Sunrise Calling

Screen Tent UpThe dawn wakes me up at 5 a.m. even though I went to bed after 11.  Part of me cries, “No! I’m tired!”  I’ve been weary and out of balance since my father died.  But then I remember that the morning is my proper habitat.  I remember that the dawn is full of magic.  So I get up and go outside, and finally set up the screen tent that functions for me in summer as a place of meditation and prayer.

The tent is getting old and faded–this might be the last year before it falls apart.  But it is a place I can come to in rain or shine, protected from mosquitos, a little sanctuary.  This year I set it up near the fire circle, and enjoy the feeling of that area taking shape as a circle of spirit and connection.  On the other side of the fire circle is what will eventually be a pond.  The old white pine is nearby.  And the hammock.

This place grounds me.  I water the vegetables and new plants with water from our rain barrels.  I pray for the mulberry tree which is still a stick–but are there tiny green buds just beginning to show?  It is our question mark tree–will it come to life or not?  I learned from Fedco that mulberries can be late bloomers, so we’ll give it a few more weeks.  I go round to bless the blueberry plants–both of them had had damage to one of their two branches the other day–little animals breaking them off?  It hurt to cut them off below the break, so that the plant could recover.

I water the asparagus plants–which although planted within a foot of each other, emerged at different times, with different strengths, some tiny and weak, others big and bushy–may these fronds give strength to the roots so that they can return year after year.  The other day I transplanted the licorice bush into its spot.  I made a little bed with cardboard over the grass, then compost, some coffee chaff, some soil, wood mulch on top.  It needs to grow for a few years before we can dig up the roots to use in medicinal teas.  I had to think about where to place it, but finally decided on a spot near the sea kale and turkish rocket plants, which are in full bloom right now.  I put a little fence around it to protect it from random water hoses or accidental mishaps.

Dear mother earth, dear trees, dear home, bless our human lives.  Bless this world with its many troubles.  Bless the parents who are being separated from their children, the children being separated from their parents.  Bless those who struggle for justice, for dignity, for the water, for the people, for the planet.Licorice sea kale rocket

 

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My Mystic Father

Dad at 48

[My dad at the age of 48.]

My father Richard Johnson’s funeral is today, and one of my family members will read this story I shared in my book:

I grew up with a father who was a mystic. My father didn’t merely believe in God, he was in love with God. He had called out to God and experienced an answer. It filled his life like a contagious fire. A spark of that fire ignited in my heart too.

My father later described to me his own pivotal experience, which occurred when I was about eight years old. He told me that one day in prayer he had offered his life to God unreservedly. A few days later he was lifted to a state of spiritual bliss that continued for two weeks. During that time, he could feel no pain, and he said if he went walking in the rain, he literally did not get wet. It was during the time when the Russian cosmonauts became the first human beings to leave the earth’s atmosphere, and when he tried to explain what had happened for him, that became his metaphor—he was lifted out of this world. When he read the Christian scriptures, he was struck by the message that Jesus, who had been in glory with God, left that glory to become a human being. He felt then, he too should let go of this heavenly state, and come back into the ordinary human world of suffering and joy, so he could be of service. And so he did.

Living with a mystical father was a powerful gift for me. From my earliest memories, I was familiar with the idea that God could touch our lives. Learning to pray was like learning to talk—there was an expectation someone was listening. God lived in our house like another member of the family. God was talked about as a source of infinite Love. I experienced moments of being held in the care of a strong and cherishing presence.

The Poetry of Preaching

As I move toward retirement, I have been bringing back old favorite sermons to preach again.  This one, called Patience and Poetry,  reminded me of the poetry that preaching itself can be.  It feels like poetry when I am able to weave together certain images, vivid metaphors, weave together the words of others with my own, creating some sort of whole from these previously unrelated parts.  So in this sermon, the image of the grasshopper became a central thread, and perhaps also the grass below our feet.  I will miss this form of poetic endeavor, so different from other forms of writing, (though I will not miss the suffering that each sermon required to create.)  I don’t often share sermons on the blog–too long–but here it is for today.

Grasshopper

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

Reading:  On The Grasshopper And Cricket (1817) by John Keats

The poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead
In summer luxury,—he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.

What is patience? The dictionary describes it as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation or the like; or, an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay; or, quiet steady perseverance, diligence, and care. Its root is in the Latin, pati, which means to undergo or suffer, connoting the bearing of an action caused by another or beyond our own control.

What is poetry? The dictionary says it is the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts; or, lofty thought or impassioned feeling expressed in imaginative words. The word comes from poet which derives from the Greek poiein, which means to make, plus tes, which connotes an agent.

