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In Seeming Chaos, Hope

I gave a lot of thought today about hope and its lack of it. I do not confuse hope with positivity and positive mindset. Instead, I understand hope as grounded in reality. Emily Dickinson described it as “the thing with feathers,” suggesting we cannot fully describe it. Its ineffeable nature creates a metaphoric meaning for each of us. Without dreams and hope, Langston Hughes cautions “life is a broken-winged bird/that cannot fly.” With hope and dreams of previous enslaved generations, Maya Angelou repeats the title of her poem “I Rise” as a prayer and refrain against hopelessness.

Too often, people want to pigeon-hole others in binary and dichotomous ways e.g. conservative or progressive. It appears easier and less ambiguous if we can label someone, somehow providing a sense of stability about who this or that person is. What we mis-understand is “and” means something. It acknowledges how complex each human is. We are not usually one thing or the other. Instead, we are mingling of things, experiences informing how we live, and the context within which we live. I want to conserve things e.g. Nature and, at the same time, progress e.g. equity regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Neither is premised on political or, in our case, reality TV, sloganeering.

Paulo Freire and bell hooks write about hope, unconditional love, and dialogue in educating children, youth, and adults. I think the critical theory is incorrect. What they propose is critical pedagogy/andragogy where I ground dialogue in listening with lovingkindness to those with different lived-experiences. In mindful, non-judgemental listening, I seek to open up space where the Other shares their reality and wisdom. In acknowledgeing the humanity of the Other and greeting them in dignified silence, I might offer the fragile hope so needed in today’s world. Imagine a world where we greeted one another with dignity, rather than making up slick political mottos and creating disparaging nicknames that assault others?

I wrote this poem after a long, hard day. I thumbed through some right-brain scribbles and this was the result.

Even in chaos, hope–

Faith springing forth,

Beloved Other sharing wisdom:

What do we hold in common.

Communal rhythm,

Symphonic voices arising–

Loving harmonies;

Binding and healing.

Listening,

Giving dignity–

Acknowledging shared ground.

Holding each Other gently,

Unsure together–

Breaking bread

Being safe in this space.

This was the first secular song I heard in church. It was the late 1960’s. Today, I think we do need mountains we have bulldozed, meadows we have paved over, and water we have contaminated. Having said this, we need love and hope equal measure to make those things happen.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Sunday night, I stayed up late. I stayed up until 10:00, which is late for me. As a result, I listened to a radio show I don’t normally get a chance to, The Road Home, on CKUA. I like the show, because the host, Bob Chelmick, plays eclectic music, reads poetry, and uses readings of poetry.

It appears we share a love of Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry‘s poetry with him, as he often highlights their poetry. On Sunday, the host had a reading by Wendell Berry of Manifesto: The Mad Liberation Front. There is too much in this poem for me to do justice to unpacking it. It speaks to the moment we are experiencing. How we got here is by taking shortcuts and ignoring the inequities in those shortcuts. We sacrifice community, certainty, and care for one another for quick profit, the ready made, and a lack of mystery in our lives.

I remember reading this poem for the first time and realizing how much we sacrifice for the “good life,” instead of appreciating what we have in our daily lives.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

The health crisis reveals gaps in ,many forms of equity: gender, race, ethnicity, class, etc. The environmental crisis is doing the same thing as fires rage out of control. I love the last line: practice resurrenction. Rise up and live life in meaningful and ethical ways.

Although it is often referred to as the African-American National Anthem, I think Lift Every Voice and Sing speaks to what we need in today’s world. We need to join voices and hands to enact our words in concrete ways and make the world a better place.

 

September

I realize this welcoming of September is a couple of days late.

When I walk in the river valley at this time of the year, the changes in nature become noticeable. Before I notice the colours changing, I smell the decay as leaves fall. This is noticeable if it rains, which it has been for the last week or so. It cools the evenings and nights, accelerating the pace of change.

The decay is a necessary part of nature. It is part of the cycle of birth, life, harvest, and rest essential to health. Parker Palmer writes beautifully about this in several places. Nature reminds us we need to prepare for rest in a meaningful way, gathering our whole self in the process. It is about eloquent questions. What have I birthed and nurtured during the spring and summer months that I harvest to help sustain me in the winter months? How am I letting my Spring and Summer ready me for Autumn and Winter?

Leaves tumbling,

Time for slumbering.

New colour vivifies,

Nature electrifies.

Summer falls,

Equinox calls.

Season to rest,

Reflect on harvest.

Mindfulness

Yesterday was an interesting day for me. I am a diehard sports fan in general and hockey specifically. Even with Covid19, I find time to follow hockey on TV without disrupting my writing. What made it interesting was the “work stoppage” by many professional athletes in North America. More than a love for hockey and sports, I feel there is a need for more compassion and equity in this world.

