Kathleen Hirsch | Autumn
Writing and musings by author Kathleen Hirsch.
kathleen hirsch, writer, spiritual director, boston, ma, spiritual writing
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Autumn

All Souls

Among November leaves,

I find small elegies,

of frosted straw

and furtive creatures’ fur,

amber pods and pennies.

 

I gather what I can carry home,

a basket on the hearth

these hymns of autumn, embers

to warm us through the cold.

 

What I cannot carry in

is the clan of mallards

on the pond, carving a stately poem

in the lines of their glide,

faithful towards their willowed holm.

 

Slow, sure,

they fare glittering forward

and away, trailing grace

that speaks a different

kind of confluence.

 

Fathers, mothers, dates that drift from us

like fallen feathers,

we guard a way obscure to us

with all we have,

the memory of your seasons,

the colors of our grateful days.

 

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All-Out Squash Soup: A Meditation on Trust

So much negativity in the air.

I stand at the sink and cut into a squash, its muscular sunshine flesh like nothing else on earth.   My feet, my whole being, feels more surely grounded by this.

It is soup-making season again, this year a much-needed comfort.

At church on Sunday I attended a talk on the subject of trust.   Trust is the basis of everything, the speaker proposed.  What we trust, we love.  What we love, we serve.  It was as dazzling as my squash, as full of juicy seeds.

So.  Americans’ public trust has been radically, catastrophically shattered – in this election process, in our racial politics, in our economic recklessness.

What, I ask as I peel away, do I trust?

Mammon?  Fame?  Achievement?  The Past?

And how does my personal “trust-list” affect the life that I live in public, with others?

If I am really honest, I’ll admit that I’ve flirted with all of the options above at one time or another, imagining that my little dalliances won’t unsettle the deeper strata of what I think of as my true, higher, ground.

I’ve told myself that worshipping at the feet of Eileen Fischer or putting a good review up on a pedestal, won’t thin my soup or turn it bitter, or distract me from remembering to feed my family altogether.  I’ve flirted with ambition and being in the “right place,” like the best (and worst) of us.  Often have I fallen for woman’s cardinal sin, of saying, “Sure, I can do it, no problem,” just because I can, not because my heart has led me.  I’ve run myself into the ground until the soul’s larder was so jammed with half-finished things that it started to attract little varmints of resentment and self-pity.

So, yes, I’ve been untrustworthy towards what is true and good, and for questionable ends – usually less out of pride than from an unclear sense of duty or calling.  Out of a faltering trust.

What causes such faltering?  Is it possible that the same lack of clarity has befallen us on a public level?

I know that I lose my grounding because I don’t pause regularly enough to do things like make soup, take time to reassess the high-speed buffet I keep adding to.  I lose touch with the significant models of balance and integrity I hold dear.  I start to mistrust my self because the parade is high-kicking it and I am afraid to be left in the dust.

What I need most when I get pulled out of true, is not to jump on the parade.  I need a quiet morning like this one, when I don’t have to perform anything for anyone, when I am free to choose what I will do to feed my family, my own heart and soul.

I rummage in the fridg for inspiration – this being, always, an act of domestic improvisation.  Today, it will be yellow carrots, a jalapeno, a few leaves of thyme.  I will peel squash, answer mail, call a sick friend and read something meaningful.  (I will resist phone texts, and hope I can hold out to dinnertime.)

Sunday’s speaker interjected a potent corrective to what ails us today when he noted that it is gestures, more than words, that express trustworthiness.  It’s so easy to sound good.  But it is the actions we choose to make every day, what we create or uphold or destroy, that stamp us as one kind of person or another.

Already pundits are asking: how can we mend the enormous fissures that divide us, heal the distrust and name calling and discord?  How can we do something about the half-finished conversations, the unmet needs, that our damaging rhetorics have created?

I think we begin by posing the question I heard on Sunday.

What do we trust?  What in us is worthy of trust?  How do we begin to rebuild the promises that have been broken — to ourselves, to one another?

It is essential that we take the time to pull ourselves into true.   Doing “nothing” – such as making soup – helps me remember what I trust most deeply, and to stay real in relation to it.   Making soup is far better, than are many of the things that demands my attention.  Doing so makes it ever easier to toss the catalogs.

Soup is all about the possibilities of a seed.   Humble and close to the ground.  What if every one of us in this country, or in the world, were fortunate enough to be able to make a pot of soup?  To feed their families?  To share a meal with strangers — even, perhaps, ideological opponents — at work, at school, down the street?

Truth is, most of the ingredients for such a dream — too small to merit the attention of pundits, too simple to become a marketing fad — are already in the collective larder.  We just need to decide to trust the process.

