Teach Us to Sit Still

Ash Wednesday, Part 2

yuba river

“Spirit of the River” (South Fork-Yuba River)

Every year on Ash Wednesday, Guari and I read T. S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday” aloud.  The poem brilliantly portrays the dual Lenten focus on repentance and acceptance of our mortality. It expresses a sense of dust and ashes, of hopelessness, of powerlessness to change. These feelings resonate with many people facing the pain and challenges of the world today.  But then, in the poem, surprisingly:

The lost heart stiffens and rejoices

for the lost lilac and the lost sea voices

and the weak spirit quickens to rebel

for the bent goldenrod and the lost sea smell

quickens to recover the cry of quail

and the whirling plover.

The earth has the power to call us back to life, through the divine Spirit that moves through creation. In some mysterious way, the earth can provide us with an antidote to despair and can renew our spiritual connection with what is deepest within our souls. It is our context, our “ground of being,” through which the Spirit touches us,  reminding us of what is real and important, who we are, and with whom we are connected.

Teach us to sit still,

even among these rocks,

our peace in His will.

And even among these rocks,

Sister, Mother, and spirit of the river, spirit of the sea

Suffer me not to be separated,

And let my cry come unto Thee.

(This blog posting includes excerpts from Shaking the Gates of Hell.)

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Ash Wednesday, Part 1


Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  In Christian tradition, on this day ashes are used to symbolize two things:  repentance and mortality.

In considering the destruction of the earth and the suffering of our fellow creatures, both human and nonhuman, repentance and humble acceptance of our own mortality seem appropriate. In Ash Wednesday services the imposition of ashes is a way of showing our repentance, our intention to turn away from harmful actions and to turn back toward God.  As we consider the damage to the earth we are called to repent of our own violence, greed, and over-consumption, our participation in ecological destruction and human misery. We are called to repent of our complicity in the harm caused by the institutions and systems of which we are a part.

We are also called to a humble acceptance of our place in the universe: “Remember, O mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Ashes symbolize our mortality, reminding us of who we are: human beings, made up of the dust of the earth. Humus, human, humility—these words all have the same root. Our bodies are made up of the same elements that make up the earth’s crust. For that matter, we are made up of the same elements that make up the stars. We are, quite literally, star dust. We participate in the great unfolding journey of the universe, and our role is to celebrate in mystery and awe.  And yet we are mortal. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

For me, this puts things in perspective.  It provides me with grounding for the spiritual journey through Lent.

(This blog posting includes an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell.)

Young and Old Together

This video shows how many M&Ms darling Kayla can catch in her mouth within 30 seconds–I think the final tally was 21. Someone said, “I don’t know what is funnier, the talents in our family or that Grammy Sharon suggested we videotape it and said YouTube and viral in the same sentence.”

My grandchildren and the other children and young people in my life bring me so much joy.  I’m constantly amazed at how spontaneous and creative they are.  What will they come up with next?  I get to be a part of that, loving and learning from them and, I trust, sharing my values and my faith.  What a privilege that our lives are so intertwined.

Children and young people are also at the center of my concerns.  When I think about today’s challenges and the challenges of the future, it’s their faces that I see.  One way I express my love for them and point towards God’s love is by resisting domination by heartless institutional Powers and by working to build a peaceful, just, and sustainable world.

Here’s a beautiful article related to “young and old together” by Frida Berrigan, a peace activist and daughter of peace activists Philip Berrigan and Liz McAlister.  In “A Recipe for Nonviolent Parenting,” she advises:  Strive to be like [them] and provide the tools, impart the wisdom, love and protect the person and let go of the rest. Oh, and never lie.


Celebrating in Ways that Bring Joy


There are many ways to celebrate the coming of the light in this dark season of the year, including the Winter Solstice, Hanukah, Kwanza, and Christmas.  Christmas is supposedly a Christian holiday, but the orgy of consumption that accompanies this holiday in the United States makes that questionable.  How ironic it is that people celebrate the birth of a poor baby born in a stable (as the story goes) by spending billions on “stuff” that will ultimately end up in overflowing landfills.

However, Christian or not, many are swept along by the dominant media message:  “Buy gifts for your loved ones to show them how much they are loved and how precious they are.”  The pressure can be hard to resist. This may not present a problem for those who practice a Christianity that is conformed to consumer culture, but for those who seek to follow Jesus it challenges us with one of his core teachings:  “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Mammon:  wealth, riches, money, stuff.

If you haven’t yet watched Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff,” now is the time.  This 20 minute, easy to watch cartoon, will inoculate you against unrestrained consumerism during this holiday season. The sequels are also great. http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-stuff/

The Commercialization of Christmas challenges people of every spiritual tradition to resist cultural accommodation, practice integrity, and celebrate in ways that bring joy. I personally love going to Christmas concerts and street fairs, watching my grandkids in the Christmas pageant and the Nutcracker, singing Christmas Carols, having meals with my beautiful extended family, organizing crafts for the Sunday School children, spending an evening at Hospitality House (our local rotating homeless shelter), reaching out to a family in need, putting cedar branches and nativity scenes in our window sills, decorating a tiny living tree that we’ll plant outside after Christmas.

I plan, with God’s help, to weigh my gift-giving choices well.  I hope to not find myself walking vacant-eyed down aisles of plastic toys. The organization “Alternatives for Simple Living” has a Treasury of Celebrations with some great ideas of ways to celebrate the different holidays, including Advent and Christmas.  Scroll down the page at their website to find out more: http://simpleliving.startlogic.com/indexoth.php?place=archives/TreasCeleb/TOCAdvent.php

May you experience and share the true gifts of peace, joy, and love during this season.