Advent

advent wreath

Last Sunday I wrote about the tradition of the Advent or Sunwheel wreath in my blog.https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/11/25/long-nights-short-days. Advent translates as arrival, or a coming.  Tonight at sunset our Jewish friends will light the first candle on the Hanukkah menorah. Christians will light the first candle of their Advent wreath. We are all celebrating light in a dark season. We are blessing the light, rather than curse the dark.

Traditional Christian Advent wreaths are three purple and one pink candle, with a central white one with the arrival on Christmas Day. Each candle has a symbolic meaning. The first week is lit for hope, or prophecy. The second week is for love, the third for joy and the last week is peace. Although some churches may celebrate peace in week two and love in week four.

Pagans lit their Sunwheel candles last Sunday at sunset.  I observe the traditional Christian symbolism each week.  So I lit a candle for hope last Sunday and will light one for love and hope at sunset tonight. So today’s Poetry Daily offers Christians a little poem/song for Hope and Pagans a poem for Love. It came to me like a humming along to a traditional English folk tune. See if you can find your own melody.

I am deliberately not putting a copyright notice on these poem/chants. They are public. Please use them wherever you feel they are appropriate.

Light a Candle for Hope

I light a candle for hope
for faith and prophecy.
I light a candle for hope,
for it to set us free.

I light a candle for hope
when I feel angry.
I light a candle for hope,
when we all can agree.

I light a candle for hope,
for life can be blowy.
I light a candle for hope
as I sip my cup of tea.

Light a candle for hope!
Light a candle for hope!
Light a candle for hope
to bless the dark.
Light a candle for hope
to bless its spark.
Light a candle for hope
that we all might hark.



Light a Candle for Love

I light a candle for love
to cast out fear.
I light a candle for love
to warm our hearts, my dear.

I light a candle for love
in days austere.
I light a candle for love
of the whole unisphere.

I light a candle for love
though you might think it queer.
I light a candle for love
to clear the atmosphere.

Light a candle for love!
Light a candle for love!
Light a candle for love
to  bless the dark.
Light a candle for love
to bless its spark.
Light a candle for hope
that we all might hark.

Here is a wee video of the tune that was playing in my head as I composed the poems.

https://youtu.be/Df3J08djsYg

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Long Nights, Short Days

long nights short days moon

I woke with the just past full moon shining brightly in the west window of my room. it was a comforting light and I left the curtains wide there to moon bathe a bit. Later as dawn was approaching it was still there shining, making the morning brighter than one might expect with a month to go before winter solstice. It reminded me that it is time to bring out the Advent wreath (for Christians) or the Sun Wheel wreath (for earth based religions.)  A wonderful blog on this tradition that can be adapted for all faiths or those with none, to mindfully walk through the weeks as the Northern Hemisphere’s sun dies so that it can be reborn at Solstice..https://www.owlsdaughter.com/owls-wings/

One tradition calls the Full Moon just past the Mourning Moon. Now you know why. A friend has sent a link regarding the Advent/SunWheel wreath that says each candle lit at dusk represents a quality. The first Sunday you light the candle is for Hope. So I felt that today’s poetry practice needed to reflect that somehow.  My dawn poetry practice, at the liminal opposite pole in the day, is a virtual candle being lit. Although I am assembling a wreath and I will light a purple candle tonight and send the intention of hope out into a world where many feel it in short supply.


Long nights, short days

Long nights, short days
Frost full moon
The mourning moon
 
The juice all gone
Leaves blackened
Grass wizened white
 
Long nights, short days
Moon is high
Even as the sun rises
 
Day breaks rosy tipped
An amber trapped glow
The light will be reborn
We’ve not so long now to go
 
Short days, long nights
Before the sun will come again
Casting some long shadows
For now we have its fossil glow
 
Meanwhile, Mother Moon
Hangs her lamp
To thaw the frost
 
Short days, long nights
Not all is ever lost
Hope dangles from the moon
 
Light lives in long nights
Light lives in short days
Dark lives in long nights
Dark lives in short days
 
Hope lives in light’s rays
Hope shelters in the dark
Hope lives on in short days
Hope is night’s bright spark.
 
Copyright© Bee Smith2018


I really did pad out in my slippers with my iPad camera when I let out the Old Dog this morning. I wanted to capture Mother Moon with her lamp raised high.

long nights short days
Moon hanging high about forty minutes before dawn today at my homeplace.

Cento on Hope

For today’s poetry practice I thought I would be a bit lazy. Except it turns out that what I picked is not as easy as I thought it would be. I was researching new poetry forms to give a whirl and the cento appealed. Poets. org set out the guidelines for a cento here. They call it a patchwork poem, which does have alliteration. But I kind of feel it is a Mash Up. My own attempt does not use complete lines from a poet in every line. Some only use a fragment, or, in one instance, literally mash up two in a single line.

