Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Wild Geese": Mary Oliver's Lent?

Today marks the beginning of Lent* in the Catholic church. This period of forty days, evoking Christ's time in the desert, is one we are all invited into. As a Christian, I think of it as a period of intentional contemplation - in the name of recognizing our utter humanity, and utter connectedness. I think of the many lenses a Catholic, or someone in another faith tradition, might perceive this period, and it gives me pause.

What is a forty day period of reflection about?
What gifts might we glean?
How many faith traditions practice such reflective periods - that include fasting? What do I encounter in the desert of my soul?
What if I encounter rage? Or demons? Where is love within?
I wonder what this Jesus fellow experienced in His time? How are He and I related?
I wonder about Mary Oliver and her Lenten dance? Did she ever walk through a desert? What does she know about being "Good" or being labeled as "Bad"?
I wonder how her poem "Wild Geese" was born?
What does she know of repentance? Of love? I wonder how the natural world might have spoken to Christ during his lifetime?
Could this be similar to you and me?

I wonder a lot of things. I offer Ms. Oliver's poem as another way into this season of reflection, love, forgiveness, transformation. Amen.

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

*The Teutonic word Lent, which we employ to denote the forty days' fast preceding Easter, originally meant no more than the spring season.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More Franti and Spearhead: "Sometimes" - It's a Dance Party!

"I love Michael Franti. I'm going to have Sylvie start listening to him… what great music for a dance party!" - Emily Borgmann*

It's a dance party in my apartment right now. I am in love with this guy at this moment. Woohoo!


*These words from my sister in law inspired me to post another Franti/ Spearhead video to my blog. The song is called "Sometimes." (See if you can recognize the "Rollercoaster" sample.) I appreciate Mr. Franti dancing on stage, rocking it out, around minute 1:20. Yes!

I feel so lucky to get to see such performers live! Love! I know a number of you will rock it out at your offices, at your desks, in your homes now. Enjoy!


Michael Franti In Minneapolis: "Say Hey!" Happy Valentine's Day!

"Seems like every where I go, the more I see, the less I know."

I love this song. The simplicity. The sweetness. The story.

This evening I will have the pleasure of seeing Michael Franti perform this live with Spearhead at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis. As a precursor to tonight's event, I share this You Tube music video of his latest song, "Say Hey (I love you.) " It says volumes to me about the sweet, simple, profound notion of love, and what our journeys really teach us.



Monday, February 09, 2009

Vusi Mahlasela at the Ordway: Another kind of Church

I had the amazing privilege and pleasure of seeing this rocking South African perform last night in St. Paul. Yeah to the Ordway for bringing Vusi Mahlasela here. All day, I was referring to the event, and trying to describe how powerful it was when people got up from their "pews" to dance in the aisles. Realizing we weren't in church, I thought my mistake was actually quite appropriate, as the concert felt like being at a rocking service.

An additional note: In the opening of this song, recorded in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the Live 8 concert, Vusi reminds me so much of former Teens Rock the Mic poets, spitting poetic narratives quickly into the mic...In this case, Mr. Mahlasela speaks as witness - or in testimony- to the crimes committed during Apartheid...However bleak it may seem, it's truly a song of hope and healing.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Strange Fruit: A Reflection on Race, Culture, Faith, and Dialogue from the North Side

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
- Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday

It's Wednesday night. I am at the Church of St. Philips in North Minneapolis. Actress and singer Thomasina Taylor Petrus is performing in the Mixed Blood Theater production of the one-woman show, "Daughters of Africa." At the corner of 26th and Bryant, inside this Catholic church, I am a member of this diverse audience that includes neighborhood children and teens, parents and mentors all gathered with fellow church members and Patchwork Quilt volunteers from partnering parishes around the Twin Cities. Black, White. Brown, yellow. Old, young. All are welcome and assembled for this free community performance of a musical honoring the lives and legacies of African American women through the ages.
At this moment, I am struck by Ms. Petrus' performance of Billie Holiday. The actress embodies this vocal legend -- physically, emotionally --singing "Strange Fruit" from the stage space created in front of the church's alter. In the course of her song, hearing these harrowing and powerful lyrics, I take note of the setting. I stand in awe of this juxtaposition of a Holiday in our midst, offering such potent words, with Christ on the Cross behind her, hanging atop a multi-colored stone-constructed wall.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

My breathe stops short for a second. I pause, and take it in. Blood on the leaves. Blood at the root. Bulging eyes, twisted mouth. Bodies swinging. The scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh.

A month ago, I sat in this same space, to witness the ecumenical memorial service for Annshalike Hamilton, a 15 year old young girl found frozen in a garage, two blocks away, having been beaten to death. She was 7 months pregnant. Every sunday, I attend mass in this same space, blending with a congregation of West Africans and Polish Immigrants, North Siders, Suburban members and other Urban dwellers. And I am moved by it all: the proximity of people and tales, language and culture, crucifixion and terror, faith and community, fear and love, creation and transcendence -- all in one space. All seem to converge and speak directly to my core as some kind of celebratory witness of our humanity.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,

For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter crop.

