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Imperfection

In my last post, I wrote using a line from Mary Oliver: “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Today, I turn to a wonderful poem by Elizabeth Carlson, Imperfection. What does it mean to be imperfect as I explore what I will do with my one wild and precious life?

In pursusing what it means to live this one and wild precious life, one needs to fall “in love with [their] imperfections.” One of my imperfections might be I continuously and restlessly explore where my life is taking me. In a way, I find an echo of Thomas Merton in this, and I paraphrase, some pursue what calls us without finding it and that is our calling.

I am unsure it is that straightforward and I sense what I have done is ignored where I am at in life, ignoring what makes me who I am with each imperfection. One such imperfection might be I lock in on a particular quality and allow it to define me more broadly.

Instead of discerning what is in front of me, I focus on things I do not control. Henri Nouwen wrote a beautiful book, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life. In it, he suggests people, events, and signs are put in front of each of us to guide us in life. I defined myself as a teacher for most of my adult life and it was hard to set this aside.

I realize the likeliehood of returning to the classroom is remote. There are prevailing biases in play e.g. age . It appears few, if any, post-secondardy institutions want an aging male who does not fit their paradigm of a professor. Yet, the signs were there, despite my imperfections, something was calling. Over the past year, I co-authored a published paper and was invited to join in several other writing projects, joined a peer review journal board, and, most recently, was invited to submit proposals emerging from my dissertation.

The challenge is to get past an imperfection such as a single way of defining one’s self. Maybe someone will overlook age, gender, race, etc. and invite me to teach in their institution. I have to be awake to who appears and, at this time, it is people asking me to write and be part of those projects.

I am falling in love
with my imperfections
The way I never get the sink really clean,
forget to check my oil,
lose my car in parking lots,
miss appointments I have written down,
am just a little late.

I am learning to love
the small bumps on my face
the big bump of my nose,
my hairless scalp,
chipped nail polish,
toes that overlap.
Learning to love
the open-ended mystery
of not knowing why

I am learning to fail
to make lists,
use my time wisely,
read the books I should.

Instead I practice inconsistency,
irrationality, forgetfulness.

Probably I should
hang my clothes neatly in the closet
all the shirts together, then the pants,
send Christmas cards, or better yet
a letter telling of
my perfect family.

But I’d rather waste time
listening to the rain,
or lying underneath my cat
learning to purr.

I used to fill every moment
with something I could
cross off later.

Perfect was
the laundry done and folded
all my papers graded
the whole truth and nothing but

Now the empty mind is what I seek
the formless shape
the strange off center
sometimes fictional
me.

I leave you with a quote from Henri Nouwen and a picture.

“Where does my complete flowering as a human being connect with the needs of the world?”

While I stand by the turbulent river, I take time to listen and observe carefully what moves me in this moment to make the world a better place.

What Do You Plan to Do with Your One Wild Life?

Mary Oliver wrote the beautiful poem The Summer Day. She ended the poem with a question: “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Actually, she included several questions, which are not answerable in any certain way. Life is unpredictable, but what we want to do with it echoes Hans-Georg Gadamer who wrote “desire beyond wanting.” To me, this suggests we each aspire, perhaps can aspire, to something beyond simply knowing and planning. There is more to life than we can plan and predict, yet we can hope.

I think, as important, the question is about vocation and what calls us forward and animates each of our spirits. Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer write about how vocation and voice relate to one another and are how we express who we are in life. Merton goes so far as to say some of us are perhaps destined to search without discovering what calls us.

I wonder, “have we lost this sense of spiritual purpose in the early part of the 21st Century?” We look out there, read the newspapers, follow 24/7 news, etc. and feel deep despair and hopelessness, perhaps even disinterest to follow what beckons. I don’t say this lightly. Two incidents led me to wonder about this. First, at a recent community engagement conference, I was struck by how much despair filled the room. Second, in a private conversation with a parent, they commented how a child was struggling with what exists beyond our individual life. The child is experiencing a sense of despair over this. In part, this is exacerbated because the parents are atheists and feel unable to give guidance in a spiritual way. Finding our voice and who we are is more than an instrumental process of work. It goes beyond to the spiritual essence of who each are and how that brings meaning to our lives and the world.

