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The Gift of Presence

via The Gift of Presence

Wendell Berry is one of my favourite poets. In her post, Shobna uses part of a poem, Our Real Work, to point a need to be present. Gary Snyder wrote a book called The Real Work devoted to similar subject matter.

In the rush of “normal” life, I often overlook what that means and what calls to me to step into a healing moment; to make me whole and pause to listen to what the “impeded stream” sings to me. For Shobna, gardening is a quiet moment to listen to the “impeded stream.”

Today, as I checked Facebook, Parker Palmer posted another Berry poem: The Peace of Wild Things. Here, we are called to, in times we do not have a frame of reference for, to turn to poets to help find paths forward. In various ways, they remind us to each look for what keeps us moving , especially in times of turmoil and despair. When I hike and find my path blocked, I pause, look, and listen. In life, I find ways to move ahead, embrace uncertainty, and recognize I am walking my own path, as Antonio Machado would remind me, but I am not alone.

As Shobna points out, I only have to look and I “see that kindness is more visible these days.” Health care workers, farmers, grocery store employees, and many others, often strangers, stand in the breach to help. If these are to recall Dickens, the best and worst of times, what makes them the best is to pause, when my path is blocked, to find what calls us and ask we each ask ourselves what calls us.

One of the things I take for granted is music. It is part of my love of poetry. In particular, lyrics pull me to them. I am fortunate to listen to a small community-based and funded radio station, CKUA, and have it on non-stop. To say it is eclectic is an understatement. They do play top-40, but it is often from years and decades ago.

In keeping with my love of music, I leave you with two videos. The first by Jimmy Buffet got me through tough times years ago. It reminds me who I am and live that way. I have always been a person who walked to the beat of my own drummer and am a bit of a pirate, regardless of age.

 

The second is one I used to listen to with my mother years ago. It is a gospel song written and performed by Gene McLellan, a Canadian, called Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man Who Stills the Water. Now, my mother and I did not always agree on music, but we had some serious overlaps such as Gene McLellan, the Beatles, Elvis (if she did not have to watch), etc.

 

 

Let Go

via Let Go

Eddie posts short quotes and images about living mindfully and being aware of how we each live. Let go is a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh who provides wonderful insights into how to let go and be in the present. For me, They’s most profound quote is about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Make no mistake, this challenges me. It is not only difficult to live fully in the moment, it is impossible. Being aware of this paradox of letting go and being in the present moment is part of mindfulness.

I tell hockey players, students, and anyone who will listen for that matter to figure out what we each control and don’t in our lives. This is important in daily life and essential in times like this when we are faced with even more uncertainty.

I try to stick to a routine, getting up at the same time, making breakfast (now for Kathy who is working at home), going for a walk, checking email, writing, reading, etc. I spend a little time watching local news to make sure I have a sense of what is going on close to me.

For the most part, social distancing has not been difficult. I am a profound introvert who loves the ritual of routine. I still wave to people, smile at them on my walks, and pause to chat. On the other hand, this has been difficult for those who thrive on engaging socially. Maybe, as it is for me, this is a time to reflect on what has happened in my life and let go of things to live more fully in the present.

What am I grateful for? It may sound odd, but making breakfast and lunch for Kathy is something to be grateful for. What are you grateful for that might have emerged in these difficult times with rapid change? What have you let go of?

I leave you with a prayer by Thomas Merton called A Prayer of Unknowing. It has echoes of the 23rd Psalm. I have not researched it, but I suspect all cultures and religions have a similar prayer to help guide each of us through uncertain, sometimes dark moments.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen

Here is a video from Michael Franti called Good to Be Alive Today. How do we put our spin on feeling good about being alive today? How do we each reach out to others?

 

Bodhisattva Prayer for Humanity

In my post one step, then another, I concluded with The Prayer of St. Francis, which is a significant part of my life and of my family.

Recently, I came across this prayer and understand the Dalai Lama recites it daily. I found several links between the two prayers. I serve as a guide, bridge between the our lives and those in need. There are many metaphors in this prayer for me to take the shape of as I move through the world. Even if I cannot reach others physically, perhaps I can be a lamp from a distance as to help guide them in a moment of darkness.

Perhaps it is only in a kind word and acknowledging of the other who is present as we pass each other in a store. Kindness can be in short supply and in moments such as the one we are presently in a smile and greeting may make all the difference.

As I watched the news last night, they interviewed people who were setting up local help initiatives for seniors, donating food that might go to waste from a restaurant, and setting up a small food bank on the walk in front of their house. It is in moments such as this we become a lamp in darkness, a vase of plenty, and a tree of miracles.

Too often, we think (over-think) that miracles happen out there with some divine impulse. Maybe it is in the ordinary we discover the extraordinary.

“May I be a guard for those who need protection
A guide for those on the path
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood
May I be a lamp in the darkness
A resting place for the weary
A healing medicine for all who are sick
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow
And all are awakened.”

The other day, I heard Lean on Me by Bill Withers. It has this prayer’s message. Withers wrote the song as a call to others to lean on one another during challenging times. This form of love is agape, a love of one another as human beings, as opposed to a romantic love per se. But, romantic love that survives to become a pragmatic love (from the Greek pragma) takes on the agape more than romantic with time and seasoning.

one step, then another

via one step, then another

We live in challenging times and I do not mean just because of the corona virus. I think a world defined by others in ways that make it incomprehensible for each of us is part of that challenge. I find it easy to critique the neo-liberal agenda many of our politicians, technocrats, bureaucrats, plutocrats, etc. have fashioned. The questions I return to is what do I control and how can I live my life in ways that reflect courage, faith, and hope.

