You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Spirituality’ category.

I haven’t written in a week, and after having cried about it and generally felt like a failure, I am back at it this morning. Unfortunately, my brain is motherhood-mush and highly distractable, tending to focus on how I’m going to take Mary to the mall today so I can look for some summer pants, with pepperings of intense jealousy that other adult people have time to write novels and screenplays while I’m just losing gray matter (because I’m a mother, look it up sheeple) and becoming more irrelevant to the world BY THE DAY.

Yeah yeah yeah, my “grand revelation” last week about how my “roots” are “perennial.” “Wow.”

OK I HAVE TO SETTLE TF DOWN.

Let’s begin again: Good morning. Because it is a good morning. Today I’m going to the mall to get summer pants, and treat myself, because I’m so jealous that other adult people get to sit in their quiet offices and write so many pages of creative nonfiction. And poetry. Dammit. One more try, then.

Good morning. Because it is a good morning. After a long dry spell, it is raining. I have easily a dozen large projects that I dream about finishing, but one of them—gardening—is moving forward. And it’s moving forward because I have prioritized it. It’s as simple as that, actually. I feel powerless and victimized by the demands on my time, as a working mother, but I have to remind myself (every day) that I’m NOT diving for individual pearls with only a snorkel mask; I’m allocating resources, of which there are many. I.e., life is not a game of Whack-An-Emergency, but more like Operation. Every wrong move triggers the loudest buzzer I’ve ever heard.

And! Neither of those children’s games are metaphors for real life,  just for my perception of my life and responsibilities. I’ve had to hit re-start on my brain three times already this morning.

It is a good morning, because I have a whole day ahead of me, and I get to allocate resources.

A chipmunk jumped onto the brick sill outside the window, just now, tiny and shiny russet, like a fallen oak leaf. Its tail, short and brushy, and ears like the smallest clamshells, or snailshells. Wow. It looked around with those quick movements unique to squirrels and birds, I saw its black, liquid eye, then in a burst it gathered itself and flung itself across the sheer brick, out of sight. It’s been raining, it’s been dry, and my seeds and plants are gathering toward greatness out there.

Sometimes I look at the natural world and am impressed by its unending cycle of growth. Nothing can truly kill it for long, nothing but nuclear holocaust or polluting corporate dystopia. Nothing so far. An isolated stand of hackberries and mulberries, brushed up with privet and honeysuckle, are slowly encroaching on the southeast corner of our property, a few inches a year. If a pandemic wiped out human life in this neighborhood, or city, these trees would finally be able to raise their thousands (millions?) of seedlings that pop up each spring, that we anxiously slice to fragments with the mower.

I like to calm myself with the thought of this house becoming a home to chipmunks and coyotes, forest marching steadily over and underneath it, till it is truly inside a wood. Our bluebells would spread, and irises, and the Bermuda grass and ground ivy would—finally—move elsewhere. I don’t want to think of myself, our family, as an environmental pollutant, an impurity, or an alien element. But our stain of blindness and frantic energy belies our natural place in this world: yes, a fellow-competitor, but a companionable competitor. If there’s such a thing.

How to allocate resources, how to compete companionably. How can I assert myself in my environment, plant a thousand seeds, and protect my roots? And what is a more useful metaphor, a tree in a clearing, or a biodiverse farm? How much control do I really have over what grows into my life, and how I myself grow?

If I’m longing for relief from burdens of responsibility, that’s important to consider. What can I let go, today? What little spirits of wildness can I let into my head, while letting the frantic energy out? The answer, again and again, is to look into my little wild heart and my daughter’s little wild heart, and let the dishes go to hell. Or, maybe I’ll do the dishes and let the garden weeding go to hell. Because dinner can’t go to hell, no way, cause it’s gonna be pizza and pizza is greatly beloved by my little wild heart.

Advertisements

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

First lines of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

And why not? Why not.

I sit at a desk on another morning, stomach stretching and grumbling, feeling a bit crabbed and bent over, my beautiful coffee steaming in my face, and here is my 32-year old self in a robe and out there is a yard with old pines and sugar maples in it. And I read Whitman’s pride with himself, pride of himself—or better, pleasure. What does it stir in me? Envy, mostly.

Let’s go back to the dawn of time. Just kidding, let’s go back to the Enlightenment. Kidding again. Let’s just go back to my childhood.