As the National Hockey League was announcing the “work stoppage,” one of the Canadian sports networks interviewed Brian Burke who is a former hockey executive and current hockey commentator. He lives in Canada while holding dual Canadian-American citizenship. He talked about a need to understand this is an important moment in social justice in the US, and I submit Canada. I was excited hockey players and other professional athletes, regardless of colour, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc., took part in the “work stoppages.” (The video is at Burke Supports Players Regarding Boycott).

Burke spoke about how great change is not kicking the door down. It is more like a mud wall being eroded. I think it is watching a mountain change. You have to leave and come back to see if any real change; transformation happened. He mentioned the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and how little of substance has changed since 1968. There are still major impediments and barriers to equity for those who are treated as less than human, denied of rights those who are privileged take-for-granted.

What does mindfulness have to do with all this? We often use the word to simply talk about being aware of something. In a broad sense, it has moral and ethical implications we can overlook. We just say, “I was mindful of such and such.” To mind something or someone is to demonstrate care, tend for it or them and cultivate it or them in a loving way. This crosses boundaries and is steeped in mystical traditions of all stripes e.g. Buddhism, Sufism, Judeo-Christian, etc. It involves lovingkindness, compassion, flourishing, and stewardship. It is about becoming better in indefinable ways.

Several years ago, I wrote this poem after reading a meditation from Father Richard Rohr. Often, he writes about a radical unity that brings us together with our self, creation, neighbours, enemies, and something that is transcendent and beyond each of us.

Mindfulness,

Seeking to choose better–

Blending one’s passion;

Joining with lovingkindness,

Binding together.

Nurturing better angels,

Ripening, maturing–

Bearing healing fruit;

Joining a universal banquet;

Responding to life’s bounty.

Assuming responsibility,

Passion for one’s self–

(Com)passion For one another;

Minding the world;

Becoming one;

Becoming whole.

I began talking about hockey, so I will close with a video by David Francey who we have seen numerous times. You will note he has an English accent, but lives in Canada and grew to love hockey while in Quebec. The scene is how many youngsters were introduced to hockey in my generation. I began as a pre-schooler on an outdoor pond. As well, I listened to Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights and La Soiree Du Hockey on Radio Canada Sunday nights. The latter was in French, but, as a person whose first language is French, I was blessed to listen to both. I sat on a kitchen stool in the corner just under the window. When I am on the road, I listen to hockey games on my laptop, never streaming them. I close my eyes and imagine the game as it unfolds.

Open Heart; Open Mind

Even in a metropolitan region of over a million people, Nature is visible. Nature immerses humans in ways that we can take-for-granted. Several years ago, I stepped out of the house and was greeted by the Moon in an early morning sky and the morning star was just above it. It is not a great picture, but reminded me of the rewards when I open my eyes, heart, and mind. Miracles exist; I only have to be open to them.

Nature awaiting

Quietly revealing self

Opening whole self.

As well, we are fortunate to have a large river, the North Saskatchewan, running through the heart of Edmonton. Its Cree name is kisiskâciwanisîpiy meaning swift current and its Blackfoot name is omaka-ty meaning big river. I took this picture during one of many walks in the valley, looking into the centre of the city. I presents a contrast between what we think of as progress and how Nature still exists within our understanding of this progress.

Seeing what one wants,

Hearing what one chooses,

Opening one’s whole self.

Beholding Nature’s gifts,

Holding close,

Hiding, only if one chooses.

Just Visiting

I was on a conference call when I took this picture and was limited in my movements. I took the picture through the window and tried to get to the door, but it was gone before I even got it open a crack. I think it is a western northern flicker woodpecker, but am not 100% sure. It is the first time I recall one showing up in my backyard.

I am unsure why the ashtray was a landing-place. Maybe it looked a bit like a nest. Or, it had a bit of water to drink. It was not used, so it was used that day. It had been raining, so it might be a protected spot out of wet and wind. This is a reminder of the old house and its memories.

Today, a visitor calls–

Pausing,

Lighting down,

Escaping wind and wet.

Making right to home–

Glancing to and fro,

Window framing,

Keeping me at bay.

I move to greet–

Suddenly, slipping away

Leaving, quickly as arrived

Withou bidding adieu.

The Greater Scheme

I wrote this poem and took this picture while attending a mindfulness retreat several years ago. The picture was taken in the early fall on a beautiful day as the sun warmed, the breeze cooled, and colours changed. When I sit in meditation or practice yoga, mindfulness reminds me I am one part of a much larger scheme. There is a lot acting on me that goes unnoticed and taken-for-granted. It is in mindfulness I remember to be humble and grateful for the small part I do play in the world.

Sitting, walking–

Speaking, listening–

In the greater scheme,

One part amongst many,

What does it mean?

Sunlight warming faces,

Breezes cooling skin,

Morning freshness awakening;

Afternoon warming;

Evening comforting.

In Nature’s midst,

Pulling close,

Embracing all forms,

Sinking deep roots,

Colouring with vibrancy.

