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Saturation

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SATURATION

Nine hours of interstate and my car sloshes into the two muddy ruts that pass for a driveway. I step out into the rain expecting the usual scent of pine, but am instead blessed by a breeze saturated with lilac and lily of the valley.

I am early this year — I’ve never seen the lilacs bloom; never seen the lily fronds petaled with fallen apple and quince blossoms.

Birdbath with apple blossoms

It must have been raining for days. The bushes and trees hang heavily, and the ground is soggy beneath my bare feet as I traipse back and forth, back and forth through the wet grass, blue jeans rolled to my knees, carrying my cats, my books, my cooler, my clothes.

Unpacked, I return to the car and head to the spring in the glistening dusk. I drive slowly, windows open, and breathe.

And breathe.

Every small hollow is full of water and bursting with song. I’ve never heard the spring peepers here, either, and I swerve drunkenly to miss the scores of sex-crazed frogs leaping wildly across the road.

Across from the spring, bits of mist drift down the dark mountain and promise a heavy morning fog. Below, the Ashuelot River dances giddily along its banks dressed in decorative white foam, as if rushing to a rendezvous downstream.

I fill my bottles with fresh water and nature fills my soul with springtime scents and songs.

I am here.

 

 

Further Heresy: Sage & Crystals

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FURTHER HERESY: SAGE & CRYSTALS

I’ve been burning a sage stick lately. I just wanted to get that out there and let the “Happy Housewife” Christian lady know. After all, confession is good for the soul.

I purchased the sage stick at a rock and mineral swap in a tiny town in New Hampshire, where I also bought a lovely piece of quartz with opalescent slivers inside it. Yes, quartz is a crystal, which some Christians believe is just about as heretical as a sage stick.

They think that crystals are “new age,” or “false idols” or “occult.” Never mind that Saint Theresa of Avila’s beloved sixteenth-century spiritual classic “Interior Castle” is based on the contemplation of a crystal:

“I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions . . . there are many rooms in this castle, of which some are above, some below, others at the side; in the centre, in the very midst of them all, is the principal chamber in which God and the soul hold their most secret intercourse.”

Contemplating nature is a time-honored way to reflect upon and connect with the holy. Jesus was forever talking about sparrows and types of soil and grains of wheat. He found lessons about God in everything around him. I feel closer to God in nature than anywhere else, so it stands to reason that I would want to use natural elements in my prayer time.

I light my sage stick and walk around my house, asking God to fill my home with Her spirit of peace and love and joy. I ask that She fill every space with the fragrance of Christ. (I don’t do this if my cat is downstairs, because it gives her a violent sneezing fit.)

I don’t believe crystals and sage sticks are magical or contain or control spirits; I think they are relaxing and beautiful. God made the rocks and the plants, and She gave us an appreciation for rich aromas and beautiful objects. We are intimately and organically connected to the plants and to the elements, and that’s why they help us embody our spirituality and connect with the Creator.

Here’s another confession: I am still a tad annoyed at the internet assaults launched by the Happy-Housewife Christian lady. So although she has already condemned me to hell for loving gay people, I am hoping to further annoy her with my hippy prayer practices. So there.

At least I am not cozying up to power and engaging in idol worship of a political leader like some other pastor-types.

Sacred Soil

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SACRED SOIL

I’m doing laundry, watching the last of the silty North Carolina river soil circle the drain and disappear. I’m always low when I first return from my annual pilgrimage to the Wild Goose Festival on the banks of the French Broad river. After spending four days with two-thousand-plus “spiritual misfits” immersed in spirit, justice, music and art, it’s hard to return to the “real” world.

My friends and I have been on sacred ground, sacred meaning “holy” or “set apart for or by God.” We set ourselves apart from our busy calendars and to-do lists and the traffic and the email and even wi-fi (!!!), and we dug our roots deep into the soil of truth and love and living spirit.

Standing on sacred ground at the Wild Goose Festival

Soil is what feeds us and nourishes us. It’s what we are made of. As the Bible says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Down by the river, we remember. We remember our true selves. We remember that we are connected to every other wounded soul on the planet – past, present, and future. And we remember that we have responsibilities to all those other souls.

