During the night the two baby robins were back cozy in the nest. This morning, they came back out on the beam, one of them perching boldly on the edge. I was sitting at the kitchen table watching through the window, and then a few minutes passed by and suddenly they were gone! I went outside on the porch, and then saw a small bird fly from the ground in the nearby orchard up to the trees by the fence. I was in a Zoom meeting, so I went back to do that for another 30 minutes, then went outside to look for the babies–I guess I should call them fledglings now. After walking around in the orchard a bit, I saw one of the parent robins in a tree near the fence.
So I looked all over near the fence, and then stood on a little block of wood to see over the fence. There it was! I saw one of them in our neighbor’s young pear tree. It was being quite still and quiet, hiding among the leaves.
I was reassured to see this one on its perch in the tree. I didn’t find the other one, but we have so many trees around our yard that it could be anywhere. When I went back to the fence a couple hours later, this one was gone too. And just like that, no more baby robins on our porch, at least for now. I am assuming they won’t come back to the nest. It has been one month since the first egg was laid. Most of that time they were hidden from sight, but every sighting was a joy. And I am so happy that the robin parents finally fledged their first youngsters!
The E-book of Finding Our Way Home is now available! You can get an EPUB version at lulu.com for $9.97. (The link should take you directly to the book, or you can search by author and title.) In 3-5 weeks there will also be versions on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other ebook stores. EPUB is readable on Apple Books as well as Nook, Kobo and other readers.
In 2016, when I first published Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community, I was happy to use an ecologically oriented print-on-demand source for a paperback format. That is still available for $17.99 plus shipping. I have been told it is the kind of book that does well with slow reading, a chapter at a time, with spiritual practices offered at the end of each chapter. Personally, I enjoyed doing the layout and choosing the typeface, and creating all the formatting. I assumed I would also do an e-book at some point, but with chronic illness and not very much energy, it took longer than I expected.
For some mysterious reason, during the last few weeks, I was inspired to get back to it. The first step was reading “how-to guides” at lulu.com. I had to create a new document and undo all the formatting I had previous used, substituting standard formats. I checked all the internet links that showed up in the notes, to make sure they were still functioning. I also updated the author page, but did not change anything else in the content.
My hope is that this new format will make the book more accessible to more readers, both financially and visibly. I especially want to thank my friend Diane K. for her cheerleading and enthusiastic support. Just a little note to mention that when you purchase directly from the publisher more of your payment goes to me as the author. But another way you can help, if the message appeals to you, would be to leave a review wherever you purchased the book. In the end, most of all, in my small way I want to keep fostering a spiritual journey of waking up to interconnection—to the earth, to each other, and to the Mystery within and between all.
Yesterday, going through old files on my laptop, I found a letter from October 1994 that I never sent–so really, more of a letter to myself. It described how my Innu ancestors would interrupt my daily life with their insistence on being recognized and acknowledged. I hadn’t thought about that for a long time, and wanted to remember it by including some excerpts of those reflections here. What a magical time it was.
“A few weeks ago, a friend from Vermont told me he had heard a rumor that Yvette Michel, an Innu leader from Maliotenam, was coming to visit me in Boston. This was the first odd thing. I certainly hadn’t heard anything about it. I had met her very briefly but didn’t expect her to remember me. A few days later I learned from someone else that she was doing a speaking tour in New England for the Coalition for Nitassinan. The Coalition was a group of activist traditionalists. Nitassinan is the Innu name for Innu territory, meaning ‘our land.’
“Then, I got a message from Mary Frongillo, a white woman who has been living in the community of Maliotenam for a couple years. We had spoken once before by phone. She said they had heard there was a Native spiritual gathering of some kind in Boston the coming weekend, and someone had told them I would know about it. Well, I didn’t know anything, but I made a few phone calls and found out about a gathering a couple hours away from Boston. That’s when I got a hint that maybe I should go too. But I didn’t know how I’d be able to get there, and I couldn’t afford a donation (to help with food for the elders), etc.