Beginning afresh;

Living the world anew,

New eyes seeing it;

Skin touching it for the first time,

Finding one’s seat at the table.

Soul’s Choice

I wrote this on a day when I had a new parent as the parent-helper in the classroom. She did a wonderful job and told me how much her child enjoyed our little corner of paradise. It was a dreary day and her comments warmed my heart.

Not every parent walked into the classroom ready to jump right in to being active and in a teaching role. I always kept an eye and ear turned towards those tables and times when I knew concepts were more challenging. Parents accepted my jumping in and, quite often, I just sat and listened. Parents brought skills and perspectives I lacked. I had a doctor down on his hands and knees teaching the Grade 8’s where the spleen was on the life-size body systems they were drawing. Or, an artist parent who taught the students how to do a particular art form. One grandmother brought her rock collection in each year for the Grade 3 Science unit. The junior high students always found a way to go and check it; some because it was new to them and others because they recalled the joy of it in Grade 3. The educational assistant led in our Food Science class, along with parents and students.

We are each called to do something in our lives. It is our vocation and provides us with a voice to share with the world.

Day breaks,

Cool and wet–

Greying one’s life.

If allowed,

Dampens one’s spirit;

Letting the dullening prevail.

Yet, glow emerge,

Warmth radiates,

Shared within community.

A communal spirit,

Exploring, discovering

Edges of others’ worlds.

I took this picture of Frank Slide in Alberta’s southwest corner. The slide that took place lasted about 100 seconds and about 110 million tonnes of Turtle Mountain covered part of the community of Frank. When I took this picture, it was a dreary day and I was not having any luck getting what I considered great shots. When I wrote the poem, I remembered the picture and it fit.

Unplanned, Orchestrated

As I approached the last year I taught, I wanted to experience the that and live it to the fullest with each students. At various times during the year, my resolve was tested. One day, due to illnesses and family situations, the number of students who attended was a handful. I set lesson plans aside, going  with the flow. It was an excellent choice. We enjoyed ourselves and it created a way to approach these situations, and teaching in general, throughout the year.

That day, students created stories as part of short animated films. At times, we were silent. Other times we shared and laughed. Throughout, we helped each other with new tools and I learned right along with them. Much like teaching art I did not come into the day with much knowledge about tools and techniques we used. Instead, it was very improvised and I told the students this right up front.

Several days later, I walked the river valley and reflected on how we experience unplanned moments and rewards that emerge. Alan Watts reminds me of the difference between faith and belief. The former allows me to go through life less anxious, with reduced expectations about the future. The latter needs us to shape a world to fit a belief system into and defend it. It is not that the future won’t arrive. It is I cannot anticipate the next moment, only living in the present moment and improvising to what emerges.

Life’s meaning–

A question teases–

To live into;

To thrive in;

What is my purpose?

Moments separating;

Connecting, dancing in paradox.

Each moment emerging;

Unplanned–

Yet, orchestrated.

Revealing meaning moment by moment.

Unmarked journeys–

Question,

Not answers–

Certain missteps–

Do I see around corners?

Over hills?

Accepting on faith,

Feeling, sensing, experiencing,

Not seeing.

A gentle hand,

Touching, guiding,

Each of life’s step,

Emerging in light,

And, shadow.

I took this picture during the walk. The path drew me to it, with its hill and curve at the top. I only saw what was immediately in front. Even then, it was limited by shadows and vegetation blocking my view.

Calm Within Turbulence

I probably overthink some things including the concept of “thinking outside the box” and “getting outside of the comfort zone.” We need structure in our lives or it becomes chaos. We trust the familiar, sometimes too much. Moving from the equilibrium and stability of what we are each comfortable with causes us to begin to feel out of control.

I love waterfalls and fast water. They remind me, just over the horizon, things will not be easy to plan for. There will be things I cannot see around the bend, hidden in below the chaotic, turbulent waters, and it is continuously changing. We have white water rafted and going down a mountain fed stream in the morning is different than later in the day. Early in the morning, the waters tend to be lower and, as the day heats up, more water flows, covering rocks that were easily seen earlier.

Awakening each morning,

Smiling into the day,

Soaking in moment.

Pausing,

Letting calm find me,

Amidst turbulence.

I do not recall where we got this picture. I think it was in British Columbia towards the headwaters of the Fraser River. We have not rafted in this kind of river and I doubt you could. To handle the chaos, one would have to portage and detour around the rapids. Part of the skill of navigating is to have the wisdom to realize what is impassable.

For me, getting to a point where I can view certain waterfalls is impossible. I have a significant fear of heights and it limits where I can go. In Waterton Lakes National Parks, we did a lot of hiking. I was able to access most of the paths, but this was one I had to stop. I could see the top of the falls and Kathy was my eyes, taking pictures. She got to the platform overlooking the falls, which are called bridal falls as they are often veiled with mist.

Beauty revealed,

Lifting veil from other’s eyes,

Even mist is gone.

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