The Thaw

frozen-spider-web

 

The Thaw

 

Lifelines, once malleable networks of grace
Have become static tendrils stretched
In a circuitous highway to nowhere
No more kicks on route 66.

Lifelines freeze up without
Time, solitude and silence
To stoke the fire of grace
Waiting to thaw
The once intimate connections
Gone rigid with neglect.

Do you hear their call?

 

© Rita H Kowats 12-19-16

The Sound of Sabers Rattling

I published this poem one year ago as a way to deal with my sorrow and fear over our increasingly hate-filled world.  With a fresh onslaught of hatred being spewed out on innocent Moslem American citizens after the attack in San Bernardino I place my hope on paying attention.  May we all slow down and listen to what is being said and felt in the spaces between the words.  May we give voice to trust and love as we oppose injustice.

 

Continuous War Sabers

“The Words of the Prophets Are Written on Subway Walls…”*

Prophets Words on Subway Walls

 

 

I have noticed that consistent spiritual practice helps one to grow, but paradoxically it also sets us up for more human frailty.  The more aware I become, the more judgmental I am.  It’s a great struggle to choose love instead of judgment, when the more we see, the more we judge what we see.

This piece of Sufi wisdom came across my Facebook timeline last week and I have been using it as a practice to avoid passing judgment.  It is very helpful to me.  Asking the questions as preparation before entering a situation where I am likely to get into a negative space of judging stops this thought process from taking over.

The fruit of this practice is nonviolence, even if for a moment.  I have a lifetime of travel ahead on this journey, but it feels good to have this walking stick in my hand.  Maybe it will help you too.

May your week-end bring you joy.

Rita

 

 

*Thank you, Paul Simon!

Yom Ha Shoah: Holocaust Day of Remembrance

 

YomHaShoah SIX CANDLES

  Yom HaShoah

 

“You just keep living until your are alive again,” said a character in last Sunday’s BBC episode of “Call the Midwife.”  The words stir me to write on this eve of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Survivors, their families, indeed, the whole Jewish community endure, and even thrive, with a resilience I can hardly even dream of mustering.  I repent and grieve for the evil perpetrated against Jews and others in the Holocaust.  I celebrate their resilience, born from a deep well of faith.

Inaugurated in Israel in 1953, Holocaust Remembrance Day is ritualized differently throughout the world.  Common threads are the lighting of six memorial candles to represent the approximately six million victims.  The Mourners’ Kaddish is often recited to show that despite their loss, Jews still praise G-d.  At the memorial ritual in Auschwitz, school children participate in “The March of the Living,” which is a profound defiance of the Death Marches to the crematoriums.  I am reminded of the work of theologian Walter Brueggemann, who calls for a “prophetic imagination” which re-appropriates acts of injustice as positive acts of life- a way of living until we are alive again.

One Sunday I came to Hebrew class at Temple Beth El- always the only Christian student- this day, the only student.  My teacher, whose relatives did not survive the holocaust, took the opportunity to teach me some of the more obscure facts about anti-Semitism.  She said with searing pain, that in the Spanish Inquisition Jews were denied the right to recite Kaddish.  The refrain that G-d will “uproot foreign worship from the earth,” threatened the power of Christianity, I presume.

As I imagine the youth reciting Kaddish on their March of Life today at Auschwitz, I rejoice in the hope their action evokes.  In them, their ancestors live on.  Paul Celan’s poem, “Death Fugue,” draws us inside life in a death camp.  The images are shattering, but we must look.  We must remember.  After embracing the horrifying reality, I return to celebration of the resilience of a people who still chooses life.  L’Chaim!

 

Death Fugue
by Paul Celan

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink it and drink it
we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents
he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden
hair Margarete
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are
flashing he whistles his pack out
he whistles his Jews out in earth has them dig for a
grave
he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you in the morning at noon we drink you at
sundown
we drink and we drink you
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents
he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair
Margarete
your ashen hair Sulamith we dig a grave in the breezes
there one lies unconfined

He calls out jab deeper into the earth you lot you
others sing now and play
he grabs at the iron in his belt he waves it his
eyes are blue
jab deeper you lot with your spades you others play
on for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at at noon in the morning we drink you
at sundown
we drink and we drink you
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Sulamith he plays with the serpents
He calls out more sweetly play death death is a master
from Germany
he calls out more darkly now stroke your strings then
as smoke you will rise into air
then a grave you will have in the clouds there one
lies unconfined

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink
and we drink you
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his pack on to us he grants us a grave in
the air
He plays with the serpents and daydreams death is
a master from Germany

your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith

Translated by Michael Hamburger

Clip Art Credits:  http://free-bitsela.com/

“I Have Been To The Mountaintop” Martin Luther King Jr. R.I.P. 4-4-1968

MLK Dead 4-4-68

 

In his speech to the sanitation workers on strike in Memphis TN on April 3, 1968, Dr. King said,

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

One could ask if Dr. King should have followed his premonition and avoided his death, but because he had  seen the glory, that was not an option.  He remained the prophet until the end. I am grateful for his commitment and courage and for that of all leaders and workers of the Civil Rights movement in an era which meted out dire consequences to conscience-sayers.

