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Tag Archives: Wendell Berry

Sabbath – Making One’s Self More Human

It has been a while since I wrote about the concept of Sabbath where I disconnect to reconnect. I allude to it in The Greater Scheme. It is a practice I am trying to get back into on a regular basis. Wendell Berry writes poetry on the theme and Wayne Muller wrote Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives. It is taking a pause.

Muller cuts across demoninations, traditions, faiths, and philosophies. I used it at a retreat several years ago. There were people who did not see themselves as religious or bound to a particular tradition. What we are often looking for is a spiritual space to heal, make whole. Heal and whole share an etymological root.

Too often, in a busy world, we forget to slow down. Hannah Arendt wrote the Ancient Greeks leaned towards contemplation (vita comtemplativa), while in modern society we remain forever in motion (vita activa). Neither is healthy; health shares the same etmology with whole and heal.

Parker Palmer, drawing on Thomas Merton, proposes we bring harmony between the two. It is a way of feeling at home, the core of who we each are and where we belong. The word hearth, which is the heart of our home, shares etymology with heal, whole, and health.

The poem and picture in the post The Greater Scheme was taken as part of a walking meditation activity, where the teacher asked us to look at the world as if through new eyes. It is, when I am in harmony with myself, I am most creative. At the same time, I was involved in a monthly conference call with critical friends and was interviewed about some work I did related to mindful servant-leadership as it applied to teaching. I think the peaceful feeling I felt emerged from the silence and solitude at the retreat, the critical exploring of my self, and the creative work I was engaged in at the time.

Spacious, silence, solitude…

Seeking refuge,

A peaceful room.

Lovingkindness discovers–

A heart breaks open,

The present its own reward.

Silently spirit revealing–

Speaking,

Softly, gently, tenderly,

Begging its quiet voice be heard.

Solace seeks me–

Unmarked path emerging,

A step at a time.

Sabbath–

Wisdom revealing itself,

Making more human.

I took this picture on a hike into Kootenai Lake in Glacier National Park earlier that summer. We saw a handful of people and the hike was peaceful, disconnecting us from the busyness of life for an entire day.

Why Do I Write Poetry

During a professinal development event, a presenter spoke about teaching poetry. To my knowledge, this person spent little time teaching, yet he was a supposed expert about all things teaching. In the course of his presentation, he expressed disdain for poetry. He claimed, without evidence, we teach poetry without explaining to students why we teach it.

In my teaching, I described reasons why I taught something, opening up learning to include what students considered important. This included questions about topics and content. Often, students began with a negative view of poetry. With time, we got over hurdles together. Without a collective effort, we do not overcome issues in life and learning. We end up with haiku written through rote formula:

Here are five syllables

And here I write seven more!

Are you happy now?

The presenter indicated, despite having written poetry, he was unsure why teachers taught poems written. I think there are good reasons, but I could be wrong.

Poetry calls me to choose words, paradoxically spare and spacious. Spareness is in the number of words; the fewer the better. The space allows the reader room to interpret. What did the poet mean? What senses are invoked through the word choice?

Instead of counting something, poetry asks me to explore life and understand quality is not evenly distributed. I have privileges, maleness, whiteness, education, that others do not have the eauitable access to.

Choosing words,

Caring about each–

Describing feelings,

Experiences never identical.

Revealing thickness in meaning,

Experiencing sameness different–

Bringing us together,

Bridging worlds.

I told students, who struggled with reading and writing, poetry was an alternative to express themselves. I used ee cummings, as a model, to overcome worries about grammar, spelling, and capitalization.

i dig ee cummings

no punctuation

no capitols

won’t worry about spellin either

no sweat

aint no problem

i write poetry

I enjoy poetry. I always have. I remember a poem, The Elevator, I memorized in Grade 4. I think it Walter de la Mare wrote it. My friend memorized a poem called Douglas Fir. His name was Douglas. When I enjoy who and what I teach, I bring enthusiasm to writing poetry.

Artists, including poets, are often at the forefront, addressing social issues. In our times this includes Maya Angelou, Thomas Merton, Wendell Berry, Adrienne Rich, Parker Palmer, Thich Nhat Hanh, etc. Sometimes, I do not think of these authors as poets. Each of them wrote/writes poetry helping to raise my awareness about issues.

Below are the wonderful and poetic words of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Peace in our heart

I close with a poem I wrote many years ago as a 15 year old in high school. I have never been a fan of what we call capitalism. What we have is predatory and is at the root of current political, economic, and social issues. Only a handful are admitted to the club.

Captains of Society

Captains of Society

Shallow, superficial, arrogant

Single ambition

Greatness in the eyes of others

Only those with resources can apply

The rest

Forgotten

Pay a high price, but…

It’s their fault

They own their misery.

A cheque to charity

Assuages my conscience

What about the despair?

