Prophet

Day 17 ProphetThe word for yesterday was prophet.  I began my day with coffee and Rumi.  Rumi strikes me as a prophet of love.  He writes about divine love, but also writes about a passionate, sexual, romantic love.  Many believe Rumi and his teacher Shams were lovers.  This line of thought is somewhat controversial.  One thing is certain – Rumi let love flow through his words.  In the following piece we see passion, romance, and divine love in Rumi’s words.

Like This – Rumi

If someone asks,

“What does perfect beauty look like?”

Show him your own face and say,

Like this.

 

If someone asks,

“What does a full moon look like?”

Climb to the highest rooftop and yell,

Like this.

 

If someone asks,

“What does an angel’s wing look like?” – smile.

If he asks about divine fragrance

Pull him close, his face in your hair,

Like this.

 

If someone asks,

“How did Jesus bring the dead back to life?” –

Don’t say a word –

Just kiss him softly on the cheek,

Like this.

 

If someone asks,

“How does it feel to be slain by love?”

Close your eyes and tear open your shirt,

Like this.

 

If someone asks about my stature,

Stare into space with your eyes wide open,

Like this.

 

The soul enters one body, then another,

If someone argues about this

Enter my house and wave him good-bye,

Like this.

 

Whenever a lover cries out

He is telling our story

And God bends down to listen,

Like this.

 

I am the storehouse of all pleasure,

I am the pain of self-denial.

To see me, lower your eyes to the ground

Then raise them up to heaven,

Like this.

 

Only the gentle breeze

Knows the secret of union.

Listen as it whispers a song to every heart,

Like this.

 

If someone asks,

How does a servant attain the glory of God?

Become the shining candle

That every eye can see,

Like this.

 

I asked about Joseph’s perfume

Which rode the wind from city to city –

If was your scent

Blowing in from God’s perfect world,

Like this.

 

I asked how Joseph’s perfume

Gave sight to the blind –

It was your breeze

Clearing the darkness from my eyes,

Like this.

 

Perhaps Shams will be generous

And fill our hearts with love.

Perhaps he will raise one eyebrow

And cast us a glance,

Like this.

 

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Earthly

Day 16 EarthlyEarthly – the word inspires images of what it means to me to work with the Earth.  In my tradition we use the Green Cube as our tool in the North, the direction we associate with the element Earth. We also work with an energy tool called the Iron Pentacle.  I placed the pentacle on this Earth altar because iron is in the core of the earth and in our blood.

In my personal practice much of my Earth work is rooted in death.  What does it mean to let something die? What does it mean to cull? How can we sit with that which lies fallow? Can we find beauty in the potential of the compost, made of us dead and rotting matter?  I collect bones when I find them.  On this altar there are various bones found in fields, likely from cattle.  There is half of a jaw from what I am guessing is an opossum. The full skull is from a raccoon.

The rock slab was picked up on my favorite river bank in the Ozarks.  Resting on top of the rock is a talon taken from a dead bird. There is a deer antler from a deer hunted by a friend of mine and a crystal dug up from the earth in Arkansas by my aunt.  The black casket contains graveyard dust and a piece of cotton from Arkansas.  This was the invitation one year to my friend’s annual black feast – a feast we hold at Samhain to honor our ancestors and the cycles of death.

I know for many people the earth inspires thoughts of birth: babies born, spring time buds, beautiful colors, animals frolicking and mating.  This is all earthly and important.  I have always been more drawn to the unseen and the uncomfortable.  For me, the earth is where we return in death.  While living, her cycles of death, leading to new life, have much to teach us.

Cover, Lift, Hear

I am playing a little bit of catch up with the Lenten photo a day project.  So here are my photos for the past several days.

Day 13 CoverDay 13: COVER

This is the view just outside my apartment door when you look up to the sky.  These two towering pines stand guard outside our bedroom windows.  When doing work with the book The 12 Wild Swans, I made pine an ally.  It has served me well.  I have sung morning prayers to neighboring pines, grieved when the crown came down from my pine in the ice storm a few years back, cried under Georgia pines in full moon light, and come to think of them as guardians.  They tower like a blanket, like a cover overhead.  Though now that I am in Florida I am learning about pine pollen and my allergies have been feeling a little less fond of Pine.

Day 14: LIFTDay 14 Lift

This chalice was made by my mentor and friend, Rev. Kerry Mueller.  It moves around my house but typically resides on the dining table where it is lit before each evening meal. This ritual of chalice lighting is uplifting, connecting me to other Unitarian Universalists and bringing the sacred to our meal times.  It is even more uplifting lighting this particular chalice.

When I see this chalice I think of Kerry and Dave and the friendship and guidance they have given me this past 5 years. I also know my best friend owns a similar chalice made by Kerry and I delight in knowing 1000 miles away her family is lighting their chalice as they gather for super.  It lifts my heart.  It also lifts my voice. We read our chalice lighting from the hymnal, we say a prayer, or sometimes we sing a song. The flame lifts up as a sign of hope and love.  In these brief moments of reverence and ritual, we lift up our UU values and the value of family.

Day 15 HearDay 15: HEAR

The song in my heart sings to me about love, music, poetry, forgiveness, the mystical, the transcendent.  This guitar represents a deep longing I have had for some time.  When I took a leap and moved to Gainesville, this guitar was the first thing I purchased.  I found it in a thrift store for $15.  It has only been in the last week I started trying to learn to play.  I struggle to get my hands to curve correctly around the neck, but I am sticking with it.  In my heart, I hear myself finally writing music to the countless bodies of poetry and song lyrics I have been writing for years.  

The metal star resting at the base says something different. This star was a gift from a sweet friend.  This friend has taught me a lot about what it means to extend trust, honor connection, and build a different kind of family. I hear a new story forming in my personal narrative about what these things mean. The shape of this star reminds me of multiple merkabahs merging together – worlds beyond worlds.  I hear voices beyond the veil, I bring them forth, I honor the gifts I’ve been given.

Vision – Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou with Leah on the lawnI saw Maya Angelou speak tonight.  Granted, I was outside on the lawn starring at her on a screen, though I suspect it was a better view than that of many of the 1700 people inside.  I cried the entire hour she spoke, sometimes sobbing aloud while sending up prayers of help us, thank you, and wow.

I cannot explain why listening to this 83 year old black poet makes me feel as though I have come home and am sitting with my people.  I have white skin and grew up with a helluva lot more privilege because of it, but when she said she never refers to her hair as “nappy,” because that means nasty, but always insists it is curly and beautiful, it touched me.  I grew up with curls in a family of straight haired folks.  They loved my hair and never considered it ugly, though almost everyone I went to school with did.  I straightened it for years.

Her message tonight was can be summed up in three points:

  1. There are rainbows in the clouds.
  2.  You have already been paid for.
  3.  Learn poetry, memorize it, it is yours – especially learn the poems of African Americans.

She said God did not just put a rainbow in the sky, he put rainbows in the clouds.  She talked at length about all the rainbows in her life that made who she is today possible.  SheDay 12 Vision said these rainbows already paid for us all.  She spoke of the price paid by all people, all of our ancestors for all of us.  She spoke at length about the price paid by black ancestors who were here against their will, who underwent enormous pain to support a family.  She said we were all already paid for and we deserved to have the blessings in our lives. She also said we were all rainbows in the clouds for someone else.

This is a woman of VISION.  She comes from people with vision.  After being raped at 7 years old, she quit speaking.  She overheard the police say her abuser had been kicked to death and somehow thought her yelling out, her voice itself had killed him.  She did not speak for 6 years to anyone except her brother.  Somehow she knew that her love for her brother was so deep it would protect him from the terribly power of her voice.  People talked about her, rather than to her, and said she was ignorant.  Her grandma did not.  Her grandmother told her when the Lord is ready, you’ll speak and you are going to be a teacher.  Her grandma was right.  Dr. Angelou credited her uncle, her brother, her grandmother and many others with her life’s achievements.  Her rainbows in the clouds had a vision of what she could do.

It was also quite a vision to see approximately 300 people sitting outside in the cold, crying and laughing together.

Love, Spirit, Live

I am playing a little bit of catch up with the Lenten photo a day project.  So here are my photos for the past several days.

Day 9:  LOVE

Day 9 LoveI believe we were put on this earth to BE love.  It seems we spend so much time trying to get love rather than trying to just be love.  This has been one of my lessons in the last year to just be love.  Let love radiate from within me out to everything else.

This doesn’t mean the desire for romantic love is wrong.  It is natural and beautiful.   I think we would better serve our purposes in finding this kind of love if we would first cultivate the Beloved Within.  The first step to this in my mind is to focus on being love.

 

Day 10:  SPIRITDay 10 Spirit

This is my 7 pointed star pendent.  I wear this symbol nearly every day as a symbol of my spiritual tradition.  Each point on the star represents a Guardian and a direction – north, east, south, west, above, below, and center.  This is my touchstone to my spiritual practice and my spiritual beliefs.  The blue tint represent blue fire – the hottest part of the flame.

