Between miracles of feeding 5,000 people and walking on water: spiritual self-care and care for others, responding to need, addressing fear, refusing to be someone you’re not ..

You have been walking the water’s edge, holding up your robes to keep them dry. You must dive naked under, deeper, under a thousand times deeper. Love flows down. — Rumi

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle. — Thich Nhat Hanh

See if you recognize yourself in this story: Because maybe some of us are like the ones in the boat who are afraid. Maybe you are so caught up in the fear of making the wrong decision that you can’t make any decision at all. Or maybe you are like the one experiencing the thrill of stepping into the unknown … and maybe the first few steps are ok but then it gets scary. Or maybe you or the person next to you is the one who is sinking … or maybe you feel like you’re sinking because what you could handle last month you just can’t handle now. Or maybe you’re the one who knows you’re doomed, knows that all your own efforts have failed and you are crying out to God to save you and you’re the ones who Jesus has reached down to catch and you’re clinging on to the sweet hand of Jesus with all you’ve got. or maybe you’re the one in the boat looking in wonder all you’ve just seen… you’re the one who bears witness to the miracle and danger of it all and how the hand of God reaches down and pulls us up and you see it and can’t help but say “truly this is God.” At some point or other I know I have been all of the above. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. — Bruce Lee

Don’t you realize that the sea is the home of water? All water is off on a journey unless it’s in the sea, and it’s homesick, and bound to make its way home someday. — Zora Neale Hurston

Songs about ‘Walking on Water’:

Contemplative Water Audio Tracks:

Songs about ‘Needing You’:


Maybe Mary Oliver

Sweet Jesus, talking
his melancholy madness,
   stood up in the boat
      and the sea lay down,

silky and sorry.
So everybody was saved
   that night.
      But you know how it is

when something
different crosses
   the threshold—the uncles
      mutter together,

the women walk away,
the young brother begins
   to sharpen his knife.
      Nobody knows what the soul is.

It comes and goes
like the wind over the water—
   sometimes, for days,
      you don’t think of it.

Maybe, after the sermon,
after the multitude was fed,
   one or two of them felt
      the soul slip forth

like a tremor of pure sunlight
before exhaustion,
   that wants to swallow everything,
      gripped their bones and left them

miserable and sleepy,
as they are now, forgetting
   how the wind tore at the sails
      before he rose and talked to it—

tender and luminous and demanding
as he always was—
     a thousand times more frightening
         than the killer storm.


The spirit is so near
that you can’t see it!
But reach for it…
don’t be a jar, full of water,
whose rim is always dry.
Don’t be the rider who gallops all night
and never sees the horse
that is beneath him.
— Rumi


Walking Water — Wyatt Townley

Inside us the ocean
sways like a cradle
in which we rock     rock  

and are drawn like the tide
to the moon twice a day
we carry our water and it carries us

we are a good pail with legs
foot by foot on the turning
mountain of the world

water walking on the prairie
walking water on the road
up the stairs through a door

where the view rushes out of us
through the window to the woods
rushing water in the desert

rushing water in this chair
and that one you’re in
water walking

and what is solid is not at all
what we thought     the rock
worn away by the rocking


Resources to understand the setting of the Gospel of John:

WATER MEDITATIONS

…water is one of those symbols that shows up over and over again in the Bible. Richard Rohr says it’s a bookmark: that whenever you see the word “water”, you know that it signals an invitation from God, a sign of an opening into a spiritual experience. Baptism, the Israelites crossing through the Red Sea into freedom. — Kathleen McShane (full article)

We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
We are tasting the taste this minute of eternity.
We are pain and what cures pain both.
We are the sweet cold water and the jar that pours.
— Rumi

To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float. — Alan Watts  

The water is your friend. You don’t have to fight with water, just share the same spirit as the water, and it will help you move. — Aleksandr Popov

Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water. — Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

WALKING on WATER REFLECTIONS

We didn’t build our bridges simply to avoid walking on water. Nothing so obvious. A bridge is a meeting place. A neutral place. A casual place. Enemies will choose to meet on a bridge and end their quarrel in that void… For lovers, a bridge is a possibility, a metaphor of their chances. And for the traffic in whispered goods, where else but a bridge in the night? — Jeanette Winterson

To walk on water, we need reliable guides. — Robert Vande Kappelle

In God’s eyes, walking on water is no more miraculous than the ability of hemoglobin to bond with oxygen inside a red blood corpuscle. — Deepak Chopra

You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, burning bushes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories, and you say that we are the ones that need help? — Mark Twain

Walking on water wasn’t built in a day. — Jack Kerouac

For as the heavens reach beyond earth and time, we swim in mercy as in an endless sea. — Psalms

Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend. — Albert Camus

There’s high, and there’s high, and to get really high–I mean so high that you can walk on the water, that high–that’s where I’m goin’. — George Harrison

A Word from Jesus calms the sea,
The stormy wind controls;
And gives repose and liberty
To tempest-tossed souls.

