Monday, April 24, 2017

ROOTED: A guest post by Elliott Blackwell



 A few months ago I made a new online friend, Elliott Blackwell. On his blog, Begin With Wonder, he writes prolifically and profoundly about faith, doubt, questions, family, books, prayer, and many other things. I am always both challenged and encouraged by his reflections.

I asked Elliott a while back if he might write a guest post for me, and he suggested we do guest posts for one another on the same day, on the same theme -- so that is what we are doing today. He offered this quote from Simone Weil as a prompt:

“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”

I love what Elliott has written about roots and the need to go further on the inward journey to discover our identity in God.  I'm honoured to feature his piece here today as a guest post. 


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ROOTED


"To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul." 
- Simone Weil

We have lived in our house for nearly twenty-one years. That's the longest I have lived in any one place. It's the home we brought our older son home from the hospital after he was born and the same one we brought our younger son home to after we adopted him from Ukraine. The house is filled with memories of holidays and birthdays and all the ups and downs that come with marriage and having a family. We have become rooted not only to this house, but our church and community in the small town where we live.

How many people feel uprooted because they don't have a sense of community? Of communion with something larger in vision than themselves? Who don't have the immense fulfillment that comes with the fellowship of close and dear friends?

But how many in this day and age choose to do that? How many still long to devote themselves to a place and learn about it and oneself within that environment? Certainly, it is rare that anyone devotes their entire lives to a place.

Whenever I think of someone who is deeply rooted to a place, my mind immediately goes to the author and activist Wendell Berry, who’s lived most of his life on his farm, Lane's Landing, in central Kentucky.  He writes in his book Roots to the Earth:

Having once put his hand into the ground,
seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,
a man has made a marriage with his place,
and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.

Some of my favorite authors are all known for their rootedness to a place: Eudora Welty, Marilynne Robinson, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck to name just a few.

Rootedness requires time and patience, which is something many do not have in this frantic, frenetic paced world. We don't stand still long enough to set down any depths of roots. Too many of us are under the misconception that happiness is always somewhere else. If I just lived here then everything would be great. Think of the French Impressionist Claude Monet who spent 20 years of his life simply painting the water lilies from his own garden that became the masterpieces he was most known for. Monet discovered that simply by observing where he was, he could find inspiration. As he said, "Every day I discover more and more beautiful things. It's enough to drive one mad. I have a desire to do everything. my head is bursting with it." How much beauty would be missing from the world if he had not been there to paint his very own garden and those water lilies? What masterpieces might we not have?

Since it's Spring, that means I become once again busy in our garden: weeding, planting, feeding, watering. A friend of mine who runs his own nursery told me that, when picking out plants to buy, people go about it the wrong way. "They shouldn't look at the flowers," he said, "they should be looking at the roots. The roots tell you if it's a good, healthy plant or not." But isn't that so like us? We are distracted by the superficial, but don't focus on the roots of something. It reminded me of a line by the Sufi poet Rumi, "Maybe you are searching among the branches for what only appears in the roots."

Scientists studying a single rye grass plant were amazed to discover that, after only four months, it had set down 387 miles of roots. A Pando or quaking aspen that's found in Utah has roots that cover 106 acres. The Wild Fig tree in South Africa has roots that go downwards 400 feet.

How much depth do we find in ourselves?

In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke advised the novice to go deep within himself if he wanted to truly write poetry. How many of us are willing to do this? In his Duino Elegies, Rilke wrote:

Yet no matter how deeply I go down into myself, my God is dark,
and like a webbing made of a hundred roots that drink in silence.

To be rooted is to be connected. Only in the silence, only in the depths do we begin to encounter God. That's why the Apostle Paul wrote for followers of Christ to become rooted and grounded in love, that they may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and depth and height. But this takes work and patience and waiting: none of which are cultivated in our society that prizes speed and effectiveness over time and lastingness. To become firmly planted, we must be rooted in Christ, and to become rooted in him, we must go further than our outward journeys take us and go deeper into an inward journey because it's only there that one's roots can grow deep and then, after that, our fruits can grow abundantly. But this requires letting go of our egos and our false selves to confront just who we really are in Christ.