At their roots then, these words patience and poetry are almost opposites—one implying quiet acceptance of what comes our way, and the other pointing to active creation. And yet, I think perhaps that any poet would say: no word is merely fashioned simply and easily on the page, child of the act of writing. Rather there is some mysterious deeper quality of waiting, or receptivity, even suffering, to bring it forth. And in the midst of bearing the most tumultuous of storms, when life overthrows our well-imagined plans, we can discover moments of pure creativity—songs we choose to carry us through the night.

Poet Adrienne Rich wrote:1

A wild patience has taken me this far
as if I had to bring to shore
a boat with a spasmodic outboard motor
old sweaters, nets, spray-mottled books
tossed in the prow
some kind of sun burning my shoulder-blades.
Splashing the oarlocks. Burning through.”

And then later,

After so long, this answer.
As if I had always known
I steer the boat in, simply.
The motor dying on the pebbles
cicadas taking up the hum
dropped in the silence.”

The thing is, she isn’t really talking about a boat; she is talking about life. And that is how poetry is. Poetry connects one thing to another, and by those connections seeks to understand something of the imponderable questions that are stirred up in our souls by all that is beyond our control.

Life is both a suffering of what happens to us, and a sometimes heroic story told by ourselves as we make of our lives something beautiful. That is the real poetry—the whole wide range of creativity that human beings bring forth from our messy, muddled, magical lives.

Where does creativity come from? The writer looks out the window and sees the sunlight melting ice from the trees, with a sound like rain strangely falling on the dazzling bright snow. The gold finch’s olive drab feathers are turning yellow at the feeder. A rhythmic beat, a moment of beauty. But something more. In March, already the buds are forming on the tips of tree branches. Already the seeds are stirring. Then the ice comes with bracing wind. There is a struggle between winter and spring, shifting alliances moving back and forth each morning. But the sun is patient, each day bringing a few more minutes of light.

Some things can be rushed. Phone calls made, shopping done, bills paid, floors swept, dishes washed. But some things can only be brought forth in their own good time. A wild patience is needed for creativity. Patience like the patience of the sun in March. Life carries the original rhythms.

In Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, entitled: “Patience Taught By Nature”, she wrote:

‘O dreary life,’ we cry, ‘ O dreary life ! ‘
And still the generations of the birds
Sing through our sighing, and the flocks and herds
Serenely live while we are keeping strife
…Meek leaves drop yearly from the forest-trees
To show, above, the unwasted stars that pass
In their old glory: O thou God of old,
Grant me some smaller grace than comes to these !–
But so much patience as a blade of grass
Grows by, contented through the heat and cold.

Jeffrey Lockwood is an entomologist who studies grasshoppers. During his first summer of research, he spent hours and days and weeks in a field, observing and videotaping. He wrote:

The greatest virtue of my summer’s work would be patience. …I didn’t analyze the ten-foot shelf of videotapes until later that fall, but even in the summer I knew full well what grasshoppers did most of the time: nothing. Absolutely nothing. Despite my focus on the times when the grasshoppers were “doing” something, for forty-three minutes of every hour they were not doing anything.2

Mary Oliver wrote:3

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

There is a creativity that can only come to us through quiet waiting. Through doing absolutely nothing. Through paying attention. That is one kind of patience. Robert Epstein, a professor in human behavioral studies and one-time editor in chief of Psychology Today, wrote, “In my laboratory research, I’ve learned about the enormous benefits waiting has for creativity. When people are struggling to solve a problem, the more time they have, the more creative they become. Even long periods of inactivity are eventually followed by breakthroughs. The main challenge is to teach people to relax while ‘nothing’ seems to be happening.”4

Entomologist Lockwood writes, “Our struggle to understand the languor [of the grasshopper] arises from our approaching these creatures with the same question with which we approach each other: ‘What do you do?’ It is as if we can define all worth in terms of what someone or something does.” He goes on to say,

If we seek to reveal the inherent worth and dignity of life—…then it is not surprising that a grasshopper might spend a couple of hours just sitting. I am reminded that Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist priest, suggested that when people are hurrying about and shouting, “Don’t just sit there, do something!” the crisis might be more effectively addressed if a quiet voice admonished us, “Don’t do something, just sit there.” Maybe grasshoppers would make good Buddhists.”

In one of my idle moments, I googled the words patience and grasshopper, and discovered that there are T-shirts that say “Patience Grasshopper” on them. Actually, they say “Patience,” with a picture of a grasshopper. What is this about? I wondered. Through much more googling, I finally found a reference to the old television series, Kung Fu. Master Po, apparently, was always saying to Kwai-Chang Kane, “Patience, Grasshopper, Patience.” Kane wasn’t patient. That is why the Master gave him the name, Grasshopper—because he wasn’t quiet enough—he wasn’t paying attention enough—to notice the sound of a grasshopper near his feet.

