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Category Archives: Community

Take a Knee

I begin this post with two points. First, I am not American. I spend time in the US and enjoy my time there. One thing I enjoy, and I shared with my students, is the way Americans respond to their National Anthem. Second, Canada, where I live, has social and historical skeletons in the closet i.e. residential schools.

My aim is not to pass judgment, but to cast a different light on what it means to take a knee. In a world that is increasingly secular, perhaps I lose my way in what it means to live in a spiritual way and it can mean many things to different people.

The image that comes to mind when I think of is people kneeling and standing at the foot of the cross of the crucified Jesus. We were not there, but we are told his friends, family members, and followers knelt and stood. It seems there was no one right way.

When Colin Kaepernick first took a knee, I thought of it as praying. The etymology of prayer is to ask earnestly, to beg, and to entreat. Prayer is asking someone i.e. God or something bigger i.e. Universe or a nation than I am to intercede in a concern to me.

To genuflect is to kneel, usually with one knee. It is an act of worship and respect. Parker Palmer wrote about fidelity as something other than mere loyalty. It is loyalty to an obligation, cause, and idea one holds dear.

Who or what one asks depends on one’s spiritual and religious background. What I understand is that there are no fixed answers when I take a knee and pray. I have to listen. Part of praying is silence, listening to what Parker Palmer calls my inner voice. It is only in moments of silence, whether kneeling, standing, or walking, that I hear that inner voice.

I pray in various ways and have since I was a child. When I enter a church, I find holy water, bow to the cross, and complete the sign of the cross. I stand. As I enter a pew I genuflect, taking a knee. I do so with two surgically repaired knees. At times before, during, and after service, I kneel, I pray, and I listen to what my heart says. Other times, I stand. During the Lord’s prayer, I stand and join hands with others asking God to intercede on each of our behalf. As I receive communion, I walk slowly and quietly, bowing my head as I accept the host.

For me, kneeling, standing, and walking quietly show my fidelity to a cause and purpose larger than me. In this case, it is plight of people and our shared humanity. I make a point of being quiet, because it is a time of thoughtful meditation and mindfulness of how the world and I are broken. I beseech someone or something larger than me to intercede and, as Parker Palmer says, to make whole the broken.

 

 

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Darling

I was not going to post today, but I came across this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye and it resonated with me. She wrote about language’s paradoxical power and fragility. Even though we may use the same words, they each mean something different to each of us based on our culture, history, and personal experiences. We have to be mindful and attentive to our use of language. It speaks to our character in the story we narrate through the words we choose and share with others.

Language possesses the power to bridge differences. The fragility lies in the idea that we can only hope language bridges differences.

The opening lines remind me of the  etymological roots of companion, meaning to break bread with others on a journey, but, in this instance, it is a fragile journey. The food and tea do not taste quite right under the circumstances.

The last stanza speaks about holding words delicately and pressing our lips on each syllable as we are kissing them, hence the title of the poem.

I break this toast for the ghost of bread in Lebanon.
The split stone, the toppled doorway.

Someone’s kettle has been crushed.
Someone’s sister has a gash above her right eye.

And now our tea has trouble being sweet.
A strawberry softens, turns musty,

overnight each apple grows a bruise.
I tie both shoes on Lebanon’s feet.

All day the sky in Texas which has seen no rain since June
is raining Lebanese mountains, Lebanese trees.

What if the air grew damp with the names of mothers,
the clear belled voices of first-graders

pinned to the map of Lebanon like a shield?
When I visited the camp of the opposition

near the lonely Golan, looking northward toward
Syria and Lebanon, a vine was springing pinkly from a tin can

and a woman with generous hips like my mother’s
said Follow me.

2

Someone was there.
Someone not there now was standing.
Someone in the wrong place
with a small moon-shaped scar on his left cheek
and a boy by the hand.

Who had just drunk water, sharing the glass.
Who had not thought about it deeply
though they might have, had they known.
Someone grown and someone not-grown.
Who thought they had different amounts of time left.
This guessing game ends with our hands in the air,
becoming air.
One who was there is not there, for no reason.
Two who were there.

It was almost too big to see.

3

Our friend from Turkey says language is so delicate
he likens it to a darling.

We will take this word in our arms.
It will be small and breathing.
We will not wish to scare it.
Pressing lips to the edge of each syllable.
Nothing else will save us now.
The word “together” wants to live in every house.

The Poet’s Obligation

I am back. I found it difficult to write a poem and turned to others who might offer me something today.

Pablo Neruda wrote about the poet’s obligation to those cooped up in an office, away from the sounds of nature, and the foam of the sea. Poetry brings the world and its text to people who for whatever reason they are no present to that part of the world.

The poet brings the sea, the thunder, and the foam to the reader in what Neruda called a perpetual cup. Poets share and are part of the world others cannot always find.

The poet is mindful of the world and reflects on it to capture its essence and meaning in ways each person can experience and interpret what that means to them. They pose questions without ready answers to structure each person’s with the world and the poem. The poem becomes a medium to interpret the world as a text.

