Imbolc

Last ev'ning, I longed
to make a moon ritual -
full super blue blood.

My children, awake,
requested book after book
as my patience waned.

At the bless'd last page,
my son, age one, declared, "scars!" 
at the pictured stars.

We traced the image.
Universe pondered itself.
We, cosmic icons:

mark'd, scarr'd in bones, breath, 
celestial heartbeat bodies
forged of firmament.

Soon, we settled down,
slipping in the liminal
gap between our days.

Laying in the dark,
I glimpsed Her bright power through
thin crimson curtains.

Lunar orb led me,
Her pull to the temple door
entrancing, ancient.

I roused my children -
"Look out at the sky!" They searched,
first puzzled, then awed.

"Aaaah!" breathed reverently
is perfect prayer, aeons-borne
yearning, light for light.

Haloed in moonglow,
two angels brought divine song
to my windowsill:

stellar hymns, spacetime
choirs, elements singing praise
of Heaven-Earth hosts.

I lay by their sides,
prostrate and humbled, mouthing
a silent "Amen."

A Way

When the night keeps your eyes open
to all your unanswerable questions, your edges
touching pain, the cries of other humans
assailing your ears, the anxious longing
for all to be well, the evasive right action - 
listen closely to your heart beating
against everything, knowing somehow
the way to keep pulsing life; feel your breath
in and out according to inherited patterns.
You came from others who found a way
from the murky swamps of mystery, fertile
dark fields seeded with starlight. Your body
is a totem to survival. Threads of spirit
trace maps into the distance, and you -
wayfinder guide, wandering pathmaker -
will walk into dawn to find the horizon.

HAITI - A Response to the President

She took my hand and walked with me in the jungle heat across the patio, to the stone bench. She stood as tall as my shoulders, probably no more than ten years old, which seemed young to me even though I was merely fifteen. Her brown eyes met mine. There we sat, looking at each other with no words to speak that the other could discern; her lilting Creole and my nasal English were as stark in contrast as her warm brown skin against my pale tan skin. I sat and looked at her, not sure what to say, insecure in the lingering moment of silence. But she was not uncomfortable. Smiling, with a steady gaze, she spoke the one word she knew I would understand: my name. "Mandy." Her posture, her cadence, the intensity of her eyes were an invitation, a cosmic call, to a deeper place. And suddenly began one of the most profound shifts in my consciousness I have experienced in my life.

I was in Marbial, Haiti, on a nine-day mission trip orchestrated by a Haitian couple from my church in Louisville, KY. I had immediately applied to go, eager about our work to teach school children to build solar ovens out of common materials. We had planned and prepared for over a year. We read Haiti's history and processed what the journey would mean for those of us who had never been away from the so-called "developed world." I read about the devastating effects of deforestation, a result of imperialistic plundering of the island, that continued to threaten and inhibit Haitians' way of life - this was one reason solar technology could be useful, I was told. I knew I would witness poverty first-hand for the first time. I knew it would be both rewarding and life-wrenching. I could not have understood before those nine days what I have taken the next 15 years of my life to continue to learn, understand, and integrate: that the work I thought I could do "for" or "with" the people of Haiti was, in fact, work I had to foremost do within myself.

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I will never forget flying into the country, peering out the airplane window at bald hills completely deforested. Haiti, Ayiti, means "mountainous land." Haiti's history of colonial oppression and exploitation, as well as corruption fueled by external governments - namely the United States - has robbed the Haitian people of rich resources and land. I thought of my large house, my private bedroom, my closet of clothes, my plethora of things so numerous I barely had room for them. I thought of my full pantry, my educational security, my promised future, my affluence and comfort. I thought of these things as I was met with extravagant greetings each place we visited, inundated with luxuries like bottled water and buffets of food and cushioned chairs. The seed of a question began to grow in me: Did I only have my abundance of things BECAUSE other people did not? Did my wealth directly depend on others' poverty?

I pondered when, after climbing a mountain to visit our new friend Junior's family, we were greeted with nine chairs arranged outside their small home - a chair for each member of our visiting party, none for his family - that had been gathered from neighbors for miles around so that we, honored guests, would have somewhere to sit. I pondered as I connected with Geraud, a young man who laid concrete foundations and created beautiful designs in the medium who suffered severe migraines but continued to work to care for his mother. I pondered as I met Burelle, a peer who was carried to school by his friends because a wheelchair could not fare the miles-long, rural terrain. I pondered as my mission trip crew was lauded for our generosity and goodness when, from every direction, I was being showered in abundance by people who owned a sliver of my own wealth. I was enfolded in a sense of community and solidarity completely foreign to my U.S. enculturation.

