Kitchen Table Revolution, Interrupted

On Friday, my Mom and I spent the day in the kitchen talking about a revolution.  Well, we were talking about the state of the world, daring to broach our  fears about countless taboo topics.

What happens when we all find out that Al Gore has been right?  What happens when people really start to run out of water?  How many links in the chain have to break before our global network of food distribution?  How many days of product are in an average supermarket?  For a proud liberal, why do I have a funny perspective on guns that I don’t talk about much?  In what part of the psyche and the spirit should stories like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Jean Hegland’s Into the Forest reside?

Ach, Marisa!  What are you doing to your dear readers on a Monday morning?  The sun isn’t even up yet and with gloomy thoughts like this you are practically daring it not to rise!

Fear not, if you are anything like Mom and me you will plunge into your seas of worry and dredge up all of your 3 a.m. thoughts even though it is the middle of the day.  But then you’ll get up for another cup of tea and the phone will ring and you’ll pay the cable bill or head to the dentist and you’ll pretty much forget this little dip into the nastiest recesses of your “what if…?” consciousness.

Of course, we all do this.  I, for one, have no idea how I would get through each day, full of all sorts of mundane beauty and banal ugliness, if I was truly tuned into my concerns about the state of our collective future.  It is pretty much impossible to fully enjoy an infant’s laugh if you allow yourself to focus on all the evils that might endanger it.

And so we engage in these impassioned discussions and stir up the sediment that our modern, Western, wasteful lives have created in the riverbeds of our awareness and then we start making dinner.  The conversation I had with my mom was so amazing and touched on so many important topics, it had me wanting to take meeting minutes.  But, I had my hands full with the baby when I was not clearing up the endless piles of clutter and I never got around to writing til right this Monday morning minute.

If I had had the chance to play scribe and record the litany of ills and the faint glimmers of solution would we be any closer to solving any of the world’s problems?  The tragedy of the whole conversation was that, as much as we were both so invigorated to trade ideas mother to daughter and back again and to flow along in the tides of conversation, we really felt pretty powerless.  Talking about Washington’s party politics and the conservative pundits’ maniacal desire to debase our president’s every action and motive left us rather deflated.  We were saved by a gently shaken snow globe of a January day  and by an infant just discovering her voice.  A baby who has not yet had to worry about the lies that the media propagates and the impossible search for truth.

We are not powerless, of course.  We have the loving bonds that allow us to dive deep and surface together.  It is as true that enough of these conversation will change the world as it is necessary to believe that they can.

What Would You Do With This Turkey?

One day when I was in college I entered the kitchen to find my grandmother looking at an uncooked turkey on the counter.  She looked at me and asked, with that most beautiful twinkle in her eye, “Marisa, if you were to come home to this turkey, what would you do?”

Without a trace of irony I replied, “I’d put it back in the fridge.”

Nanna’s laughter and shaking her head made it clear that this was not the sort of answer she was seeking.  She wanted to share a moment with her granddaughter, passing on culinary knowledge.  I was concerned that the family might get food poisoning if the bird stayed out too long.  It didn’t occur to me to be interested in cooking anything.  Even spending time with Nanna was not enough to convince me that preparing a meal was more worthwhile than reading a book.

I thought back to this conversation tonight while I was cooking dinner.  Admittedly, I was only half present. Even as I was aware that there was sacredness in making soup for my family, I had a bunch of other tasks that I had wanted to accomplish.  I was composing this post in my head, cursing my garlic covered fingers that made jotting down my fleeting ideas impossible.

As I remembered Nanna, I was also thinking about yesterday’s open letter to our mothers, the women who “forgot” to tell my generation how phenomenal motherhood could be.  There was no doubt that Nanna adored being a mother – almost as much as she adored being a grandmother. By the same token, I know that my mother loved being a mom to my sister and me.  And when it comes to Mom’s take on being a grandmother… well, that tremendous love is apparent to anyone who has been in the same room as her and Moira.

I’m guessing that the signs were always there.  Nanna and Mom were constantly sending out signals that most casual observers could quickly decipher: motherhood was/is a huge and brilliant part of their identities and they would recommend it to anyone.  Several women responded to my post, describing how much they have loved motherhood and how they have made it a point to share this with their daughters.  When my own mom reads it she will probably say the same.  Will my mother tell me that she tried to describe motherhood to me many times but that I just wasn’t listening?

From the outside looking in, I think mothering can look like monotony and drudgery much of the time.  How do you explain to someone that changing a cloth diaper every two hours is not a relentless chore but an amazing chance to be barraged by a dozen new infant giggles and coos?

What if my generation’s perceived lack of interest in, or, perhaps more accurately, lack of knowledge of mothering springs not because our moms never mentioned it but because the whole world programmed us not to hear what they were saying?

The planet seems to be spinning faster and faster.  Everything is driven by productivity and performance.  From my ten weeks’ experience as a mom, I can tell you that being “productive” has never been so difficult (hi, I brushed my teeth, got out of the house in less than an hour and a half, and managed to write an Epiphany or two – give me a medal!).  As for performance… many of us try to mold the experience into something readable, but, for the most part, motherhood for the sake of show is a fool’s errand.

When you’re in college and living off of beer and bagels, measuring success by how many hook ups you’ve had and how many books you’ve read, cooking can seem ridiculously dull.  So much energy expended for something as un-sexy as a square meal.  And motherhood… well, at nineteen that is even more un-sexy to most girls.

Mothering and cooking a decent dinner:  both take more time than you have; you’re always a little afraid of screwing up; you most likely will need to improvise because you’ll never have all the ingredients; your mind is often flying in several unrelated directions at the same time.

But, oh the rewards of a meal well prepared and a baby curled up peacefully beside you at the end of a long day!

Alchemical Art: Angst Becomes Creation

In beautiful, wide-ranging post, Sybil at Art of the Spirit offers this about the place of the artist in the world as translator of the sou:

The artist opens the door to the present moment which is the only place to truly experience of the Divine. It is silly to try and pretend that darkness does not exist in the world, that we could exist without sadness, anger or pain. Artists help us to name and experience these emotions… to locate these feelings in the universal experience, their part in the never-ending upward spiral toward the Universal Maker which snakes from light to dark and back again.

What a brilliant reminder of how vital it is to respect and heed artists for the vital services they perform in our societies.

Chris Metcalf, Bikes, Lights and a Sledder (everystockphoto.com
Chris Metcalf, Bikes, Lights and a Sledder (everystockphoto.com

Today I am particularly struck by Sybil’s words because I feel like my walk across campus was like passing through a gauntlet of emotions. Every pair of students and every cell phone carrying individual I passed was engaged in heated conversation. There was no single, energizing event happening at the college that had everyone excited. People were just recounting their own dramas, all of which sounded like they were full of angst and strife.

A girl steamed angrily because she had been swindled on a car that had already broken down. Another describing how she had reason to storm from someone’s bed that morning. A couple looked to be in the middle of a break up on the library steps. Everywhere were words upon words meant to describe the darkness,anger, and pain mentioned above.

All of these stories seemed too fresh to yet get sublimated into art. The only creative expression was the art of venting. I am of two minds over whether venting equals the necessary release of emotions or an unproductive way to make sure the whole world cries with you. Regardless of what judgments I may have wanted to passed as I walked through all this venom and exegesis, all sorts of unpleasant was reality flying about.

No doubt, there is great creative potential to be uncovered on the other side of grief or getting really pissed off. I guess the magnitude of one’s creative power can be measured in how quickly that the alchemy can be performed that turns all that darkness into soul-enriching gold.

In my life, there has been a time for emotions – be they joy or grief, and then a time to of quietude to distill those feelings into a cocktail of (hopefully) artful words. Admittedly, the second stage, when I make something enduring from those great waves of feeling has always the optional stage. If I did get around to turning it all my real life drama into inspired creations, it all happened much later when I felt the dust had settled enough to make way for artistic inspiration.

But as I listen to all the frenzied conversations around campus, I realize how much energy is being released (wasted?) in such sessions.  What if I decide to harness my own such energy and choose to pour it onto the page? As fast as possible, not days later when I have already bored friends with my outrage.  I don’t want this to happen at the expense of living in the moment, but I wonder how this approach would color my waking life.  Can it help me cultivate the perspective of a creator, one who is always mining for the material to engage the next fit of creative fancy?

And then I wonder how my relationship with language and communication might change if I started reserving a portion of my passion that so often squandered on gossip and indignation.  Would it help me to realize that words matter? Would it give new potency to all that I do chose to voice?

At first, implementing this change may mean that I am writing down my frustrations rather than speaking them aloud.  Eventually though I am dreaming that the magic that is art may begin to invade and I will find a way to enact some of what Sybil describes, to help locate elation and defeat in the “universal experience.”

On a Scale of One to Ten – Thirty

Pam Snow/Canadian Press)
Pam Snow/Canadian Press)

This has not been a winter to speak aloud.

My words have frozen in my throat or in the pages of my private books and rarely been able to cross the ice to the outer world.  I know that sound carries best over open water.  It seems that those waters have to be flowing freely, not suspended in a bitter February’s thoughtfulness.

Wait, I misspeak.  It is not I that is bitter, but the weather.  And even then, I am spinning frigid tales and  manipulating them for my own rhetoric.  The view from my front window offers grass like straw and sad heaps of forgotten leaves with only the occasional sad mountain of snow.  We expect flurries throughout the weekend – it’s still winter after all – but she has let her white cloak slip low enough to prove that not even the ice can last forever.