Like any childhood, it had its glints of gold, and moments of joy and excitement that I won’t forget until death or dementia. But as I remember them from that time, my parents were stressed, tired people, whose main support community was a church plant started by young evangelicals fired up by remnants of the Jesus Movement and its energy, but bound securely by Calvinist theology. I’m still trying to pick apart how this community grew together and stayed together for decades—till its children grew and (for the most part) ultimately left it. Preaching and teaching, from my earliest Sunday school memories through high school and my waning attendance as a young adult, were heavy on sin, repentance, and grace. As any self-respecting Evangelical church should be, right?

But along with any focus on sin comes a concurrent obsession with it. Leaders spent more time defining sin hierarchies, rehearsing the virtues that scooted them further and further from any dangerous sinners’ circles, and writing congregational rules (as a non-denominational church, their pastors and elders were not subject to any larger governing body) than anything else. Children were expected to memorize Bible stories and verses about sin and repentance, and how God’s two main satisfactions in humankind were 1) that we were made in God’s image, and 2) that we repented. In a nutshell.

As a child, the imago Dei message was wholly contained, to me, in the idea of power: God is power, and God created small pieces of life to walk around under that power with a little power of its own. That “little power” was little indeed: by it, I could choose to adhere to God, or to run from God. All decisions in my young life were overlaid by this binary. As a girl, especially, I wasn’t taught that I had power to choose a nontraditional path through life, to take issue with conventional theologies, to disobey authority, to explore non-believers’ beliefs with an open mind, or to openly disagree with men (and most women) older than myself. I grew into a teenager who could barely speak in public, whose private life no one knew but my diaries and the God to whom I confided all (and whom, since I adhered outwardly to the structure of my church and family, I assumed I pleased).

As a sensitive type, I came to the conclusion on my own that God wasn’t mainly interested in power, but beauty, with all the mysterious complexity it necessarily involved. It was a subversive idea (for my community) that grew in my own private garden, carefully and secretly tended. I defined beauty by painting in broad strokes: I connected beauty with freedom, pleasure, play, deep attention, and love, small fiercenesses that defied categorizing and shushing. To me, the moon and stars, as I sneaked outside as an adolescent on summer nights with a blanket and pillow, affirmed my decision to break my curfew.

(No I had no real reason to fear repercussions from sneaking into the yard at night to stargaze. My parents probably knew I did it. But the rules that shaped my childhood were significant enough that I certainly wanted no one to know I was bending one, because bent rules had often resulted in revocations of small liberties before. I learned not to risk. And for the love of god I would never admit to anyone that I loved—LOVED—masturbating! All pleasure felt suspect in my childhood subculture, but sexual pleasure was the most suspect of all.)

While God’s interest in beauty (freedom, pleasure, play, deep attention, love) was, superficially, taught at my church and in my home, I saw no one in either place who seemed outwardly to prioritize these things, unless it was some of the women who closed their eyes as they sang Sunday morning hymns, looking rapturous. There was a pleasure that was allowed: music. Music indeed, and my own singing of it, was one of my first experiences of beauty, and more importantly, the idea that I could create beauty. But beauty was still, for me, defined within the limits of evangelicalism. I really hadn’t been exposed to any other system.

And then came G. M. Hopkins, whose Protestant but radical love of beauty gave me my love for poetry, a new little vine I cultivated, and whose green umbrage took over my garden. And you can’t love poetry for long without loving Walt Whitman. And “Song of Myself.”

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” “I loafe and invite my soul”—freedom, deep attention, and love emanate therefrom. But how can he love himself? How can he find deep attention to himself pleasurable? And how can that pleasure be unstained by shame? Of any kind??? I was sincerely puzzled. Calvinism teaches that humans are essentially marred, dirty, sinful, slothful—pile any and every malign epithet on us and history shows us we deserve it. For the Calvinist, every good human action springs from God in him, not him himself. Humans possess a substance that is not God, which is “self” (bad), and a gifted substance (gifted at “salvation”) that is not self, but “God” (good). I had been taught this from the cradle. How can someone love herself? I wouldn’t understand it till I became a mother, till I was in my 30s.

Chapter 4.

Excellent news. So today I had some rage. That’s not the excellent news go to the back of the class. After a morning of farm CSA bin inventory (looking through stacks of plastic bins and lids, trying to check names off a list of 90, two bins and two lids per, and it’s more than a jungle down there in the farmhouse basement), I left feeling I had underperformed. I feel like this a lot at work. It’s not that my bosses pressure me—quite the contrary: they are part of the reason I’m learning to lean less on high performance for a sense of self-worth—it’s that I pressure myself. I spend a lot of time unconsciously thinking of myself as ye olde Atlas, shouldering the weight of my corner of the world. If I feel l wasted some of my farmers’ hard-earned and scarce money on frittering, I leave work at 1:30p.m. feeling like a moldy puck. And a sense of underperforming at work leads to a sense of underperforming everywhere. Because of all the things I spend time doing God knows parenting gets the absolute worst of my skill set.