To Peter on the waves he came,
And gave him instant peace;
Thus he to me revealed his name,
And bid my sorrows cease. Then filled with wonder, joy and love,
Peter’s request was mine;
Lord, call me down, I long to prove
That I am wholly thine.

Unmoved at all I have to meet
On life’s tempestuous sea;
Hard, shall be easy; bitter, sweet,
So I may follow thee. He heard and smiled, and bid me try,
I eagerly obeyed;
But when from him I turned my eye,
How was my soul dismayed!

The storm increased on every side,
I felt my spirit shrink;
And soon, with Peter, loud I cried,
Lord, save me, or I sink.

Kindly he caught me by the hand,
And said, Why dost thou fear?
Since thou art come at my command,
And I am always near.

Upon my promise rest thy hope,
And keep my love in view;
I stand engaged to hold thee up,
And guide thee safely through.

— John Newton

COMMENTARY on WALKING on WATER (referring to multiple Gospel versions of this story)

It’s been said that if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. Sometimes getting out of the boat looks like showing up for another recovery meeting. Sometimes it looks like filling out hospital paperwork for an elderly neighbor. Sometimes it looks like making a casserole for the family down with the flu or offering free babysitting for the friend with a job interview. Sometimes it looks like jumping when it matters. What does “getting out of the boat” look like for you? What does it mean to “jump when it matters”? — Rachel Held-Evans

But all these characters in the walking on water story – the cautious ones in the boat, the brave one who walked for a time on water, the same one who is afraid and sinks and calls for help, and the ones who saw it all and confessed that Jesus is the son of God they are all actually equal in their relationship to
God because…all of these and you have one thing in common: they are those whom Jesus draws near saying “it is I, do not be afraid”. … But what happens on either side of his short little water walk? … In the storm Jesus is walking toward the boat … Jesus is reaching … he comes so much toward them all that finally he just gets in the damn boat. That’s about as with them as he can be. … the whole story is about how much Jesus walks toward them, reaches toward them, and then even gets in the boat with them. — Nadia Bolz-Weber (full sermon)

God is always calling on us to do the impossible. It helps me to remember that anything Jesus did during his life here on earth is something we should be able to do, too. … Sometimes I will sit on a sun-warmed rock to dry, and think of Peter walking across the water to meet Jesus. As long as he didn’t remember that we human beings have forgotten how to walk on water, he was able to do it. — Madeline L’Engle

This is not what I bargained for, not the way I pictured it all in my head as I prepared to step out of the boat … The waves no longer seem inviting — they are a bit scary and unwelcoming. The boat seems much warmer, stable, secure, and yes — safe. Faith in me reminds me that it’s all an illusion — all the trappings and walls and safeguards we wrap around ourselves are really just as flimsy as a wooden boat on a stormy sea and that walking on water with Jesus is — in a reality that I can’t fully see yet — actually safer… Now is not the time for me to make the pro/con list — in fact, that list may never work for a life of faith. Now is the time for me to keep my eyes on Jesus and refuse to look down. My feet are wet and cold and I keep glancing back to a boat I can no longer return to but I don’t know what lies ahead… When we obey in faith, there is often an in-between space called liminal space. This is the space after we take our big step of faith out of the boat and come ahead with Jesus and before He shows us what’s next. It’s the time between what was and the next chapter of our journey. It’s a transition phase where we no longer fit where we were but don’t yet fit where we’re going. It can feel barren or we can choose to harness that time. It’s a waiting room, a threshold as we embark on something new... This liminal space feels like I’m trying to walk on water in the middle of the night. It’s dark. There are no road signs or directions — only the faint persistent memory of how certain I was when I stepped out. I am aware that God is near but the wobbliness of the water beneath my feet feels so foreign that I wonder how this can be a safe place in God’s will.— Mary Gallagher (full article)