Rooted in Greek is rhizoo and it means "to take root, to fix firmly, to be thoroughly grounded." Thoroughly grounded. We have great, huge oak trees in our yard. They are older than our hundred-year-old house, and yet their root system is not deep. In our neighborhood, we have seen, after bad storms, oaks that have been uprooted by heavy wind and rain. There is no depth to their root systems. 

How many of us are this way?

What is keeping us from growing deeper roots?

To be rooted means to "Be still" as the Psalmist reminds us. It means we must stop in quiet attentiveness and listen. It means we must begin with emptiness. It means we must abide and wait. How many of us get anxious when we aren't doing something? I know many people who cannot stand to be still. Many are like Martha who is running herself ragged in preparations. They are frustrated with what they view as inactivity in Mary, who sits at the feet of Christ listening to his voice. Is it any wonder that Jesus tells Martha, "You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed - or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her."

Mary is being still and she will know God.

There is a time for being practical and efficient, but not at the expense of being rooted spiritually. The beginning of this story tells us that Martha was "distracted with much serving." How many of us prefer our distractions? How often do we use them to avoid communion with Christ?  We don't want to be like the ones the prophet Jeremiah spoke of when he said they were planted but, while their lips spoke of God, their hearts were far from Him.

We need not fear going deeper. As Simone Weil wrote, "If we go down into ourselves, we find that we possess exactly what we desire." Thomas Merton expressed it as, ". . .if you delve deeply into yourself, you will discover holiness there."

If we are to have rootedness, we must delve deeper. We must be still and quiet enough to listen, to be in communion.  As Colossians 2:6-7 reminds us, "Therefore, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness."

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Be sure to check out more of Elliott's thoughtful writing at Begin With Wonder. 

(My post, "A Reflection on Roots," appears on his blog today as well.)


Friday, April 21, 2017

Five Minute Friday: SING



Today I'm linking up with Kate Motaung for Five Minute Friday. Our word this week is SING.








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Sing!

I love this prompt because I love to sing. It is an important part of who I am: when people know that I sing, they know me better.

I also love to write, of course.

Several years ago I went to the Maritime Writers' Workshop in Fredericton, New Brunswick for three days. (I wrote more extensively about that experience HERE). On one of the workshop days, the focus was Life Writing, and we spent the whole day doing various writing exercises related to our own lives, past and present. It was inspiring and exhilarating to share a bit of our own journeys and writing within our small class of 10 people.

Toward the end of the day, the teacher led us through a time of guided imagery. She invited us to close our eyes and visualize ourselves being led by a guide (mine looked exactly like Gandalf -- imagine that!) to a cave on the side of a mountain, where a great treasure lay; and that we were given one gift to take back with us. 

I imagined that my gift was a white dove: it flew from my pen when I wrote and from my mouth when I sang.

I often think of that white dove -- a symbol of peace and freedom -- when I sing. 

May the words of my mouth, and of my pen, symbolize that same peace and freedom when they are shared. 


If you're interested, here is a video I put up on YouTube a couple of years ago; it's the only video I have of myself singing. (I recorded it in honour of my mom, who died in 2014 and who always loved this song, "John of Dreams.")




Sunday, April 16, 2017

"Descending Theology: The Resurrection": an Easter poem by Mary Karr






Descending Theology: The Resurrection 
by Mary Karr


From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in—black ice and squid ink—
till the hung flesh was empty.
Lonely in that void even for pain,
he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse’s core, the stone fist
of his heart began to bang
on the stiff chest’s door, and breath spilled
back into that battered shape. Now

it’s your limbs he comes to fill, as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Five Minute Friday: EMPTY




This is another Five Minute Friday post. The word for this week is EMPTY.
 