“Still, it felt like spirits were interrupting my regularly scheduled programs for a special bulletin. So when I called Mary back, I told her all the info, and that I was thinking about coming. She said they would be near Boston before hand and could give me a ride there and back, and we could be a camp together. So that’s when I cancelled everything, and decided to go for it. By Friday afternoon I was sitting in the sun in front of our two little tents, watching eagles fly overhead, trying to follow French (Yvette speaks French and Innu) through a mixture of translation and memory. The weekend weather seemed totally in love with us–it was sunny and warm during the day, cold and clear at night. I felt afraid at first, being shy, and especially without my favorite power: easy words.
“But eventually, I relaxed into a bilingual state of consciousness, full of the earth again and taking in so many little stories and practices of Innu culture, in a way in which I had never before had the opportunity. Things like bannock, a simple Innu bread, which we ate with our meals. I watched Yvette make two loaves, stirring flour and salt and baking powder together with water, forming a flat round loaf, pressed into a cast iron pan with flour in it, cooked about half an hour on each side. Mary was a wonderful translator, in the wider sense of the term, for she told me many things from her experience, things which someone notices because they are not from that place.
“During the last two years, the more I reckon with being white, the more the Innu part of me asserts its presence. I now believe I need both of those parts. The better white person I can be, the better I can also be Innu. So the white person fights the racism I see in the New Age theft of symbol and ritual, and searches out the spiritual wisdoms of European ancestors. And I do believe white women need to be doing this–we need to search out our own ancestral traditions and powers of the earth, rather than turn to Native or African American women as a kind of ‘spiritual surrogate.’
“But in the meantime, whenever I have thought I should let go of my desire for the Innu part of me (‘I’m not Indian enough for it to count–five generations back.’ ‘Don’t be a wannabe.’ ‘I should just be white, acknowledge my privilege and leave it at that.’) it hasn’t been supported by the spirits. It was after I was learning the Runes, and creating a link to Freya, ancestor goddess of Northern Europe, that I first met people who were helping the Innu and learned about their struggle against hydrodams. I said to myself, I am chasing after my European ancestors, but the Innu ancestors are chasing after me. A month later I was in Quebec city testifying against the dams, and meeting members of the Coalition for Nitassinan. That was another spirit interruption.
“So even as I was trying to be more ‘successful’ as a white person–ie. using my educational privilege, trying to make more money than just barely getting by, still in service to my values–I was interrupted to spend a weekend on the earth, on Indian time, in a setting where people don’t have much at all but share what they have with who needs it–all these values that exist in Innu culture, (and in other Native cultures), and which I wish existed more in our culture.”
I needed this winter afternoon at the beach. We went to Kettle Cove, where it was windy, sunny, and warm–well, in the forties anyway. So now my heart is calmed and refreshed. There is a quiet that comes from the sound of waves and wind, the feeling of our feet walking on sand. We always say we should go more often, but it takes some push, some energy to get ourselves there. Funny that, because it always feels so good once we arrive.
Even though I am retired, I’ve been doing too many days of projects–still plugging away at the boxes for the archive, among other things. Don’t we need this other rhythm? The one of being in the presence of all that is bigger than we are?
And there was evidence that the wind and the waves had been bigger than the beach recently, maybe when the recent huge storm came through. The wooden walkway was broken apart, and there was erosion in parts of the shore. We are so small, and what we can build is so puny. But all of that is okay–it’s part of what brings the feeling of magic to our walks on the beach.
So we come home again, and the great quiet is within, the mysterious gratitude for life, in the midst of all its challenges. Can you feel it? How does it come to you?
What does unconditional love mean? What does it gift to us in our lives? I first experienced unconditional love in my friendship with Lori Slawinski. I have been looking back on my life by going through old papers these last several weeks–my winter project. The other day, I reread dozens of letters from Lori from when we first knew each other. We met when I went to college in the fall of 1971. She was a sophomore at the time, and became the “big sister” I never had at home, my being the oldest child of so many. I haven’t found any photos from that time; this photo from 1977 is the earliest. Very quickly we became best friends, though there was a moment when she hesitated–she said she was afraid of corrupting my innocence. I can’t remember exactly what I said to her, but all I could see in her was her own bright goodness. I think each of us were surprised to be chosen and loved by the other.
