Living with Renewed Passion

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Last time I wrote on this blog I was reflecting on moving. Well, we are STILL moving! After six months we finally have a contract on the house we vacated last September. Meanwhile, I have fallen in love.  Not with another man. My husband is still the love of my life. But with a group of courageous women in Kobulubulu, Uganda.

Women of KRMA

Women of KRMA

Shall I tell you their story?  Not so very long ago, Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army rampaged the village and countryside around Kobulubulu, abducting young girls from their primary school, raping and pillaging and plunging this District into a state of terror. Eight women seeking to keep themselves and their hungry children alive at the nearby Internally Displaced Persons Camp gathered to pray.  They were known in the camp as the Widows Prayer Group because their husbands were off fighting Kony and everyone assumed they would be killed.

The women began working together to carry the tall, heavy, jerry cans from the water pump to a nearby restaurant where the owner would pay them in cash. In this way, the women and their families survived.

Jerry cans to be filled from water pump

Jerry cans to be filled from water pump

When the women returned to their home village they wondered whether the cooperation they had learned in the camps might serve them well in peace time. Even though many of the husbands returned from the fighting, the women believed they could now contribute to the family’s welfare in new ways. So the original eight women invited others to join them, and in 2008 Kobulubulu’s women’s cooperative was founded (KRMA).

Now twenty women, who along with their husbands and children represent over 100 individuals, work side by side in an agricultural economy to grow crops and livestock communally.  They desire to improve their lives, and the community in which they live, through movement from subsistence farming to commercial farming. They want to keep their children in school through group savings to pay for their fees and school supplies.

In their own words, KRMA desires “to improve household income, to ensure food security and livelihood, (and) to ensure faster conflict resolution and reconciliation among the community through peaceful means.”

At weekly meetings, the women pay dues at a minimum of 1000 Ush (less than $ .50) and pay 200 Ush. weekly for a welfare fund for those crises and emergencies in the community.  Latecomers to meetings also pay an additional 200 Ush. into a basket set out for that purpose. Through their savings they have purchased goats, chickens, and two cows. One long term goal is for each family to own a heifer. But heifers run about $500 U.S. and their current rate of growth makes this a distant goal.

In my next installment about the ladies of Kobulubulu, I will share how I met them, and something about the stories they have shared with me.

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Moving: An Act of Value Choices

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In September we will move 15 miles closer in towards Washington, D.C.  These last 12 years we’ve been nourished by suburban country living with 2 acres of land, a lovely comfortable home, and wonderful neighbors. I thought this was my last house. That I wanted it to be my last house. But, with age has come a change in values.

Surprising to me, we aren’t downsizing that much. We’ve bought a house that is once again more space than we need. A baby step in down-sizing. Big enough for each of us to have a study. Unlike our current home, we won’t have room to house all the children and grandchildren should they come to visit at the same time. But, we’re open for business when one family comes at a time.

Critical to our move is proximity to close friends. With no extended family in our geographic area, we wanted to be near our “adopted” family of friends. Before moving, I made the rounds to check and see if friends had plans to retire elsewhere. The ones I spoke to all intend at this point to stay put. From others’ blogs I learn that many of you made decisions to move to be near family, or to move to a different climate. Will we change as we grow older? Perhaps.

But, we love the city. And, we’ve been neglecting all the opportunities the area affords. Because we’ve been “outside” in suburban countryside, I have easily talked myself out of volunteer activities, and cultural events. After three hours a day of commuting to work, my 75 year old husband has no interest in going back into town on the weekends. Our two lane road after dark, during the long winter months, has gotten a bit old these last couple of years. And David has no desire to retire, so another reason for the move is to reduce the kind of commute.

Besides friends, and distance of commute, and availability of cultural and volunteer activities, comes the awareness that we are closer to emergency services, to grocery stores and doctors, to our church community, and all those aspects of community that take on a different kind of meaning as one grows older.

Will this new house be my “last house?”  I find I no longer think that way anymore.  It seems a good house. I’m hoping it will be a comfortable home — a space for us to do the work and living of our lives in this stage of living. Beyond that, we’ll just have to wait and see.

In my next post I’ll share a bit about what I’m learning about myself in what I’m throwing away, and what I’m saving, in the inevitable sorting that comes with such a move.

I’m so glad to be back in the blogging world, and look forward to catching up with your postings as well.