It was not adding up. One night, I laid on my sleeping bag and wept endlessly at the paradox I could not yet put into words. I was supposed to be doing something noble. I had come to Haiti to be of service. I was trying to help. I was being a good person. And yet at every emanation of my being, *I* was the one being served. I was being helped. I was being assisted in shedding blinders I never knew I had. I was being graciously accepted right where I was, in all my privileged ignorance. I was seen and loved as my own person, even if my wealth was a result of what was stolen long ago. I was wanted and needed, not because of what I could do or bring or help with, but because of who I was.

"Mandy." Our eyes were mirrors.

The globe turned. The sun sang. The heat pulsed. My heart pounded. My soul alighted. I did not understand what was happening. She smiled.

The spell broke a moment later as a group of children ran out onto the porch and our attention turned away from one another. But I will never forget. What did I give them that lasted? Probably nothing I intended to. And I accept that wholeheartedly. I realize now that when I went to Haiti, I changed little outside of myself. My self, however, was utterly transformed. It would be years before I heard the words "white privilege" or I would delve into learning about national and global policies perpetuating poverty. It would require lots of learning and unlearning for me to grapple with the trap of seeing the world as an object of my charity rather than a complex web of systems and historically-based realities of which I was an intrinsic part. It would be years and years before I could understand, and say unabashedly, that I am racist, that this is a result of my whiteness, and that acknowledging this reality alive in me is one, key step to dismantling white supremacy, a fundamental piece to eradicating poverty. It would take another fifteen years to arrive where I am now, which is still a perpetual student of what it means to live a good life.

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Our entire nine days in Haiti, I wore a beloved necklace of two bronze sandals on a black cord. The simple token had symbolized for me what I thought I had journeyed to Haiti to do: to walk the walk, so to speak, by doing good works and putting into action what I believed would help alleviate others' plight and suffering. On the airplane ride home, however, I realized I had lost the necklace. I'd forgotten it. I was sick to my stomach that I'd left behind a treasure I had worn throughout my profound experience. It was only later that I remembered where I likely lost it: at the beach, on our last day in Port-au-Prince, when I took it off to keep from losing it in the ocean. On that day, I acquired two of my only souvenirs. One was a painting of a river, just like the one we'd traveled along most of our trip, and people working in the water. The other was a perfect, large shell. And I realized that the only thing I'd lost was a sense of an old self, unreal. I had traded one symbol for another. I had found a new way.

Now, I began to learn, finding my way meant to listen. To spiral in, then out. To sit downstream, for a change, and pay attention. To turn the ear of my heart to the stories I had not yet heard, and find that I could hear there the rushing of my own blood, a common and cosmic heartbeat. To let the eyes of my eyes be opened beyond my own horizon. To recognize my privilege as an inherited weapon I did not earn that could only be useful if beaten into a plowshare under the direction of those already working for liberation.

The fact of the matter, however, is that I continue to find myself on the spectrum from which our current president also speaks. I could not fathom calling this country of people I love, or any country at all, derogatory and despicable names; nevertheless, I have too often moved from a place of total ignorance of my own privilege and how my life choices actively exploit others. I cannot imagine spewing obviously hateful rhetoric about living, breathing human beings struggling and striving on this planet with me; nevertheless, I have unwittingly uttered microaggressions and thoughtless comments that marginalize others. I want to think I am so far different from our president that he could never represent me; nevertheless, although I truly do not believe he represents my personal positions and values, he absolutely exemplifies systems and policies that benefit me majorly. I am implicated. I am not responsible for his hate, but I AM accountable to how I respond with my life. Whether I like it or not, he is my president. His words are the words of my nation to another. What shall I do?

To answer, I begin by looking into my own eyes and hearing again: "Mandy." And although I could never know where that person I once sat with in the jungle heat may be now, I trust that what I felt between us always lives. It lives in the vast array of humans across the globe, intrinsically worthy and wonderful, just by being alive. It lives in the movements for freedom that never die - like the Haitian revolution, an uprising of people called slaves become conquerors and commanders of their fate. It is burning and turning in you, too. Will you meet the eyes of your fellow humans? The eyes of the future? Your own, inquiring gaze?

