Saturday, December 20, 2014

Are You Still Sad?

My good friend died – how long has it been now – about ten days ago.

Someone asked me if I was still sad.

I didn’t know there was a time limit.

I don’t think I answered. If I had I would have said ‘not all the time’.

For obvious reasons I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.

One of the things that people say is that death is just part of life. I know what they mean but it doesn’t really make sense. And then it does. As in winter is just part of the year.

And I have been privy to several deaths. My sister-in-law’s three years ago. My good friend. And (at various physical distances) my mother’s, my father’s, my grandparents, other friends. And at greater emotional distances: John F. Kennedy, George Solti, Mother Theresa, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy. And the hundreds/thousands who die in wars. And hundreds of blacks from police or other violence. And the Ebola victims.

No. I’m not going to name them all. I can’t name them all. But they all contributed in some way to my world, to my understanding of the world, to my understanding of myself.

This is the Solstice eve, the eve of the longest night in the northern hemisphere.

I think it’s okay to dwell on death in this darkness.

And to remember that the light always comes back – however slowly, it returns and we bloom again.

And it’s okay to be sad because people we loved and/or admired are no longer with us. [Except that they are part of us.]

So, yes, I’m still sad some of the time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Another Holy Night

I have a neighbor friend, Judy, who has been the one I go talk to when I need to go talk to someone. She went into the hospital Nov. 17 and came home on hospice Nov. 19. Her older son flew in from Rochester, New York (he had to return home on Dec. 2) and her younger son lives about half an hour away.

At Judy's request I staged an early (potluck) Thanksgiving on Nov. 25 for 10 members of her family. At Judy's request, the tree was up (her sons did that for me) and everyone who came put an ornament on. When they wheeled her into my living room, her whole being lighted up.

Since then, I've been visiting her almost every day. I didn’t really want to visit her yesterday. I was tired. And it was hard to see her fail … and to watch Eldon, her husband of more than 50 years, see her fail. But I went.

There were other people there—a couple. I could immediately see that Judy was much worse – unresponsive. The couple said they were expecting the hospice musician. (I didn't know there were hospice musicians but it's a great idea). They left when the musician arrived. Eldon and their local son, Star, arrived almost simultaneously.

Once Eldon found an extension cord, the musician (I believe her name was Jungshea) set up her Casio keyboard and tablet and asked what Judy might like to hear. None of us could think of anything. The musician played something somber and we struggled to remember happier songs. I think we came up with The Tennessee Waltz, Green Sleeves, Deck the Halls, Country Road, and She’ll Be Coming ‘round the Mountain When She Comes. Oh, and Ode to Joy by Beethoven. We were in their bedroom – Eldon sitting next to Judy’s hospital bed, stroking her hair, Star in a chair at the doorway, me on their bed. Their cat wandered around the doorway every once in awhile.

I could see and feel the love in Eldon’s touch and Star’s focused attention and the compassion in the musician’s face. Love permeated the room. It felt holy.

When the session was over, I walked the musician and her Casio to her car and walked home.

Judy died last night. I wouldn’t have missed a minute of her last days. And will be forever grateful that I sat in on a portion of her holy night.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Crete -- a generous act remembered


One morning during the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which I took last fall, our bus driver, Babi, offered to take us to his village. We walked down into its charm and after exploring its streets and church, found the local coffee shop.

With the generosity that is typical of the people of Crete, the owner of the shop bought all us of coffee which we enjoyed in the dappled sunlight of the shop's courtyard. 


 
A small portion of a lovely day, of a lovely tour of a land permeated with the feminine.
 A treasured memory.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Golden Autumn


One day last week I spent some time harvesting the gold falling from the huge maple in front of my house. I cleared a path. The tree was still brimming.

The sun was shining; the temperature temperate. I was immersed in beauty. However messy, it was beauty nonetheless.

Later the same day I learned of horrific physical problems assaulting two dear friends. One, who, with her husband, has always been there when I needed help of any kind, was in excruciating pain and facing surgery, perhaps death. Another, whose gentleness had permeated my days, was in excruciating pain and facing possible paralysis. I was stunned – I sleepwalked through the evening – doing the things I routinely do -- feeding the cats, fixing dinner, eating, reading, watching the end of a Netflix movie – sort of present, sort of not.

I know it’s all part of the cycle of life – leaves falling, people dying. I know Thich Naht Hanh (and other Buddhists) affirm that there is no death, no birth – that everything is part of some great continuum. I even have days when I believe that/understand that.

Still.

It is so hard to see people you care about suffer. And you worry about the one friend's husband and the other friends new kitten. Who will take care of them?

By the next morning, the stunned-ness had melted into a gentle sorrow, floating on the edges of my day and I focused – as much as I could – on my routines – feeding the cats, fixing breakfast.

I was sitting at the table looking out my back window when a large bird flew at the birdfeeder hanging outside. My birdfeeder is designed to provide for small birds and to prevent squirrels from stealing the food. When a small bird perches on the ledge, it can access the seeds. When a squirrel tries it, its weight shuts the feeder.

The bird – a flicker – was almost as large as the feeder. It flew at the transparent portion of the feeder, banging at the inaccessible seeds. And flew away. A few moments later, it came back .. .and balancing below the feeder’s ledge it triggered the seed dispensing . . . and ate.