It is true that Jesus was already walking on water when Peter got out of the boat. But I am not that impressed by Jesus walking on water.  I mean, he was God, after all. Of course, he could walk on water. But for Peter, it is different. He was a human being, like me. And I identify with Peter. He made a lot of mistakes. He sometimes misunderstood Jesus’ teachings. He argued with the other disciples about which one was the greatest. He wanted to build housing for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on the sacred ground of the Mount of Transfiguration, completely misunderstanding the message that Moses and Elijah had brought. He tried to talk Jesus out of sacrificing his life and balked at Jesus’ offer to wash his feet. He fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus as about to be crucified and, when Jesus was arrested, Peter denied him three times. And when Jesus ordered him to walk on water, he did it trustingly for a while, then he became fearful and went under. Jesus had to “save” him. Yet Peter was the first disciple to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and the first to realize that the man walking on water through the storm that day was Jesus. He was the only disciple to get out of the boat and he did walk on water, even if he eventually succumbed to his doubts and started to sink. As a disciple, Peter followed Jesus wholeheartedly and was dismayed by the dumb things he sometimes did. I believe it was both because of his mistakes and his faithfulness that Jesus designated him as the Rock on which he would build his church… I love the story of Peter walking on water because it is about taking spiritual risks and about faith and hope and trust. I feel as if I have spent a lot of my life walking on water, spiritually, psychologically, and materially. Sometimes I have felt as if I was sinking, too.
     I also love the story because it so dramatically captures the concept of liminal space. The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word for “threshold” and liminal space refers to an in-between or transitional condition in which one is “neither here nor there,” or, sometimes, both here and there. Peter has left the boat but has not arrived anywhere yet. He is in transition. He is in a liminal space. — Jacqueline Wallen (full article)

Meditations on freedom: spiritual and social

Freedom is what we do with what is done to us. — Jean-Paul Sartre

The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud. — Coco Chanel

When I discover who I am, I’ll be free. — Ralph Ellison

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories. — Margaret Atwood

Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another. — Toni Morrison

Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free. — Thich Nhat Hanh

You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once. — Robert Heinlein

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. — David Foster Wallace

Songs about Freedom:


Freedom — Langston Hughes
Freedom will not come
Today, this year           
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear. 
I have as much right
As the other fellow has           
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land. 
I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.           
Freedom           
Is a strong seed           
Planted           
In a great need.           
I live here, too.           
I want my freedom           
Just as you.   

MEDITATIONS on PERSONAL FREEDOM

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. ― Joe Klaas

The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you. — David Foster Wallace

People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use. — Soren Kierkegaard

No one loses anyone, because no one owns anyone. That is the true experience of freedom: having the most important thing in the world without owning it. — Paulo Coelho

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind. — Virginia Woolf

Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. — Sigmund Freud

He who has overcome his fears will truly be free. — Aristotle

The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first. — Jim Morrison

Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls. — Anais Nin

True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline. — Mortimer Adler

But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ — John Steinbeck

Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes. — Mahatma Gandhi

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning. — Jean-Paul Sartre

REVOLUTIONARIES

If you want to rebel, rebel from inside the system.That’s much more powerful than rebelling outside the system. — Marie Lu

I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game. — Toni Morrison

Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves. — Abraham Lincoln

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free. —Ronald Reagan

When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw. — Nelson Mandela

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin

Better to die fighting for freedom then be a prisoner all the days of your life. — Bob Marley

A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window. — Gilles Delueze

We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it. — William Faulkner

If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all. — Noam Chomsky

I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. — Robert Heinlein

Being Good Doesn’t Make You Free. The Truth Makes You Free.  Nadia Bolz-Weber (full text)

… “You know that part at the beginning where we all say together that we’ve fractured relationships and done things we shouldn’t and stuff?” Uh…I answered…the confession? “Yeah! they said. That’s so amazing.”

There’s a trend in starting… to actually eliminate the confession and absolution in the liturgy because, well, it just makes people feel bad. And let’s be honest, it’s just a lot more appealing to go to a church that doesn’t make you feel bad.

And I guess there is some logic to that. I mean, if the point of religion is to teach us good from evil and how to choose the good, then who wants to start out each Sunday saying that you didn’t manage to pull that off. Again.

Of course no one can really be that good, which I guess is why there is also a long and rich Christian tradition which in Latin is called “totally faking it.” Also known as pretending to be good and nice and happy and successfully Christian.

… Jesus contrasts not good and evil, but truth and evil. We either do what is true or do what is evil.

I know that I myself will go to extraordinary lengths to fight the truth, especially truth about my shortcomings… One of the most common truths we avoid is about our motivations…

I was substituting being good for the Truth…

But truth comes to us and it changes us. It comes in the word of a sister, in the language of scripture spoken in a community, in the prayers of the people…

The light of truth is simply the only thing that scatters the darkness in ourselves and in the world because God doesn’t deal in deceit and denial and half-truths. Yes, encounters with Truth are hard and require you to step into something that feels like it might just crush you. But the instant is crushes you it also puts you back together into something real. Only the Gospel can do that.