Don’t care

I claim I do

Donations in badfaith,

It’s a tax receipt

I really claim, but…

Done on the backs of others

Get the staff to donate time

Not mine.

Increase taxes

Not mine!

No way!

It’s wrong!

Tax others!

What is work?

I create jobs

It’s a spectator sport

This work, which

I manage from afar.

Drive luxury wheels

Shout

Curse

What’s the hold up?

Who’s blocking my way?

The ‘75 Ford station wagon

Engine shot

Dead broke!

Is it their home?

 Throw a party

Drink

Eat

Be merry

No concern for homeless

A romantic notion this ‘hobo jungle’

Not my world

What’s wrong?

It’s not my fault

I gave at the office.

After all.

Throw money at problems

It might help

Don’t

Stop, see, care

If it really helps

Denying, refusing, unfeeling

I pay for a clear conscience

After all.

 The misery

In surround sound…

Is out of sight;

Out of mind

Collectively Eliminating Racisim

via Collectively Eliminating Racisim

This is a great post by Shobna. We each have a responsibility to our part, our small part. We can only change the world we are immediate with.

For me, Michelle Obama‘s quote points to Socrates: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” How often do I critically examine my actions, my words, my life? What privileges run below the surface and privilege me in my life? Where can I go without worry of being stopped and interrogated?

Martin Luther King Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh remind me of the intertwined nature my life of as part of a larger garment of inter-being. What have I done to make the threads that link me to others stronger, healthier, and more whole?

Wendell Berry in his poem, Be Still in Haste, speaks to the need to pause. In each ensuing moment, I begin anew to set the world right. This moment is always the first.

How quietly I
begin again

from this moment
looking at the
clock, I start over

so much time has
passed, and is equaled
by whatever
split-second is present

from this
moment this moment
is the first.

Find a place where you are comfortable and reflect on life. For me, it is a walk in nature. I took the following picture in Jasper National Park several years ago. I could sit on the edge of this lake, soaking in the majesty and reflecting on how I made life better in the next first moment.

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On some mornings and evenings, I observe the sun rising/setting with the moon in the sky. Several years ago, early in the school year this occured. I began haiku class with poems describing phenomena we often take for granted. I emphasized poetry  often emerges from what is overlooked.

Great poets have a way of lifting extraordinary phenomena into fuller view for us. I modeled this with shared from Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, etc. I try to write poetry in a similar way.

Greeting and adieu

Sharing the sky together,

Guiding one’s journey.

I took this picture as I approached Waterton Lakes National Park enroute to Spokane. It was a beautiful evening with just a wisp of cloud below the rising moon. It was as if Nature decided a needed two guides on my trip.

On many trips, I pass mountains, which, even when I stopped, I did not grasp their majesty. It is as if they have their own language and ways of being.

Clouds surrounding,

Momentarily crowning,

In regal splendour.

I take many pictures of Mount Robson as I drive from Edmonton to parts of British Columbia. Even with clouds, it has a majesty about it.

 

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John Prine

This was not going to be my next post. Fate steps in and calls on me to share one of the wonderful performers we had a chance to see live. John Prine is as as close as I am to someone contracting Covid-19 and, sadly he passed away last night due to complications. He had underlying health issues as he was a cancer survivor and was 73. The beauty is he leaves a rich book of songs and videos. I share three with you.

The last time Kathy and I saw John Prine he sang this song . It is normally a duet he sang with Iris Dement. Last night, we watched Kevin Bacon and Krya Sedgwick do it on Facebook. The audience howled with laughter as Prine sang the female parts. As you listen, you will understand the humour of the moment. It is called In Spite of Ourselves and is about a couple whose love is unquestionable and they are each other’s big door prize.

These links will take you to many others John Prine did, if you are inclined. He wrote and performed for 40 years and tackled social issues and love in various forms with humour and fearlessness. He is likely entertaining someone in the great beyond.

I played Paradise for students and it has a strong environmental message that echoes mine and I think Wendell Berry about what is lost as faceless corporations tear up Earth, haul it away in big trucks, and label it the progress of man. In Alberta, regulatory processes include land reclamation leaving it as good as it originally was . It reminds me ecology and economy are from the Greek oikos, meaning household.

I leave you with the Missing Years of Jesus, which was the first song I heard of John Prine. It is a tongue-in-cheek look at what we think we know about Jesus, a person we actually know little about in a historical sense.

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.

 

 

A spiritual reflection on the Centenary of Thomas Merton – Part 1

via A spiritual reflection on the Centenary of Thomas Merton – Part 1

Bruce posts wonderful text, accompanied by exceptional images. This post caught my eye as I looked through Bruce’s blog. It is about Thomas Merton and his enduring work as a pacifist, activist and support of inter-faith dialogue.