Nicholas Oak - victory of the people, rooted doorway of prophecy

Ronin Alexander - masterless warrior, defender of humankind

Griffin James - protector of priceless treasure, supplanter of what no longer serves

Each of my children's names has come to us in steady course; each time, once the pair of names has been spoken aloud, it's felt certain that their name has been chosen. Chosen by...us, the parents, I suppose. But in each case, the names have felt beyond my preference. Evasive of prediction. Not just about what I or Robby "liked" or didn't. Each subsequent name was not derived from leftovers of the previous choice but rather emerged independently, clearly, resonantly.

While I feel an interesting distance from each name (though an intimate connection with them as the names of beings I dearly adore), in retrospect, each has felt like a mirror to the lessons that have met me through each pregnancy.

When I was pregnant with Oak, I began to write with a freedom and fervor I had never known. Although writing has been a lifelong passion of mine, it had never felt like something I could do publicly or spontaneously or without much self-censorship. However, in my first pregnancy, I suddenly felt as if a channel had opened in me. Messages and tomes of text assailed my being in waves, often in the middle of the night, so completely and insistently it was all I could do to type the words quickly enough. I began to call these experiences "downloads" because they felt almost as if they came from somewhere else...someone else. The seeming paradox was that, as I opened to this other space, I simultaneously began to find my Voice. I began to more fully honor my personal autonomy. Giving birth to my first child required me to fully rely on myself and trust that I knew how to do this - or, if I didn't, that I would show myself the way. AND I DID. I had scaled a wall around my soul and torn it down. My deeper, truer self was winning. It felt like a transcendence. A victory. A revolution.

During my pregnancy with Ronin, I felt a deep call to and grounding in work that, I began to see clearly, was groundbreaking and countercultural...truly, work with no leaders, few paths, and vague maps. Information and connections flew at me from unexpected directions and I found myself in roles where I had to sustain dedicated work to get a job done (starting a project and seeing it through to fruition is NOT my life's forte!). I also had to step out as a leadership figure. Attending workshops and reading about cooperative businesses; co-leading a counter-rally when Trump was in town to campaign; spearheading new work projects that broke the mold of all that had been done before - all are just a few examples of what showed up in those months like galloping horses with empty saddles. I took the reigns, climbed on, and journeyed. I learned and grew much. I saw I could work with others in ways I hadn't thought myself capable, as an equal and in true collaboration. I realized I could do this because I had identified what I most dearly wanted to defend: spaces for people to feel safe to gather, work together, and flourish in their humanity.

This pregnancy, my third, with the child I now know to call Griffin, shook me to my core. I was busy tending to my two little ones full-time while participating in a dozen community causes in meaningful, time-consuming ways. I was reaching out and going out and speaking out. Our family had also just welcomed another family into our home in a communal living arrangement, which abounded (and abounds) in goodness but brought many new lessons and challenges, most very personal and unexpected to me. I was expanding, and feeling stretched, in a thousand directions. Conceiving this child caused me to collapse back into myself harshly and suddenly. It was a shock to many people and to my system. Certain realities of my life came into sharp focus: where I was not setting healthy boundaries, where I was neglecting to care for my basic needs, where I was overextending my energy, where I was performing out of a sense of duty rather than of desire. My body was TIRED. I withdrew. I reserved. I rested. I went deep.

The world may have seen walls going up, but I felt for the first time in my life an internal release to JUST focus on me. Me, my children, and this baby. My needs, my health, my struggles. It took a lot of digging and supplanting to discover which external or internal voices were keeping me trapped in unhealthy cycles of neglecting my own wisdom. It has taken (and will continue to take) much work to delve to the core of these issues, most rooted firmly in my childhood, that numb me to my intuition and keep my throat closed from telling my truth. It has felt painful. It has felt liberating. Meanwhile, I have come to recognize that I am learning to become a guardian of what's mine (after first separating what IS mine from the rest of what I carry), releasing what does not belong to me. I am beginning to trust that there is treasure in my truth and that my worth doesn't come from carrying around others' weight.

These days, I may look and sound a little scarier, with a sharper beak and keener talons, but it is in the service of what I am here to do. I'm gaining new language. I'm returning to my heart. I'm refocusing on what is mine to do, so that I can do it to the absolute best. So when Griffin's middle name choices narrowed to a few, it didn't take long to see which was his: the name of sovereign rulers, the brother of Christ, and with origins pointing to upheaval that tills the soil for future harvest. Salvation.

How is it that this all feels so much about me and not about me at all? Perhaps in the way that a parent and child, for the child's early life, are not one person and also not two people. They are intrinsically connected and mutually feed from and inform one another. They are separate beings that irrevocably alter the course of one another's life. They are a microcosm of greater truths, always at play and unfolding in our midst, but by which I never cease to be surprised. In so many ways, as a parent, I am just along for the ride. And in many other, important ways, the greatest work I can do is on myself. My children will see. They will watch. They will hopefully not be too scarred by my inadequacies. They will find their own ways. They will live into their names, given or chosen, just as I am still living into mine.

