Monday, December 31, 2007

From "Here to There": Celebrating the Leap into 2008!


Please join in celebrating the sweet steps, jumps, leaps! that we all are invited to take into the New Year....I want to recognize the courage and faith that any inching-forward requires, and simultaneously hold the beauty of being still in the present moment.


My dear Phillipian faith friend and love, Michael Benham, sent the image and poem above, as part of his New Year's Greeting. Michael's work always inspires me. And this Benham-special I thought a perfect way to close out my own year and usher in the new...

As I've not posted a blog in over a month, Michael's words here have a buoying effect, inspiring not just a year-end entry in this online-meditation-space, they also arrive as invitation to imagine that which seems impossible, and "go for it!"

"It's the belief that we can not do it/ and still take that leap"

This past six weeks of quiet in the blog-sphere has been a kind of equivalent to my sizing up the jump ahead. I have been feeling like what I imagine Jimmie, (the sweet child in the picture) to be feeling before his leap: fear, possible trepidation, doubt.
"Is this physically possible? How much momentum do I need?
Can I calculate my landing point before I jump?
Are bruised limbs, or broken bones a possible consequence?
If so, who will pick me up?
Could I die?"

But Michael's picture is not about the before or after: he's captured the mid-way point! And it seems to me to celebrate the process of leaping in and of itself!

So: as I hold fast (and as loosely as possible) to my own fears, and cling to the voice and invitation of God-within me to do what I feel called to do, I similarly invite you to do the same. Don't get too hung up on what the outcome will be in your new years' ventures, just trust yourself, and take one step towards that.

(This will hopefully be the last cliche-like, Hallmark-card-kind-of-advice-writing-that I ever do.)

Now: Happy New Year!


I Hope this hasn't made anyone puke!

Peace and Inspiration in your world!

Till 2008,

Monday, November 19, 2007

Prayers for our Church

November 19, 2007

Friends, Fam, Faith peeps,

I'm struggling in my response and prayer to the Catholic Church and it's Human Leaders, regarding this topic of Christ's Love and GLBT FAMILIES.
What follows is my feeble attempt at prayer and succinctness, in what feels an ocean of uncertainty, anger, hope, fear, love, mystery, and a grand call for discernment....

When did Christ say, "Nope, my body is not for you?" That's my essential question to the ordained and professed leaders of the Catholic Church who want to deny communion to anyone. To anyone! Please tell me, Where did Jesus draw the line? When did He practice exclusion? Please!

The following excerpt from our newly installed Archbishop, John Nienstedt, breaks my heart, as he quotes Church Teaching:
"Those who actively encourage or promote homosexual acts or such activity within a homosexual lifestyle formally cooperate in a grave evil and, if they do so knowingly and willingly, are guilty of mortal sin. They have broken communion with the church and are prohibited from receiving holy Communion until they have had a conversion of heart, expressed sorrow for their action and received sacramental absolution from a priest." - Archbishop Nienstedt of Minneapolis, St. Paul, in Catholic Spirit Article, "Four points on the church's teaching about homosexuality In God's Good Time"
As Michael, another Catholic restated and summarized:
"He's saying that parents, family members, and members of faith communities who affirm and support their LGBT children, friends, and fellow parishioners in forming loving and committed relationships, and in living healthy and authentic lives, are "cooperating in a grave evil" and are "guilty of a mortal sin." Furthermore, they've separated themselves from the church and are not to receive Communion!"
Again, who ever gets to decide who is worthy of God's love? Where did Jesus give us these rules about who can receive Him, and who doesn't get to?
What is our call or response to words that are hate-filled, yet seemingly uttered from a place of love?
Do leaders and community members see how these are hateful words?
Does the Archbishop recognize these words as participating in death, rather than generative and life-filled?
How is the denial of Christ's body ever NOT a participation in crucifixion?
How am I called to think, pray, act, as a Catholic who LOVEs her faith, and yet is heart broken by Human Leadership?
How do I love it all?
How do I hold Christ at the center of all discussion?
How do I see both crucifixion and resurrection in such testimony? Do I want to also be one to say, "NO" to God's love?
Do we recognize, as faithful beings, the nails being driven into His body when we simply stand by? Am I okay standing by and not doing anything? What does it mean to witness and be complicit in such denial of Jesus?

Do you see or recognize yourself, and your own body and spirit, your own faith, in this conversation? In these questions?

Prayerfully, Humbly, Discerning,

Friday, November 16, 2007

"Unity in the Heart of God" - Another Nouwen Reflection

Unity in the Heart of God

Love unites all, whether created or uncreated. The heart of God, the heart of all creation, and our own hearts become one in love. That's what all the great mystics have been trying to tell us through the ages. Benedict, Francis, Hildegard of Bingen, Hadewijch of Brabant, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Dag Hammarskjˆld, Thomas Merton, and many others, all in their own ways and their own languages, have witnessed to the unifying power of the divine love. All of them, however, spoke with a knowledge that came to them not through intellectual arguments but through contemplative prayer. The Spirit of Jesus allowed them to see the heart of God, the heart of the universe, and their own hearts as one. It is in the heart of God that we can come to the full realisation of the unity of all that is, created and uncreated.
- Fr. Henri Nouwen

What's this "unity" business? Oh, yes, yes, intellectually, or on some quantum knowledge level, I get that "We Are All One." It's something I ramble off and hold as a tenet in the "Melissa-Borgmann-book-of-faith-and-understanding-of-the-Universe." (We all have our own books, right? Like little scrappy journals inside our hearts where we store pithy quotes and fortune cookie fortunes.) Well, I do, and this notion of a unified body of LOVE exists there.