Going back to the work of Jeffrey Lockwood, who pays attention to grasshoppers—the irony is that his job is to kill them. He works for cattle ranchers in Wyoming, and grasshoppers can wipe out the fields that cattle need to graze on. He is an ecologist, and has helped to figure out how to kill grasshoppers with fewer pesticides, and less overall harm to the environment. But the role of respectful observer doesn’t sit easily with the role of careful executioner. He writes:

At the beginning and end of each summer, I sneak away from my field assistants… to be alone, to pray. This is a time when I experience the fullness of the prairie, when I seek what lies at the core of my intentions as a scientist, and when I release the guilt and shame. The thought-words are different each time, but the question I ask myself persists: Why do I continue to develop the means of killing these creatures?

I justify killing grasshoppers because my intentions are purified by love for them. I am soothed by the notion that I mean well, that I foster a world in which there is less killing, and fewer misunderstandings between species. I tell myself that intentions are all that we really control; outcomes are evasive and uncertain. But spraying thousands of acres with insecticides, regardless of intentions, is going to do a lot of harm.”

Life is always messy and our choices are complicated. Lockwood compares his work with that of his father, a nuclear weapons researcher who believed that what he was doing would prevent war with the Soviet Union. How do we create change in the world? How is peace brought forth? Can we find the patience to wait until we have clarity about what we should do? Or must we have patience with our own imperfect attempts, as we dirty our hands and muddy our feet seeking to create the path forward?

After all, nature itself is not merely sparkling sun and singing birds. Lockwood talks of walking along a barbwire fence, on which every forth or fifth barb held a grasshopper. This was the doing of the shrike, a bird that impales its prey for safe storage, and barbed wire was an alternative to its standard thornbush. He comments that brutality was not the exclusive purview of humans. Grasshoppers, too, are cannibals, and will quickly eat their dead companions.

Mary Oliver, in “A Dream of Trees,”8 wrote:

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees,
A quiet house, some green and modest acres
A little way from every troubling town,
A little way from factories, schools, laments.
I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,
With only streams and birds for company.
To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.
And then it came to me, that so was death,
A little way away from everywhere.
There is a thing in me still dreams of trees,
But let it go. Homesick for moderation,
Half the world’s artists shrink or fall away.
If any find solution, let him tell it.
Meanwhile I bend my heart toward lamentation
Where, as the times implore our true involvement,
The blades of every crisis point the way.
I would it were not so, but so it is.
Who ever made music of a mild day?

Creativity emerges in the heat of crisis. Patience is forged in the fiery struggle to sort out impossible choices. When I first planted a garden I was surprised—most of the work was about killing things—pulling weeds, drowning slugs in stale beer, thinning seedlings, by which it is meant, throwing away some perfectly fine little carrots so that the others can grow larger roots. Patience is a forgiveness for the tragedy of this world—that nothing is quite what we might like to imagine or dream, that everything is tinged with lamentation. Can we still embrace the stained and messy whole of it? Can we shape the clay of each day into a vessel that might hold a flower?

In the ancient Celtic world, Brigit, the Goddess of poetry was also the goddess of healing and of smithcraft—she shaped the broken things of the world through fire, into beauty and usefulness.

Mary Oliver wrote, in a poem entitled “Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End”:9

There are things you can’t reach. But
you can reach out to them, and all day long.
The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God.
And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.
The snake slides away; the fish jumps, like a little lily,
out of the water and back in; the goldfinches sing
from the unreachable top of the tree.
I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.
Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
as though with your arms open.
And thinking: maybe something will come, some
shining coil of wind,
or a few leaves from any old tree –
they are all in this too.
And now I will tell you the truth.
Everything in the world
comes.
At least, closer.
And, cordially.
Like the nibbling, tinsel-eyed fish; the unlooping snake.
Like goldfinches, little dolls of gold
fluttering around the corner of the sky
of God, the blue air.

Creativity comes to those who wait, “as though with your arms open.” And maybe that is also the definition of prayer. A kind of active waiting. A wild patience in the middle of the muddiness. Whatever the grasshopper is doing, before it leaps into the air.

CLOSING WORDS
As those who are struggling will say, each day,
God grant us the patience to accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Citations, where known:
1 From the poem “Integrity,” by Adrienne Rich.
2 Jeffrey Lockwood, Grasshopper Dreaming (Skinner House Books, 2002) pp. 5-6.
3 Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day,” in New and Selected Poems, p. 94.
4 Robert Epstein, Psychology Today, 9/01/2001, at https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200109/waiting?collection=10059
8 New and Selected Poems, p. 247.
9 “Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End” in Why I Wake Early, p. 8-9.