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Good Friday

It is finished.

Jesus is dead.

The wind has risen, and thick, ominous clouds race across the dark sky. Rain begins to whip our faces.

The soldiers take Jesus' limp body down, leaving the cross empty.

All along we were clinging to a slender thread of hope: that God would open the eyes of those who'd condemned Jesus to death so unjustly.

That an angel, wielding a golden sword, would swoop down and lift Jesus out of this degradation and show God's power.

But none of that happened, and now it is over.

An empty tomb is waiting for His dead body.

And our hearts are empty: broken by sorrow, split apart with shock, disbelief, remorse.

Jesus, where are You? 

Father, where were You? 

Don't leave us alone. 

Give us a glimmer of hope that this aching emptiness is not the end.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

"The world is so necessary": a review of The Jubilee by John Blase



 The Jubilee by John Blase

For about a year now I've enjoyed reading the poems and letters John Blase posts on his website the beautiful due -- so the recent publication of his book of poetry, The Jubilee, was very welcome to me. The title alludes to the Year of Jubilee, depicted in the Old Testament as a sacred time of freedom and celebration observed every fifty years. In his own fiftieth year, Blase has released this volume of fifty poems -- and that itself is cause for celebration as far as I'm concerned. After I purchased and read the book, I realized I had never reviewed a book of poetry on this blog before. The Jubilee (as well as the fact that April is National Poetry Month) is a good reason to change that.

I try to read a fair amount of poetry as well as writing some myself; and while I don't consider myself an expert, I do know that for me, the best poems are a combination of accessible and profound. I don't want to be scratching my head over some esoteric reference that, if missed, renders a poem incomprehensible -- but I also like a poem to have layers that make me want to reread and savour it. Blase's poems strike that ideal balance. Here are five lines from the short poem "What Such a Claim Might At Last Entail" -- lines that have no obscure allusions yet could keep someone reading for a long time to plumb their depths:

Christ lived as a man might live only near the end
of his life, in a way that militates against putting
off what one has to do. In his awful incongruity
he was love perishing, pure gentleness in memory
and melody, Christmas in the wilderness.

Blase's poems cover themes like the life of Jesus; being a son, father, and husband; and nature and beauty. Of his work, he has said, "The Incarnation compels me to make my art embarrassingly vernacular." (Full disclosure: he said this in a Tweet. Don't you want to read the poems of someone who writes Tweets like that?) It is as if he is both justifying and apologizing for the down-to-earthness of his poetry. 

But it is this "embarrassing vernacular" that I appreciate most. Blase's writing works against the notion (holy-sounding though it may be) that, particularly as we move into mid- and later life, we should spurn the things of earth and strive for a heavenly-minded state of perfection. He writes in "Things Below,"

It's a hard business being human.
It's much easier to hover above your days as some
wispy holier-than-the-rest-of-us....
Leave cleverness to the angels. Set your mind on
things below.

Over and over his poems reveal his choice, as an artist, to convey truth through the simple, vivid details of "things below."

Things like the hayloft of a red barn:

For years I've stacked my secrets
there in the loft like hay, happy now
to pitch them down to rupture and spill
so you can better understand 
the choir of flesh I am.
                                         - from "Crossing"

Or a cup of instant coffee:

My father would yield each time,
making allowances for my
far countrying due to his great love.
I would leave and he would
find again his Folger's, like water
returning to a low spot.
                                    - from "My Father's Coffee" 
                                      (my favourite of the whole collection)

Or a tree:

The eyes of the aspen are watching to see
if before you cross over to that next place
you'll take your simple life and grind it up
in your imagination so as to build exquisite
arbors of memory your children and children's
children can stand beneath and find shade.
                                        - from "The Calling in What Remains of Your Life"

What an amazing phrase: "Take your simple life and grind it up in your imagination." 

I'm so glad Blase has answered the call to do just that.

