RSS Feed

Tag Archives: eloquent questions

Weaving the Sacred

Humans often set the sacred in opposition to the profane and mundane. In what we might consider of as less sophisticated or mystical traditions, the distinctions are less in evidence. The sacred and profane blend together and are readily experienced in the traditions and daily lives of people. Sophisticated has to do with wisdom (sophia, so who am I to judge what is wisdom in a world I am an outsider to? This stands out to me when I visit Indigenous sites in Alberta and beyond. In ways they are stewards of Nature in ways I cannot be as I do not understand my relationship to Nature in a proper way.

On our way to Waterton, we went to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Archaeologists discovered evidence the site was on a migratory path for indigenous people, primarily the Niitsítapi (Blackfoot Confederacy), who used innovative ways to hunt plains bison at least 5500 years ago. A jump or ‘pishkun’ in Niitsítapi used drive lanes marked by rock cairns. The buffalo ran between the cairns and the last part of the drive lane sloped up, making the jump unnoticeable. The process required perfect human timing and was extremely dangerous.

Legend has it the name comes from an unfortunate incident when a young man wanted a closer view of the action. He waited at the base of the cliff. The hunt was successful and, when he was found, he sustained a broken skull and died.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is at the confluence of three geological formations. The Rocky Mountains and Great Plains are well-known. The picture below shows the rise into the Porcupine Hills. Young Niitsítapi men transitioned to manhood through a vision quest and went to the hill in the foreground. The hill, with spiritual meaning to the Niitsítapi, does not have public access.

Journeying alone

Enter spiritual space

Questing for adulthood.

At Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump’s interpreprative centre, we watched traditional dancing and heard traditional drumming and singing. The drum symbolizes Mother Earth’s heartbeat in Niitsítapi and other indigenous traditions.

Beating hearts gather

Singing, dancing, encircling

Joining as one with Her.

I took this picture as we turned towards Waterton. It was a hot, hazy day, blocking a view of the mountains.

The Niitsítapi meaning ‘original people,’ had their tradtional homes here. The Piikáni (North Piegan), a member of the confederacy, traveled to Waterton’s Blakiston Valley and gathered at Akaitapi (good campsite), providing food, water, and shelter. The area was also used by the Ktunaxa (Kootenay or Kootenai) who traveled from the west, through what is now the Crowsnest Pass.

hot, hazy beauty

shimmering above prairies

block distant bastions.

A small herd of bison live in a paddock at Waterton. At one time bison covered the Great Plains of North America. This was literal. People heard them long before they came into view and, when they were visible, it was a mass of brown and black that covered the prairies. Indigenous people used this animals as a ‘walking supermarket’ as almost all its body parts were harvested and usable.

Proud people’s icon

Plains symbol of abundance

Today’s sad sideshow.

We have attended a number of concerts with John Wort Hannam performing. He is from the part of Alberta I highlighted and has a beautiful song about the hills around the area. Enjoy.

Companion

Etymologically, companion is breaking and sharing bread (panis, pa, and pain) with one another as we come together (com). It is associated with being on a journey, meeting others on the path, and stopping to eat with one another.

Companion lends itself towards metaphor, taking us beyond the literal. Faith and cultural traditions have stories related to helping one another, showing compassion and companionship to others. The word compassion means to share the joys and sorrows fo one’s life with others. When we do this, we do so because we can relate to what someone else is experiencing e.g. the loss of loved one.

On this quest we call life, we can questioning what it means to live this life. How do I share it? I am reading Parker Palmer‘s On the Brink of Everything. Parker repeats this need to understand and share in, sometimes, unexpected ways. It is not a calculated process, which humans often can fall into. After all, to be human is to fall short. It is to do the proper thing and bring out the better angels in ourselves and others.

I tend to think a lot, but this is a time where I am thinking even more. What forms of leadership do we want moving forward? How do we bring some harmony to a world often divided? How do we engage in meaningful dialogue to listen with open hearts to others who have much different experiences?

Arise,

This morning.

Tentatively step into the unknowable,

Discerning one’s voice afresh,

Discovering one’s purpose anew.

