On my walk along the lake I spotted a maple leaf, dried to death by the intense summer heat, stunning in its aridity. Unable to ignore its call, I snatched it up and carried it home to await the muse.
This morning I heard that Tonasket was evacuated because of fire danger–the whole town of Tonasket–a town where I spent a week while I taught vacation summer school in Oroville, living in the convent of the Dominican hospital in Tonasket. This town is evacuated because of the wildfires in the Okanogan. These places are not just names on a map, They are places I know. A Colville tribes person asked for prayers saying their reservation is burning. Also, the whole Spokane Indian Reservation is under a warning to be ready to move because of fire danger. This is getting closer to home and to the homes of people I know.
Meanwhile our air is smokey, our sun gives an eerie orangish glow, I go to my car and find particles of ash on my windshield. And since I’ve started writing this even the valley below my ridge has filled in with smoke.
But the coal trains keep on rumbling by with their multiple cars shipping coal to the west and likely into Canada on its way to China. And the black tanker cars carry their highly volatile oil to the west coast to refineries where it will become gasoline and other dangerous global warming producing products.
The drought and fires wouldn’t have to be. We in our state wouldn’t have to have had the hottest July on record since 1890 when records first started being kept, and our whole planet wouldn’t have to have had the hottest July on record. But we keep on drilling for oil and natural gas and keep on burning coal. I sob with heart-break for all this destruction that wouldn’t have to be.
Photo Credit: http://q13fox.com/2014/07/17/heart-wrenching-photos-fires-burn-houses-memories-in-twisp/
Lest you be led astray, this poem is not about “Hot August Nights” or “The Fire Down Below.” My apologies. Regrets also to millennials onward for antiquated references. What can I say. I’m antiquated.
c. rita h kowats
August 14, 2015
© rita h kowats August 2015
In February we gathered for the first time. Now it is August and our graced gathering of Welcoming Waters members has grown in trust and strength and healing. We are twelve vibrant and variegated human beings, and we invite you to bless us with your presence if you live in or are visiting the greater Seattle area.
Welcoming Waters is a gathering of people who seek to hear the message the spirit is speaking through one another. Many of us were asked to leave religious institutions because we revealed our authentic selves. Some of us told our worshiping community that we were members of the GLBT community, others of us expressed our doubts, and some of us expressed an understanding of faith that was outside the borders of the church we were attending. When we were all ushered to the door, formally, or subtlety of those communities, we found that the Spirit of love, the Spirit of God, the insights of our faiths did not stop working in our lives or teaching us profound truths. We simply lost a place to talk about them.
We are so blessed to be able to gather at the beautiful Lake Ballinger Community Center five miles north of Seattle on the third Sunday of the month at 10:30 and like the great blue heron who finds herself on the shores of Lake Ballinger, we wait and wade in the waters of the Spirit together.
If you sense the spirit has something to say but you have not found a safe place to express those words, or if you are seeking a faith gathering that will accept all of you, we invite you to come to our gathering.
We will gather again on March 15 at Lake Ballinger Community Center 1030am.
All are welcome.
Mountlake Community Center
23000 Lakeview Drive
Mountlake Terrace WA 98043
The eyes of others
measure and condemn.
The eyes of others are watches
My friend hates you.
Between you I turn and turn
holding my arm as if it were
The air is iron shavings
Faces blink on and off.
Words are heavy.
I carry them back and forth in
They pile up in front of the
Words are bricks that seal the
doors and windows.
Words are shutters on the eyes
and lead gloves on the hands.
The air is a solid block.
We cannot move.
Since I posted a piece last week entitled, “Feather on the Breath of God,” the spiritual practice of abandonment has dogged me down the labyrinthine ways of my consciousness, unrelenting in its insistence that I stop and listen. So here I am, living with the metaphors of god as the air we breathe or the feather on the air free-falling into the womb of abandonment.
I concede that much of my poetry comes from a place out of my control. Sometimes the words just tumble out and I catch my breath when I see what I have written. That’s when I know that a phrase bears more deep reflection and prayer because there’s a lesson in it for me, and perhaps for you. Often these phrases are currents of the Spirit wakening us to connections perched on the threshold of possibility.
The phrase, “womb of abandonment” haunts me this week. A womb is the liminal place of development. In it we can hunker down and pay attention to our growth. The womb protects us. But here’s the paradox: the spiritual practice of abandonment demands scarcity before abundance. We gain abundance by letting go. Why would someone choose to undertake the free-fall into this womb if it means letting go of attachments that keep us from experiencing the abundance of divine life? Because if god is the floating feather, we become divine in the process of falling.
I choose the free-fall because life in abundance is a life lived freely. Those rare moments of freedom from ego-clamoring are worth the agony of letting go. Like a free-fall jumper high on adrenaline, I am addicted to the adrenaline rush of grace every time I dare to jump into the womb of abandonment.
Underneath all the texts, all the sacred psalms and canticles, these watery varieties of sounds and silences, terrifying, mysterious, whirling and sometimes gestating and gentle must somehow be felt in the pulse, ebb, and flow of the music that sings in me. My new song must float like a feather
on the breath of God. ◊ Hildegard von Bingen
Feast on this poignant capture of feather-essence by Lynn Schooler, and feel the buoyancy of this music by Marshall McGuire and Riley Lee, “Feather on the Breath of God,” from their album Floating World
Feather on the Breath of God (Hildegard von Bingen)
I eschew the ancient white man
Wrapped round in long white beard
Who peers from glittering guileless eyes.
Give me the air we breathe any time
The currents that move through the universe
Wakening us to connections
Perched on the threshold of possibility.