By the time the performance ends, we have seen Harriet Tubman, Elisabeth Freeman, Madam C.J. Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Lena Horne, Rosa Parks, Oprah Winfrey. All come to life. All these women tell their stories, sing and engage our crowd.

Afterwards, after the applause, after the question and answer period -- after the little kids marvel and move toward Thomasina, after the children crawl up to sit next to her, after I even add my comment about this moment that has stood out to me -- this is when I have the next conversation. The layered conversation, the race meets faith meets culture and language conversation.

Fr. Jules Omba Omalanga, my newly installed pastor from the Congo, is locking up the place. I say to this dear man, with brown skin and a warm, round face, "Hey! Good stuff, eh, Pere Jules?"

He is beaming, and notes, in his African-French-accented English: "Did you see all the little kids coming up to her? I love seeing children so engaged."

I smile. I nod. I say, "And, this took place in church, Father!? And there was not one overt mention of Jesus!?" He nods and turns his head to me. I continue, "It's powerful what the arts and opportunities like this do for engaging us all, eh?"

I want to squeeze him. I want to thank him for his role in having this kind of thing happen in our church. I want to talk about my own large catholic spirit layered notions of how faith intersects with story, and works to inspire us all. I hold back. I wonder if this appropriate? I wonder if my Congolese Catholic priest gleans the way words shared, performed, sung this evening, are not unlike the words we hear shared each Sunday morning at service? I consider the way I feel fed by this performance, in a similar way to how I feel fed each time I attend mass and receive the Eucharist. I wonder if I can even utter such things? I wonder how he perceives, what he gleans of this evening, what he gets from the history of African Americans? I wonder too, especially, what it's like when his own Congolese and French-speaking self has only been here a few short years? I wonder if he understands me? Ultimately, I wonder if I understand him?

"Fr. Jules, did you get the "Strange Fruit" reference I mentioned?"

He shakes his head, "no" and continues locking up. Fumbling with keys, he says, "What is this 'strange fruit'?"

I try to explain, "It's an allusion to the lynching of an African American in a song by Billie Holiday."

"What is this word, "lynching?" he asks, still turning locks, still looking puzzled.

I pause, put my hand on his arm, "Father, imagine Jesus is black, and instead of a cross, he's hanging from a rope in a tree. That is 'lynching.'"

Then he nods, stopping, looking straight at me, and says, "Yes. I know many stories like this. It reminds me of stories from home. Stories from places the Congo and other African countries... like in Darfur. I know what this is."

Whew. And there's another conversation, right? Another 15 conversations! Here I am thinking all about catholicism and race and culture and history as it mixes itself up on the North side. Here I am trying to sort if this fellow and I have much in common and how we might ever really communicate, understand one another, be on the same page. And here, in this honest exchange, in this slowing down and stopping sort-of-exchange, my priest and friend takes me right out into the larger world. Into his home country, and into his experiences -- into spaces that I have no first hand knowledge of, but desire to understand deeply. He also takes me right into his own heart. I feel like I am present, lucky, so privileged to be standing here and part of something that feels so much larger.

And it makes me ask:
How many layers of communication must we peel back until we are all on the same page -- until we are all speaking about the same thing, using a common language, or common frame of reference? How many doors, hallways, buildings, alleys, (continents) do we travel over and through, until we find ourselves euphemistically, literally, in same room? What does it take to get there? How many keys do we need? How many doors do we lock and unlock? How many plays and masses and funerals do we attend? How many conversations do we have? Who wants to go through all the work? Who wants the hastle, the mess, the emotion? Who wants to hold feelings of perhaps being lost or confused? Who wants to acknowledge the work, and what exists in this room, on this page, when we arrive? And why would any of us want to go there?

These are questions I'm passionate about. These are questions that plague me. These are questions that seem to be at the heart of all my work and experiences of late. Whew. So I put them out here, in light of this recent encounter, and I invite you to hold this with me.
I invite you into the strange fruit experiences, conversations and contemplations of your own.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Something From Richard Rohr - Toward Wisdom

I love this reflection from Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr. It's a bit on reflection, contemplation, living in the present moment, moving beyond duality and toward wisdom....I think President Barack Obama knows about this "Third Way" that Rohr refers to here....

Smiles, Love,
Happy Contemplating!
The contemplative mind does not need to prove anything or disprove anything. It's just what the Benedictines called a Lectio Divina reading of the Scripture that looks for wisdom that says, "What does this text ask of me to change about me?"

The contemplative mind lets the terrifying wonderful moment be what it is and primarily ask something of me, not always using it to convert the nations.

The contemplative mind is willing to hear from a beginner's mind, yet also learn from the Tradition. It has the humility to receive both/and thinking and not all or nothing thinking. Now we call this non-dual thinking. It leads to what we call the Third Way, neither fight nor flight, but standing in between where I can hold what I do know together with what I don't know. And let that wonderful mix lead me to wisdom instead of this quick knowledge which largely just creates opinionated people and not wise people.

Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, in the CAC webcast, Nov. 8, 2008:
What is The Emerging Church?