when it seems like too much

In the midst of this intentional time of rest and healing in my life, I have been gardening, as I am able.  Sometimes even the garden needs more than I have to offer.  I have days when I feel overwhelmed by my own lack of knowledge about how to care for the trees, how to deal with challenges to them, how to help them thrive.  Margy reminds me that it is a learning experience.

Peach Tree SoresSo the latest “too much” were these sores on the peach tree trunk.  Our friend Mihku noticed them, and suggested they were peach tree borers.  The usual remedy is to cut out the wound with a knife and poke the caterpillars manually. But I couldn’t seem to find any clear culprits, and truthfully, the trunk is so small, I was afraid to do too much.

I researched what I could on the internet, and in my Holistic Orchard book.  Sometimes that is overwhelming, too–to read about everything that can go wrong. Beneficial nematodes were mentioned as a possible solution for peach borers, but the only options for purchasing online were in sizes meant for an orchard, not a solitary tree.  I did find a product locally with Bt in it, but that was said to work better on leaf and surface eaters, rather than trunk borers.  Perhaps it is just me, or perhaps it is these times, with the overlay of such despair growing in so many realms, but this problem just felled me, sent me to my bed.

Eventually I did get up again.  I prayed for the tree. I prayed for help.  I consulted my spirit stone, a beautiful rock with a hole through its center, that I use as a pendulum for guidance when I feel uncertain or overwhelmed. I pulled out some products that we use for the orchard, and consulted the stone about whether any of them might be helpful.  Then I noticed that the very simple label on the bottle of Neem Oil mentioned the concentration to use in the case of borers.  Okay.  The stone agreed.  So I made up a small quantity–1 teaspoon Neem Oil to 2 cups water, with some dish soap added as an emulsifier.  I also felt like adding a little compost, in hopes of introducing some beneficial microorganisms.  I washed the mixture over the trunk with a rag.

Peach TreeSomehow, calling for help from the Spirit, and then taking one small step to do something got me going again.  It might not work.  The tree is so beautiful and healthy, and has grown so well this first year, that it would break my heart if it is killed by this wound.  We’re not a big orchard.  Each of our trees is precious and the only one of its kind in our yard.  I had also recently purchased some tall stakes, so I staked the tree (not yet in the photo) and also put up stakes for the mulberry tree, the apple tree, and created a border of stakes and string for the raspberry bushes, which are growing fruit now.

I know so little about how to care for the trees, the plants, the creatures of this yard, this small circle of the earth.  Meanwhile, we human beings are doing so much harm to all beings, and it may be too late to heal.  Meanwhile, the powerful seem bent on destruction and abuse and greed.  Meanwhile, so many wounds everywhere coming into the light.  I don’t seem to have any answers these days. I am trying to be quiet, to attune to the deep River of Life, to stop pushing, acting, deciding… I am trying to wait for the River to move me.  I am trying to learn how to care for the garden. I am reminded of some verses from the Tao Te Ching (translation by Stephen Mitchell.)

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

May the River of Life have mercy on us.

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

Healing Waters

Healing Mineral Waters Jemez Hot Spring

I am on retreat with my friend in Albuquerque, and we started off by visiting the Jemez Hot Springs, and soaked for an hour in their healing mineral waters.  All of our tensions floated away, and our bodies and souls felt renewed and relaxed. I loved that we were under the watchful arms of an ancient Egyptian river Goddess.

My intention for this time of retreat is to re-emerge myself in Spirit after a long hard winter, to prepare myself for the transition ahead as I retire this summer from my work as a parish minister, and venture into the next phase of my journey.

Times of big changes are liminal times, sacred times, but perhaps also times of anxiety and danger.  I want to stay true to the leadings of my body and spirit that have brought me to this crossroads.  One of those leadings came from the weariness of my body, its chronic illness and auto-immune flare-ups that left me bedraggled and exhausted. I know it is time to stop pushing it so hard.  How fitting for my first day here to bring my body to these healing springs.

I am also already absorbing so much nurture from deep conversations with a sister in spirit who understands the call of ministry and justice, and who understands the lessons of the body, the lessons we learn from limitation and illness.  I am nurtured by this sister traveler into the country of elderhood.  River Goddess

 

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]

Prophecy, #4

Another important aspect of communal prophecy is that those of us whose voices are often heard, who have the privilege that creates a larger platform, need to stop speaking sometimes; we need to step back and take time to listen to the voices that have been marginalized. We need to listen to those who are targeted, not merely to come to their aid, but to learn from them, and to take leadership from them. Indigenous people and other people of color have access to truths that mainstream American society may not be able to discern, or may choose not to notice.