On the way to pick my daughter up from school I was tired—tired because underperforming and because dehydration (you never feel thirsty on cool, windy days at the farm, it’s a goddamn fact), and also because the bread I made last night rose too long and fell in the oven, making a lumpy sunken loaf, which I stared at as I ate a sandwich therefrom on the drive from the farm to downtown, and also because there was a hair in it, and it was my hair. Some shite.

When I picked her up she wasn’t sure if she was glad to see me, which tepid (if not downright sullen) response seems to come in waves. She did this for a couple of weeks earlier this spring, but by this time I had been basking in a running, arms-open “Mama!!!” response for a month or son. Today it was ambivalent, and then in the car there were whines and tears and guess what, I am the worst mother, and therefore will I savagely tell my daughter that she will get NO cupcake for Black Kitty’s birthday party today if she continues to whine and throw things at me. THIS is the point I’m coming to.

At this point I became aware of rage, a feeling that I had been wronged by a powerful adult capable of hurting me further. I was conscious of it enough to poke around for a real reason—did someone also just cut me off? Did I just remember I don’t have dinner planned? Am I hungry? What did I even DO today? Nothing. Just my three-year old, pouting and throwing a balled-up piece of paper at me. And yet.

And yet my body, I slowly realized, felt like a gun tower: I have a prismatic miasma of ball lighting revolving and snapping in my ribcage, I am at high alert, scanning for The Threat which I am ready, more than ready, forever ready to destroy with a single razing advance. I’m in no hurry. The ball lightning sizzled and folded on itself with perfectly ready calm. Where is The Threat. I’ll fuck its shit right up.

Probably not the time to interject that I had my first real experience of road rage last week, racing some chick at 80 in the far left lane. Huge sigh? Staring into the middle distance right now.

Regardless: there I was, driving down the interstate swiveling my gun tower slowly. Surely The Threat isn’t my daughter, she’s just a toddler, what the hell.

And there was the point, and here is the excellent news: I was able to break it down (after a few shots and apologies) from rage to sadness. I’m beginning to think this is the right path for me, because there only seem to be two, and rage is done. I’m done with the damage rage does, however good it feels to respond to my suffocating limitations with the power, fucking POWER of rage. I feel powerless, unable to direct my life or move toward what I want, and the only power that comes up when I trawl the lake is dark monsters full of teeth and terror. I never knew they were down there. They give me fantasies of breaking dishes on the kitchen floor, breaking mason jars one by one against the side of the house, of breaking windshields and windows, of obstacles blowing away with twisting glitter like a dam bursting. But in reality. Not so. A little person in a rage only creates a little chaos, but even that little chaos is big enough for a three year old. So I’m off that, as much as I can manage it. And sadness manages it.

If I can move from rage at my lack (of a writing career, of time, energy, purpose, friends, cheer, beauty, kindness, patience) to sadness, I can be the dam that bursts. I can cry, and cry, and cry, and I will no longer push my daughter away (“No I don’t want Penguin in my face, people don’t like things in their faces, actually you know what? If you don’t stop touching me you’re going to time-out. Ok! time out it is!” *wailing* “I hate my fucking, fucking life.”) and instead she will stop making Penguin try to open my eyelids, she will sit in my lap and hold me, and what else could I fucking ask from this strange universe. It feels so godless. It feels so empty.

But what is ball lightning? In what retrograde way does electricity become water? Why do I begin healing the moment I resign what I thought was my only power? There’s a god in that.

I rose in the dark, washed my face and sighed on some leggings and a cardi and made coffee. I wanted to write, needed some strict, soul-washing solitude, so when no words were forthcoming (like, not even one) and the baby starting coughing and rustling in her bed at 7:18, I went outside, where the sun was rising in the dark.

I had read a chapter of Job, forgot to mention that. I thought about a Psalm, but then gagged a little . I’m not doing a lot of praising the heavens, these days, nor begging & pleading. David’s two main things.

And I sat on the step and thought, “Why do such bad things happen.”

Then, and I’m not trying to be melodramatic, but then, the cold morning breeze made my eyes feel bright, my face feel fresh and new, and the sky suddenly appeared to me as it was: slate-blue clouds checkering the sunrise with the clearest pale blue sky behind them, and the light from the sun (wherever it was) was a sheet of living gold overlay, and underlay, and all of it was alive and too huge and beautiful for me. If I’d been any closer, I would have been blown off the face of spring. And I thought, “Why do such good things happen.” Today, I can remind myself as the day ages and ages, I felt the balance.

