My Front Yard

 

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Yesterday I watched a man make his home at the bench along the Interurban trailhead across from my apartment. First he emptied his black plastic bag onto the grass and draped his clothes over the railing to release three days of rain. Then he sat on the bench and basked in the welcome sun. Thirty minutes later he moved on to another home.

Last week I watched a man pace furiously up and down the same trail while shouting and articulating to an unseen listener….Unseen to me.

I live in a large, thriving suburb north of Seattle Washington. News coverage of our area focuses on the boom in technology and the influx of workers it brings, along with the construction needed to house them. Come to Seattle, the heart of the Space industry, where few people can afford the rent much less a mortgage. Come to Seattle where downtown has become a parade of Effie Trinkets pulled by the strings by a capitalism gone amuck.

So what do I do about the daily drama unfolding in my front yard? Eyes wide open. Don’t t turn away. Be compassionate. Be an advocate. Above all, live simply so that these “others” can not simply live, but thrive. That’s what it means to tend to the common good.

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Season of Pride

The Orlando Genocide has seeped into the tissues of our souls and triage is not assuaging the pain.  Nor should it.  Yet.  Let it sink in, I say, until we finally know the effects of hate.

My friend Jim could have been in that bar. I offer this tribute to him in our Season of Pride, that we may celebrate somehow in the throes of pain.

Ms. Beatrice

We arrived in Berkeley in September 1978, young theology students, eager to change the world.  I was, anyway.  Jim wanted to play.  He was so full of life and passion for all things beautiful.  Years later he would admit to being more immature than anything at that time.  So was I.

A month later all hell broke loose.  Harvey Milk was murdered across the Bay, and Jim’s life was never the same.  Along with several other priests in our program he claimed his identity and joined the march for gay rights in San Francisco.  The intensity of his rage frightened me for a long time, until he found peace and I found courage.  We left Berkeley, and our former selves, and continued 32 years of friendship.

Not likely to be branded as a mystic by strangers, Jim was, nevertheless, an extroverted mystic extraordinaire.  He was like King David, life spilling over in love and sin; joined at the hip to the God he so passionately loved.  At age thirty six he wrote an essay entitled, “My Life in the Good God balloon.”  He described how he pushed, pulled and recoiled off the balloon’s boundaries, always moving closer to the center.  He said that the shape is God, and that his destiny was to always move to the limits of the shape.  He felt called to always love the shape, himself, the testing and pushing, and his fellow testers.  I am deeply grateful to live in that balloon with him and with our soul-sister Cynthia, in a new way now that Jim has died.  The balloon has expanded to massive dimensions!

Blinded by stereotypical concepts of mystics, strangers would not have readily seen the deep waters of Carmelite mysticism running through Jim.  They expected, instead, to see prayer beads, and lowered eyes.  With Jim, I got his alter-ego, Beatrice, an elephant gallivanting in a dazzling tutu, shouting to me, “Live, Reet, Live!”  I miss Jim’s irreverent humor, and even the tirades he rained down on me when fear convinced me to stand down in the face of injustice.  To honor his courage and expansive love, I stand for the rights of all those who experience injustice because of their sexual identity.  Not because it’s politically correct but because it’s right.  Here is the poem he wrote on the occasion of the Gay Pride Parade in New York in 1987.  Perhaps you too will re-frame your portrait of a mystic:

balloons

Corpus Christi: New York “87”

Sunny Sunday in late June.
Thousands march.
Joyous and free.
I joined.

Searchers and seekers
Walking with dignity and pride.
Approaching the Cathedral:
A contradiction!

Blue barricades, blue flashing lights
On cop cars and paddy wagons;
Blue shirted police arm to arm
Protecting the Cathedral.

A Crucifixion?
The front steps blocked by
A blue Army in blue berets
(looking psychotic)
Shaking rosaries, thumping Bibles
Yelling “Sinners Sinners” as we passed by.

“Shame, shame, shame,” we murmured
Softly in reply.
I looked for Jesus beyond the barricades.
Not there!
“Thank God,” I said.

At 3 o’clock the parade stopped.
Silence
A city fell silent.
Bells tolled.

From the Village up Fifth Avenue.
Coming closer and closer
Passing over us
Until the whole sky was filled with
Colored balloons.

My heart burned within,
I remembered all who died of AIDS.
Gazing at the heavens,
I watched a great loving God
Gather balloons, holding them high
In God’s bright blue sky
Above the blue barricades, blue lights
Blue armies & blue shirted cops.

My God gathered these children,
Sons & daughters into a peace-filled
Eternal embrace.

I wept.
Turning, I saw two older women,
Pioneers and witnesses of the movement,
Weeping and holding each other as they
Too gazed upward.

EASTER and ASCENSION.
CHRIST HAD COME AGAIN.  GLORY TO GOD!
Peace to you and me!
Birthday

Jim's signature

Grief and the Grind of Suffering

I offer this poem as solidarity with friends and followers who experience great loss and suffering at this time.  Recently a line from BBC’s “Call the Midwife” stunned me.  The nurse said to a grieving wife, “We just keep on living until we are alive again.” This.

 

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Let Go of Letting Go

marionette woman

Letting Go of Letting Go

My puppets’ strings lie limp
Against their hardened bodies
Which hang on walls
In the foyers of their souls…

Until I barge in
To yank and pull and prod:

“You should let go of that passion- too sensitive.
yank
“You should let go of your desire to save the world.”
pull
“You should let go of your frenetic pace.”
yank

No.  
Detach the strings.

Welcome zealots and compassionate warriors
Into sacred space where they are free
To live from this moment
Into another moment.

Let go of your need to let go.
Live.  No strings attached.

© rita h kowats 6-9-16

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/37996586683@N01/3791531918“>Wendy shadow puppet</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com“>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/“>(license)</a>