I had several moments to see the intricate patterns on its long slender body – the touch of crimson on its chest – the dark roundness of its eyes – before it flew away.

And I was back. I became aware that my egg, scrambled with mushrooms and a little cheese, was delicious. That the sun was magnifying the gold of my backyard tree. And the sky was perfectly blue and beautiful.

Now I could acknowledge both my fears and prayers for my friends. Now I could acknowledge the miracle of the every day.

And it is good.

Friday, November 7, 2014

believing poetry

Before I went to Nova Scotia, I read Longfellow's Evangeline. It was compelling, if a little melodramatic. I thought he was exaggerating, possibly to increase sales.

He was not.

The story of the "Great Expulsion" was all too true.

The Acadians had settled Nova Scotia in the mid-1600s. When the British conquered the province in 1710, they had no great affection for the French-speaking farmers. Suspicion grew into contempt then distrust then intolerance.

From 1755 - 1764, they kicked the Acadians out -- 11,500 men, women, and children were forcibly deported -- scattered along the eastern seaboard of the United States (or some to France).  Families were separated. Farms and homes destroyed. One third of them died.

It was not until July 28, 2003 -- more than two centuries later -- that Canada's Governor General (representing the Queen of England) declared July 28 "A Day of Commemoration of the Great Upheaval."

Now there is a national park at Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.

In the park, there is a statue of Evangeline -- a fictional character representing the thousands forced from the lands they had transformed into farms and homes.

 
And in the memorial chapel, there is a blue stained glass window depicting the people being separated from the land . . . and from each other.


Sometimes it is important to believe in poetry.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Acadian Story

Sometime in the early 1600s the people who would be known as Acadians had traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to new and unfamiliar land (Nova Scotia) on a huge bay (the Bay of Fundy). There were people there before them – the Mi’kmaq – friendly Native Americans who apparently felt there was room enough for all.


The Acadians looked around at the land – a mix of thick forests and sea marshes. And watched the tides. None of them had ever seen tides like these. Every 6 hours and 13 minutes the ocean rose or fell – often 30 feet or more. And when they rose, the tides flooded the sea marshes with salt water.

To survive, the settlers would have to either clear the forests or transform the marshes. The Acadians transformed the marshes. They created a system of drainage ditches combined with a one-way water gate called an aboiteau. The aboiteau was a hinged valve in the dike which allowed fresh water to run off the marshes at low tide but which prevented salt water from flowing onto the land as the tide rose. After letting snow and rain wash the salt from the marshes for between two and four years the Acadians were left with fertile soil which yielded abundant crops.

There were other ways to take advantage of the tides. Using branches, the Acadians built huge cages at the edge of the bay. These would be submerged when the tide came in. When the tide retreated, the Acadians would pluck fish (mostly cod) from the weir like picking apples from a tree.


They came, they paid attention, and found ways to create a comfortable life in the new land.
 
 
 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Personal Ad

My teeth are good.

I’m near-sighted, hard of hearing and overweight.

And short.

I also have diverticulitis – a condition, not a disease – that can slow (or basically, prolong) a necessary bodily function.

But my teeth are good and my hair is still okay.

Oh yes, I also have Reynaud Syndrome which affects circulation in my feet – they can get so cold or so hot that it is impossible to sleep.

And I am borderline diabetic which means I should limit my intake of carbohydrates.

I also have two cats who often sleep with me. And I talk to them.

And I am old.

But my teeth are good.

On days and evenings when I’ve had enough sleep, I can be amusing, sometimes even witty.

I can’t dance worth a damn (but I’m willing to try).

I do not like horror movies of any kind. Nor do I like movies whose main theme is violence. No to most film noir. And no to sappy romantic comedies.

I love good theater but have had enough Neil Simon for my particular lifetime. I actually enjoy Shakespeare and Ibsen and an occasional Samuel Beckett.

I go to church but am not holier than anyone. I’m a Unitarian Universalist which means that I am (most days) willing to learn from whatever religious, spiritual, agnostic or atheist path you may follow. I spent ten years studying and practicing Native American spirituality and I’ve also learned a lot about ancient goddess religions and find many parallels, and great value, in those two world views.

I do not tolerate intolerance. In my view, all people deserve respect (until they cease showing respect to others).

I like good food (and savor great food) red wine and dark chocolate. I am a pretty good (not gourmet) cook (I’ve never made a good pie crust).

I write stuff when I have time but volunteer for too many things so sometimes I go a long time without writing, which feels crappy.

I love to travel – to spend time in a completely different environment and learn other ways of looking at things. And I love to stay home (and play with my cats).

I live near mountains and visit them when I can. I am not a good hiker or really anything remotely athletic (which is a factor in my being overweight). Plus I am old so that’s probably not going to get any better.

I love great art and music – just for being what they are and also for what they can teach me.

I love beauty. It surrounds us all, all the time if we just pay attention. I have two grown sons (who live 1,000 miles away) and some amazing friends, all of whom I love.

I enjoy taking pictures and walks.

I subscribe to the New York Times – Monday through Friday only -- and to the local paper and PBS television.

I play some card games when there’s someone to play with and sometimes play too much computer solitaire.