But what does that MEAN? And what does that call me to do? Or be?


I read this reflection of Nouwen's this morning, and it smacked me in the center of my chest. I love Henri, and some days he speaks to me; other days, not so much. Reading these emailed passages is simply part of my morning routine. I pray using them, but sometimes wonder, "What is the quality or nature of my prayer?"
"Who's it for?"
"Why do it?"
"What does it matter if I'm at home drinking coffee, walking around in a t-shirt and tending to some dead spiritual dude's words or not?"
"I mean, REALLY, in the grand scheme of things: does it DO ANYTHING?"

I left a life of teaching, of feebly attempting to MAKE CHANGE in the world, to do this? Scantily clad, caffeinated prayer-warrior work?


But there's something in here today. There is something in this contemplating business, in this almost-rote activity of pouring over words and ideas, and sitting still with them in my heart. Stirring the pot of potato/turkey sausage/ pepper chowder I just made for tonight's dinner guests, I thought, "Yep. We are all one. And this prayer business and thought and heart work, it's as important as preparing food."

So, what? Where's that bring me? "I'm just a little potato in this soup of love?" Or: "We are all peppers and turkey sausages on some level?" I mean, if we are to hold this idea of "WE ARE ONE" to be true, then doesn't that follow?

Does it offend you if I call you a "turkey sausage"?

And if that is so, Sweet and beloved Creator/Christ/Benevolent and Enlightened Buddha, how do you react if I tell you you are the same and ONE with Hitler? With Osama? With George W.? With Mother Theresa? With Ghandi?

It is something to consider, or hold, if you are like me, and believe in this business of unity.

"We are all one."

Sweet Planet Earth, does that scare you?! To tell you the truth: it knocks me on my ass. Levels me. I'm Saul, on the road, getting struck down and blinded by Love. I'm trying to see clearly, I'm grasping at the dusty road, trying to feel my way, and wondering what conversion means, what peace means, what healing is possible - given my blasted, on-my-butt-blindness.


I'm sitting at the Visitation Monastery on Girard in North Minneapolis. It's a Saturday, and I'm surrounded by Visitation Companions and Sisters, and I'm being asked to contemplate the pierced heart of Christ. I'm being invited to make meaning of an organ that is the pumping machine of the body, and is pierced to the core, and yet still works? I'm being asked to hold my basic knowledge of cardiology alongside my basic knowledge of Love's Mystery.


Friends, I have no answers. But I share my ramblings with you, as Nouwen stirs things in me, and I tend to listening to my own pierced heart and these notions of alignment, love, unity.

Let me know if anything comes up in your reflections.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Heart as Wide as the World: A reflection on Nouwen

Hey Faith Peeps!

I'm with my priest, Fr. Pat on loving All Saints and Souls days. Calling forward the idea of the sweet and inspiring lives of those that have gone before us, and letting the love they lived burn in our hearts: it makes me happy.

And it takes me into the center of how I understand Fr. Nouwen's words here*.....That what I live and HOW I love, isn't all mine or from me. I'm not generating this heat, this action, this enthusiasm and appreciation for all that is around me. Huh uh. It comes from the Divine, and how the Holy Lives and Spirits of ancestors and saints are at work in my DNA. I'm serious!

Just ask yourselves, "What's encoded on these bones? Whose memories are alive in my muscle tissue? What has been engraved in my heart? Does my blood carry the stories of those who have lived before me? How does that influence what I see, how I act, where I reach and what I embrace?"

Resting in these questions, (and the many inspired by my grandparents -- and Saints like Margaret Mary and Theresa and Augustine) I know that my heart is as wide as the world, open and receiving and in awe....

Peace, Prayers, Happy Ruminating,

*Heart As Wide As the World

The awareness of being part of the communion of saints makes our hearts as wide as the world. The love with which we love is not just our love; it is the love of Jesus and his saints living in us. When the Spirit of Jesus lives in our hearts, all who have lived their lives in that Spirit live there too. Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents; our teachers and their teachers; our pastors and their pastors; our spiritual guides and theirs - all the holy men and women who form that long line of love through history - are part of our hearts, where the Spirit of Jesus chooses to dwell.

The communion of saints is not just a network of connections between people. It is first and foremost the community of our hearts.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Poem about Mother Theresa

So I've been reading "Mother Theresa: Come be My Light - The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta."* It's the controversial text that discloses the contemporary saint's "dark night of the soul" --not "feeling" God's presence, after she so clearly received a calling to serve Jesus and the poorest of the poor.
Forty plus years of not really knowing if God was there!?
Can you imagine? What compels a human being to continue on in the face of such doubt or second guessing?
These are just a couple of my questions!

What would it really be like had Mother Theresa left the slums, said, "No" and gotten a porche? It's ridiculous, right?

I've been waking up recently with her on my brain, wondering what Calcutta -- and the rest of the world for that matter, would be like had she said, "Nope. I'm done with this business."