I remembered I had gotten two Anne Lamott books from the library yesterday, one of which is Help, Thanks, Wow, and it struck me that I’m wanting to be able to pray again, and that this was why I had gotten that book, and that what I had just done was a tiny prayer, and therefore I should get a quick booster shot of Saint Anne before the chaos of the day began to rain down on my head. Sorry for the construction of that sentence. So I brought it outside and read the following:

“My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table” (6-7).

And with this, I bless myself with a cross of ashes on my forehead, two days late, but idgaf, since today is the day that I spoke to God/the Mystery, and it spoke back. I’ll take it.

 

Last weekend my parents-in-law took the baby overnight for a cousins’ sleepover. When the baby is gone, and she’s over two so maybe I should stop calling her a baby, but every time she’s gone on the weekend I have to actually think about what I want to do. On Sunday, it was go to church, and be inspired mid-service (by ye olde hymn Fairest Lord Jesus) to go take a long and solitary walk on the greenway over the river.

Taking long, solitary walks—like rising early—used to be one of my favorite things to do, ever. Partly a product of a lonely adolescence with no car to jump into and drive away, partly a product of some lonely college years in a new city, also with no car for the first couple years. Partly also a product of my fierce love of Gerard Manly Hopkins, whom I always imagined roaming the coombs and coasts of Wales with note-paper and pencil. Leaning against trees, etc.

A friend turned me on to Hopkins’ fragment The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo while I was still in high school, and it’s stuck with me, but the older I get, the more the poem Spring and Fall appeals to me. As a matter of fact, I have been using my (infrequent) trips to this particular greenway to memorize it. On Sunday, I believe I finally got it. I’m so bad at memorizing anything these days. But rhyme and rhythm help, and this poem lights a dark way. I also re-read God’s Grandeur, as I wanted another sonnet but felt The Windhover or Spring were too cheery.

Spring and Fall: it means infinitely more to me than it did when I was in college. I remember one English professor saying it was her favorite Hopkins poem, and—in the way of young snobs everywhere—I thought, “she must not have really give *my* favorite a deep reading,” and moved on. But it’s written from the perspective of an older person who has seen much of life, especially suffering, and is moved by the sight of a young child’s sadness. Now that I have a young child, who is sometimes sad, this is a strange perspective that I have slipped on like a glove. It allows me to look forward to my daughter and her experience of grief, and backward to my own experience of grief as a child. “Sorrow’s springs are the same.” Yes.

And God’s Grandeur: I read this young—maybe it was even in my elementary school curriculum—and loved everything about its structure, visual and auditory. I think I remember connecting it to the Industrial Revolution, or the Great War. Now that climate change’s work is no longer subtle, now that renewables are still mostly a cool idea in our country and nothing more, now that environmental protection is a partisan issue (and therefore in the process of becoming “de-funded,” in large or in small part), and so on, it is an eyepiece that suddenly zooms in on the present day. On my Sunday walk, I read the octave aloud while walking, but reached the volta with a surprising surge of feeling. The sestet, especially the last couplet, had me in tears, tears that maybe I’d been squashing down all day, all month, all winter.

I feel like this is a super-crap post but I’m trying to write as often as I can…regardless of whether I feel like it. In other news, I was typing away and listening to the baby wake up, and after a preliminary cough or two, she made this horrible gurgly-choky sound and I ran down the hall like Miss Clavel, “fast, and faster,” and up her head pops over the railing, big grin, two stuffed animals in her arms. Turns out she was just “clearing her throat” in this horrible growly-raspy way that she’s started doing here in the last month or so. Wth. Good morning.

Recovering from a “survival mode” period in life is something you want to be gentle about. I’m becoming more and more open about my experience of postpartum depression & anxiety, these days, in an effort to understand it more, myself, and I’m surprised to hear myself using phrases like “suicidal thoughts,” “panic attack,” “intrusive thoughts,” and so on. I can admit that I lied (without meaning to) on the Edinburgh postnatal depression scale (test they give you after you deliver, when your head is still spinning and nothing feels normal, and you’re supposed to indicate if you feel normal—obvs I have some thoughts on this test).