We are each called to heal and to become our best, healthiest selves, now more than ever. Our very planet depends on it. 

What soil will we choose for nourishment?

We can sink our roots into the polluted soil of judgement and contempt and divisiveness, or we can choose the sacred soil of love and openness and peacemaking.

For a few precious days, my thirsty roots penetrated deep into the sacred soil by the rushing river. It will take some time to see what grows. I have pages and pages of notes, and my head is full of rainbow flags and sung psalms and the smell of campfires. I’m not quite ready to write about it. If you are curious or impatient, you can use the search function on this blog to find my posts from past festivals while you breathlessly await my 2017 Goose musings. 

Things Are Looking Up For This Substitute Teacher

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THINGS ARE LOOKING UP FOR THIS SUBSTITUTE TEACHER

It’s only fair that I should share my good news with you, after all the angst I’ve dumped since beginning my new adventure as a substitute teacher. Today I found my sweet spot — with the five-year-olds.

The initial shock & trauma brought on by six days of “teaching” a rambunctious first and second grade class lessened after a week of recovery. I read several books on classroom management in the interim. I then subbed for a few days with a different class of the same age group, and I could tell I was learning some of the tricks of the trade. We saw a play in DC and watched a dance recital, so there were perks, but I still came away feeling that I had been pummeled and crushed and mangled and tossed in the dumpster each afternoon.

I spent one dreadful day administering math tests to fifth graders which made me feel cruel as I watched my fellow non-math compatriots wriggle and sigh and twirl their hair and bounce their legs and stare into space and flunk the test. I knew exactly how they felt. I’ve been there. Heck, if I hadn’t spent the night before practicing fraction equations, I couldn’t have passed it either.

Returning to the Fray

So it was with great trepidation that I returned to school for the first of three days with a dozen kindergartners. I was still wondering if I had misconstrued various spiritual “promptings” regarding this new direction.

I began to put into practice advice from my newly acquired Substitute Teacher Handbook (thanks, R!) such as, “A ratio of one negative to eight positive interactions is recommended.” My time spent poring over the list of “101 Ways to Say ‘Good Job!’” was well worth it. (Though I had to laugh at “Out of sight!” Has anyone said that since 1969?)

I also immediately identified the kid who was going to be trouble (it’s in the eyes and the dimples) and recruited him to be my “special helper.”

Surprisingly, this technique worked like a charm: “The most effective strategy for keeping students on-task is for the teacher to walk around the classroom in a random pattern.” I’m actually pretty good at wandering aimlessly, so this successful “strategy” came easily.

Perhaps it’s not going to be rocket science.

A Full Heart

I touch the kids a lot, pat their heads, rub their shoulders, high-five their little hands. And it turns out it’s OK to smile at kindergartners, whereas smiling at second graders is a major show of weakness and is asking for trouble.

I have a photo of the moment I knew I was in the right place. My little people filed outside for recess and burst onto the playground, only to be stopped in their tracks by the most fascinating and astounding thing they had ever encountered! A major event!

The jungle gym, swing set and sandbox sat empty as the whole class gathered in wonderment around . . . a dead worm being eaten by ants. I joined their circle.

After recess I read them a book called Ten Things You Can Do to Help the Earth and we talked about worms and mice and compost and strawberries. During our afternoon “Meeting for Worship” (it’s a Quaker school), we pondered the question: “Why do I love nature?”

My heart is full tonight. 

Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/was-this-teaching-thing-all-a-mistake/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/the-continuing-adventures-of-a-new-substitute-teacher/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/end-of-chapter-one-substitute-teacher/

 

 

Saint Francis for President

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SAINT FRANCIS FOR PRESIDENT

The odds for the United States don’t look good right now. Distrust, disdain, and mean spiritedness are the order of the day, regularly displayed and encouraged by the new president. Greed and aggressive corporate irresponsibility rule the incoming Cabinet. The stakes could not be higher.

