Doubts and Loves

One of the nice things about days like Earth Day is that people use it as an excuse to get together and do kind things for creation or each other. A local farm had a fair, and there I ran into this poem that a friend of my mom’s had included on a piece of art. It took my breath away.

The Place Where We Are Right
by Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

Richard Rohr often talks about necessary suffering, not my favorite phrase or concept. He defines suffering not as something awful happening to us but rather as any time we’re not in control. In one fell swoop, this poem makes clear why that’s so: “The place where we are right/Is hard and trampled/Like a yard.” I can feel the compacted earth under my feet.

It astonishes me to consider that “doubts and loves” combined provide the way forward. How often do we consider those as related to one another? We generally much prefer loves to doubts but here they are, intertwined, working together toward the same purpose.

This combination might say something about what love really is, a question that comes up for me when people say “God is love” or Jim Finley talks of “infinite love infinitely giving itself away as our every breath and heartbeat.” Love, this poem argues, is an openness, an availability, an invitation, a movement. It is dynamic, changing, and it is only love if we allow it to change us, to dig up the earth of our hearts.

Perhaps love and doubt are in a dance where each opens the door for each other. I imagine any couple whose relationship has deepened over the years has had to hold and accept some doubts about each other and in that process has grown in love.

Meister Eckhart says that we all share the same ground of being and that our ground is God’s ground. Let’s get some moles and plows into that ground.

Always In-Between

Green hills in California never last long enough to achieve that deep, lush color found in the Midwest or Seattle. The green remains bright, almost electric, for about three months, and then it begins to fade. And I begin to hang on, as if I could hold the season still by wishing it so.

First the hue ebbs, as if nature has changed to using watercolors, and then patches of brown begin to appear. Then one day, as happened this week, it shifts. The hills turn golden. The oak trees with their dusky leaves stand out against the grass gone to seed and the landscape is beautiful again.

Of course it probably never lost its beauty, but that transition time is so hard, not because of anything inherent to it but because I want what is gone and fear what is to come. Life is so often like this. Transition is so often difficult.

Perhaps the indefinability of in-between times upsets our footing or the reality of something new coming into being demands dance steps we don’t know. Or maybe during these times we are forced to pay attention to the transition we are always in, from the cellular level on up. If we stopped wanting to return or skip ahead, would these times be easier?

Neither regret nor fear exist in the present. They are a relationship we create with what has passed or what is to come. I’m not suggesting that if we achieved mass enlightenment, we’d no longer need to mourn. But if we could embrace our transitions, we might find beauty where before we saw only hardship.

Here is a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that wonders about this type of thing. I found it on the Poetry Foundation website, which is a wonderful place to visit.

Trying to Name What Doesn’t Change
By Naomi Shihab Nye

Roselva says the only thing that doesn’t change
is train tracks. She’s sure of it.
The train changes, or the weeds that grow up spidery
by the side, but not the tracks.
I’ve watched one for three years, she says,
and it doesn’t curve, doesn’t break, doesn’t grow.

Peter isn’t sure. He saw an abandoned track
near Sabinas, Mexico, and says a track without a train
is a changed track. The metal wasn’t shiny anymore.
The wood was split and some of the ties were gone.

Every Tuesday on Morales Street
butchers crack the necks of a hundred hens.
The widow in the tilted house
spices her soup with cinnamon.
Ask her what doesn’t change.

Stars explode.
The rose curls up as if there is fire in the petals.
The cat who knew me is buried under the bush.

The train whistle still wails its ancient sound
but when it goes away, shrinking back
from the walls of the brain,
it takes something different with it every time.

The Freedom of Passing Away

Driving home yesterday past beach houses and small businesses, the thought popped into my mind, “All this will pass away.” To my surprise, the observation felt peaceful rather than panicked.

Of course it’s easier not to feel panicked when looking at someone else’s house or houses in general rather than lives. And I wasn’t thinking about a tsunami, though that could happen. I was thinking about a local shopping center that’s getting a facelift. A friend and I meet there every week to run, and as the new facades go up, we can see its modern look replacing the current, worn-down exterior. Before it was shopping center, orange or almond groves stood there.

