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A Prayer for our Times

Val shared a wonderful poem by Danna Faulds and I could not resist sharing it. Although the title suggests a prayer for our times might be specific to these times, this poem has a timeless quality to it.

What COVID-19 revealed was the challenges we face in our times. The inequities and injustices have existed for some time. The depth of those inequities and injustices were what were and are revealed.

I liken the market system as a multi-level sales scheme with most of us running around trying to make ends meet and many people simply left behind. A handful of people benefit and many simply continue to run on the spot with little chance of gaining ground.

What the neo-liberal and neo-conservative policy makers. politicians, and corporate chieftains count on is we are remain driven by self-interests, as opposed to what others may need. Who has benefited most from these times?

I could not find this poem on a video, but Danna Faulds’ poetry contains qualities of common weal, pluralism, reconciliation, love for one another, and healing to make us whole in complex times. I chose this poem as it speaks to the human condition we all live through and our need for one another.

Unpretentious Intimacy

I wrote this while sitting, feeling tired, waiting for a connector flight home in Vancouver International Airport. Despite being tired, I was grateful and able to reflect.

At the time, I was experiencing dis-ease. What got me through was people who reached out to me, sensing my unhappiness.

At the retreat I attended, forming relationships with people I had not met before was essential. In the midst of this, I was able to be vulnerable and drop a shield of invincibility. In the space provided. we were able express a sense of caring for each other and bring one another into the fold.

This type of experience raises questions, often without easy answers. What makes each of us who we are? It is scary, but rewarding. It is in the slow cooking of a crock pot in which intimacy can be born. In the slow brewing, we explore identity and masks of personae we wear, gazing into relational mirrors. But, it often sneaks up on us without us being aware the mirror is there.

In wondrous spaces–

Dropping one’s guard,

Sharing secrets;

Hoping to fulfill hopes.

Informing new forms–

Shedding carnival mirror images,

Revealing being vulnerable;

Experiencing a new love.

Allowing intimacy to bloom–

Glimpsing who I am,

As if for the first time–

Revealing one’s self in an other’s presence.

I listen to the blues a lot. The blues have a quality of life about them that reminds me there is more than me in the world. Willie Dixon said “the blues is the roots and other musics is the fruits.” This resonates with me.

Shemikia Copeland is a superb singer/songwriter who reminds me of the plight of others and how much hope they have in the face of systemic injustices. This song is from her most recent album.

The Panther

I learned new words today. I read an article by Judith Butler who used the word carceral, meaning “relating to prison.” It fits with systemic prejudices e.g., racism, where particular groups of people are imprisoned at a greater rate than their percentage of a society or country.

But, it includes how people are limited to a geographic space, so they do not come in contact with the elites. It extends injustice and oppression those groups and individuals experience. Paulo Freire argued this cuts across racial, gender, and linguistic lines and includes class distinction. People are trapped and imprisoned within a life that offers little hope for them and their children.

I am unsure Rainer Maria Rilke intended to make a political statement in The Panther, but it serves as an analogy to understand how another might experiences life in the midst of oppression. In not witness ing another’s disenfranchisement e.g., economic, political, educational, etc., I grow to think their plight is not real. But, bars, literal and figurative, become reality. As Rilke states “a great will stands stunned and numbed.”

The opposite of my indifference is love and serving, reaching out to give a hand to those who need help to cut the bars away that oppression has built around them. It is less about doing for them and more about valuing their lived-experiences in meaningful ways. Freire said to read the word, humans first read their world, bringing their understanding of living to formal education.

From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted

that it no longer holds anything anymore.

To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand

bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride

which circles down to the tiniest hub

is like a dance of energy around a point

in which a great will stands stunned and numb.

Only at times the curtains of the pupil rise

without a second … then a shape enters,

slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,

reaches the heart, and dies.

I love the blues. A sad thing about the genre is many women who were pioneers were not recorded as often as men. It is a treat to hear someone like Sister Rosetta Tharpe sing.

Being Alive

I originally wrote this on Bowen Island, attending an Art of Hosting retreat. It reminded me of the counter cultural nature of Parker Palmer’s writing and events focused on his work. It is about communicating and seeing others as fully human.

In today’s divided world, this seems countercultural. An essential element to hosting and dialogue is listening to others in respectful ways. It does not mean we agree with them. What it means is we are open and listen to hear how they experience living their life, guided by one’s conscience and sense of values that ground us. Values give each of us strength, anchoring us and letting us understand what is proper and improper.

When we invite people into conversation, listen deeply, and ask questions which shake our certainty about the world we turn inward and focus on what grounds us to respond to them and help heal a hurting world.

Perching pensively–

Holding pen tentatively;

Senses coming,

In the midst of nature’s beauty.

Awakening–

Becoming aware;

Listening deeply;

In the midst of sounds flowing.