I love to laugh.

And I love my cats.

So that’s it.

I’ve been divorced for 38 years so marriage isn’t a high priority but I’d be interested keeping company with someone -- if I could just be who I am and he could be just who he is. Someone I could have great conversations with, or a fine meal, or share a play or concert or walk in the woods. It would be nice to be held with affection. Even old people like those things.

And, as previously mentioned, my teeth are good.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The British are so very British

One of the places I went this fall was Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

It is a UNESCO world heritage site, a fully functioning community, and a remarkably well-preserved town that retains most of the qualities of the original British model colonial settlement.

It was first settled in 1753, when German, Swiss and MontbĂ©liardian French immigrants were brought to Nova Scotia under a British colonization plan. A rigid gridiron plan was superimposed on the slope of the steep hill rising up from the harbour. The new settlement was named Lunenburg after the Royal House of Brunswick-Luneberg, from which the Hanoverian kings of England were descended.

Lunenburg was the second British colonial 'model' town plan, after Halifax (1749). The model town was an important aspect of imperial policy for the British, to provide the functional space thought necessary for the smooth working of a colony. The Lunenburg plan (1753) incorporated all the principles of the model town: geometrically regular streets and blocks; the allocation of public spaces; an allowance for fortifications; and a distinction between urban and non-urban areas. Of these all but the fortifications survive in present-day Lunenburg.

So. Why the title: "The British are so very British?"

I remember once long ago hearing Jack Parr comment that he imagined that British women wore tweed nightgowns.

Please note: "A rigid gridiron plan was superimposed on the slope of the steep hill rising up from the harbor." -- An architectural version of a tweed nightgown.

It was not architecture adapted to the site but a site adapted to a gridiron plan.  Like, later, the British soldiers who marched in formation as the American rebels mowed them down from the bushes.

But it is beautiful.


Sometimes there is nothing whatsoever wrong about being very British.

Apologies

To the dozen or so people who follow my blog, I here relay reassurances.

I AM still alive. I am just stumbling out of a marathon of travel and guests and civic and church activities and will, this very afternoon, actually re-invigorate this particular form of communication to the cyberspace community.

I promise.

Mim

Friday, September 5, 2014

What Is Safe?

A group of citizens in our town is working to both celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Martin Luther King Day and to promote his values through other community activities throughout the year.

In this effort we have the wholehearted support of the school district and all its resources, including personnel. Or at least their support for the MLK Day celebration. When we sought to broaden our work, to address a major marginalized population – immigrants (both documented and undocumented), the school district pulled back.

It seems that Martin Luther King, Jr. is a ‘safe’ topic; immigration is not.

How ironic. It wasn’t ‘safe’ to advocate civil rights in the 1960s and 70s. The concept of Blacks and Whites drinking out of the same drinking fountain or eating in the same restaurant was beyond the comprehension of many. And voting, staying in a nice hotel? Unthinkable.

In discussing this recently, someone noted that given 50 or 100 years, attitudes change. No one thinks these things are revolutionary any more. Racism still exists (no question) but it is at least buffered by the appearance of tolerance.

When we look back at historical atrocities – slavery or the Holocaust or apartheid – no one speaks up on behalf of the oppressor. No one says slavery was a good thing or the Jews and gypsies should have been decimated or South African Blacks should have been cruelly denied access to hope.

It is entirely possible that in a few years, we will no longer find it acceptable to split up families through deportation or to send children back into life-threatening situations.

Maybe someday -- the sooner the better – immigration will be a ‘safe’ topic.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Words From Someone Else

I had some time to write today. I’d saved some clippings about which I could comment and I had several cat stories to share but all of those are now on hold. I ‘follow’ a blog called feminism and religion on wordpress.com. About every other day I get something in my inbox that helps me shift my culturally-ingrained perspectives and see other ways to look at things.

Today’s post was written by amina wadud (I don’t know why she doesn’t capitalize her names) a Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad. At the risk of accusations of plagiarizing, I’m going to copy most of what she wrote:

No doubt about it, the news of late has been dismal, heart breaking, soul crunching. Pick a place or theme and see where you end up: Ebola in parts of Africa, Israel and Hamas; Ferguson, Missouri; Ukraine, U.S., and Russia; unaccompanied minors from the south crossing over into U.S. borders; the assault of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) on Christians, Kurds, Yazidis, Shi’ahs and journalists. This list could (should) be augmented by many other conflicts and areas of strife which have been on-going for longer than the last several weeks. I don’t know about you, but I draw my weary attention to the latest news each morning with knots in my stomach and a heavy weight on my shoulders. …

For weeks I have been thinking I should blog about an important lesson I have learned as best articulated in the book by Sharon Welch: A Feminist Ethic of Risk. In a world riddled with problems of proportions greater than can be solved by any one person, one group, one country or over one life time, how does one continue to be ethically engaged, avoid crippling despair and pointless cynicism, or just plain fall into apathy? Welch outlines the problem of an ethical model that is predicated on success in the face of inherent crisis, obvious human rights violations, or even catastrophes of nature. The success is achieved in part as a result of an on-going imbalance of power. This imbalance operates on the basis that any intervention will guarantee the sought after results: tyrants will be put down, enemies of the state will be subdued, and the victor will come home to accolades of support. This presumes that all others are not equal and so if any should transgress “our” territory or sensibilities, we will just go blow them away. (This by the way is the set-genre of US hero films). All it takes is for our hero to come into his or her full prowess and all evil doers will be vanquished, order and beauty will be restored. In short, we can go on about our lives unconcerned about lesser mortals because not only are we safe from terror or the threat or terror, we have proven we have the means to kick butt should any arise.

