Last Day of Advent 2016: Song of Marys

"Something is wrong, I know it, if I don't keep my attention on eternity. May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream. May I look down upon the windflower and the bull thistle and the coreopsis with the greatest respect." (Mary Oliver)

Writing here every day has helped me pay attention, helped me be "tiny but useful." Thank you from the very bottom of my heart. And here's one last Advent poem, inspired by Mary Oliver, Mary the Mother of Jesus, and being with you, my amazing readers, for these last four weeks.

Magnificat

All I can do is stand
in the stream of my own life,
the collection of identities
I was born into and the
collection of stories I am becoming,
and all I can do is
not run away from what I find there--
daily failures, my suffering
and the suffering of those I love,
the drive to survive,
to live and die telling that truest of stories,
how you, Lord,
found me, how you grew in my womb,
and how I never stopped saying,
Holy, holy, holy,
this world,
and holy, holy, holy,
sharing it with you.

Advent 2016: Advent Shores

When I was 19 and a freshman at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, I took a Modern Poetry class from Dr. Delaney. I remember standing in line at the little stucco bookstore and spending a fortune on the required texts--R.S. Thomas, Seamus Heaney, Dylan Thomas, and Denise Levertov's Evening Train, which is dog-eared and sitting beside me right now. These lines from The Tide have surely appeared here before:

Clean the littered beach, clear
the lines of a forming poem,
the waters flood inward.
Dull stones again fulfill
their glowing destinies, and emptiness
is a cup, and holds
the ocean.

I love these lines so much. I might want them read at my funeral. They have sustained me many times. Especially in this post-election season when I'm feeling loss, loneliness, and heartbreak, I hear these themes:

We can't be filled until we're emptied. The tide can't rush in unless there's an empty beach. We won't get the goods--relationship, purpose, connection, peace--unless we let ourselves experience emptiness. We Westerners hate to hear this, but we're about to learn the hard way.

The waters flood inward. The real riches available to each of us have little to do with what's outside of us and everything to do with the inner lives we cultivate. When our health, mental capacity, popularity, or retirement accounts run out, it's only the life of the heart that's left.

Our destinies are glowing. Not in the sleazy "health and wealth" or "power of positive thinking" kinds of ways, but in the way that Love Wins. In the way that, when we live examined lives and are faithful to "clean the littered beach," we can fully become ourselves.

Big things happen in small spaces. "...emptiness/ is a cup, and holds/the ocean." When the clearing and emptying happens and when we don't rush to fill it with work, affirmation, possessions, and busyness. our souls become vast oceans full of possibility, life, motion, crests and troughs.

Tomorrow is the last day of Advent, so I've got to pull one more reflection out of the hat. As I've told several of you, I sit down about 9:00 each night, open my laptop, look at the cursor, and trust that something will appear. The beach has seemed empty many nights, but the waters have always rushed in. I've learned to trust that will happen--some experience or moment during the day will become "glowing".

Thanks for patrolling these Advent shores with me. It's so beautiful to see the tide come in and go out.

Advent 2016: Solstice Prayer

Solstice Prayer

Fire in the Night,
Friend in Suffering,
there is so much to grieve.
The list of homeless people who died
in my town this year
is read on the steps of City Hall.
The mayor is there, 100 faithful folk,
a sub-par PA system
amplifying 35 names
that feel like 10,00 when they are said aloud.
My children and I stand with our candles,
dripping wax all over the sidewalk,
no idea what to do
except keep shivering in the cold,
keep bearing witness,
keep testifying that these 35 are precious,
more precious, even, than any billionaire
or lawmaker or stadium-filler,
their brief lights and tragic lives
unaccountably shining bright
on this longest night of the year.
 

Advent 2016: You're not the Boss of Me

Open Letter to the President Elect
on the Limits of His Power

You can't keep us from going out for holiday pizza
with our beautiful babysitter
and exchanging love notes in an ungilded way
you've never known.
You can't keep us from driving around afterward
to look at Christmas lights,
singing with Chance the Rapper,
"Are your ready for your blessing?
Are you ready for your miracle?"

And here's the miracle:
your plots will finally fail.
Babies will be born,
we will still dream of freedom.
We will still share meals,
and some of the smartest and talented people
won't look like you.
We will rise, march, sing, and resist
in a way that terrifies you,
in the way that love has always
terrified hate,
in the way that warmheartedness
has always demolished kingdoms.
Are you ready for this miracle?
 

