Grounding

Range Pond October 1

A shift has happened in my spirit, and I feel grounded in a way I haven’t felt for several weeks. I’m not sure why, but a few things have happened this week that might be related.

Three days ago, after windy rain, the power went out about 9:30 in the morning. Happily, I’d already eaten breakfast and installed a new shop light in the garage. (As a friend framed it on Facebook one day, it was a project that took two months and fifteen minutes.) So I took a short walk and discovered a few blocks away that a tree had fallen on some wires. It might be a while. I had an appointment to pick up groceries from the store, but also happily, when I called, they said it would be okay to wait until our power was back on.

Waiting for the next several hours, I noticed that my mind was in a kind of tormented withdrawal from its usual access to constant stimulation. No social media (saving my phone battery for more important things), no book to read (saving my phone, etc.), no television shows. Not enough energy to do a project. A really uncomfortable stillness. Margy and I ate lunch on the patio, and I noticed it was much easier to deal with my mind outside, so after lunch I pruned out some raspberry canes. Finally, the electricity came back–and then it was groceries to pick up and process.

Two days ago, in the morning I facilitated a very productive meeting of our Decolonizing Faith Project. We are moving toward completion of a Zoom version of our workshop for faith communities. That felt good.

Later that day, Margy and I decided to go on a rare outing. We took a drive to search for beautiful autumn color, and found our way out to Range Pond, about forty minutes from where we live. (And by the way, for those who aren’t from around here, I don’t know why but Range Pond is pronounced Rang Pond.) I took my shoes off and waded in the still warm water, delighted to watch the sun ripple off the sand. Sun, water, trees: a healing balm for our souls.

Yesterday morning, after a long night’s sleep, I woke quite early and was writing in my journal, surprised at how peaceful and grounded I felt. I remembered–and this is key I think–I remembered that throughout my adult life there has never been a time I did not hate the atrocities committed by our government. (Wars, empire, ravaging the earth for profit, oppression of people of color, you know the list.) Yes, lately, those atrocities have intensified. But I had protested every administration, and realistically, felt little power to stop those atrocities.

I also remembered that when I was part of the Catholic Worker movement, I learned that resistance can take the form of personalism: we attempt to live out our values personally, and in community–we fed the hungry, housed the homeless, welcomed the “stranger.” We treated all people with respect, and practiced peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. We also protested, not merely to try to change the government, but also to keep clarity in the values we affirmed.

And I remembered that that has always been my own best path of resistance. (That’s why Margy and I chose to green our own living situation, to plant a garden, to learn to more deeply love the land we are living on.) When I was active as the minister of a congregation for many years, I needed to widen my perspective, to hold and affirm many ways of living our values. But now that I am retired, now that I am chronically ill, I am coming back to the core of my own journey. And it is okay to do what I can, and not to be tormented by what I have no power to change.

So all of that was grounding my spirit as the sun was rising yesterday.

And then, later, I did check Facebook, and saw everyone posting about the president getting a positive test for COVID19, and speculating about whether it was true, and what it might mean. And I really do honor the angst that people are feeling about the state of our country, and the election coming up, and the possible undermining of democracy, and so much more. But this time, I didn’t lose my balance. I didn’t get hooked into the chaos. I remembered that I don’t have to loudly condemn every atrocity or agonize over all the pain that I cannot alleviate. It is not a moral necessity to be panicked and despairing over all the evil in the world.

I remembered my own path, my own calling, the small ways that I can live into a vision of mutuality, of respect, of healing. I am writing to help myself remember, for those times that I forget again and again. And perhaps to help you remember your own calling, if you have forgotten in the midst of these strange times. May our many small actions be joined together by the great Mystery into the beauty that is possible.

Too Small to Make a Difference?

Snow on branches

[Snowflakes on branches]

Continuing from my prior post, as we confront the great challenges of our time, there is another hurdle that we may face—sometimes we feel as if the problems of our nation are so big, that what we have to offer is too small to make a difference. One approach to this problem is offered by Israeli writer, Amos Oz. He says,

Everyone of us has to choose confronting a big fire. Everyone of us has a teaspoon. Fill it with water and throw it in the fire. The teaspoon is very small and the fire is very large, but there are many of us and every one of us has a teaspoon. I do what I can as a teacher, as a writer, as a neighbor, as a citizen, to pour some water on the flames of hatred and incitement and fanaticism and bigotry and prejudice. I have words and I use words. My words are my teaspoon. This is what I can do. What can you do?”

When each of us does our small part, something can change about the larger problems.

Writer Charles Eisenstein goes even further. He addresses the underlying logic that permeates our society and our movements, that we need “big solutions to big problems.” This logic says, “whatever you do on a local level, you’d better make sure… it can go viral, because otherwise its impact will be trivial.” He says that “contained within this logic is an implicit hierarchy that values the contributions of some people more than others. It values the activities of people who have a big reach, a big platform, a loud voice, or the money or institutional power to affect thousands or millions of people.” And he finds this suspect in the movement for transformation because it is the same valuation as the dominant society’s allocation of status and power.

He explores the theories of change that underly such logic—that “change happens only when a force is exerted on a mass.” But the problem with this logic is that “the ruling elites” of the world always have “more force-based power—more money, more guns, …a bigger voice—than any activist organization ever could.” Yet, throughout history, there have been changes that happened in unexpected ways, from unexpected places. He says, “Reality often turns out to be the opposite of what the arithmetic of measurable impact would suggest. The most potent actions are often the ones done without forethought of publicity… Every act we take ripples out to affect the whole world…”

He goes on to reflect,

“My indoctrination into the logic of bigness has exerted an insidious effect on my own life, causing me always to question whether I am doing enough. When I focus on the small, intimate realms of life, taking the hours to tend to a relationship, to beautify a space, perhaps, or to enter the timeless child’s world with my youngest son, I am subject to an unease along the lines of, ‘There is something more important I’m supposed to be doing.’ The logic of bigness devalues the very heart of life.”

I thought about this logic of bigness quite a bit when I was trying to publish my book. I sent book proposals to several publishers, but got only rejections. One publisher was kind enough to give a reason. They said, your writing is good, but we don’t know how to market this kind of book because you are not well-known, and there is no big hook to pull people in. I didn’t have a big enough voice. But when I decided to self-publish the book, it grew from a sense that even a small voice must speak its truth, even a small bird has a song to sing. And so I named my publishing imprint Small Bird Press.

If we are all interconnected, then our gifts and our limits are intertwined for the life of the whole—what each of us has to offer is unique and irreplaceable. In the world of which we dream, hierarchy has given way to the circle of community. In the world in which we struggle, some of us will have the power to lobby, to protest, to rage against the destruction that can be caused by greed run amok. Others will have the power to grow gardens, to teach children to be kind, to dance and sing so that our spirits are replenished. All of it is important in this time.  We must live the life that wants to be lived in us, we must follow the lead of our hearts.