Asking,

What nourishes, waters, and heals one’s soul?

Who walks with us?

Who joins us?

Who shares the journey?

Who breaks bread with us?

How do we find refuge in one another?

As we pause and share the path,

Never quite able to step into the other’s steps.

Take care,

In one’s questing,

Speak mindfully, heartfully, graciously

Hear mindfully, heartfully, graciously

Your self and others encountered.

I took this picture in Waterton Lakes National Park. When I hike, nature reminds me to sense how much is closer at hand than I realize. What don’t I see? What don’t I hear? The coronovirus gives me time to reflect and question my priorities. What do I value? Am I true to my values? There are things and people who remain invisible and unheard, yet may be closer at hand than I realize. How do I become a companion and share in their journey without imposing?

Set the Backpack Down

Several years ago, I was in the midst of professional struggles and wrote this poem while attending a retreat based on Parker Palmer‘s work. At the time, I was reading his book, The Heart of Democracy. In the book, I came across the following quote:

“Suffering breaks our hearts, but the heart [that is] supple … breaks open, not apart, [and] can grow into greater capacity for the many forms of love. Only the supple heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new life.”

Joanna Macy has a similar quote: “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” If my memory is accurate it is this quote that informed Parker’s writing at the time. It is about hopefulness. Hopefulness is not going it alone. It is walking up the mountain together, with those who we can share the burdens of our mutual journey together. Companionship is about sharing bread along the journey, not hoarding it. This is an apt metaphor. What does bread mean in our daily lives?

Parker reminded me passion is not just about love that comes easily. Passion is love has moments of suffering, sometimes long moments. We can each grow through these moments or wallow in self-pity. The other part of suffering is I was not in it alone. Whether it was a colleague who listened, parents who came to check in with me every few days, or Kathy giving me space to make career decisions, I was not in these moments alone.

At the time, I was writing poetry for the first time in years and it was a healing space; a space where I tried to become whole. An essential part of becoming whole is speaking from the heart, which may not mean speaking out loud. In speaking to one another this way, I must listen more closely.

Weighing us down;

We set backpacks down,

Without companions,

The path terrifying,

The mountain is high,

Its peak obscured.

Sharing one’s load;

Trusting,

Settng one’s course right,

Being true to one’s heart,

Only other hearts hear,

Will others hear?

Speaking one’s truth;

Inviting,

Sharing

Lightening loads;

Strengthening our resolve,

Straighening backs,

Squaring shoulders,

Holding heads high.

Will we walk together?

Will we share our loads?

Will we lighten the journey?

I leave you with a wonderful short video from a Canadian performer, David Francey called Morning Train.

 

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.

Fresh Quotes: Mary Oliver

via Fresh Quotes: Mary Oliver

Nancy posted this over two years ago and reblogged it on her site Strawberry Indigo after Mary Oliver passed away.

I noted the other day what draws me to Mary Oliver’s poetry are the questions, direct and indirect she poses. Several years ago, I concluded a presentation on Mindful Servant-Leadership with the following question from her poem Summer Day with this quote: “Tell me what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?”

Another quote Nancy shared which fits is “Instructions for a living a life/Pay attention/Be astonished/Tell about it.” This raises questions about how I pay attention, how we reveal being astonished, and how I give an account of myself and respond through stories. Rather than answers, as Rilke says, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms.” Without preconceived answers, there is eloquence and beauty in one’s questions, living themselves out in ever broadening circles.

Mary Oliver reminds me to “some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” At my age, I understand myself as a river meandering through the landscape rather than cutting through rocks. Perhaps, this appears predictable, but I ask “what is invisible and moves with currents below the surface? What has life taught me? How do I share with others, who often are disinclined to slow down, stop, and listen?”

What I recall is I did the same, filled with busyness and urgency of life, not in the moment, but in some future I chased. Instead of meandering, I was a rushing river carving out a path without concern for what might appear. The second river flows through a narrow channel, with high banks I cannot see over. The first river flows in ways I can look back and ahead, understanding there is mystery flowing below the surface. What is obvious is often superficial, rather than mystical.

Above Numa Falls

 

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.

%d bloggers like this: