quanita

i met quanita three and a half years ago, in august 2019. i’d just returned from a meditation retreat where the red rocks in New Mexico told me that my inescapable fear was fear of myself. she showed up to guide me as i leaned into this fear, learned from it, and grew into more of the fullness of who i am. she showed up to initiate me.

in meeting her, there was immediate trust. i’m grateful for this. this doesn’t mean it has been easy. it means that i’ve always known she can see things i don’t see; she has access to wisdom that i do not have.

i’m grateful that right away, i knew who she was to me, a teacher, a guide. there was never any question about this. this allowed me to lean in–not only into her, but most importantly, into me.

after our first meeting (the day after my return from the red rocks), i asked her to share some of the book she told me she been writing. she did, without question. i waited to then share, in return, my writing. i knew, already: what i had been writing was in direct conversation with her writing. we already knew one another. the book had been writing itself through us for…ever?? she later texted me simply, “i think you’re supposed to write this book with me.” i wrote back, “me, too.”

in recalling this, i still feel the fear rise up within me. (picture me here, shaking my fists at the heavens!!). how in the hell could i possibly find myself in this book about about the journey from slavery to freedom, written as a love letter to her African American community? how could i co-author this book with Quanita, a Black Shaman, the woman who boldly owns being “The Promise of Forgiveness and Reconciliation?” well, i didn’t know. we never do. this is path of surrender.

because i knew who she was, i could relax into myself. “relax” mistakenly implies this was an easy process…and yet, there was ease. there was ease because quanita loved me without condition. there was no expectation, no judgement. there was truth, and there was clarity. learning and living the distinction has allowed me to practice showing up as me, with confidence that this is all that is asked of us.

my job in contributing to and co-authoring the book wasn’t to know as much or be as wise or woke as Quanita. it was to be amy–as honestly, as courageously as i could be. as we wove together our pieces for the book and listened to what it wanted to be, we named our different stories the “wisdom walk” (hers) and “the warrior walk” (mine). the beauty in this for me was to experience that my walk was not inferior or less than or not as valuable as hers. she helped show me that where i am, who i am, is simply divine.

in this culture, we are taught to compete and try to measure up. we’re conditioned to believe that our worth is earned, proven. walking alongside quanita for the past three and a half years, i’ve learned otherwise. she has shown me that because we are all interdependent and bound up together, that we are divine as is. there are no conditions. she has helped me to know pain as the awakening to more of the whole, the revealing of this interconnectedness. it is not bad; it is not good. it is what it means to be connected. waking up to the pain is an invitation into more of that wholeness.

it ain’t easy. i get so mad at her! i get so mad at the truth. and i laugh and bless myself because i know that underneath my anger is grief which points to forgiveness which points to freedom. all of which is wrapped up in fear.

this week i was telling her about a work scenario and she called me out, telling me to stand my ground. telling me to be who i am in the world. shit.

those red rocks were right. there is such fear of myself. i’m reminded of marianne williamson’s piece here:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

christena cleveland’s new book, “god is a black woman” nails it. i haven’t read it. but i already know. at least i know a bit. of course quanita showed up to initiate me. of course she is the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation. of course, because who else but a dark-skinned Black woman born in Cincinnati, USA with exactly her story to heal the wounds of domination and to show us LOVE?

and as grateful as i am for quanita in my life, i’m equally as grateful to my inner knowing. she showed up because i asked to know myself. i asked to love myself.

today’s medicine

in my story-weaving way, i found myself this morning following the thread of brigid. i lit a fire. and sat with her in the wayfinding of threads in me that are both ancient and new.

this is my labor, now. to go inward and pay attention to what is arising in me. draw close to it and allow it. as i move through life–carrying those threads through my day. there are many messages in our westernized ways that tell us this is not enough. that it doesn’t matter. that this form of labor isn’t valuable.

i know otherwise. there’s evidence.

somehow, as weaving goes, the thread of bear found me. mama bear joined me by the fire, with brigid. the mama bear has been an animal spirit lately, in this time of hibernation and so i was glad to feel her protective presence this morning. she inspired me to google “brigid and bear”.

damnnnnn.

intuition is magic. how we know things we don’t even know we know!

there is a long folklore and myth associated with brigid and the bear that go way back. bear, an ancient symbol of regeneration, birth, renewal, sacrifice, and ritual. jude lally’s blog post brought to light for me a lot here, pointing to archeological and linguistic evidence of bear as birth goddess spanning 6000 years ago with bear cults and totems and spiritual practices.

Brighid and the Rowan Tree by Yuri Leitch

what’s clear as i sit here by my fire is that i’m not alone. going inward, turns me inside out. it connects me to the collective of who i am/who we are.

turns out, i ain’t the only fair skinned woman who feels a sacred relationship with brigid and bear and fire. of course it was no accident that brigid brought me to bear. and that something deep inside me knew.

mmmmm. drinking in the bear medicine and my own knowing.

and…to pull in another thread…

i’m actually writing this during what was intended to be an international ceremonial call with water spirit people. in preparing to facilitate the call, i’ve been presencing .. today’s call took shape with only my sister quanita and i present, allowing me to be with water in a different and intimate way.

which brings together brigid, fire, bear, with the water… what are the lessons? what are the gifts of now?

i’m reminded of a recent conversation i listened to with peter levine and thomas hubl about trauma and spirituality. peter told a story about a lesson he received from albert einstein. it was direct and personal. (and yes, einstein is an ancestor. this wasn’t a factor in the story and that’s another story altogether!) the story went that peter asked albert for help in understanding how trauma transfers across generations as energy. as a healer, peter wanted to know how trauma behaves and moves.

albert showed him. he took peter to the edge of water and held up a stick with pebbles laid across it. he picked up the stick and tipped it, spilling the pebbles into the water. each pebble generated a wave and the waves spread out in concentric circles further and further, with the waves eventually merging into one another. energy is like this, he told peter. it flows across generations. all the energy that has ever been is here, now. all our ancestors, live in us. and when the energy gets blocked–when the waves catch one another–that flow gets blocked. this blockage is an ego point or as peter named it, a trauma point.

so, i’m sitting with brigid, the fire, the bear, and the water today. and i’m asking myself, where is the flow of life blocked in me? blocked in my lineages? where do i experience blockage in the flow of life–in relationship with others? in the world?

photograph by Alma Snortum-Phelps

and as the peter levine and thomas hubl conversation amplifed, those trauma points or blockages are invitations for healing:

“when you’re able to open enough, the wave is able to reconstitute itself and move on.” 

peter levine

i want to open, to reconstitute, to move. i want to participate in the flow of life, to join in the evolutionary impulse that is now. i want to bring forth the gifts of my lineage and contribute to the story of who we are becoming.

and so, here i am. allowing myself to feel. to experience these labor pangs.

the death of my aunt has brought to surface some of these trauma points in my lineage. the waves have moved me, stirring up patterns in my lineage that are asking to be disrupted and healed. patterns that live uniquely in the bodies of white women–mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, granddaughters, grandmothers. patterns that determine worth and value and legitimacy in ways that lead to shame, blame, and guilt. patterns that establish condition and expectation that constrain love and life and liberation. patterns that separate and lead to decay, death, disease. i want to feel these patterns so that i know them. and can choose otherwise.

brigid, as she stands with me and in me at this life threshold supports me as i bear witness to all of this, bringing forth these threads into the weaving of a cloak of forgiveness and compassion. i’m grateful for how much more i can see, standing here with her. i’m grateful for how much more i can see of who we are, who i am.

this labor matters. this labor–like that of the mama bear–is quiet and hidden away in the darkness of cave and winter. and this labor matters. this labor births new life, new worlds.

photograph by jessica weiller

i am a pebble and the waves that i generate extend as far back as the beginning of time and extend as far out as beyond eternity.

i’m birthing and stretching

and allowing life to move through me, in the flow of ever widening circles. 

i matter.

being here and now, matters.

threshold

today is imbolc (and uncommonly, the chinese lunar year). it feels timely. a mix of both new beginnings and threshold. a rite of passage.

first, i’ll say this: over the past couple of years with the vision of wild roots, i’ve turned my attention to the rhythms of the natural world; with this practice, there has been such gifts of wisdom and knowing. mother earth, the wisest teacher.

last night, as my sister tamika and i held a new moon fire + water alumni circle and this piece from john o’donohue came in, poignantly articulating this:

“The earth is our origin and destination. The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows. When we emerge from our offices, rooms and houses, we enter our natural element. We are children of the earth: people to whom the outdoors is home. Nothing can separate us from the vigour and vibrancy of this inheritance. In contrast to our frenetic, saturated lives, the earth offers a calming stillness. Movement and growth in nature takes time. The patience of nature enjoys the ease of trust and hope. There is something in our clay nature that needs to continually experience this ancient, outer ease of the world. It helps us remember who we are and why we are here.”

― John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace

and here, in this particular moment of life, this time of threshold marked by both imbolc and the chinese lunar year offers a helpful lens in my meaning-making. in making sense of all that is shifting both internally and externally. i’m grateful for this.

it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds of life. and i believe we are spiritual beings having human experiences. so, to remember there is meaning beyond the weeds, matters.

all this to say, some shit has been going down in the weeds. i’m in between major contracts at the moment and so in terms of work, there is uncertainty. i chose this. i want this. and it’s still…uncertain. my companion dog, hannah girl has been on the edge of life/death (for years?!) in raw form the past couple of months; she’s stretching my capacities for uncertainty and grief (and knowing and joy!). my father’s beloved sister, my aunt died suddenly last week, shifting the landscape of our family and our ancestral stories. my baby boy is finishing his last semester of high school…

basically, there’s a been a lot of life/death. against the backdrop of a lot of life/death.

and so, given all that’s been moving, it helps for me to receive mother earth’s signal of threshold time. to root here, now.

imbolc–also known as st brigid’s day–marks the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox. it was a pagan festival associated with the goddess brigid who was later christianized as st brigid.

“Brigid’s Fire: An Offering” by joanna powell colbert

i love brigid. she belongs to me and i to her. i’ve been enjoying john p. newell’s writing on her in Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul. i like this bit on her as symbolic of threshold: “Legend has it that Brigid was born just before sunrise, in the twilight of early morning, in that time governed neither by the sun’s light or the moon’s light, but by the two lights, the twi-light. It is also said that her mother gave birth to her neither within the house nor outside, but at the threshold of the dwelling. So her birth signals that she will be associated with the meeting place between opposites, the night and the day, the sun and the moon, the within and the without. She occupies the liminal space between two worlds. She stands at the doorway or meeting place between the so-called opposite dimensions of life, which have been torn apart from each other.”

threshold time is holy. it is a time of sacred waiting. it is not meant to be easy. it calls for reverence, patience, willingness, and surrender (yes, the tension of willingness and surrender make for a wild dance!). it is a time of in-between, where the new life being born has not yet taken its own form and yet the old form is falling away.

i think of my experiences in natural childbirth and the “ring of fire”. my midwives had not told me about this experience before my son was making his way out of my body into the world, as his own self. just as i felt my body would explode into a thousand pieces, i heard my midwife’s guidance: “you are experiencing the ring of fire. allow it–your body knows how to do this. just let go.”

and then…”push!”

how do we let go and push at the same time?!

i do not know. and i do. this is not my first rodeo. i’ve birthed life and lives before.

and so, here am i. channeling brigid’s guidance. and mother’s earth support.

and i know i am not alone.

in this threshold time. this rite of passage.

which brings me back to fire. brigid is a fire goddess. she is said to have been born with a flame on her head, a mark of shamans, seer. beloved as St. Brigid, her sacred flame was kept by her women for over a thousand years, extinguished during the Reformation. it was relit in the 1970s and has been burning ever since, kept alive by the Brigadine Sisters of Kildare.

and, as i was reminded of the ring of fire experienced in childbirth, fire as an element is brought to mind–one of new life, truth, essence. fire connects us to the ancestral and spiritual realm, burning off everything that stands in the way. i’m reminded that john the baptist said there are two baptisms: one of water and one of the holy spirit, fire.

marking this threshold time with fire feels right. feels true.

i’ve had candles burning on my altar for my aunt and for a friend’s sister who also died. and for the spark of the divine that is radiating within me. tonight, i’ll honor this fire as ritual, holding me in this threshold and carrying me beyond the weeds of my life to the cosmic story of who we are becoming.

hibernation, grief, and the feminine

i’ve been deep in winter’s hibernation, practicing a different way of knowing, a different way of being. i’ve been moving slowly. allowing myself to be in a new rhythm, resting and still and quiet. this isn’t to say that it always looks like this from the outside. there are times when i’m buzzing like a bee, twirling like a tornado, this manic movement serving to balance the inward energy of utter stillness. it is always a dance.

maybe there will be some writing around why this season of hibernation. for now, wanting to share some of what i’m learning, pulling a few threads of stories i’ve been carrying, into the weaving of this one:

there has been grief. grief as both verb and noun. both exercise/activity and a state of being and resting place–even as sister. this experience of grief as sister has my attention. it signals the feminine.

the feminine, rising. the feminine is energy principle that generates knowing from an embodied place, rooted in matter, relationship, sensory experience. this principle is not only present in female bodies–it is alive in all of creation. the degree to which it is accessed and awakened depends on both internal and external conditions; thanks to patriarchy, it has been subjugated, particularly in western cultures. now, it is rising to counterbalance and reorder. it’s rising in me and i’m noticing it rising in family, organizational, institutional, societal, planetary systems.

mother bears give birth in hibernation. it is a time of rest and stillness and birth. their lessons in this season teach me as i channel their protective energies of what is being birthed in and through me, now.