One of the things depressed people deal with is “lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy.” Asking a woman with a brand-new newborn if she’s interested in activities that she used to find fun, is strange to me. Like, no. Right? Or was I even more delusional than I thought? When you have a new baby—I guess especially your first—you’re suddenly in (allow me to borrow a concept from Netflix’s Stranger Things) “the upside down.” Yes, things around you look familiar… but they’re not familiar. Because everything in your head and body has made shifts that you don’t understand, but that make you feel like a strange version of yourself. I could write a few more paragraphs on these physical and hormonal changes alone. But since everything has changed, your perception has to change, and your focus, and your brain is struggling to find what’s familiar and de-code what’s unfamiliar.

After my husband’s partial week (now that I think about it, I’m not even sure it was a whole week—I think he was at home for some of that week but had to be working) at home with us, he went back to work and I was at home with the baby, feeling like the world had flipped. No I wasn’t interested in reading, or hiking, or writing, or sewing, or watching movies, or cooking or baking or calling friends up or putting real clothes on. But I thought that was “normal.” You hear this all the time about moms with babies: “He’s/She’s my whole world!” —followed by heart emojis. But I didn’t feel bonded with my baby—I just felt glued to her and urgently attentive to her helplessness, every cry felt like a dark and evil mystery to be solved. I also didn’t know that I didn’t feel bonded with her. I didn’t know what was normal, and what wasn’t. I even asked friends about some of these things, and they nodded, like it was normal. Of course I didn’t go into detail about some of the uglier feelings. Because I did have a deep fear that I was failing this enormous responsibility.

But life moved on, and I still never wanted to return to all these fun and creative pursuits I’d loved in my previous life. I thought it was sleep-deprivation, exhaustion (and there was that).

But there have been such beautiful moments of freedom and clarity, here in the last six months. I’ve pulled out of “the upside down” and am only having a few flashbacks, a few dreams about what life used to be like. To be honest, I wish it all could vanish. I don’t even want it all as writing material—I don’t want to have lived it, I don’t want to re-live it by writing about it. (But writing this blog wasn’t so bad.) Now, I can say with HUGE gratitude that my life is coming back together in ways I prayed for. I’m creating again, and exploring the city with Mary occasionally (instead of holing up in the house all day), and doing some yard-work and bird-watching. I’m planning gardens, and showing Mary all the bugs that live underneath rocks (she is blown away by snails and roly-polies especially).

Maybe these early mornings, still new to me, are the beginning of the end of the puzzle: sitting at the dining room table with candles burning while the sun comes up in front of me—this is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I loved this through college and afterward, through grad school and afterward. Mornings are sacred circles of holiness that I have always wanted to touch before entering the day. Two years of sleeping till the baby is up have been lame. But mornings are back. And I’m back. Here’s to surviving things you weren’t sure you could.

 

I’m up early again this morning, early enough to light candles on the table and have them glow richly against the walnut (veneering?) tabletop. And the horizon was a thin band of rose and pale blue, the rest of the sky was still dark. I’ve decided—once again—that as long as I can, I have to keep getting up this early.

I wanted to talk about how I’ve been inspired by American politics and this election particularly, to quit pretending I can’t influence the world around me. I’m at the most limited I’ve probably ever been—more than grad school or recovering from surgery, even. Having a kid and a husband with a chronic illness will do that (not to mention I’m still recovering from PPD/PPA). But I look around at things like the president, the conditions under which he was elected, the enormous protests and demonstrations that blew up after the election, the confusion and debasement of public discourse, the rising violence against people of color and immigrants, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent report of the tripling of American hate groups, and I think, “I have to do something this time.”

So I’ve started volunteering an hour and a half a week, until I start back at work in April, at a local nonprofit that serves local farmers and connects people in our region with them: Nourish Knoxville. Small, diversified farmers (and small farmers MUST diversify to make it, these days) are vulnerable to the changing winds of public opinion, government protections (to a lesser extent), and most of all: climate change. I may not be able to make it to the Climate March on Washington this spring, but I’ll be doing what I can, where I am.

I’m also going to dedicate 2-4 evenings a month to volunteering as an adult literacy coach/tutor with another local org., Friends of Literacy. Another problem I see in the world around me is a lack of knowledge about how to read widely & critically, and research information to see that it is true—many simply don’t have the resources or time. Again, lack of resources and time that a sense of powerlessness can really aggravate. Immigrants and non-native English speakers are part of this population. But even among natives, a large percentage of Tennesseans haven’t finished high school, and another large percentage finished but life swept them off their feet and they never got a chance to develop their learning skills so that they could grow into adulthood with self-education along for the ride. I want to help. I think this is going to be fun. My older sister has been doing this for a while in Nashville, and I’ve been inspired by her to give it a try.