Breeze caressing gently–

Sunlight bathing softly;

Basking in these moments,

Resting in peace.

A colleague took this picture of me on top of Cates Hill on Bowen Island as I wrote and they were gracious enough to share it with me. It is spectacular with water and land in the panoramic view.

Gettin’ My Mojo Back

I looked at this poem a month ago and decided not to post it. As I listened to music today, a song came on called Getting My Mojo Back and felt it was time to post it.

I wrote this during a retreat on Bainsbridge Island based on the work of Parker Palmer. It was at a time I was wrestling with staying in teaching due to the politics. I felt I was not giving it my all and lacked confidence in my teaching.

During the retreat, I reflected and had candid conversations with others and concluded it was time to control what I could control. Interestingly, it was in the conversations with others that I had to choose to be all in really came to the forefront. I went back to my classroom, spent another 5 years teaching, and giving it my all.

I think, when we lose confidence, we do not realize it. It sneaks up on us, rather than being a cataclysmic shift. Recovering confidence is similar. It is done in small steps and realizing we are not alone in the moment.

I had to realize anger was born out of fear and loss. Once I acknowledged this, I was at ease with letting go and moving forward.

It just happens–

Letting go;

Speaking without anger–

Embracing one’s sadness;

For what is lost.

Staring into an abyss–

Sitting with unformed questions;

Terrifying darkness–

Sensing incompleteness,

Feeling uncertainty.

Taking stock–

Looking inwards;

Accepting extended hands–

Discarding baggage

Moving towards a place of light.

Mojo gaining momentum–

Emerging at its pace;

Creating healing space–

Living one’s own truth;

Living in each moment’s question.

I attended a John Lee Hooker concert in 1972 or 1973. I grew up listening to jazz, gospel, folk, and blues with traditional country, early rock and roll. I took it for granted that I attended a John Lee concert until an American, who shared a love for the blues, told me he never did. African-American performers toured in Canada on a regular basis at a time they did not have that same ease of movement in their own country.

When I used Langston Hughes’ poetry in my teaching, I remembered he wrote from a different understanding of what America was. This was an outgrowth of an awareness of my privilege as a white Canadian male.

Listening

I began to write this poem after a long and tiring week. Sometimes, when I step back from the visceral nature of my emotions, postive and negative, I find a kernel to prompt writing, thinking, and acting.

Too often, I find myself talking when I should be listening. This includes listening to me, and, more importantly, listening to those whose stories are silenced in unjust ways. I think those two forms of listening go hand-in-hand. Not listening to others is often a product of being so busy with the noise of my own life. When I listen from the heart, I hear words anew.

Rich stories silenced–

Seeking just spaces,

Sharing and healing;

To speak freely.

Listening deeply–

Sadly, stories unheard,

Of being oppressed;

Shunted to the margins.

Listening with heart–

Leaning into stories,

With grace and humility,

Hearing for the first time.

Am I ready to act?

Listening, hearing–

But, without doing;

(In)justice remains.

I listen to the blues, gospel, and jazz most of my life. When it comes to the blues, gospel, and jazz music I am aware of the privilege I experience and do not take it for granted.  As a Canadian, I attended concerts, because African-American performers came to Canada. They had access to venues I could attend here that they did not have in their own country.

Today, I heard Mavis Staples (on her latest album) singing and it resonated. For real and just change to emerge, I must be willing to listen and change the things I can.  When I listen to the blues and gospel music, particularlyperformed by African-American women, there is an undercurrent for meaningful and just change in the world.

Ongoing Quest

I wrote this during my last year teaching. It had been a particularly challenging day in the classroom and beyond. The students were full of energy and it was not always healthy. I grew frustrated and visibly annoyed part way through the afternoon. Part of it was a lack of a healthy relationship with the administration, which seeped into my teaching at times. It was challenging to set those frustrations aside, particularly with little support and how it impacted my teaching.

Having said thi, I chose to teach anothere year and wanted to teach those particular students. On myway home, I realized I need to establish a different, encouraging tone. In a sense, my ability to influence is my ability to recognize my reality and walk into the fire, the crucible, so to speak.In his teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds me even weeds of a tough day serve a purpose. They fertilize and increase the yield of a crop: children’s learning and this could be lost on on me. For the remainder of the school year, some 7-8 months, I used this as my touchstone.

