Spirituality

Wide Arrival: Sunday Reflection

two white row boats pulled up onto a shore line with tall green marshy grass and mist hanging in the air

A fundamental question was raised during last week’s sermon.  A question appropriate to living our individual lives as we continue to navigate the details of re-gathering amidst viruses and variants (and move into what is predicted to be a virulent flu season) and especially poignant for a welcoming congregation:

“How are we making a wide arrival?  Enough space for all our grief, our stories, our uncertainties; how to find passageways of life in this changed and changing world?”

Admittedly, in the Hutton household and, I am sure, at your house too in these nearly but not quite post-Covid days some tasks are easier to navigate than others.  Some days we find ourselves almost back to a routine that feels comfortable like a well-worn flannel shirt on a cool September day or going to church on Sunday morning.  But then we arrive in that sacred space and see smiling masked faces and we must admit it is the same but different. 

In the midst of these ambiguous days, Richard and I decided we would add more uncertainty to our daily life.  Since July, our house has been in some form of disarray due to three (count them – 3) renovation projects.  Just to be clear, all of the work has been undertaken by choice and not a crisis with our nearly 100 year old house – built in 1925 and moved in ’27.  All the work is being done so that we might continue to “age gracefully in place.”

Last Sunday’s homiletic imagery of drifting on the water, anchored, but with a shifting shoreline accurately described our days.  Carpenters arriving on a date set two months earlier – anchored.  Getting a call late Friday that the team of painters and plasterers would arrive early the next week – definitely felt like bobbing on choppy water as we scrambled to move all of the furniture from four rooms, take our eclectic collection of art off the walls, and remove all the electric faceplates.  

Knowing our renovations were close to completion but with more work still to be done, I arrived at church last Sunday and felt anchored as we poured our collected water tributes into the large blue bowl and music rang joyfully. Anchored again this morning seeing familiar faces and welcoming new members as we make “a wide arrival”.

Photo credit: iStock

Reading

Small Kindnesses

This spring, I learned about a new creative project led by Suleika Jaouad that encouraged participants to “create one tiny beautiful thing each day” for 100 days as a way to bridge the isolation of Covid and return to an as-yet-to-be defined new normal.  The choice of how to excite the imagination was to be determined by each participant.

When I was young, I enjoyed reading poetry but somewhere along the way, poems assumed an impenetrable guise and poetry become something I rarely read.  Although I did take a significant plunge into well written verses during the summer of 2012 when I joined Karen Sandberg and Rose Mish in presenting a summer service comprised entirely of poetic readings.  With the 100-Day Project the timing seemed right to revisit poetry.  I decided I would read a poem each morning and discover (or re-discover) a poet every day.

I created a poem calendar to track my daily progress complete with hyperlinks so that I could re-read the gems I discovered.  One such beautiful verse is Small Kindnesses by poet Danusha Laméris.  She asked 1,300 teenagers about the small kindnesses that make a difference to them and then used their answers to write this poem:

Small Kindnesses

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. 
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. 
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress 
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
Spirituality

Board meetings as grout

For a large portion of my professional career I managed a library cooperative.  The cooperative’s life blood was meetings; meetings to discuss when to offer ebooks; when to discontinue the 16mm rotating film collection; whether or not to charge fines.  You get the gist – lots of discussions about everything. 

graphic of bright yellow chalice with rainbow colored flame set against a blue background

Since my days were already full of agendas, I was judicious when agreeing to anything involving yet more meetings during my sparse personal time.  Even at church, I was selective.  I chose activities I deemed enjoyable although some might doubt my sanity since “fun” included three stints on a bylaws committee.  But, for the most part, I stayed on the sidelines of church governance.  I always offered tacit support by voting at every annual meeting but then, having voted, I stepped back and let the Board members do the work.  Until one Sunday (thank you Amy N.) when I realized I needed to do more. 

With the next election, I moved from the sidelines to the Board, first as member at large, then as secretary, vice president and most recently having been granted the privilege of serving as president for two years which, despite Covid challenges and wonky Zoom connections, a tenure that proved very rewarding.  And now, eight years after agreeing to have my name placed in nomination, I have handed the gavel to another and rejoined the sidelines of church governance.  Along the way I have grown spiritually, learned more sincerely about the impact of injustice, and felt supported in the hard work of striving for justice.