I spoke of returning the other day.  Returning is a long and careful process.  It can mean the traveler is still a great distance from home.

When my healer experiences great spiritual shifts she talks about all the internal furniture being rearranged. I still live in a new house that is short on chairs and couches, so I’ll stick to the images of the landscape – the view is always free even if we can’t yet afford new bookshelves. 

My inner landscape has been reformed during a 10 days of sickness and soul searching. I’ve watched new river valleys form and have shored up my retaining walls.  I have repaved a concrete wasteland with a rainbow of precious stones.

I only weep a little at the changes being wrought, the unfamiliar, though beautiful, territory being forged within.  A new home is a great milestone, but one that is surely accompanied by mourning for all that was.  New houses also mean a great many stubbed toes when one needs a glass of water in the middle of the night.

So I am rejoicing in my new caverns of joy and testing the echoes against my new interior walls.  But I am still receiving snippets of news reports about the maelstrom out there that seems to have nothing to do with this inner transformation or the February sunshine beyond the shadows of my front porch.

I am still a creature of this world for all that I have spent the better part of two weeks diving in my own ocean.  I realize that I am caught in this web of shift and discomfort and even chaos that has caught hold of our societies.

In the midst of all this tumult, there was the voice of a man from Canada who spoke with the disjointed music of Scotland and the mid-west and the southern Maritimes that I know so well.  Give yourself a couple of minutes to listen to the story of five men in Seal Cove, Newfoundland who saved a pod of dolphins trapped in the thickening ice of their harbor.  Listen to his harmonies and his tale and think about what you might do that would lead you to reply “Oh, on scale of one to ten, thirty” when someone asked you how you feel.

There are parts of me feel like I am at a thirty, and there are bits of me that feel too lost in the flux of the soul to take stock and realize this journey is all about elation.  But, as I continue this process of returning I think I have found one more guidepost of inspiration that will help me redefine my internal measurement of all that is good.

A Sacred Way of Acknowledging Each Other

‘The way you bowed to each other. Every time he handed you something, or you handed something back to him. I know that was part of the Church ritual, too, but I was lying awake last night think about it in a different way. I was thinking, maybe couples ought to have little rituals like that, where they bow to each other. Maybe once at the beginning of the day and once at the end. Maybe at other times, too. As a way of acknowledging each other – oh, I don’t know, that there really is a sacred aspect of what they’re trying to do with each other.’

Gail Godwin, Evensong

dsc00116This novel, the continuing story of a preacher’s daughter who becomes an Anglican priest herself and marries another man of the cloth, offers this comment by a character who watches the couple offering a mass together.

What should be more sacred than the bond one has the partner she has chosen for life? What other relationship or situation should lend itself to the creation of ritual in such a way?

Except most of us are not married or devoted to a fellow member of the clergy. For most of us, faith is not both vocation and avocation. I have always found that balance in which both partners share the same sort of passion for the Divine to be more than elusive.

big_loveRight now, my husband I am more than a little obsessed with Big Love, the incredibly well done HBO show about a “mainstream” polygamous family. Theoretically, their shared faith is so fervent and irresistible that it inspires them to walk against the tides of law and society. (Of course, if it were that simple the show wouldn’t be so addictive and compelling…)

I operate outside of the bounds of a specific religion, as does my husband. He knew that “spirituality” was important to me when we first met, and I knew that he was cool with that. Over the years my sort of amorphous pining for the Goddess has taken more deliberate shape and we have had more conversations about the role of a Higher Power, but in certain ways, the arrangement is still the same. My own journey has progressed and my Love is always there by the side of any road I choose to travel.

Because I have never committed my adult life to a specific religious, where I assumed it is much easier to find a like minded soul who is interested in approaching God in a similar way, I have sort of resigned myself to a rather solitary path marked by my partner’s interest, but not necessarily his participation. There are so many other things that I get from our marriage. Plus, it makes sense to me that I am engaged in an individual relationship with Spirit.

But this section from Godwin’s novel offers a couple an alternative to some formal, or even informal, worship of God.

Modern books on the Goddess and feminine spirituality so often seem to offer a chapter or two on sacred love making and blessing one’s union. They always seemed like the dreams of women whose lovers would always hold their witchy dabbling at arms length. In the same way, books on Eastern paths that talk about Tantra as the ultimate union between male and female (with little answer for same sex couples) as some distant ideal crafted by the sorts of people I could never imagine my husband and I to be.

But it could be made more simple, to keep it within a place of safety and comfort for all involved. What would it be to simply acknowledge the other, to take it above the sweet, but perhaps mundane level of making dinner breakfast together and cuddling on the couch for another few episodes of a mutually enjoyed tv show?