Carrie uses those last words in her post one step, then another. She called her blog Lead Our Lives, which is appropriate for these days and for each we will live moving forward moment by moment. I counsel hockey players, students, and many others the only things we control are what we control. I cannot control what other people do and this calls on me to lead my life and not someone else’s.

The first lines in Carrie’s post are from Thomas Merton, who I use often. To close, Carrie uses  Howard Thurman, reminding me in silence I hear my heart whisper how to find strength from weakness, courage from fear, and hope from despair. Perhaps, I discover, in those moments, peace; perhaps it discovers me.

The movement of hope to despair echoes the Prayer of St. Francis, which has been with me throughout my life. I offer you those words to guide you in moments of silence.

Take care, be well, and discover the opportunities amidst the challenges of each moment.

Prayer of St. Francis

I retrieved the image from Pinterest.

On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

via On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

Melba posted a wonderful poem, Mother to Son, written by legendary African-American poet, Langston Hughes.

I used Langston Hughes’s poetry in our poetry unit each year. The metaphor of life as a staircase, sometimes smooth and other times unevern, seemed to fit junior high students. My students responded to it well.

Another aspect of including his work and Maya Angelou‘s poetry was around the issue of civil rights. In Grade 7, we read the book The Cay, by Theodore Taylor who dedicated it to Martin Luther King shortly after he was assassinated, about the relationship of a young white boy and an elderly black man to discuss what being well-educated meant. I included my mother’s line, which was “who would you rather be lost in the wilderness, someone who read about it or an indigenous person, with no schooling, who lived it?”

In Grade 8, we exoplored civil rights through the lens of heros. I let students choose, but some struggled with this choice. Knowing my students well, I introduced them to Jackie Robinson, Willie O’Ree, and Wilma Rudolph, if they were interested in sports. Others, who came from religious families, I encouraged them to consider Martin Luther King  and Mother Teresa. If they were interested in people who stood for the rights of the oppressed, but might not be considered a religious person we talked about Nelson Mandela and Mahatama Gandhi. Regardless, I found, when I tapped into who each student was, colour, ethnicity, and gender dissolved and wonderful projects emerged.

Another Hughes’s poem we read was Dream Deferred, is sprinked with questions from beginning to end:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Here, is a video of the poem read by the poet.

Albert Einstein

via Albert Einstein

Mrs. Vee offers a quote from Einstein and a headshot. The quote suggests imagination, which is unbounded, is more important than knowledge, which is limited in scope.

Those who educate provide “images for [the] imagination and for forming…memory….to grasp the ‘circumstances’ [we live in] in their infinite variety.” I use the word educate purposely, as each of us learns in settings other than schools. Schools are formal places where a particular agenda is followed.

Over the last few months, I struggled as I transitioned from having taught and wanting to teach. I define myself as a teacher. I taught one term at a small, private, Christian-based university. I applied twice for a tenure track position and have been ignored both times. I think there are multiple things at play and will deal with three. First, others my age are ready to retire. They say things like “I worked to get to this stage.” I understand teaching as a calling, so never worked to get to this stage. Second, it turns out, in the eyes of some, I am the wrong kind of Christian. I am Catholic, yet I am probably, in the eyes of many Catholics, the wrong kind of Catholic. Third, I limited my imagination. I think this is natural. I have not been here before and have few images for imagination. I only knew myself as a teacher, limiting the possibilities of what I could do and who I was still becoming.

The last point is essential. I mentioned this in the last two posts. I have been writing and am invited by others in to collaborate. I can imagine myself as a writer. I don’t know what kind of writer and what other doors it will open up. But, I have been here before.

Kathy reminds me frequently that “when one door closes, another opens.” What I have to recall is I do not know what will happen as I walk through the new door. I can imagine it and, with imagining, new worlds open up and hope exists.

Mount Robson 1 August 2019

This is the front side of Mt. Robson. I have never seen the backside. I can imagine what it might look like based on what I see and what I have read about it. There is a glacier and lake on the mountain. Based on past experience (history), I can imagine sitting on the edge of the lake, like I can imagine sitting and writing the next poem, article, book chapter, a book about teaching in the best little school in the world, etc. I get to imagine my life, so I don’t have to be the right kind of anything for administrators who can only operate in binary terms.

My Ojibwa prayer.

via My Ojibwa prayer.

John shares a beautiful prayer and a wonderful segue into a New Year. Many Indigenous peoples, like the Ojibwa (Anishinaabe and Saulteaux) cherished Mother Earth in their spirituality. Also in his post, there is a cover of John Lennon‘s Imagine.

When I read the prayer, I consider what questions arise from the various words and lines John shares. What if each human being prayed for peace? What would this mean? What if we questioned how much an acre of land is worth in human life, lives of other creatures, and destruction to land ? What if we each reflected on sacred places we seek refuge in, whether they are in some remote spot, a city park, or our backyard garden? What do those places mean to each of us? What is the cost to us if they disappear?

John’s words remind me of a story Leo Tolstoy wrote, How Much Land Does a Man Need? The main character Pahom consumed with greed makes a bargain with the devil to acquire as much land by walking around and returning to the starting point by the time the sun sets. As it turns out, Pahom’s greed gets in the way and he fails, giving up his soul and life in exchange for a grave that constitutes the amount of land he needs in his life.

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Kathy took this picture from the one of the overviews on the Road to the Sun in Glacier National Park.

There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of
wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in the wind that does not preach and proclaim the
greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world. There is not an act of kindness or
generosity, not an act of sacrifice done, or a word of peace and gentleness spoken . . .
that does not sing hymns to God.

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948)

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