Winter meditation

with thanks to Stacey Joy, who shared the monotetra form this morning on Ethical ELA’s Open Write: quatrains ending in monorhyme, lines of eight syllables.

Winter Meditation

On this dark morning, falling snow
fills the spirit with candleglow
the bliss-blessed silence, calling so:
Hush. Take it slow. Hush. Take it slow.
 
Claim the quiet for your healing
be free as the hawk, a-wheeling
your crystal-scoured heart revealing
wounds are sealing, wounds are sealing.

For now, nature’s red tooth and claw
newly blanketed, without flaw
is still, peace-covered, filled with awe.
Time to withdraw, time to withdraw. 

Reflecting on wonder

“The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.” -Abraham Joshua Heschel
Epigraph in Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
(Foer, Thuras, & Morton).

On the first week back to school after the holidays, I spent time covering classes and duties for colleagues who are out due to COVID protocols. I arrived on campus each day not knowing what I’d be called on to do. This has been the pattern for the whole school year thus far, in fact, and it may continue until June…

But I am not going to focus on the intensified daily juggling act.

I will concentrate on the unexpected moments of light…such as when a colleague told me that my iPhone could understand spoken Harry Potter spells.

This I had to see for myself.

Hey, Siri: Lumos...and my flashlight came on. (Lumos is the spell that makes wands and lamps light up in the books in and movies, for those who don’t know).

Hey, Siri: Nox…and my flashlight turned off.

Hey, Siri: Accio Twitter…and my Twitter app opened up in my phone.

Tell me this is not a great wonder, technology.

Furthermore, the knowledge came in handy when I filled in for quarantined teachers in upper grades. I demonstrated the “magic” and wowed the kids.

That’s the thing about wonders…you want to share them. Wonders are not meant to be contained. They are contagious. They are forever beckoning and burgeoning.

So maybe the magic of Siri understanding Harry Potter is a small thing.

Maybe a greater wonder is finding the right book to inspire a reluctant reader. This past week it was not Harry Potter but books about children with physical limitations and differences who face extreme challenges. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. And, of course, Wonder by R.J. Palacio. They grip you from the start…

I pause to reflect here on all the wonder wrought by books in my own life. I feel the covers tingling with magic whenever I pick them up (maybe it’s just my anticipation).

Last week I watched the wonder on kids’ faces as they learned how a prism or raindrop separates light into colors. I watched in wonder as two students known for behavior issues stayed on task to complete their assignments when they were allowed to work together.

I thought, randomly, about the fireworks that went off in the distance on New Year’s Eve. My six-year-old granddaughter was spending the night. My husband and I allowed her to stay up. She heard the booming of the fireworks at midnight and wanted to see them. We went out on the back deck, but fog and trees obscured our view.

I’ve never gotten to see fireworks, said my granddaughter.

One day you will, I told her.

I like the sound of them. It makes me feel calm.

That filled me with wonder…I have never heard anyone express that about the sound of fireworks. Least of all a child.

Maybe the calmness has not so much to do with the sound but the place and the sense of safety…these are linked in their way to wonder. The unexpected, the new, a bit of uncertainty but also an embracing. The opening Heschel quote encapsulates it well: The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.

Like a bright, beckoning burst suddenly illuminating a moment, a mind, a spirit.

Do you remember spending last New Year’s Eve with us, too? my husband asked our granddaughter.

Oh yeah! Can I stay here next year, too? And the one after that?

Sure you can! You can stay every New Year’s Eve if you want.

Even when I am fifty-nine?

Yes, even when you are fifty-nine.

Wonders upon wonders await.

Of this, I am sure.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge and the wondrous community of writers.

The sighting

In my various morning readings
I encountered plagues
divine deliverance
fulfilled prophecy
epiphany
and wounded trees
weeping until their blood-sap
crystallizes
into fragrant resin
ancient gift of kings

and in one passage, this line:
It is almost too beautiful to believe

my mind is replaying
all these things
when I catch sight of you there
perched on a wire
against the eggshell sky
an owl! No,
not in daylight
—a hawk
ancient bird of kings
winter sun glinting
on your snow-banded wings

—almost too beautiful to believe
my heart sings

3046 Red-Shouldered Hawk. Ashala Tylor Images. CC BY-NC 2.0

My hawk looked like this one. Stunning.