What follows is a poem toward this end. Of course, let me know what you think!

Poem: "Mother Theresa gets a Porsche" by Melissa Borgmann

Mother Theresa gets a Porsche

No. I will not love God anymore or do His will.

No more of this poverty bull sh-t, either.
The poorest of the poor?
That just makes me pathetic and miserable, too.
Do you see me smiling as I speak?
A decade of service was one thing, this 40 years of ministering to the lowly is enough.

I'd like a nice home, car and security. A 401 K is something others have, yes?
Thank you.
Enough of this "yes" business. I say, "Yes" to myself.
If there is a God, I think He'd like me to be happy and
smile - with some feeling behind it.

Christ is amazing. Not sure how He managed His time on the cross.
Blasted blood and holes in His body. Thirsty, too.
Had to be miserable, strung up there and stinging with aloneness.
Abandonment is a wretched thing.

Believe me, I get it.

Peace, Faith,
Happy leanings into the mystery of it all,

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Jesus is in the Damdest Places!

Happy Sunday to all!

The following poem* showed up in today's Writer's Almanac and it tickled me. Christ in the suburbs? Please! The guy, whether son of God, or simply a really good man-teacher-prophet, appears in lots of places. Back then. Now. In this case, (ironically to me), Jesus shows up in the 'burbs where He's/ he's causing scandal.

I love it!

Feed people, stir up the pot of contemplation and action, and hang out with whores, and HEY! you're going to rub some folks the wrong way. Especially those in cul-de-sacs! (Wow! that's judgmental of me, isn't it?) Seriously, though: who doesn't want to commit a Jesus-figure behind bars --or to some private wing of a psyche ward? Especially when they threaten the status quo, security, and invite in the bums! Ack! Locking up such a fella: that somehow keeps us all safer, and free from scandal, right?

(My sarcasm may be sneaking out.)

Incidentally, X.J. Kennedy's poem reminds me a wee bit of one I wrote about two months ago, after being on retreat and around my good friend, Franciscan Nun Sr. Rafael Tilton. As I place them next to one another, it strikes me how mine appears the other side of the scandal -- literally and figuratively speaking. It's as if some of the sympathetic neighbors got together and jotted this down, post-crucifixion. Perhaps a bit regretful?

*Poem: "A Scandal in the Suburbs" by X.J. Kennedy, from In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems, 1955–2007. © The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

A Scandal in the Suburbs

We had to have him put away,
For what if he'd grown vicious?
To play faith healer, give away
Stale bread and stinking fishes!
His soapbox preaching set the tongues
Of all the neighbors going.
Odd stuff: how lilies never spin
And birds don't bother sowing.
Why, bums were coming to the door—
His pockets had no bottom—
And then-the foot-wash from that whore!
We signed. They came and got him.


Poem: "Out of Control Christ" by Melissa Borgmann

Out of Control Christ

He spread himself too thin, you might say.
Oh, always trying to do good, that one.
Now look, flailing, accused and abandoned, weepy at the end, too.

Does no good to have the Rabbi out of action.
Damn fool.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Prayer by Zac Willette

A while back, I wrote and shared the prayer of Oscar Romero.
Increasingly, I've been finding it more and more helpful -- actually
necessary -- to extend prayerful thoughts in not only this blog, but
through my emailing correspondence.

What follows is in this same vein, and in the tradition of Romero.

My friend Zac Willette, (pictured here between Margaret Post and me) wrote the following prayer. He is working on
his Masters in Divinity at Weston in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In
this prayer, it is evident to me of dear Zac's heart, faith, spirit;
his divinity certainly coming forward in a masterful way...

Yes, it's a prayer that reminds me of the Salvadorian Archbishop's
because of its expressed humility and hope; its balance of faith with
a kind of trembling fear; the sheer humanity of it -- alongside the
awesome power and knowledge of the holy emanating.

I don't know.

I just really really like it.

And if you are searching for some words to begin a meeting, or to convene your work within a collaborative space of faithful beings, I recommend this prayer. Highly.

Love to Zac!
Peace and blessings to you all!

Oh! And please let me know if you DO use it! I'm sure that would make Zac Willette's day!


God who is Creator of us and Brother to us and Advocate for us
We show up here in this place
weary from what drains us
and yet somehow awake,
full of to do lists and worries we know too well
and yet hungry for what we do not know.

We gather in your presence
with hopes and fears that compete for our attention
with desires you have put deep in our hearts
and with desires we've allowed to distract us from joy.

Help us, loving and mysterious God,
to see how you show up
in wondrous and irritating ways
to comfort and challenge us
to patiently form us
and endlessly transform us.

Make us strong in love,
deep in faith,
and inexhaustible in hope.

Guide us in our time together
and give us the strength to let ourselves be guided.


-Zac Willette

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I love Sharon Olds.