The good news is not that you can possess the truth, but that the truth can possess you, making you real and making you free … perhaps for the first time. And as frightening as it might feel, as much as it might feel like it’s going to crush you, the light of the truth is something you can live in because the love of God has freed you and indeed every human being from the need to live in any lies. Step into the light. You’ll be fine. You’ll be real. And you’ll be free.

CAGED BIRDS
 
There is freedom
waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?
― Erin Hanson 

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will. — Charlotte Bronte

You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down. — Toni Morrison

Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure. — Stephen King


Caged Bird—  Maya Angelou
A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind   
and floats downstream   
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky. 
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and   
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing. 
The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom. 
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own 
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing. 
The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.

Of Old Sat Freedom on the Heights Alfred, Lord Tennyson
 Of old sat Freedom on the heights,
The thunders breaking at her feet:
Above her shook the starry lights:
She heard the torrents meet. 
There in her place she did rejoice,
Self-gather’d in her prophet-mind,
But fragments of her mighty voice
Came rolling on the wind. 
Then stept she down thro’ town and field
To mingle with the human race,
And part by part to men reveal’d
The fulness of her face— 
Grave mother of majestic works,
From her isle-altar gazing down,
Who, God-like, grasps the triple forks,
And, King-like, wears the crown: 
Her open eyes desire the truth.
The wisdom of a thousand years
Is in them. May perpetual youth
Keep dry their light from tears; 
That her fair form may stand and shine,
Make bright our days and light our dreams,
Turning to scorn with lips divine
The falsehood of extremes!

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone, and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The airplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say, do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines, you are not cattle, you are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it is written that the kingdom of God is within man, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power. Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfill that promise. Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite! — Charlie Chaplin

Reflections on ravens: curiosity, creativity, and cultural messenger.

Songs about blackbirds and ravens (note: these are different species): 
Blackbird by The Beatles (rock)
Blackbird Song by Lee DeWyze (ballad/blues)
Raven Song by Elephant Revival (folk)
Blackbird by Nina Simone (blues)
The Raven by Alan Parsons Project (electronic rock pop based on Edgar Alan Poe’s work)
Hear Me O God, Nor Hide Thy Face (Christian choral music)
How Many Are Your Works (Christian hymn)



How sweetly did they float upon the wings
Of silence, through the empty-vaulted night
At every fall smoothing the raven down
Of darkness till it smil’d.
— John Milton
 
The Raven (excerpt) — Edgar Allen Poe

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door —
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door —
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore —
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.” …

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Cultural Quips about Ravens 

Did ever raven sing so like a lark, That gives sweet tidings of the sun’s uprise? — William Shakespeare

For out of black soul’s night have stirred dawn’s cold gleam, morning’s singing bird. Let black day die, let black flag fall, let raven call, let new day dawn of black reborn. — George Woodcock Honestly, all crows are not ravens. — Munia Khan

The raven spread out its glossy wings and departed like hope. — Cecilia Dart-Thornton

Ravens are at home everywhere. They only have one enemy: humans. — Bernd Heinrich

Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as ravens claws. — Jim Morrison

Does wisdom perhaps appear on the earth as a raven which is inspired by the smell of carrion? — Friedrich Nietzsche

My love, she’s like some raven / At my window with a broken wing. — Bob Dylan

Needless to say, urgings by ravens are ignored at one’s peril.  — James D. Doss

But the black raven, the bird over the fated men, will tell, will say to the eagle, how he succeeded at the meal, when he with the wolf plundered the slaughtered ones.  — The Beowulf Poet

For this reason, the lean wolf in the wold / rejoiced, and the dark raven, a bird greedy for slaughter. — Cynewulf

It is said that when Raven created the first world, he made everything perfect, a world full of happiness and beauty, without pain, suffering, or ugliness. But Raven grew bored with this perfect world and started reshaping things. — Catharine Feher-Elston

One raven does not peck out another’s eyes. — Danish proverb

Censure acquits the raven, but pursues the dove. — Juvenal

The cry of a young raven is nothing but the natural cry of a creature, but your cry, if it be sincere, is the result of a work of grace in your heart. — Charles Spurgeon

Ravens are the birds I’ll miss most when I die. If only the darkness into which we must look were composed of the black light of their limber intelligence. If only we did not have to die at all. Instead, become ravens. — Louise Erdrich