For example, those who are new immigrants have valuable truths to share. I think about how so many newcomers to Maine survived in the midst of oppression and persecution in their home countries. They developed personal and communal tools that might be important for all of us in the coming months. Plus, they can observe truths about American culture that those of us who have lived in it all our lives can’t see.

Reza Jalali, a human rights activist and educator, and immigrant to Maine from Iran, gave me some hopeful insights when we were talking about the change in power in Washington. He said, “America has so many non-governmental organizations, like schools and hospitals and churches, and other voluntary associations. These are a potentially powerful source of checks and balances against the damage that the current administration may try to do. Other countries which fell to authoritarian regimes did not have this resource for resistance.”

I had never really thought about our associations and organizations as a resource like that. I had assumed that every country had such things. But someone who has been an outsider can see more clearly what we often take for granted.  Those who have been outsiders within our own country can best name what needs to be known.

I am reminded of a song by Holly Near, called Listen to the Voices. One verse goes like this: “Listen to the voices of the First Nations/Calling out the messages Of the earth and sky/Telling us what we need to know/In order to survive”

Native people have been on the front lines for many decades, even centuries, in the battle against corporate takeover of land and resources. When the people at Standing Rock tell us that water is life, and we need to protect the water, that is prophecy of the highest order. When they build a movement based on prayer and non-violence, we should be taking notes.

Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke has said,

My advice is: learn history. Take responsibility for history. Recognize that sometimes things take a long time to change. If you look at your history in this country, you find that for most rights, people had to struggle.

One of our people in the Native community said the difference between white people and Indians is that Indian people know they are oppressed but don’t feel powerless. White people don’t feel oppressed, but feel powerless. Deconstruct that disempowerment. Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you. Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.

To be a community of prophecy, to see what is happening, we must listen to the voices that are speaking the truths we cannot see ourselves. We must listen to history, we must listen to the earth, we must listen to people of color, and we must listen to the voice from within, the power in our spirits.

Sun on frozen pond

Portland Stands with Standing Rock

Standing with Standing Rock in Portland ME

Portland Stands with Standing Rock, Photo by Katrina Van Brugh

Sometimes our spirits know that we must go to another place to support the struggle to protect Indigenous rights and water. But sometimes our spirits tell us to stay put, and lend support from where we are, in whatever we can.  That is my particular calling in this moment, even though a part of my heart is out in Standing Rock every day.  But I was happy to stand in the rain on Saturday in Portland, Maine, with a few dozen people, including these young people from my congregation. Somehow being in the rain also felt right, because #waterislife.

This week many of my clergy colleagues have gone to the site of the camps, to bring a message of support, and I am glad for them to be there.  I am happy that our religious voices can be aligned with sovereignty and justice, after so much damage has been done in the name of the churches throughout the history of this land.

I am also glad personally to be following the spirit’s lead on this, because something is happening right now in our world which is deeper than politics, deeper than the divide between right and left, deeper than what any of the media are willing or able to talk about. It cannot be figured out by thinking or talking.  It is deeper than that.  It comes from the depth of the mysterious forces that give life, that sustain life, on our beautiful planet.

In a time of despair, that which can give us hope is often hidden from public view, bubbling up in unexpected places.  The energy and magic that is Standing Rock is not limited to that one place, but emerges wherever the people find our connection to the land, our connection to the water. Still, what is emerging at Standing Rock goes much deeper than I am able to fully understand, even when I open my heart to the mystery and the flow of it.  But every morning, I do open my heart to that mystery, and offer what energy and gifts I may offer to it.

The House Revisited

All right. I’ve just had one of the funniest moments in our search for greener housing. We went to see a house today, some things were good, but the layout seemed all wrong. And then we checked out the back yard, which was nice.  And then we looked in the small garage, and it was set up as a man-cave, with two big chairs and a television set and a refrigerator, and lots of junk laying around and an overpowering smell of cigarette smoke. Suddenly it seemed very familiar. Wasn’t there another house with a man-cave garage just like this one?

When I got home I checked my file with listing sheets of houses we had visited, and there it was; dated August 25th. We had already seen that very house. Yesterday it showed up as a new listing with the catch phrase, “back on the market,” and I never recognized it until the man-cave. Even our realtor didn’t recognize it at first. My only excuse is that I think we may have looked at it the same day as we saw the house with the beautiful window–so maybe we didn’t pay it much attention.

What is the moral of this story? Even the universe likes a good joke?

Turkey DSC00335

Red Haired Girls and Ring Forts

When she learned we were traveling to Ireland, a colleague recommended Patricia Monaghan’s book The Red Haired Girl from the Bog.  I read it over the last few months, and it was indeed a wonderful introduction to the myths and magical places of Ireland.  Monaghan feels like a true kindred spirit, finding the sacred in the land, and in the stories connected to the land in each place. She speaks about how rooted Irish people are to the places in which they live–they are indigenous to their own places.  Each place has stories that connect it to the near and distant past.  Even in the place names themselves are clues to the lives and lore back to times before history.