Advent 2016: Evening Review

Evening Review

When the day is done,
were you loved, and did you love?
Did you laugh at yourself
or your dog's droopy eyes?
When you lie in bed
do you hear the dishwasher running
and the cars in the rain
and know the tenderness of living?
Were you touched,
and did you turn that spark to fire?
Are you thinking about
coffee in the morning
and the pocket of silence
before the kids come looking for cereal?
And do you see how everything you feared
hasn't come to pass yet,
how you are okay in this moment,
your chest rising and falling,
the world turning enough
to fall into light again tomorrow?

Advent 2016: God Comes Looking for a Home

Pageant

One of my favorite days of the year. Christmas Pageant Day. Such a preponderance of little angels with crooked halos, toddler shepherds irritated with their costumes. Never a truer sermon was preached than that rag tag bunch of kids testifying with their songs and missed cues. I had several folks ask me why I was crying. Because Christmas Pageant!

And because, every year, this story moves me. Whatever your religious affiliation (or lack thereof) the nativity story is about the transformation and good news that comes from powerlessness. It's turns 2016 America (and every other empire, marketing strategy, and campaign tactic) on its head. It says that domination won't be the order of the day forever, and that we can circle up together in the meantime. It says that God is one of us, and more likely to appear the more desperate we are.

We sang a beautiful tune called "God comes Looking for a Home." Waterworks for me, of course.

God comes looking for a home. There! See his mother, pregnant and dirty, riding through town, asking for a room. I couldn't--I have my own children to tend to. I have a fundraiser to go to, and Facebook petitions to sign. I have Christmas crafts to do and employee evaluations to finish. And I don't even know you! It's unwise to open my door. You might take advantage of me and never leave. I don't know if you're legally allowed to be here or not. You will eat my food, use my water, leave your socks lying around. You could be crazy, criminal, lying, or contagious.

Or you could be the mystery that's been unfolding in me all my life--the one I've been too scared to welcome. The humming on a summer day, the silence that keeps me up at night.

God, find your home here! Don't believe me when I say I don't need deliverance, when I shut the door, go back to my chores, my tit-for-tat calculations, planning my next escape. Despite myself, I say with St. Augustine, "Late have I loved you, beauty so ancient and so new!.../You called, shouted, broke through my deafness/you flared, blazed, banished my blindness/you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you/I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst/you touched me, and I burned for your peace." Amen.

Jackpot

Jackpot

On the one day you're home,
the dryer breaks.

You go down after breakfast
with your coffee and tools,
determine there's no quick fix.

So we spend a precious hour
at the appliance store,
comparing features, doing the math,
joking with the saleswoman
(who loves you, as all saleswomen do).

And I know I'd rather be here,
picking out appliances with you,
than drinking mai tais on the beach
with anyone else.

Advent 2016: Do Something Crazy for Love

It was easy to decide what to write about today.

Every year, Roosevelt Elementary teachers and staff do a holiday production for the students before winter break. And every year, I laugh through my tears and think to myself, "I wish the whole world could be like this--extravagance, silliness, crazy caring."

Ms. Russell introduced the show--"Roosevelt students, one of the things we teach you is to go outside your comfort zone. We're going to show you that today. We're not dancers, but our gift to you is that we get up here and dance even though it stretches us!" And then groups of staff came out dressed like gummy bears, lollipops, chocolate kisses, all doing the choreographed dances they'd practiced after school when the only thing they wanted was to go home. And the principal? He stole the show with some ridiculous moves. I hope he didn't throw his back out.

When Loretta's teacher came back into class, there was a receiving line of fourth graders, waiting to hug and congratulate her. It was like she was backstage at a Broadway production.

And the reason they put in all those hours for 40 minutes of stage time? Love. Love for those students, even for the ones who come in late every day, the ones who throw a wrench into every lesson plan, the ones whose hairlines are full of lice, the ones who can't sit still.

Maybe it's not dressing up like a lollipop, but what crazy thing will we do for love? Forgive, and maybe even forgive the same person a bunch of times.  Or say "I'm sorry," the most endangered phrase in our world. Or stop playing it cool and risk rejection Or pick up and move, put a career on hold, learn in public, become more affectionate, befriend a child, give without expectation, march in the streets, go silent when everyone else is spinning. Love always involves a little bit of dying to our egos. I learned that from Ms. Russell today.

Advent 2016: Humility Smackdown

I really, really miss Yancey these days.