 

Day 11 - LiveDay 11: LIVE

When I got pregnant with my daughter Olivia I had been suffering from a pretty severe depression.  Her father and I were practically homeless, living in a one room building on my grandparent’s property.  I had been laid off and he was only working part time.  I slept nearly all day in addition to sleeping at night.  I was passively suicidal.  I did not want to be alive.

Then I find out I am pregnant  We decided to move forward with the pregnancy.  I had wanted to have a child when we first got married, now 2 years into the marriage I was finally pregnant. This was the spark that pulled me out of my depression and quite literally out of bed.

I call my daughter “Liv” because she made me want to live. She gave me hope and a reason to rise to be a better version of myself.  She still does.

 

 

 

 

Evil

Day 8 EvilToday is a bit of a cheat I suppose.  My photograph is a blank screen shot.  I simply don’t want to think about evil today.  I do so much of that already.  My understanding of my Unitarian Universalist faith identity compels me to engage deeply, and often, with the concept of evil.  Though most Unitarian Universalists don’t believe in evil in the supernatural sense, we do acknowledge immorality and depravity in the world around us.  At our best, we work to bring justice to these situations.  As said in Romans 12:9, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

My own understanding of Unitarian Universalism, while not motivated by scripture, echoes this sentiment: “hold fast to what is good.”  This can be a tricky concept.  At times it can feel overwhelming how much evil there is in the world; misuse of power, rape, child abuse, slave labor, etc.  It can leave even the best of us worn out and wanting to avoid looking anywhere except into the television screen (another evil?).

Sometimes the same tool can be used for good or for evil. If I use my television to watch educational programming that is hardly evil.  However, if I allow the television to numb me, distract me from reality and be a vehicle for checking out that can certainly lead to discord, to being out of alignment with my higher purpose, taking me away from my ability to hold fast to what is good then perhaps I have fallen prey to evil.

It can be difficult to look at the way evil works in our own lives. It could be the purchase of Hear-No-Evil-See-No-Evil-Speak-No-Evilshirts made in sweatshops, supporting businesses we know treat employees unjustly, or lashing out at family members in moments of anger – perhaps even brought on by mental illness or imbalance. Whatever the reasoning, it is painful to own our contributions to the evil in our world.

Others own more than their fair share of responsibility and slide into shame.  Shame is one of the greatest evils in our world. Brene Brown says the difference between guilt and shame is guilt is feeling remorse and acknowledging a wrong doing, whereas shame is feeling I am wrong. It occurs to me that Unitarian Universalists ought to become very curious about how insidious shame is in our culture.  It is absolutely counter to our principle that all people have inherent worth and dignity. One cannot honor their own inherit worth and dignity while also living in shame. Then again, I don’t hear us talk much about honoring our own inherit worth so much as we talk about this principle in regards to welcoming others, being radical hospitable, and celebrating diversity.

Wanting to avoid engaging too deeply with evil today, I chose the white screen shot to represent my avoidance. It occurs to me now that it represents so much more. I think it really represents the conversations we haven’t had, the evils we don’t want to see, the blind eye we cast at our own evildoing but also to our own brilliance.

Wonder

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”
― 
SocratesEye age 10

Children are full of wonder from the moment they open their eyes. It’s delightful to watch a baby’s eyes widen in fascination of car keys jingling or the sight of some shiny bauble. The wonder only grows as they begin to talk, to imagine, to play in ways where we can join them. This wonder is contagious. We find ourselves creating worlds with them as we build forts and explore woods. As they come more into the age of reason our own wonder increases.  We wonder, who will this person become?

My daughter has declared she will be a singer, an actress, a reporter, a lawyer, the President, a merchandiser, a boss, a waitress, and a construction worker.  This is just a few of the careers she has tried on. Who will she be?  It is a mystery.

Olivia Alien FutureRecently she’s been really in to Dr. Who. She tells me maybe she used to be something unique, something not yet discovered but the last of her kind.  She says this with complete seriousness though we both know this is a description of the Doctor. I don’t doubt her. There has always been something exotic and alien about her, something otherworldly.

Perhaps it is just the raw nature all children possess before our society teaches them to close the door on it.

“How beautiful is the black lascivious purity in the hearts of children and wild animals…” – Victor Anderson

The World

On day 6 of the 40 day photo project for Lent, the word is “world”.  The first image that Vcame to my mind was a vagina.  The World – birth, creation, mystery, beauty, and wonder.  This is where it all begins.

I remember when giving birth to my daughter the hospital staff had asked if I wanted a mirror so I could watch her come out. I declined thinking that would be the last thing I would want because of all the blood and shit involved in birth. At the last moment though, when she was crowning, I asked the nurse to grab the mirror.  She was quick, grabbing it from out of nowhere it seemed and positioning it at the end of the bed. It was amazing.

