Conversations I had with local flora and fauna on Monday, December 10th

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Walnut tree – are you a walnut? 

My forestry is less refined 

without leaves. 

Your ancient bark is so deeply ridged –

I want to fold myself inside

and learn from you

the slow pace of winter sap rising. 

 

Is there a minute network 

of chattering fungi beneath my feet?

My tree book suggests there is,

but you are a newly reborn forest, 

so recently returned to life from clear cut ground. 

Has your speech returned?

We silenced you because

we didn’t know what we were doing. 

But I am listening now. 

 

I was walking too loudly –

I’m sorry –

cracking ice and branches and frost. 

But now I’m stopped and waiting and still,

and you can come out again, 

chickadees and sparrows 

and whatever bird you are,

nearly infinitesimal,

almost hidden by the branch you land on. 

Hop, scuttle, peck. 

A bright yellow stripe

crowns your tiny head,

and I’m not sure that I have ever seen you before. 

Genus? Species?

For the first time ever,

it occurs to me 

to ask you what you call yourself. 

 

Equine companion,

who rode through here sometime last week,

might you have left your piled gift

somewhere easier to get around?

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O, great mystery!

A canyon of color 

contained in a mushroom. 

You are a bearer of worlds. 

 

The river breathes. 

More slowly than humans,

and even than the green things,

but there is a rhythm,

in and out,

and I can see it in the ice on the flood plains –

in the layered ice rings around your trunks,

and the cracked lines dipping in the sheets of ice above your roots,

proof of water levels moving

up and down,

expanding high,

and compressing low,

like lungs,

water like air,

the earth a body,

where a flood is not a disaster,

but a deep breath in.

 

You really wanted to see that bridge,

my own dear self,

and when one way was blocked

by thunder-cracking ice

with slowly breathing water pulsing beneath it,

you came this way. 

Was it worth it?

On most paths,

the mud is frozen

in space and time

with prints preserved

of human, deer, horse, raccoon,

and maybe occasionally

a dog.

But this path,

this leaf-strewn,

mud-caked, 

water-widened way,

is quickened by the breathing river,

and your feet sink into the loam,

muddy water rising over your grey suede boots. 

Cold feet. Potentially ruined shoes. 

It wasn’t so much that the bridge was worth it,

was it, my own dear self,

but that the setting sunshine,

and the sliding black river,

and the maple leaves still hanging,

were calling for a witness. 

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Water is Life

I got this swooping, sinking, rushing feeling when I saw my professor’s facebook post.  He was planning to answer the call for clergy to come to Standing Rock next week, he said.  And would any students like to join him.

I didn’t really want to go.  I knew what camping in the freezing cold was like.  I’d seen the videos of violence against protesters.  I had a full schedule in the week ahead.  And I felt woefully unprepared.  But something deeper than desire and stronger than fear rose up within me and whispered, “Go!”

So I emailed my various supervisors and professors and asked if arrangements could be made for me to miss 4 days of work and classes, a not-insignificant part of me hoping they would say “no.”  But they didn’t.  They told me that this was an important opportunity and that they would make things work.  And the whisper inside me grew bolder and said, “Go.”

I decided to sleep on it and pray for guidance and had a very distressing but unhelpful dream about biking across Europe in the autumn and falling over on 3 person a bicycle into a mud pit.  The morning found me both weary and wired.  And the voice raised itself up inside me and shouted, “Go!” I knew that if I silenced that voice, I would silence something essential in me.  Call it my conscience, my vocation, a sense of justice, the Holy Spirit living in me – more than I wanted to stay home, I wanted to listen to that call and stand with those who needed allies.

There are several camps now at Standing Rock, all working toward the same purpose: halt the death-dealing black snake of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  This pipeline and the oil it carries represents disregard for native lives and well-being, a threat to water sources, and a victory for big oil companies rather than a move toward sustainable energy solutions.  The Water Protectors (the preferred term, rather than protesters) have been using non-violent forms of resistance to call attention to the unjust and unethical practices of the pipeline construction.