One of the things he did when he wasn't away at paramedic school was take care of Wyatt and Loretta's every physical need--cutting nails, getting neosporin and bandaids, booking and facilitating docter and dentist appointments. Loretta has been suffering for 9 months from horribly ingrown toenails, and I've taken her to several procedures since Yancey left. She barely let me and cried for Yancey every time. (There has been lots of pain involved. Probably the most suffering she's had in her little life.)

Today was (hopefully) the last one, and that's where this poem came from. After the numbing needle took effect and she was playing a game on my phone, I finally had the good sense to reflect on what an ass I'd been AND the good sense to let it go (that last part is newer for me--thank you, therapists, spiritual directors, payer, and Emily).

How I wish I was as wise and centered as my discourse sometimes makes me out to be! I was with a friend last week who told me she put me up on a pedestal, and I wish she could have seen me in the car with Loretta today. Crash and burn. Big time. Jon Kabat Zinn says, “You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion. It arrests development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom.” Shit. Real wisdom right there. If there was a way to arrive at wisdom without messiness, I would have taken that course a long time ago.

Run-in with a 9 Year-Old

We get in a fight over heat--
I'm hot, you're cold, I tell you
to quit bossing me around.

I give you the silent treatment
all the way to the doctor's office.

Then, you're holding onto me,
crying out, "Mama! Mama!"
like you did when you were two,
and that's all it takes

for me to find the adult I left behind
somewhere on the freeway,
the one who can sometimes rise above
her rotten day,
keep her eyes on the road,
put her hand on your knee,
laugh at herself,
take the long view,

remember that being human
is the only thing we can be.

Advent 2016: Go Tell it on the Mountain

Breaking News

If I don't elevate the small things,
who will?

That baby?
He was born in darkness, obscurity,
poverty. Undocumented.

It's my job to find God in all of it.

In the orange-vested flagger
protecting the road crew,
stamping her feet to stay warm.

In the bartender,
unfailingly cheerful and attentive
though it's shaping up to be a long night.

In the call center operator
who will never have a post go viral
or start a movement
or get 3 weeks paid vacation
or get rich or invent something
or get publicly recognized for anything,
but who's sure as hell going to be at work on time.

In the young father down the street,
sleepless, out in the cold,
hanging Christmas lights.

And to every outsider, inebriate, addict,
loner, lost cause, dropout, deadbeat,
immigrant, traveler, prophet, infant,
in-betweener:

Go. Tell it on the mountain.
Our story is about to make the front page,
and God is one of us.

Advent 2016: Preparing for Winter

Winter Scene

I can wish, pray, dream, petition
for it to be other than it is.
But still, it must be faced,
this world as we made it--

cities reduced to dust,
medicine too expensive to take,
refugees drowning in cold seas,
peasants camping outside the halls of power,
hateful men meeting in secret.

Lord, I will not turn away.
I will not grow resigned, despairing, caustic.

Look! See how the earth teaches us to prepare:
The squirrel has stockpiled nuts,
the bear has found his den,
the geese flee in formation,
their long migration a beautiful necessity.
The rabbit grows white fur
to better hide in the snow,
turtles find warm mud
at very bottom of the pond.

All find ways to stay warm,
to survive, to emerge,
to carry on with the protest of living
through another cold winter.

Advent 2016: Receptivity Journal

In conversation with my therapist today, we talked mostly about the opportunity I have in my life right now to receive, to let myself off the hook for some of the roles I've fallen into, and to have more mutuality in my relationships. She said (my paraphrase), "You're problem is never going to be apathy or inaction. Your struggle is with vulnerability." (Not talking about it--ha!--but actually living it. Crap.)

She challenged me to notice and keep track of all the moments during my days when I'm on the receiving end of something, to put flesh and bones on this desire of mine to step into the Divine Feminine, to say "yes" in the way that Mary said yes--with strength, with doubt, with trust in the unfolding mystery.

Because I'm a good girl who does her homework, here's my Receptivity Journal for today, and it's written with unending gratitude for all the ways my needs are met and all the ways they will be met tomorrow. And I'll put it out there again, Universe--I'm paying attention. I'm ready to open my satellite dish and receive your beams of love.

  1. Hugs and kisses from both my children this morning.
  2. Loretta's lightbox on which she arranged the message in the above photo. How precious to be seen and loved by her.
  3. Facebook interactions with readers of this blog--their thank-yous and digital love.
  4. Laura letting me borrow her snow boots and Zapper letting us borrow gloves and sleds. (ANOTHER snow day today!)
  5. My dog putting his head on my lap.
  6. A thank you from a client in my inbox.
  7. Two Christmas cards. God, how I love Christmas cards.
  8. A message from Yancey saying he loves and misses me.
  9. A walk in the snow with Elizabeth.
  10. Dinner with Zapper, Laura, Sylvia, and Cosmo and lying on their couch with a cookie hangover afterward.