Looking back from the perspective of being a lesbian, I wonder about our friendship. We were never sexual with each other, but our letters can only be described as love letters–mostly written on school vacations when we were apart from each other, missing each other, and expressing our affection with such deep passion. I had occasional crushes on boys during this time, but nothing could compare with the love I shared with Lori. Our love for each other was also expressed in the context of our passionate love for God. Lori and I were part of a small circle of friends who were trying to follow Jesus and figure out how to live the gospel in our times. All of it intermingled. From her I felt God as the unconditional lover, and from me she felt that too.
Unconditional love is a transforming energy, a grounding that helped me to believe in myself. Maybe because we weren’t trying to be “in a relationship,” we could grant each other the freedom to explore fully who we were, without expectations? Our maybe it was the spiritual rootedness that provided that freedom. We had a fantasy of continuing forever in our little community, but college is a temporary place. When she graduated, she left to join the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago. I didn’t follow her there, but tried another way, eventually discovering the Catholic Worker movement. Lori was very psychic, and I remember it took a lot to claim my own inner knowing, since she always seemed to know me so well. Separating was a challenge, after being so close. But we were able to let each other go, to try to work out our own destinies.
Our lives diverged significantly when I encountered feminism, and found myself leaving Catholicism, leaving Christianity, embarking on a new spiritual path. I imagine it must have been difficult for her, yet we stayed connected. I went to Chicago Theological Seminary in 1983, came out as a lesbian while there, and she came to my graduation in 1986. (It was years later, in 1999, that I was ordained a Unitarian Universalist minister, but that is another story.) Somehow, the love we had for each other never wavered. We kept in touch via occasional letters and long distance visits. Sadly, Lori died of cancer in July 2012; this second photo was from our final visit in May of that year.
I am so grateful that I was able to experience her unconditional love in my life. I have had other significant loves, and still do, but her love was the root. It enabled me to come alive, to feel joy, to trust the dreams I dreamed and the ideals that guided me. Despite our different paths, that unconditional love remained tangible. Perhaps that is why my image of the divine is rooted in a Larger Love, who loves all of us unconditionally.
Have you experienced such love in your lives? Please share your stories if you might be willing? Each story reminds me of the possibilities that surprise us when we least expect.
Almost Winter Solstice here! We got our first snow the other day, just a few inches, but enough to brighten the ground. It is good. It seems the long cold nights are infiltrating my spirit, and I feel weary. As I get older, it is harder to rejoice in the season of winter–ice has tripped me up on prior walks, and bruised my bones. COVID has limited our ability to welcome guests into our home, and it is too frigid for visits in the garden. Last week, our heat pumps suddenly stopped working, and we turned to our back-up boiler, but it seemed a little clanky from disuse, so we fired up our wood stove. That sounds cozy, but I find the wood smoke gives me headaches. (Thankfully, the heat pumps were repaired in two days.)
I feel old and cranky and tired with this season. It is ironic that pagan myths often assign this season to an old woman. I wonder if the winter crone is cranky? I am wrestling with how to find the magic of this cold dark season.
I didn’t really feel like getting a holiday tree. But Margy did, so we got this tree from our local food coop. I don’t feel guilty for it being cut, because it was grown for this purpose on an organic tree farm. Seeing how many seedlings try to grow into a new forest in our yard, I know that there can be an abundance of seedlings that naturally never grow up–so this one got to grow to eight feet and then be celebrated. I find myself surprised by how good it feels to have this little tree with us in the house, like a connection to the natural world during a time when that connection is harder to feel. I feel grateful to Margy for pulling us into its sweet magic.