Naturally she compares this model with patriarchy and imperialism.

As a consequence, when morally responsible action does not have the possibility of resulting in the desired successful outcome—and in no short order—we tend to fall into despair and then, do nothing. But apathy is never an ethical alternative. I am aghast at the number of people who have gone as far to say things like “just nuke ‘em” when clear evidence of certain atrocities have been presented against some enemy (over there). In other words the only response to brute force is just to have more powerful brute force. I fear what our attitude will become when we so easily fall into such cataclysmic way of thinking. Another consequence of this, is to let roll all of our latent, anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, sexism, able-ism and homophobia against those we perceive to be the enemy, and that is really the point of no return for me in these crisis, which brings me to this blog.

Mahmoud Hamdan wrote a book with the title Good Muslim Bad Muslim, in effect problematizing the extent to which this notion of clear black and white (imagine that metaphor given the Ferguson crisis?!) somehow comforts us falsely into that victor mentality allowing wholesale castigation of certain persons or people whom we find easier to blame than to work with for resolving world problems of gargantuan proportion. … Hamdan demonstrated with a cross sectional study (over time and place) how easily the ally of today becomes the enemy of tomorrow. What is more, how alliances are formed internationally in order to achieve certain (imperialist) goals even at the expense of all the cries for democracy and human rights on the surface, as long as atrocities could go on unseen or be committed by certain convenient proxies.
In other words, it’s complicated. …

Ours is a beleaguered planet yet it is ours and we share it—even with people for whom we find terrible and unconditional disagreement. Welch reminded me that a feminist ethical model (one that needs to be adopted especially in times like these) nurtures the moral subject and actively participates in resolving problems without the arrogant expectation that the problem will be resolved by our singular efforts. Rather, the ethical person continues to do what is determined to be good because of the good itself. The results are not only unforeseeable they no longer become the immediate goal. In a world that is bigger than our little corner we must continue to commit to moral actions because we elevate ourselves above the disdain for others and instead participate in the goodness that we would like to see in the world. In other words, we are not THE solution; we are part of both the problem and its solution. Take heart.

Monday, August 18, 2014

How Did I Miss it?

Somehow, in the decades of my literate existence, I missed reading Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.Why?  Was it too long? Too old fashioned? Too boring?

Turning my research to Nova Scotia, I was reminded that there was a narrative poem dealing with a portion of the province's history  -- the period, during the 1760s, when the British expelled the Acadians during the French and Indian War.

On the back cover of the book I borrowed from our library is this sentence: "It has been said that a copy of Longfellow's narrative poem Evangeline could be found in every literate household in America in the 19th century."

Sure, the story is melodramatic and improbable. But it is still compelling. And easy to read. And even more powerful if read aloud (my cats seemed to enjoy it).

Listen to this, Longfellow's description of the Acadian village, Grand Pre:
       "Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers, --
       Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,
       Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?

       Softly the Angelus sounded, and over the roofs of the village
       Columns of pale blue smoke, like clouds of incense ascending,
       Rose from a hundred hearths, the homes of peace and contentment.

 And the opening lines, which somehow each of us have heard, even if we haven't read the poem:

       This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
       Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
       Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
       Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
       Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring oceans
      Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

Ah, this is to be a sad tale. And sad it is. The lovely Evangeline, forced into exile, separated from her true love, Gabriel, wanders for years. When at last they again see each other, he dies in her arms.

And Longfellow ends this epic:

     Still stands the forest primeval, but far away from its shadow,
     Side by side, in their nameless graves, the lovers are sleeping  . . .

Then he repeats the melancholy opening words . . .

     While from its rocky caverns the deep-voice, neighboring ocean
     Speaks, and in accents disconsolate, answers the wail of the forest.

Sometimes, old and melodramatic is splendid. (Just ask my kids.)



Friday, July 25, 2014

Memorial #4: Maya Angelou: 1928-2014

Never have I read a more compelling beginning of anything than that in Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Never have I read a more powerful end to anything than that to the opening of “Caged Bird”.
If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.
       It is an unnecessary insult.

She first exploded into the stratosphere of my consciousness as a prototype of a beautiful, intelligent, accomplished, self-confident woman.

I needed a prototype for self-confidence.

That she was Black was irrelevant.

My own published memoir, Tree Lines (which has now sold about 125 copies) is all about my continuing struggle to become what I am, without apology. To find my own voice. To stand tall (even at 5’ 1”).

I loved my mom but she hunched under the axis of my father. Other female ancestors were stronger, in varying degrees, but I had no real model for self-actualization.

Until I heard Maya Angelou speak. Then read her books. Then saw her on television. Then read her books again.

She was right of course. The displacement of Blacks is an unnecessary insult. So is the displacement of Latino/Hispanics and Muslims and, above all, WOMEN wherever they happen to fall on the racial/religious spectrums.