I read Merton and book about his writings frequently. I grew up in the shadow of Vatican II, which promoted inter-faith dialogue and Merton, Brother David Steindel-Rast, Karen Armstrong, Thich Nhat Hanh, etc. attract me to their work.

I find them to be prophetic and mystical, often signaling challenges we will face long before they are evident to most of us. For example, Bruce included a wonderful quote from a letter Merton wrote to Rachel Carson after reading Silent Spring. Both offered prophetic views, as mystics, of a world to come and challenges we faced in the 1950’s.

I leave you with this quote from Thomas Merton and wish each of you the best. However, we each celebrate we need to share our love for each other and the world we share with each other.

The beginning of love
is the will to let those we love
be perfectly themselves,
the resolution not to twist them
to fit our own image.”
~Thomas Merton

Daffodils, Lake, and Mountain in Glacier

I share this image often. Kathy took it in Glacier National Park. She shared it with me out of love and I share it with my love for the people who will see it and nature we are stewards of, echoing Wendell Berry when we say: We Do Not Inherit the Earth from Our Ancestors; We Borrow It from Our Children

Sunday Morning

via Sunday Morning

There has been a theme of Nature and trees in my recent presses. When David shared a portion of I Go Among Trees and Sit Still by Wendell Berry, it was an opportunity to continue the theme.

Wherever we find them, Nature and trees offer shelter. Nature is not merely out there. It is close at hand and surrounds us. Sitting in an urban park, feeding squirrels and pigeons we are in Nature as much as as walking on a secluded path in the back and beyond.

When I walk, I hear more than I see, sometimes it is the silence that is most noticeable. What hides from sight can easily be heard and not found. The same is true of life. We each experience much more than we can process, absorb, and recall, yet there are moments, when I am still, I recall a moment that had slipped away. I recall it imperfectly, but it is there.

Yellowstone Elk

I took this picture several years ago in Yellowstone. I got to within 20 or so feet of this elk. He knew I was there and looked at me. Trees sheltered him and me from each other, reducing the threat. As well, I moved quietly to get into position to take the picture, making little noise and posing minimal threat (I hoped).

Just after this picture, I took a one of a bison about ten feet away. I positioned myself between the van and animal, who was less happy with me than the elk and kept the side door open.

A key for me is to remember where I am and that those animals are wild. Even in an urban setting, a wild animal would be unpredictable. Stillness is important in their presence,

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Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

via Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Yesterday was a day of riches as this wonderful Mary Oliver poem was posted by Dawn and re-blogged by John and Kenne.

There are prayerful and questioning qualities in Mary Oliver’s poetry that challenge me to think about the universe as a place where each sentient and non-sentient being thrives and flourishes. We grow mindful of our needs as they relate to the needs of other living and non-living being. Living is a practical and ethical way of standing in the world. Practical and ethical ways of living are essential to growing spiritually and acting with care towards sentient and non-sentient beings.

Wendell Berry has a poem entitled The Wild Geese asking me to be thankful for the gifts that come to me each day. What do I take-for-granted? What do I overlook and treat as ordinary that I can celebrate as (extra)ordinary? As Mary Oliver asks, “how does my body ‘love what it loves?'” How do I notice the universe and let myself find its way home each day?

Here, is a video of me reading the two poems about geese and the poet’s reminder of being present to what is here.

 

“He who allows oppression shares the crime.” — Art of Quotation

via “He who allows oppression shares the crime.” — Art of Quotation

Gigi shared a wonderful quote from Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (known as Erasmus) who was a Catholic priest during the Reformation. He is a humanist and spent little time as a priest and is considered to be a reformer who remained in the church , questioning its abuses. In some ways, he was Thomas Merton (the link is to an article by James Martin, SJ) some 300 years in advance.

I had not read Erasmus before last fall. His works were part of my syllabus for an educational foundations class I taught. I have since purchased a book with his essays and find him refreshing in many ways in today’s context.

When we ignore things that are improper and inhumane, we become complicit. This includes my place in Nature. It is hard to speak in today’s world without fear of being attacked. How I undersgtand the world and my presence in it, is less in terms of polarities and in continous emergence. Even the past holds uncertainties. When I sit and reflect/meditate, I often find phenomena emerge I did not experience in previous moments of reflection/meditation.

It is the same in my reading. I am re-reading Wendell Berry and find so much about how he speaks about Nature can be applied to teaching. We are stewards in this world and this includes stewards for our children and grandchildren. We are not seperate from Nature, even in urban settings. How do we preserve and conserve Nature for our children and grandchildren? Economy comes from the Greek word oikos, meaning household. How do we keep our household in order?

Gulls at Neurotsis Inlet

I took this picture in the river valley here in Edmonton. It is a beautiful place to walk and a historic, cultural, and natural gathering place for people and animals as demonstrated by the terns. Not in the picture are the people who gather to walk and sit along the river.

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