Quietude

Evergreen Pond Dead Tree

Yesterday I finally walked to the ponds at Evergreen Cemetery, after not being there for over a year. It is a longer walk for me—half an hour there and half an hour back. But I never come right back. I go to the place where the dead tree fell into the water, becoming the center of pond life for the critters there.

So I sat at the base of the log, and I found myself growing quiet. Just paying attention to the life around me. I saw a brown frog in the water close by, and later, a green and yellow bigger one off to my right. A small turtle was sunning on the log. Once, the green and yellow frog slowly moved forward about a foot and then stopped again, eyes and mouth above the water. The turtle slipped into the water. A mother duck with two youngsters swam past, and then circled around and climbed up onto the log where she and her babies attended to their feathers.

Last week was encumbered with many projects, and lists of more projects. Ever since I cleaned out my office, I’ve been trying to catch up on household maintenance and fixing things. The biggest project that I actually accomplished was fixing the ice dispenser on our refrigerator. This involved two phone calls, moving ten boxes and a table to reach the freezer in the basement and turn it on; hauling food downstairs, two coolers, defrosting and cleaning the whole fridge, and starting it up again.  Three days. But it worked.

Anyway, once I sat next to the pond, the burden of unfinished projects just disappeared.  Not the projects of course, but the burden.  My soul got quiet and peaceful.  Another turtle climbed onto the log.  I saw another brown frog.  I saw a winged insect struggling on the surface of the water, until a dark turtle-shaped shadow swam near and suddenly the insect disappeared. On my walk home, the quietude stayed with me.

This has been a year of a lot of work in our yard, creating a garden of fruit trees and perennials and bushes. Working with growing things is one way to learn to connect to the earth. But being silent next to a pond brings a deeper sense of unity.  I am grateful.

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Celebrating Ministry

Diarama of Myke – Version 2

On Sunday, June 17, my congregation celebrated my ministry of thirteen years, upon the occasion of my retirement.  (I will still be working behind the scenes in June and on-call through July, but that was my last Sunday service.)  I was overwhelmed with their expressions of love and appreciation.  I will miss everyone so much.

There were so many amazing touches to the celebration, including this tiny (6 inches across) diorama of my life created by Kathy N. with details including my guitar, a stole I wear when I preach, tiny protest signs, the cover of my actual book, our fire circle, cherry tree, rain barrel and garden tools.  The celebration included a reflection from me and testimonials from a few church members, and a poem and a funny song created for me, and more.  There was a gorgeous rendition of Jeremy Geffen’s song “Mystery,” done by the choir and instrumentalists, along with other beautiful music.  They also honored me with the designation of Minister Emerita, and gave me beautiful gifts.  There was a photo slideshow of moments from my ministry.  We danced around the dawn redwood tree.  And ate delicious food, and I received so many hugs, including from the children.

The ministry relationship is so very deep in a particular way.  Not the same as friendship, but filled with intimacy.  During conversations with people during the meal, I kept remembering the significant moments I had shared with them. I remembered their loved ones who had died during my ministry.  I remembered the joyful weddings, and the painful separations.  I remembered our work together in the community that I helped to hold and cherish.  I felt the blessing of our relationships.

In retirement, I am leaving those relationships behind.  That will be the hardest part.  I am relieved to let go of the work.  My body just can’t do it any longer.  This year has been hard with many auto-immune flare-ups, days of exhaustion, and just barely keeping up with everything.  I am ready to lay that down.  But I will miss the people.  Not that I will never see them again.  I will be in the same city, and our paths will likely cross occasionally.  But in our tradition, the retiring minister disappears for a while, to give people a chance to form a ministry relationship with someone new.  The Interim Minister has already been chosen, and will arrive August 1st.

Meanwhile, I am cleaning out my office, and saying goodbye to staff members, and taking care of transitional details.  But I feel absolutely full of gratitude and amazement for these wonderful people, that I was lucky enough to serve and to love during these past thirteen years.  Just wow!

Hoya Plant

Hoya Plant pre-blossoms

It has been many years since our hoya plant has blossomed.  It is a great and easy plant to care for.  I have had it since I lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan around 1979.  My partner at the time, Gary, and I inherited the plant from the collective who had lived in the house before passing the house along to us.  We became a Catholic Worker house, and offered hospitality to homeless families.  In 1983 we moved to Chicago and took the plant with us, and when Gary and I separated in 1985, I eventually ended up with the plant, and have moved it with me ever since.

