Fever Rising

Spirit of Life, Source of all Love:

Our planet has a fever.
Giant storms bring floods
that inundate whole countries.
Smoke rises from the ruins
of thousands of miles of forests.
Incalculable numbers of beings
suffer much worse things
than death.

How do we bear it?

How do we bear it,
knowing that it will get worse
before it gets better
and it may never get better
at all?

Help us allow ourselves to grieve.
Help us know that our grief
arises from our love
which arises from our interdependence
with all life on Earth.

If we can allow ourselves to grieve–
if we can sob and wail
and pound our pillows–
if we can release the tears
that clog our throats,
we can recover our voices.
We can come back to life.
We can act from our love
on behalf of all life.

Spirit of Life, power of greening:
nothing is stronger than You are,
You rise in the trees,
You swim in the waters,
You fly in the air,
You crawl on the earth.
You move in our hearts as Love:
Love that is stronger than death.

In our hour of need, we pray:
Rise in us and overflow
as the tears that express our love
and clear the way for you to move
as the wisdom we need
to know how to act
and the strength we need
to do it.

Rise in us, O Spirit of Life,
and help us make all things new.

Amen.  Ashe.  All our relations. Blessed be.

Be Not Afraid to Grieve

Spirit of Life, Source of all aid:
now is a time of lamentation.

It seems the whole world is on fire.
The smoke hurts our eyes and our lungs,
making it hard to breathe.

Ash falls on every surface,
the gray and white powder all that remains
of innumerable beings who once were alive.

Help us know that our grief and our pain
are the appropriate response
to what is happening here.

If we are weighed down by misery
and can hardly move our limbs
we are experiencing the normal reaction
to catastrophic loss,
which is what this is.

It is appropriate to feel pain
because we are part
of the body that is burning.
Our body is burning
and it hurts.

The First Peoples in this place
knew how to use fire
for its proper function:
Renewer of Life.
Each year when it began to rain,
the people painted with the fire stick
lightly, gently, lovingly,
and they managed these dry hills and forests
for every kind of being under the sun.

Trees, birds, elk, shrubs, flowers, mushrooms, deer:
all were part of the great interwoven circles of life
and all flourished with the gentle use of fire.

But when the whites came and took away the lands
they didn’t learn how to care for them
and fire went from Renewer of Life
to Destroyer of All Things
and this is the cost of believing
Nature is something outside ourselves
and all beings exist to serve us:
we are burning ourselves alive.

And so we must grieve.
There is no other way through this mess.

We have to let ourselves feel this pain
because it arises from our interbeing
with all that is;
it arises from our love.

Only when we know in our bones
how deeply we inter-are with this world,
and how passionately we love it,
can we change how we act
from now on.

Spirit of Life, Source of all aid:
help us be not afraid to grieve.

Blessed be.

A Prayer for Grief and Courage

I am poured out like water;
my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted in my breast…
–Psalm 22

Spirit of Life, Infinite Love,
You in whom we live and move
and have our being:

How do such things happen?
How is it that children
can be shot in their schools?
How can we live with it?
The pain is so great that it seems
we might not.

Help us grieve in the way
humans need to grieve:
with wailing and sobbing
and tearing of hair and clothing.
Help us grieve.

And then help us rise up.

Help us rise up in grief and outrage.
Help us know in our bones
that we will NOT live with this.

Give us the courage to cry out,
“Enough! No more of this! Enough!
We will not stand helplessly by while children
are killed in their schools!
Or in their homes, or on their streets,
or anywhere our love can reach!”

Help us use all of our strength
and all of our skill
to make this world safe
for children everywhere.

May it be so. Blessed be. All our relations. Ashe. Amen.

To Do What is Needed

Great Spirit of Life:

My heart is sore today, and I am lonely.
For lo, these many years I have been failing you.

This blue-green ball
that you have given us to live on,
Your sacred body,
this miracle of interwoven cycles
of water, air, earth, fire,
is heating up.

One by one we are killing our relatives:
tigers, grizzlies, elephants, oaks, otters,
whales, salmon, grasses, butterflies,
gorillas, orchids, lorikeets.

Thousand by thousand we are killing ourselves:
women and children first.

