Kathleen Hirsch | Blog and spiritual writings of Kathleen Hirsch
Blog and spiritual writings of Kathleen Hirsch including an archive of her columns for BostonGlobe.com and Cruxnow.com
Spiritual writing, Kathleen Hirsch, crux, cruxnow
19169
paged,page-template,page-template-blog-large-image,page-template-blog-large-image-php,page,page-id-19169,paged-3,page-paged-3,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,select-child-theme-ver-1.0.0,select-theme-ver-2.6,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-4.9.2,vc_responsive

Blog

We're quite the bloggers

Warm Words in a Cold Season

Dear Readers,

I have received such an outpouring of beautiful notes after my piece, “Civics at the Yarn Shop” appeared on The Boston Globe’s Opinion Page yesterday, that I need to thank you all for your words.

We live in a time when conversation, dialogue, meeting one another however we can — face to face, face-time, and using the tools of our sometimes-overbearing technology — is the essential business of each day.  To share comfort, questions, and images of hope.

One of my favorite notes came from a woman in Australia, who asked me to continue to share my own stories of hope.  This is the objective I aim for each day when I get up from my desk and enter the stream of the day.

Yesterday, hope appeared in several shapes.  First, your letters.  Second, my church is about to launch a concerted effort to support refugees.  Third, a relative in need of ongoing support found someone to act as a guide.  Fourth, but by no means last, my overweight cat — after a month-long regimen of low-calorie gruel — appears to have lost half a pound.

I am attaching the link to the Globe piece, in case any of you missed it and want to take a peek.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/03/09/civics-yarn-shop/uFp95rutuafbekz7rS7uII/story.html

Have a hopeful day.

Kathleen

 

0

Writing in the Dust

My house just now is covered in a fine layer of dust.  Plaster dust.  The long-awaited paint job to freshen things up after a long winter.

And so it is with the writing life and the life of prayer.  Long periods of waiting, little change in the horizon, showing up, keeping things dusted and in a state of readiness….when suddenly one day we can see something like dust settling over the familiar, and can run our fingers through a substance that holds our mark — for an hour or a day.

This, the legibility of the soul in the life in time.

Yesterday, my experience of this gift was a day spent with a group of young writers and their faculty in the Creative Writing Program at The College of the Holy Cross.

The earnestness and energy was palpable.  I gave my craft talk, and then the writing began.  The students were given little slips of paper, containing a word or two as prompt which the novelist Julianna Baggott and I had come up with.  The students let it rip, creating spontaneous, anonymous writings that were then placed into three little mason jars, mixed up, and aloud, one by one.

The effect was mesmerizing.  It was as if we were hearing chant, ancient shards of scripture unearthed from clay jars and recited to the assembly.

What worked about this was its rawness and authenticity.  Nothing premeditated, polished, tailored.  As pure as prayer, and not unlike.

How beautiful, in a world of overworked cant.

And so a fine dust settled over my familiar, and gave me this inspiration:

What if we were to make such a practice during Lent?  A daily “short” — inspired by the newspaper, or a poem, scripture, or an image that arises while we feed the cat?

Just that.  On a small, 4 x 4 square of paper, or an index card.

Try it.

 

0

Remember the Butterflies

It is good to remember that there are seasons in which the butterfly seems to disappear.

Leaves wither, the sere ground catches the last of the roses like a cold uncle at the wedding; ice and snow drive into the ground.  Then when we think we can’t wait another minute, mud oozes up, and from its dank surprise, fragile shoots of green.  If we think of the butterfly at all in these cold months – and mostly, we don’t – it is as a vacancy in a bleak visual landscape, a joy whose name we have quite forgotten. READ MORE

0

A New Kind of Pilgrimage

I have been thinking a lot lately about pilgrimage.  And exile.  Most days, it feels as if an invading force has entered the sanctuary of all I hold dear and pitched the icons over the city walls.  For the first time in my life, my government no longer feels benign or representative.  The “business” being conducted in the corridors of power looks a lot like that of the Third World countries whose people I used to pray for as a child at the end of Sunday Mass – mass resignations, egotistical posing, saber rattling at the opposition.