This past week, a call was made to clergy all over the nation to join the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and stand in solidarity.  This is a crucial time for the work against the pipeline.  Violence and force from law enforcement is increasing, winter weather is beginning to set in, and the tribes gathered at Standing Rock need our support.

I am going with 11 other Garrett-Evangelical students, professors, and alums, as well as 2 non-seminary-affiliated folks.  We’re joining clergy and people of faith and people of no faith from all over the country to stand with those at Standing Rock.  We’ll be leaving Tuesday, arriving in Cannonball, North Dakota, on Wednesday, and participating in the clergy solidarity action on Thursday.  We’ll make the long trek back on Friday.  We ask for your prayers for strength, wisdom, peace, and justice.

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Behind that tiny word “Go!” are so many convictions that God has grown in me over the years:

  • God made the world and made it good (Gen. 1)
  • God includes the whole earth in God’s vision for community and justice (Lev. 25, Isaiah 11)
  • In the incarnation, Jesus was born, lived, died, and resurrected as a human, fleshy body who walked on this physical earth – in the incarnation, God affirms the goodness of Creation and brings the whole world into the redemption story (John 1, Romans 8).
  • All of Creation will be made whole (Romans 8, Isaiah 65).
  • Our God is One of justice and mercy, and God stands with the oppressed and the marginalized (Matthew 25, Luke 18, Isaiah 1 and 58).

I go to Standing Rock because of the God I serve and the kingdom of God that I am called to join.  I ask you to join your hearts and prayers to mine, and together we will work for the good of all God’s people and land.

More information from those on the ground about the history and situation:

http://standwithstandingrock.net/history/

This article is a couple months old, but it gives good background information:

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/09/26/sierra-club-no-dapl

If you have very warm winter gear – coats, boots, tents, sleeping bags, etc. – or hygiene items that you want to send with me, let me know.  Here are other ways to help:

http://act.350.org/sign/stop-dakota-access-pipeline?akid=s197373..Z7kCFf

Finally, you may be thinking, “This sounds like a good cause and all, but doesn’t it defeat the purpose to use a lot of oil/gas and drive out there?”  Good question!  We still live in an oil-based economy, and there just aren’t a lot of good options for traveling without using petroleum.  This is in large part due to the subsidies oil companies receive and the huge amounts of money and political power our nation grants them.  If enough of us can stand up and say NO to the Dakota Access Pipeline, then we may be able to have enough people power to imagine and enact new, healthy, sustainable and just ways of being a society.

 

be ever thankful?

One of the most common pieces of advice I see in those “10 ways to change your life” or “5 practices of happy people” or “17 guaranteed ways to looks as bright and shining as the airbrushed person in this stock photo”articles is to keep a gratitude list.  As I’ve said elsewhere, practicing thankfulness is the first thing my mom always suggests when I find myself in a challenging mental space.

What does it mean to live in gratitude?  Is it simply saying “thank you” when good and/or beautiful things happen or appear?  Is it about being grateful in specifics or in general?  And what are the implications of thanking God for good things?  What about when gifts seem to be withheld, or when bad things come?  Who is responsible?

A couple weeks ago, my sister posted a picture to facebook that showed her plant named Roselyn, a gift from a fellow student.  Her caption read: “I’ve had Roselyn for about a year and half now, and this the first time she’s ever blossomed.  I didn’t know she was supposed to!  For once I think she may not be struggling for her life.”  In the picture, the dark burgundy leafy stalks sheltered a small bloom, pink and tentative and still opening up.  My dad left a comment underneath: “See.  We all bloom eventually.”  My sister had not written the words “thank you” or “gratitude” anywhere in her post, but something of thankfulness was evident in her surprise and delight and in my dad’s choice to see a universal truth speaking through a specific moment.

But what if Roselyn had never bloomed?  Or what if a bud had appeared but never opened?  What if we don’t all bloom eventually?  What if my sister’s plant had died?

dscf4911I am reminded of the kadish prayer, recited at a Jewish funeral, which praises God for the goodness of God and the world God has made.