Give me the feather floating free-fall
Into the womb of abandonment.
© rita h kowats 2015
Photo Credit: You have feasted on the photographic work of Lynn Schooler previously on this blog ( https://www.facebook.com/lynn.schooler). Used with permission.
Some thoughts for this American season of Independence
In our reading from Zechariah we meet the remnant of God’s people who have come out of exile in Babylon to make a home for themselves back in the land they believe God gave them. They are lost in transition and the prophet calls them to build a soul city with humility and nonviolence as its foundation. Yahweh is powerfully present, standing guard against prowlers who would lure them back. This new home is ruled by a humble man on a donkey who banishes the trappings of war. It is a soul land, not a homeland.
Many Christians in America have been in spiritual exile for 239 years, asleep while a national lifestyle of violence and greed has come to so define us that we throw up our arms and cry, “What could I possibly do?” We celebrated Independence Day yesterday. As Christians we seek to re-appropriate that goal by living in interdependence. It is time to emerge from spiritual exile in the homeland of violence, hate and greed and enter the Soul Land we have inherited as God’s people. The words of an old hymn recently moved me deeply, “The Word of God Is Solid Ground.” It asks, “What powers can our faith constrain? What iron-clad restrictions? No self-deceiving rule can chain our conscience and convictions. Our God alone is on the throne,” it goes on to say. “For freedom’s sake we bend, we break, a sign to ev’ry nation that we have found a solid ground; God’s word our sure foundation.” Let us not forget that our God’s throne is on the back of a donkey.
When we give countercultural witness from an ego place we are stuck in exile; however, if the authority to witness comes from the God we meet in prayer and self-reflection, we are a humble remnant ruled by the donkey-king. Sooner or later each of us is called to speak and to name injustice clearly and unequivocally. Take a moment to recall such a time. Where did your strength come from? It is a soul-strength that breaks out in goose bumps and evokes a resounding, “Yes.” People listen when we are able to say, “For I have been to the Mountain top!”
Let’s step out of lofty metaphors now and examine how we can practically address our society’s exile. John’s Jesus tells his disciples that if they live according to his teaching they will know the truth, and the truth will set them free. More lofty words, but notice the call to practical hard work implied between the lines. Living according to Jesus’ teaching means that we take gospel values seriously. We find the truth by paying attention and changing behaviors and attitudes in variance with gospel values. Getting into Soul Land is much harder work than staying in homeland. It’s no easy thing to prophesy from the back of a donkey.
Meister Eckhart provides rich material for meditation on this theme. As a brilliant theologian and gifted preacher he chose to preach with a mind like a razor but from his perch on the metaphorical donkey. He chose to preach in the market place and in German rather than Latin so that all the peasants under the thumb of the corrupted guild system and bishops of the church could understand his message that all people are aristocrats, divine by grace and noble by nature. He condemned what he called the “Merchant Mentality.” His message was considered seditious to church officials and rulers who profited by the guild system, so they silenced him. But that silence resounded clearly and boldly because his countercultural lifestyle was an invitation to emerge from exile. His choice to preach an empowering message to humble peasants is a powerful example to us in our own century. Out of his mysticism came a word which expresses exile poignantly: ICHGEBUNDENHEIT, bound up in the I, the ego. When we have loosed those bonds, says Eckhart, we give birth to the Son of God and that love spills out to the marketplace in acts of justice.
Finally, a personal example of my being stuck in exile and being given the grace to emerge. As a member of the Ground Zero Community in Poulsbo, WA I passed out leaflets to workers entering Subase Bangor every Monday morning at 6:00 A.M. As you can imagine my mind often wandered to that cup of hot coffee waiting at the end of my shift. I struggled to remain nonviolent amidst weekly encounters with angry sailors and marines, and it was often difficult to fend off despair. For a year a man came in every week in a pick-up truck with a rifle rack on the back; sometimes he had two passengers along. I stood there in my self-righteous indignation relating to him as a “red neck war monger.” One Monday I was able to be more centered as I prayed that I and the workers would be open to hearing one another. This man came in alone, looking depressed. I felt moved to say, “How are you today?” He blurted out, “How am I? I’m terrible. How else could I be, having to go in there and do what I do every day?” I began to learn that we must prophesy truth with intelligence and clarity, but we must do it from the back of a donkey.
This poem, inspired by Psalm 137, came out of my meditation and I close with it:
On the shores of the Potomac
We sit and weep-
Outlanders in Homeland
Looking for our godvoice.
From deep in Soul Land
We feel its vibrations
Erupting into a Hope Song
Sung true and strong
In a foreign land.
Camping chair sunk in sand
Feet cooling in aberrant waves
Towering crags bear witness
To the muse asleep in my interior shelter.
Their first trip past me almost escaped notice
Giggling girls gallivanting (Do Not Disturb)
Except these girls did not giggle.
No bikini-clad Beach Barbies here.
No Pollyanna pleasantries.
These new women were beach-striders on a mission
Spurred on by the Women’s World Cup amulets they wore.
They return dragging driftwood booty
To some sacred place beyond me.
I call out, “I bet you girls are building a fort, aren’t you?”
They break into ecstatic grins and throw down the gauntlet
I shout a blessing, “Oh, what fun! Carry on!”
A shelter of their own
Away from adult eyes and ears
Away from expectations of princess peers
They build their sanctuary
And weave stories to carry them
Through to the other side
Where a god of strength and freedom
Welcomes their self-assurance.
My twelve-year-old self combed
This beach for driftwood booty
Which has become the sacred shelter
Of my Muse.
© rita h kowats June 2015