Hawks have a number of symbolic meanings, such as associations with Egypt, pharaohs, divine power, and salvation from slavery…I’d just been reading about these in Exodus.
I’d also been reading of the Magi.


Hawks, birds of keen vision, are also said to represent the ability to see meaning in ordinary experiences
—if one is willing to become more observant.

Spiritual journey: Awe

On the first Thursday of each month I write with fellow sojourners about our spiritual journeys. Margaret Simon leads the way on this first Thursday of 2022 with reflections on “one little word,” the writer-tradition of choosing a focus word for the year (thank you for hosting, Margaret).

This is the first time I have carried a word over from one year to the next.

Last year awe chose me by appearing in a quote on my planner when I had pretty much decided I wouldn’t choose a word. Perhaps the pandemic had left me jaded. Or simply too bone-tired to care. Nevertheless, there it was, an invitation to seek awe.

I accepted.

I never imagined all the awe that awaited in 2021.

The first grandchild was born into our family. Her big sister came to us by marriage at age three. She had been wishing for a little sister.

God is especially near to children.

Awe.

Baby Micah looks at me with the very eyes, from the very face, of my firstborn son. My husband and I wept at first sight of her.

Awe.

We lost one of our dearest friends in 2021. His last words to me were in response to one of my posts on awe: You are awesome in every way. Years ago he played Santa Claus at church for the children, when my oldest (the current new dad) was three. Nobody loved Christmas better; we spent every Christmas Eve together when my children were growing up.

He’s attained Heaven now. My youngest son, who’s become a funeral director apprentice, helped prepare his body for burial.

A symmetry, a grace.

Awe.

As the year ended last week, my family rescued a robin caught in the grille of a car after a trip down the interstate (read about it here if you like: The Robin). I couldn’t believe it was alive, that we were able to extricate it, or that it was soon hopping around my backyard eating worms in the unseasonably warm December.

Awe.

It chose me in 2021.

I am choosing it for 2022.

If you search the Internet for the benefits of awe, you will find lots of information: Awe reminds us that we are small parts of something vast and that’s good for us. It makes us care more for one another. It makes us healthier, calmer, more focused, more humble, less concerned for material things.

Spend time in nature and you’ll experience awe. Everything is connected, everything. I have seen a shy beige earth snake in the flowerbed glowing with bioluminescence. I have seen a deer running alongside dogs in a field, playing.

Spend time with children and you’ll experience awe. In the way that they see the world. In the way that they trust. And laugh. And dance. And sing. And love. Jesus said: I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children (Matthew 11:25, ESV).

Write, and you will experience awe. Yesterday I wrote on an unusual paraphrase of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30: “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” That line may stay with me forever. There is a flow, a pattern, a choreography to grace. As there is to the stars. Something too beautiful for words.

To realize that one is the recipient of God’s grace is awe. That He means for us to be free and not burdened is awe. That we exist at all, on this blue planet in the vast universe, is awe. That he wants us to learn of him is awe. That we play our short part in an ongoing story of humanity, forgiveness, redemption, and incomparable love, is awe. To know that unseen angels surround us is awe.

I know many stories like the one my grandmother told me, how people in farm communities nearly a century ago used to take turns sitting with someone who was sick and dying. It was Grandma’s turn to sit with the mother of her friend, Amanda. The old woman had been unresponsive for days, when all of a sudden, she sat up. Her face shone; she looked young again. She began to laugh: “Can you see them? Can you see them?”

She died that day. My grandmother never forgot the awe.

When it comes to spiritual journeys, be sure to invite it.

It is the fuel of eternity.