Into the Beauty

We never know when there might be magic and beauty right around the corner–if we only make a choice to look.  My day started a bit upside down and backwards–I woke before 4 a.m. with sinus pain, and never got back to sleep after I started up a vaporizer.  Finally I turned on the light, and slowly started my day in a rather bedraggled and sluggish way.  After a while, it occurred to me to just let go of the upside down feeling, and enter the day afresh.  I offered a prayer to the Mama to help me step into the flow of the River, let the magic guide me.

So in that spirit, I put on my coat and boots and went out for a walk about 7 a.m.  I went out the back door and walked around the west side of the house along the driveway to the front.  When I turned to go into the street, toward the east, there was suddenly this beauty of a pink and golden sky before me.  It felt like an affirmation of my prayer.   May you also find magic and beauty right around the corner today!
Sunrise surprise

Pray with Water Protectors Today

The Water Protectors at Standing Rock have called for a day of prayer today.  The Governor of North Dakota and the Army Corps of Engineers have given an eviction notice to the Oceti Sakowin camp that takes effect 2 p.m. today (Mountain Time).  They have said that everyone remaining in the camps will be arrested. You can call the Army Corps at 202-761-8700 and demand an extension. But also–Pray!  The people in the camps have been cleaning up the camps from the aftermath of the blizzards in December and in preparation for spring flooding.  In a video released Monday, women said

“After the deadline for February 22 at 2pm, we are all at risk of facing arrest, police brutality, federal charges and prison time.”  “In the history of colonization, they’ve always given us two options. Give up our land or go to jail, give up our rights or go to jail. And now, give up our water, or go to jail. We are not criminals.”

From Arvol Looking Horse, last night:

Right away I woke remembering our history of abuses we have suffered from the continued need from Mother Earth’s Resources. My heart is heavy today, for what we are all facing together with tomorrow’s deadline in the removal of the Standing Rock’s Camps…
Because of the seriousness of this situation, I humbly would like to once again call upon all the Religious/Spiritual Leaders, URI and the People who traveled to Standing Rock’s sacred fire on December 4th. (Sari At Uri) Pray with us at your own sacred places for Mother Earth, her Mni wic’oni (water of life) and the protection of our People who are still at the Standing Rock Camps.

We also need to remember healing for those who are making these dangerous decisions that have only ended up abusing all life.

I too will stand in the sacred place with our Sacred Bundle to offer prayers – if anyone would like to join me by bringing offerings to the Bundle, they are welcome – @ 2:00pm mountain time on Wednesday February 22, 2017.

Please pray with us where ever you are upon Mother Earth.

Mother Earth is a Source of Life – Not a Resource.

Onipikte (that we shall live) ,

Nac’a Arvol Looking Horse C’anupa Awiyanka (Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe)

When I walk in my own neighborhood at dawn, I pray, and I come to this sacred place, the small brook that feeds into Capisic Brook.  On the walk, I hear and see the cardinals singing.  They are praying.  Back in my yard, I pray there, because this too is a sacred place. The crows are shouting to each other.  They are praying.  Let us all join in this sacred work, from wherever we are.  Water is life.  The Earth is our mother.  We are all one.

Capisic Brook feeder

[Capisic Brook]

Bearing Witness for the Future

PUC Hearing Net-Metering Rules Oct 17

Photo by Livio Filice, via Facebook. (I am in the front row in a yellow solar shirt.)

Yesterday I participated in the public hearing held by the Public Utility Commission for new net metering rules in Maine.  From one testimony, I learned that these proposed rules are the most regressive, anti-solar rules in the nation.  In another testimony, Conservation Law Foundation attorney Emily Green questioned whether this process is even legal, since the changes are drastic enough that they are no longer really net-metering rules, but rather serve to eliminate net-metering–and thus are not within the purview of the Commission. Also noted was the fact that no economic impact statements had been prepared, prior to the hearing, as required by regulation.  Sadly, none of this made it into the story run by the Portland Press Herald today.

I gave testimony, too, but not on technical details or the effects on jobs or existing solar customers.  I spoke in my role as a minister, taking a look at the bigger picture.  Here is what I said:

I want to speak of our responsibility to the future generations, our grandchildren and their grandchildren.  Every gallon of oil we use today is a theft from the quality of life for those future generations.  If we take our responsibility seriously, we should be doing everything possible to shift all of our energy use to renewables, as soon as possible.