I can’t imagine how compassion, justice, and rational dialogue will ever make a come-back. And I don’t see how one person can make a mite of difference, no matter how much we rally and write and call and donate. I’m down.

Pondering a Saint

This morning, I made an altar on my dining table in preparation for the upcoming Lenten season.

Lenten altar

Lenten altar

While I created, I got to pondering Saint Francis of Assisi. I guess you could call Francis one of my spiritual mentors. On my altar is a plastic statue of the saint that I bought with my allowance when I was ten, an icon of the Saint Francis Prayer that my brother gave me, a tau cross that Francis used as his seal, and a sweet snail shell that I picked up at the Saint Damiano convent in Assisi where Francis felt his call from God.

I got to wondering what Saint Francis might have to teach us today.

Radically Countercultural

I recently preached a sermon about gentleness and described Saint Francis as the embodiment of gentleness and humility.

He’s also a good illustration of how one person following a simple call can make a difference in the world.

Saint Francis lived 800 ago in Italy. He grew up wealthy and privileged and became a powerful soldier and a knight. But because of some crushing circumstances that led him to Christ, he rejected all that and instead adopted a gentler way of being, a life of absolute poverty, service, and simplicity. This lifestyle was radically countercultural amidst the violence and aggression of medieval times.

Today he’s known as the patron saint of animals and the environment because he saw no dividing line between himself and the natural world. He rejected the prevailing Christian idea that things on earth were bad and ugly, and only “heavenly things up above” were holy.

He showed absolute reverence and gentleness for every creature and even inanimate things because he believed that each contained divine mystery that he couldn’t possibly understand. It was all God’s creation, all good, and all due respect.

Francis was way ahead of his time. Imagine if more people over these 800 years had adopted his gentle and respectful stance towards the earth and its inhabitants instead of giving way to our insatiable appetites. We would not be in the environmental crisis that we’re in, that’s for sure. We wouldn’t have mass extinctions, we wouldn’t be blowing the tops off mountains or spewing toxics and radioactivity into the air and water.

Radical Compassion

Francis spent his life serving people who were oppressed and neglected by society. He tenderly cared for outcast lepers, and he sold all his goods and used the money to buy food for poor people (his father briefly imprisoned him in their basement after he started selling the family’s stuff).

Francis saw no dividing lines; he embraced everyone and saw no one as “the other.” His friends said that he was willing to be martyred for the sake of unity and peace, when he traveled to Egypt during the crusades to try to negotiate a peace with the Muslims. He walked right through the bloody battleground and because of his bold but gentle courage, the Muslim Sultan welcomed him instead of killing him. He was later sent back to Italy under Muslim protective guard.

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

Gentleness as an Act of Resistance

Following in the radical, nonviolent footsteps of Jesus, Francis stood up to the abusive power structures of his time by showing a different path of humility, kindness, and compassion. His Franciscan order thrives to this day, still focused on simplicity and compassionate service.

Such gentleness is a powerful act of resistance these days. It’s subversive in the face of terror and outrage, as was Francis’s vulnerability towards the Muslims and his rejection of the church’s violent crusade. This may be just what America needs to beat the odds and end the cycle of distrust and fear.

Stand up, fight back. But with love.

The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had.”

Dr. Martin Luther King

WordPress Photo Challenge: Against the Odds

Confronting Fear: How Will We Respond to Trump’s Election?

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Confronting Fear: How Will We Respond to Trump’s Election?

For the majority of Americans who did not vote for Donald Trump, this moment is more than just an “upsetting setback” or an “alarming trend” or even a “crushing defeat.”

I have a friend who is a Trump voter and he is on Facebook trying to calm people down by writing things like:

“Our hearts should be wrapped up in loving God and loving others. (You know, the greatest commandment and the 2nd one just like it?) All this fear should be transferred to trust in God. We should not be looking to government to do the things we should be doing ourselves.”

Let me begin by saying this is not a helpful way to respond. First, it reminds the public that millions of people called Christians have voted for someone whose number-one character trait is attacking and mocking and belittling others. This does not reflect well on Christianity and it tells people that churches are not safe places to be. This is tragic.