Perhaps we are called not so much to be grateful for things that seem good and beautiful but for life when it is real and true.  For those times when the blinders of our fear, busyness, self-absorption, pessimism, optimism, dishonest perfectionism, all these fall away for a moment and we are confronted with the rawness of life, in all its terror and miracle.  So we give thanks when we laugh until we can’t breathe, and we give thanks when we shake and heave with sobbing.  We give thanks when a newborn wails its way into being, when a loved one breathes their last, tender words, when we hold a delicate flower and when we ride out a devastating storm.  Our stance of gratitude is based not on how well things are going but on how alive we are in this wild world.  And we give thanks to the One who is the true center of this aliveness.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” he told us. Gratitude is the choice to live attentive to God’s aliveness in us.

I am neither a spider nor a bird

Another journal entry … a few weeks into my return. Even before I came back to the U.S., I had the irrational urge to skip the plane ride home and run as far away as I could.  This desire came in intensifying waves all summer, so I decided to go on a spiritual retreat to a place called the Farmhouse; my hope was to do the same kind of preparation for re-entry that I had done for my year abroad while at Taizé.  Of course,  this preparation came several weeks into the homecoming – and would last only 5 days rather than 5 weeks – but at that point I decided to take what I could get.

August 8, 2011

Last night/evening, I arrived at the Farmhouse.  Walking in was like coming home – to all the homes I knew and loved in Grand Rapids.  Dinner was delicious and the conversation stimulating, and the next-door house with my room, while not as home-like, was comfortable.  But then I took a walk in the woods, and that’s when I realized how wrong things were.  Not with the place, but with me.

I looked through the isles of corn to the small forest with great anticipation – the moon above the trees certainly helped to give it an adventurous quality – but my entrance was less than magical.

It’s funny – all last summer, I missed the cicadas and felt that the season had an empty space without their singing, but this summer, now that I am back in North America, I’ve found the cicadas’ sounds grating and distracting and even aurally claustrophobic.  I felt that way last night, too, and when I entered the woods, the twilight darkness intensified the claustrophobia.  I realized with dismay that my sandals, while sturdy and good for walking, exposed my feet to the poison ivy that I a) hadn’t had to deal with in Europe and b) had forgotten about as a problem to guard myself against.

So I picked my way carefully.  I was beset by persistent flies and mosquitoes.  The enormous dragonflies winding around me in the corn fields had felt like guardians, but these bugs buzzed in my ears with alarming regularity and yet managed to remain uncatchable.  I ran into spider webs, the oppressive heat pressed closer the deeper I got into the trees, and I hurried out on another path short of breath and flailing my arms to ward away everything I possibly could.  I’d never felt my self so fully reject the forest, and I knew I would have to return.

But not then.  I let myself be pushed away into the cornfield paths, rejoicing in the pastel moon and marveling at how my body was rejecting my homeland and seeking to flee.  The same way a body might reject its own organ.  I had hoped that leaving my parents house would calm my urge to run away as far as possible.  But the demons were not a symptom of my location.

I did have one positive experience with the woods, and it actually had to do with the spider webs I kept running into.  I thought about how often the spiders have to rebuild their homes, how it is a part of their rhythms and necessary for their sustenance.  There is such a beauty in their home-building work.  And I thought about how even the word “nesting,” a word used so often by my generation, comes from the lives of birds, and they rebuild their houses every year.

Of course, I am neither a spider nor a bird – I am a human woman – but certainly there is a good deal of beauty to find in this season of my life.  And plenty of nesting to do.

be ever thankful (1)

It’s always easier to be where you are when you know where you are.  (Say what, Yogi?) And what better way to know where you are than to recognize what you are thankful for.  Every week, a new list.  Every day, a new brick. (See be ever thankful tab.)

Things I am thankful for this week:

– improving health (being sick is dumb)

– noodles (especially: the slurping of noodles)

– Miracles on Maple Hill, a delightful children’s book that kept me company one of my sick days

– woolly socks

– a mother whose acts-of-service love language was speaking loud and clear this week

– a flexible and understanding workplace

– the return of sunshine

– a moment during the sunrise this morning when the too-large red sun behind the bare trees started setting upwards behind a cloud

– frost

– peppermint tea