That responsibility to the future generations is why my family downsized from a 2000 square foot home to a 1000 square foot home–so we could afford to put solar panels on our roof and use less oil.  It only works for us because of some kind of net metering–solar produces energy during the day, and more during the summer, so we need to draw from the grid at night and in the winter, from the credits we build up during the sunshine. Net-metering makes it work.

But even so, there are only so many things I can do as an individual.  We need to be moving collectively toward an energy policy that will leave a livable future world for our grandchildren.  It is that serious!  We are creating in our time the story that the future generations of human beings will live.  Will it be a story of hardship?  Wars over declining resources? Chaos, and violence? Or will it be a story of human beings living in mutually beneficial relationship to each other and to all beings of the earth?

I know which story I am committed to–and I think we all want that.  It means doing everything possible to encourage the transition to renewable energy.  I pray that you will go home tonight and think of those future generations–our grandchildren and their grandchildren.  I pray that we might leave them a beautiful world–a world we know is possible.

We were told that all testimony was recorded and will be able to be seen at the website of the commission, but it is not posted yet, as far as I can tell.  The website is very difficult to navigate. If you want to find out more about this rule making case, you can follow this link.  If you want to make a comment on these proposed changes, you can do so at this page, using the case number 2016-00222.

There is a lot more to say about all this, but for today I will leave it with my prayer–that we might leave a beautiful world for the future generations.

 

#NoDAPL

One of the most important actions of our time is taking place right now.  The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and thousands of Native and non-Native allies are peacefully camping near the junction of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, to protect the water from contamination.  These are the waters that the Tribe relies on for its water supply.  Water is life, water is sacred. This is a non-violent gathering to pray and to stand up for life, named the Camp of the Sacred Stones.

But construction has already begun on the Dakota Access Pipeline, meant to carry fracked crude oil from the Bakken plains through North and South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois where it will be refined. The plan is for the pipeline to go underneath the river, despite the risk that creates for the tribe and for millions of others who rely on the Missouri for water.

As the tribal spokespeople remind us, oil pipelines break, spill and leak—it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of where and when. In fact, a route close to Bismarck was deemed not viable due to its proximity to Bismarck, and the fact that the route crossed through or in close proximity to several wellhead source water protection areas, including areas that contribute water to municipal water supply wells. Yet despite these real consequences, the Army Corps of Engineers never took a hard look at the impacts of an oil spill on the Tribe, as the law requires. No explanation has been provided as to why the health of, and protection of water resources on which, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal members depend are any less significant or vital as those of the City of Bismarck.

Instead, now the pipeline is set to run through land that is sacred to the Tribe. Federal law requires that sacred places be protected in consultation with the Tribe, but the Corps has not complied with that requirement, either.

That is the bad news.  But the good news is that thousands of people have rallied to stand in solidarity with the Tribe and for the water.  In August, 10,000 people joined in prayers with the elders from the Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation.  Representatives from over 180 indigenous nations have offered support, along with faith leaders, the United Nations, and Amnesty International.

I am happy to say that my Unitarian Universalist colleagues and I are among those supporters.  I sent a letter that was signed by 100 UU faith leaders.  Here is what it said:

Mr. David Archambault II, Chairman, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Building 1, N. Standing Rock Avenue, P.O. Box D, Fort Yates, ND 58538

August 29, 2016

Dear Chairman Archambault,

We write as Unitarian Universalist faith leaders to let you know that our prayers and support are with you in your courageous actions against the Dakota Access Pipeline.  We understand that the pipeline will cross treaty lands, burial grounds, and the Missouri River, the water source for the tribe as well as for millions of others.  We are appalled that this project was approved and construction begun without any meaningful consultation with the tribe, counter to federal law and treaty obligations. We support you in your effort to protect your sacred land and water, as well as to create a future for all of our grandchildren.

We speak as people of faith whose principles call us to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.  In these times, when the well-being of our entire ecosystem is threatened, we honor the leadership of Indigenous peoples who are showing us a path toward creating a more beneficial relationship to the earth and all beings of the earth.

We are writing to you to offer our support, and to let you know that we are also contacting our government officials to call on them to follow treaty and federal law obligations, and to protect the water which is so utterly necessary for all life on earth.

Sincerely… (signed by me and 99 other Unitarian Universalist leaders)

Will human beings continue to destroy the water and earth, or will we open our hearts to live with respect and gratitude? The next moment of decision is when a federal court will issue a ruling on September 9th.  If you want to offer support for the earth, the water, and treaty obligations, you can find out more at the Standing Rock Tribal website.

River Magic

The Presumpscot River where we expressed our gratitude to our local river water, and prayed for the Sacred Stone camp and the waters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.