In the latter setting, I emphasized the idea that we conflate religion and spirituality. One can be deeply spiritual and non-religious and non-theist. One can be religious and theist without being spiritual. The essence of spirituality is to find what calls to me and respond with the qualities of life I want to find in the world. I don’t think those in short supply, but, if we listen to the media, we come away with a different view. At the heart of this, might be the great existential questions poets, like Mary Oliver, ask us.

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I include a lovely reading by Mary Oliver of this poem.

Winter Nights

Despite the title, this is a Christmas poem. I wrote it several years ago about the joy and anticipation I felt, as a child, at this time of year. This was embedded in family and community rituals I experienced growing up. In a consumptive and materialistic world, some of this has been lost. What I do is hold onto the memories.

We lived in an old house and it was often very cold. In the evenings, my mother and three older brothers went across the street to the church for evening mass. This was part of the rite of passage for me. In junior high, I joined them.

Many evenings, I sat by the heavily frosted window to watch my mother and brothers return. Some of those evenings were clear, the sky filled with stars, and sometimes the Northern Lights were part of Nature’s light show.

Breathlessly awaiting,

Through frosted window peering

Small children–

Soaking it in.

Heavens rippling–

Lights undulating;

A celebratory fury

An indisputable guide.

An old house speaking;

Nature answering–

The heavens crackling

Sweet symphonic music.

Earth’s floor–

Blanketed in white

Celestial colours shimmering

Capturing young eyes.

A vivid winter scene,

A sensual, sensory palette,

Reminding–

Christ’s Mass draws near.

I took this picture at the farm this past weekend. The sun goes down early here at this time of the year. They had just had fresh snow, with about 8-10 inches falling in one day, so the scene was still quite untouched.

The Other Kingdoms

In my recent reading, I came across this poem by Mary Oliver. I had not read it before, but found it spoke to me in deep ways.

The other day, on Facebook, I came across a Welsh saying: “Dwi wedi dod yn ôl at fy nghoed.” It means returning to my senses/regaining mental equilibrium or more literally I returnto my trees. I understand this as coming back to my roots and being mindful and present for each sentient and non-sentient being I encounter. The word Druid means oak-knower and the Druids lived in harmony and oneness in nature.

Where do I feel most comfortable? The word comfort comes from com meaning surround and fort meaning strength. In other words, living mindfully in the world has ethical implications. In Greek, ethos means character and also how music influences morals, emotions, and behavior.

As I listen to each of the other kingdoms, what music do I hear? How does the music influence and inform who I am, what I say, and what I do? How am I aware of the music and sounds I hear in these kingdoms?

Consider the other kingdoms.  The
trees, for example, with their mellow-sounding
titles: oak, aspen, willow.
Or the snow, for which the peoples of the north
have dozens of words to describe its
different arrivals.  Or the creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze.  Their
infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be.  Thus the world
grows rich, grows wild, and you too,
grow rich, grow sweetly wild, as you too
were born to be.

I took this picture several years in Jasper National Park. Kathy and I had gone for an early drive and hike. We parked and took pictures. As I turned, I thought I saw something move and walked towards the movement. The cow elk sat and chewed her cud. She was aware of us and, as I approached, I heard the soft sounds she made in completing the digestive process.

We pointed her out to others and cautioned them to be careful and quiet as they approached her.  After all, we are strangers in those other kingdoms.

 

Look, the trees…..

via Look, the trees…..

I have been offline for the past week, as we moved into our new house, which is located on the same lot we lived on before. We still do not have Internet, so I go to a local coffee shop once a day and sometimes every other day to catch up. Purple Rays provided a wonderful post to get back in the groove.

