The first Zoom of the “Writing the Light in the Season of Darkness” sessions began this past Sunday. It coincided with the first day of the eight day Jewish holiday Hanukkah and the first Sunday of Christian Advent. I was looking at stars, (being bodies of light) and stumbled upon the Octogram, an eight pointed star that seems to have worked its way into just about every religious (and secular) tradition you could imagine. It figures into Goddess spirituality as the Star of Ishtar and Hinduism as the Star of Lakshmi. It appears in Judeo-Christiantradition as the Star of the Magi and kabbalah, and symbolises Islam in the character Rub el Hizb. Buddhists use it to represent the Eightfold Path of the Buddha. Michael Moorcock designated it the Chaos Star and I found an obscure reference to it as The Warrior Star. But to Native Americans an octogram signifies Hope. And hope was the theme for our writing prompts this past Sunday.
Coincidentally, there are eight women who signed on for this Zoom workshop, too! So athe group is also an octogram.
We started with some of the usual symbols of hope as prompts: anchors, rainbows, birch trees, butterflies, as well as that old Emily Dickinson chestnut “Hope…that thing with feathers…” (There was some rebellion in the Zoom Room as a few took exception with Emily, especially since one of our number had just been nipped by her parrot!)
I played around with a few things but what challenged me was that phrase “Warrior Star” and how it connects to Hope. Mostly because I resisted the idea of yoking hope and warrior…but poety is the path of surprise and this is where it led me.
Maybe hope is what keeps you fighting your corner...
Maybe hope is the courage that anchors...
Maybe hope is what never shall be moved...
Maybe hope is the motor of survival...
Maybe hope is the highest stake against high roller odds...
Maybe hope is the adreneline rush with the pay off...
Maybe hope is the warrior that wears wings...
What is hope to you? An anchor, a butterfly, a rainbow, a thing with feathers, a tree? Can you write eight things, people or events that fill you with hope? Light a candle to them.
It has been a week of shifts and movement. A friend announces the birth of her first grandchild along with the arrival of a litter of kittens. Prayers go up and come back answered. A quiet space is carved in a weekend of torrential rain where the introverts cozy up with their individual activities – crochet, writing, reading, puzzle solving – comforted by knowing their pack is quietly present in our shared cave.
Rest up, folks! It’s a bumpy month out there in the world. The news is not terribly cheerful on the climate front. A lot is happening out in the world. My personal strategy is to occupy a still space. Harvest. Make. Preserve. Pray. Breathe.
Also, clean and organise our cozy cave as I squirrel away and prepare for winter. But before I launch myself onto a cleaning jag preparatory to repainting my living room and kitchen space, here is the weekly poem.
I was born at this dark time of the year. I was a Samhain baby, born on All Souls Day or the Day of the Dead. For a multitude of reasons – my fair skin burns easily and is prone to heat rash, allergies, biting insects who find me oh so tasty – I do not love the summer. Perversely, now at the darkest time of year I have found myself wakeful at 4am. And I do not think this is necessarily linked to anxiety. This has happened in other years. Maybe because I was born at this time of year my body perks up. The sun is low, the temperatures cool, insects have flown away and pollen is dormant.
So it has been in this past week that I have been awake and writing before 5am on a few occasions. Some call this the amrit vela, those ‘ambrosial hours’ before dawn that seem the natural habitat of prayer, meditation, and creative endeavour. I am well aware what today is in the motherland. So first I prayed – for love to cast out fear. Then I pulled out the notebook and my fountain pen and wrote, after a false start, this:
These past weeks I have been processing my grief over the state of the world, and especially the state of my motherland. If I see one more ‘All Lives Matter’ meme on social media my patience will snap like the taut and frayed rubber band it is some days. Because evidence is very clear that all lives do NOT matter. Ask people of colour. Ask people who are disabled. Ask the single mum juggling multiple jobs and is constantly in debt. Ask any nurse anywhere in the world who is STILL low paid and risking his or her life everyday in our COVID19 world with inadequate PPE. Heck, if you even want to look at the privileged end of the spectrum, ask the female news co-anchor who earns less than her male counterpart!
Everyday we see evidence that ALL lives do not matter. It is not just a divided world, but a deeply unequal world because the operating system is that all lives do NOT matter. There is plenty of evidence that some lives are credited to be worth more. Often they have higher bank balances.
To say ‘All Lives Matter’ to people who have first hand experience that this is not true is to rub salt in a raw wound. It has the same ring of truth to it as “Arbeit Macht Frei”, the slogan over the gates of Auschwitz. Work did not make anyone free there. It was a slogan to pacify. It was propaganda.