What would happen if we started here?

 

 

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Burning Bush

 

Today at dusk red tongues

appear along the dripping boughs

so vivid that

even I, in my distraction

am forced

to stop.  Here you are

in a burning bush

at the edge of a park at rush hour.

Horns, and hankering for a drink,

an end to measured day,

the yen for something more.

 

Precisely, you, where I least expect you,

tethered strength

in a wandering time.

Here on a dying day

at the dawn of a dying season

you offer

a scrap of scripture

such as I found at every turn

in childhood,

a robin, a green frog, the crook of an elm

in which hide with a book.

 

Here you are

beyond the carnival

of cant and apprehensions,

abiding in the old story,

stopping us in our tracks,

that we might wake

to the real life around us,

see past our present doubts

the voice of truth,

a quiet flame, calling.

 

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Prayer for Fall, 2016

Friends,

I was asked to write a prayer to introduce an hour-long radio conversation on the subject of “Sabbath,” yesterday.  I reprint it here, in hopes that it offers a moment of mindfulness in your Friday.

The way I see it, we can use all the help we can get!

Spirit of goodness in all that is….

In this month of changes, in this magical time between summer to fall…

       Teach us daily that too much hurry annuls our sense of presence – to our own lives, to the hearts of others, and especially to the deep wisdom of the universe.

In a time of transitions, aging friendships and adjustments to gently loosening joints….

     Teach us daily to have the courage of Sabbath hearts, to know when to be silent, to listen to the music beneath the noise, to see through the masquerades we are too prone to joining.

In a time of confusion, conflict and worry…

     Teach us to remember that an attitude of receptivity is far more healing than one of reaction, that preserving our times of quiet reflection, the experience of beauty and the integrity of our hearts is the most important gift we can bring to our hurting world.

We know that there is a time for everything. Help us to not forget the beautiful truth of our personal seasons.

As we honor the Nativity of Mary, mother of God, our Sophia figure, and icon of healing wisdom, let us remember that the health of our bodies resides in our capacity for love, of our intellects in our steady calm and focus, and of our souls in our faithfulness to living a Sabbath life.

 

 

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Making New Friends — A September Letter

Dear Friends,

As a Girl Scout many years ago, we sang a song many of you no doubt know:  “Make New Friends, but Keep the Old.”

A year ago, I reached out to a woman whose work I had long admired, the career coach and author, Gail McMeekin.  Her books, “The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women,” and “The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women,” had both been real inspirations to me at various times in my life, and I have given them as gifts to others.

You know that there are hidden webs of belonging all around you when the following happens.

Gail, it turns out, had read my book, “A Sabbath Life: One Woman’s Search for Wholeness,” and had done the same thing with it that I’d done with hers — passed it along, shared it around.

In the course of things, I discovered that one of those friends to whom she’d passed it is Janet Connor, whose extraordinary book, “Writing Down the Soul” has had a place of honor on my bookshelf for years!

I felt that, in the middle of the road, so to speak, I’d discovered long-lost sisters.  A conversation was begun.

And it hasn’t ended.

Janet is a go-getter, who writes books faster than I can fold my laundry, and who keeps a dozen other projects in the air, including her own on-line radio program, “The Soul-Directed Life,” an interview show that has a theme a month and features thinkers and writers and ordinary folks who’ve walked a journey she feels it worth sharing with her audience.

Today at 2 p.m. I will patch into her show as the “guest speaker” of the week, on the theme of — you guessed it — Sabbath life.

I will attach the url here, should you be interested in joining.  (The program plays again in the coming days, on a schedule available on the site.)

http://www.unity.fm/program/TheSoulDirectedLife

I am grateful to Gail and to Janet for this chance to refocus my own scattered September energies on the theme that means most to me — contemplation in a world of action, mindfulness in the midst of our hectic days.

Peace to all of you,

Kathleen

 

 

 

 

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The Great Continuum

This week I will make my way to college, my satchel a deadlift of course texts, to teach another year.

Four hundred miles away, my niece has just taken up residence in her freshman dorm at a large state university.  She and her parents have completed the ritual acts of transition: outfitting her new room (bean bag chairs, bright pink and yellow rugs, towels and throws, a fridg and the other usual appurtenances).   She is exuberant.  She loves her new friends and her pre-med classes.  No slouch, she is getting up at 6 each morning  to practice for varsity crew try-outs.

We are traveling in parallel, my niece and I.  I find myself looking at her as from the wrong end of a telescope, one in which she grows smaller and further away, and ask myself:  Was I ever as confident and idealistic, as full of risk-taking zeal, as she is?

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