We’ve all seen this kind of change. It can happen suddenly and violently—like the destruction happening in any number of wars around the world right now—or slowly, like the old, abandoned cabins that still dot the Western landscape.

We like some changes—people want their children to learn and grow. On the other hand, we as a society have decided that we would like to stop aging around 30.

This type of hanging on prevents us from participating in what is actually happening. There’s a sense of liveliness that comes with not trying to pin down the present and make it stick around. I used to fight the whole idea of detachment. I thought it meant you couldn’t care or feel deeply about things, but now I think it means something closer to accepting things as they are. The little seaside town I was driving through will pass away, whether in ten years or at the death of our sun.

I’m not suggesting that change is always easy or that we in our humanity will always feel equipped to handle it, but if we can see that movement is the nature of existence, we can hang on a little less and be present a little more. There is a great freedom in the truth that every moment everything is both passing away and becoming new.

Here is a poem by Joanna Klink about entering into a sudden change. This poem arrived in my email thanks to the Academy of American Poets poem-a-day program.

On Falling (Blue Spruce)

Dusk fell every night. Things
fall. Why should I
have been surprised.

Before it was possible
to imagine my life
without it, the winds

arrived, shattering air
and pulling the tree
so far back its roots,

ninety years, ripped
and sprung. I think
as it fell it became

unknowable. Every day
of my life now I cannot
understand. The force

of dual winds lifting
ninety years of stillness
as if it were nothing,

as if it hadn’t held every
crow and fog, emptying
night from its branches.

The needles fell. The pinecones
dropped every hour
on my porch, a constant

irritation. It is enough
that we crave objects,
that we are always

looking for a way
out of pain. What is beyond
task and future sits right

before us, endlessly
worthy. I have planted
a linden, with its delicate

clean angles, on a plot
one tenth the size. Some change
is too great.

Somewhere there is a field,
white and quiet, where a tree
like this one stands,

made entirely of
hovering. Nothing will
hold me up like that again.

Time to Di-verse-ify

Today is the first day of National Poetry Month! Rejoice!

Those of you who have been following the blog for a while know that every April I post wonderful, accessible poems to help us all remember that poetry can be more than something we suffer through in English class and then forget about. The poetry that speaks to us is our deepest connection to language, the closest words ever get to the unsayable.

I spent much of this past week stuck in my own thinking and annoyed with myself for being stuck. It seemed I would never progress past this particular way of engaging with myself and the world. Because thinking about your thinking is of course the best way to stop.

There are so many thought loops that I’m both tired of and apparently unwilling to give up. Here’s a poem by Jan Richardson that I find full of hope for this situation. It reminds me that life and spirit are always moving whether I happen to recognize it at the moment or not. And they’re moving in us.

Richardson’s blog, The Painted Prayerbook, features beautiful original artworks with each poem.

Risen
For Easter Day

If you are looking
for a blessing,
do not linger
here.

Here
is only
emptiness,
a hollow,
a husk
where a blessing
used to be.

This blessing
was not content
in its confinement.

It could not abide
its isolation,
the unrelenting silence,
the pressing stench
of death.

So if it is
a blessing
you seek,
open your own
mouth.

Fill your lungs
with the air
this new
morning brings

and then
release it
with a cry.

Hear how the blessing
breaks forth
in your own voice,

how your own lips
form every word
you never dreamed
to say.

See how the blessing
circles back again,
wanting you to
repeat it,
but louder,

how it draws you,
pulls you,
sends you
to proclaim
its only word:

Risen.
Risen.
Risen.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace

The Whole Death and Resurrection Thing in 360 Words

Spending time away from California reminds me that things die on a regular basis.

A couple of weeks ago in Washington, D.C., I walked past a house with a bunch of pots in the front yard. Inside each pot was a dead plant, and I thought, “Why doesn’t this person remove some of these dead plants?” Then I looked around and remembered that this is what all plants look like in much of the world at the end of winter.

One of my least favorite parts of the Lenten and Easter season is this whole death and resurrection business. I’m OK with resurrection, but death—not so appealing. Do they have to go together? Couldn’t we all just agree that resurrection is far more pleasant and skip straight to that part?