In view of my gratitude brief for November in terms of subject I feel today’s poetry practice celebrates my thanks to the lineage of poets stretching back into antiquity. The subject, Hope, may reflect what some are feeling today.

 

Hope Mash up

 

I stood out in the open cold.

The dark, too, blooms and sings.

We all approach the edge of the same blackness.

 

When the world falls in around you,

the sun rises in spite of everything.

A joy, a depression, a meanness…

 

When the worst thing happens

Time flies, hope flags, life plies a wearied way.

You see behind every face the mental emptiness.

 

Hope is the hardest love to carry.

The thing with feathers doesn’t need anything

from my old bitterness.

 

And just for those who are interested in knowing which poets got picked for the patchwork poem, this is the line by line reference.xds  p

 

Richard Eberhart

Wendell Berry

Elaine Feinstein

 

Naomi Shihab Nye

Derek Mahon

Rumi

 

U.A. Fanthorpe

Christina Rosetti

T.S. Eliot

 

Jane Hirshfield

Emily Dickinson/Naomi Shihab Nye

Antoniio Machado

Everyday Exultations

I was browsing some WordPress blogs I follow and I was impressed by the suggestion of A.M. Pine 100 Bits of Gratitude to expend some energy by concentrating on what fills you with gratitude. I am still in the full flush of a multitude of birthday well-wishing yesterday, so this particularly resonates. I still keep a kind of gratitude journal, although it is more a visual record than a word journal. I will paste in cards from friends and loved ones that kindles a particular thanksgiving in my memory.  You can see a picture of the gratitude journal I collaged in this post. Gratitude Journaling and Thanksgiving.  I have a feeling that these practices may become useful tools in the weeks ahead.

This segued into another phrase I encountered while I was perusing last Saturday’s Guardian this morning (yes, I have become my mother and am way behind with reading the current affairs media. I thought this was shocking when I was young. I guess I am no longer officially young!) The phrase was ‘everyday exultations’, which is perhaps a byproduct or kissing cousin to gratitude. At any rate these were the sparks for today’s poetry practice. Incidentally, I have completed six week!

 

Everyday Exultations

 

a sound cooking pot

rising bread dough

a voice with a song

the company of a wren at the window

 

this is the somehow of the someway

the human race gets up to meet and greet

every day

also with jokes, some word play

 

delight is stone on flint for the candle wick

can turn around a curse

heals the sick

greases the axis of the universe

 

the line of thousands stretches way far back

so I could one day become a daughter

some bread, some water, a sound cooking pot

the blessing of a wren to share the crumbs

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image:

Photo by Jan Meeus on Unsplash

Hansel and Gretel Reconsidered

Fairy tales are the gateways to our collective consciousness. My mother viewed them as too violent and disturbing, so I was exposed to only the most sanitized Golden Book versions. But perhaps we do children a disservice by not exposing them to parables of the ugly and extreme. Take Hansel and Gretel, for instance. Various sources suggest it grew out of Germany’s Thirty Years War, when the power struggles of that day laid waste to the land. The backdrop of that fairy tale is one of violence, famine and the threat of extinction.  It is a rock and hard place survival tale that resonates with current events.

The arc of the fairytale begins with traumatic circumstances not of a parent’s agency. Here it is famine, but you could insert any rock and hard place scenario where survival is the outcome sought. There is parental dispute that results in a strategy of child abandonment as the best of the worst options.  The children are lured by a gingerbread house promising sweet somethings (rather like the City on the Hill.) They are kidnapped, the boy caged and the girl impressed into domestic service. Cannibalism is just on the horizon.  But the children outwit their captor and are reunited with the more sympathetic of the parents.

Our collective unconscious tells us that we have been here before in our latest Hansel and Gretel moment. We have parents facing all sorts of rock and hard place circumstances not of their creation – famine, gangland, state-sponsored or domestic violence. The children are set apart from their parents and are, in that age-old metaphor for wilderness and danger, wandering in the woods. But today’s children, like Hansel and Gretel, probably already know just how wild and violent the supposedly civilised world can be.

Possibly, the collective unconsciousness will also castigate parents who cannot keep children safe. In various versions, the poor woodcutter father is weak, the mother/stepmother consumed by wanting to survive at any costs; in some versions, she is driven insane by the hunger. To judge the parents from a viewpoint of comfort and safety is to miss the wisdom of the parable. The ideal is for parents to keep their children safe and place their welfare above all others. The reality is the rock, the hard place, and what seems the inevitable horrific outcome.