I have a choice.

If I assume the mantle of exile, I am able to feel more acutely the lives of refugees who have lost country, homes, roots, stories, holy shrines.  But I trade the crucial knowledge that I can still vote, write, speak out — and yes, pay taxes.

If instead I choose to see my life and that of many friends, students, local activists – as a new kind of pilgrimage, alienation takes on the coloration hope.  And with hope comes traction.

Each day brings more news that is almost impossible to absorb into our pre-existing democratic constructs, the political discourse and open process I so recently took for granted.  Executive orders that have the affected agencies reeling in confusion, the arrest of journalists, the bullying of trade partners, the gag orders on environmental personnel.

A dear friend leaves next week for her own pilgrimage — a trek up Kilimanjaro.  She will pass through five climate zones, scaling 19,000 feet, to summit the highest peak in Africa.  She is 67 years old.

For months, she has walked every day. Where there is a steeper grade, she will take it.  Stairs, she’s there.  She has watched documentaries and read about the climb.  Now, she is starting to pack her lightweight layers, stock battery packs, choose her journal.  She will travel in a reputable tour group with skilled guides.

She reminds me of all that goes into a good pilgrimage.

A pilgrimage starts with commitment – often to something that we don’t fully understand.  It is a primer in genuine sacrifice – of conveniences, comforts, assumptions, familiar landmarks.  Easy, on an unknown trail, to fall behind; in fatigue, to forget why you started, get sick, lose time and companions, run out of food.

 

Caring for ourselves as we move into new realities will entail the kind of attention my friend is bringing to her trip.   We need a huge daily dollop of mindfulness, remembering what we love and hold dear.  We need guides, not fellow amateurs — adults who have faced similar challenges, know the trails, and the wild things we might encounter along the route.  We need trustworthy map readers, whose quiet expertise and calm under any number of conditions we can trust.

And then — and this is the hardest part — we need to admit our ignorance.  We need to know what we don’t know, and be prepared to learn things we never imagined.

The great pilgrimages were journeys of conversion, undertaken with unlikely fellow travelers.  Survival depended upon staying focused and alert to current conditions, the prevailing winds, the height of the sun, one’s own energy and resources.  The greatest danger, on mountains or on pilgrimage, is to think so exclusively about the destination that you lost track of putting one foot ahead of the other in good faith.

My personal Kilimanjaro includes loaves and fishes: safety, health, good work, educational opportunities, kindness and inclusion, and the special care of children.  But I need the voices of experience to help me figure out where to place my feet, how to listen and observe well, how expend my limited energy, to hew to the good trail.

The sky is large.

At the moment my guide is Thomas Merton, but I’m always in search of others.  If we share our journey bread, our wisdom and good will, we can get there.

Intention is everything.

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Namaste.

0

Winter Roses

Roses and rosemary in January!  I am walking along a path in Los Angeles in the company of roses.  Rain has drawn out their perfume.  It wraps me in palpable grace.

A day earlier, I shoveled my front walk half a dozen times during a snow storm.  Now, here I am, bending to a bloom that opens my heart after a long, hard season.

On the morning of November 9, I discovered that I had lost my voice.  That day, I tried a few post-election letters to my world.  But a stone lay on my tongue.  Words seemed wholly inadequate to circumstance.  Or: the words I would have used would have skidded across the surface of a numbingly frozen pond.

My season of Advent, like that of so many friends, was long and dark and uncertain.   It didn’t feel anticipatory in the slightest.  I watched the sky (it seemed as good a thing as any to watch), but the stars didn’t speak.

In unaccustomed silence, slowly, I found that I was able to move away from grief, shock, fear.  All of the sure, strident, clever, glib, able words — all of the polished, official and oft-repeated phrases — fell mute.