One of the names I learned for the plant was “Widow’s Tears.”  When it blooms, the flowers have a sweet nectar that falls from their center.  That name had an emotional resonance for me when Gary died in a car accident in 1988.  Just after I learned about his death, the plant began to bloom.  That blooming became one of several signs that touched me with Gary’s presence following his death.  It is hard to explain, but it comforted me, it felt like a gift he had sent to me from beyond.

So this week, the hoya started to flower again, with two little umbrellas of florets beginning to form waxy pre-blooms.  And this week, I learned that my dad, who has been in a nursing home for almost a year and a half, has taken a turn for the worse, and has slept through the last two days.  A priest who is a friend of the family came today to pray and anoint him.  My sister Julie has been the primary support person for my mom and dad since they moved to West Virginia in 2005.  Most of us live at a distance.  A few of my siblings have visited in the last couple weeks, and I will fly out on Monday.

Life is mysterious.  They don’t really know what will happen next.  It is possible he will rally, but it is starting to seem more likely that he is preparing for the transition into death, which for him signifies going home to eternal life.  I asked my mom to hold the phone to his ear so I could speak to him, to tell him I love him, and I was coming on Monday, but I am with him in spirit, so whatever he needs to do will be okay.  Which is true.  And there is something about the hoya plant blooming that comforts me today, alerts me to the mysteries beyond life and death, and the bonds that unite us across many divides.  May all of us be held in love.Hoya Plant bloom

Medicine from the Yard

Dandelion Leaves

[Dandelion leaves]

Today and the past two days, I’ve been eating these lovely gifts from our yard–dandelion leaves.  They are best to eat before the bright yellow flowers appear, so you have to search for them by their pointy leaves arranged in a starburst pattern.  I asked the plant for permission to pick them, so that they might become a good medicine for me, and then picked some of the leaves from several plants.

Dandelion leaves are a blood purifier, great spring detoxing for the liver, have a lot of vitamins and minerals, and are full of anti-oxidants. (But be sure you pick them from a place with no chemicals or road run-off.)  I am just beginning to try eating them, so I rinsed them off and chopped them up, and mixed them into some kale I was stir-frying for breakfast, after the kale was already pretty much cooked.  They have a really mild flavor, and I enjoyed them.  You can also eat them raw or in salads.

So often, we just ignore the so-called “weeds” in our yard, or worse yet, try to eradicate them.  What if we saw them as gifts sent to us from the earth, to help our bodies with what they need?  This is what I learned from herbalists–the plants appear when we need them.  So, to ignore them or not use them would be rude, wouldn’t it?

I first began to understand this when the St. John’s Wort started appearing in our yard last summer. St. John’s Wort has traditionally been understood as useful for depression and wound healing. Last summer, at the Healing the Wounds of Turtle Island ceremonies, the spiritual wound that revealed itself to me was the Great Forgetting:  first there was a great disconnection of my ancestors from their relationship with all of creation, and then there was a great forgetting so that the people would be unaware that they were wounded and disconnected, and thus never even seek to understand that they had once been connected. I heard in my mind, “St. John’s Wort can help when you remember the wound of disconnection from the earth, and when you open to the pain underneath the great forgetting.”

And the St. John’s Wort is returning to the yard this spring as well.  The flowers are best picked just after the Summer Solstice (feast of St. John the Baptist, which is where they got that name), but now the plants are starting to put forth new stems and leaves around the old stalks we picked the tops of last year.  I think picking them has helped them to grow and expand.

I like learning about the plants in this way, one by one, as they make themselves known to me here in this land I call home.

St. John's Wort

[St. John’s Wort]

More White Pines

White Pine near Capisic

There is another old white pine that I see on my morning walks, next to the the Capisic Brook near my home.  Even as the old white pine at my home sent me on a search for the history of this land, so both of these pines lead me into a search for their spiritual meaning.  Maine is called the Pine Tree state, and the White Pine is the state tree.

When settlers first came to this land, they found old growth forests with white pines being the tallest of the trees in the east.  Many of them were cut down to use as masts on the English ships. In fact, any straight tree over 24 inches in diameter was marked for use by the king, but people often ignored that marking.  I read that the old-growth trees were all cut by the mid 1800s.

In the same article, they identify two old pines found in Acadia National Park as 154 and 147 years old.  That made me wonder if the method I had used to date the white pine in our back yard was accurate–if that pine was actually 162 years old, it should be on the EasternOldList.  On the other hand, if the land was undeveloped for a hundred fifty years, (just a blank space on the map) perhaps it would not be so impossible that it should be counted among these old ones.

Pine needles are full of vitamin C, and the inner bark was also edible–made into a kind of flour by the Wabanaki people here.  Among the Haudenosaunee, the white pine was the Tree of Peace–symbol of their confederation of nations, the five nations symbolized in the five needles in one packet, and the agreements they made to keep peace among their nations.