There is something delicious and necessary about finding the sacred in the every day. But isn’t there a way to plant the sacred in that every day experience so we do not have to overturn so many humdrum stones to find it?

But it can be a great bridge to cross – allowing one’s private passion for God to permeate a relationship in more overt ways (a true spirituality will always be inflecting a relationship in beautifully subtle ways). Perhaps on this day that has been forced to represent love by countless flower shops and candy companies there is room to introduce the equivalent of a sacred bow to recognize the wonder of love’s power.

How will you do it?

“I stand here today humbled by the task before us”

inaugurationkeyholeHumility.

I had never considered the virtue of humility, the necessity magic that is conjured by being humble, until I began working with Caroline Myss’s book about Teresa of Avila’s theology, Entering the Castle.

Raised in the 80s age of self esteem – you can do anything, sky’s the limit, everyone is an individual snowflake worthy of accolades and advancement – humility was never considered a noteworthy skill. Who had time to learn what humility was when there were so many dreams to be chased and so much self promotion to be done ? The only way to get into college and then get a good job and be any sort of success at all was to learn young and learn well: you need to constantly remind the world that you are unique and worthy.

Slowly, the recognition that humility is in fact a virtue, not just the fall back plan for quiet kids who’ll never win the best prizes, has started to color my life. If you know me in the flesh, I’ll let you be the judge of whether that approach is really working… At least I can tell you I am thinking about it!

Humility has come to mind all week because I am still struck by the very first line of Barack Obama’s inaugural address: “I stand here today humbled by the task before us.”

Part of our new president’s mystique is his quiet confidence, his even demeanor and delivery, his deep belief in himself that allows him to move from this place of humility. We can all pray that this quality endures in him so that he can open his heart and mind to other perspectives and continue to work with the common good as his ultimate goal.

It is becoming more and more clear that humbleness not just an attitude for monks and scullery maids. Taking humility beyond an interior dialog with the soul and watching its practical application on the stage of presidential politics makes this spiritual work make a new sort of sense.

Like I said, humility never meant much to me until a couple of years ago when I picked up Myss’s book. I am left to wonder how many other brilliant words and ideas like that still circle around me, as yet ignored and unacknowledged. I know I cannot get hung up on all of the visions that have not yet revealed themselves to me – that is a sure way to madness, looking desperately for the next moment of enlightenment. It just inspires me once again: this journey through life offers so much promise, such evolution of the mind and soul, so many opportunities to look at this adventure of living afresh.

A couple more bits of wisdom from that incredible speech on January 20:

inaug-speechAs we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Returning Sun and Waning Moon: Presidents and Progressions

dsc00228There are some things that you do not blog about, at least not until the lessons have been distilled and the gory details been sublimated into lessons and broader examples. It is important to me that I offer wisdom here, not a transcript of my life. The sanctity of my inner world and those of my loved ones depends on my understanding that difference.

I have been working with some challenges that were bound to demand my attention eventually, and so I have stayed away from daily posting. If I had tried harder, I could have scraped together the time to spin out some rhetoric and offer some platitidtudes, but I think my readers are too smart to read what would have simply been empty pleasantries.

Today, I am still dancing warily with this sort of communication, afraid the necessary veils may slip and I may reveal too much and also worried that I am not in a place to yet believe my own optimism.

What I can offer is my husband’s comment on his way out the door as he put on his coat to brave the 6:30 a.m. chill: “I think the sun is actually trying to come up.”

The winter solstice was one month ago today. Despite our darkest December convictions, the sun is proving that it will in fact return and that we will once again be taught the joys of daylight.

How perfect it is to notice that the light is finally getting the upper hand on the first morning that the sun has risen over a new family in the White House.

Hope and dawn. Those two ideas are always linked in metaphor. I feel blessed to watch that metaphor take on a new sense of reality as I watch the horizon brighten a little earlier each morning.

lincoln-memorialThinking about politics and the skies, this morning I looked up to a waning moon again the rosy east. I would never have gotten married or planned any other life changing event while the moon was in its phase of decrease, but there is something fitting about January 20 falling during the fading Wolf Moon. As much as we are celebrating all that is fresh and new in an Obama administration, we also recognize the diminishing influence of fear and aggression that have marked the last eight years. And that incredible inaugural address yesterday was as much about letting the greed and irresponsibility fall away as it was about adding new challenges and strength to the American character.

APTOPIX Obama InaugurationAnd for all of the meaning that the astrologers may assign to the phases of Earth’s closest neighbor and dearest friend, we must remember that there is always beauty in our moon, no matter what face she shows us.

We need to be able to find that sort of beauty in ourselves and one another. May our new president inspire us. May we find the courage to act upon that inspiration.