At first, it felt a kind of withdrawal.  But gradually the sense of being a news-amputee gave way to a different, far more steadying quality of awareness.  I was no longer flitting from idea to idea, or text to text, from one shallow conversation to the next.  I was no longer focused on logistics and next actions.  I felt my attention shifting.  Or, better, the very act of “attending” was transformed.  What changed wasn’t the focus of my thoughts.  It was the quality of thought itself.

As long as I remained aware in this way, no unfinished wrapping, no late-arriving packages or broken ornament or family members’ “attitude” issues, could disrupt me.

More than this: I began to see the important life that matters beyond the glare of the headlines.

As sanity returned, so did a kind of moral memory: hurry destroys the capacity to be with oneself in any meaningful sense; our “out there” culture of activism with its constant pressures to identify with causes, have a position, be socially and politically useful, can make us brittle and leave no room for inner movement.  In the face of certitude and efficiencies, the “inner witness” falls silent, or just repeats what it is accustomed to saying.  Either way, it ends up failing me.

During these months, only thistles and thorns were visible in my garden, and this was oddly apt.  To renew, and see life with fresh eyes, I needed to stop.  Stop ruminating, producing for the sake of producing, and most importantly, stop consuming a diet of sound bites that was starving me of deeper wisdom and the still, small voice within.  For days.  Weeks.  Going on three months.  Winter, or just about.

Now here I am, walking down a path filled with roses and beauty, on a warm day under soft skies.  Perhaps, the roses seemed to suggest, it is time to emerge from hibernation and get on with the business of blooming again.

What have I learned?

I’ve learned how easy it is to join the wagging tongues, the policy patois, the dangerously false urgencies that always drive bad politics.  Easy to become too depressed or distracted to be present to what is in front of me: my loved ones, neighbors, community, and the needs right next door or under my own roof.

Healing and growth may both require the fallow time of the winter roses, the waiting time, when we unhook from reactive living and simplify long and amply enough to let some new green slip of insight unfurl. Each day is about becoming, isn’t it?  When I lose myself in the high winds of talking heads, and dishonest politicians, I completely forget the value of a more considered vigilance, which along with a certain detachment, prepares the ground for what the Buddhists call “right action.”

So.  Onward.

In honor of the winter roses, I have written a poem to illuminate the collage above, my New Year’s greeting to you, dear readers.

 

Wherever I look

Look!

If I allow myself the sweet prayer

of mere being,

I can see the greeting

of the winter roses,

the dance of the birds,

the beribboned and wholly

sufficient gift

of sunrise.

 

Original nature

rests in its just orders —

How we define or defile

right livelihood

will bring the winter roses

to their knees;

the nests of blue jays,

the red-capped woodpeckers,

the hungry hawk

on a barren bough

the cistern with its cold sweet water

our waiting doves of peace.

 

 

 

0

And Now, for Hope

Yesterday I sat with my intelligent, sensitive, and big-hearted undergraduate class as we tried to make sense of the election.  These students spend hours every week in service to marginal people — isolated elderly shut-ins, prisoners, behaviorally-challenged children, the poor, immigrants.  It is both part of my course requirement and a significant element of their sense of right livelihood.  Service to those who don’t have a seat at the table is something that you just do.

“Who have we forgotten,” they asked me.  “Who have we not heard?  We are trying so hard to change society’s balance of justice, yet there are those who feel rage — people who feel shamed, excluded, disenfranchised — what do we need to do that we aren’t doing?”

I have a deep sense today of the information vacuum that has divided us as surely as have any economic forces.  One constituency of voters consume one set of information sources; the other group, a very different set.  Until we — calmly, persuasively — dispel disinformation, wrong information, distortions, spin, and outright lies with the truth, we will continue to be blind men with a very large and dangerous elephant.