Secondly, a white guy telling people not to be afraid of Trump is . . . well, I don’t actually have a word for that. Let me explain:

Just a Few of Our Fears

  • Millions of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims and LGBTQ people fear for their immediate physical safety. The bullying has already begun. Because it’s allowed now, even encouraged. “Political correctness” i.e., respecting and empathizing with those different from you, is mocked as un-American.
  • When millions of Jewish people see the language that Trump’s campaign lifted directly from anti-semitic websites, they hear boots marching and murderous voices chanting.
  • Those of us who have decided to stay in the U.S. and fight for “a more perfect union” with “liberty and justice for all” now fear retribution. Will we be targeted for intimidation and punishment? How will the public even know what’s going on after Trump bans unfriendly news outlets from the White House and congressional hearings? I am painfully aware that part of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is vengefulness. It wouldn’t take much of a search to identify anti-Trump bloggers and make sure that they have trouble getting driver’s licenses or passports or health care or . . .
  • Oh yeah, there’s that small matter of health care. Twenty-two million people will soon lose affordable health care, myself included. I have a pre-existing condition. I was with a woman yesterday who has a disabled son and she is inconsolable because he’ll lose his treatment and affordable medications. For the first time in his thirty years, he had the care he needed because of Obamacare.
  • I’ve heard many fathers and mothers express fear that their daughters will now be entering a time when it’s OK to grope and grab and trash-talk women, something most women have experienced and were hoping was becoming a thing of the past.
  • For me, fear of nuclear holocaust is at the top of the list because of Trump’s impulsivity, recklessness, and petty vengefulness.
  • Climate change? I wouldn’t call that fear, more resignation and deep sadness for the human race.

Anyway, my point is that white male Christians should please not tell people “Fear not because God loves you and your fellow Americans will pick up the slack when government programs are gone.” Because the most at-risk people aren’t feeling too warm and fuzzy towards their “fellow Americans” right now, especially evangelical Christians, and most of our fears aren’t anything fellow Americans can help with anyway. I cannot stop Trump from pushing the nuclear button, and you cannot provide healthcare to that woman’s disabled son. Tuna casseroles won’t do it.

Emerging from Denial

I seem to be emerging from the shock and denial stage of grief and entering into anger. That’s good, I guess.

I spent yesterday at a silent retreat center and it truly helped. There were twice as many people there as usual, nearly thirty of us seeking comfort and solace from a Higher Power. The leader suggested that we “befriend our tears” and consider them “an offering.” She asked us to allow our hearts to be soft and broken because nothing new and good can grow from hard, frozen ground. I took her advice.

Finding Peace at Dayspring Retreat

Finding Peace at Dayspring Retreat

I’m still deciding how else to respond. Silence and prayer is good — we should all take care of ourselves and take whatever time we need to grieve. But then we need to decide. How will we respond? My mind cycles between options:

Now What?

I could be marching in the anti-Trump protests, but I don’t think that’s especially helpful. While it is good to send a message to Trump that he does not have a mandate (not even a majority of the votes) and we are here and we are watching, it is not helpful to break stuff and set things on fire. But testosterone will be testosterone and anarchists will be anarchists, and they have glommed on to peaceful marches and rallies.

Or I could leave. I already have friends headed to Canada and Scotland and looking into Costa Rica. But no, I believe in this country’s founding principles, and I believe in a good God, and I absolutely believe that love will win in the end. I am not made of the stuff that runs away. I’m an American and I still love my country, even though I’m crushingly ashamed of it right now.

Or I could withdraw and go into an insular shell as I did the first time Reagan won. I spent nine months in depression, often not getting out of my dressing gown until I knew my roommates would be coming home from work. I supported the economy by buying a lot of marijuana. Yeah, that wasn’t my best response, and I’ll not be withdrawing again.

