Tuesday, April 29, 2008

May Sarton and A Sugar Maple: Meditation through the Two Inch Window

Poem: "April in Maine" by May Sarton, from Collected Poems: 1930-1993. © W.W. Norton & Company, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

April in Maine

The days are cold and brown,
Brown fields, no sign of green,
Brown twigs, not even swelling,
And dirty snow in the woods.

But as the dark flows in
The tree frogs begin
Their shrill sweet singing,
And we lie on our beds
Through the ecstatic night,
Wide awake, cracked open.

There will be no going back.

Part of my recent prayer, is meditating on all that I can view through a two-inch window. Inspired by an Anne Lamott, I began this practice - intentionally working to slow down my approach toward all that seems to BEG FOR MY ATTENTION - in this crazy, amazing, wonderful world of ours.
Here's my attempt: publishing photographs from my front yard of the sugar maple leaves working to become themselves, alongside a May Sarton poem, reproduced from Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac. (Much gratitude!)

Peace, Happy Meditating!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Happy Birthday Harper Lee!

From Garrison's "Writers Almanac," comes this delightful tale of Nelle Harper Lee.

I love Scout and Jem and Atticus and Boo Radley, and the woman's mind/ spirit/ heart from which these characters all sprang....I think, too, of Tom Robinson and Mayella Ewell, and what all must have shaped Ms. Lee's life: her navigation of such experiences, whether lived or just powerfully encountered in her psyche and imagination...Yes!
Here's to the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the parents that birthed her!

Here's, too, to the Public Encouragement Lee sought, as well as private kind that buoyed her!


It's the birthday of (Nelle) Harper Lee, (books by this author) the author of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), born in Monroeville, Alabama (1926), the daughter of a local newspaper editor and lawyer. She was a friend from childhood of Truman Capote, and she later traveled to Kansas with him to help with the research of his work for In Cold Blood (1966). In college, she worked on the humor magazine Ramma-Jamma. She attended law school at the University of Alabama, but dropped out before earning a degree, moving to New York to pursue a writing career. She later said that her years in law school were "good training for a writer."

To support herself while writing, she worked for several years as a reservation clerk at British Overseas Airline Corporation and at Eastern Air Lines. In December of 1956, some of her New York friends gave her a year's salary along with a note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." She decided to devote herself to writing and moved into an apartment with only cold water and improvised furniture.

Lee wrote very slowly, extensively revising for two and a half years on the manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird (which she had called at different times "Go Set a Watchman" and "Atticus"). She called herself "more a rewriter than writer," and on a winter night in 1958, she was so frustrated with the progress of her novel and its many drafts that she threw the manuscripts out the window of her New York apartment into the deep snow below. She called her editor to tell him, and he convinced her to go outside and collect the papers.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1960 and was immediately a popular and critical success. Lee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. A review in The Washington Post read,

"A hundred pounds of sermons on tolerance, or an equal measure of invective deploring the lack of it, will weigh far less in the scale of enlightenment than a mere 18 ounces of new fiction bearing the title To Kill a Mockingbird."

Lee later said, "I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Fr. Richard Rohr: On Prayer

"Prayer Is a Place"

Prayer is a psychological place, a spiritual place, a place where we go to get out of ourselves, a place created and inhabited by God. Whatever disciplines can help us to get to where reality can get at us (the Real in its ultimate sense being God) I would call prayer. That opens up many possibilities and styles. Prayer is whatever calls us to detach from our own self, from our own compulsions and addictions, from our own ego, from our own "place." We are all too trapped in our own places by virtue of the egocentricity of the human person. In prayer the Spirit entices us outside of our narrow comfort zone. No wonder we avoid prayer: We have to change place.

from Catholic Agitator, "Finding a Place for Prayer"

Friday, April 25, 2008

On Suicide: A Reflection in Questions

This article in the New York Times about the increasing number of people committing suicide in their Midlife fascinates me. "Midlife Suicide Rises, Puzzling Researchers"

The article reports:
A new five-year analysis of the nation’s death rates recently released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the suicide rate among 45-to-54-year-olds increased nearly 20 percent from 1999 to 2004, the latest year studied, far outpacing changes in nearly every other age group. (All figures are adjusted for population.)
The topic strikes close to home, as I recall the people who have taken their lives in my immediate circle of family, friends: classmate Greg Schulte, sister's friend Blue Mackey, brother's peer, and my sister-in-law's cousin Mike Claussen; and most recently, my neighbor: Harold.)