Poem: "35/10" by Sharon Olds, from Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980–2002. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Brushing out our daughter's brown
silken hair before the mirror
I see the grey gleaming on my head,
the silver-haired servant behind her. Why is it
just as we begin to go
they begin to arrive, the fold in my neck
clarifying as the fine bones of her
hips sharpen? As my skin shows
its dry pitting, she opens like a moist
precise flower on the tip of a cactus;
as my last chances to bear a child
are falling through my body, the duds among them,
her full purse of eggs, round and
firm as hard-boiled yolks, is about
to snap its clasp. I brush her tangled
fragrant hair at bedtime. It's an old
story—the oldest we have on our planet—
the story of replacement.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On Cultivating Wisdom: A reflection on a Richard Rohr Reflection

Beloved People:

In my research this afternoon for information on this upcoming conference on Jesus and the Buddha -- at the Center for Contemplation and Action in New Mexico -- I came across this daily reflection posted by Franciscan, Richard Rohr.

It takes me to Mncedisi Dabula, in East London, South Africa, and conversations we have had on "rites of passages" -- in the case there, for young men in the community.

I'm not so sure what Mnce would say about Rohr's thoughts and impressions of these African and Asian rites. Mr. Dabula is not a bashful man, and while the topic seems a delicate one, it's intriguing to me this stance that Rohr takes, also unabashedly.

Thinking about all this, these questions surface for me:

How do Westerner's cultivate Wisdom in their youth?
What is up with the rest of the planet (in terms of faith, stance, tradition, rites) regarding this topic of dreams of youth?
How are we similar? Different?
Is it ever fair to generalize?
What role does religion play in all this business of cultivating wisdom?
How many pathways, doors into wise action, living, consciousness are there?
Could we count them?
Are we okay if we aren't wise?
Who determines this anyway?
Is there a grade we get in school for being wise?
What would a "Cultivating Wisdom" course look like?
At what point would you enroll yourself or your spouse or your children?

Happy Contemplating!

Blessings, Peace,
"The Dreams of Youth"

Hindus and Buddhists are way ahead of us Westerners in terms of what their young people idealize. They're led to idealize holiness, inner freedom, inner truth, rather than simply outer success. Our drive for outer success has given us tremendous advantages in terms of the scientific and industrial revolutions, but Asia and Africa are more able to triumph over the inner world. Wisdom is still idealized as the value that binds them together. During my travels I was glad to see, in Africa especially, the almost universal puberty rites and initiation rites still in place. Basically they are intense, three-month CCD programs that work. The young people are taken apart by the wise men or women of the tribe and taught what wisdom is: This is what holds us together as a people. This is what we stand for, this is who we are, these are our values. And when those young men and women return from those kind of groupings, they know who they are. In our culture were forever searching for our values, what we want to believe in, what we might want to commit ourselves to. Adolescence, the time of open options, now lasts until age thirty-two in the West! In some cultures adolescence really ends as early as sixteen and seventeen. You often see that in the self-assurance of young people who find their ground and meaning much earlier. I suspect we actually are stunted and paralyzed by having too many options. We are no longer the developed world; we are the overdeveloped world.

Fr. Richard Rohr,
Daily Reflection for Wednesday, October 24, 2007.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Interview with God// reflection

Aunt Mo and People:

These forwarded God things can arrive and be all cheesy and make me want to sort of hurl on the producer/ creator....(It's the sad truth.)

This one* to spoke to me this morning.

It arrives from my sister in law, Jodi, in Omaha, who I had the pleasure of kicking it with this past weekend. She and my brother Ben, and their three sons have created this life that inspires me: living pretty simply out in the country, with Love, Family, Faith, seemingly at the center of things.....

Well, they inspire ME. (Not a life for everyone, for sure! But still, there is joy that radiates from this rural space of open farm land and boy amusements -- that tickle this girl -- and the energy they put into creating fun...Remodeling the house? Playing football, drawing pictures of aliens and watching soccer and sports on TV...-- A most recent endeavor: Jodi learning to hide vegetables in the food she prepares: spinach in brownies?!...)

Anwyho, I'm up, getting ready to do morning prayer in my house, making coffee, lighting my Buddha candle, walking around wrapped in the prayer shawl Jody Tigges made me, and opening the window shades....As I'm doing this, I get this clear message: "God overwhelms you with love everyday. You never doubt that He is here and in charge. " I was smiling at the trees outside, and wondering how today this Love might manifest further.....

I came to sit down and read scripture, and rest quietly in the message, ("Gird your loins and light your lamps..."?!) and then found my way to this email and website link entitled "Interview with God."

There's some good stuff in here, again: that spoke to me. Lines about being children, living simply, losing our health in order to acquire wealth, teaching forgiveness by forgiving....
If you have time, watch it. Enjoy!

Peace, Love,

The wisdom in this presentation will make one reassess one's hectic life .... regardless of personal or religious beliefs.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Peace Ball 2007!

What event brings together elected city officials, clergy members from around the Twin Cities, activists and artists concerned with social justice, parents of murdered children, North Side friends and neighbors, and representatives from private and non-profit organizations -- interested in the social fabric of our urban and glorious North Side?

That's would the Peace Ball, my friends.

Saturday, October 13, 2007, marked the occasion for the 4th Annual Celebration; this year, taking place at the Lundstrum Center for Performing Arts in North Minneapolis.

What follows are snapshots and inspiring words from the Peace Foundation event. (All photos taken by Brian Mogren.)

Thanks to Beth and Steve Borgmann, my awesome parents,
who sponsored a "Borgmann Family" table.