Or I could withdraw less dramatically and simply stay away from the news for four years and watch entertainment shows and history documentaries about Hitler and Mussolini. But life is too short and I’m too old to spend my last decades — if I’m granted that long — seeing everything I have worked for in my environmental justice career and personal life come unraveled. The arc of history bends towards justice, and I’m going to keep hanging on to the end of that arc with my friends.

Or I could dive in 110% and go back to work for a social justice organization and work fourteen-hour days and hope that I can save the world. Been there, done that. It’s a worthy pursuit, but not for me anymore. Trump has committed to undo decades of bipartisan progress on environmental issues and even abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, so rules & regulations & agencies are only as good as the leader. It’s hearts that have to be changed, not just laws.

Or I can give money to social change and civil rights and organizations. Lord knows they are going to need it. I hope you will do that. Right now. They need encouragement as they gear up to defend our constitution and our laws. But I don’t think money is enough.

Standing Together

People who care about justice and equality and peace and the planet need to stand together, literally. We need to look each other in the eyes and say, “I am with you. You are not alone.”

We need to pick our battles and engage. Tonight I’m headed to a rally in a nearby small town to show solidarity with Muslims and immigrants. Two hundred folks have already signed up. Next week I’m going to a larger rally in Annapolis to stand with my Native American brothers and sisters against the Dakota Pipeline.

I’ll be sporting a safety pin on my sweaters from now on, the new symbol of a “safe person” that loving Americans are now wearing in support of at-risk people. I hope that you will, too. And don’t just wear it, but speak up when you see a problem. Be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi said.

#safetypin = safe person

#safetypin = safe person

If you are one of the majority of Americans who are afraid right now, what are you going to do?

Thanks to WordPress Daily Post for the prompt: Or

Emotive Weekend Entertainment: Historic Election Nights We Have Known

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If you are a political junkie as I am, the link below will be all you need to keep you occupied for a good chunk of time. You might want to go through it more than once. I already have.

I remember every one of these nights as if they were just last year, and each memory contains either ebullient joy or devastation.

In 1980, I was on my way home from night school to watch the election returns with my roomies. We were expecting a long night. It was 8:15 when I stopped at the liquor store for champagne. The TV was on, and John Chancellor was announcing that Ronald Reagan had won in a landslide. Just like that. Half the country hadn’t even voted yet. I sat down on a chair and wept.

Of course, Bush vs. Gore in 2000 was the worst. It stretched our nation almost to its breaking point. It still makes me nauseated when I remember the moment the Supreme Court said, “Stop counting the ballots.” The level of shock I felt was on a par with September 11. My country, shaken to its core. This can’t happen here! Don’t count the votes? Don’t count the votes?

But keep scrolling through the article and you will come to 2008. You can watch us elect our first African-American president all over again. And again. And again. With tears streaming down your face as you watch thousands and thousands of people of every race and ethnicity rejoicing together in Chicago, New York, Atlanta and beyond. Oh, for that kind of energy in progressive America again!

Another wave of nostalgia may hit you when you see real TV newscasters. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Intelligent people who try to report actual news in an unbiased manner without letting their personalities take the stage. Talk about history!

It Might Be OK

Watching these videos one after the other, you may also get just the slightest sense that “it’s going to be OK,” as we stand at the precipice of what is, I believe, the most important election in our history. We are getting awfully close to our last chance to keep climate change from wiping out a million or so species — but maybe the human one will survive a while longer, and maybe America will.

Hillary has a decent chance of defeating the Orange Menace. And even if Trump gets elected, hopefully we’ll get a Democratic Senate to protect the Supreme Court and limit the domestic damage, and maybe someone in his family can keep him from starting a nuclear war. The rest of the world will just have to wait four years while he tanks bigly, and then America will be back.

We are resilient, we are strong. We’re just, well, kind of schizophrenic: red or blue, black or white, pro-choice or pro-life. I don’t know how we heal this rift of the heart.

I will be in prayer this weekend. I suggest you join me, no matter what your view of prayer might be. Can’t hurt, right? Meantime, check out this awesome article from the Washington Post.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/11/04/what-time-will-this-election-finally-be-over/?wpisrc=nl_evening&wpmm=1

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