 

 

Quaking Birthdays

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Then I saw what was not so obvious: that the holding together could only be done by “quakers.” . . . men and women everywhere who were prepared to quake.  . . . Perhaps, in the end, what mattered was how many people were prepared to quake this way, for such quaking spirits were the keepers of the keys.
The Chymical Wedding, by Lindsay Clarke, p. 385 (1989)

The Chymical Wedding

Although I can no longer remember the plot or the specific characters, I have never forgotten the passage on page 385 of my copy of The Chymical Wedding. And, as it does from time to time, it popped into my head on Sunday, on my birthday. I turned 62. I felt older Sunday morning after having been awake much of the night. That shaky feeling you get when your body is yelling at you that it needs more rest? That was what I was feeling.  Although “shaking” and “quaking” are two very different qualities, both were present on Sunday as images from the book floated to consciousness.

In this book, characters “hold the tension” of their divisive natures, and as a result of this holding, they “quake.” New York Times writer David Brooks wrote an op-ed about this “holding” the tension this week in response to the vigilante killing in Florida, and the killings in Afghanistan, reminding us all that we have the capacity for evil as well as good. And, it is up to us, whether by individual will, or by aligning ourselves with friends, family, and community to nurture goodness, and control outbursts of rage which can maim or kill.

In a conversation with a new friend, she shared with me that one of the things she is “doing” in her retirement is striving to be a “good” person, to notice if the clerk at the check out counter in the grocery store is looking attractive, and to say so. To speak and look into the eyes of the customer service representative who assists her at the bank. Slowing down her pace of living has prompted her to notice, to pay attention, to the day-to-day, and  moment-to-moment occurrences. She also expressed some embarrassment in sharing this intention with me. After a long and productive career, she noted, it doesn’t sound very ambitious. But somehow, she shared, it is very satisfying to choose to live this way.

There it is again, the matter of choice. Combined somehow with the matter of grace or gift. Perhaps this makes up “the Chymical Wedding” which I’m learning has a basis far older than any I imagined the first time I read it.  Reaching all the way back to the era of alchemy, the visions, the imagination, of the Chymical Wedding go back at least to the 15th Century with the illustrations by Christian Rosenkreutz.

When “The Chymical Wedding” was first written down, it was still possible to convey spiritual revelations as they are here conveyed, in pictorial Imaginations. Later, such Imaginations dried out into abstract, purely conceptual thinking. Today the time is ripe to enliven the intellectual consciousness into a renewed pictorial one. It is therefore in accordance with the spiritual demands at this point of time that “The Chymical Wedding” again begins to attract notice and that its beautiful sequences of imaginative pictures again begin to speak to our hearts and understanding. A Commentary on the Chymical Wedding

'Well of Initiation', into the interior of the...

'Well of Initiation', into the interior of the earth; picture shows also the Rose of the Winds over the Templar Cross, the Rose Cross, in "Quinta da Regaleira", Sintra, Portugal (built ca. 1904-1910). Further study: Anes, José Manuel, PhD, 33º. Scottish Rite, Os Jardins Iniciáticos da Quinta da Regaleira, Ed. Ésquilo, Lisbon, Nov. 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my reading I discover that it is in this original Chymical Wedding that Lindsay Clark must have gleaned her image of quakers as “keepers of the keys.” Although my reviewing this commentary written about the original Chymical Wedding leads me to believe this is highly esoteric stuff, the illustrations themselves are reminders of our tendency to take that which is imaginative and “dry” out the visual into “abstract, purely conceptual thinking.” I will research this a bit and report back in this space what I learn about the Chymical Wedding.

Today, though, my birthday re-membering is this: I’ve begun my new year on this earth having a quaking birthday. A time to recall something from my long ago past, and re-visit it in a new way. Even though my birthday was shaky from lack of sleep rather than holding the tensions of good and evil, it has led me to reflect, to feel, to imagine. And, be conscious of quaking, of holding together. Perhaps this may qualify me in some sense as one of those “keepers of the keys.” I’d like to think so.


Stopping a Moment in a Busy Day

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No time to write this week. That is what I had told myself. Piles of accumulated papers need to be sorted and filed. Pillows distributed throughout the house for 4 adult daughters and their husbands, and 6 grandchildren, arriving on Friday. Blue Diamond Original Almond Milk purchased for one daughter, and cucumbers for one of the grandchildren. Many other special requests to shop for. Dogs groomed. Airport transportation coordinated. All in preparation for a big birthday celebration for my husband.