My voice is small
a whisper lost in the wind
Those who hear it laugh at me
and tell me how impractical I am
to want to find a way to live here
in love.

But please,
please:
help me not give up.
Help me receive Your gifts
and use them to save us all.

Grant me the presence of a mountain
implacable and unarguable
Grant me hope that grows like tiny tendrils of grass
after just one rain
Let me be rooted deeply and reach high, like the pine tree
flexible enough to weather the storm
Let me be as persistent as water
wearing away resistance one molecule at a time
Let me be as fierce as a grizzly bear
that I might protect all of the earth’s young
Grant me the endurance of the salmon,
the instinct to keep swimming upstream.
Grant me the vision of the hawk,
that I might see what to do next
Let me keep the wonder of a tiny child
and the joy of a baby’s belly laugh

Great Spirit,
the Web of Life is torn.
I place myself in your hands,
that you might use me to mend it.
Keep my heart full of the love that will sustain me
that I might find a way to sustain You.

Thank you for all you have given me.

Blessed Be
Amen

Let Us Take It Back

At my house
the wind whispers in the pines
rustles through the oaks and cedars
and sets the chimes gently ringing.

A zebra swallowtail floats over raspberry plants.

A blue and black striped dragonfly
darts above the clover
where a thousand bees hum.

A pale blue damselfly lands
on a bright orange marigold.

A tiny California newt
no bigger than my pinky finger
makes its slow little way
among the stones.

A million insects whiz by
in a million different directions
hummingbirds sip from the feeders
and ravens fly overhead
their wings iridescent in the sun.

Frogs and crickets sing their longing for mates
lizards and squirrels madly chase their own kind
hawks shriek and jays argue;
all is green, green, green
against sky of blue, blue, blue.

Down by the river
the air is full of the fragrance of
California buckeye blossoms
and spice bush flowers
and a billion billion green leaves
each a different shape and size
each a factory, photosynthesizing
each one growing toward the light.

The songs of robins, grosbeaks,
tanagers, and towhees
echo through the trees
over the sound of the river
swollen with snowmelt
roaring down the canyon
and the smaller trickle of the streams
flowing down to the river.

At the sides of the trail
green mosses ferns and grasses
are adorned with wildflowers
of every color:
larkspur and yarrow
paintbrush and monkeyflower
Ithuriel’s spear and blue-eyed grass.

This world is so beautiful
that I almost can’t stand it
but somehow I find I can
and I weep
for those who do not even see it.

I weep for their terrible loss
of which they are not aware
because their hearts are so tiny
or so burned or so poisoned or so closed
and I weep for the power we have given them
to destroy all that is sacred and beautiful.

Beloveds—
let us take it back.
That is all we must do to save this world.
Let us take
our power
back.

Prayer for Hope and Dread

Spirit of life, you who body forth
as this starry universe
and our shimmering blue-green planet:

Now at last the sun has come out
and the sky is a glorious clear blue
and the oak leaves
are such a tender new green
that it seems all the world
is poised in hope!

Fresh north winds blow
and the pines sing
and the hummingbirds
return to the feeders.

And yet the news each day
is filled with such terrible things
that dread rises like a tide in our hearts.
Some of us can’t help but wonder
how long this world can last.

Spirit of life, immense ocean of love,
help us give ourselves over to you.
Help us know that in all of our
fear and anger and grief,
we are held.
In all of our amazement and joy and wonder,
we are held.
In all of the changes that are coming our way,
we are ever safely held
in love.

Blessed be.

 

Earth Day Prayer

Spirit of Life, Spirit of laughter and lusciousness,
You who body forth in spirals and spheres, in
galaxies and seeds and peaches and snails:

Help us honor the source of our existence,
our Mother, Earth.

We offer up our grief and regret
that humans have done so much damage.

We offer up our thanks for the continued blessing
of life here.

Help us care for our beautiful home.

Help us remember who we really are:
precious beings, unique, full of love and joy and pain
and the capacity to heal and grow and change,
interdependent with millions of other precious beings.

Help us know what interdependence means:
that we have power.

Help us claim our power
and use it to heal our world.

Blessed be.

