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Back from the Fields

When we are children, we are free to just be. Somehow, we lose this being as we mature. We are serious, but it is fun, fantastic, and ordinary things that make a good day.

Peter Everwine reminds me when returning from the fields it is important to remember visible and invisible reminders of what makes a good day. Sometimes, it is barbs, snaggle-teeth, and grinning ones that are easily overlooked. I don’t notice what attached as I ran in the fields. I recall them later as literal and figurative reminders of my adventures.

Until nightfall my son ran in the fields,

looking for God knows what.

Flowers, perhaps. Odd birds on the wing.

Something to fill an empty spot.

Maybe a luminous angel

or a country girl with a secret dark.

He came back empty-handed,

or so I thought.

Now I find them:

thistles, goatheads,

the barbed weeds

all those with hooks or horns

the snaggle-toothed, the grinning ones

those wearing lantern jaws,

old ones in beards, leapers

in silk leggings, the multiple

pocked moons and spiny satellites, all those

with juices and saps

like the fingers of thieves

nation after nation of grasses

that dig in, that burrow, that hug winds

and grab handholds

in whatever lean place.

It’s been a good day.

Lie Down

Nancy Paddock wrote this wonderful poem about letting go and just being in the world and not separate from it. I loved her imagery created in getting me down to ground level where we can live differently.

When I am at ground level, I am in the world and not outside and over it. I spend time in sabbatical wandering uncharted territory. This theme is emerging in my dissertation where I compare teaching to a hermeneutic exploration of the classroom, it participants, and living topics like a rich, textured landscape we navigate relationally. At ground level, teachers encounter, interpret, and understand a particular world that is their teaching and no one else’s teaching.

Parker Palmer has a quote about teachers using technique until the real teacher shows up. It takes time and patience; togetherness and solitude to bring this about. As I write and read, I think about what that meant and means to me as a particular teacher who is still coming to be in new ways particular to me.

Lie down with your belly to the ground,
like an old dog in the sun. Smell
the greenness of the cloverleaf, feel the damp
earth through your clothes, let an ant
wander the uncharted territory
of your skin. Lie down
with your belly to the ground. Melt into
the earth’s contours like a harmless snake.
All else is mere bravado.
Let your mind resolve itself
in a tangle of grass.
Lie down with your belly
to the ground, flat out, on ground level.
Prostrate yourself before the soil
you will someday enter.
Stop doing.
Stop judging, fearing, trying.
This is not dying, but the way to live
in a world of change and gravity.
Let go. Let your burdens drop.
Let your grief-charge bleed off
into the ground.
Lie down with your belly to the ground
and then rise up
with the earth still in you.

What is Life?

I don’t know the title of this Gregory Orr poem is so I used the opening line. This is a great question which brings up many other questions. What are the roles that we are each cast in? It is not so much the answers that are important, but the new questions and the searching, the questing that makes life what it is.

“What is life?”

When you first

Hear that question

It echoes in your skull

As if someone shouted

In an empty cave.

The same answer each time:

The resurrection of the body

Of the beloved, which is

The world.

Every poem different, but

Telling the same story.

And we’ve been gathering

Them in a book

Since writing began

And before that as songs

Or poems people memorized

And recited aloud

When someone asked: “What is life?”

Meditation on a Grapefruit

Craig Arnold wrote this poem that reminds us being awake is not just an early morning event. When we engage in ordinary, daily tasks we have opportunties to see them as extraordinary and sacred. Thich Nhat Hanh counsels this gives life fuller meaning. It is encountering the little things in each waking moment that bring deeper, richer living.

To wake when all is possible

before the agitations of the day

have gripped you

To come to the kitchen

and peel a little basketball

for breakfast

To tear the husk

like cotton padding        a cloud of oil

misting out of its pinprick pores

clean and sharp as pepper

To ease

each pale pink section out of its case

so carefully       without breaking

a single pearly cell

To slide each piece

into a cold blue china bowl

the juice pooling       until the whole

fruit is divided from its skin

and only then to eat

so sweet

a discipline

precisely pointless       a devout

involvement of the hands and senses

a pause     a little emptiness

 each year harder to live within

each year harder to live without

Faith

Today, was the last full weekend of classes for me. I have one more class to go and I need to finish the preliminary document for my dissertation proposal which is this weekend’s job. There is a faith that comes with this latter effort. When I began, it seemed daunting, but with over 100 pages for the first three sections in place it is more manageable looking.

Along with finishing classes, I will go home and the bulk of my work will be done there. There are challenges in that, as at Gonzaga, I had a particular discipline which was not the case at home before I retired from the classroom. Working full-time and all the other things that life brings, did not always provide time to work at the necessary routine in a disciplined way. Having said this, the shadow of newly found discipline casts a shadow which gives life to it.

Czeslaw Milosz suggested a shadow is what gives something strength to live and I am thinking of discipline and routine that way today as I ready myself for my Sabbath.

The word Faith means when someone sees
A dew-drop or a floating leaf, and knows
That they are, because they have to be.
And even if you dreamed, or closed your eyes
And wished, the world would still be what it was,
And the leaf would still be carried down the river.