Lastly, I’ve swept Black Lives Matter and many conversations about race in America under the rug, these past few years. But now I’m inspired—again by the new administration—to listen. If there has ever been a time to choose to listen, it’s now. As a white, middle-class Southerner, my life is astonishingly separate from the lives and concerns of “the black/POC community” in my city. So much of the South is still segregated. I used to look at that fact and shrug, thinking, “nothing wrong with like communities sticking together.” But I’m seeing now that those with an amount of social and economic privilege are often the ones (if not always the ones) who should be listening first, and asking questions later. I’m aware, to some extent, of the lasting results of Jim Crow and the residual stereotypes and fears from the terrible centuries of slavery and abuse and repression and deprivation and denial. But as NPR & PRI ramp up their coverage, here in the last few years, of racial disparity in American, I’m learning more about the concrete actions that result from those residual stereotypes and fears.

I’m learning that discriminatory housing laws and rules about drawing local district lines (“redlining,” “blockbusting,” to name two such—google them!) are largely to blame for the segregation of neighborhoods and much of the poverty that’s characteristic of black communities. I’m learning that proven bias against young men of color has resulted in unfair police harassment and imprisonment, and that this fact has resulted, itself, in an enormous sense of powerlessness and anger in those communities. These are examples of “systemic bias/racism,” that have helped to deprive people of color of a sense of power and, in too many case, of justice. All of these things are important, if we want to be proud of our democracy.

The extent to which Knoxville is still so segregated makes this an opportunity for me to change my life a bit, since I don’t often rub shoulders with or speak to people of color, and especially since people must often live together (be neighbors) before they can get to know each other, and our neighborhoods are the most segregated of all our local arenas, I think. One of my bosses is from Mexico, and I’ve learned a lot about Knoxville’s hispanic immigrant population from him, but it’s my choice to go home and forget what I’ve learned…or go out and make new neighbors. I’ve occasionally heard Christians say that that they are praying that God would put needy people “in their lives” or “bring opportunities” to them—when Jesus didn’t wait for the marginalized to come to him (because they likely wouldn’t come—social class, social status, and religious mores are such strong social dividers): he went to find them.

These are causes that I find compelling in the Year of Trump. We can’t know what will happen as the year goes on, except that we will find people to help if we go looking for them. I haven’t often done that. I will, now. What has the election inspired you to do?

This morning I have 2.5 hours to drink coffee, write, and work on my quilt before I go to my volunteering gig at Nourish Knoxville. I’m at the “bar” in our odd and ancient kitchen, wondering why I want to be here even though it’s probably the ugliest room in the house. Answer? I’m always going to love the kitchen, no matter what, because it’s the heart of the house. And two east-facing windows with bushes underneath them that songbirds like to hang out in doesn’t hurt, either.

I’ve had something on my mind for a while. And it has to do with how polarized humans naturally become, and how to “make bridges instead of walls.” I’m socially and religiously progressive, and most of my larger community is conservative, but most of the that community is also open-hearted. This means that I feel loved by them, regardless of our views on theology or politics. So, that’s a nice rock to sit on for a few minutes. I’m grateful.

But enter facebook. One friend—who I haven’t caught up with in maybe 10 years, and lives way far away—recently linked a blog essay which I mentioned in an earlier post. It was “against” the Women’s Marches and what it called “modern feminists,” implying that feminists like to kill babies and hate men, and that it would be impossible to be both a Christian and a feminist. When I read stuff like this, I tend to dismiss it as trolling. But the Christianity element caught my attention, and has held it firmly, two weeks after. I’ve written a lot about how I see Christianity freeing and empowering women, and it’s kind of a pet issue of mine, so I couldn’t scroll past when that friend linked the blog and also asked (perhaps rhetorically, I can see in retrospect) for feedback from friends. The “I’d love to know what these people are thinking!”-type comment. I bit.

To be honest, it didn’t end well. I’ve studied feminism—working on both my BA and my MA in literature and writing—and I’ve grown up in the church…and am still in it. I’ve found a place where Christ and feminism are living in harmony. I have a lot to say, I realize that, and I tend to be earnest and prolix. But I was also careful to say what I meant, leave no room for misinterpretation, and be kind and gentle. This friend’s responses made it clear that my responses both stung, and were ultimately irrelevant: she didn’t believe I was Christian enough, that we had enough common ground, theologically, to find a meeting place. I’m extrapolating, because her responses were not as clear as I would have wished, but I think it’s a fair conclusion. I haven’t had a response in days, and probably won’t get another one.