But then I saw the jonquils had bloomed. Today. While it is still February. And I felt them call out for me to pay attention. Because who knows what the weather may be like tomorrow? Or, my life for that matter. For sure tomorrow I’ll be in more of a tizzy. But today there are so many of the jonquils I picked a few to bring in the house and put in my mother’s green vase.

I expect poet Mary Oliver has written a poem about Jonquils. She has written many about other species of flowers and animals. But the poem I recall is the one called Summer Day when she is celebrating the wonder of idleness, when she asks “Who made the grasshopper?” and falls down to kneel in the grass. And then, as if in response to one who would challenge her lack of accomplishment on a day dedicated to such reverie she proclaims:

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

~ Mary Oliver ~

(New and Selected Poems, Volume I)
And so, I am thankful for this rainy cold day when the jonquils bloomed.

We make each other strong

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Ginger, my 40 lb boxer-lab mixed 9 year old was afraid to risk falling on the treacherously icy steps this morning. And I was certainly not going to pick her up and take her out to do her morning business. Younger, heavier Desi, my beautiful English lab, bounds out and skids across the driveway coming to a stop when she hits the crunchy grass. I grimace, worried that Desi will twist her leg, as Ginger did a couple of years ago, and require surgery. Hmmmm. I never worried about my dogs hurting themselves when they were younger. Before Ginger got hurt. When I was younger. Before I had my own knee replacement surgery which makes me fearful of walking down those two slippery front steps as well.

Desi and Ginger

Desi and Ginger

Aging, and the experiences that come with it, can cause us to be afraid. I remember my elderly mother projecting her fears onto my brothers and me. Always a strong woman, she had become very aware of her frailties. It led her to become anxious about us, her middle aged children. An exotic trip to Bhutan with my husband? My mother worried the entire time we were gone. A trip to downtown Atlanta to see a friend while staying with my parents? Her cautionary comments exposed her fright.

Fear produces an out-of-proportion need to control – to control our environment, and to stop ourselves from feeling vulnerable. Abject fear is the only explanation I’ve been able to come up with to explain the comments and apparent convictions of certain Republican candidates and state legislators. I believe these men, and the women who share their beliefs, may have grown very afraid that the world is passing them by. They have good reason to be afraid. We will not revert to 1950’s ideologies. Women will continue to make progress. Perhaps not without a bump or two. But women’s surge towards equality of opportunity and responsibility will not be stopped.

Retrograde lawmakers and their supporters are not the only ones whose fears are stirred. Too often lately I find my disbelief at the discussions about how some legislators wish government to impinge on women’s choices concerning our bodies tinged with terror. Could women really sit by and let this continue? Can I sit by and do nothing? I carry quite a lot of wounds from the feminist fights of earlier decades and wonder at my layer of self-protectiveness which causes me to hesitate at the front stoop steps of public discourse.

But then I begin to read again from several of the poets of the 70’s and 80’s and am reminded that I am not alone. This may be a different era, but Marge Piercy’s poem “For strong women” still speaks to me: “Strong is what we make each other. Until we are all strong together, a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.”  The internet world of women, of all generations, can help us make each other strong. We write and connect and reach out and stand together. And our men join us in this effort.

A second message from the poem is that for women to be strongly afraid in the current political atmosphere is an appropriate response. And being strongly afraid compels me to reach out to others, and look for ways to make us strong together.

Shoot. Even my little Ginger knows about this need to reach out and get things done as a team. This morning she gazed up at me expectantly knowing I had the wherewithal to offer her an alternative so that she could get her job done without risking injuring her repaired joint, or mine. So I closed the front door with its icy steps,  walked to the other side of the house, raised the automatic garage door and whistled for Ginger. As it slowly lifted, Ginger scampered under and confidently stepped from covered carport to grass. With no steps to negotiate she squatted down and had her necessary morning pee.

Another poem, actually a prayer, reminds me that age and activism are important companions:

Bless me

with the wisdom of the crone

who values every one

of her days

but who has not forgotten

in the core

of her aging flesh

the way in which

you make

all things new.

from Night Visions, by Jan L. Richardson

“Your playing small does not serve the world.”