kenosis. at the heart of the Christian faith is the importance of incarnation. and kenosis. kenosis (or the emptying out) allows for incarnation (the fulfillment of the Divine). grief plays a key role in that kenosis. she moves what is blocking, what no longer serves.

body as sacred text. in the Celtic tradition, there are two forms of wisdom: the big book of life and the little book of holy scripture. the big book is read through the body. as menopause grips me, this awareness has been…juicy and steamy and moving.

breath. the breath continues to teach, creating spaciousness and connecting form with spirit. returning to her as continuous waves of inhale and exhale, drawing my attention back into my body. helping me in re-membering.

sinking. hibernation takes time. it requires preparation. it calls for patience and willingness. there is much temptation to come out too soon, to distract ourselves, to return to business-as-usual. staying, sinking…this is the work of hibernation. to stay with it, trusting that this too is transformation. even when it doesn’t look like this from the outside.

expansion

for the first time since i wrote it in 2011, i read my dissertation recently. a solid decade stood between my now-self and my then-self; so much learning and living in the in-between–so much changed and so much still the same.

it felt good and timely to return to my research. i did so because i’m still in the same questions, really: what does change and transformation ask of us? how do we bring forth that transformative change? what kinds of relationships and conditions are needed to cultivate and sustain transformation?

the title of my dissertation was reform from within: an ecological analysis of institutionalized feminism. at the time, i was looking at how reform is generated from within a system and the challenges and opportunities inherent in these efforts. i was working in a campus-based women’s center and the research offered an opportunity to examine this issue with my friends and colleagues as we were all positioned to do just that–create institutional change within the institution that was also paying our checks.

a decade later, what i am now finding to be true as i re-encounter these questions around transformation and reform from within?

much of the dissertation research still resonates–the theoretical orientation, the methodology, the findings. i found myself reading it and being like, “damn, girl. yesss.” the emphasis on critical consciousness, relationship, third space—yes, yes, yes. and here, i gotta say a word about third space because it’s just so juicy.

third space represents the state of being or space that transcends socially constructed dualistic systems of meaning where one can be both/and and more rather than existing in either/or paradigms. some of my most beloved teachers (Collins, hooks, Anzaldua) draw on third space theory in speaking of their social positions and point to this reality as promising and essential to transform. there is wisdom offered from those who necessarily straddle two, opposing worlds or socio-political positions–wisdom that opens a doorway into a whole new way of being.

and… i’m writing on this as i work out what feels disorienting about my returning to my research, now. how have i changed? what is this new lens through which i now read this data? these questions matter not because of an abstract theoretical interest but because i literally find myself in these questions now–grappling with how to evolve and transform in relationship, especially in the context of organizational and institution given my current work focus with the Episcopal Church.

i think the biggest change since my dissertation is the wisdom i’ve gained around the role of the self. at the time of my research, my focus on relationship was between entities–two people, two organizations, between a person and the organization. now, that focus has shifted to focus more on the relationship within the self. i used to think of reform from within as about an agent of change within a larger system working to create change. now, i think of it more as about creating the conditions within to allow for right relationship.

first, a bit on the shift to conditions within: my teacher, meg wheatley offers that the “health of the self determines the health of the self-organizing”. this wisdom is also reflected in the piece around “the outer reflects the inner”. and all great spiritual teachers and wisdom traditions guide us in our inner work, reconciling our own personal selves and stories as we grow into our more full and whole versions of self. only then, when we can love and welcome our full selves, can we love and welcome others. for me, when it comes to leadership–individual, organizational, communal–this piece is an essential piece to that puzzle. a devotion to some sort of personal practice around self-love and compassion.

on right relationship: i’ve learned a lot about relationship and community in this past decade. interestingly, while much of my research focused on these, i didn’t really say a lot about what these mean or what they ask for/offer. this stands out for me now because i’ve learned that there are different kinds of relationships and particular ones that generate transformation + growth. i mean here right relationship–a connection based in wholeness and diversity and reciprocity and mutuality. right relationship is rooted in the reality of interdependence and the knowing that we are both individuals and bound up together.

it cannot be taken for granted that relationship and community will necessarily offer this sort of right relationship.

in fact, given our conditioning around worth and supremacy (shout out to White Supremacy/Patriarchy/Capitalism), there is a lot of unlearning that is required. and part of the unlearning is to experience an other way. this is where it gets tough because you can’t offer an other way unless you know it–and not in an intellectual way of knowing, but a messy, lived + embodied way of knowing that stays in your bones.

those committed to growing our systems, must also be willing to grow themselves. and growth requires relationship and community and…guides who have the embodied knowing. this point raises an additional nuance to my research: the need for guides/leaders. guides who have done their own personal healing and reconciliation work have the capacity to hold space for others to do the same. those who know and live third space can then wisely invite others into it.