Pictured above, from Left to Right, Front:
Sharifa Charles, (Former North High Student, Project Success Facilitator)
Julia Dinsmore, (Author of "My Name is a Child of God: A First Person Look at Poverty")
Angela Riley (Mother of a son murdered July 27, 2006. Attending with "Mothers of Crime Victims. Org")
Ann Shallbetter (Choir Member and Parish Council Representative, Church of St. Philips)
Chris Williams (Journalist, The Catholic Spirit)
Gawolo Kpissay (Community Activist and Friend, Former Teen Group Member at the Church of St. Philips)
Daniel Kerkhoff (Artist, Contemplative, Peace Activist, World Traveler and Teacher)
Antoinette Bennaars, (Biologist, Choir Member, Church of St. Philips)
Jasmine McConnell (Former North High Student/ Poet/ Community Activist)

From the program, and spoken aloud by Peace Foundation President, Sondra Samuels to the crowd gathered:
"Tonight, Let's Party Across the Divide! Ours is a movement of the heart. Through relationships across race, class and geography we have committed to working together to end local violence. Our work is hard. Coming together across divides can uncover unhealed racial wounds and feed misunderstandings. Though not easy, building trusting relationships an changing hearts is our true work. So tonight, be sure to party across the divide! Meet and talk to people you don't know and who don't look like you. Oh yeah, and be sure to dance with them, too."



Brian Mogren, Friend, Photographer, Northside Resident and Peace Presence, embracing beloved friends and Peace Foundation Folks: Sondra Samuels, President, and Husband/ Partner, City Councilman Don Samuels

Soul Tight Committee

I love this picture of the dance floor, with Julia Dinsmore coming into focus in the crowd.

Toni and Ann

Embracing Elinor Anderson-Gene', (filling in for Reggie Prim with her artist, dancer, community-loving self.)

Beautiful Lauren Martin of Folwell Center for Urban Initiatives, and
Beloved Franciscan Brother John

Divine Healer, Spirit Woman, Northside Resident, Amoke Kubat, and her daughter Roxanne

Doing one of my favorite things on the planet: connecting folks.
Here, introducing Daniel Kerkhoff to Northside Artist and Residents:
Bill and Beverly Cottmann

Sharifa Charles and Gawalo Kpissay


Choir Chicas: Melissa, Ann, Toni

More boogying! Do you recognize anyone?
One of my favorites: Sherman Patterson in his dress blues!

City Councilman Samuels singing for us!

Don Samuels can seriously perform and entertain!

Crowd's Response to the Performance

A Gigantic Thanks again to Beth and Steve Borgmann, the beloved people gathered, and for the philosophy and faith underscoring all of this evening!
What a privilege to witness and participate in the creation of relationships across things that seem to divide us!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Backbends into God's Grace

Walking down Edgcumbe Road in St. Paul this afternoon, I witnessed two girls, maybe 9 or 10 years old, pre-pubescent friends or sisters, attempting backbends in their front yard.

As one was leaning backward, the other had a kind of shadowy embrace around her, providing a kind of security as the first girl leaned or fell into the arched pose. When the first girl's hands connected with the ground, I heard her say, "I did it! I finally did it!"

There was this victorious kind of joy in her voice, and her friend celebrated, shouting,"Yes! You did! Yes!" clapping and striking her fist through the air.

Then there was a pause. I caught their eyes, smiled at both of them. I wanted to applaud.

Then I heard the girl say, "Now, how do I get back up?"

It made me laugh.

The whole scene made me think a lot of things...

I remember those days of gymnastics at the YMCA in Norfolk when I was growing up. Trudging my own little girl body up and into the athletically challenging spaces where we'd train and tone, flip and tumble in our leotards, learning about the limitations and awesome abilities of our limbs.

I liked the routine for a long while. I still recall in my own bones the beauty of that kind of knowing: learning, leaning into my body, pushing it to do things that it didn't necessarily feel inclined to do. (The splits? Roundoff back hand springs? Aerial Cartwheels? Please. )

The backbend for me, in particular, was a similar hallmark in my early gymnastic days, as it seemed for these young girls in my neighborhood.

I was 8. Still attending the one-room country school called "District 20," and reading Nancy Drew novels. Learning how to do a back bend gracefully outside in the yard was a total and complete joy:
Extending my arms upwards, attempting to grow roots out of the base of my planted feet. I'd imagine these tethers into the soil beneath, keeping me anchored, as I arched backwards, leaning, reaching for the ground, springing palms toward the soil corresponding with my heels, and creating this bridge: a kind of backwards body rainbow, sturdy and solid, a feat of faith.

I remember ache in my thighs and stomach muscles. The tension in all things working together as I leaned backward, face to sky, eyes on clouds or sunshine, the pine trees. Oh! To view the world upside down and backwards! To be able to arch yourself and not completely topple, but to find grace and strength in an action so completely non-typical, nonsensical even. (Why does anyone need to do a backbend? Where does this help us in life?)

The recollection brings me joy.

How often do I attempt backbends these days? ....Please! (I'm editing here for eyes and spirits sensitive to shenanigans and over-over-over the top metaphors.)

I started my day attempting to cheer on one delightful, courageous friend named Antoinette Bennaars who was running the 10 mile route of the Twin Cities marathon. I never caught up with her, but I was privy to some powerful witness of other runners, testing their mettle, their human physical limits, and at mile marker eight, at Lexington and Summit in St. Paul: exuding a similar kind of "yes!" to that of my backbending girls, knowing they were doing it!