*******

also shared on SOS-Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog, with special thanks to Ruth for the “unforced rhythms of grace” inspiration.

x

Snow magic

Holidays over
first day back to school
we heard it might snow
what we get
is gale force winds
diagonal rain
and utter darkness
(oh, those kids waiting at bus stops…)
which is why so many don’t come
there are just four kids in one room,
six in another,
and so on
not to mention that at home
the power went out
before I could get ready
hardly an enchanting winter morn
except for candles…

when I finally arrive at work
my family texts
it is pouring snow here,
pouring
but when I look through the windows
don’t see any of it
not any
just cold cold rain
collecting in huge puddles
on this dark dark day
until
I pass a teacher in the hallway
leaning out of the glass door,
scouring the iron-gray sky
are you looking for snow?
oh yes, if it starts,
I am bringing my class
out here in the hall
to read Snowmen at Night


just then, we see
the first flakes of white…

all over the building
children run to the windows
for every little bit of magic
they can find

or perhaps it’s more a matter
of letting the magic find you

or maybe even
a determination to
make the magic
yourself

for it is in yourself
just as it is
in every single
falling crystal

and most certainly
in books.

Detail of a magical mask design a colleague made and happened to give me today.
You will have caught the book connections in the first two photos; can you catch the last?

The robin

Plump little robin
we stand around you, aghast
at your misfortune

stuck there in the grille
of the SUV after
two hours’ interstate

yet you are alive
calling in your bird language
blinking and trembling

head twisting, trying
valiantly but in vain
to set yourself free

I think you’re impaled
except there’s not any blood
plus, your voice is strong,

full of warning, as
I lean in to examine
the situation:

both feet balled up tight
against your belly, somehow
straddling metal bars

wedged body, aslant
—can it really be intact?
—little eyes, so bright

that we three humans
standing before you in awe
vow to do our best

I grab a towel
(my childhood pet parakeet
often flew the coop

and had to be caught.
I learned to cover him first;
that small beak is sharp)

and we cover you,
but your loud cries of distress
tell us pulling hurts

—oh, you’re a fighter,
courageous little robin
biting at the cloth!

My sister-in-law
covers your face; my husband
hands me an ink pen

(ever-present in
his shirt pocket, a good thing,
as you never know

when you might need it,
in this case, to save a life)
so I wield the pen

through the metal grille,
through your feathers, bit by bit
freeing a pinned wing

until you’re sliding
into my cloth-shielded hands
like a newborn child

like a miracle
released at last, in the grass,
suddenly running

yes, flapping both wings
before taking a nose dive
into the clover

unable to fly
at least for now, surely bruised
needing time to heal

—the backyard becomes
bird rehabilitation,
bird sanctuary

where I can watch you
hopping along, pulling worms
these warm winter days

unseasonable
but I’m glad on your behalf,
keeping my distance

hoping predators
do the same, until you’re healed
and take to the skies

lucky bird, forgive
my bad Shakespearean pun:
you’re Robin the Plucked

for salvation comes
in the most peculiar ways,
begging the question

of mortality,
the taking and the giving
in daily living

these two days I’ve watched
your grounded red breast gleaming
by the old arbor

—today, no sighting,
inexplicable sadness
despite the wonder

of your survival
and the part I got to play.
Little Robin, plucked

to live life anew,
here’s to taking flight on your
wings and my prayers.

Robin the Plucked right after his rescue from the grille of my sister-in-law’s SUV. She’d driven down I-95 a few days after Christmas to visit us. Robin had some feathers askew from his ordeal but his wings weren’t dragging; my husband and I put him in our fenced backyard in hopes that nature would take its course, that he’d soon be fit enough to fly again (and that he’d want to). There are no words to adequately describe him enmeshed in that grille, very much alive and calling out, or for the sight of him immediately trying to run once we got him loose and laid him on the grass. I was amazed and elated to see him eating in the backyard with other birds that came and went the next day. I didn’t go near him again, as when I attempted it, he ran. I refused to distress him any more (heaven knows being trapped on the front of a car going 70 mph is enough for a lifetime). I joke that he’s my last good deed of 2021; I kept an eye on him all yesterday. On this first day of 2022, he is gone.

I keep watching, however.

One final observation, regarding the symbolism of robins: They’re tied to a number of legends and mostly positive connotations like spring and good luck (begging another question: Who’s the actually the bringer of luck here, Robin the Plucked or me?). But the perspective of Mother Teresa moves me most at present, as quoted in No Greater Love (Benenate & Durepos) on the legend of the robin and Christ’s crown of thorns: “Each of us should try and be that bird – the little robin. When we see someone in pain, we must ask ourselves: ‘What can I do to give them comfort?’”

