Sunday, March 21, 2010


It rained today in my Quaker meeting: sun showers that came, and went, and came again.

Today was a good one, when I felt that power of love that holds it all together for us humans, and for the rocks and trees and animals besides. When I felt that thing that makes the Quakers quake--or makes me quake, anyway, and makes my eyes run with inner sun showers.

Call it God. Call it gratitude. Call it joy.

It was my own fault. I sat down in my meeting, and I pulled out Uncle Walt--a book of Whitman's poems. And I turned to one I'd read for the first time just this week, and which I'd flagged to read again one day in worship:
O ME! O life! of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless-—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—-of the objects mean—-of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—-of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring-—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
And, well, that did it. I was awash in joy.

I did it to myself--well, with a little help from the Holy Spirit. I invited Whitman to come to worship with me today. On the other hand, Leonard Cohen walked in on his own.

I've heard it said, by some Christ-centered Friends, that Liberal Quakers don't give enough thought to repentence: that we are often too smug and self-satisfied, and we mistake a pleasant glow of self-approbation for the Light of God.

We need to let the inward Light search us, search us deeply, and show us our faults so we can amend them.

They may be right.

They may be right, but I can't tell. I can't manage fear or mourning or distrust, because I am too overflowing with joy. I can't hear very much over the sound of Leonard Cohen singing "Hallelujah":
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Shape Changer

I am more grateful than I can say for the warm weather we've had this past week. With the sun out, and the temperatures rising into the sixties during the day, the snow is almost gone, the streams are high, and there's a riot of life going on in the woods.

At the same time, this is March... the time of year just before the main onslaught of the state's MCAS tests and spring fever for my students. Whatever of substance I'm going to teach my students before the year ends, this is it: the last chance to really deliver the meaty stuff. So every day,my head is full of teenagers: raucous, distractable, brightly-colored, enthusiastic, sullen, needy teenagers. From the morning bell to the departure of the last bus, there is very little room for me inside my head these days.

Teenagers and their drama take up a lot of space in my life. And it's not that the self I carry through my days is false, but it is partial, maybe a little cramped, like a pair of too-tight shoes. I bring my real self to school with me each day--it's one of the things kids like about me, I suspect. But not my whole self: my whole self just does not fit into the role I have in their lives for those 64-minute class periods. I am role model, mentor, goad, scold, and cheerleader, but most of all, I am there for them, and not for me. I fit my expression to their needs, as they flux from day to day: now patient, now funny, now stern, but always shining just a little bit brighter and more outwardly than I might prefer, left to my own concerns.

I have always been an inward kind of a person.

So it's a relief, as I guide my car along the winding country roads between my school and my home every afternoon, to feel the school and Ms. Bishop slipping away. As the branches of trees flicker past, and I reach the shady, hemlock-lined road along the river, I remember again that the woods are waiting for me, and in only a few more minutes, I can slip of my teacher-skin, like a tight pair of shoes, and go off by myself among the trees.

Out on the trails, the leaf-mold is soft underfoot. Icy water bubbles from the ground, and I can see deer tracks in the mud. There are hidden birds singing, and the wind makes the pine boughs speak and the swamp maples clack a quiet percussion overhead.

It is like changing shape. My social self glides away on that wind, and I smell the air differently. The shade of trees welcomes me, and I slip within it, shifting form. I become more deer, or dog, or fish under the surface of a pool than human woman.

It is one of the best feelings I know. Without the earth, we are not complete; without the land, I cannot forget myself enough to become who I really, fully am.

* * * *

So what am I doing here, typing on a computer keyboard? The sun is still well up in the sky. The woods are ready.

I have paused to shift my self yet another way for just a moment, trying on the shape of writer, dreamer, word-smith. I'm done now, however. Ready to let the human parts go, and find out what the woods want from me today.

Blessed be.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Wild Geese in the Morning

I sometimes find Monday mornings a bit of a chore. (Doesn't everyone?)

Sunday was wonderful; the weather was sunny and really warm, and not only did I find worship at Mount Toby especially satisfying, but friends stopped in unexpectedly in the afternoon, and we all hiked in the woods together. In the evening, I read, did my physical therapy exercises, and watched television with Peter. It was calm and lovely, and maybe trying to cling to the day a little bit, we both stayed up a little too late.

Morning felt like it came much, much too early, and I had to remind myself how much sleep deprivation feels like depression to me. Probably, I reminded myself, I didn't actually hate my job, living inside my own skin, or my life. Probably, I reminded myself, drinking my coffee, waking up, and resolving to get enough sleep tonight would fix 90% of what felt hopeless at dawn.

So I packed my lunch, wolfed down my bagel, filled my commuter mug, and headed off to work.

My drive is about twenty minutes long, and normally I drink it in as I go. I drive through rolling woods, past three waterfalls, five working farms, and one village center that is so quaint that, if I were to post a photograph, you'd probably accuse me of doctoring it. It's hard not to love my morning commute, but this morning, I managed it, gloomily obsessing over every complicated deadline or annoying routine I expected to meet at work this week. I really, really wished it was still Sunday--or already Friday, take your pick.

And then, mindlessly driving past the empty flat field of one of the farms along the way, it happened: in my peripheral vision I caught a flash of movement, just enough to bring my attention up from the cellars where I had stowed it and into the present moment.

Where there was a flock of Canada geese, curving like haiku in front of the quarter moon, still shining in the south... where there was the glint of red-gold on the suddenly gleaming stubble left in the corn field, and black limbs of the trees that fringed the field caught the fire of sunrise to the east.

I was not looking to see, but the beauty of that moment was so perfect and so profound that it insisted; it would not allow me to pass it blindly. And while I continued to drive my car, I found myself quite unconsciously breathing in and out with the same panting rhythm they taught us in childbirth classes.

All that beauty, falling like that onto my unprepared, even unwilling soul, stung like hot water running over fingers that were cold to the bone. It hurt to be so suddenly flooded with joy and with the return of memory: oh, yes! That's right--I'm alive. And grateful.

What do you know?

And Mary Oliver was right.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
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