As the fairytale progresses there is a kidnapping, once the children have been lured by the promise of sweet sustenance. One of the children in caged; the other enslaved. The hag/witch is a wonderfully worked out piece of malevolence in aid of self-preservation.

But the children prove to be both quick-witted and brave. The witch is blind – both naturally near-sighted and being hampered by the butter Gretel smears on her spectacles. The boy extends a femur through the cage, convincing the witch he is not fat enough for feasting on just yet. They play for time. And then it is Gretel who acts. She tricks the witch to poke her head in the oven to check the temperature, pushing her in and slamming the door on her fate.

Replete on gingerbread bricks and mortar, the children make their way back to their remorseful father.

The mother/step-mother is dead. The crone/hag is dead. Long live the maiden who has survived.

The fairytale Hansel and Gretel makes for an interesting feminist consideration. The father is weak and indecisive, ultimately passive. The son has lots of strategies – pebble and bread crumb paths – that are ultimately useless. It is the women in the story who act. The mother/stepmother knows something must be done to ensure she survives (although she doesn’t by the end of the tale). The hag/witch knows how to lure her supper, but she also comes to a bad ending. It is the  maiden who resorts to homicide, albeit with mitigating  circumstances, who frees herself and her caged brother. Not a classic happy ending, more Quentin Tarantino.

Nor is it the classic view of woman as passive. Here, women act and violently. Some might argue it is biology driving the survival of the species. But we also see the seeds of how women are viewed as the ultimate dangerous destroyers.  In every aspect – maiden, mother, crone – women are the engines of the plot. The maiden triumphs – like Spring – and survives for her to enact the wheel of life. One can only hope that she will meet less traumatic events as mother and wise woman/crone.

One interpretation of David Cameron’s parliamentary ‘Calm down’ to a woman MP might be that riled women, when up against the wall, are not going to face the firing squad without lobbing a few salvos first. Similarly, one calls to mind Senator Elizabeth Warren being silenced with “nonetheless, she persisted.”    Both male politicians were patronising, but that may also mask the unconscious fear that the progenators/creators can also destroy.  Fear drives patriarchy. But for women with an active ‘good enough’ mother psychological archetype, you mess with kids at your peril.

The denouement of Hansel and Gretel has the passive father showing remorse for his giving in to (his now deceased) wife.  He is forgiven.

We like to think that parents are in charge, that they will protect and cherish their children always. Many can blissfully bypass the rock and hard place decisions, but not all. Would that we could all be a happy species, living peacefully, treating one another always respectfully.

We are now in an upended reality where high-school students are lecturing their elders in Congress to change the law to stop random gun violence. We are seeing children forcibly separated from their parents and detained in cages.

The adults have let the kids badly down. We have not wisely negotiated the rocks and often run aground on the hard places. Let us hope with a show of remorse and shame that they will find the grace to forgive us.

It seems that that, and the children, are our best hope.

Copyright © 2018 Bee Smith

 

Gratitude Journaling and Thanksgiving

“Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.” – Henry Van Dyke

This November has had the theme of gratitude from the start and well in advance of the American feast of Thanksgiving that will be marked tomorrow. Earlier this month, my friend and creative colleague, Morag Donald of Crafting Your Soul, co-hosted a gratitude journaling workshop with me. Combining creative writing exercises, guided meditation and craft work, we led participants to collage covers of A5 notebooks or scrapbooks where conscious note can be made of all those acts of kindness that occur in our life. I chose a scrapbook where I can paste in images to remind me of all the myriad miraculous events and details that populate one’s days. So far birthday cards, chocolate wrappers, newspaper snippets and headlines, and more have been pasted in. I also use words, but I keep it brief. It is also acts, in part, as an aide memoire.

There is anecdotal evidence that the practice of gratitude journalling greatly contributes to a feeling of happiness and well-being. Over the past decades there are any number of books and articles written encouraging people to embrace the practice of gratitude. Which is really a reminder to not take for granted all the acts of kindness, random or deliberate, from strangers, friends, even institutions.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, that great feast of family, food, football (for some) and the official opening of the Christmas shopping season in the USA on Black Friday.  I am long gone as an ex-patriot and there won’t be any turkey and cranberry sauce for us tomorrow. (Sadly, my Irish husband does not understand my liking for pumpkin and all kinds squash, succotash and sweet potatoes; this hampers any meal planning if there are no more than the two of us eating in on Thanksgiving Day.)  Since I have to post Christmas presents across the Atlantic, most have already been bought, wrapped and despatched already.

