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Author Archives: ivonprefontaine

Expanding into freedom

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

Healing Your Grief

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“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.”

The Poet of song had left us. Leonard Cohen.

One of the first record albums I purchased was by Leonard Cohen. I bought it in 1970 and have enjoyed his poetry and music for over 45 years. He ranks up there with the great writers of our time.

johncoyote

The Poet of song

Thank you Leonard Cohen. You taught me. Words had great meaning and could come alive. You were the Poet of song. I saw you in concert in 1978 and 1979 in Germany. You were a legend to many already. The great Poet had left us. He shall never be forgotten. The word-men and word-women will hold dearly to his special song and voice. I miss you already Leonard Cohen. I hope you are singing in the tower of song.

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We Stand at the Edge of a True Wilderness

While I was on my sabbatical, I attended a retreat. One of the highlights was meeting Parker Palmer. The people from the Centre Courage and Renewal who organized the retreat use Parker’s teachings as the foundation for these retreats.

Like Parker’s written work, the retreat focused on rich conversation, reflecting and writing, and poetry. Some poets I was familiar with, but others I did not recall hearing before. One of the poets who fell into the latter category was Barbara Rohde.

This poem reminds me my life is a continuous entering wilderness. No one entered my wilderness before. I don’t have a path or map to show me the way. I walk alone in a sense, but I am not alone.

The etymology of companion is to break bread and share a meal with others we meet on a journey. As we meet each other and hear our music, we can sing it back to each other and share it like the bread we break together. It is in sharing we can overcome fear and anxiety that comes from feeling a sense of loneliness in our lives.

We can encourage and place courage in one another. Emmanuel Levinas capitalized Other to signify an unconditional responsiblity for others. It reminds me of the line in Spartacus where others stand and say, “I am Spartacus!” What would it mean to say “I am Muslim! I am Hispanic?” We look toward that great openness in awe of the freedom and responsbility before us.

We stand at the edge of a true wilderness.No one has entered it, nor worn a path for us.  There are no maps.

We look toward that great openness in awe of the freedom and possibility before us.  Yet there is also something in us that causes us to face the unknown territory cautiously and anxiously.

Now, in this place, we take time out of time to look back, to see where we have been and what we have been, to reflect on what we have learned thus far on our journey.

We gather together to remind each other to see our True north, and to encourage–to place courage in–one another.

When we leave this place, we must each find our true path.  We must walk alone.

But now and then we may meet.

When we meet, may we offer each other the bread of our being.

And oh, my brothers, and oh, my sisters, if you hear me plunging wildly, despairingly, through the thicket, call out to me.  Calm me.

And if you find me sleeping in the snow, awaken me, lest my heart to turn ice.

And if you hear my music, praising the mornings of the world, then in that other time, in the blackness of my night, sing it back to me.

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