What is at the core of this problem?
Why does someone commit suicide?
Believing that we must be more? We are not enough as we are?
Battling depression, addiction, abuse of some kind? Always: dealing with our own battered psyches, spirits, yes?
What is the core reason for depression?
What is the root cause of not loving yourself?
Where do messages of "you are not enough" come from?
Where do messages of "you are enough" come from?
How do we address this in our psyches?
What is our responsibility as a society to examine this?
As a family?
What is my responsibility as an individual?

Just some questions, that I pose in prayer.
More soon,

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sr. Rafael Correspondence: On God, People, the Pope

The following words arrived in an email from my friend, Sr. Rafael Tilton. She's a Franciscan nun at Assisi Heights in Rochester, MN. I adore her.

These words follow from my own musings about the Pope's visit to the United States. Perhaps they'll speak to you...?

I don't know what to say about the way some people think about and are hearing the pope. Like with God, everybody is hurt by something somebody does. I say, God tries to get the message across. I try. The pope tries. Everybody tries. God feels bad. I feel bad. Everybody feels bad. Maybe it hurts because we are made in God's image and God is hurting. How can I tell? How can you tell? God tries. Everybody tries. What more can be said? Better luck next time!! That doesn't sound right, either. There is hope! I like that. I try to make it better. God tries. Everybody tries.

Peace and All Good
Sr. Rafael
To echo Rafael:
"Peace and All Good" to you!

(Photos Courtesy of Brian Mogren,
taken at St. Jane's House)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Resurrection Questions: Fr. Richard vs. Sr. Melissa

"The Gift of Life"

On this earth nothing lives unless something else dies. It's true in the animal world, it's true in the chemistry world, it's true in the whole physical world. Jesus comes into this world and says, I, your God in your midst, will die so that you can live. Our vocation is to be like him, to die and be bread that is broken to feed the hungry world so that the world can live. When we can acknowledge that no one owes us anything, that all of life is a gift, we move toward freedom. And in that freedom, the amazing thing is, we're able to enjoy our life, because we don't have to grasp it anymore. We don't have to prove or assert it anymore. We're finally allowed to sit back and to enjoy God's presence, and to enjoy our own, too. Now we can enjoy other people because we don't need them to meet our so-called needs. We are called to live in the beautiful place of dying and living. It's the mystery of faith that we shout at the center of the Eucharist Prayer. As I give him my dying, as I say, "Welcome, sister death," as I hand myself over, God gives back life in new form. Now I've lived long enough to see the pattern played out for myself. To me the pattern is evident. I can believe the dying and the rising of Jesus is the pattern that connects all things. I believe that it is the mystery of this world, in all of the cosmos, in all of the stars, in all of nature, in water, in plants, in animals and in my human flesh. Christ is dying, Christ is risen, this Christ will show himself in all ages and all things.

-Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM in The Price of Peoplehood

Here's my meditation on Fr. Rohr's words, with a healthy dose of doubt and questions! Ha! Love!

What is Fr. Rohr challenging me to do today?
I have to die?
How am I bread broken for the hungry? PLEASE!
What's up with this "no one owing me anything" business? What if I've worked my booty off for a long time, am I not supposed to get some kind of sweet compensation?!
What do I "grasp"? What do I "assert"?
Where is my ego, anyway?
Can someone point to it?
What happens if I let go of control and desire and my will?
Isn't that sort of like surrender?
Does God like a wimp? Would I like myself in such circumstances?
What patterns have I established in my life?
What pattern is this guy speaking about?
How can a pattern connect all things?
What does that look like?
Can I ignore this message?

Plants, animals, science: these are not my subject materials!

And Jesus? Dying? Rising? Please! What if I'm a Buddhist or Hindu?! This simply doesn't apply!


Monday, April 21, 2008

Fr. Richard Rohr - A bit on Parenting in a Radical Way

"The Prodigal Son's Father"

The Father who Jesus knew looks amazingly like what most cultures would call mother. In Luke 15, the story of the prodigal son, Jesus makes his most complete presentation of the character of this Father, whom he called God. The father is in every way the total opposite of the male patriarch and even rejects his older son's appeal to a world of worthiness and merit. He not only allows the younger son to make choices against him, but even empowers him to do so by giving him money! After the son's bad mistakes, the father still refuses his own right to restore order or impose a penance, even though the prodigal son offers to serve as a hired servant. Both his leaving and his returning are treated as necessary but painful acts of adult freedom. In every way he can, the father makes mutuality and vulnerability possible.

from Radical Grace, "Is This 'Women-Stuff' Important?" by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Henri Nouwen on Freedom

Freedom Attracts

When you are interiorly free you call others to freedom, whether you know it or not. Freedom attracts wherever it appears. A free man or a free woman creates a space where others feel safe and want to dwell. Our world is so full of conditions, demands, requirements, and obligations that we often wonder what is expected of us. But when we meet a truly free person, there are no expectations, only an invitation to reach into ourselves and discover there our own freedom.