That is my question. How to find the magic of this cold dark season? Can I quiet my mind, rather than merely entertaining it with stories in books or on screen? (though this has often been a season of stories) Can I open my heart, even if I am far away from most friends and family and other loved ones? (reaching out with letters and cards?) Can I embrace the sorrows and fears of age, of my age, my sorrows and fears, and give them a home in this moment? (hospitality has many forms) Can I embrace the silence? Let myself sink into it, floating down like a snowflake, bury myself in the silence like the plants are buried in snow? Silent night.
The many-colored transformations of autumn plants remind me of the beauty in the spiritual practice of letting go. As the leaves let go of their green chlorophyl, so their deep colors are revealed. When I feel encumbered by heavy memories, mistakes, failures. When I feel regret for things undone, unsung, I pray in this way. I take all the feelings and memories and release them into the loving hands of Spirit. Ego desires for acknowledgement, success. I let go. Ego wounds from rejections, betrayals. I let go. Loneliness, weariness, I let go.
Spirit, here I am, all imperfect, yet gifted, all hungering for justice, yet broken with this land and country. I sit alone, yet I feel your presence, and I turn to you, again and again. I let go. I am small, but I am surrounded by and filled with your Love. There is a time for action, and there is also a time for surrender. I surrender to the River flowing. In this surrender there is trust and peace.
Someday, I will let go into the mystery of eternity, the mystery that is death. Each night, I let go into the mystery that is sleep. Each morning, I let go of what is not mine for this day, and I open to what blessings and what actions are here for me to take up. I am too small to try to carry the world. And yet, in this surrender, I am at one with all of the beings who surround me, people, animals, plants, spirits. We are all flowing in the River of Love.
Those of you who perhaps followed my peach tree saga last year might remember that after hours and hours of tending–including several organic sprays, thinning the small green peaches, putting little mesh bags on the remaining ones–the squirrels ran off with every single green peach, or knocked them off the branches as they tried to get into the bags. We got zero peaches to eat.
Well this year, I didn’t have the heart or energy to do all that tending. I did one holistic spray early in the season. I felt very non-attached to any outcome, since one might assume that squirrels would eat them all again. But that didn’t happen. A few weeks ago, I started picking a few small random peaches, so that others would have more room to grow, and the branches wouldn’t break under their weight–but only a few at a time, not systemically. I put them in paper bags, which is the actual way to help them ripen. (Not on window sills as I had previously thought.) A few weeks ago, the squirrels started eating some peaches too, sitting in the tree, or taking ones with broken spots that I left on the patio table. I found their leavings on the deck railing. It was fun.
But they didn’t take all the peaches. And the peaches started to really ripen. Now they are bright red and yellow, crowded though they are on the branches. Now, we are processing all the bags of ripening peaches in the house, as well as gathering peaches literally dropping from the tree. I have cut them in slices to freeze–first on a tray, and then put into freezer bags. Yesterday I made a gluten free peach cobbler. We have invited friends and neighbors over to share in the abundance. More people are coming by this weekend. This morning, I saw this little bird pecking for its delicious breakfast. There is plenty to share!
I feel grateful and humbled by this turn of events. Sometimes gardening feels like a battle between the gardener and the “pests.” I didn’t have the heart to try too hard to fight this battle this season. (And our cucumbers and zucchinis are succumbing to bugs-so it goes.) I was surprised that the peaches thrived so well without my efforts. I was surprised that the squirrels took some, and it seems they felt okay about sharing. Maybe they sensed that we were not enemies this time. Margy and I feel so good to be able to give them away to others. The garden is such a great mystery! I continue to feel humble and grateful by all it teaches us.
Oh, and here is the recipe for gluten-free peach cobbler. I searched the internet, and then adapted this one from several I had seen:
Peach Cobbler: preheat oven to 375 degrees
Slice peaches and place in a lightly buttered 9 x 13 pan. Basically use enough to cover the bottom well, or more if you like. Sprinkle with cinnamon, and a tiny bit of ground cloves.