Pretty much all of creation appears to answer no to that question. Nothing lasts, from flowers to humans to solar systems.

But this existence of ours also answers that death is not possible without resurrection. From stardust becoming humans to compost becoming next year’s garden, there are no permanent ends, only transformation.

I’m not trying to reduce Easter to the turn of the seasons. I am suggesting that separating death and resurrection is pulling apart two steps in a single process. Death is not a thing in and of itself. Death is step one of resurrection.

I suspect this is not going to make the small deaths that we endure as we grow in this life more fun. We won’t all be clamoring to go on the death ride at Disneyland (well, unless it’s really good). The peeling away of layers of our ego, the very real loss of health or dreams—we may or may not be able to weather these more gracefully knowing that they are not permanent. After all, as Jim Finley says about the Crucifixion, Jesus did not handle it well: he sweat blood, he felt abandoned.

So why does it matter that our endings and letting gos, our transformed re-emergence and everything in between are part of a whole? Because that means we are always, regardless of our present circumstances, heading toward Easter morning.

Like It or Not

Coming into being is apparently not easy. From galaxies to stars to humans to any being that has to break its way out of an egg or a seed, taking form in this existence involves a good deal of struggle.

It’s so tempting to ask why, but that’s like asking why the lupine dotting the hillsides these days are purple. You can explain it in terms of the wavelengths of light, but that really only answers how they are purple, not the more fundamental why not red? In this case, why is not a useful question, as it says in one of Anne Lamott’s essays.

We are always coming into existence, but we—or at least certainly I—am not always happy about the struggle. There are things that we accept are going to be hard—giving birth, climbing Mount Everest, losing a loved one—and there are things that we can see will be hard for others—adolescence, for example. Yet we don’t tell anyone, you know, why don’t you just skip this whole adolescence thing, it’s not much fun. Whether a society has healthy or unhealthy ways of helping its members through this stage, they all still have to go through it.

And we don’t emerge fully formed at 20. As long as we’re alive, we’ll continue to be drawn forth. We’ll be invited to deeper and deeper communion with life, we’ll continue to be created, and that means we’ll continue to struggle.

In all likelihood, we’ll continue not to like that struggle, but maybe there’s something beyond our liking or not liking it. Maybe there’s a way to say, oh, this is happening, not in a passive but in a participatory way. And maybe that’s when it gets easy, not the kind of easy I generally picture where everything matches the version of life in my head but some other kind of easy that we can’t understand until we experience it.

This is one of those things I didn’t make up. The great religious traditions all include this idea. Now if only I would listen.

A Dose of Delight

If riding giant, floating, multicolored, illuminated fish sounds like your idea of a good time—and even if it doesn’t—hop on the Sea Glass Carousel in Battery Park, New York City. My sister and I went last week, and we both left with huge grins on our faces.

IMG_0484

Some of the fish on the Sea Glass Carousel in Battery Park, New York City.

In our quest for happiness, especially as adults, we often forget to do those things that simply make us smile. Everyone on our round of the carousel was an adult, and everyone was smiling. Here’s how the Sea Glass Carousel works its magic:

 

It’s beautiful. From the colors to the lights to the shapes of the fish, you feel as if you’re floating in some underwater opalescent pool. Human beings are hard-wired for beauty. We may have different ideas of what that is, but it speaks to our hearts.

It’s whimsical. We need things that appear to be non-essential, that fulfill no practical purpose like food or lodging or contributing to our 401k. We need things that are designed to delight—they awaken our souls.

My sister riding the Sea Glass Carousel

Some of the fish on the Sea Glass Carousel in Battery Park, New York City.

It moves. And not just up and down but in all sorts of circular patterns. You glide up to and away from all the other fish in the sea, and you can’t predict where you’re heading next (Ok, some of your engineers probably can). We are mobile beings, and movement brings us physically into the present moment.

 

Someone posted a picture of a dancing goat on Facebook the other day. The caption read, “When in doubt, frolic.” My go-to position when in doubt tends to be “worry and attempt to figure things out.” But if instead I jumped on the Sea Glass Carousel or its local equivalent instead of worrying, I bet my figurings would be more creative and my solutions more fun.