I rode into hope on the sound waves of her voice.

I thank her for that.

She is missed.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Memorial #3 -- Dr. Vincent Harding (1931 - 2014)

This tribute is late but I think Dr. Vincent Harding would be okay with that. I’ve been distracted from writing by doing things – things for my congregation and things for my community’s Martin Luther King Committee.

Dr. Harding had a long lens of wisdom on how social change happens. He believed America is still a developing nation when it comes to creating a multi-religious, multi-racial democracy.

Harding was a close adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King and wrote King’s famous antiwar speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence." Harding reminded us that “King believed that America had to deal with what he called triple evils: the evil of racism, the evil of materialism and the evils of militarism, and he saw those three very much connected to each other."

He had no patience with those who sugarcoat King’s legacy. “If we lock up Martin Luther King, and make him unavailable for where we are now so we can keep ourselves comfortably distant from the realities he was trying to grapple with, we waste King. All of us are being called beyond those comfortable places . . . That’s the key for the 21st century – to answer the voice within us, as it was within Martin, which says ‘do something for somebody.’ We can learn to play on locked pianos and to dream of worlds that do not yet exist.”

After King was assassinated, Harding became the first director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center and of the Institute of the Black World. He later became a professor at Iliff School of Theology in Denver. A fellow professor described him as "the most important civil rights leader not everyone has heard of."

I have heard of Dr. Harding. I met him once at conference on white privilege where I heard him speak. He was a gentle, powerful presence whose very being demonstrated that “We are not alone in this struggle for the re-creation of our own lives and the life of our community.” So if I delayed writing this to remind those governing my community that their mission was to reflect Dr. King’s values – equity and peace and reconciliation – in all public policy and to reach out to marginalized populations, I think Dr. Harding would just smile and say, ‘good start, Mim’.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Memorial #2: Chester Nez, Code Talker

Chester Nez was the last living Code Talker. He died early this month.

I never met Chester Nez but in April 2001 I did meet two other Code Talkers: John Brown, Jr. and Dr. Sam Billison. I was part of a group, Prairyerth UU Fellowship, which was holding an event to honor the Navajo people. It would not have been possible to acknowledge the Navajo’s contributions to humanity without honoring the Code Talkers.

In 1942, Chester Nez and 28 other Navajos were recruited to develop a code. Based on the Navajo language, the code was unbreakable and thus instrumental in the Allied victory in the Pacific during World War II.

To prepare for the 2001 event, I did a lot of reading, visited the Navajo reservation and  and listened to a lot of stories. Here’s what I learned.

The Navajo came from the center of the universe to take care of the land. Some say they arrived between 1300 and 1500. Some say they emerged into this time somewhere near what is now called Bloomfield, New Mexico.

They have lived in the Four Corners region --- the intersection of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado -- for at least 500 years. In some ways they are the newcomers. But they have grown out of this land, saturated it with their prayers and ceremonies. It is the land of their ancestors and it is sacred.

The Navajo reservation is a vast rainbow land lying within the auras of four sacred mountains -- Mount Blanca to the east, Mount Taylor to the south, Humphrey's Peak or Abalone Mountain to the west, and Mount Hesperus to the north. They learned from the people who were already there and began to plant some of their food -- corn, beans, and squash. They learned from the invading Spaniards and began to ride horses and herd sheep. They were warriors. They never settled into villages like their neighbors. They lived instead in family clusters connected by a clan system that gave every child a host of guardians and disciplinarians. And they were connected by stories and ceremony.

Like modern physicists, traditional Navajo believe that the nature of reality is ambiguous. It shifts depending on where we stand, like smoke from a sacred fire. It is difficult to maintain a balance in this kind of world. Yet balance and harmony is the goal towards which Navajo strive, in everything they do, every day, weaving their lives onto a fine-spun warp of tradition.

Theirs is an organic response to Life that enables them to function at multidimensional levels. They have a different kind of consciousness. They understand Earth language and breathe in sync with their four sacred mountains. For them, people are neither more nor less important than an antelope, sunbeam or rock. Mountains and mesas are living things, creations that nurture creation, that hold wisdom and rain and life itself.

When the Navajo become off balance, knocked off the path by the dominant culture or their own human nature, complex and powerful ceremonies draw them back. In the sacred hogan, sand paintings, prayer sticks, and song pull in the power of ancient beings. Words found only in the Navajo language are strung into chants that can last for days. Surrounded by people who care and forces we cannot imagine, their balance is restored.

Many other forces -- Spaniards, white settlers, missionaries, government and corporations -- have battered the Navajo heritage. In 1863, they were forced off their land and marched to a prison camp, returning five years later to a ruined land. In some ways, their Long Walk has never ended. Although now the Navajo language is again taught to children, whole generations were forbidden its use. Even today, families are split, the old ways threatened. And the land itself is cracked open and sucked dry.

It is probably not possible for us to learn and understand the history, cosmology and current reality of the Navajo -- the Dineh -- the People. But we can try. Theirs is a heritage from which we can learn. Our own future lies in that learning.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Memorial #1: Dr. Ciro de Quadros

With apologies for the gap in posts, I now resume with memorials to four people who died this Spring, each of whom touched my life in some way.