This theme of endurance, of challenge, of testing the body and its limitations, ran through my experience at mass today. Fr. Pat, in his opening welcome, made mention of another parishioner who we'd been holding in prayer at the Church of St. Philips. Jim Hingeley just completed the 500 mile walk in Northern Spain, called "El Camino del Santiago" or the "Walk of St. James." A sort of pilgrimage he's done - not just once, but twice now! (What compels people? What drives them in their bones, muscles, lungs, hearts, spirits, minds, to do such things?)

As Father was mentioning this, I looked around and caught sight of Dale Timmerman. Our dear and beloved "Deacon Dale" who has battled cancer in his body now: three times, over the course of the last 20 years! This last go round, resulted in the removal of his left lung. And still: he walks, he moves, he lives, he breathes. (How is this really possible? What is necessary for full oxygen flow, circulation in the body? Who is this man? How has God created us?)

It all sort of blows me away.

We all have limitations, right? As humans, we are wrought with our human frailty that we must all face, endure, hopefully even find a way to cherish. I think backbends, marathons, pilgrimages in the way of saints: they all must teach us something about overcoming and receiving the grace of God. They must!

Or else, why? Why attempt them?

Somewhere, back in that little girl body of mine, I think I knew: I just liked the challenge of looking at the world in an upside down and backwards sort of way. I liked bending round and having to align myself with a tree for minute.

It was fun. I felt stronger than perhaps I ever knew I was.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Yeah Padre Pio! (On the Uncertainty of the Future)

I am oppressed by the uncertainty of my future, but I cherish the lively hope of seeing my dreams fulfilled, because the Lord cannot place thoughts and desires in a person's soul and not really intend to fulfill them, to gratify these longings which Our Lord alone has caused.

St. Padre Pio


Faith Peeps and Fam:

My friend Jody sent this quote this morning from St. Padre Pio. I Love it. It makes me think about all that makes us anxious. All that makes ME anxious. All that stirs - what I think of as - the onions mixed with oranges in my belly. That nasty sweet and sour mixture that creates quaking, deep wonder, trepidation.

So I have an uncertain future, eh?

Anyone else?

What gives?

God is here.

Love is here.

The ocean of want and life raft of our mutual faith is here.

Let Padre Pio's words rock on!

Happy Monday!
Peace and Blessings on your journey!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Liberty, Frederick Douglass, Breathing...

I appreciate deeply this poem by Robert Hayden on the inspiring Fredrick Douglass.

As I echo back lines of the poem and pose a couple questions, I recognize this as my prayer this morning.

"Needful to man as air"

This liberty. Beautiful and terrible.
What responsibilities come with oxygen, with breathing?
With choosing to stay alive?

Poem: "Frederick Douglass" by Robert E. Hayden from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden. © Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1966. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Frederick Douglass

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues' rhetoric
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

Peace and Happy contemplative action to you,

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Pressure Check

On this morning's walk down Edgcumbe, I came across a small crew of firemen testing their engine's water hoses. "We have to do a routine check to see how they hold up to the water pressure. We don't want to get into a situation and have a line burst on us, you know?"

The crew was from St. Paul's Engine Company 19. As I made my way by, the first fireman asked that I walk on the other side of the boulevard, "just to be safe....I'd hate to see a line snap and go reeling. It can be ugly. Don't want you to get hurt, miss."

They were sweet. This ensemble of three men, two pink skinned, one brown, all in their blue uniforms. They had set up orange cones to block the road off, and were laying out the hose as I walked by.

"Charlie," (as I heard him called later) appeared to be the eldest,
(perhaps the captain?) As I walked opposite them down the curving
road, I heard him yell to his counterparts, "That's right! We are a
team! We are a team!"

Made me smile. I caught the third one's eyes as I came round a pine
tree, and he smiled back at me.

As I've been mulling over routes, reflecting on traveling and journey
and taking note on my walks and driving, I found myself asking these
questions about this morning's encounter:

What does it mean to do routine pressure checks?
If a particular hose can withstand 400 pounds of pressure, what is the equivalent for a human being?
How do we check our own pressure?
(Is this called a "physical"?)
What is the equivalent of us laying ourselves out flat and running force through our bodies?
Do we swell and expand just like fire hoses? What do our hearts look like under pressure?
How does a mind or spirit expand or contract with pressure?
If we are in tune and can withstand such levels of pressure, what is our power in the face of fire?
Are our bodies capable of being conduits for water flow, a kind of saving energy?
As humans, do we have a routine way of doing this?

What happens if we aren't doing routine checks?

Is there any way we can make sure that we can withstand the fire, and be a positive force, rather than add to mess and damage?
What is it to be certain?


Just some thoughts from my walk today, and those blessed firemen from Station 19.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Former Student, Michelle Berry, Reflecting on "Why Writing Matters"

It's a gift when a former student shows up. It's an even more amazing gift when they show up in your life and share what's up. And it's even more precious and privileged when a former student reflects on the time you spent together, and surfaces some semblance of what was happening in their brains, hearts, beings while they were in your classroom. "Privileged and RARE,"I say!