Aside from the fact that the phrase has become a dog whistle for white supremacy, what some literalists really are saying is that All Lives SHOULD Matter. That is not the same thing at all. The majority can probably (hopefully) unite behind that qualifying ‘should’ in that phrase. But unity is not exactly part of our operating system either. One would have hoped that a deadly virus disrupting the planet might have had some tonic effect. Sadly, it has not.
Hence, some days I am in deep grief. I am beyond the denial stage. I have experienced the pain and guilt. I have spikes of anger. I have days of depression, crushed by the weight of the wickedness that many deny. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice (or righteousness in some translations) for they shall be satisfied.”
Of course, we will not have that hunger and thirst satisfied until we all start behaving as if all lives actually do matter. That we will have to love the perceived enemy and turn the other cheek just as the late Representative John Lewis did, he who forgave the Klansman that beat him senseless, he who accepted that man’s repentence and apology. That is the true meaning of grace.
Our hearts will have to open up a larger and larger space for that to happen. There will need to be less of the ‘I’ and more of the ‘we, ALL the people,’ not just the person who looks like one’s self, or acts the same, or holds the identical beliefs and opinions. We will need to accept our guilt and repent and then get to that final stage of grief where we find new motivation, become inspired and rediscover hope.
I am waiting to be satisfied. I’ve been feeling mighty hungry and thirsty for a long time. I want to be hopeful. Consider this poem I wrote back in 2016, my longing then for a change in the collective heart, for a world where we find that mislaid moral compass and act with magnanimity. It has been a long time coming. I pray for that collective state of grace every morning.
June 5th marks the first of three eclipses within thirty days. We have two lunar eclipses with the full moons on the 5th of June and on 4th July. Sandwiched between, on the same day as summer solstice,we have a solar eclipse on 21st June. In reading an email from astrologer Chani Nicholas about this tumulutous thirty days, I feel she makes a very pertinent remark that speaks to the world’s current condition. Eclipses, in her view, purge toxicity. We usually get two sets of solar and lunar eclipses every year. 2020, very unusually, offers us an extra set. To have three within thirty days is also an astrological rarity. And what she feels this period asks of us is to “investigate the connective tissue of our world and our lives.”
What connections have been eclipsed? What has been shadowed? How does this illuminate our current condition? Two articles I have read this week have made a great impression upon me. Both are intrinsic to my interrogating my white person’s privelege. The first is an early release of of Anne Applebaum’s article “History Will Judge the Complicit”, the cover story for the July/August edition of The Atlantic.https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/trumps-collaborators/612250/ . The second arrived in an email from Maria Popova’s Brainpickings website that includes a dialogue on race (from Rap on Race) between anthropologist, Margaret Mead, and author James Baldwin.
We sideline our past at our peril. How often are we encouraged too soon to “move on?”
“Moving on” often encodes other people’s agendas for us. It can sow a spurious forgetfulness of pain. “Moving on” sometimes skates on the surfaces, denying the depth of pain or grief. It can lead to stuffing down emotions that are not validated, where they go to live in some shadowy corner of our body and mind.
“Moving on” can become an excuse for avoiding responsibility. At worst, it is a conscious tactic to shirk responsibility and guilt. It is a ducking down, avoiding getting caught in the act of complicity. It can even disguise itself and become a strategy to avoid being identified as the cause that effected the pain. “Moving on” can be like forgoing an autopsy on an unexplained death and going without the Medical Examiner’s pathology report that fully explains the damage inflicted from ‘the gross insult’ to the person.
And, going down metaphor lane, we can extend this to mean not just the gross insult to a physical body, or person, but also to minds, to a community, to a group of people who have had a label hung around their necks like a yoke is put on oxen.
Which happened to some slaves on American soil. They were human beings classified as chattels, listed as property in wills and tax records. The story of enslaved human beings on the soil that became known as the United States of America began in 1619. We have had four hundred years of racism. The US capital city, the White House, and Capital itself, was built by enslaved people.
I do not want to move on from this moment in history if it means the continuation of oppression.
This is where James Baldwin’s and Margaret Mead’s discussion is thought provoking. Mead cannot accept Baldwin’s assertion that he is responsible for the perpetuation of racist attacks. Why? Because he did nothing to stop them happening. He addresses the state of our – all of us – complicity. “All of us have produced a system of reality which we cannot in anyway control; what we call history is perhaps a way of avoiding responsibility for what has happened, what is happening, in time.” And, by his lights, atonement is called for. Then there can be forgiveness and history is no longer an excuse note.
Considering that long history of oppression on US soil, I remembered an 18th century American man who made concerted life-changing decisions not to remain complicit. Like Saul before him, this devout Quaker had a Damascene moment. His employer asked him to write a bill of sale for the purchase of a human being. He was so appalled by this action that he refused to do so again and found alternative employment that aligned with his conscience.