returning to third space here is helpful. it names a particular quality of space that builds on the commonly used and general concept of “holding space”. third space invokes an active occupation of both/and and more. third space disrupts the roles and positions and categories we hold (internally and externally). third space breaks down ways in which we other and cracks open possibilities to include and transcend these, together. third space opens ourselves to the reality of ubuntu; our inherent interdependence; the truth that we belong to each other. third space creates the conditions so that i might see myself in you, you in me, and to taste the truth that we are each essential participants in the unfolding story of our cosmos.

practicing third space is to include all and transcend; it is the both/and and more. ken wilbur’s integral theory and spiral dynamics clarifies that this is the constant and brilliant evolutionary dance of the universe. in other words, this is how evolution works. life/love incorporates all the stuff–the good, the bad, the ugly–in life’s unfolding. everything really belongs.

to fully participate in this dance of evolution is excruciating (think labor pains, death to the false self, dark night of the soul!). a recent example comes to mind:

last week, i participated in our diocesan convention, during which time there were elections, voting on budgets and resolutions, business matters to attend to. a gathering themed, “Proclaiming the Dream” with little energy or focus on dreaming outside of some very disconnected threads offered by our team. there was an striking experience of the established church up against the new and emerging; the contrast was honestly, disorienting. anger and frustration helped signal that something wasn’t sitting right with me as I began to point fingers at “those people”, creating comfortable stories of “us/them”. so, i embraced the event as a contemplative exercise to be with the both/and and more–to occupy third space.

i found that this practice helped to keep myself in the story, in relationship to all, opening up an expanded experience of myself, church, the institution.

a decade after writing my dissertation, it’s good to know the learning has continued, deepening in an embodied way. it’s good to know that i draw on this learning everyday as i show up to my own growth and transformation and as i offer that in service to and love for others. it is good to know expansiveness and to be expanded.

lady luck

we had no gps, no service
only screenshots of a google map, sheer determination, and wonder


all compelled by deep joy to be here
in these Blue Ridge Mountains


among these October colors
wildly adventuring, mother and daughter
freedom coursing through our veins


can this be right? as the road evolved into a narrow and winding gravel path


how can this be right?! as we kept going, giggling and thrilled.
the mother, aware of the risks of both continuing and not
until a sign appeared: Lady Luck. 



and the mountains opened up into a sprawling meadow
draped in majestic magentas of dahlias and zinnias and chrysanthemums



where we gathered in song and poetry to honor this time and to hold one another--strangers and kin--in the cold October night


warmed by Elixir, a blazing fire,



and hope. 



solidarity

a thread that’s running through life these days is solidarity. it’s got me wondering what it means, what it looks like, what it calls for.

a couple of weeks ago, i spent the day with a friend who is a community organizer. an escalating issue called for his attention, threatening coalitions that had been carefully forming for a long time. trauma was the culprit: one parties’ pain spilling out in anger and blame–no one could do enough, be enough; trauma was blocking relationship. folks were ready to step away. enough was enough. my friend wisely drew in closer to listen to this party’s pain with compassion and then to make clear that the behavior was not acceptable as it was causing harm. he offered three choices, including one that would end the relationship. he also asked that the choice not be made in that moment but with some time, to consider the choices and the consequences and what felt right.

as he shared this story, i was moved by his genuine compassion and detachment to the outcome. it struck me that his gracious offer of choice activated solidarity. there was something about his compassion and the role it played in the act of inviting choice that offered insight into the practice of solidarity. this shifted my thinking of solidarity from solely as the decision to act in unity to also include the offering of a clear choice to do so. the key to this shifting and inclusion was to experience compassion as an essential element of acting in solidarity.

compassion is to join in the suffering of another; literally, it is to “suffer with”. pema chodron offers this: “compassion is a relationship between equals. only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. compassion becomes real only when we recognize our shared humanity.”

the power of compassion is at the heart of all spiritual teachings and religions. it is proclaimed in the psalms and prophets of Judaism, in the cross of Christ, in the path of the Buddhist bodhisattva, and in the heart of Islam. and yet, we still forget (or fail to remember!) that these wisdom traditions invoke a return to our own inner world so as to resource our capacity to live accordingly.

compassion compels solidarity; compassion compels life.

the English word solidarity comes from the Latin solidus (integrate and whole) and later French solidaire (interdependent). as living beings, we are all inherently integrated and interdependent. when this reality is not acknowledged and acted upon–as COVID and the climate crisis continue to reveal–there is a failure to act in solidarity. our inherent and interconnecting life force is willfully fractured.