When I told my husband I was engaging in this conversation online, he sighed. He doesn’t really believe these kinds of conversations can be productive. But I’m an idea woman. I love to debate and even though I can get emotionally involved, I love to get to the bottom of a disagreement. I’m unsatisfied if I can’t understand the central problem. I thought this conversation—since I know this friend to be a very kind and loving person—could be an opportunity to talk about religion and culture, and how we understand them to mesh and grow and so on. But I suspect she chose not to continue the conversation because she didn’t see the point—for many Christians, debates on theology, exegesis, or hermeneutics with someone they see as a “corrupted” by the world, or false teachings, are pure wastes of time. A door in the mind clicks shut, and I am on the inside, and you are on the outside.

I find this frustrating. To put it mildly. I find it hard to believe that God doesn’t like us to talk about these things—impossible, in fact. I find it impossible to believe that humans have received the strange gift of enormous and impossibly complex brains (terrifyingly complex, I say, after having read Vonnegut’s Galapagos–ha), but with the tacit injunction not to use them too much.

In fact, one of the strands of feminism is a recognition that world cultures most normally form a societal structure in which a few powerful people are allowed to do the thinking for the entire populace. Those few have historically been men, and again let me emphasize that there have always been few. In the instances when those men discourage women and less-powerful men (and children, for that matter) to think for themselves—this is the beginning of a problem. And this structure will be familiar to those who have grown up in the church, on one hand, because men are the overwhelming majority of those with religious power, but the underside of this problem is a more hidden one: who have been the translators of the Bible, the best-selling authors of books about Christian life, the blockbuster radio teachers and pamphlet writers and worship hymnwriters—i.e., who have been the ones who have written the implicit (or explicit) rules of daily thought and prayer and life for the vast majority of the church? Very few, and almost always men.

I don’t inherently mistrust men. Far from it. What I mistrust is “the few” being the teachers of “the many,” while they weave through their teachings this thread: “TRUST ME. I know what I’m talking about. Don’t go see if I’m right. Trust me.”

Anyone who’s spent much time in the church, or studied it, recognizes this implicit statement. It’s not always a dangerous thing to say, I would like to emphasize! But sometimes, it has been, and sometimes it will still be. So many people throughout the centuries have been misled by leaders who said, “Trust me. Don’t go see if I’m right. Trust me.” This is the hallmark of cults, and the thing that scares me most when I hear versions of it in sermons.

And it frustrates me when I hear it in the background of a friend’s response to my questions or comments. I do believe one of Christianity’s great gifts is the holiness of trust—but while I can trust God, I find in my complex brain a message from God, too: “Think about what others tell you. Think about what you believe.”

I wanted to write today, but have been pretty down this week so far, and nothing is really poking up above the water (except the inexorable nightmare of politics, ugh, no more facebook today!!). Maybe it’s the fact that Marshall and I are both equally on board with marriage counseling/couples therapy, now, and so we actually have to make an appointment. When it comes to therapy, I’ve always encouraged ALLL my friends to do it, saying ‘everyone should get therapy,’ but not meaning mySELF. Like, everybody else should do it. But I’m coo.

Actually, I do believe we need a third party, but in the past I’ve used long silent afternoons or evenings of solitary thinking, praying, and writing to be that third party. But I don’t write anymore, I’m hardly ever solitary anymore (usually if I am, I feel compelled to do things like food prep, phone calls, cleaning, etc.), and since I’m used to doing my deep thinking via writing … I don’t really think deeply that often anymore. So—let’s pay for an actual human person third party. And since there are talented and empathetic people who act as third parties for their livings, let’s get one of those. K.

I actually opened this tab up to talk about a couple of cardinals, though. The steel-gray sky is so oppressive that I want to close all the curtains, while Mary is at PDO, and make a warm little cave of this room. But the walls are dim and blank, the lights are wan and weak, and I feel like I should be rushing around doing productive things. Especially things to make money, cause money is tight. So I was looking absently out the window, trying to decide what to do with the morning (a luxury that still startles me, sometimes), trying to not be so depressed by the gray fog sheeting the world so coldly, and up in the window pops the brightest red beak, followed by a russet head and black eye. A female cardinal hopped across the outside sill, looking in at me at every hop.

This is what poetry is (just typing that phrase, tears have come to my eyes): into of the cage of the mind, the anxiety-ridden, sad, overwhelmed mind, a red beak and brown feather come. A bright eye, like nothing the mind can remember, glistens, saying, “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (slight re-phrasing mine).

I have a friend who seems to always (i.e., probably actually about once a month) be sending me links to great episodes of the On Being podcast—a podcast which we can all agree does this work. Tippet (host) is consciously trying to break into the little hamster-wheel cages of our minds, where we do our daily anxiety exercises, to show us rifts in the fabric of time. Life is overwhelming, so I’ve stopped reading poetry, stopped listening to these podcasts, and stopped reminding myself that there is an unworld out there, a place outside of time, where God lives and beckons.