Behind the unfamiliar 18th century turn of phrase, he acknowledges how the selfish spirit, ever strong, can be rooted in the oppression and exploitation of others. Long before Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King were espousing non-violent direct action, Woolman was interrogating his own responsibility and complicity in the oppression and violent harm to others. He was a Recorded Minister in the Religious Society of Friends, but he preached with gentle persuasion and explanations as to how his conscience had decided (or ‘convinced’ him to use Quaker terminology) upon his course of action. Always, he took long, prayerful consideration of what Jesus would do in any circumstance. He resisted his white privelage as best he could under the circumstances of colonial, pre-Revolutionary America. By the time he died he had convinced all Quakers to free their own slaves and begin the long compaign to change the hearts and minds of others to outlaw the slave trade. In effect, he galvanised Quakers to consider that their faith was intimately connected with effecting social justice for other than themselves. That, in effect, social justice activism was the connective tissue of their religion.
It began by addressing his shadow, his sense of guilt towards another human being and his responsibility as a humble clerk, a tiny cog in the system that was evil. He did his best to atone.
By The Light
When his employer asked him, a clerk,
to write a bill of sale of one human being
to another, he stopped.
He would never do it twice.
Not for the sake of a wage. There could be other
employment - tailoring, for instance. But then -
cotton! Picked by slave labour. So
and wore flax instead.
He travelled in the ministry to share the light
of a Christianity out of step with many.
to where the words came from.
Even when they spoke in different tongues
he felt for the Spirit moving within
his Friend, his Neighbour.
And he coveted none that belonged to them,
like their dignity. Guest at plantations he paid slaves
for their service, gently asking his hosts to honour
his Conscience 's dictates.
Not theirs. (Not yet.) An early exercise
in consciousness raising. Like not taking sugar
or drinking rum, small acts accumulate into petitions
to deliver us from great evil.
He was only one, and mostly unsung.
He did strive to live in The Light, awake,
considering how one may live away
from the Valley of Shadow, with Darkness undone.
I have been on a bit of a digital break over the holidays, but here we are with the first Sunday Weekly poem of a new year and a new decade. I fully intended to do a 2019 reflection on 30th December, but as it happens I became fully engaged in baking for an alcohol-free New Year’s gathering with friends instead. The days slipped by and then Sunday morning rolled around and I needed to write the weekly poem. This is not to say that I did not write over that week, because I did, but that is material that has been submitted to an anthology of women’s writing with the working title Bloody Amazing!
No sooner than the New Year’s decorations were taken down, I looked onto social media and I find words like Armageddon and apocolypse being bandied about. Immediately, (I am not lying) Archbald MacLeish’s sonnet The End of the World came to mind. Macleish lived through World War I, served with the precursor of the CIA in World War II, saw the Cold War and atomic bomb threat, and wound up his days in the Library of Congress. According to the text book anthology I used in college, The End of the World was published in 1926.
While perusing some the the decade reflections in print media I noticed that 2016 is considered the worst year in the 2010-2019 decade. Yet, it was the happiest for me as I married my long-time love that year. (Though at the time some friends did say it was the anticipated happy moment that was keeping them going and reason to get out of bed in the morning.) Anne Lamott echoes this observation in a book I got for Christmas, Almost Everything. (Canongate, 2019). This quotation in the Prelude inspired today’s Sunday Weekly poem. As did Dickens in Tale of Two Cities when he observes that it was both the best and worst of times.
Along with co-facilitating two identical workshops yesterday, I managed to hop into Ange Peita’s “Fundamentals of Creative Writing” workshop. Because sometimes it’s good to get yourself back to basics. I have been juggling so many projects these past six months sometimes you can disappear up your own hole. Ange is Austalian and one poetry form she introduced yesterday was from a workshop she attended in Oz. Didn’t completely catch her friend’s name. (May have been Les?) But it is a brilliant five liner. I got up this morning and decided to exercise it for the Poetry Daily.
This is the format. Five lines that go as thus:
Something about the past
So I borrowed from Emily Dickinson to start.
“Hope is the thing with feathers”
Went dormant, possiblyextinct forever
Now it is the last precious to take wing
That alights after the soul takes flight
That seeks another morning after each dark night.
Copyright 2019 Bee Smith . All right reserved.
We will be heading back home at noon. Here is a poem I wrote in the workshop about home.
My home is a ship
sailing along the bog road
navigating through a sea of trees.
It’s woven its sails from birds’s nests,
twigs, cat dander and dog hair.
A southwesterly breeze
is shifting us around so
we’ll not go aground on Cuilcagh,
bashed to bits on glacial erratics.
My home is tiller and cargo,
starboard and portside,
sailing through starshot skies
guided by moonlight.
Copyright 2019 Bee Smith. All right reserved.
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.
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.
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