him, put him on his donkey and took him to an inn.  He took care of the man’s immediate needs and then paid for his lodging till he returned.  

When Jesus is finished telling the story, he asks, “Which of the three who saw the man was the neighbor?”  It was the third in line, the one who didn’t move along alone.

We have seen some painful things in the recent months.  Pain that has been with us for centuries.  Can we continue to pretend that we have not seen?  It is hard to watch the history.  Hard to listen to the stories.  Hard to see the anger.  It is real work to create safe spaces for those who have been wounded…but that is a small payment and I cannot move aside.