. . . Whom should I turn to,
if not the one whose darkness
is darker than night, the only one
who keeps vigil with no candle,
and is not afraid—
the deep one, whose being I trust,
for it breaks through the
earth into trees,
when I bow my head,
faint as a fragrance
from the soil. [II, 3]
Rainer Maria Rilke from Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macey
One day In February 1968 two sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death in a garbage packer in Memphis Tennessee. They were African American men working for starvation wages and under dangerous conditions:
From Taylor Branch’s On Canaan’s Edge (ISBN 978-064857121), page 684:
- “It was a gruesome chore to retrieve the two crushed bodies from the garbage packer and pronounce them dead at John Gaston Hospital. Echol Cole and Robert Walker soon became the anonymous cause that diverted Martin Luther King to Memphis for his last march. City flags flew at half-mast for them, but they never were public figures like Lisa Marie Presley, whose birth at 5:01 PM was being announced. . . . Cole and Walker would not be listed among civil rights martyrs, nor studied like Rosa Parks as the catalyst for a new movement. Their fate was perhaps too lowly and pathetic.”
- For the sanitation workers in Memphis enough was enough. They began organizing a union and marched for their rights on March 28, 1968, Dr. King joined them. Frustration erupted in rioting and looting, and one person was killed, a child who became a man that day: Larry Payne. He had come to the March with friends. He was sixteen years old. Stories differ, but one historian reports that after having left the March, later in the day, a police officer shot and killed Larry in front of his housing project. He was unarmed. The officer has not been prosecuted. Very recently, the FBI has reopened this cold case which was lost in the event of Dr. King’s assassination.
- The sanitation workers carried signs that simply stated, “I am a man.”…not a “boy,” not a “nigger.”…A MAN. On the anniversary of his death today, I want to remember Larry and his family who still grieves. I remember all the sanitation workers who sacrificed so much to advance the cause of civil rights even in the face of Jim Crow. The exclusion of any person diminishes our humanity. I hope that we can intentionally develop spiritual practices which create space for all.
Start Here For More Information on the Memphis Strike:
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God”. Ruth 1:16
Imagine this. Your father is eighty years old and his wife of 55+ years has just entered a Memory Care Unit. Every visit to his wife is a painful death. The added stress of learning how to manage his household and care for his own aging body is quickly depleting him of energy.
Like the biblical Ruth you hear a call that is more than duty. The call to loving compassion sounds clearly and insistently across Badlands and Cascades: Uproot. Go. Your people shall be my people. So you leave everything to make a new home with your father.
Who does such a thing? I am in awe of the courage and aware of the challenges. May I someday learn to be this selfless.
vibrates along every vein in every root
pulsing and pulling
tapping the primal tattoo heard by Ruth before you:
You scoop up your scattered roots,
clutch them close and set out.
©Rita H. Kowats March 23, 2018
The Badlands Photo Credit: Thomas James Caldwell <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/81643710@N00/15497697471″>Erosive Effects</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Cascade Mountains Photo Credit: jcolman N00/3475838105″>The Olympic Mountains in morning sunlight via photopin (license)
Tree: Photo by Daniel Watson from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/gray-trunk-green-leaf-tree-beside-body-of-water-762679/
(Drawing by Mervyn Peake)
“Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.”
― Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
I heaved my 27-year-old body onto the bed and sobbed until not a single tear could not be wrung from my soul. I had been cruelly abandoned by peers, and given no explanation. Even now at 73 I can say that I have never felt as alone as I did in that moment. I was terrified that I would lose my mind. In desperation I called out, “God help me!” A solution emerged and a sense of peace replaced the terror.
We had participated in a week-long Disclosure-Confrontation Marathon, one of the many experiments of psychologists in the 1970’s. This one later lost his license to practice anywhere in the United States. He had insisted that the way for us to grow was to hold “mini-sessions” among ourselves where we would disclose and confront one another. We held one session. I disclosed and became the target. William Golding’s classic novel Lord of the Flies comes to mind. In it children are marooned on an island without adult supervision and the outcome is harrowing.
I survived. Sometimes I even thrive. In the years following this traumatic experience I practiced riding the waves of loneliness safely to the shore, buoyed by the trust that divine presence is a constant in my life. It has been important to me to identify spiritually advanced persons to guide me through these times. At Spiritual Directors International, http://www.sdiworld.org, one can connect to a spiritual guide.
We walk this human journey together. As I post this reflection I light my candle and hold vigil for all who experience being alone. Be well, my friends.
Relinquishment (I Kings 19:11-13)
You come to me
In the whisper that
Lures me out of the cave
Into the light.
Here I am. Send me
© Rita H Kowats May 21,2017, revisited 3-9-18
For a while now I have been yearning to hear mention of the Common Good in the media and on the lips of everyday people. Today, it seems, the Common good is often equated with political correctness in America and is scorned as a weak liberal conspiracy to rob people of their rights. But, plain and simple, it is just kindness. May we begin a movement of kindness right now, today, within our circles of influence. **
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Naomi Shihab Nye
You can listen to Naomi read her poem here
You can hear the story behind Naomi’s poem here.
**Find an excellent explanation of a circle of influence here.
Photo Credit: HUFF POST.COM
The real host is the one who offers that space where we do not have to be afraid and where we can listen to our own inner voices and find our own personal way of being human. But to be such a host we have to first of all be at home in our own house.
Henri Nouwen Reaching Out
The person not at home in his own house pounces on potential captive listeners unleashing a steady stream of empty, repetitive words leaving a conscious listener, one who is at home in herself, depleted of energy and feeling victimized.
I know this pattern well, having fulfilled my needs this way at the expense of my listeners for over half of my life. The words tumbled out in such rapid succession it was impossible to notice the telltale shifting of focus in my fidgiting audience.
This pattern of behavior has grown in epidemic proportions in the last year as people try to cope with the changing landscape of national politics in many countries. We have become lonely and feel abandoned by those mandated to insure our best interests. So we talk about it. And talk about it. Possessed by our opinions, even possessed by sincere and noble convictions, we attempt to convert listeners to our views, even if they already share those views. They become overwhelmed by our strident energy and leave our physical presence without experiencing our spiritual presence.
Pause. Breathe between words. We must return to our own internal houses where we might find that we aren’t alone after all. Some solitude will teach us the radical hospitality of listening to the other.
Photo Credit Man Pointing: http://www.youdict.com/w/harangue
Photo Credit Woman Yelling: https://images.contentful.com/406ai0ux7ky0/00000002001e8a4800000000/2e72b65bbb5180dd9f29b7abb6ed0e4b/woma