I raised my body upright, pushing with all I had, staring into the full length mirror. It was like looking at God. Everything was amazing; her head sliding out of my body and the warrior expression on my face. It seemed as though I was bathed in light. I watched her body follow her head and then lay back down exhausted. The vagina, MY vagina – life giving.

A few years later in an effort to become more comfortable with my body I asked a friend who is an incredible artist and priestess to do some very intimate art – to capture my vagina in some kind of visual art piece. She came over with her charcoals and pastels. We began by casting a circle, reading the poem “Radical Femme,” and then she started sketching. The photo above is the result. It feels… powerful… beautiful… holy. I wish all women could connect to the power, beauty, and holiness of their vaginas.

Last week I saw the Vagina Monologues.  This is probably the 9th or 10th time I’ve seen thisV monologues play.  Every time I am amazed by the actresses and by the stories.  There is still one story that is so close to home for me that I nearly pass out during that portion of the play.  I have to put my head down, concentrate on breathing, and remind myself that this isn’t happening right now, that I am safe. No one should have a story like that, too many of us do.

Vaginas – some of us never learn the word until adult hood.  I didn’t. In my family it’s considered dirty to say the word vagina. They were shocked when I taught my daughter this word and again later when I taught her labia. I had never HEARD these words until high school.  A body part so taboo we cannot even speak its name. Wow, it’s like Lord Voldermort up in here: “The pussy that shall not be named.”

For me, the vagina is holy.  It’s a sort of altar and I’ve been fortunate to have had several lovers who worship at that altar with reverence.  After all, the vagina is the world.

Settle

Day 5 SettleDear Weight Watchers,

I AM happy now.  The implication from your cover that the only way to be happy is to lose weight is disgusting to me. Our happiness isn’t going to come from a number on the scale or a smaller dress size.  Trust me, I know.  I did your program once and was a “success” story.  I lost 100 pounds in less than a year. I never found happiness though.  It wasn’t until I got off the diet wagon and started working on loving myself and being present to my life that I found any kind of happiness. Am I thin? No, not at all, but I am happy. Incidentally, I am also healthier having stopped eating a diet of fat free foods and learned to nourish my body properly and with more love.

-me

 

Refuse to settle.  Refuse to buy in to the ad campaigns that tell you there is something wrong with you, that you should be smaller, wear this lipstick, drive this car, buy those shoes. These are lies.  You can follow the ad formula, chase down the magazine promises and you won’t be any closer to happiness than you are right now. Happiness is not something you can buy.  It isn’t the result of a really good tummy tuck.  The kind of happiness achieved from weight loss or finding the perfect dress for Friday night is fleeting.  It isn’t the kind of happiness that springs from within you.  Don’t we all deserve the kind of happiness that cannot be bought or sold away?  I think so.

This kind of happiness with what is doesn’t mean you can’t improve your health, dropdont-settle some unwanted pounds, or buy those cute shoes. I just think it’s important to know the difference between the brief joy you feel from those things and true happiness.  So settle?  No thanks. I won’t settle and I hope you won’t either.  Keep questioning the “shoulds” coming at us whether from ourselves or headlines on magazines.

There is a simple truth. You are amazing.  You are a spark of the divine. You deserve happiness.  Don’t settle for anything less than the real thing.

Injustice

I spent much of yesterday working on a part for the Sunday service.  The service was about race relations and my part was addressing the inequalities and injustices racial minorities face in our country.  I didn’t get around to blogging or doing my photo for the Lent project but was fully immersed in the subject of injustice.

Day 4 InjusticeA twenty was the largest bill lying around my house, but it represents hundreds of thousands of dollars.  It represents the distribution of wealth in our country.  For me, money is the most tangible symbol I have to represent injustice.  We don’t all have equal access to money. Women are still paid less than men to do the same work.  African-American men are less likely to be called back for a job interview, even if they have the same experience and education as a white applicant.  Women and minorities have the highest poverty rates.  Children of immigrants often drop out of school to work with their families as migrant farm workers.  The people working these farms make very little – sometimes less than a dollar per hour for the physical labor they do in high temperatures.  Due to the children having to drop out to work in the fields this cycle is likely continue another generation.

Money = Power.  With money you have the power to move through this world without much disturbance from others.  Heck you don’t even have to wait in line at amusement parks.  Power=Privilege.  We see this reflected in our justice system.  How many celebrities go to jail when they commit a crime?  How many people are incarcerated for “white collar” crime? Not very many.  As Bran Stevenson says in his TED Talk, “We have a system of justice in [the US] that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.  Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes.”