Advent 2016: Loving means Grieving

I'm still making my way through The Book of Joy, a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. It is just what I need right now.

Today's chapter was on sadness. A few excerpts:

"In his [psychology researcher Joseph Forgas'] experiments, people who were in a sad mood had better judgement and memory, and were more motivated, more sensitive to social norms, and more generous than the happier control group."

"While depression certainly collapses our circle of concern inward, the periodic feeling of sadness might widen it."

"We don't really get close to others if our relationship is made up of unending hunky-dory-ness. It is the hard times, the painful times, and sadness and grief that knit us more closely together."

"[Psychologist] Gordon Wheeler explains that grief is the reminder of the depth of our love. Without love, there is no grief."

Without love, there is no grief. The path of love necessarily involves suffering.

I'm grieving this post-election season because I believe this country has the potential to be a force for love, mercy, and justice in the world. I'm grieving how far we are from that, how totally and drastically we need redemption and rescue. And my friends who've experienced deep loss--death of children, husbands, parents--tell me there's no timeline for grief.

When we're mourning, there are times we want to be alone (parties are hard for me right now) and there is an urgent need to be together. I sat in church this morning and wept, grateful to be in a sanctuary that was praying for Water Protectors, grateful to hear my pastor's sermon about the power of vulnerability. I tried to remind myself, "This sadness means you're ALIVE. It means there is something in you that knows what goodness is."

I took this photo of a frozen wheat field when I was in Nebraska last winter. I returned again the spring, and it looked totally different. God, may it be the same with us--turn our unyielding, fallow earth into soft sod for the roots of justice and life. Amen.

Advent 2016: Coming up Short

This rainy Saturday, Wyatt got picked up for his basketball tournament. I took Loretta to her (cancelled) basketball game where she had practice instead. In Seattle, Yancey got off his 24 hour shift at Harborview Medical Center and slept all day.

Loretta and I ran some Christmas errands (you definitely want her with you when you're picking out wrapping paper), we went out for tacos with my parents, and we listened to Christmas music in the car. We fed the dog, did the dishes, and spent 3 hours cleaning out the storage room. We got rid of Loretta's shopping cart from preschool days, then scrounged in the fridge for leftovers. She had potato soup and I had spaghetti.

I am thankful for my life and every ordinary moment in days like today. But still, there's an undercurrent of grief and heartsickness running through everything. It's crazy to be raising kids right now, teaching them about honesty, inclusion, kindness, integrity, and respect with all the drama, ignorance, retaliation, hate, and broken promises as our national backdrop.

Emily asked me yesterday how writing for Advent was going. I told her I never know what I'm going to say until I sit down and open my laptop. Today's no different, but I'm finding there isn't a spin I can put on anything. The snow is gone, the streets are full of slush, the preschool shopping cart is gone.  And once I'm quiet, I get in touch with my deep sadness and anger.

I will not normalize this craziness. And I will keep praying, even though it comes up short and doesn't seem like enough. Tonight, my prayer is:

Divine Goodness, you never said it would be easy. You never said I'd get a pass or that we'd stop warring and getting over on each other. You never promised that kindness and love would be the order of the day, that everyone would wake up, play fair, do the right thing.

Show me what to do. Show me how to love, how to resist, how to stay curious, how to stay energized, how to be a critical lover of this country and this world. Remind me every day that there is strength in weakness, that the first will be last the last will be first. If the Dalai Lama can get up in his exile and pray for five hours a day, help me to power down my phone, put the broom down, turn off the car, cut down on the digital clutter, and pay attention. It's your Beloved Community that calls, and I won't rest until we're there.

P.S. My friend Cristina has been busy screenprinting. This is one from the package she sent today. We need our artists right now. Bless you, friend.

Advent 2016: Prayer for Seasons

Bellingham woke up to a snow day. I changed my Seattle meeting to a conference call and cleared two hours in the morning for being with my kids and the dog. We were the first ones to make tracks down our street. There is nothing sweeter.

I found myself nostalgic about other snow days with my kids, about all the neighborhood children at the sledding hill that don't look like children anymore. And nostalgic about snow and all things frozen--how long will that be part of our world? In our rush to drill, frack, drive, buy, extract, produce, excel, consume, transport, compete, we're grieving the earth. The kids and I have been having lots of conversations about that lately, so it's especially poignant to see them running through the snow. I wonder about their children, their grandchildren, and how many Standing Rocks it will take before we remember the right order of things. That's where this poem comes from.