Modern science has discovered that pine trees release compounds known as phytoncides, airborne chemicals which protect the trees through anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.  These compounds also support the “natural killer” cells of our human immune system.  So walking in the woods has actually been proven to be good for our physical and mental health.

While searching the internet for the meaning of the white pine, I found that another blogger The Druid’s Garden posted this:

In my experience, these trees retain their roles as peacemakers for us today in order to rebuild human-land connections. Often on damaged lands, even if no other spirits or trees are open to communication, the White Pine will be the intermediary.

Since my purpose in learning about the trees on my land is to rebuild our human-land connection, I may see if our white pine is willing to offer that mediation.

A No-Win Gamble

The other day I read the “Medicare and You” brochure in preparation for my own “graduation” to Medicare this coming summer.  It has been hard since then to shake a sense of foreboding.  My first reaction to all of it is how can our society treat our elders with such lack of care?  I don’t mean that it is bad that we have Medicare–I wish we had something like Medicare for all–single-payer health care–in our country.  But what we have now seems so bereft of full medical care, that participants are encouraged to buy extra care to cover all the gaps in care.

But it is not merely that you can choose to spend a certain amount per month to cover the gaps–a kind of gambling in itself about whether you will save more than you will spend.  It is that you have to decide between a dozen or more types of options, which kind of product to buy–all seemingly based on making a guess about your own unknown future health needs and prescription needs.  The supposed explanations for the different types of plans amount to gobble-di-gook, if you ask me….

Does anyone besides me see this as a particularly insidious way to torture people?  “You can choose!  Read all this information!  Oh, whatever you choose today will affect your future!”  A gambling game based on what?  (Is it anything besides a way to bring further profit to insurance companies?)  Then in today’s paper I read Michelle Singletary’s column The Color of Money, “Medicare trend causes palpitations,” and felt even worse.  She writes:

New analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that out-of-pocket health care costs for Medicare beneficiaries are likely to take up half of their average Social Security income by 2030.

I hesitate to blog about this issue because by doing so I have to reveal elements of my own financial situation–and money is one of the last taboos.  But I am feeling bold today. I will admit that despite the many blessings in my life, when I stop working, I will be one of those senior citizens living on a fixed low income.  We have been very lucky–we have a home, with solar panels (lower electricity costs) and a yard for gardens.  But homes also cost money for upkeep.  I worry that eventually I will be one of those who has to decide between medical care and eating.  And I am so angry that elders are put into that position today!

In the world I dream of, “health insurance” would be something paid for by the healthy, to take care of anyone who becomes sick–which eventually will be most of us, as we age. In that world, no one would risk losing their home because they become ill, no one would have to gamble based on unknown future events, no one would be left to die because of a lack of money.  There is a lot more to say about all this, but I have to stop now and go to the ocean… get some perspective.IMG_4237

What We Are Here For

IMG_3796

“Life is the expression and fulfillment and celebration of beauty. This is what we are here for.  We’re not here to do anything else.” (Sarah Susanka in The Not So Big Life)

Perhaps this is an odd sentiment, when so much in our country is going wrong these days. Aren’t we also here for justice, for compassion, for interconnection?  But what is beauty anyway?  Is it the unexpected sighting of a wild raccoon near the brook during a morning walk?  Is it the fluid colors of the sky in the dawn?  Is it a coating of ice or snow on the branches of every tree and bush in the neighborhood?

Why do these things enliven our souls?  Perhaps beauty is the mark of an essential wholeness, a harmony we can recognize with our eyes, our ears, our hearts, our whole being.  If that is the case, then I believe beauty also includes justice, compassion, interconnection.  We recognize instinctively the wholeness within justice, within acts of kindness, the miracle of our interconnection.

Beauty has something to teach us about how to work for justice as well.  To express and celebrate beauty is to turn our attention away from the ugly hatefulness we deplore, toward acts of creating what we aspire to.  This is why I love permaculture and solar panels and work parties and gardens.  We are bringing into being the wholeness we hope for.  I am not saying that protests are not important as well.  On the contrary.

But as Rebecca Solnit promises, in her book Hope in the Dark,

…if you embody what you aspire to, you have already succeeded. That is to say, if your activism is already democratic, peaceful, creative, then in one small corner of the world these things have triumphed. Activism, in this model, is not only a toolbox to change things but a home in which to take up residence and live according to your beliefs, even if it’s a temporary and local place… Make yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit.

May you be a beacon of beauty today!