Happy New Year and new life to you, Robin, wherever you are.

And to you all.

2021: A year of awe

Some people call it one word. Others call it one little word, abbreviated OLW. Either way it’s the tradition of choosing a focus word for a new year. Maybe even a new word for each month. Make of it what you will, how you will, the chosen word serves as a tool for reflection, a lens for living, a frame for your days.

At the outset of 2021, I wasn’t in the frame of mind to choose a defining word unless it was survival or endurance or possibly perseverance, none of which were inspiring or lyrical (shouldn’t your OLW strike deep chords in your spirit?). After 2020, I was tired. We were tired, all of us. It was a year that seemed liked ten. The world as we knew it changed overnight. Quarantine, separation, isolation, closed businesses, bare shelves at the stores, working from home, doing school online. Plans disrupted. Staggering losses of so many kinds. Grief. Rage. Despair. Navigating the unknown every single day. The COVID-troubled world kept turning but we almost didn’t recognize it or ourselves anymore…literally, behind the masks.

We hoped. We clung to our screens. We cherished every glimmer of light in the long, dark night of the soul. How long? we wondered. How long?

On the brink of 2021, as I wearily turned the page in my academic planner, I said something like this to myself: Forget the one little word thing. I don’t have the energy to think around it or write around it. What difference does it really make, anyway. After all, my word for 2020 was reclamation. I wrote in January, before the onslaught of COVID-19 in March, when everything shut down that Friday 13th for what we thought would be only two weeks: Moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to do what you can, what’s most important, for that given day. Recovering ground, inch by precious inch.

Note to self: Be careful what you wish for…

But then, then, turning that page… I discovered this quote, in tiny font, sitting on January 1, 2021, in my planner: Experiencing awe (the feeling of being in the presence of something bigger than you) can improve your physical health and make you feel more altruistic. Intentionally create awe this month by spending time in nature, meditating, volunteering, etc.

I knew, then.

Whatever might come in 2021, I must look for awe. I must keep the door open for it. Anticipate it. Invite it.

There’s a psychology, a science, to awe. A savoring of life, an ineffable hope, a spark of joy, an inhaled breath of wonder at the wonders all around, a reverence. It can make you feel more altruistic…desiring to benefit others at your own expense…can the world not use more of this?

I sat in awe of this revelation…and that is the story of awe choosing itself as my word for this year, now in its final days.

It’s everywhere, awe.

In fragile periwinkle flowers poking through the January snow, in the piercing cry of a red-tailed hawk, in the flight of an eagle near enough for me to see its white head. In the resilience of children learning from home and in their happy dogs who attended class with them. In my own dog, who slept in my lap during those long hours online. In colleagues who stopped resisting new learning in the hardest of times and began embracing it…and each other. In children learning to read despite all, in one student pointing to a new word, “trombone” (without a picture), and telling me I don’t know how to say it, but it’s a musical instrument. In resuming church services and eventually singing hymns again. In the return of the little finches which have built a nest on my front door wreath every year except for 2020. In the gift of new life…in the announcement that my son and his wife were expecting a baby in the fall. In the long summer of anticipating, in finally making it to the ocean again, in seeing how seabirds stood on the shore, protecting one of their own that was missing a foot. In passing three white horses in a grassy meadow on morning drives to school, reminding me of a game my father taught me to play on long journeys when I was a child (I have a lot of thirty-point days now, Daddy). In teaching poetry again, in seeing the kids’ faces light up with their own writing discoveries. I wrote a lot of poetry in 2021; much of it centered on awe.

I have so much more to write. I am awed by what my sons have accomplished this year, one as a minister, the other as a funeral assistant and musician. I am awed by other people who say your boys have blessed me.

Baby girl Micah arrived at the end of October. Her big sister’s wish, come true.

Christmas Eve at my house, 2021

Awe abounds. It waits to be found. Just like the little present placed in my stack on Christmas Eve during our family gathering.

That’s especially for you, Franna, said my daughter-in-law.

I opened it.

Micah’s tiny handprint, in white plaster.

Awe.

And tears. Too overcome for words.