Grief and Hope and the Full-Time Human

I have a confession to make.  I spent most of the winter, and now the first bit of spring, sliding down into a situational depression.  Just when I was launching this new ministry, just when I most needed to be able to write inspiring pieces that would nourish people for the hard work ahead, I fell face forward into a pit of despond. It is a soft, pillow-lined pit—I have food and shelter and clothing and medical care and the love of family and friends—but it is nevertheless a pit.  And it is proving hard to climb out of.  Partly it’s the weather: where I live, down in a hollow in a cedar forest, it has rained over 90 inches, more or less continuously, in the past 6 months, and there is no sign of it stopping anytime soon.  Anyone would get depressed in these conditions.  But mostly it’s because the state of the world is so wretched that I am having a hard time finding hope.

For several weeks I thought that I should not write about this because it would be bad for general morale.  If my job is to help give people hope, how would it look if, instead, I shared my own fear and despair?  How could I give people hope if I have none myself?  How would it look if a person who purports to offer wisdom and strength for healing admits to being all out of wisdom and strength herself?  And then just sits down in the middle of the road and cries, like a toddler who wants to be carried instead of having to walk?  So I thought, I can’t write anything until I feel better.

But then several things came to mind.

First, this happens to a lot of people, even the most wonderful people.  Even the most gifted spiritual teachers, even those whose teachings sparked the beginnings of whole new religions, and the greatest leaders of social change:  the Buddha, Muhammed (pbuh), Confucius, Hildegard of Bingen, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day. All the great spiritual teachers and leaders have had times of fear and despair.  Even Jesus.  He went out into the desert alone to wrestle with his fear and his faith.  At his life’s end he is said to have cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Quoting Psalm 22, one of the most gorgeous descriptions of spiritual desolation ever written.)

And not only the great spiritual leaders, but anyone sensitive enough to be what my brilliant friend Rev. Theresa Ines Soto calls a “full-time human,” is going to experience situational depressions and periodic losses of hope, because life is hard.  The long dark night of the soul is just part of it.  Life is also spectacularly wonderful, but it is damned hard a lot of the time.  (I love Glennon Doyle Melton’s blending of “beautiful” and “brutal” into “brutiful.”) And when you add on what is happening now in our world, well, life is even harder.

Second, where did I get the idea that my job is to give people hope?  What is hope, anyway, and is it necessarily a good thing?  There are many definitions.  One is the simple idea that good things are possible.  I like this definition because this kind of hope is clearly applicable and useful in any situation.  Good things are always possible, even in the worst situations.  Another, in more common currency, is the belief that the outcome we desire will come to pass if we only work or pray or try hard enough.  I don’t like this one at all because a) it is magical thinking, b) it is colonizing thinking (who says the outcome we desire is really what’s best?), c) it puts the whole burden on just our own self, d) so many other reasons.  Alas, it is the working definition for a good number of activists, and not coincidentally why so many (especially privileged ones) burn out.  As an alternative, Margaret Wheatley, Thomas Merton, Paul Rogat Loeb, and a number of other activist writers suggest that it is more effective to release our attachment to particular outcomes and continue doing the work because it is the right thing to do, and the people doing it are the people we most want to be in relationship with.  In this way activism can actually be nourishing rather than exhausting.

Still, if we can agree that we like the definition of hope as the idea that good things are possible, is it my job to give people hope?  All the time?

Actually, ministers, and full-time humans, have many jobs.  Sometimes our job is indeed to be a purveyor of hope.  Other times, our job is to witness, and to accompany.  To witness what is really going on, to name it as best we can, and to accompany those who are in the midst of it—whatever “it” is.  It might be something entirely joyful:  a student graduating, a couple falling in love, the election of leaders who will devote themselves to the flourishing of all beings.  But it also might be something terrible:  the death of a beloved child, domestic violence, the ascendance of white male supremacy, irreversible climate change and mass extinction, the bombing of poor countries.

Witnessing and accompanying mean helping people know they are not alone, however terrible things are or however wonderful.  They are not alone, and they are held in a whole that is larger than anything they can imagine.  This whole might be our whole starry universe, or it might be God, or it might be something else entirely, depending on one’s spiritual orientation. So even if you are feeling hopeless, even if you are afraid for your life and the lives of those you love, even if you are in anguish and despair over racism and misogyny and homophobia and ableism and climate change and extinction, you are not alone.