compassion allows for the practice of solidarity through activation of choice. regardless of the choice made–and the capacity of all parties to consciously respond (as opposed to reactively, from triggered emotions)–there is solidarity in the invitation to choose.

expanding the concept of solidarity to include not just the decisive act but the process of choosing puts even more responsibility (and power) on the ones harmed (and healed). after all, it is generally the party who is aware of the harm done who then points out the need to reimagine, pivot, change course and repair. through the awareness of harm, a different, more healthy and whole possibilities are revealed.

as i’ve paid attention to the threads of solidarity and compassion these last couple of weeks, i’ve been so moved by their transformative power. when we stand in our difference and open to one another and our interdependence, possibilities are endless.

for example, the other day i was in a group when a question about a recent institutional decision was raised. how did we feel about it? as each of us shared honestly–ranging from feelings of outrage to despair to fear to not caring–there grew among us a sense of our breadth and depth as leaders/activists. our ability to hold difference and diversity emboldened us and illuminated what was possible among us, if we stayed together–which is not the same as agree. but we could (and we did!) agree to love and respect one another, to honor the dignity of each of us and each of our experiences.

solidarity asks us to join with one another’s suffering–to trust another’s experience even when (maybe mostly when)–we do not know it as ours.

in fact, acting in solidarity and the ways in which we are interconnected and interdependent begins with the willingness to not know. it requires the listening to others and the acceptance of what they are saying as a piece of the greater truth, even when we do not understand it. that piece might not align with my piece–in fact, it might be in opposition–and still, how can we hold it, alongside ours? and then act, accordingly?

there is a such a strong urge to know, to get it, to be right, to have the answers. can we hold multiple perspectives and various truths, expanding the scope of reality to its fuller dimension? we’re not intended to know or understand everything–that is why we exist in such complex, dynamic, living systems. others help to reveal essential parts of the whole that are inaccessible to us. through others, we can access and honor this wholeness in our world and in ourselves. if we choose.

life comes in the acceptance of our interdependence and the acting on it. when we don’t, there is death. again, COVID and the climate crisis are revealing this reality.

the human body also helps me to conceptualize this. the immune system depends on connectedness and feedback to determine what is healthy and what is not and how to respond accordingly. the health of our body is determined by its acting in solidarity. when it is not receiving feedback and acting in this way, it cannot support the larger human body system. disease sets in and ultimately, death.

it reminds me of one of my favorite passages from the Bible: “The branch cut off from the vine is useless.” –John 15:5.

what’s coming up for me as i follow these threads of compassion and solidarity is that in the willful fracturing of solidarity, there is death. there is a failure to participate in the lifeblood of our inherent interdependence. AND, solidarity is enacted by those that act from compassion–the joining in the suffering (one’s own and others) to activate choice and responsiveness. from this place of power and love, that lifeblood is protected and sustained. regardless of what the willful fracturing. i imagine the human body, sloughing off a diseased part. this understanding underscores the force of life–that it is always moving and pulsing in solidarity.

the question becomes how might i act with responsibility and compassion in the participation of that solidarity/life force?

i’m reflecting on all the times i’ve walked out on relationships and work projects and justice movements when i wasn’t getting what i wanted with a self-righteous “peace out!” or “effit.” or “oh, hell no.” for sure, this is sometimes warranted. and now, with this nuanced understanding of solidarity, i’m wondering how much more liberating and loving and powerful a compassionate practice of solidarity might be.

i’m imagining this practice to involve the simple and yet challenging steps of: 1) knowing what i want/need 2) expressing this 3) inviting clear choice to/with others and 4) genuinely allowing for choice. and repeat.

if life is a dance, practicing solidarity is an important dance step. the dance will continue, regardless of our clumsy missteps. it comes down to how much we want to shake our bootie and/or how long we’re willing to sit out the dance.

i personally want to shake my ass.

equinox

as i pulled together the newest edition of wild roots: weaving stories of wonder and truth, i’ve been listening and looking for patterns that have revealed themselves lately. today, these patterns fell into natural order as we land on today, equinox.

in the northern hemisphere, this means we head into darkness. the days become shorter, the nights longer. trees shed their leaves and the earth prepares for the new life that will come again in the spring.

for now, though…it is a time of turning inward. a time of hunkering down.

nature’s rhythms help to make sense of the patterns i’ve been noticing in my everyday life and point to the reality of our interconnectedness and interdependence. patterns include emptiness/nothingness, death, and freedom in the form.