Whisk together 1 & 3/4 cup almond flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons baking powder. Blend together 1 large egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 tablespoon honey, 1/4 cup Greek whole milk yogurt, and 2 tablespoons softened butter. Add that to the flour mixture and blend, and then spoon over the peaches–it won’t cover them completely, but spread it around as you can. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Remove and let cool a bit so you don’t burn your tongue. You can serve as is, or with cream, whipped cream, or ice cream.
On March 14th, at 1 p.m. Queer Spirit will broadcast an interview with me, done by Revs. Marvin Ellison and Tamara Torres McGovern. Queer Spirit is a regular feature of OUT Cast, a forum for LGBTQ+ issues broadcast on community radio every Monday. WMPG 90.9 FM from 1:00 – 1:30 p.m. (Livestream: WMPG.org) One of the questions they asked: “What do you think has been your generation’s unique struggle with sexuality and spiritualty – and what would you say is your generation’s contribution to these matters?” I thought about what I had written in my book, Finding Our Way Home, in a chapter called “The Mystery Seed.” I want to share an excerpt with you today.
Do you remember the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk? When he and his mother are in desperate straits, Jack trades their cow for some magical bean seeds. The bean seeds grow overnight into a vine that reaches up to the sky. He climbs the vine and encounters an evil giant, who eats human beings, but Jack is able to escape with a magical hen that lays golden eggs, and a golden harp that plays by itself. He learns from a fairy that the giant’s castle is actually his very own—he is really a prince whose father was killed by the giant. In the end, he kills the giant, and recovers his hidden inheritance.
So what does this have to do with us? The bean seeds enable Jack to connect with who he truly is, and with a larger reality beyond the small cabin he shares with his mother. Within each one of us is something like those magical bean seeds. We are so much more than we can imagine. We might say inside each of us is a Mystery seed, a seed of what we might become. This Mystery seed is our potential to connect with the larger Mystery of which we are a part; it is the Divine within us that connects to the Divine beyond us, it is the fractal pattern of life and love and creativity. This seed is not only in some of us, not only in fairy tales or kings or saints, but in every one of us.
What evidence do I have for this seed of divinity within each human being? How have I personally experienced this might be so? Ironically, it has been illuminated when I faced situations where people were treated as if they had no dignity or value at all. But something within and between people transpired to bring forth a light that could not be extinguished.
When I went to college, one of my best friends slowly revealed to a few of us that he was homosexual. This was a great torment for him and for all of us who loved him, because we were very devoted Catholics. According to Catholic teaching, homosexuality was against the laws of nature. Tom would try hard to live celibately, and then crash, and go out and “get debauched.” He was depressed and often despaired of his life. I felt a painful contradiction in all of this—I knew he was a deeply spiritual person, so why should he suffer in this way? But I didn’t have an answer at that time.
Before I met Tom, in the reality of my youth, it was as if gay people did not exist. When I was growing up, during the 1950s and 60s, I never even heard the word lesbian, and gay only meant happy. I never saw gay people on TV, read about them in a book or newspaper, or learned about them in school. As a girl in a Catholic family there were two possibilities for my life path: I could become a wife and mother, or I could become a nun. I never even imagined the possibility of lesbian.
Tom’s dilemma introduced to me a whole category of people who were considered unworthy of sacredness. Gay people were not supposed to exist. And if they did exist, they were identified as unnatural, disordered, a mistake, a problem. African American lesbian poet Audre Lorde writes, “We were never meant to survive.”[i]
At that time it never even occurred to me I might have something in common with that group of people. I didn’t come out as a lesbian until years later, at the age of thirty-one, after a five-year process of struggle and transformation… Gays and lesbians have often been excluded or disparaged even by those who are closest to us. After I came out, one of my sisters refused to let me stay in her home because she didn’t want her children to know about gay people. I received a letter from another sister. She wrote, “I pray for you night after night… Homosexuality is wrong! And as your sister I don’t want to lose you to the devil.” Her words were those many of us have heard from parents or siblings, or from the institutions of our society.