The female cardinal hopped to the edge of the sill and flew off. Ten seconds later, a bright scarlet head with another glistening otherworldly eye popped into view where she had been: a male cardinal was following her.

I still don’t know what to do, today, except to try to leave the door of my mind open. If God is there, then I will know.

And I called my senators about Jeff Sessions ALREADY so I’m officially staying OFFFTT of facebook for the rest of the day I swear to god. If you know me, feel free to text me asking if I kept to my promise. Haha.

This is one of those terms that I’ve googled three times and still can’t remember if I’m using it correctly: occultation. You tarp over some ground, forcing grass to die and weeds to get leggy and pale. You come through with a tiller, turn the plant matter into the soil, let it decompose, till one more time & then you’re ready to plant.

I’m trying a version of this, since I’m putting a 30’x40′ garden bed in the middle of our crabgrass backyard, and I ain’t got time to cut up no sod. THAT is a workout. And leaves you with piles of grass and grassroots. I’m hoping to till in my organic matter in March, if we keep having warm spells like the one we’re in now (highest high was 69F I think…).

I read a blog essay that a friend on facebook (with whom I haven’t caught up in 10 years?) posted about the women’s marches, yesterday. It was written by someone that’s part of a “Christian Orthodox” group, and the blog’s “About” page was as clipped, testy, vinegary, and theologically narrow as the post had been: “We support traditional Christian Monarchy and Hierarchic social order, as the true pillar of Christian Patriotism,” for instance. A list of “we believe” items followed, whose main concern was to isolate “we” from “them,” casting “we” in the purest most righteous light, and “them” in the darkest and most lost/misguided shadow.

One of the most-used “weapons” in the traditional Christian arsenal, as I experienced traditional Christianity growing up, was this “us versus them” tool of the mind, an easy and clever trick that allowed us Christians to isolate ourselves from “the world” by thinking of ourselves as “found,” “set apart,” “saved,” etc., while our unbelieving neighbors were by the same token “lost,” “of the world,” “damned,” and so on. It gave us both the satisfaction of knowing we were always “right,” or at least “ok,” while slowly pushing us further and further from our neighbors around us, ultimately resulting in fear and ignorance of much of the world around us. I speak generally—I can at least say of myself that I grew up fearful and ignorant of much of the world around me. It’s only in the past years that I’ve been able to move further away from this dualism of “us versus them.” I don’t know why it took me so long, since Christ himself rejected this kind of thinking, immersing himself in his culture (while questioning or rejecting parts of it that were damaging), and drawing people to himself that his friends the Jews considered “lost,” “of the world,” “damned,” and so on.

In this woman’s essay, she castigated the “modern feminists” of the women’s marches for being pro-abortion (not all were), for being exhibitionists (very few were, I imagine), for turning the natural order upside down (indeed), and other grave irreligious crimes. A short string of “Well written!” and “I wish every woman would read this!” comments dropped off the bottom of the post, and I commented as well, defending the marches as unaffiliated, spontaneous expressions of unity, peace, and goodwill, and questioning the author’s assumptions that “feminism” is the opposite of “Christian values” or Christian love.

In fact, as lovers of the gospels know, Christ broke societal norms several times, in shocking ways, to make it clear that women were more important to him than they were to Jewish culture at large. He tacitly worked to re-define Jewish “holiness” when he taught Mary in her home, as women weren’t allowed near the teaching that went on in the synagogues. By talking to lower-class women (even former hookers) in rough neighborhoods, letting them touch him and follow him, eat with him, he was creating a new ethic for “holy women,” and by cancelling a public execution of a woman who broke religious law he … what would you say was his goal? I can only guess. And my guess is that he was still about his work of raising up the destitute.

One of my favorite stories in the gospel is Christ’s appearance to Mary after the resurrection. Why did he choose a woman to be the first to see and hear him? Why did he create for her the task of spreading “the good news” (“gospel”) of his resurrection, rather than appearing in the room of disciples himself? What would you say was his goal? I can only guess, that it was important for him to entrust a woman with the job of spreading news. I heard someone say once that Mary was the first preacher, and I like to roll that idea around in my head. Can you imagine how it must have hurt Peter’s feelings that Mary was the first to see him, though? I mean really.

And I was going to find some thread to tie the above conversation up with the occultation method of soil preparation, but the baby’s up. I’ll leave you to tie them together…