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Doors

The other night, we watched a re-run of the Montana episode of Parts Unknown hosted by the late Anthony Bourdain. I enjoy watching the series and this episdoe about Montana drew to it as we have visited Montana several times.

Bourdain ate with a poet I had not heard of before: Jim Harrison. He spoke about being part of nature and how he feels small under the big sky of Montana. I looked him up and felt I should have heard of him before. He was a celebrated and well-published poet.

I chose this poem as it speaks to how we create binary choices in a complex world and universe filled with a myriad of choices that we follow depending on the spirit. For example, we often think we have to separate the economy and the environment.

The etymology of economy is from the Greek, oikos, meaning household and suggests keeping a good house. We only have to think about animals and how they do not soil their living quarters to understand how economy and ecology are related.

Harrison created wonderful imagery about the sky being a door never closed, but the sun and moon are not doorknobs. He lived in Montana for years where the sky is big and stretches on, as does the land.

I had to look up Dersu Uzala. It was a movie made about a man who lived his life integrated with nature and the universe, who dies when he moves inside.

I’m trying to create an option for all
these doors in life. You’re inside
or out, outside or in. Of late, doors
have failed us more than the two-party system
or marriages comprising only one person.
We’ve been fooled into thousands of dualisms
which the Buddha says is a bad idea.
Nature has portals rather than doors.
There are two vast cottonwoods near a creek
and when I walk between them I shiver.
Winding through my field of seventy-seven
large white pine stumps from about 1903
I take various paths depending on spirit.
The sky is a door never closed to us.
The sun and moon aren’t doorknobs.
Dersu Uzala slept outside for forty-five years.
When he finally moved inside he died.

I took this picture several years ago as I looked from Alberta towards Montana across the field, with fresh bales of hay in the forefront and the mountains and sky forming the backdrop.

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What Have I Learned so Far?

I enjoy Mary Oliver and questions she asks in her poems. Living is a question, as I am uncertain what will happen, even in the next second, and how I will respond/react.

How we each live is the answer to a Mary Oliver question from The Summer Day: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Do I sow seeds of kindness? Do I somehow make the world a better place, without understanding what that means in advance, perhaps ever?

As I rise from meditation and prayer, I do I move in a mindful way, more attentive to my words and acts. Meditation and prayer help make the world holy, more whole as I attend to it. We each live Living in our particular concrete and real world of human relationships with each other and the world.

Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.

All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of — indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.

From The Irony of American History

Although Reinhold Niebuhr his book The Irony of American History, I think it speaks to each person’s and each collective’s history.

As I read this and his autobiography, I wondered what it means to be a refugee, to seek refuge, and be an immigrant. My family traces its roots in Canada to the mid 1600’s and Kathy traces her’s to the latter part of the 1700’s. On both sides of our family, our ancestors could not expect what was to come for them and us.

Parker Palmer and Allan Watts speak of faith, which allows each of us to step into the future, without understanding what that brings. My ancestors, coming from France, did not know the risks and opportunities that lay ahead. They had faith in what was to come, without knowing what was to come.

What is to come in my life is emerging through the lives of each person that follows. Thich Nhat Hanh writes we are an amalgam of our ancestors. We are individuals that emerge within a collective that is both present and absent in our daily lives. Who we are is a result of product of virtue and love we receive from others. Who we are is not accomplished alone. It is an act of compassion and faith; an act of forgiveness that we will do what is proper.

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

Nature’s Melody

I have not written a poem for a while. I try to journal each day.  I started this poem about 10 days ago, left it for a few days, and came back to it today. I feel rusty in the writing, but it is a beginning.

When I walk, I listen, subscribing to the idea sound completes itself in in-between spaces. Without spaces, sound lacks rhythm and melody. When I am mindful, I recognize a particular sound. Also, I can recognize unfamiliar sounds in those spaces.

Nature’s voice is always in melody,

She raises and lowers it effortlessly.

Spring breezes filled with rustling and whispering,

Shrill winter storms shrieking and whistling.

Soft showers murmuring in gentle ways,

Thunderous storms that shake and amaze.

It is in pauses melody is completed,

It is in silence sound is fulfilled.

Several years, we were in Jasper National Park and saw this cow elk. She was quiet and did not move. We were there for a few minutes before we noticed her. There were others who arrived before us and had not seen her. It was in the silence and calm we noticed her.

The Summer Day

I could have entitled this post calling, vocation, voice, etc. Mary Oliver shares what it means to be called and how we respond to this call through our particular life. Voice and vocation share etymology and come from the Latin verb to call: vocare.

Mary Oliver captures the essence of a calling with a metaphor of a grasshopper, which has its role to play and expresses herself in how she fulfills this role. This poem reminds me of Matthew‘s verse about the lily of the field and how God provides for each plant and animal. We each have a role and place in a complex way of being and we each respond according to how we interpret what that might mean.

The first three lines and the last two, as questions, speak to me. I am never certain of what life holds for me. Life emerges as eloquent questions that are open and not foreclosed by easy answers, yet emerge from the first three questions. I ask eloquent questions without predetermined answers. They inform my dialogue with the world and with others.

Since completing my dissertation, the last question has become part of my thinking about the themes. It was not in the dissertation, but is essential to experiencing and understanding teaching as a calling, which holds deep spiritual meaning.

I posted my dissertation on Academia and an executive summary on Medium.

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 took this picture in Yellowstone several years ago. I was about 25-30 feet (8-10 metres) away from this wonderful animal. He knew I was there, but seemed unconcerned. We were both living our lives.

The Prayer of St. Francis

Today, is our anniversary. We recited the Prayer of St. Francis at our wedding and have it displayed on a small and simple plaque. It reminds me of what it means to be human, in relationship with another person, and in relationship with God.

When I was in Spokane, I printed a copy and put it on the wall of the small room I stayed in. I refer to the room as my monastic cell and the Prayer of St. Francis seems a fitting complement to any monastic cell.

During challenging moments, I recite parts of the prayer to bring me peace and be present in the world.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

The picture is one I took several years ago of Kathy standing above a set of waterfalls close to the headwaters of the Fraser River.

Where Words Fails

via Where Words Fail

Thank you to Misifusa for this wonderful post.

I have not posted for some time. This seemed like a good way to begin again, afresh. When I was growing up, we listened to a wide variety of music, including Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. I thought it was the norm and grew into a die-hard blues fan, attending concerts by Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, and King Biscuit when they traveled to Canada.

As an adult, I saw BB King, John Mayall, Etta James, Ruthie Foster, Taj Mahal, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and others. An American friend told me this was not the norm in the US. He did not have the same opportunities to see these performers as I did or, if he did, it was long after they were in their primes.

The Hans Christian Anderson quote fits well “where words fail, music speaks”. Music breaks down barriers without realizing they are coming down. As a Canadian, I had freedoms I took-for-granted, like the music I listened to and the concerts I attended. When I taught, I played a wide variety of music each morning. It ranged from the blues to jazz to country to folk to old rock and to more contemporary music. Students enjoyed it and it surprised them when they heard me play old Johnny Cash, the blues, and rock-a-billy.

Music is colour-blind or, better yet, music is blind to colour.

I like this particular John Lee Hooker song, which I first heard in the early 1970’s. George Thorogood plays it in most of his concerts in tribute to John Lee. Enjoy.

 

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