How much guilt, despair, and shame have gay people carried in our hearts because we were not welcome in the reality defined by our culture and religion? Because we could not see the sacredness within? How many gay people have killed themselves in the pain of that reality? How many gay people have been killed, through the violence and hate of a society that has refused to include us in their definition of reality?
But so much has changed. Now it is hard to imagine I didn’t know about the existence of lesbians or gay men. Now gay people are in prime-time television. There are supportive high school groups for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Straight youth. My friend Tom eventually was able to embrace his sexuality, and share his life with a long-time partner. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to allow same sex couples to be legally married, and in the years since, marriage has been won throughout the whole country.
Even language became transformed. Words like lesbian, or queer—once painful putdowns—were reclaimed as words of honor. I remember we young activists marching and shouting, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”
So much has changed. For me, it seems like a miracle—in fact, two miracles. First, I still can be amazed I exist as a lesbian at all. How did I cross over into a whole new reality? It is as fantastical as Jack climbing a bean stalk into a castle in the sky. Second, it is remarkable that we who are queer can celebrate being queer. How did we go from being outcasts, to celebrating and believing in ourselves? How did we go from being outcasts, to demanding that reality make a place for us? To celebrate ourselves as queer we often have had to risk every other valuable thing in our lives. We’ve risked family, friends, jobs, safety. Yet this thing which was considered a problem became the “pearl of great price,”[ii] as the gospel says. This heavy burden became the hen that laid golden eggs. And it has been incredible to see!
What happens within people that they can claim the power to celebrate themselves? …What happens inside people when they refuse the rejection of society, and claim the right to name themselves valuable. When people who have been told all their lives “You are no good,” find within themselves a different voice that says, “You are sacred.” To me, this is powerful evidence of the divinity within us. And this is the premise of the work of those of us who call ourselves Liberation Theologians: the Divine is revealed in the struggle of oppressed people for liberation.[iii] It is the Mystery seed within us growing like a vine into the sky.
…That is what happened for me, too. Within a community of women, I experienced a new reality coming into being. With women who were celebrating lesbian existence, I encountered the Divine in a new way. Sometimes we called it the Goddess. Sometimes we had no name to describe it. But we felt a sacred and holy power when we seized the courage to embrace the body of another woman. Everything shifted. It no longer mattered whether we were welcome at the table of the society that excluded us. We were in a new reality and could no longer be denied.
[i] Audre Lorde, “A Litany for Survival,” The Black Unicorn: Poems (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), 31.
[iii] Liberation Theology was first articulated in 1971 by the Catholic Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez, in his book, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation (1971 in Spanish, English edition Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1973).
February in Maine, and it is 60 degree weather today. It isn’t really supposed to be like this. We went to Kettle Cove, where dozens of people were out at the beach. A few even went into the water in their swim suits–but not us. Margy was inspired to collect some seaweed for the garden. I decided to sit on a lovely rock, and take photos of the waves and rocks.
It was so restorative–wind, sun, rocks, water–all the elements. And the sound of the waves calming the spirit like a deeper kind of silence.
I was thinking about climate change and how the weather has become so chaotic. Tomorrow we’re back in the freezing zone, between the teens and twenties, and Friday a snowstorm is on the way. But the message I felt from the sea was not about worry. It was to love the earth just as she is in this moment, to love the weather as it comes–not to always think on how it is supposed to be different, but to embrace the changes as they emerge, to embrace every amazing aspect of this beautiful planet.
I don’t fully understand this message, the activist that I am. So often I grieve for what is happening to the earth because of the greed and destruction of some human beings, all of us trapped in this pattern. And I still grieve. But the other side of that grief is this love.
The message was that we must never cease to love the earth in all of her mysterious flowerings, her beauty everywhere, even when we cannot perceive it. So what a joy when we can feel that beauty all around us. It was that kind of day, that kind of visit to the ocean.