It means that when someone’s foot is hurt
By a sharp rock, he also knows that rocks
Are here so they can hurt our feet.
Look, see the long shadow cast by the trees;
And flowers and people throw shadows on the earth:
What has no shadow has no strength to live.

136 Syllables at Rocky Mountain Dharma Center

Each morning, I sit in the little chapel that is on-site. It is a daily Sabbath I keep up. While in Spokane, I stay in a building that was once a convent and it retained some of convent-like features. I retreat each morning and try to quiet my mind in readiness for entry into the day.

It is interesting to notice what shares the space with me. Sounds come from outside. Crows are cawing and smaller birds cheep. The sunlight casts a finger through windows brightening the space.

Allen Ginsberg captured the essentialquiet and solitude where I am never alone. People visit as thoughts flow. It is a simultaneous opening up to what is around  and what is inside .

When I began sitting in the chapel, I brought my cell phone and checked time. Now, I leave it in the room and my practice suggests when it is appropriate to begin the day.

Tail turned to red sunset on a juniper crown a lone magpie cawks.

Mad at Oryoki in the shrine-room — Thistles blossomed late afternoon.

Put on my shirt and took it off in the sun walking the path to lunch.

A dandelion seed floats above the marsh grass with the mosquitoes.

At 4 A.M. the two middle-aged men sleeping together holding hands.

In the half-light of dawn a few birds warble under the Pleiades.

Sky reddens behind fir trees, larks twitter, sparrows cheep cheep cheep
cheep cheep.

Tewksbury Road

There is something about walking in nature that stimulates all the senses. I come alive in those walks and feel energized. We walked the North Saskatchewan River Valley two years ago during Autumn. The leaves turned colour. Over time, I smelled rich decay as Nature continued in her life-cycle.

Nature celebrates her Sabbath. It is a time of renewal emerging from what was alive. She never wastes.

John Masefield described a pastoral scene I imagined in a multi-sensory way. There is a universality in these scenes that touches the spirit.

It is good to be out on the road, and going one knows not where,

Going through meadow and village, one knows not whither or why;

Through the grey light drift of the dust, in the keen cool rush of the air,

Under the flying white clouds, and the broad blue lift of the sky.

And to halt at the chattering brook, in a tall green fern at the brink

Where the harebell grows, and the gorse, and the foxgloves purple and white;

Where the shifty-eyed delicate deer troop down to the brook to drink

When the stars are mellow and large at the coming on of the night.

O, to feel the beat of the rain, and the homely smell of the earth,

Is a tune for the blood to jig to, and joy past power of words;

And the blessed green comely meadows are all a-ripple with mirth

At the noise of the lambs at play and the dear wild cry of the birds.

A Glass of Water

When we used to go to the farm, one treat was drinking the well water. It was always cool and sweet in the truck when we hayed. It was better than champagne.

If we traveled on from the farm, we sometimes took well water. It meant we had water if we stopped for lunch or needed it in the car.

May Sarton wrote about water’s beauty. The poem reminded me how I take some things for granted and overlook their extraordinary nature. When I take time and am mindful, the sweetness is revealed.

Here is a glass of water from my well.
It tastes of rock and root and earth and rain;
It is the best I have, my only spell,
And it is cold, and better than champagne.
Perhaps someone will pass this house one day
To drink, and be restored, and go his way,
Someone in dark confusion as I was
When I drank down cold water in a glass,
Drank a transparent health to keep me sane,
After the bitter mood had gone again.

Talk About Walking

When we were in Waterton Lakes National Park two summers ago, we were able to go down the big lake into Montana’s Glacier National Park and hike. As we got off the boat, we asked one of the guides where a good place to go would be. He asked where we wanted to go and I answered, “Just for a walk and see where it takes us.”

It would be difficult to get off the ‘beaten path as it is pretty rugged country. Despite this, I think some days it is nice just to wander and wonder where the day takes us. Philip Booth does a wonderful job reminding us there is so much outside these walls we think of as our life.

Where am I going? I’m going
out, out for a walk. I don’t
know where except outside.
Outside argument, out beyond
wallpapered walls, outside
wherever it is where nobody
ever imagines. Beyond where
computers circumvent emotion,
where somebody shorted specs
for rivets for airframes on
today’s flights. I’m taking off
on my own two feet. I’m going
to clear my head, to watch
mares’-tails instead of TV,
to listen to trees and silence,
to see if I can still breathe.
I’m going to be alone with
myself, to feel how it feels
to embrace what my feet
tell my head, what wind says
in my good ear. I mean to let
myself be embraced, to let go
feeling so centripetally old.
Do I know where I’m going?
I don’t. How long or far
I have no idea. No map. I
said I was going to take
a walk. When I’ll be back
I’m not going to say.

Fire

Judy Brown wrote this poem and it is a gentle reminder of spaces in our lives that softly breath passion back into living. In these spaces, we lightly lay com-passion, integrating it in life and rekindling  passion.

Sabbath is an ongoing event. It is the daily pauses taken to be thankful and momentarily rest. It is meditation and prayer, listening not for certainty and answers, but more likely questions serving as life’s fuel. It is being in Nature and seeing ourselves as a small part of the larger whole.

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.

A fire
grows
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

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