There is also the issue of celebrating a narrative that does not admit the impact of the colonising of North America and consequent displacement and genocide of its original inhabitants. Some maternal ancestors were early Quaker settlers in the Burlington, New Jersey region. At least I can say I come from people who paid the natives for their land, which was a rare occurance back in the day. The Lenape chief Ockanickon is buried in the Burlington Friends Meeting cemetary, reflecting the integration of Europeans and indigenous peoples at the beginning of the settlement. But even Quakers were slave holders in the 18th century, so I cannot be certain that all my ancestors were always on the right side of history on all questions of morality. The Burlington Quaker mystic, John Woolman, had his metanoia regarding slavery as an apprentice clerk when he was required to write out a bill of sale for the purchase of a slave. He did so just the once; he approached his employer afterwards and said he could not, in good conscience, do so ever again. His employer may not have comprehended his morality, but he did respect his ‘light’, as Quakers would call it.

So how shall I mark Thanksgiving 2017? I will be having a routine mammogram free, courtesy of Breast Check Ireland. I will cherish our old dog who is as loving as ever even in an illness that will ultimately earn her angel wings. I will bless the names of our vets, Sinead and Thomas,  who care for her.

But I will also bless those cranky colonial ancestors who braved leaky wooden sailing vessels to migrate to another world, circa 1630-something. I will be grateful that I inherited their itchy feet.

I will bless them for their idealism and their calculated risk taking. I will be thankful that I have inherited both their tendency to flinty morality and tender conscience.

But above all, I bless and thank the Lenape people, who welcomed my ancestors, sheltered them in the caves on the banks of the Delaware River, who taught them the ways of squash, corn and bean, who helped them survive in a harsher climate than they knew in their old world. For this I am thankful, for without them, there would have been no descendents born, wed, bred.

What I am most thankful for this Thanksgiving is connection. For the kinds of connections that can be made in poetry.  Also, the human kind of connections, all the little heaps and piles of kindness.  Thought of in that way, lineages are wrought from the seemingly random decisions to behave kindly, to help another human survive another day, to live and to love.

I realise that not everyone has had such a benign experience or  even expectation of life. But, I pray ‘May Love cast out Fear’ daily. Perhaps, my ancestors did, too. That is my hope this Thanksgiving.

 

 

Hope against Hope

…which is an odd phrase – almost self-defeating, or implying delusional thinking. Hope has been much on my mind, since I picked it as my word of the year for 2017. I made a collage at the New Year, with hope as its theme.

Arundhati Roy quote
Seeds of hope

This Arundhati Roy quote, culled from Resurgence magazine, has become something of a personal manifesto. It begins “The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive.”

Yesterday I got to meet the living embodiment of that phrase. He is a young man, slim and bearded, a Syrian asylum seeker now living in Co. Roscommon in a Direct Provision accommodation with 200 other refugees. With two others, he shared his journey  from civil war-torn homeland to the relative safety of refuge in Ireland at a gathering of residents at the Loughan House Open Prison, Blacklion, Co. Cavan.

When asked what kept him going, he answered “Hope.” As long as he was alive, he dreamed of being alive and safe. Although separated from loved ones, he was one of the sole survivors of all his fifteen school friends, all causalities of the enmities bearing the bullets of civil war.

Some of you will be aware that I am a tutor on the Irish Arts Council’s Writers in Prison panel. My husband and I also volunteer to support a Toastmasters public speaking group at Loughan. Loughan House also has a coffee shop open to the public, so we have got to know several of the guys and their back stories well. And while it is an Open Prison, the misdeamours that landed them there are not necessarily insignificant.

Our friend Debbie , who invited us to the group, has worked with the refugees since it was announced that they would be coming to her town. She has been shocked by the  at times  casual bigotry she has witnesed. But she also was impressed and humbled to see the outpouring of compassion, understanding and intelligent questioning from the guys at Loughan House.  Many grasped, in only too real ways, how neighbour can have formerly been friend and then circumstances make them a foe and in a short space of time there are undreamed of consequences to actions, decisons made on the flip of a moment. There is good and bad in each of us.

Debbie also explained how Arab culture finds counselling quite alien, but that men do openly  hug and express support and affection for one another.  That’s very different from Irish culture and very, very different from prison culture.

And do you know what? As the group made their farewells there were hand shakes for sure, but also some of those awkward Irish Man Half Hugs, and even some full on hugs man to man. Which is huge. And beautiful.

” …seek joy in the saddest places…pursue beauty to its lair… Never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple… respect strength, never power…watch…try and understand…never look away…and never forget…”

Hope is in all of these. Many in that room knew about violence…even unspeakable violence. They did not look away at a man in tears. They held that space with strength and respect. It was beautiful. And that gives me hope.

Thanks to Brenda McMullen, Debbie Beirne, and all those beautiful men in the room.