Where true inner freedom is, there is God. And where God is, there we want to be.

-Fr. Henri Nouwen

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Bit on Hunger....Words from the Director of the World Food Program - and Bob Marley

The article, "Across the Globe, Empty Bellies Bring Rising Anger " - in the New York Times today - took me to contemplations of hunger in our world:

Why are there empty bellies on this planet?
What is the relationship between hunger and poverty?

What is at the heart of poverty?

How can we not have enough?
How are the problems of people in Haiti, Cairo, Burkina Faso, Malaysia, the problems of me in St. Paul, Minnesota?
What is it like to go to bed without food?
What is it like to be constantly full?
How is hunger related to war?
How is hunger related to love?

How can we know a sustainable and peaceful response to such questions?

Where is Jesus, God, Jah, Love in this?

What are we invited to examine with such stories?

What wealth do I possess?

What privilege am I privy to?
What is my poverty? Where is my hunger? How am I called?

How is this all gift?

What do such stories inspire me to create?

What do we need to be able to hold in order to respond?

How does this call us to some greater consciousness and action?

Okay. Some questions. Here, then, are a line of text from the New York Times article, and a song of Bob Marley's -- as one kind of response to all that is coming forward in my own prayer and contemplation on Hunger and Love.

"Why are these riots happening?" asked Arif Husain, senior food security analyst at the World Food Program, which has issued urgent appeals for donations. "The human instinct is to survive, and people are going to do no matter what to survive. And if you're hungry you get angry quicker."

Bob Marley - Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) Lyrics

Them belly full but we hungry
A hungry mob is an angry mob
A rain a fall but the dirt it tough
A pot a cook but the food no 'nough

You're gonna dance to jah music, dance,
We're gonna dance to jah music, dance,

Forget your troubles and dance,
Forget your sorrows and dance,
Forget your sickness and dance,
Forget your weakness and dance

Cost of livin' gets so high
Rich and poor they start to cry
Now the weak must get strong
They say oh, what a tribulation
Them belly full but we hungry
A hungry mob is an angry mob
A rain a fall but the dirt it tough
A pot a cook but you no 'nough

We're gonna chuck to jah music chuckin'
We're chuckin' to jah music, we're chuckin'

Belly full but them hungry.
A hungry mob is an angry mob
A rain a fall but the dirt it tough
A pot a cook but the food no 'nough
A hungry mob is an angry mob

Thursday, April 17, 2008

St. Bonaventure, St. Francis, Archbishop Tutu, Richard Rohr: Wise and Joyful Guys...

"Wisdom From St. Bonaventure"

Self-conscious prayer is not necessarily the best or the only form of prayer. To be praying, you don't need to know you are praying! How else could the Apostle Paul tell us to pray without ceasing? Paul was not naive or unaware of practical demands. He was, quite simply, mature in his spirituality. He was a "contemplative charismatic": Life and religion were synthesized; he had the vision of the whole. St. Bonaventure, building on the Franciscan

experience of the Incarnation, saw the "traces" or "footprints" of God everywhere. The "journey of the mind to God" was to learn how to see the unity of all being, how to listen to the hidden God and how to read the footprints that were everywhere evident. The result was a life of gratitude and reverence and simple joy - a Franciscan spirituality. Thus Bonaventure, like most great saints, combined a highly contemplative personality with very active and effective ministry in secular and practical affairs.

Fr. Richard Rohr in Catholic Charismatic, "To Be and to Let Be: The Life of Reverence"

These words of Fr. Rohr's take me to Archbishop Tutu. I'm fully fascinated and drawn by the juxtaposition of all these men: St. Bonaventure, St. Francis, Desmond Tutu, Richard Rohr.

How does Love hold it all?

What is conveyed in the contemplation of all four?

What joy exists in each of them? In us?

How do our interior lives manifest in exterior ways?

What expression shows our gratitude?

What do our actions convey?

How does my prayerful life manifest in practical and secular affairs?

Peace, Happy Contemplating!


Monday, April 14, 2008

The Archbishop Desmond Tutu In Town: Photo Documentation!

"This gives me hope for the future."

These were Anita Trutwin's opening words in an email to me this morning, following our encounter over the weekend in the auditorium of Minneapolis North High School. We saw Archbishop Desmond Tutu address a crowd of almost 7oo youth in the Peace Jam event, and it buoyed our spirits. Inspired our hearts.