on emptiness: a text that has some attention these days in my work context is Rev. Stephanie Spellers’ new book, Church Cracked Open. in it, she writes of the purposeful cracking open into life-affirming energy that fuels transformation and refers to the role of kenosis in that process. the term kenosis comes from the Greek kenos which means “empty” so kenosis means to empty oneself.

turning to the holy scriptures, Spellers points us to Philippians 2:5-9 known as the “kenotic hymn”; it is said to predate the gospels and Paul’s letter–a piece of oral tradition and the passing down of stories about Jesus in song, preserved:

let the same mind be in you
that was in Christ Jesus, 
who, though he was in the form of God
  did not regard equality with God
  as something to be exploited
  but emptied himself
  taking the form of a slave
  being born in human 
  likeness.
And being found in human form, 
  he humbled himself
  and became obedient to the point of death--
  even death on a cross. 
Therefore God also highly exalted him
  and gave him the name
  that is above every name...

jesus’ life on earth was a kenotic path.

spellers then points us to Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 10:39: “If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you give it up for me, you will surely find it.” and to Luke 10 in which Jesus instructs the seventy to go empty-handed and vulnerable into the world; do not go with answers, the need to control and fix.

in what ways do I practice and/or allow kenosis as a necessary part of growth and transformation? and in what ways do i resist?

last Tuesday, when midwives (what those of us who hold the space call ourselves) gathered to prepare for a wisdom circle later that evening, we wondered together, what does it mean to practice being with nothingness?”. And so it became clear that this was the practice for that night’s circle. and in practical terms, what does it look like to practice being with nothingness? well, we leaned into our usual intention of holding the space with openness and willingness to follow the energy, to ask deep questions that support us in going where the moment is inviting. that night, we deliberately entered that circle with no plan other than to practice being with nothingness–a simple question. for me, it was a matter of noticing the underlying motivations: why did i feel the need to offer this? speak to this or that? is the motivation more about filling the emptiness for fear of it or is it from a place of peacefulness and love?

here are some of the nuggets of wisdom that emerged from this group of twelve souls:

  • Nothingness as peaceful—amazed by where I ended up
  • In the beginning, it is all a void. A chasm. Then, creation.
  • Getting back to where we came from.
  • Nothing is God’s favorite resource.
  • It is a practice of non-violence; a place where the divine can enter.

on death: i wrote a piece on Covid several days ago, with a focus on our relationship with death (and therefore, life). as i follow this thread to see how it connects with emptiness/nothingness here’s where i land: our relationship with death/emptiness/nothingness directly relates to our relationship with life/growth/transformation. shutting down one, shuts down the other.

and…it is not possible to shut it down. we can buy into the illusion of control, for it is only an illusion. the universe is compelled by evolution, by love. we can choose and shape what that looks like and it is underway regardless. we both matter and we don’t. the question becomes, do we want to participate in the co-creation with the universe? to participate, there is a continuous letting go to be present–an endless cycle of death and rebirth.

Richard Rohr writes in Falling Upward, “someone has to make clear that homes are not meant to be lived in–but only to be moved out from.” growth necessitates growing pains, a growing out of the form/home that can no longer hold.

which brings me to the final thread that i’ve been following: freedom is in the form. it’s been a thread i’ve long followed (most recently, here).  the form both frees and holds; it is because of the form that creative tension exists. the form can take shape as marriage; friendship; relationship; organization; institution; or materially–a pair of jeans, a house, a body. our relationship with these forms matter. do we clutch onto them for safety and security, as ends in themselves ? do we appreciate them as impermanent, supporting our living?

and, how do we relate to these forms in ways that allow for and ignite healing and wholeness? some questions that are present for me:

what if we honored these forms as living, asking always what the form is asking for (ie, nourishment, hospice, composting)?

what if we practiced staying with the form, working in it and with it as a way of offering increased clarity and revealing more and more to us in terms of the reality, now. meeting external constraints–including those that are oppressive and even destructive–our inner resources come forth to shine and balance. remember victor frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning?

what does it look like to outgrow the form, to allow the form to dissolve and (re)form and then to incorporate both the old in the newly evolved form, in the process of (trans)formation? historically, revolution and reformation has excluded the ugly and painful parts, resisting and rejecting to be/do better. we see how that has worked. evolution teaches us to transcend and include–everything belongs. and so, as we contemplate the end of something, how might we consider including it and welcoming it into the new beginning?

for now, though…it is a time of turning inward. a time of hunkering down.

it is equinox.

covid

eighteen months or so into this virus and i’m still wondering:

what is our relationship with COVID? and what it might look like to be in right relationship with this virus?

and underneath these questions: what is our relationship with life? with death?

stephen jenkinson talks about the death trade, this culture that western society has created and perpetuates that is based on control and fear of death. this death trade is reflected in our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to the elderly; aging and disease; health; and ultimately about that which makes us all human–death.