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“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” by Marianne Williamson from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles

I find myself bouncing around with each day’s political news. When I was in college in the early 70’s I led a demonstration to celebrate the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in both houses of Congress. I was passionate about the ERA. I was convinced that were it not adopted by the states, women would be forever in danger of having our rights retracted. Over the decades I admit I’ve grown complacent. Never would I have imagined that in 2012 we would be talking about a woman’s right of access for basic birth control. I strongly agree with Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s op-ed in the Washington Post on Feb 9 that the Affordable Health Care Act includes  “A Rule that Protects Women and Respects Faith.”

As a person of faith, and a respecter of the separation of church and state, I certainly want to acknowledge any church or synagogue or mosque’s right to positions that differ from mine. But my anger erupts at what feels like the manipulation of male dominated institutions to politicize what to me is a basic women’s health issue. Rep. De Lauro writes: “The administration exempts churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship. The rule applies only to institutions and businesses that serve the larger community and employ people of different faiths on a non-religious basis. This preserves individual conscience protections while enabling employees of all faiths to have access to the health care they need.”

When I was a college student, I took risks to “show up” and not “play small.”  That was many years ago now. Very rarely in recent years have I felt so confronted by the need to remember that my “playing small does not serve the world.” I’m not sure what to do. I do acknowledge some feelings of inadequacy, and that my anger frightens me a bit. I have learned that it is more true to who I am to act from a place of deep conviction rather than fiery outrage. And so I plan to use my triggered emotions to recall the passionate college student of long ago but seek out that in me which is currently “meant to shine, as children do.”  I want to challenge myself to stay with these angry feelings and to get to that illuminating sense of justice that can liberate my own fears. By so doing, I believe I can show up fully, and thereby “automatically liberate(s) others.”

Spiritual Activism through the Ages: Part 2 “Come on In.”

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The chimney sweeper came today. I felt badly because there are so many ashes in the fireplace. I’ve been using the fireplace as an incinerator to burn old tax records after the paper shredder wore out from overuse. Although paper is not ideal fuel for a living room fireplace, I learn that the build-up of ashes is a plus. The fire doesn’t get too hot for the bricks if the logs are laying over a bed of ashes. Ashes are a really important foundation for a “healthy” fire.

The fact that beds of ashes are good for fires strikes me as a wonderful metaphor for understanding what spiritual activism means to me now in the decade of my 60’s. I tend to equate “activism” with full tilt advocacy. In my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s that is certainly what it meant. Yet recently I watched a re-airing of PBS’  Freedom Riders and an exchange between an older couple and the Freedom Riders jumped out at me. The conversation reminds me of why that bed of ashes can be so important to the logs that are burning.

As you may recall, the brave women and men who made up one of the Freedom Riders’ groups were first jailed by Bull Connor in Birmingham. Then, in the middle of the night, they were whisked away and abandoned on an empty road near the Tennessee border. They needed desperately to find a safe place to stay. Read what happened next:

William Harbour, Freedom Rider: We didn’t know if the Ku Klux Klan was following us. We didn’t know where we was located. We saw no telephone to make any calls. We had to find a place to hide.

John Lewis, Freedom Rider: We came upon a old house that was fallen, knocked on the door, said, ‘We are the Freedom Riders. Please let us in.’
William Harbour, Freedom Rider: Older gentlemen came to the door. He said, ‘Mm-nh, mm-nh, ya’ll can’t come in here.’
Catherine Burks-Brooks, Freedom Rider: My mother had always told me that you need some help, then you try to talk to the lady of the house. And I said, ‘Let’s talk loud and wake up his wife.’

William Harbour, Freedom Rider: Few minutes later, we knocked on the door again, and his wife came to the door with him. And she– we told her we were the Freedom Riders, she said, ‘Ya’ll chil’en, come on in.’      (from the transcript of American Experience, Freedom Riders)

This image is so powerful to me. These courageous people on the side of the road. The understandably cautious “older gentleman.” Freedom Rider Catherine Burks-Brooks recalling what her mother always told her, and directing the group to talk loud enough to wake up the wife. And then, of course, the older woman saying “Come on in.”

Many ways exist to be a spiritually grounded activist. One is to be a brightly burning advocate that goes out into the world and confronts injustice. But sometimes we may be more like the ashes in my fireplace. We’ve burned brightly, or perhaps just steadily. We are present. We are ready. Maybe we are even waiting for a time when there is a knock on our door. We may hesitate because we know what trouble we can get into. But then we find ourselves saying to those others who have taken up an important cause and need a bed on which to rest,  “Come on in.”