For the third time on these pages I post this poem with hope and a prayer that nonviolence will replace violence, that deep self will replace ego. I share the poem today in response to the possibility of yet another war in the Middle East.
In June, even though I couldn’t see the lake I at least had a piece of it. On this August morning thick underbrush enveloped me and I lamented the loss of the lake.
At first I felt closed in and irritated that the city had not followed through with its mandate to prune. What about the common good and our need for beauty, after all? A practice of sitting ensued and soon I felt protected by the semi-circle of green, holding me, shielding me from the pending evil about to descend on Portland Oregon today.
Earlier I had sent loving kindness to the far right hate groups Patriot Prayer and Proud boys, due to hold a rally there. I sent loving kindness to the counter-protesters. I imagined nonviolence prevailing.
At the lake I imagined the overgrown green surrounding all of them with love and nonviolence and I called on all that is holy to shield them from the evil of hate. The little lake that I love is not what I needed. Nature knows best.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hatewatch” has experts all over the country monitoring hate group activity. Here are some links that detail the rally in Portland today. Heads up Washington State voters. Our primary ballots are due this coming Tuesday. Are you aware that one Republican candidate running for U.S. senate is Joey Gibson, the leader of Patriot Prayer?
This morning’s news cycle brought me back to that precipice of despair once again, so I begin yet another span of time away in which to allow space for the phoenix to rise again. I spare you the stories which pushed me over the edge so as to avoid putting the negative energy out there again-besides, you know them already.
My spiritual practice for this time came to me from, of all things, the Christmas carol, “Do You See What I See?” The phrase, “He will bring us goodness and light” engaged me. I want to counteract evil by radiating divine light and goodness. I rewrote the verse to reflect my theology and my heart.
Candle lit , I am ready to sing my song. Join me?
Listen to what I say
Live for peace, people everywhere,
Listen to what I say
The Christ, the Christ, moving in our world,
Will bring us goodness and light,
Will bring us goodness and light.
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:
It was such a perfect and appropriate image. Of being blind. Of the people who use the blind not seeing the cruelty of what they did, not seeing the beauty of what they were about to kill. It was, after all, a perfect word for that perch. A blind.
Louise Penny Still Life p. 257
These wise words from Louise Penny refer to a murder committed in the shelter of a deer blind perched out of sight in a tree. The image moves me to reflect on all the ways we ambush one another then cover it up in the safety of our self-righteousness.
Pledge: A Spiritual Practice
I will pay attention to the words and actions I hide behind to ambush the other.
If I must say or do the hard thing let it be said and done with eyes wide open rather than with eyes wide shut.
I will seek out those who speak and do in the light, and learn from them how to begin.
I will replace the violence of the blind with compassion and understanding.
On August 6, 1989 when the sun’s oblique rays cast long shadows of giant cedars across the railroad tracks leading into Subase Bangor, a Burlington Northern security car parked at the base gate and waited for a shipment to arrive. It was the guard’s duty to ensure safe delivery of missile propellant fuel on this anniversary of the United States’ bombing of Hiroshima. I left my home above the tracks and approached the car with a heavy heart to dialogue with the guard:
Do you realize this is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima?
No Ma’am, I don’t.
And we wait for a train carrying fuel for more bombs to potentially kill and maim more people?
We had to drop that bomb. It saved hundreds of American soldiers.
And what about the lives of hundreds of Japanese noncombatans? Don’t you think it’s time to let go of the bombs?
They were collateral damage. We need these bombs.
And so it goes. On and on and on…. The train arrived, met by armed marines who opened the gate to escort it to the bunkers. Fuel delivered, the train reversed it’s journey. Out of sight, not out of mind or heart. I knelt on the tracks, lit sage and wept for Hiroshima and for my own collusion. We the bombers are hibakusha as much as the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As long as we make bombs with intent to use, we are a bomb-affected-people.
WHEN will you ever, Peace,
wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and
under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you,
Peace? I’ll not play
To own my heart: I yield you do
come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor
peace. What pure peace
Alarms of wars, the daunting
wars, the death of it?
O surely, reaving Peace, my
Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave
That plumes to Peace thereafter.
And when Peace here
He comes with work to do, he
does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.
D-Day at Seventy Years
As I do my morning dishes National Public Radio reports from Normandy, and my reflections spiral into a deep longing for another way to define “The Greatest Generation.” For me it would be a generation which refuses to be satisfied with a “piecemeal peace,’ but instead does the hard work of self- examination and conversion, work which leads to whole and lasting peace.
Today I choose to honor the hundreds of men who refused to go to Normandy, and those who risked scorn and poverty to support them. They were men who believed that if we as human beings had been awake and living lives of nonviolence, the dictators would have been kept from power and D-Day would not have happened. You can read their stories and learn about the film,”The Good War And Those Who Refused to Fight It,” at http://www.pbs.org/itvs/thegoodwar/ww2pacifists.html. The film is available from PBS USA and likely from your public library collection. Clips are available on youtube.
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.
“Jonah” is a poem I wrote during the first Gulf War, which was raging during my tenure as a nonviolent resistor to the nuclear weapons at Subase Bangor in Puget Sound. Living beside the railroad tracks leading into the base, I witnessed monthly shipments of missile propellant fuel destined for Trident submarines. Admiral Trost said that the subs were necessary to “protect the lifestyle to which we had become accustomed.” Nevermind, that most people do not share that affluent lifestyle, and they are in poverty partly because taxes are allocated to these weapons, while food stamps are drastically cut. My spiritual practice is to try to live a lifestyle that doesn’t depend on the weapons to protect it.
The poem reflects the despair I felt then and now, but it offers hope that resistance can breed resistance. It was dedicated to Steve, a submariner who applied for, and received, conscientious objector status. We are called by conscience to go to Nineveh. Will we go?
For Steve, Who Broke the Silence
How obscene that submarines slither through unseen.
Journalist to Pentagon briefer: “Sir, is it true that
A cruise missile was fired from a submarine?”
General Kelly: “We never discuss submarines.”
They slither through unseen.
As unseen as the bodies in Baghdad.
Today I sit on Hood Canal-
Mountains, sun, spring wildflowers.
Euphoric, here where
Submarines slither through unseen.
As if to confirm the paradox
Two patrol boats pass.
Do they escort the Leviathan?
I can’t hear it.
I can’t see it.
The beast breaks silence,
Its dark, hulking frame mimicking the
Great Orca of Puget Sound.
Shivering, shedding silent, shame-full tears…
When the beast descends this time
It goes down depleted.
Another Jonah has tumbled out,
And his “No” will echo forever in
The belly of the whale.