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkivebeentothemountaintop.htm

Larry Payne Was A Man

I AM A MAN

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:

mlk-­kpp01.­stanford.­edu/­index.­php/­encyclopedia/­encyclopedia/­enc_memphis_sani­tation_workers_s­trike_1968/­

March 21, 1960 Sharpeville Massacre: REMEMBER

blog post on sparkeville massacre

Nelson Mandela
Winnie Mandela
Steve Biko
Desmond Tutu
Robert Sobukwe
Chief Albert Luthuli
Walter Sisulu
Albertina Sisulu
Ruth First
Joe Slovo
Helen Suzman

Hundreds of others…

Amandla!

On March 21, 1960 in the township of Sharpeville five to seven thousand Africans gathered in front of the police headquarters to protest the carrying of mandatory pass books.  Their intention was to leave their passbooks at home and fill the jails until there was no more room, thus costing the government financially, and depriving white employers of workers.  Police threw tear gas into the crowd without warning and some protesters reacted by throwing rocks at them.  A police officer opened fire with live ammunition, and a reported 70 people were killed, among them eight women and ten children.  One Hundred Eighty were injured.  The BBC reported on this day that, ” Police Commander D H Pienaar said: “It started when hordes of natives surrounded the police station….He said that,  “If they do these things, they must learn their lessons the hard way.”

“Hordes,”  “Natives,” “Lessons,” Africans with rocks, police with loaded guns.  Unbelievable, I say.  I, the one whose country brutally colonized American Indians and enslaved Africans, while perpetrating deplorable crimes against them.  I who am still financially complicit in their inequality, and unconsciously complicit in my ignorance.  We all are called to look within on the anniversary of this terrible massacre.

Helen Suzman, Ruth First, and Joe Slovo were South African Jews.  They knew that Shoah can happen again if we stop remembering.  It happened again in South Africa in Sowetto Township on June 16 1976.  More than 176 and up to 700 people were killed by police who fired into a gathering of school children simply demanding to study in their own language rather than in mandatory Afrikaans. The BBC on that terrible day quoted South African Prime Minister Vorster as saying, “We are dealing here not with a spontaneous outburst but with a deliberate attempt to bring about polarisation between whites and blacks.  “This government will not be intimidated and instructions have been given to maintain law and order at all costs.” [emphasis mine].”  Denial purports to cover a multitude of sins.

As spiritual persons we are called to remember.  It makes us human.  Today let us hold our own truth and reconciliation hearings in our own hearts, to one another, and to the world beyond.

Shadows From My Past

Vietnam War Memorial

On a startling sunny day in April, 1984, I stood before the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. overwhelmed by the experience of thousands of lives reduced to letters chiseled out of stark black granite.  As if shadows of children cast upon the wall as they lay mementos of their loved one wasn’t enough to bear, four fresh young men came to vigil, their uniforms creating a macabre dance of shadows both real and anticipated.   I wept then and I weep now.

On this day, March 7, 1965, the first U.S. combat troops were sent to Vietnam.  My spiritual practice today will be to take inventory of my commitment to nonviolence, and to make reparation by revisiting the Wall.  I will call those men by name and ask forgiveness.  I will call to mind all who lost their lives in that war.  I will ask for God’s gracious mercy toward all of us who had the need to wage that war.  Most of all, I will hold dear the broken lives of my peers who returned from that war hopeless and who still need us.

The Wall of Faces:  http://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/

Two-Spirit Spirituality: Gift

dreamstime_l_8136471 Two-Spirit Symbol 2

I have known for a very long time about the tradition of gender-variant shaman among Native American peoples primarily in North America, and recently I felt moved to research further.  This poem is the fruit of my research and prayer.  I dedicate it to my dear friend Jim, the extroverted mystic, who gave this gift at the hardest of times to a church which could not receive it.

As unlikely as it sounds, the idea germinated from a word challenge to create a post around the word “violet.”
 http://suellewellyn2011.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/a-word-a-week-photograph-challenge-violet/posted the challenge.

Violet

 

photo credit:  ID 8136471 © Njnightsky | Dreamstime.com

Bibliography:

http://potnia.theladyofthelabyrinth.com/native-american-two-spirits/

http://www.dancingtoeaglespiritsociety.org/twospirit.php

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2010/oct/11/two-spirit-people-north-america

An Outstanding TED TALK about gender variance:

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5295619?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063

Two Spirit: The Story of a Movement Unfolds – Native Peoples – May-June 2014 – Native Peoples
http://www.nativepeoples.com/Native-Peoples/May-June-2014/Two-Spirit-The-Story-of-a-Movement-Unfolds/#.U6noMPBpU60.facebook