The following is an email from former North High Writing as Performance Student, Michelle Berry, that arrived recently and sort of blew my mind. Ms. Berry is currently at St. Thomas doing her thing, and being amazing. Her mind and journey are gifts to me, to us all, as she courageously moves and makes visible her process and passion as writer/ traveler/ witness. Here, she shares a journal reflection on "Why She Writes," or rather, "Why Writing Matters."


Love to her! To all!


Hey Miss B. I hope this email finds you in exceptional condition. I am here at the University of St. Thomas further pursuing my education in print journalism as well as international studies. My classes here are wonderful. I am taking Theology, Philosophy, Intro to Justice and Peace and English. My English class is so great. Today we had an essay due: a journal reflection on "Why I Write". Instead I titled mine "Why it matters to me." I have attached it to this email because I think that you will find it very interesting. Miss B. I could never stress to you the importance of your class or the influence you and my classmates had on me and my writing. I am ever so grateful. Please write back (as I know you will Email Queen). I would love to know what's going on in Borgy's world now a days.

Forever your beloved student,
Michelle N. Berry

I sit there. I am still and quiet. I am observant. I am intrigued. And above all else, I am convinced that “that place” is where I want to be. He has inspired me. I need to find my voice. She has lit a fire within me. I truly do have something to say… or more so, a story to write.

The seed of passion was implanted in me in a typical, North High School classroom: A few windows (we were a fortunate class to have those), plain white walls and a feeling of lifelessness. But for some reason, only in this class, there was life. We had created it and it was established in our thoughts. It was in my “Writing as a Performance” class that I really took on the title of “Writer”. It was only in this class, that I was empowered by the students around me. Their feelings, their words, their stories… They were thought- provoking. It was there, in that dull, public classroom that I was able to express my most private thoughts. My mind became adaptive to escaping her own thoughts, and exploring the thoughts of the minds around her. It may be a foolish thing to say, but she is a pro at jumping back and forth between other people’s minds.

I may never be able to express to you all the wonders of that class. What matters is the fact that that class got me here to who I am today. I am a passionate writer and a critical thinker. Furthermore, it is the roots of where I am going: to “that place”. I have told you a few times before that writing for me is like the game of basketball for LeBron James. That is just what he does and this is just what I do. But why?

Why do I write? I think it’s more risky to ask why it matters to me. Every mind-enhancing citizen has written something before: a poem, a short story, a long paper. It’s rather impossible to find someone who hasn’t written something. Odds grow slimmer when the question posed is why it matters. Some say it won’t, others will disagree. For me, writing is a journey- an adventure. It matters because I want to end up at “that place”. I want to be taught so that I can teach.

Are you curiously wondering about “that place” yet? “That place” refers to both a physical place as well as an internal state of mind. It is through my writings that I will physically be able to visit Ghana, Liberia, Israel, Venezuela, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone… The list could go on forever. There, my thoughts would be captivated by language, history, tradition, food, arts and entertainment, emotions and above all else the stories (some of which may still be untold) of the people. It is the lives of the people that matter.

Then again, it is through my writings I will internally be able to play. Play with my thoughts, play with my imagination, play with the fire my mind grabs at and play with the minds of others. I am already at “this place”. However, I never stay here. I just continue to make frequent trips there. If I am always learning and always being challenged, there is no telling what my mind will end up holding true, or real, or fake. Being able to go to “that place” matters because it is the source of my purpose here on earth. It is the reason for my existence.

One of my favorite authors, Maya Angelou once said,
“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.”
I myself could not have said it any better. I write because it matters. It matters because there are people all over this world who have an amazing story to be told. A story filled with inspiration, deception, truths, love, pain and suffering, humility, tears and triumph. I believe a person becomes his better self when in the process of being told someone else’s story. Today, someone is waiting to become that better person. They will keep waiting until that story is told to them. And I am that person.

Book-ended By Birds: Notes from the Road

Friends, This is a serious work-in-progress, but I send out as blog entry, as prayer, as witness to the mess of life, love and being on a journey:
1. Notes on birds and bird poop.

Last night, I parked my car behind the "King and I" underneath a gigantic tree filled with birds. I was early to meet a friend, so when I got out, I decided to just stand underneath this elm or oak -- or whatever it was -- and just listen. It was beautiful. This choir of winged creatures, singing me into the evening, into my date with Ms. Sharifa, into a space of contentment, thinking: "No matter what is going on in my heart, my head, on this woeful planet of ours, it can't be that bad that this bird music might provide a kind of levity, calm, in this moment. Yes. Thank you, God, for this music."

I was there maybe five minutes, before I ventured in to belly-up and meet my girl, Rifa.
When I left, after a lot of much needed conversation and heartfelt reflection with this dear former student, now dear adult friend, I saw that my car had a splattering of bird poop on it. It was dark, it seemed to hardly matter, and I was focused and heading home.

Okay. But wait! In the full light of day, my friends, as I departed for work this morning: PLEASE! I got to see fully the array of SHIT that those beautiful birds dropped all over my car! It was amazing! That I hadn't really noticed it the night before made me laugh. But waking to this: seeing the splattering in the sunshine, I had to wonder:

I wrote this text message then: "Parked under a tree full of birds last night. Amazing music. Today: car covered in shit! These things I love so much, are also quite messy. It all sings, speaks to me." I sent it off to some pals.