Several stanzas in a prayer entitled The Grout by Marcus Harlief capture my sense of purpose as I leave the Board:

. . . Religion not only lies in the beautiful mosaic bits and pieces but also in the grout – that chalky, gritty stuff squeezed between the cracks. . .  

In a mosaic, the grout holds the image together, unifying disparate pieces into a whole.  The grout of a community takes years to lay and settle.  Grout happens in board meetings and committee meetings and endless emails. . . 

And so we pray - Hold us, O Grout.  Gather us in, through time and space, and make all our broken pieces whole in community.  In our multiplicity, make us one.  From each of our jagged edges, give us the shape of a communal beauty.

Graphic credit: © Tony Baldwin

Spirituality

Draw the Circle Wide

I cannot remember the conference city or the name of the hotel lobby bar where I joined my friend for a late afternoon glass of wine but, even after all these decades, my memory of our discussion is clear.  My friend Estelle arrived agitated and ready to resign from a prestigious committee.  As I tried to discover what had caused her distress, she kept telling me I would not understand.  I, of course, argued I would.  Finally, she said “I am tired of being responsible for representing an entire race of people.”  And she had been right, I didn’t understand. 

Even when serving as the sole female on an otherwise all male committee, no one thought I spoke for all women.  But Estelle was constantly expected to speak for all people of color.  As a talented black woman, often the only person of color in a sea of white, she was put in that untenable situation; expected to know of the needs of an entire community as if the rich, complexity of life was a simple monolith and she held the key. 

There is a challenge within every cultural exploration; to learn and celebrate the beauty of that which is different without inadvertently co-opting a tradition not our own.  To not to fall into that misguided complacency that created such stress for my friend.  While I can revel in the lyrical quality of an Amanda Gorman poem; agonize over the brutal reality of black life in white America as portrayed in a cinematic adaptation of an August Wilson play; even get caught up in a who-dun-it following Walter Mosley’s infamous detective Easy Rawlins through the grime and glitter of LA, I must remember – whether fiction or fact – that those descriptions are just a brief glimpse into lives different from my own.

The challenge is to appreciate the uniqueness of each person’s life, to recognize that each difference in upbringing, family food tradition, or the myriad of diverse life choices that make a whole person, is to recognize that the opportunities for personal growth are endless.  That with each book I read, movie I see, or story that I hear, I only hold a very small thread in a rich tapestry of another’s experience.

Knitting · Spirituality

Mistakes Encouraged

red, yellow and green pine shape lollipops with red ribbon

When I was little girl, I used a variety of rhymes to help make choices.  You may have as well.  A syllable paired with each point of the finger to choose the grape or the cherry lollipop or to determine which of two sides would kick first in kickball.  Back then, the very act of recitation felt quite magical.  A difficult decision simplified.  As adults we know the decision was made with the first point of the finger because of a set number of syllables.  

And yet, even knowing that in many aspects of our lives there are a set number of syllables, I am always surprised when what appears to be the disparate aspects of my life come together.  How is it that liturgical preparations and searching for a new knitting pattern can blend so seamlessly?

Living with Intention is the theme of my spiritual reflections this month and I discovered very similar language in these meditations and recent blog posts by two of my “go-to” knitting designers.  Christina Campbell in Iowa and Solène Le Roux in France both infuse nature into their designs, whether incorporating leaf patterns or revealing rippling water as yarn is transformed from skein to knitted object.  Both designers take a very holistic approach to their craft.  It is not about just the design or the fiber, but the whole experience; encouraging the reader, the knitter to pause, to develop the muscle of inspiration, to connect with nature and each other; encouraging the knitter, encouraging the person to act with intent.

In Navajo weaving every thread tells a story.  The weaver brings the strands together not just to accomplish a function – a finished blanket or rug – but with the specific intention to communicate the culture, the land, a way of life.  Traditional Navajo weaving requires the weaver to incorporate a mistake.  This is done in homage to the belief that only the creator is perfect and acknowledges the weaver is not.  To live with intention or in this case to weave with intention. 