I’ll begin with Dr. Ciro de Quadros. Why more people do not know of him is baffling. This handsome, dynamic man was head of the Pan American Health Organization when the organization I worked for, Rotary International (RI), decided to help the world eradicate polio. In the 70s and 80s polio was crippling some 1,000 children every day.

Dr. de Quadros was a member of the Order of the Bifurcated Needle, awarded by the World Health Organization’s Dr. D.A. Henderson to the international team instrumental in eradicating smallpox in 1977. [A two-pronged or bifurcated needle was what was used to administer smallpox vaccine.] Dr. de Quadros had led the fight against smallpox in Ethiopia, delivering protection in the midst of chaos and conflict.

When I joined the RI staff (in 1979) the organization had just decided to support a global effort to help eradicate polio. The organization was going to raise the money and enlist its vast network of volunteers to wipe out a major crippler and sometimes killer of children. Dr. de Quadros was head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) – an obvious partner for RI’s efforts. He led one of history’s boldest public health efforts in which teams of health workers, often with the assistance of local Rotary volunteers, worked to immunize the children of the Western Hemisphere.

In 1994, I was in PAHO’s Washington, D.C. headquarters when its local and regional staff waited in the auditorium for the report from the commission accessing the effort. All through the introductions it seemed as though no one in the audience was breathing.

Then it came. The official declaration. Polio had been eradicated in the Western Hemisphere. And those who had worked, almost literally, in the trenches of the effort, and those who supported them from the offices at home exploded in shared jubilation.

In his ceaseless efforts to enlist support for immunization, Dr. de Quadros often came to RI’s headquarters and invited staff to PAHO’s offices. Collaboration was a keynote of his style. He invited me to a PAHO meeting in Mexico City to help PAHO staff publicize immunization efforts and, later, I lobbied for his participation in the 1991 RI convention in Mexico City. However small my efforts, I believe they helped.

And one of my great rewards was the privilege of working (however tangentially) with one of the world’s heroes, Dr. Ciro de Quadros.

He is missed but now immortal.


 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mountain Gifts


It never fails. When I take the time to drive up the road into Rocky Mountain National Park, I always encounter beauty and creatures that restore my soul.


... especially when I go with a good friend
who is as enchanted as I am
 
 
by our companions on this planet
 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday reflection on Crete

Like adolescents who, after they turn 30, are amazed by their parents’ wisdom, I continue to be astounded by my ancestors – our ancestors. I’ve done of lot of reading. Every year it seems archeologists, anthropologists, even paleontologists are discovering how sophisticated the ancients were – how much they knew about how the planet works, how the stars turn, and how to live with one another.

None of my reading prepared me for Crete. Part of me didn’t really believe there had ever been a civilization in which women’s values were paramount. Where generosity, nurturing and compassion were the standards by which women and men lived and breathed and had their being. I wanted to believe it but, like you, all I had to do was look at the headlines to know that humans are a nasty lot, tirelessly striving to dominate one another.

Or perhaps not.

Anthropologist Marija Gimbutas traced thousands of years when, in what she called ‘old Europe,’ people lived in peaceful, egalitarian societies.

One of the last of these societies was on Crete. People settled on the island somewhere around 7,000 BCE. These settlers were Neolithic – early farmers. For more than 1,500 years, Crete thrived without invasion, evolving from a Neolithic to a Bronze Age civilization (the Minoan) that managed to retain its belief in the unity of life and the sacredness of this planet.

Sometime around 1,450 BCE, the Minoans were wiped out as a result of a one-two punch involving a volcanic eruption, tsunami and invading Myceneans. But their heritage is still alive – in the caves, and trees, and springs, and ruins of ceremonial complexes that you can still touch today . . . and in their great art, which you cannot touch, in various archeological museums.

Like most of the world, Crete is now as patriarchal as we are. But there are still Minoan traces – Cretans are a generous, friendly people.

With Sally Henry, I toured Crete last fall. Our tour was designed to experience the past in the present. From our first gathering circle, we formed a community. Every morning, we repeated a blessing which ended with “As this day dawns in beauty, we pledge ourselves to repair the web.” In the evenings, when we shared our stories, we repeated the mantra: I am here, I am whole, I am [our names].

Ritual is powerful. Things repeated on a regular basis can work their way into our psyches. Circles are powerful. Often, when we gather looking into each others’ faces, we glimpse each others’ hearts. On the tour, whoever needed help got it. Whoever needed time alone, or comfort, or cash until we reached the next ATM, got it.

At every site once sacred to the Minoans, we paused before entering to be led in rituals acknowledging their significance. We took turns reading scripted rituals and, at most sites, poured libations over our individual goddess images. Often, we would sing songs or chants that seemed to echo across millennia.

Eventually, I began to believe that there really was a civilization that held the values of motherhood – nurturing and generosity – as paramount virtues. A society in which dignity was part of being human. It was more than the fact that the stone outlines of Minoan dwellings were all about the same size; it was the sense of community that vibrated up through the ruins even after 5,000 years.

We live in a culture of dominance. It’s not working very well.