Olivam - olive branch, extension of peace

The Other Side

I heard the soft scamper of four little feet across the wood floor. First my oldest, then my middle child, came voicelessly into our bedroom, climbing up and cuddling close between their parents. The child in my womb tossed and turned, resettling for sleep like his brothers. In the dark, I felt our five bodies arranging themselves against each other, our breath calming into sync, as the clock blinked 2:30am.

Through the open window, sounds of a storm floated to us, melding with the gentle music playing in our room: flute notes in the rainfall, violins strums in the thunder, chimes and bells against the windy backdrop. The temperature dropped by the minute. My mind wandered to earlier in the evening when we had hiked in the unusually warm December dusk. Families and friends walked and ran and biked in all directions. The woods held a certain mystical quality, as if the waning light hung like a veil between this autumnal scene and winter approaching. I felt I would turn at any moment and see someone there from the other side, from another place altogether, telling us what was to come.

We had walked a path through the forest, up the tallest hill, and to a magical night view of bare branches clinging to dark clouds before returning the very way we came, my partner and children and I hand-in-hand-in-hand-in-hand, the baby within me leaping and swimming.

There are moments you suddenly come fully into your body and remember YOU ARE ALIVE. Making love, making adventure, making believe, making way - you feel the thrill of your breath and sensorial sharpness. You feel another's breath against your body and the limits of your physical self pressing against an ethereal edge. Whether or not all mystery is embodied, it is no less marvelous, always simultaneously self-dissolving and self-awakening. It moves among the trees and over papery leaves and in the space between day and night.

It gathers in the place where each member of my family joins, whether we walk or lay side-by-side or far from one another. Our meeting spaces - in a memory, kind word, awe-filled connection, emotional experience, shared lesson, or mutual awareness - show how common and cosmic, this union. It rumbles and flashes, it cleanses and fills, enveloping us like a storm.

As I laid in the soft bed next to the window and my dearest loves, I could not fall back to sleep. I could only lay still, silent and awake.

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Always Space

That impulse to come together - within ourselves, to one another, and in grandiose efforts as an Earth Collective - is what sustains and continues us, what has and holds us, what grants us the grace to be more than we ever thought possible.

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Look!


Today, I fell off a chair flat on my tailbone and into sharp shelving, bruising my spine up and down. I was hurrying too much, worrying too much. I was frustrated with my limitations (short stature, impatience, exhaustion, chronic forgetfulness as a result...). I was reaching too high on an unstable pedestal, not intentional about or mindful of my grounding. Laying on the floor of my closet after the fall, I breathed through the tears of hurt and humility, the fears of injury, the shock of being planted firmly by my mistake.

My kids were seatbelt-ed in the car in the driveway; I'd just run inside to grab something really quick before our next stop. We'd ran four errands by 9:30am. I was tired and stressed from the demand that those couple hours of activity had required and, simultaneously, the fact that I *needed* to be out of my house and doing something to maintain my sanity. But the surprise of the physical pain, and the imperative to get to my children, was enough to clear some of the mental buzz. After a few minutes, which felt eternal, I was able to recover myself enough to hobble back out to the car and get us to our next destination: Mama's Hip.

The best friends in the world tell you you're doing a good job, that you are seen and loved, and remind you you're still in the trenches. They show respect to your children and treat them like real, whole people, even at a difficult time. They acknowledge your hurt and still stay honest about their own struggles. They hold wide, open space for the suffering world AND for small-big explosions of wonder, simultaneously. They can see how everything, all the effort of a day, can be made worth it in a moment of joyful song when everyone sings together, focused on the light and beauty of being alive. And they know how important it is to turn to you and tell about it.

My people are in the trenches all. day. every. day. They do not shy away from tension or tenderness. They make their work through laughter and tears. They help to pull me back up again. They brush me off and give me a hug. They say, "I'm right here with you." They bow to me in a million ways that center me in what's possible. They are waystations and fellow wanderers. They pay attention, weep and smile, and despite everything, keep declaring of the heart of the matter, "Look!" ❤️

I Am

Stand at the precipice of that chasm you ache to close quickly and sharply the same way you have closed it ten thousand times.

Just this once, look out across the void.
Do not be afraid...
or do be afraid, and hold your gaze anyway.
You are about to claim your magic.

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