Third, and related to the above, if there is one thing I have learned as a minister it is that ignoring grief, not allowing ourselves to feel our real feelings, causes depression.  It is essential to grieve what we have lost and what we are continuing to lose.  Our grief wakes us up to our connections.  If we are experiencing the worst crisis in the history of the world, we need to be able to grieve what is being lost.  Only if we can allow ourselves to grieve will we be able to move into effective, loving action, whatever that action may be.

Joanna Macy says that we cannot know, at this time in the world, whether we are witnessing the end of life as we know it, or bringing to birth a new and better age.  Either way we are midwives, in the old sense of the word: a midwife was in the middle between birth and death, bringing new life into the world and seeing the dead out of it.  Whether we are witnessing the end of everything, or bringing to birth something new, or some combination of both, what is required of us are the same qualities of being:  deep, unflinching presence to what is, and deep compassion for all beings.

Finally, to heal a personal depression and then widen the circle of healing into the world, we need meaning and beauty and connection.  We sometimes also need a little medical help.  I find it very hard to seek connection and help when I am depressed, and then the more isolated I become, the worse the depression gets.  Last week, in desperation, I did two things:  first I went to my doctor and got started on a low dose of a mild antidepressant.  Then I spoke to my spiritual director, Rev. Cathleen Cox. and she gave me a sentence to write down and repeat to myself until I believe it.  Because I was dubious about the first sentence, she gave me another, and another, until there was a whole paragraph.  This may help you, too:

“It is a contribution to the well-being of life for me to reach out to others and share with them my feelings and needs.  Everyone needs connection now. I serve others when I model reaching out for connection and give others the opportunity to feel good about giving.  If we all speak our feelings and needs together, who knows what positive things may happen.”

What are your feelings and needs right now, during these very difficult times?  Are you able to reach out for connection and the help you need?  What might happen if we all speak our feelings and needs together?

Let us speak them and find out.

Blessed be.

 

Together

Every day this week, the news has sent me reeling with shock.  The atrocities being committed by human beings upon other human beings, as well as upon other kinds of beings—including the very Earth—are so numerous and so terrible that I feel overwhelmed and unable to speak.  I have expected these things to come to pass and yet I am still shocked, and I am afraid of what will be next.

As a minister, I have sometimes felt that my job is to give people hope even when times are dark.  Sometimes that may be true.  Sometimes.  More often, my job is to be present to what is truly happening, and to name it as best I can.  And to be present with my people, and help them be present with each other.

Today, I can’t give you hope.  Today, I must be present to the grief and anger and pain that arise when the government of our own rich and powerful nation decides to begin bombing a country whose people are already suffering trauma beyond trauma. In that spirit, I offer you this prayer:

Spirit of Life,
Great immensity of love
in which we live and move
and have our being:

Sometimes there are no words
that can express the enormity
of our grief and outrage.
This is one of those times.
There is just so much.
So much that is evil and wrong.
So much that is cruel and hateful.
So much that is simply painful.

In times such as these, let us come together.
Let us sit in silence with candles lit.
Let our tears fall freely.
Let us not be afraid to break the silence with wails and sobs.
Let us hold each other while we weep.

This is how we make manifest
the love that will not let us go:
we hold on to one another.

For we can only get through this, together.
We can only change this, together.

Amen.

Hearts Underwater

heart underwater

My mother came back from a walk last week with a beautiful photo of a heart shape she had seen in the creek.  She had tears in her eyes and her voice was wobbly with pain.  “This is how I feel right now,” she said.  “My heart is underwater.  There is just too much.”

So many of us feel this way.  Our hearts are underwater.  There is too much happening, too fast, for us to be able to process it all.  We feel like we are drowning. Our hearts are underwater.

May we know that our pain is the expression of our love.  It is the expression of our interconnectedness with all that is.  Our pain and grief and rage are the natural outpourings of huge hearts, full of love.

A teacher once reminded me that the heart is a very strong muscle.  The more we exercise it, the stronger it gets.  So let us weep when we must.  Let us weep and rail and pound our pillows, and let the salty tears wash us clean.  And then let us pick up our strong and beautiful hearts and take them out into the world to keep loving.

Photo by Nancy Kubik