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Monthly Archives: November 2016

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

Whenever I read this William Stafford poem, I wonder about all the imagery he provided. For me, it begins with the title, the word ritual, and flows from there. What do we mean by ritual? Is it a taken-for-granted way and habits we just in living? Do we end up stereotyping people by saying things like they are that kind of person? When we stereotype, we live in patterned ways that can end up being unbroken and we miss our star.

When we just follow the crowd, as in a parade and hold the elephant’s tail in front of us, we accept the world without being able to see it. That elephant’s butt blocks my view. What comes my way from that view?

But, there is hope. We can talk to each other and listen to each other’s stories. When we do and are present to the other, we shed a light on the path we share with one another. Roland Barth wrote a rule for living and sailing was that, regardless of how many times we hear a story, hear it one more time. It is important to the other and we may learn something new in each hearing.

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

 

To Be of Use

Marge Piercy wrote this poem about what it means to immerse one’s self in one’s life. She does use the word work, which is not always what we immerse ourselves in.

Hans-Georg Gadamer used a German word that means to while over the worth of something. We linger over those things that have meaning to us and make us feel useful in our lives. We do not want those things to end. When we find work that feels like that, we do not want it to end.

Something magical happens when we encounter something worth taking our time with in life. It is like it waits for us and we feel real when we come to know it. When are doing that, we experience being useful and giving back in a very real way.

The people I love the best

jump into work head first

without dallying in the shallows

and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.

They seem to become natives of that element,

the black sleek heads of seals

bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge

in the task, who go into the fields to harvest

and work in a row and pass the bags along,

who are not parlor generals and field deserters

but move in a common rhythm

when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

 

Expanding into freedom

I had an opportunity to attend a David Whyte event several years ago. His poetry speaks to me.

Healing Your Grief

Image result for pictures of eagles in sky

“I’d like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free and wanted other people to be also free.” Rosa Parks

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Temple of My Familiar (An Excerpt)

Alice Walker included this poem in her novel Temple of My Familiar. She speaks to the challenge we face when we wait for others to do what needs to be done. They, in turn, wait for us to what needs to be done. It is a vicious, not virtuous circle.

In living and leading, the and others call each of us to be mindful and attentive to the world and people. My first language is French. I am not very fluent as an adult, but how the language is used seems imprinted on me. Being mindful and attentive is living and leading in proper relationships.

I recall my mother saying “ce n’est pas propre.” It is not proper and not right (vrai) or correct (correcte). Proper is a way of comporting one’s self and is an ethical position. When I hear politicians and pseudo-politicans say they followed the letter of the law, that is about being right and correct, not proper.

Aristotle spoke about praxis as an ethical practice in living one’s life. Goodness in this sense was the goal of living without knowing what that meant. When I wait for another to do the proper thing, I am not doing the proper thing.

To the extent that it is possible,

You must live in the world today

As you wish everyone to live

In the world to come.

That can be your contribution.

Otherwise, the world you want

Will never be formed. Why?

Because you’re waiting for others to do

What you’re not doing;

And they are waiting for you,

And so on.

The Place Where We Are Right

Yehuda Amichai is an Israeli poet who was born in pre-war Germany. He described his poetry as non-ideological, but based in reality that includes politics.

I chose this poem, as it points out challenges we face when we think life is simple and others will deliver solutions for us. Jacques Rancière wrote that politics is not an all the time event. It arises occasionally and we must be mindful to recognize the need to act politically. Hannah Arendt contended living with others means we live in polis or community, suggesting a political reality always exists in life.

Living with others is political, but not every act is political. It is hard to live with others and be in community. Amichai suggested the trampled and hardened ground we share is unlikely go produce flowers . Yet, there is always something happening below the surface that we cannot see. Metaphoric moles we do not see dig up and plough our world. It is the whispers of what passed that way that provides compost for the communal soil.

Even in the barren, we find richness. Barry Lopez describes how even in the most desolate places something draws us and we are interested in what we do not see: the mystery of the place.

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

For an Occasion of Celebration

John O’Donohue was a Catholic priest who left the priesthood. Throughout his life, he retained and shared a deep spirituality and his poetry often was in the form of blessings.

Although this poem is not titled as a blessing, it still feels like one. I send this to my American friends, colleagues, and acquaintances as they celebrate Thanksgiving. We set aside certain days to pay special thanks, but we should celebrate each day and take time to be thankful for our blessings: friends, gifts we receive, health, and the wonder and mystery of living.

Now is the time to free the heart,
Let all intentions and worries stop,
Free the joy inside the self,
Awaken to the wonder of your life.

Open your eyes and see the friends,
Whose hearts recognize your face as kin,
Those whose kindness watchful and near,
Encouraging you to live everything here.

See the gifts the years have given,
Things your effort could never earn,
The health to enjoy who you want to be
And the mind to mirror mystery.

The Will for Reconciliation

Thomas Merton wrote many letters, essays, and poetry and seemed prescient about issues . Long before it was relevant, he spoke about challenges we might encounter in an increasingly technological and consumerist world.

I chose a passage from East & West. The Foreign Prefaces of Thomas Merton, and not a poem. He speaks about reconciling, coming together through forces including the power of love, understanding and compassion for one another, and being selfless as we coöperate in shared action.

Too often, humans understand the world in binaries: right or wrong, true or false, black or white, male or female, etc. Polticians and pseudo-politicians exploit binaries and divide us. They divide us based on race, skin colour, religion, gender, etc. When we fall victim to false narratives, we are incapable and unwilling to create, to build, and to forgive.

It is on the ground of something better and higher than politics that we discover we do good for each other. Thomas Merton’s message was not naïve. Love and mercy are the foundation, but not the solution to political problems.

“It is true, political problems are not solved by love and mercy. But the world of politics is not the only world, and unless political decisions rest on a foundation of something better and higher than politics, they can never do any real good for men. When a country has to be rebuilt after war, the passions and energies of war [and a divisive election] are no longer enough. There must be a new force, the power of love, the power of understanding and human compassion, the strength of selflessness and coöperation, and the creative dynamism of the will to live and to build, and the will to forgive. The will for reconciliation.”

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