I hadn't seen Anita in about a year, when she pulled up behind me and parked outside the high school. Anita is a former North Side Anne Sullivan teacher who I met at the Church of St. Philips -- just across the street from her former school at 26th and Bryant. What a treat to walk in together and see the bus loads of mostly youth coming to take part in this revolutionary event.

Anita shared in her email an exchange with her three year old son from that day, that gave the Archbishop's visit all the more weight, hope, significance.

Josh, Anita's husband, asked their son Ben,
"What is the meaning of life?" (They like to pose deep questions to the child from time to time, "just to hear what will come out of his mouth.")

On this day, "Ben said, 'monsters.'"

Anita goes on in the email:
"I asked him what is one thing we could do to make the
world a better place. Ben thought for a moment, and said 'trenches.'"

"If I would have missed Desmond Tutu's speech on Saturday," Anita wrote, "I think I'd be building a bunker right about now."

I'm with Anita on this. I'm even with Ben a lot of the time: Monsters lurk in this world, I long for trenches, digging in deep, protecting myself.

But the Archbishop reminds us of why warfare and vilifying those who seem to do us wrong - get us no where. His constant modeling of joy, love, optimism, faith, in the face of the darkness, in the face of evil in the world, is truly inspiring. As he repeated Friday night, over and over and over again, (as only this South African Archbishop with spunk can really do):
"Jesus holds it ALL! Jesus holds us ALL! ...ALL!....George Bush! .....ALL! Osama bid Laden! .....ALL! ....Gay and Lesbian and so-called straight people.....All!" "

Whether you believe in Jesus or not, on Friday night when Tutu uttered these words before the Convention Center crowd, there was a standing ovation. On Saturday, again, students got to their feet and exploded with joyful applause at his message. For me, this signifies a kind of belief in the heart and message of what this guy stands for, and inspires us all to act on: Love! Peace! Yes!

Enjoy the pictures below.


Metropolitan State University and Peace Jam Present:
Desmond Tutu.

Convention Center Crowd

Some of my peeps:
Antoinette Bennaars, Sr. Karen, Fr. Carl (Retired Maryknoll Missionary from Africa); Sr. Mary Frances, Sr. Mary Margaret, Brian Mogren, Sr. Katherine

Representative Keith Ellison is in the crowd

A Peace Jam Video Precedes his Entrance

The Audience gets to its feet to Welcome the "Arch"

Gesturing to signify those arms that "Hold it ALL!"

The exuberance that inspires us all...

Another final standing ovation

Saturday afternoon's ensemble:
Brian Mogren, Brother John, Me, Scott Mogren

Bus loads of youth filing in...

Youthrive's Peace Production crew

North High Student Senior "Bucky" starts the welcome with Principal Stewart

Naomi Tutu introduces her father...with words engaging youth in their thinking about their own relationship to their parents...

The Youth Welcome Him!

Archbishop Tutu first taking the North High Podium...

Lots of documentation is happening...

The "Arch" takes questions...

First student to ask a question...

One of Tutu's glorious expressions...

Another student question

Another expression...

He's frustrated he can't hear...

"Speak up!" Archbishop Tutu is EMPHATIC about student's using their voices!

A query in a louder voice


Yes! More Joy....

A Final Standing Ovation, before Archbishop Tutu departs for Red Wing, and the youth correctional facility....


Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Ask Me" A William Stafford Poem

Ask Me
By William Stafford

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into

my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

Questions as Contemplation, Response, Prayer:

What lives below seemingly frozen surfaces?
What are my mistakes? Yours?

How do we measure or assess our lives?
How have I loved?
How have I hated?
What have the consequences been?
What stillness shapes or inspires action?
I wonder what the river might have spoken to Archbishop Desmond Tutu? Or Ghandi? Mother Theresa or Martin?
What might the river speak to my students at Minneapolis North High?

What does the river say to you?

What does your life say back?

This poem has re-appeared in my life. I first came across it a couple summers ago, before my journey west to Idaho write. I was appreciative then of the way it spoke to me, as well as what was conveyed simply in the sharing of it with a friend.

I'm inspired to post it here, following the experience of it re-emerging and again, inspiring a kind of soulful exchange with friends. Thank you to Parker J. Palmer, and his book "Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation" - where I found this reprinted and anchoring the text. Thank you to Maryann Pearson for sending me that book. Thank you to Becca Barniskis for ever cracking open Stafford's poems with me. Thank you to Joy Chaney, for liking this poem and being my teacher. Thank you to God for Rivers and Poets and Love.