And: It's true, true, true. I love the feathered creatures. I just don't have this same kind of affection for what they drop out of their bodies.

My friend Emily, Assistant Principal at first ring Suburban Middle School, text back: "Oh yes! Feeling same way at school today!"

And that inspired me to write, "Messy, messy, messy! Don't take shit personally! Birds must poop and sing."

Isn't it the case with all of us? Like middle schoolers, we are all making our way, wreaking havoc like the birds. It's sort of our job as humans. To sing, fly, flutter about, and "handle our business." No one ever said this was easy or without mess! And why should I, should anyone get caught up in the stuff that comes flailing out of the beloved bodies and beings of others? There's no need!

I like the typical, practical response to bird droppings on a car windshield:
See the stuff,
know it's there,
wash it off, and
keep driving.

This is the first lesson to myself for day.

2. Note on Road Construction.

Trying to get my body home after work was really interesting. If seeing the "poop" and steering clear of it was lesson numero uno of my day, lesson numero dos reinforced this navigational teaching with the Universe challenging my methods of getting home. My typical road and pathway was closed.

I recognize I work very well on autopilot as a driver. (Don't we all when it comes to our well-worn routine-routes home? We can tune out to conscious decision making about turns and the time, focus on the news, or sing along with the radio or cd, or just let our brains go fuzzy to dinner or God, or whatever call us in this auto-drive time.)

But not today. Today, I had to PAY ATTENTION! Because my traditional road to 1188 Juno was closed! And not just closed, but seriously, seriously, BLOCKED OFF WITH LIKE LITTLE Way through or around, or any suggested alternative route!!!

Let me back up a tid bit. The parkway to my house is under construction. It has been for weeks. No biggie. I have other ways of getting home. But this is the catcher: I haven't really taken them, because when push came to shove, my route hadn't REALLY be shut down. NO. The crews put up "Road Closed" signs, but they weren't really reinforced. I tested this the first night, inching past the orange and white markers and found it super easy to continue on down Edgcumbe. Sure, the road was ripped up, but it wasn't dangerous, and it sure as heck didn't seem CLOSED to me. I just had to roll over dirt and rocks. Not a problem for my little all wheel drive CR-V!

Yeah, so, if I pause here: I get it! I've not been heeding the signs. They said closed, yet I was able to pass. For weeks now: I've been getting through, not having to shift up my routine.
ACK! Not today!

I approached the "road closed" barricade with the same confidence, casualness, arrogance (?) even: "It says that, but I know otherwise."

Ha! But dang it all! I bypassed the newly placed Mountain of dirt, noting that things were a bit different, and thinking, "oh! it's great to see them bringing in more material, progress." As I drove down the road, I literally ran into a wall of dirt. Turns out it was closed. IS CLOSED. At least this section.

I thought, "Okay, I'll just skinny around through an alley, and continue on toward Juno. I only have a short ways to go." aha! Yeah, but when I turned off and headed down a side-street and alley, again: A WALL OF DIRT!! Right at the end of this back-way, there it was, plus an orange and yellow tape pulled across the passage way.

I turned around, and attempted again - this time down another alley, a block over. But it too presented me with another blockade. I was 45-point turning myself, my car around in these under construction alleys, and it wasn't super fun. In fact, it was the opposite of fun. I was frustrated. And really: sort of lost! Who ever tried to get themselves home strickly through back alleys, behind neighbors homes, from 6 blocks away? Goodness! It's nuts what you run into back there!

Suffice it to say, I navigated in a round, round, twisty-back-road-route-way through the construction, seemingly by myself, and found Lexington Parkway, finally! Six blocks the other side of where I wanted to be, from what was my DIRECT PATH, dang it! But a street that I knew would get me home!

Ahhhhhh! The metaphor knocks me on my butt!

3. Note On Wild Geese.

I had to go for a walk when I finally got home. Work off my steam or frustration, and crack open the message: "You want to travel straight, Melissa? You want to find your home, your center, contentment, safety, without facing the poop? Without making any kind of changes in how you navigate? No! This life business is not so simple!"

I did my tonglen breathing thing, practicing the Buddhist meditation as I walked: inhaling frustrations, exhaling love and compassion. I started with myself, then moved to loved ones also facing frustrations and dilemmas, then inched outward to the strangers I passed by, and finally- to those who are my nemesis - I sent LOVE! It felt good, and by the time I got a mile into my walk, about half way, I got my second great bird experience of the day.

Above my head, two geese flew, side by side, and just to make sure that they got my attention: they seemed to be honking at me. "Yo! Melissa! Up here! Check us out! We won't poop on you! Just look up!"

The presence of these beautiful moving birds was like a sweet balm, or a lovely book end to my day of noting things. The poem "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver immediately came to mind. The lines that I've been meditating on, (even sending out in text recently):
"You do not have to be good...You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves."
flooded my heart. It was like the most beautiful offering of the world, of God, of Nature back to me, saying: "Don't stress. Just see. Witness. Receive, Love. Be flexible, Be open, Don't judge, Be on the journey, be in the journey. Be like the birds."

I"ll close with Ms. Oliver's entire poem, and this thought:

Love the birds, the mess of life, and soft animals of your own bodies!



Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver

published by Atlantic Monthly Press

© Mary Oliver