Now, I admit I have a difficult time with mistakes when I am knitting.  I have been known to rip out an evening’s work – rows and rows, thousands of stitches when I discover a break in the design, something that jumps out as an eyesore.  Even with all my experience knitting the same row again and again, I cannot claim that I have ever come close to knitting anything without error and I am certainly not good enough to emulate the Navajo weavers such that the mistake becomes a design element enhancing the final piece.  And so the advice from English writer, Neil Gaiman, spoke to my heart and hands and I hope his words will resonate with you as well as we move into a new year; a new year in which there are sure to be plenty of unknowns.  Gaiman writes:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

Photo credit: Old Fashion Lollipop Recipe from Taste of Home

Spirituality

Holding History

A new map of the world: With all the new discoveries by Captain Cook and other navigators (Ornamented with the Solar System, the eclipses of the sun, moon & planets) *

My sixth grade studies included a year of world history.  We began in Egypt with pharaohs and pyramids, moved to Greek city-states, before traveling across the Adriatic Sea to Rome and eventually migrating throughout Europe.  As mine was Catholic parochial school education, interspersed with historical events such as the Battle of Hastings or the signing of the Magna Carta, there was a generous amount of information on popes and the lives of the saints.  While in geography class we knew there were countries around the globe, our history curriculum was Eurocentric – that is until 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue after which our study of world history broadened from one track to two and included a large dose of American Manifest Destiny.

I don’t share this story in condemnation of that hard working teacher.  I will not judge Mrs. Menard’s teaching methods by a modern litmus test.  She used the tools she had at hand, at a very different time than today.  She was enthusiastic.  She made learning about history fun (albeit a narrowly focused history).  It is well documented that most of our curricula, not just that of my childhood and adolescence but continuing in today’s classrooms, regardless of the intended age group, still highlights European accomplishments over those of other cultures. 

When Black History Month was first designated in the early 1970s, the library where I worked created a book display pulling together titles scattered throughout the collection.  I wondered why a special month when these important contributions should simply be integrated into the normal flow of information.  Now, I better understand the need to spotlight lives and achievements whether it is in March as part of Women’s History Month or during the 30 days of November for Native American Heritage Month.  These months of celebration are not intended to diminish mainstream accomplishments but rather are a simple acknowledgement that the sheer volume of information and resources presented from a white, male perspective creates an almost impenetrable monolith whether it is history or literature, science or art. 

Each of these designated months gives us permission to explore an author, a musician, a filmmaker, that would not be a normal “go-to” source.  My study plan for November includes:

  • Reading a book of poetry by Joy Harjo of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Poet Laureate; and
  • Viewing the films featured as part of this year’s Native Cinema Showcase sponsored by the National Museum of the American Indian.

Join me in “Holding History” by organizing your own personal mini history course and learning more about the rich culture and history of Indigenous People. 

* Kitchen, T. , Junior, and John Evans. A new map of the world: with all the new discoveries by Capt. Cook and other navigators: ornamented with the Solar System, the eclipses of the sun, moon & planets &c. London: I. Evans, 1799. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2003630537/>.

Gardening · Spirituality

Pandemic Fatigue: Real not imagined

The last burst of pandemic summer color

My across the street and next door neighbors each recently acquired new garden tools.  With a cordless power drill and a hex drive auger to serve as bulb bit, my neighbor to the north planted 160 tulip bulbs on either side of the walk leading to her front door.  Not to be outdone, my gardening neighbor to the west made a quick Amazon purchase for this same handy tool and scattered 80 daffodil, hyacinth and early snowdrop bulbs among her well-established perennials.  Promises of spring – that is assuming the scurry of squirrels that nests in our 80-year elm tree doesn’t dig up the bulbs as winter appetizers or the fluffle of rabbits under the neighbor’s shed across the alley doesn’t devour each green shoot just as it pokes through the snow. Normally all this activity would have inspired garden envy and set me on my own quest to add spring color.  And, last fall I would have enthusiastically joined the planting challenge but not this October.