If you love poetry, this book is for you.

If you think you might like poetry but you're not sure where to start, this book is for you.

And if the very word "poetry" evokes anxious memories of uncomfortable high school English classes, this book is for you, too. You don't have to memorize these poems, dissect them, or write essays about them -- just listen to them. As Blase says in "Forgive Us":

Teach us to fall against the earth. Train us to
listen for the world's chamber music.
Warn us the world is so necessary.


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John Blase's The Jubilee is available at amazon.com and amazon.ca.

To find out more about John Blase and his writing, go to his website, the beautiful due.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Guest post by Allison Prinsen: How to Be a Good Ally During Autism Awareness Month (and Year-Round)




Today I am very proud to have my daughter, Allison Prinsen, as my guest here on the blog, writing about Autism Awareness Month. I asked Allison to share her thoughts on this subject, knowing she'd have something insightful to offer -- and she certainly did. I hope you find this post as informative and helpful as I do.


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How to Be a Good Ally during Autism Awareness Month (and year-round)


It’s Autism Awareness Month. Companies all over the world will be “lighting it up blue” and collecting donations for autism foundations. 

But before you don a puzzle-piece shirt or drop a coin into a donation box, here are a few tips on how to support autistic people in the best way possible. 


Promote autism acceptance, not just autism awareness.


There’s nothing inherently bad about autism awareness campaigns. But the thing is, people already know autism exists. And too often these campaigns are fear-mongering and paint autism as a terrible crisis and something in need of a cure. Many—perhaps most—autistic people don’t see it this way. We see our autism as part of who we are, as something that gives us strengths as well as challenges. Many of us take the position that we are not disabled specifically by our autism, but by a society that is too often unaccepting and unaccommodating of us. So promote autism acceptance—an attitude that seeks to respect autistic people, accept our differences, and celebrate our strengths.


In addition, before you donate to an autism charity, find out more about it. Is it seeking to do research for a cure, or is it seeking to help and support autistic people? Many autism charities are disliked by the autistic community. Which brings me to my next point:


Don't rely on Autism Speaks for your autism expertise.


Autism Speaks is an organization that is hated by the majority of the autistic community. Some of the reasons why:

- they have very few autistic people on their board of directors

- only 3% of their money goes to helping families and autistic people

- they have often used fear-mongering language in talking about autism, such as in the “Autism Every Day” video, where autism was portrayed as a monster coming to steal your child

- they once made a video in which a woman talked about wanting to kill her autistic child

 

Instead, support autism organizations actually run by autistic people, and that prioritize autistic voices, such as Autism Self-Advocacy Network and Autism Women’s Network. As a corollary, you may want to avoid “Lighting it up Blue”, as this is an initiative started by Autism Speaks. The autistic community has created a hashtag, #RedInstead, that serves as an alternative.


Listen to Autistic people.


This is the most important tip. Autistic people will always be the foremost experts on autism. Listen to us when we tell you what we have trouble with and what we can and can’t do. Don’t force us to do things we are uncomfortable with, but don’t underestimate our capabilities, either. Even if our struggles don’t show on the inside, or we are able to pass as neurotypical most of the time, that doesn’t mean we aren’t struggling. 


You may ask, “Well, what about low-functioning autistics? They can’t speak, so how can we listen to them?” First of all, functioning labels are widely inaccurate, since not every autistic person fits so neatly into one category or another. It is possible to be highly intelligent but nonverbal, or verbal but intellectually disabled. Second of all, there are blogs by so-called “low-functioning” people who are able to tell their stories and share valuable insights on autism. Check out Non-Speaking Autistics Speaking, Ballastexistenz, or Carly Fleischmann.


In conclusion, should you support autistic people this month and all year? Absolutely! But make sure you’re going about it the right way.  Most autistic people don’t want to be cured or treated like there is something wrong with us. We want to be listened to, respected, and accepted for who we are.

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