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Ode to Joy~ —

Signs of spring. A jolt of joy! Blossoms cheer, weary hearts. Ode to Joy, hope and faith. Cheers to you and Happy Spring~

Ode to Joy~ —

I am back. I took a sabbatical of sorts from the blog, as I only checked in on comments and to follow up through the reader. It has been a busy time supervising student teachers, attending online events, presenting at online events, writing, getting published, and life in general. I am unsure how active I will be. I hope to be posting 2-3 times a week and maybe write some new poetry.

I return with a share from Cindy who takes wonderful pictures of nature close to home in the Holler and further afield. The images remind me we are entering the time of the year where life comes alive after its dormant period, Yes, things do remain in a state of flux with weather. Despite the uncertainty, it is a time to rejoice and search out the joy and beauty located wherever we look in nature.

Cindy shared a video of musicians playing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as a virtual ensemble. Artists of all forms find ways to lead us in the most challenging times and COVID-19 is no exception. I am grateful we have wonderful artists who take the lead in meaningful ways.

It has been hard this past year for each of us with less social interaction. An emerging area of interest for me is the role virtual communities can and will play in our lives moving forward. It is what I presesnted on this past weekend and am fleshing out an article for submission. People surprised me with their response to what I talked about. I see hope and joy in sharing online. It brings me together, often with people I have not met and likely will never meet.

Common is the root word of community, communicate, and communion. What do we have in common that brings us together, besides our grievances and grief? In short, what gives each of us joy? How do we experience communicating what we receive from others and share with others? How has listening to others changed in this brave new world? Communion goes beyond the religious concept, speaking to a level of intimacy. How do we reveal who we are in a virtual world? Virtual and virtue share etymological roots, speaking to our character in these communities.

I leave you with a video from Mavis Staples. How do we get it together and bring joy into our lives as a collective and community?

Merry Christmas

It has been a couple of weeks since I posted and offer this poem.

Today, I read a short piece written by Parker Palmer that reminds me the miracle of Christmas is in the incarnation of God in human form. His essay reminds me of how, as a child growing up in Northern Alberta, Christmas provided a sense of wonder I could not explain and try not to as a rational adult.

Parker also posted on Facebook an event he experienced last year in Nogales Mexico at a house for asylum seekers. Asylum seekers is another way of saying they were seeking refuge. He points out Jesus was likely a person of colour. I take it one step further and point out he was a Jew and born into that faith. His birth was an ecunemical event, not a Christian one.

Carpenter guiding the way,

Expectant mother riding,

Backs straight; heads held high–

Donkey serving as regal carriage.

Seeking refuge from the night–

Giving birth in a stable,

Swathed and cradled in a manger,

Beasts welcoming the child.

Showering gifts upon us–

Returning each year,

Lighting the way–

Only asking, “Can you open your hearts?”

Source of strength,

Our turn to humbly receive gifts,

Restocking spirits,

Rejuvenating souls.

Kathy and I enjoyed Canadian Indigenous singer and actor Tom Jackson. Most years, he tours at this time of year and helps food banks. In the midst of Covid, we each have to find ways to share with those in need.

He does a lovely rendition of Huron Carole, which I share below. Again, this points to an ecunemical nature of Christmas, Christ’s Mass, echoing Parker’s remembrance of “the story, the music, the candlelight, the scent of pine, the silent night, the warm presence of family and friends.” For me, it was also the food and opening a present on Christmas Eve. The food included traditional French-Canadian tourtière (meat pie), which Kathy and I continue to share with our children and grandchildren.

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.

One Thread

I began to think about what I might post today and, as a good fortune would have it, Eddie’s post showed up and answered my question.

Eddie shares a lovely quote from Chief Seattle about humankind’s interconnectedness with the web of life. We have not woven the web, but a thread in it, binding and connecting us to one another and to the universe.

Hannah Arendt wrote about how our actions, including speech, transcend the time and space we currently inhabit. This is particularly the case for teachers. We are connected and bound to a future we cannot predict, that is far more complex and larger than the immediate environment we inhabit, which is incredibly complex and large.

A word spoken in haste to a student, a parent, a colleague has the potential to resonate in ways we cannot anticipate, regardless of profession or role in someone’s life. How we each treat our local environment has considerable impact on those downstream in terms of time and place. Cutting down old growth forests has more than an immediate impact. It resonates for generations. As humans, we have free will to act and speak in responsible ways. How we do these things has great meaning about who we each are as a human.

This video echoes Chief Seattle’s message of interconnectedness and how, in recognizing that point, we find our way to the peace train arriving from the darkness. Yussuf Islam (Cat Stevens) has received several awards for his work in the area of peace.

Rhythms of Living

In the poem, The Uses of Not, Lao Tzu reminds me there is often an empty space that completes something and, for that matter, someone. A wheel needs spokes, a clay pot the hole in the clay to hold things, and rooms need doors and windows.

In life, I find myself trying to fill gaps and holes. When I am mindful, I recall to make something (w)hole it has gaps and holes embedded in it. The gaps and holes serve as spaces for energy to enter and exit. Without energy exchanges, I can grow stagnant and stale.

This poem was about the busyness of life. At times it seemed to overwhelm me when I taught. I tried to do more, rather than stepping back and finding space that served to heal and make me whole again.

Filling holes–

Plugging gaps–

Digging holes in water–

Seeking to be whole;

In the end, futile.

Remaining indivisible–

Complementing one another–

Completing one another–

Beauty reflecting one another;

Emerging in paradox.

Inviting, calling–

Opening life’s arms–

In its embrace–

Discovering loving space;

Living in life’s healing rhythms.

I opted for this video, as, despite the fact they are struggling, Tommy and Gina have each other. It is what makes them whole; that and living on a prayer.

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.

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.

Speaking One’s Truth

I wrote this as I was making decisions about continuing to teach. There had been considerable upheaval as new administrators arrived and left, families left, and a friend and colleague retired. I found myself constantly in the midst of a storm with little or no control in how things might move forward. At a retreat in Oakland, I spent considerable time reflecting and journaling about the issue at hand, so this was not intended to be a poem and it took a year to write itself.

What I wrote was a summary of the past year and the struggle to ways to create in my teaching and be more present to my students. What I lacked was confidence in who I was and what I was enacting as a teacher, the performativity and improvisation essential to my teaching. I planned a lot in my teaching, but the depth of planning allowed me to improvise in ways that a lack of planning could not.

In The Book of Joy, The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu discuss how loss and fear lead to anger. What is important is during challenging times to try to be aware of what gives us meaning and hope in life. Although I would love to teach and be part of educating the next generation of teachers, I find it easier to accept that is not happening, focusing energies on writing and teaching in a new way. If the situation arose to teach and educate the next generation of teachers, I would consider it. What it is not doing is defining who I am and my life.

It’s emerging,

Happening–

Letting go;

Speaking with love–

Accepting the lost.

Sitting with questions,

Accepting uncertainty, incompleteness–

Taking stock;

Gazing inwards–

Feeling humbling hope.

Accepting extended hands,

Discarding baggage–

Walking forwards;

Living my truth;

Questing in each moment.

I took this picture in Arizona in March. It was the last of five I took. Each day, as I walked back, the cactus had bloomed one or two more flowers. The cactus and its flowers exist just to be a cactus and its flowers, beautifying the world. They remind me, even in harsh conditions, plants and animals flourish in their time.

As I was writing, Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up played. It is appropriate. As we face challenges, we move on up and achieve, albeit an unpredictable, something.

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.

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