My daughter-in-law didn’t know the story. One day I will tell Micah about the handprint I made for my grandmother so long ago, how it hung on her bedroom wall for over thirty years…

Awe. Awe. Awe. Life in its abundance, making full circles. Light to be found, even in the darkest season. The treasure of having each other. Love, blessing, wonder, the gift of life itself, all from the hand of Almighty God.

I see no reason whatsoever for changing to a new word in 2022.

Wishing awe to you all – each new day with its waiting treasures

*******

with much love and gratitude to the Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge. There is sustaining power in writing. There is more in a writing community.

Decima poem debut

On the Ethical ELA Open Write for Educators today, Mo Daley invites poets to try the decima. Originating in Spain, the form is comprised of ten-line stanzas, eight syllables each, with the rhyme scheme ABBAACCDDC.

These poems typically go on for forty stanzas. I’ve managed only one!

Here’s my decima debut, as well as far more important debut…

First Poem for My Granddaughter, Micah (Whose Name Means “Who is Like God?”)

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  —Matthew 6:33

Three things he said he’d never do:
marry, have a child, start preaching
like his dad, all the while reaching
out for what is solid and true.
God brought your mother. And now you,
Beloved One, coming this fall.
Blessing and fruition of all
my boy always longed for, despite
his fears. Now with tears of delight
he embraces his Father-call.

Franna loves you so much already, Baby Girl.

Out of the water

Summer storm passes
leaving debris in its wake.
I open the door

to investigate
and discover a creature
there on the threshold

Dragonfly resting
weary, heavy-laden wings
—what ARE those patches?

Curiosity
drives me to investigate.
I learn that your name

comes from your luggage:
Carolina Saddlebags.
What do you carry?

Ancient traditions
abundant superstitions
folklore taking flight.

Symbol of wisdom
messenger between the worlds

born underwater

to rise new, transformed.
Your stories go on and on,
tired traveler.

My phone’s search engine
resolves one more mystery
from a day ago:


That red dragonfly
—the first one I’ve ever seen—

may have been your mate.

So otherworldly,
that darting scarlet body.
I caught just glimpses

for it never stilled.
Now I learn red dragonflies
are believed sacred.

A slight fluttering
of your strange saddlebag wings
seems to validate.

To me, you are rare.
Pleased to make your acquaintance
here on this portal

this dividing line
between shelter and tempest,
living and dying.

Take your repose, then.
I ponder birth and rebirth
as I close the door

where I discover
my husband’s baptismal robe
hanging up to dry
.

*******

My pastor husband doesn’t like to dry his robe in the dryer. After a recent baptism, he happened to hang it here on the door where the sidelight flooded it.

I’ve seen many dragonflies in my life, but this is the first Carolina Saddlebag. I hope to get a photo of the male, which has a brilliant red body and a violet head. That might be a feat; I read that they don’t land often. The female on my threshold soon regained her strength and flew away.

The sightings on each side of the portal filled me with awe—the word that chose me this year. More reminders to stay open to it every single day, not to miss it.

As a lover of symbolism…well, there’s enough here to last me pretty much forever…

The post is written in haiku, as dragonflies have spawned infinite haiku and inspiration in Japan where they are considered harbingers of life, prosperity, courage, happiness, strength. They have also represented the emperor and immortality. In Native American tradition, the dragonfly is a symbol of resurrection.

Special thanks to the Slice of Life community at Two Writing Teachers for also spawning courage, inspiration, and strength through the writing and sharing of stories. To teach young writers how to write, we must write, and by writing we discover infinitely more about the world and ourselves.

Just a little spirit poem

inspired by Denise Krebs on today’s Ethical ELA Open Write, after teacher-poet Stacey L. Joy. Stacey’s original simile poem centered on the word love. Denise’s, on the word alcohol.

Mine, on the word spirit.

Perhaps you know someone with this kind of everlasting joie de vivre…

Spirit…
Your spirit is bright
radiating like a summer campfire
popping, sparking, illuminating the night
Exhilarating spirit infused with silver starlight
Effervescent spirit of a child’s Christmas morning delight
Freewheeling spirit like an eagle in flight
An encompassing kind of spirit.

King’s Highway, Kissimmee. R9 Studios FL. CC BY