Sometimes, I allow myself to assume what is out there makes me who I am. If I let it, I succumb to those forces. On the other hand and stepping back from the brink, I reclaim my view and my callings in life. I do not let others and circumstances dictate who I am. I can choose how to respond. This is no mean feat as, in the heat of  the battle, it is hard to not be reactionary. The best I can do is be the best I can be in a moment, reflect later, and grow anew with fertilizer provided by tough moments.

transforming–

ongoing quest,

seeking vision,

unearthing a better, truer self–

digging deep,

resting in my heart.

transforming–

polishing the gems of self,

righting speech! righting action!

influencing others properly–

reclaiming my voice,

bringing forth my best.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I got The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan when I was in high school. I still have it and still spin the vinyl after all these years. Although it is now almost 60 years old, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall still rings true for me today. Dylan wrote this in the midst of the Cold War with nuclear threats all around. Today, we are in the midst of multiple crises: health, wealth distribution, inequities, etc. The question I should ask in difficult times, small and large, is how can I be the difference I want to see in the world to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi? Even if it is difficult, it is noble, virtuous, and hopeful, in the face of great obstacles, to speak truth to power, (re)calling I can only make the difference I can make.

Medicine Wheel

I am unsure the title fits the poem , but I left it as is. This was a hard poem to write as I delved into something I am not 100% confident with and that is quantum spirituality. As a quantum physicist writing from a feminist perspective, Karen Barad writes about entanglement. In short, we are entangled with one another, with non-sentient beings, and the inanimate of the Universe. This involves moral responsiblities in relating to those other beings and things, without even knowing what it is and how we are related to each of them.

Medicine wheels are part of many First Nations’ cultures. They connect people to Nature and reflect our interdependence with Nature and each other. They signal the need for harmony in lives and ground us with and in our world. In my understanding, they have quantum aspects to them as we are entangled in ways that suggest we are always seeking harmony in hopeful ways. What a medicine wheel asks us is to acknowledge interdependence, something those who wield levers are woefully reluctant to do. Instead, humans become resources and chattel in making profits in a zero sum game.

After my post In Seeming Chaos, Hope, I wondered about the current state of world affairs e.g. political crises, health crisis, economic crisis, etc. They are entangled with each other. I cannot simply wish one away and the others remain. Moreover, they existed before COVID-19. We did not see them easily. A lack of access to health care was in place for many people before the pandemic. We warehoused elderly people (the not-so nice term is aging people) as has become our custom in the advanced world e.g. schools.

I began to look for a spiritual connection with quantum physics and entanglement and found it. What was interesting was I have been reading about the connections for years in the writings of The Dalai Lama and Fritoj Capra. (The link is to an article where both are referenced.) What Karen Barad does is presents a detailed case for it from a scientific and feminist perspective. I think the feminine perspective is essential, as I consider bell hooks, Mary Belenky, Riane Eisler, etc. to understand how we move away from what Eisler termed a dominator, patriarchal world based on binaries and assigning a number to one that incorporates a participatory, matriarchal world. In this world, Belenky refers to intuitive, feminine, and I would argue, indigenous ways of knowing and wisdom based on the quality of living we each experience. These are impossible to quantify. However, we can describe them in poetic language. What if we had leaders like Jacinda Ardern and Angela Merkel instead of people who pass themselves off as leaders and fall far short of leading?

Basking in Brother Sun’s warmth–

Healing (in)spiriting waters–

(In)haling sweet air–

Replenishing.

Here,

Feeling welcomed–

Homing in on what’s proper,

Resting in one’s responsibilities.

In relating to the Universe–

While standing in Nature–

When Supporting other beings–

Discovering hope(ful) ways.

Intuiting as quantum beings–

Accepting unfelt entanglement–

Hearing unheard voices–

“Crossing love’s hearth.”

Enriching alchemy–

Inspiring magic.

Seeking peace,

Speaking truth to power.

I took the picture on Bowen Island and began to write the poem.

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.

Courage

Dominant groups control the conversation, excluding those who disagree. This is exacerbated with social media. It is difficult enough to present one’s  ideas through civil dialogue, let alone in 240 characters, in a Facebook post, and even on a blog. This raises interesting and eloquent questions about how we bring about meaningful, equitable, and sustainable change. How do we encourage others to come into the light and share their stories from the margins? How do we include the most vulnerable in our communities by making ourselves vulnerable? Each day, humans, with little, reveal courage as they engage a world that seemingly turns its back on them each day.

It is not enough to tolerate and merely see differences. We need to recognize them as we enact tranformational and sustainble change, closing the gap between those without by holding out a hand to help lift them up. This take acts of trust and courage. It would take vulnerability and courage as we each expose our self in ways that take us to the margins of our comfort zones.

In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman encouraged the non-routine as we each sing out and question the imbalances of our world in civil conversation: “Not words of routine this song of mine, but abruptly to question, to leap beyond, yet nearer bring”

(In)just living,

Revealing courage,

Being vulnerable.

Affirming as human,

Expanding boundaries–

(En)couraging, rather than (dis)couraging.

Making visible,

Seeing humans in their fullness–

Naming each other.

Creating dialogic spaces;

Where agreement meets

Welcoming the other fully.

I leave you with this video.

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