Midwives of Freedom

royal tern hooked

 

Gracious Goodness
by Marge Piercy

On the beach where we had been idly
telling the shell coins
cat’s paw, cross-barred Venus, china cockle,
we both saw at once the sea bird fall to the sand
and flap grotesquely.
He had taken a great barbed hook
out through the cheek and fixed
in the big wing.
He was pinned to himself to die,
a royal tern with a black crest blown back
as if he flew in his own private wind.
He felt good in my hands, not fragile
but muscular and glossy and strong,
the beak that could have split my hand
opening only to cry
as we yanked on the barbs.
We borrowed a clippers, cut and drew out the hook.
Then the royal tern took off, wavering,
lurched twice,
then acrobat returned to his element, dipped,
zoomed, and sailed out to dive for a fish.
Virtue:  what a sunrise in the belly.
Why is there nothing
I have ever done with anybody
that seems to me so obviously right?

large_5426725856

 

Every so often I have to get my Marge Piercy fix, and today was the day.  I can only read her poetry sporadically, because she throws truth like a dagger, piercing its target with razor-sharp precision.  When I read this poem today I became the royal tern and dissolved in tears commingled with memories in a sacred eucharist of life.

Perched as I am on the precipice of my seventieth year of this life, the view ahead is very different from the view at forty or fifty, much less before thirty-eight.  That time in my life can be deftly described by Marge Piercy in another of her poems entitled in true Piercy aplomb, “The Song of the Fucked Duck.”:

“In using there are always two.
The manipulator dances with a partner who cons herself.
There are lies that glow so brightly we consent
to give a finger and then an arm
to let them burn.”

I was like a young chimpanzee swinging from bar to tree, limb to rope, playing to a crowd of voyeurs and secretly shrieking, “Look at me, love me, look at me.”  Pieces of my integrity were lobbed off with every exhibition, leaving my young soul besotted with false hope and utterly alone.  I was willing to be conned by needy manipulators for whatever morsels of pseudo-love they threw my way.  For a time after my awakening I was ashamed of the vulnerable little girl who still occasionally clamored to be heard.  Eventually, the spiritual practices I was developing brought me into healing and new life.  One day while praying I realized that I had to embrace the child to set her free.  As if taken by the hand by the Spirit of God, I lay myself down in fetal position before the altar I had created.  Holding my body together with my arms, I held that little girl and loved her-all of her.  It was a physical enactment of a spiritual call to unconditional love of self.

As with Marge Piercy’s royal tern, I have been blessed with companions along my journey who have “unpinned” me.  The tears I shed while reading the poem witness to my gratitude for these loved ones who have loved me and showed me to myself.  In honor of them I try to stay aware of situations which could pin me. In my ministry as a spiritual guide I try to be a midwife of freedom for others.  “Why is there nothing I have ever done with anybody that seems to me so obviously right?”

 

 

 

Photo Credits:  Florida Department of Transportation;
flying tern: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/bejor77/5426725856/”>Erick Houli</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

Holding Vigil For Oso

Mudslide-1-AAP

 

I sit in my chair to meditate this morning.  Gusts of wind heave heavy rain at my windows and the tears finally come.  They don’t stop, so I am here with you, holding vigil for the people of Oso.  Forty Five miles north of me loved ones stand in the rain over a 1.5 mile expanse of mud and debris waiting to confirm the fate of family and friends.  King 5 News reports that “…tons of earth and ambulance-sized boulders of clay” from Hazel Hill loosened by steady, pounding rain, came crashing down on the houses below last week.  They wait to have news of death crash down on their souls housed in now spent bodies.  The official count today is seventeen dead…but the missing list bears ninety names- half the population of Oso, Washington, USA.

The constant rain has brought geologists to the area to monitor the very real threat of more landslides to the rescue workers in the valley.  It is too much to dwell on it further.  The video embedded below recounts the story of the rescue of a four-year-old boy.  It helped me to understand better what this experience was for the people who died, and for those who wait. My thoughts from two recent posts bear repeating here.

One spiritual practice we can do for Oso is to step away from the role of spectator, and take the time and solitude to feel empathy for the people who suffer.  Although we cannot fully know their experience of suffering, we know that it matters that they suffer, and it matters that we stand with them spiritually.   Whatever the suffering is, it is.  In our prayer we can ask that they be given the grace to be faithful and true to the process of living through it.  May they eventually come to a juncture in their grieving, that they can embrace the reality of the experience and emerge whole again.   By holding vigil with them we can live the suffering with them from inside the presence of God, vulnerable, clean and stripped to our essence.  May they hold themselves together while training a vigilant eye toward grace.  For those of us from afar, words are ineffective.  We must send spiritual energy.  You may find the meditations below helpful.

Buddhist Practice of Metta, Sending Loving Kindness

May you be safe from harm.
May you be happy and peaceful.
May you be strong and healthy.
May you take care of yourself with joy.

Tonglen Meditation Practice:  Compassion

From: http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/practices/practices.php?id=4&g=5#spiritualexercises

A fellow blogger at  http://wildninjablog.com/ has gifted us with links for sending donations and helping in other ways.  This is an in-person look at life in the 530 corridor at this horrific time  It holds up for us the people of Oso and their strength and committment to the common good of their community.