To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to who ever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or dry prison cell,
to him I come, and without speaking or looking
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a long rumble of thunder adds itself
to the weigh of the planet and the foam,
the groaning rivers of the ocean rise,
the star vibrates quickly in its corona
and the sea beats, dies, and goes on beating.

So. Drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea’s lamenting in my consciousness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the sentence of the autumn,
I may be present with an errant wave,
I may move in and out of the windows,
and hearing me, eyes may lift themselves,
asking “How can I reach the sea?”
And I will pass to them, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing itself,
the gray cry of sea birds on the coast.

So, though me, freedom and the sea
will call in answer to the shrouded heart.

To Discriminate

I will not post this weekend, as I am away. As well, I want to begin writing an article, so my schedule will change next week, but I will be back.

After I wrote my poem yesterday, I thought about what it might mean to live in a different way than I do. I cannot. I do not have those experiences. To discriminate is to see and recognize differences. In a world of extreme ideologies, there are those who simply refuse to see differences as essential to our human condition.

Hannah Arendt wrote about living in pluralism being the ultimate human condition. It is what makes us each a person, separates us in some distinct way from others. It is challenging and unavoidable.

I lived in a small town in Northern Alberta when I was young. We were the only French-speaking family with children in the community. I understand others have suffered more than I ever did. It seems it is only the loud ones with most extreme ideology who act and speak with violence that are seen and heard.

Edmund Burke contended “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”

Albert Einstein said “Compassionate people are geniuses in the art of living, more necessary to the dignity, security, and joy of humanity than the discoverers of knowledge.”

Thomas Merton pointed us in the direction of mindfulness: “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”

I think compassion is being mindful of the beauty we find in the differences of others and the world. It is speaking up and out when we see things done that are not proper. It is in being mindful and present to the Other that we are most human. I leave you with these thoughts.

To discriminate,

To see the differences in the Other,

It is what makes living worthwhile.

Without seeing differences,

The world is a monotone,

A sea of sameness.

Without seeing differences,

The world is extreme,

A dangerous place.

Without seeing differences,

I do not see the exceptional,

I cannot see an Other’s humanity.

 

Dreamers

I thought about some violence we experience in the world. The last few days it is that theme that has drawn me in my writing.

The word compassion comes from sharing a love of something and the suffering that comes from sharing. The word companion comes from sharing a meal, usually on a journey with others.

We have more in common than makes us different. It is differences that make us unique. The ancient concept of common sense (sensus communis) was what a community shared and held in common, to be passed on to the next generation.

With violence, what do we think we are passing on to the next generation? I would like to think we pass on the good we have in common, the sharing of things we love and suffer with, and we will stop for a meal with each other in times we feel strife.

New emerges and we replace what is outdated and unnecessary, but more remains than we replace when we are mindful and attentive to the world we share.

We are dreamers,

Imagining what might be,

Wondering what could be,

Wondering, “who do we share with?”

In suffering and loving,

Experiencing (com)passion.

In moments of passion,

We share with one another,

Delighting us in one moment,

In the next, suffering together

(Com)panions sharing our daily bread.

Sand Castles

Children live in each moment. Their inexperience allows them to be in a world that seems novel. They build sand castles in those moments. As adults we think we lose that ability to build our sand castles.

Being mindful and present to the world and others is a way of building sand castles, perhaps in some metaphoric way. How can I think about this person and that thing differently? How do I bring less suffering and pain to the world in understanding “differences make a difference?” Unlike children, adults often understand differences as threats.

It reminds me of Tolstoy‘s quote: “if you want to be happy, be.”

A child, playing in sand,

Building sand castles,

Absorbed in that moment.

The world is immediate,

Demanding one be present,

To embedded in this very moment.

As a child,

We know nothing different,

Our castles are real and momentous.

To outgrow our castles,

That is a tragedy,

To lose being mind(ful).

Let me return to that world,

To build castles in the sand,

As only a child can.

When I taught, the Grade 7 students built chairs for Science class. A criterion was they had to use recycled materials. They always built terrific chairs with little help from adults.

Anarchy

I felt a touch of sadness the last few days of school. I think it goes back to my first year teaching. The students told me they wanted school to continue into the summer. My last year teaching students sent me off with the message it was not the content that was meaningful, but the life lessons they learned.

Etymologically, anarchy comes from repeatedly new beginnings. Thought of that way, each new beginning is an opportunity to dance.

Rumi said “We rarely hear the inward music, but we’re all dancing to it nevertheless,
directed by the one who teaches us, the pure joy of the sun, our music master.” New beginnings are a dance that we do not always hear the music to.

As an end draws near,

Beginnings emerge,

In the anarchy of living.

One is drawn,

Not by the familiar,

By mystery.

In silent moments,

Stillness calls,

Reaching deep into one’s soul.

In silent moments,

The unseen radiates,

Touching one’s spirit.

Mystery lurks,

Pointing the way,

Deep wonder draws one forward.

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