What if we lived in a culture woven out of connection and relationship, built with authenticity, trust, and acknowledged interdependence? What if decisions were made by allowing responses to emerge from genuine dialogue? What if we honored the divine – in ourselves, in each other, and in all the components of Planet Earth?

We need new ways of doing things. The culture of dominance has permeated the air we breathe for so long we think it is the only way. It is not. Other ways exist. In Minoan Crete, they existed for nearly two thousand years. They are, finally, emerging again. With them -- with empathy, generosity, compassion and respect – we may indeed be able to restore the interdependent web of all existence.

Our Minoan ancestors got it right.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Tribute to Crete Food

According to “Google”, Cretan cheese pies are called Kalitsounia Kritis. Unlike their Greek counterparts, they are made with pastry rather than phyllo. Fortunately, everywhere I went, the words “cheese pie” were understood and generally produced what would be sufficient motivation for a return trip to the island.

Cheese pies and all the other wonderful things I ate, suffused my days on Crete with pleasure. Nothing particularly effete. Just simple, fresh, yummy concoctions that were a joy to savor.

Perhaps some of the allure was generated by the weird eating hours. While on the fall goddess tour (www.goddessariadne.org), we’d eat breakfast at 7 or 8 a.m. then wait until 1 or 2 or 3 p.m. for lunch, then 7 or 8 or 9 for dinner.

No. The allure was the food itself.
    Fresh, fresh salads.
    The best yogurt I have ever encountered (made with sheep’s milk, rich and creamy and needing no sweetener whatsoever).
     Wood-roasted almost any kind of meat imaginable. Fresh fish near the coast (and trout in the mountains). Lamb or pork or rabbit or goat or almost anything except beef everywhere else.
     The world’s finest olive oil, used liberally for almost everything.
     And great olives of course.
     Incredible eggplant concoctions with amazing tomatoes.
     Other delicacies, more typically Greek, like dolmades.
     And the wine was fine and the raki enabled me to at least attempt Greek dancing. (Zorba I am not.)

It’s been almost six months since I returned from Crete. All of my posts have had something to do with that trip. That’s probably enough (although I think I’ll do a couple more). Am I obsessed? No. Just stunned to discover evidence of a civilization that lived in peace for some two thousand years, honoring women and valuing generosity and compassion, while producing great art . . . and, surely, great food. Oopah!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Non-Dominational

It’s been more than four months since I returned from the ‘goddess tour of Crete’ (www.goddessariadne.org) led by feminist theologian/ scholar/ author Dr. Carol Christ. You’d think by now I’d be ‘over it’ – that I would find something else to write about. And I will – eventually – write about other things. But I don’t think I want to be ‘over’ what I learned in Crete. Ever.

By walking amid five-thousand-year old ruins, climbing carefully into caves sacred to the Minoan people, and holding rituals around sacred stones or springs or trees, I began to have a vision of a different kind of society: a non-dominational society.

[My computer does not like that word – which I just made up – probably because it’s a pretty patriarchal machine. Let’s use it anyway.]

Oddly, since when most people think about ancient Crete (if they do) they think about the bull-leaping depicted in Minoan art and reflected in tales woven by latter-day Greeks, I did not photograph any bull-leaping art except this one clay vessel of kids dangling off the head of some bovine form.

 [Ponder this: the mammal could be either a bull or cow and the kids could be male or female, or some combination.]

I digress.

From all that I read and all that I heard and felt while in Crete, the Minoans had a matrifocal/ matrilineal/matrilocal society. Mothers and mother values [love, generosity, and care] were honored. By both men and women.

As I imagine it, this ancient society had some gender-specific roles. In all probability, its sailors were male. It is possible that those who built the temples and cleared the land were male. Artists could, I think, have been either female or male. I’m guessing that most weavers and cooks were female. But the important thing is that nobody was dominant over others. Not males over females or females over males. Think about it. Mutual dignity and respect. Where everyone’s gifts and opinions were valued.

Shazaam.

I do not want to ‘get over’ Crete. I do want to do whatever I can to foment a non-dominational society – here and now.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Moment in Crete


One of the factors that made the fall tour of Crete (www.goddessariadne.com) so powerful was the community that the participants became.

Often before walking a site, such as the ruins of Knossis, we would learn about its history and significance and approach it with the respect and in the manner which it deserved.

Still, one of the most powerful experiences I had, happened on the day I got lost, with one of the tour's leaders, Mika. The group was to gather at a Minoan tomb, Tholos, near Kamilari. Because of back problems, I walked so slowly that Mika and I lost sight of the others and wandered around for an hour before giving up and creating our own little ritual on the side of a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere important.

Sitting in a little patch of rocks, we set our goddess images on their mineral perches and poured our respective libations as we remembered aloud our female ancestors. I invoked my paternal grandmother, Edna Miriam Thacker McClure, her mother (my great grandmother) Nell Miriam Fowler Thacker, and the generations of prior Miriams recorded on a sampler that hangs in my guest room. The ritual prompted me to renew the honor in which I hold my own name (Miriam of course) and its heritage/ my heritage.

After the ceremony, we found our way back to the bus and eventually the others joined us and the tour continued with, as I recall, an incredible (and incredibly late) lunch at a seaside restaurant in Kamilari.

That private ceremony still reverberates in my memory. I have no pictures of that pile of rocks (my camera was temporarily jammed).