Newspapers in small rural areas, even in small cities, have fallen to the economic tsunami of the web.  News and information sources accessed online are curated to provide consumers with only what they want to hear.  For all the good that “citizen journalism” has brought to the public conversation, the authority of objective truth too often goes missing.

Enlightenment is freedom.  The free exchange of ideas, stories, points of view, is essential to the functioning of our system.  When ideas get muddy, or inaccessible, when points of view are systematically or habitually unheard, we are left not with honest disagreement but with demagoguery.

This is where we find ourselves.  It is the place to begin rebuilding, to restore mutual respect, healthy listening, and reconciliation.  It won’t be easy.  Radio, theatre, books, podcasts — we have the technologies.  We just need to become more creative in how we use them.

We have all — writers, teachers, citizens — be preaching to our own choirs.  It has been our downfall.  We need, for the first time in a long time, to keep a broader audience in mind.

I want to share a post from an Episcopal priest whose daily blog often enlightens and teaches me.

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and peace to you.

When some were speaking about the temple, he said:
Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.
Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” Do not go after them.
When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified;
for these things must take place first,
but the end will not follow immediately.
Nation will rise against nation;
there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you.
This will give you an opportunity to bear witness.
I will give you words and a wisdom
that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
By your endurance you will gain your souls.
—from Luke 21.5-19

Not since the morning of September 11, 2001 have I felt more deeply the profound sorrow and dread people must have felt at the destruction of the temple. Only then, if ever, have I felt such deep anguish and wanted to raise such a desperate lament. I have never before ached with such terror that is not eased, sought sleep that would not come, cried out for comfort that will not lend itself, tried to pray and been unable.

The temple will fall. Fear, anger and self-absorption rule; disregard for the suffering of others has ascended to the seat of power,. There is no longer a safe place to retreat to, a sacred center of hope and belonging where the world is all right. Even in the temple in my own heart not one stone remains upon another.

When the temple falls we are awakened from the illusion that the world is just fine. Power structures will not save us. But this is nothing new. We finally know what others have known all along: we are vulnerable. We are exposed to the cynicism, violence, greed and hatred of the world. From the Roman Empire to the Holocaust to today’s unarmed young black men, or the people of Aleppo, or refugees or the trafficked and exploited—they know: there is no guarantee of justice, no illusion that everything will be all right. The whole world is at risk. There is no refuge. There never has been.

When the temple falls what do we do? When we can’t look to our power structures, what do we do? We become the temple ourselves. “Destroy this temple,” Jesus says, “and I will raise it up.” He says, “When you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)—the good news of the Empire of God will be proclaimed throughout the world. And the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

For some today is a day of rejoicing, but for me it is Good Friday. This happens. This is how God works. Human power structures fail us, and then God raises up life out of death. So what do we do? When the temple falls we become the resurrection. We let ourselves be raised, let ourselves be changed. Don’t look to the temple or the World Trade Center or the White House. Power structures will not save us, but God will. God pours love directly into our hearts. Live that love.

Now more than ever the world needs our love and justice and mercy. It needs our courage and community. It needs for us to be the crucified and risen Body of Christ. Realize that you are at the foot of the cross. Give voice to your pain, and let it rise as courage. Love this world with all you have. Connect with each other. Connect with strangers. Notice beauty. Celebrate the things God is doing in this world, the miracles that pass before us each day. Work for justice. Get involved. Now is the time to live resurrection. Live what really matters, as if these are your last days, and then maybe they won’t be.

My dread and sorrow are deep; but in that dark tomb hope is already rising. May the peace of Christ that passes understanding fill and guard your heart and mind today.
Deep blessings,
Pastor Steve

____________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Yesterday I told my students:  Don’t retreat.  Get involved.  But be smart about it.  Use your gifts of intelligence, education, understanding of how our system works, not to add to the sum of anger and outrage that is too much with us just now, but to enliven hope that together people can successfully advocate for constructive change.

 

0