from in his decades of work as a hospice care worker, he tells stories of how much energy was spent on trying to deny and work against the very thing that is untenable. the desperate attempts to control the thing that is uncontrollable and in so doing, denies us Life. one story in particular stands out: he tells of working with a family of an eight-year old girl who was dying. the family was terrified, grieving, overwhelmed. their fear–and he says this is the primary fear of those facing death–is that she was robbed of life. she did not have a chance to live fully–the life she should have had. and so, the fear begs the question: what does it mean to live? to have a life? so he offered to ask the child. the family agreed, grateful and relieved.

he tells of entering the child’s room and shares with the child that her family is struggling. knowingly, the child said, “yes, they don’t want me to know i’m dying.”

he went on, “yes and what scares them is that you haven’t lived, that you haven’t had a chance at life.”

the child’s wise eyes looked at him, confused.

he proceeds in asking her, “give me a couple of examples–stories that will show them how you have lived.”

she thought for a moment then offered, “well, you know one time I rode a horse.” and he said, “ok, that’s good. can you give me another?”

she continues, “and then I fell off.”

and he said, “brilliant. that’s great. can you give me another?” (thinking, please don’t tell me you got me back on the horse!)

and she then shared, “when i was little (remember she is eight!) i liked a boy next door. one day, a fly flew on his cheek and when i shooed it away, i grazed his cheek.”

this is life. she could not fathom not having lived. in her eight years, she had known only how to live.

the reality is that here, in each and every moment is life. in the in-between, in the ordinary and the extraordinary, in the big and the grand.

we are a year and a half into a global pandemic. countries all over the world in various degrees of lockdown and spread, health and recovery, death and dying. we are all in it. how we move through it determines whether we live or die. and it’s not only a matter of physical death but in the sense of aliveness–spiritual, emotional, whole living.

making decisions these days is challenging–what to do, what not to do. what to risk, what not to risk. it is in the choosing, that we are alive. to brace ourselves against that which we cannot control out of fear shuts us down from being alive.

more than what we choose, i’m interested in how we choose–what motivates our choosing.

do we choose to live dying or die living?

reality

yesterday, i had uninterrupted time with meg in the car. there was traffic. so, more time. funny how even after more than a year in lockdown + pandemic living, there is still need for uninterrupted time with one another…

i wanted to talk with her about the IPCC report that had come out yesterday morning and the news about our planet and our unhealthy relationship with her. i wanted to talk with her because i know silence about these things–about REALITY–hurts more than the REALITY. because whether we talk about REALITY or not, it is REAL.

our talk went something like this:

me: “we got some news today on the health of mother earth and climate change.”

meg: turns to the window. (i’ll not assume there was eye rolling…)

me: “it’s serious. humans are impacting the earth because we keep taking and taking and taking from her. like the fossil fuels we are using are creating carbon dioxide that is getting trapped in the ozone layer and making our temperature raise, like a fever. fossil fuels like…”

meg: “oil, gas…”

me: “and we have to use different kinds of energy…”

meg: “like wind, solar…”

me: “yes. and find new ways of living in relationship with our planet. it’s like we’re in an abusive relationship with her and we are the abusers.”

meg: “and that’s why so many fish and sealife are being killed…”

me: “yes. we are all being harmed because of the abuse. humans, too.”

meg: “president biden better step up.”

me: “we all better. it’s all of our responsibility. what can we do?”

i pause here, remembering a conversation i had like this with thomas a while back, just as greta showed up in righteous indignation at the U.N. my then sixteen year-old son was enraged at this question when i asked him, pointing out that the “we” in “what can we do?” has to first acknowledge that many generations have done harm and in fact, are responsible for the situation we find ourselves in.

i add, “because for too long, me and my generation and those before, have been so interested in profit, that we’ve chosen profit and comfort over paying attention to the harm we were creating to the earth.”

the sadness of this reality enters, as i consider the impact of this news on my baby’s life. the life of all my children and grandchildren. the lives of all future generations.

one of us notices that we are sitting in traffic. the moment, offering possibilities. what if we begin carpooling? get an electric car? localize our efforts so that we can walk…

being present in and with reality is…holy. it is heartwrenching and feels impossible at times. the vastness of it, overwhelming. and, somehow, it also reveals that we are not alone. ever. in the face of such devastating news, a miraculous revelation: we are together.

reality is revealing herself to us each moment. do we dare–care–to be there, allowing more and more of reality to touch us? to be intimate with Life? do we dare–care–to awaken to all that is so that we might enter that dance and join in the creation story, playing our unique part?