Sometimes photographs are redundant.



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Blueprint for human dignity


Look closely at the ruins of the ancient Minoan town of Gournia. To me, they illustrate another aspect of our Cretan ancestors. These stones outline houses.

When you walk among them, you get a sense of the people. You feel invited to sit on porches, to share stories of your day.


To me, these ruins illustrate the egalitarian aspect of Minoan culture. All the houses were about the same size. (They were also two and three stories high and had a form of indoor plumbing. Not bad for three-plus millennia ago.)

Imagine, if you can, a society in which people – men and women, young and old – were more equal than they are today. A society in which dignity was part of being human. Minoan Crete was a place that honored all the components of the web of life.

What do we honor? To whom do we grant dignity?

At the summit of the hill on which this town was built there is a Kernos (sacred stone). Those of us on the goddess tour (www.goddessariadne.org) placed fruits there and, after readings, fed the fruits to one another.

Can you digest another culture? Can walking ancient paths, sitting on ancient steps, and honoring ancient sacred sites change the way you think about your own society, your own times?

Absolutely.


Hallelujah and Blessed Be

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I Am Here, I Am Whole

There were 16 of us – two leaders and 14 women from various English-speaking countries – who participated in the Sept. 28 – Oct. 11 goddess tour of Crete (www.goddessariadne.org).

We gathered for the first time Friday evening, Sept. 28. The chairs were in a circle. Each of us was asked why we had chosen to participate and each of us was asked to say: I am here, I am whole, I am [and then our name]. It seemed somehow presumptuous, but we all did it.

During the course of the pilgrimage we often gathered in the evening, always in a circle. Each time, we took turns describing our perceptions of what had occurred that day, after we said: I am here, I am whole, I am [name].

Such a simple practice. But that practice, coupled with the morning blessing that we tried – with varying success – to repeat en route to whatever marvel was on our day’s agenda, wrapped us into community.

[The morning blessing was longer and only partially memorized – and, inevitably, by the time I found the written version, it was over. Still, it framed the day.]

Singing
The breath of my spirit will bless
the cells of my being sing
in gratitude, reawakening. . . .
Reciting
This earth is my sister
I love her daily grace her silent daring
and how loved I am
how we admire this strength in each other
all that we have lost, all that we have suffered all that we know:
we are stunned by this beauty and I do not forget:
what she is to me, what I am to her.
Singing
As this day dawns in beauty, We pledge ourselves to repair the web.

Circles are powerful. Often, when we gather looking into each others’ faces, we glimpse each others’ hearts. Ritual is powerful. Things repeated on a regular basis can work their way into our psyches.

Framed thus, our experience of the matrilineal Minoan culture deepened. I, for one, was able to perceive the divine feminine, to experience what it might be like to all that I could be as a woman, as a crone.

I am here, I am whole, I am Mim

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Graphic Reminder


If I knew how to 'photo-shop' I might edit out the scaffolding, etc. surrounding this giant poster that was hung on plaza in Chania, Crete. But perhaps all the debris is appropriate. And, yes, I know I used this image in a previous post but I think you need to get used to it. I believe I will use it whenever I encounter something that denigrates women. I may have to use it a lot.

The other night I saw the documentary "The Invisible War" on PBS. I happened on it by chance and stayed with it, mesmerized by the enormity of the dilemmas faced by women (and men) in the U.S. military who have been raped by other members of the U.S. military. I had seen occasional headlines about this issue but I hadn't learned any of the personal stories. And the personal stories are horrific.

During the fall Goddess Tour of Crete (www.goddessariadne.org) led by feminist scholar and theologian Dr. Carol Christ, I was imbedded in a supportive female culture. Hampered by back problems, climbing over and into ancient Minoan ruins was daunting. But wherever we went, the other women on the tour held out their hands and offered whatever I needed. It was just the way we were. It was just the way we understood the ancient Minoan culture to be. In our evening circles, in our morning chants, in the ceremonies we performed in sacred centers, we reinforced these actions with words.

We honored each other.

The transition back into a culture where people do not honor each other, where rape goes unpunished, where violence dominates the headlines, can be (is) difficult and overwhelming.

I am beginning to emerge. Beginning to move back toward wholeness. In future posts, I will reveal how that might be possible. But every once in a while, you will see this photo again -- when once again, women (and/or men and/or children and/or other living things and/or our planet) are denigrated.

Because we need to acknowledge the wrongs or we will never get it right.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Story in Three Images

I’m just making this up but when I was in Crete on a goddess tour (www.goddessariadne.org) led by feminist theologian and scholar Dr. Carol Christ, I saw three female images that could, perhaps, tell a story.

One, in the Archeological Museum in Heraklion, was a statuette of a Minoan priestess, vibrant and powerful.


Another, on a gigantic poster on a square in Chania, depicted another bare-breasted female who appeared deeply sad. Why?


On the way out of a small city where we had marveled at a museum's examples of ancient art, Dr. Christ pointed out this sign (I only had a few seconds to photograph) outside a grocery store.

The Goddess Ariadne, who probably migrated with Neolithic settlers from Anatolia some seven thousand years ago, was now transformed into the symbol for a grocery store chain.

I would be sad too.