Prayer for Seasons

God of hot summers, spring rain,
veined leaf, winter snows,
keep us in your seasons.

Give us the green seedling,
harvest and death,
months of hibernation, darkness,
gestation, more births in spite of ourselves.

Give the polar bear her snow,
the ice caps their heft,
keep us from melting everything down
to smallness and commerce.

Give the gardens their wildness,
the weeds their heyday,
keep us from dumping beauty bark
over everything that wants to sing.

Give the beaches their sunbathers,
all obligations be damned,
keep us from lunches at our desks
and the heinous sin of losing our wonderment.

Give the trees their dying colors,
give us shorter days and cold mornings,
keep us from infatuation with stasis,
help us to let go and fall.

God, from whose breath we come
and whose song finds voice in us,
keep us in your seasons.
Amen.
 

 

Advent 2016: Créche

Créche

Christmas stories are piling up.
You see them everywhere, stories of
powerlessness, wandering,
no room at the inn. Stories of kingdoms
bent on domination,
fear, fear, fear.

You don't know if it's true--
shepherds watching flocks,
wise men from the east,
angels, mangers, glory in the highest
and all that.

But one thing is truer than history--
love doesn't wait. Love doesn't hang back,
demand comfort, status, or a clean hospital.
It's born everywhere, all the time.

Whoever the characters were and
whatever they've become through the years,
here's the real créche:

your willingness,
your yes,
how you can enter a smelly barn
and find God in the cold.

Advent 2016: In Praise of Dependency

Surprise visit from Yancey today. Miraculously, as is wont to happen lately, we stepped into a parallel universe outside of obligation. I canceled an appointment, the babysitter came, and Yancey and I caught happy hour at a favorite haunt. I'm tying to save up some decisions and tasks for when he's home, otherwise I'll steamroll right on through and lock him out of everything. (We are both fiercely autonomous, which helps us and hurts us.)

Today, I had saved up some Christmas decisions, some relationship coaching (he gives the BEST advice), a Costco trip (a treat not to have to lug the dog food or say "no" to the holiday samples just on my own willpower), and told Loretta, "Dad will do your nails when he comes." Which he is doing now, playing Ray Lamontagne and coming up with some sort of miniature holiday scheme for her fingers.

I always say that I was saved from myself in the total folly of marrying when I was 21. (?!#*?) As it is, there's no separating us now, and I get to sit here blogging while he opens 20 different colors of nail polish and pronounces the whisky sour "perfect."

I hear the word "interdependent" used a lot lately. I suppose that's a nice, egalitarian word. But there's no one that takes care of me like he does. I fiercely resist it most of the time, but it sure feels good to give in sometimes. Russ Hudson reminds us that "Receptivity is an energy, too!" Amen. I'll take it.

Advent 2016: Post-Election To-Do's

Post-Election To-Do's

I know now
it's useless to pretend
helplessness--
in the face of such dominion,
everything counts.

Throw the orange peel
in the compost,
rescue it from landfill,
and smell it first.

Pay the parking meter
so the woman digging in her purse
gets five pleasant seconds,
no matter how she voted.

Pet the eager dog
waiting by the door
though my arms are full
and my self-absorption is great.

Give money or cough drops
or apples or hot coffee
to anyone who looks like
they need it. Stock up and do it again.

Return the phone call,
turn the lights off,
send the letter,
resist the purchase,
pray the prayer,
believe the sad stories
and the miracles, too,
and say to the madness:

I meet you with presence.
I meet you with quiet mind.
I meet you with open heart.

And oh, yes, with strength,
strength like a many-stranded rope,
unbreakable in the storm.

Advent 2016: In Celebration of Surviving

My colleague Shana says that resilience is like opening the junk drawer, seeing what's in there, and working with it. It doesn't mean that everything's okay, but that you've found a way in spite of the odds.

This morning, on my way to a stressful day with clients, getting on the freeway in the pitch black after an insomniac night and reading too much news, I had that feeling: It's going to be okay. And it reminded me of a favorite poem by Chuck Miller, in celebration of surviving. Here's the last stanza:

standing in the winter night
emptying the garbage and looking at the stars
you realize that although the odds are fantastically against you
when that single January shooting star
flung its wad in the maw of night
it was yours
and though the years are edged with crime and squalor
that second wind, or twenty-third
is coming strong
and for a time
perhaps a very short time
one lives as though in a golden envelope of light