I have been exploring in my own life how to connect to the land, how to connect to a place, and her stories provide many inspirations for the process, though also reminding me of how shallow the roots of Euro-descent culture in North America.  Many of our North American place names also harken back to the peoples Indigenous to this place, and hold clues to the old stories of this land.

Yesterday morning, here in Ireland, I took a walk to a neolithic Ring Fort that is on this land at Ashley Park House, where we are staying.  They also call it a Fairy Fort, and the young woman who serves our breakfast talked about people’s superstitions about the Fairy Forts.  She said it was believed people used to bury unbaptized babies in those places, since they could not be buried in the Catholic cemeteries, and some people wouldn’t touch a Ring Fort unless it had been blessed by a priest.  I didn’t worry about that, but was very mindful and respectful of whomever the Spirit beings might be in such an ancient place.

This fort is covered in vegetation and beech trees were growing within and around it.  I took some photos but it was hard to capture the feel of it in a photo.  Imagine a stone embankment about 5 or 6 feet tall (but covered with soil and bushes and trees) in a circle maybe 80 meters in diameter.  I followed a path over the top of the embankment and down in to the middle.  This photo was taken inside the ring, looking over to the embankment.

I am here in this place, where none of my own ancestors have lived, with many unfamiliar plants and animals, but I do know how to give thanks for the sun, and touch the beech trees, and call out to the spirits as I walk around the circle.

Ring Fort Ashley Park

Ring Fort Ashley Park

Consciousness is an Attribute of Being

Remember the sky you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories…
Remember you are all people and that all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you…
Remember.
                                   Joy Harjo

I think it was Laguna Pueblo author, Paula Gunn Allen, who said it, but now I can’t find the original quote. She said something like this: “Many people think of consciousness as an attribute of being human, but we know that consciousness is an attribute of being.”

I have been intrigued and transformed by her observation. What might it mean that human beings are not alone in perceiving, in awareness, in communication? Sometimes the scientists ask those questions about beings most like humans—the apes, the dolphins, the dogs. But beyond that—and not even merely for beings with eyes as we know them? I think about it. Trees are sensitive to light and plants turn toward the sun. Isn’t it less lonely to imagine that trees, birds, water, and stones are conscious, too.

Our culture has wanted to feel that human beings are unique. That we are above the rest of the created world, special. Even in our growing ecological understanding there is a sense that we are the privileged children of the universe. I think it was Carl Sagan who said it, though many ecologists have echoed the sentiment: “We are the universe becoming conscious of itself.” And it is a tremendous gift that we are able to perceive and explore and study the universe of which we are a part. But how do we know that we are the only ones? How do we dare to assume that we are the only ones? Why would we want to be the only ones?

I want to stay with this thought for a few days, and see what changes if we change that one assumption.  If we open to the idea that being itself includes consciousness.

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer

What If God Is a Fractal?

What if God is a fractal? What if God is a pattern that repeats itself from the infinitely large to the infinitely small, a pattern of life and love and creativity?

Human beings have always used images to help us understand the mysterious. Some images of God are like bigger versions of human beings—the Nicene Creed says “I believe in God, the father almighty.” God has often been seen as a father, a king, a ruler, a judge, or a lord.

But when our understanding of the universe grows more complex than these images, some have been tempted to give up on the idea of God. For many people, it doesn’t make any literal sense to imagine a huge king up in the sky somewhere. And if our experience of these authority figures has been difficult, their images are more likely to inspire fear and guilt rather than help us live our lives.

Ferns Full grown DSC05279If I imagine God as a fractal–a self-similar pattern both infinitely large and infinitely small–it helps me to be a whole person—to bring together my reasoning and my heart and my spirit.  It helps my mind to fathom the larger Mystery, as well as to understand the link to that Mystery I feel within my heart.

I am reminded that it is not a new thing to compare God to a geometric shape. The Christian tradition has used the triangle to describe God as trinity. But while the triangle is a static, simple, and smooth figure, a fractal has multiple dimensions, and infinitely complex variations and expressions. That fits my understanding of spirituality—I believe that there are infinite variations in the ways we can experience the holy. As the Sufi poet Rumi has said, “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

There are other metaphors and images of fractal patterns that can expand our idea of God. For example, each cell of the human body contains the DNA pattern that shapes the whole body. If we use our imagination, we might say that human beings are like a single cell in the larger body of the universe and God is like the DNA within each cell, shaping it into its unique being.

Spirituality is a way of connecting our small selves to the mystery and grandeur of the larger whole of which we are a part.  If the larger whole is a fractal pattern, then in some deeply important way, we are already connected by the very pattern itself.