 

Photo Credit:  http://www.3news.co.nz/Photos-Washington-landslide-search-and-rescue/tabid/1125/articleID/337624/Default.aspx

Sending Loving Kindness

142 (2) I surround you with the light of god

Buddhists have a profound practice of sending Metta, Loving Kindness to others.  When I make this meditation, I call to mind a person/s who are in need of loving kindness.  I honor my own Christian roots by bringing them into the presence of God.  With conscious intention, I send them loving kindness.  All aspects of the universe are connected.  It matters that we hold vigil for one another in this way.

I send peace out to you on this Saturday in March.  If your weather is still severe, may you bloom peace.

photo credit:  royalty-free NASA space photo

Exposed

railroad tracks 2

This poem comes as gift at midnight when it would not leave me alone until it was born.

In winter
Leafless trees
Permit the sound of
A train at sea level
To escape through spaces between branches
And traverse hills to settle in my ears,
Where the clickclickclick blends
With the swishswishswish on I-5.

trees

In winter
Unadorned Essence
Permits the pristine sound of
Virgin truth to
Break through superficial debris,
And unlock the ears of consciousness
Where it couples with compassion
To awaken and prod the unsuspecting Soul.

© rita h kowats  2014

tree drawing by buchi-nei-calzini.blogspot.com – tumblr

The Spiritual Practice of Being Poor

Homeless-snow

photo from obrab.org

Story Recording:  “The Miser’s Slippers” by Shoshannah Brombacher

My Mennonite faith community is situated in the heart of a neighborhood rife with homelessness, and our mission is one of radical hospitality.  Praying for the community is a rich sacramental experience for me.  Intentions are heartfelt.  People listen deeply and check up on one another during the fellowship time that follows the service.  Last Sunday desperate, choking sobs emitted from the side of the sanctuary, from “Rita’s” usual place.  “I pray, I just beg God, to have my children call me today. Please, God, just today, please.”  We talked for a long time outside afterwards.  “Rita” has been homeless for fifteen years. She suffers from mental illness, and her children have been unresponsive.  She’s been clean for many years, and her shaking hand lighting the cigarette tells that story.

This week we remembered the day Lyndon Johnson declared “War on Poverty” fifty years ago.  John Goodman notes that taxpayers have spent $1.5 trillion since 1975 “fighting” poverty.  Experts suggest that we now spend $1 trillion a year. (Josh Archambault Jan. 8, 2014 at an NRO Symposium).  “Rita” would be grateful just to be SEEN.

Shoshannah Brombacher’s story, “The Miser’s Slippers,” prompted me to name my homeless friend after myself, because if I don’t put myself in her place, there is no room for her in my soul.  Shoshannah stresses that the man is a miser. That he is rich seems secondary.  When we live miserly lives of attachment to material goods, we don’t see the poor.  As human beings, our call is to cultivate a practice of spiritual poverty, by holding our possessions and our status like feathers in our hand. This practice, over time, removes the scales over our eyes and allows us to understand and empathize, and ultimately share.  I call the world to this spiritual practice of being poor, to honor what President Johnson began and end the need for the “War on Poverty.”

Compassion

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“Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion.”  Meister Eckhart

Today’s wisdom from Meister Eckhart comes to me as we continue to wrap our minds and hearts around the bombings in Boston.

We are most fully human when we are compassionate.  The smallest attempt to understand another’s suffering, and to feel some of what they feel, is stepping into the life of God.  As a high school teacher I began to see disturbing indications that this virtue is falling out of practice in our society.  I believe that we need a dedicated curriculum to the meaning and practice of compassion, as a way to deal with our increasing focus on violence as a problem-solver.  Northern Ireland adopted such a curriculum with great success.  The children who studied it have grown up with a commitment to maintain a lasting peace between Protestants and Catholics.

What about us- adults past school age?  Do we look upon compassion as a positive habit we can and should develop?  Is an act of compassion an act of Godliness for us?  In order to respond compassionately, we have to be aware of the need.  To become aware, we have to practice stillness.  Stillness gives us the space in which to truly see the other as they are, and to choose if, when, or how to respond.  To recognize suffering, we need to make opportunities which teach us.  I may prefer to read only nonfiction which teaches my brain how to analyze; however, if I never read fiction or see great film or theatre, I miss the opportunity to study human beings in their worst and best moments.  I don’t learn about my pain in relation to others’ pain.  We can develop a habit of thinking and acting compassionately by daily setting it as an intention: “Today I surround myself with God’s light, that I may see the suffering of others and respond to it with love.”

Tonight my practice will be to set aside my tablet to view the news and listen consciously for ten minutes, to stories of victims in Boston.  Then I will ask myself to imagine how they are feeling right now, how their families are feeling.  And I will pray with them in solidarity.  I believe that this little practice will ripple throughout the world,  contributing to an attitude of compassion that one day will prevail.

May compassion be the first outburst of God in our lives.