When we bought our house 40 years ago, it came with two relatively large spruce trees in the front. Those remain in place as proud sentinels and, as Mary Oliver describes trees in to the new houses we build on the same lot, one for Kathy and I and the other our youngest son built.

We chose to stay and build for several reasons. First and foremost, it gave our son a chance to have his own house. Second, we enjoy the community we live in and have been part of the fabric of it for 40 plus years. It is an area of Edmonton that has tremendous stablity despite the rapid growth of the metro area. We have neighbours who have lived in this community longer than we have.

The house on the left is our house and the one on the right is our son’s house as the trees stand guard.

 

Thanksgiving

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving. We celebrated yesterday with two sons and a partner due to work schedules. We will celebrate again for American Thanksgiving. This is in part due to my time in the US completing my PhD and we have extended family who are from the US.

The idea of two Thanksgivings led me to reflect. What am I grateful for each day? I am thankful for family, friends, good neighbours, good health, a house that will feel like home as it is built on our original property, and many other people and things.

What if we thought of each day as a day to give thanks, a thanksgiving?

I wrote this poem called Thanksgiving several years ago.

Gratitude and thankfulness

Share each sacred moment–

Turn to beloved others,

Hold tight,

Acknowledge worth,

(Extra)ordinary emerges from ordinary

Moment by moment–

The taken-for-granted

Reveals itself.

Sharing bounty,

Feeling blessed,

Expressing gratitude,

Saying daily prayers of thankfulness.

I took this in Jasper National Park with the Athabasca Falls behind Kathy.

The video above is by Mary Chapin Carpenter. I have several of her CD’s. Enjoy and be thankful.

Autumn Promises

In preparing a short presentation on mindfulness in daily life and autumn, I ended up writing a poem about autumn. More than writing, I reflected on how I understand seasonal cycles, including the equinox we experienced on the weekend.

I considered how I define phenomena. For example, autumn or fall was defined by my teaching with phrases such as “see you in the fall, school begins in the fall, and have a good summer, see you in the fall for school.” Nature does not define autumn quite so neatly.

Yes, there is a moment where the time from the longest and shortest days of sunlight is exactly balanced, but Nature and her other living beings are responding according to instinct and invisiable cues, not on artificial times. Trees are slow to change colour and shed their leaves this year, the rabbits in the yard are still brown/grey, and the geese are still gathering to feast on the grain left in farmers’ fields.

For me, autumn is a beautiful mix of the other seasons. On my walks, I experience the cool wind hinting of winter, the warmth of the sun suggesting summer is not gone, and the smell of decay to prepare the way for spring renewal and rejuvenation.

As well, there many metaphors and carry in our daily lives. Understood as a time of harvest, gathering, and bounty, autumn reminds me to be mindful of those moments when we gather, the memories and stories we gather to share with one another, and the readying for dormant times in life vital to our rejuvenation. This happens at all times of the year.

Another aspect of reflecting, preparing, and presenting was I felt rejuvenated. I am not teaching this fall and have been a bit down. Yesterday, I felt presenting and the writing that went with it put some “spring” in my step to be a little punny. I recording the presentation as a series of videos to upload and to put some of my poems into a book to publish.

Autumn arrives unannounced,

Alluding to other seasons

Touching body and soul as I walk.

Cool breeze;

Winter’s promise of dormant moments,

Readying for rebirth.

Afternoon sun chasing chill,

Warming body and soul,

Hinting summer remains.

Vibrant aesthetics;

 Artist colouring leave from Her palette,

Hanging above; fallen mates carpet ground.

Secluded, shaded, dampness,

Rich aroma of decay,

Spring depends on fall’s work.

Is there a typical autumn day?

Is there a typical autumn moment?

Nature whispers, “Maybe; Maybe not.”

This was a picture I took several years ago in the river valley. I remember the aroma of decay as it had been a cool and wet fall followed by some warmth.

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