When we first entered our global quarantine, I accepted it as an inconvenience and then joined two new book clubs, enrolled in an Impressionist art appreciation class, and participated in an earth-based meditative retreat led by French knitting designer, Solène Le Roux.  But what I am feeling today, 18 months into our shared Covid experience is a bit like the title of the 1971 S.E. Hinton coming of age novel, That Was Then, This is Now.

When mass media began mentioning “pandemic fatigue” I recognized some of the symptoms as my own but also wondered about the power of suggestion.  Then articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet validated my feelings.  The World Health Organization even has entire publication devoted to “pandemic fatigue” which is defined as:

…an expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis – not least because the severity and scale of the COVID-19 pandemic have called for the implementation of invasive measures with unprecedented impacts on the daily lives of everyone, including those who have not been directly affected by the virus itself. 

An expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis.  The validation that what I am experiencing is an international phenomenon may not be a precise recipe for an attitude adjustment but it certainly is a step toward reducing my irritability.  Getting back in the garden, if only to put things to bed for the winter, may also help diminish my pandemic fatigue.

Reading · Spirituality

Another Minnesota Shooting

The news that a Brooklyn Center police officer fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop Sunday afternoon haunts my thoughts this week.  There is a shocking dissonance in this spring time, this vaccination time, when we should be focusing on new beginnings as the sun shines longer, crocuses offer a burst of color and vaccinations rates are increasing, that we are once again facing the ugly underbelly of an unjust society.

Last summer, I was appalled by the sinful video footage showing George Floyd’s murder on a Minneapolis street.  After the death of so many black men and, as we know from the shooting of Breonna Taylor in her own home, the shooting of black women, I wondered, how can this happen?  With those first thoughts of outrage I wanted to place responsibility for what we as a society were becoming on the rhetoric of the past four years.  But life is not that simple.  I knew we did not simply become a racist society with the results of one election.  I recognized that it was only as the hateful rhetoric went viral and the incidents of violence against People of Color went virtual that I became increasingly aware of what is and what has always been a dramatic difference between my safe white environment and threatening world faced daily by People of Color.

I did take some hope that we may have reached a tipping point last summer as people across the world spontaneously marched.  White celebrities sat down with Emmanuel Acho for Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black ManLewis Hamilton wore a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on the starting grid and on the winner’s podium even as racers sprayed champagne.  And, Formula 1 cars now carry a #WeRaceAsOne logo as a visible display of a new “initiative aimed at tackling the biggest issues facing the sport and global communities – the fight against COVID-19 and the condemnation of racism and inequality.”

Over the past seven months, our Common Read at church delved into the hard and realistic truth that the injustice playing on our screens again this week is not new but is as old as the country itself.  As we read, we were reminded with each well crafted paragraph, each page we turned that injustice is deeply woven into the fabric of our society.  That violence happens every day.  We need only look to other April days to recall shocking events: 

  • April 1873 – A white mob massacred an estimated 150 Black voters over the results of a hotly contested gubernatorial election;
  • April 1956 – Four white men attacked signer Nat King Cole while he was on stage performing for a white audience;
  • April 1968 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Earlier, I blogged about one of our Common Read titles, a powerful anthology, A Good Time for the Truth:  Race in Minnesota.  It is an eye-opening collection of personal stories shared by 16 Minnesota authors of Color that sheds light on life in our state and in our time.  In the book’s introduction, poet Sun Yung Shin, who edited A Good Time for the Truth, offers both a challenge and words to help guide us.

Good people need to take action continuously, and I would say daily, until [racism] is dismantled.  Because lives are at stake, every day; on sidewalks, in doctor’s offices, in the waiting room of the bank, and, most importantly, in classrooms.

I believe we can do it.  I know I am not alone in this conviction.

People of color and Indigenous people know with a specific, agonizing intimacy that racism was constructed and upheld by white society (in spaces such as the police precinct, the courtroom, school board meetings, newsrooms, Hollywood studios, mortgage loan offices, and everywhere power has resided in America) in order to confer unearned advantages on white people.  It is as simple as that.  It’s not a law of nature.  It’s culture.  It’s something we made, invented, maintained.  Since it was made, like a vast machine, it can be unmade, and it must. ...

Change is necessary.