Commentary on Elijah and the Ravens

Elijah had enough, but it did not always come to him in the nicest way; for I do not imagine that the ravens knew how to get bread and meat always cut into nicest shape. Perhaps they snatched a rough bit of meat here, and perhaps a crust of bread there, and it came in all sorts of ugly pieces, but still, there it was, and it was enough. “Beggars are not to be choosers,” we say, and certainly pensioners on God’s bounty ought not pick holes and find fault with the Lords providing. Whatever God gives thee be grateful for, for if too proud to take from the raven’s mouth, it will be well for thee to go without, until shine hunger consume thy pride. God promises his people enough, but not more than enough, and even that enough may not come to us in the way we should choose. — Charles Spurgeon

God knows what you need, and he knows when you need it, and he will make sure you have it in time. As he sent the ravens to Elijah, he can command all heaven to come to your aid … God lets those things happen to move us from self-sufficiency to God-sufficiency. From self-reliance to God-reliance. From trusting in our own ability to trusting in him alone. … You should plan ahead. That’s biblical. You should plan ahead but you shouldn’t worry ahead. There’s a big difference … we would have been less surprised if God had used a robin redbreast or a meadowlark or a turtle dove to bring the food. But that is not how God works. He routinely chooses the despised things of the world in order to confound the mighty, and he uses the foolish to bring the strong down to nothing. As you look at the course of life, you may think that God is going to use some rich uncle or a wealthy friend to help you out. But experience shows how unlikely that is. He is much more likely to meet your needs through the ravens of the earth that fly to your need when you least expect them. — Ray Pritchard

Raven and the First Men —Bill Reid, qadasgu qligawaay clan (Haida Origins Story)
 Haida stories tell of how the first people emerged from a gigantic clamshell on the beach of Rose Spit. They got out with the help of Raven, the most powerful creature from myth time. Raven was wandering on the beach, when he heard some noise coming from a clamshell. He looked more closely and saw that it was full of little human creatures. They clearly looked terrified by Raven and the great big world outside the shell.

“So the Raven leaned his great head close to the shell, and with the smooth trickster’s tongue, that had got him out of so many misadventures, in his troubled and troublesome existence, he coaxed and cajoled and coerced the little creatures to come out and play in his wonderful, shiny, new world.” 


Fable: Fox and Raven
by Phaedrus
Retold by Rohini Chowdhury

Once, the Raven saw a piece of cheese in a window, and grabbing it in his beak, flew off quickly to a nearby tree, there to savour it and eat it in peace.

Now the Fox, who was passing by, was very fond of cheese, and when she saw the cheese in the Raven’s beak, she determined to have it for herself. Going up to the foot of the tree, she called up to the Raven, ‘Oh my dear friend, how wonderful you look today! You are the handsomest bird I have ever seen. Oh the shine of your feathers, the regal grace with which you hold you hold your head! Your voice must be as beautiful as you! If only I could hear you sing…’ and the Fox sighed, as though with longing.

The Raven was deeply flattered. No one had called him handsome before, or wanted to hear him sing! Surely he could please this kind Fox and sing a little song for her! Taking a deep breathe, he opened his beak…and let fall the piece of cheese. The first caw was not even out of his throat when the Fox had snapped up the piece of cheese and run off through the woods with it!

Acknowledging the challenges of these times: responding to loss & trauma

Your hearts are troubled,
and it is no sacrilege to let them be so …
— Maren Tirabassi

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow.
Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.
― C.S. Lewis

Your name is upon my tongue
your image is in my sight
your memory is in my heart
where can I send these words that I write ?
— Rumi

Naming Change and Loss: Recently, our community has experienced deep challenges, traumas and losses. These are events that occur beyond the pandemic’s complexities, or are exacerbated because of them. These range from life-limiting diagnoses and deaths to accidents and mental health crises. They may also include other life-altering changes, such as major shifts in relationship status, safety and wellbeing, shelter/housing, vocation/livelihood, and/or economic viability.

Some of these circumstances are reversible. Some are permanent and irrevocable. And heartbreaking.

We have been working on hope and resilience for months now. Coping. Managing. Not just surviving, but thriving at times. Reinventing ourselves. Being creative. Optimistic. Yes, and we’re good at it. We keep rising up and responding.

Today … let us, just for a moment, bear witness to the great sorrows that have also shaken us in the past several weeks, or in the last 24 hours. This message is to acknowledge wherever you may find yourself in this reality, in this time. Below are a few offerings. They presume to make things right or better. They don’t pretend to fix or explain anything. They simply articulate something about where we find ourselves. Just for now, let us be present to the truth and pain of these times, as well as the energetic ‘recovery and reopening and renewal’ strategies we implement.

Let us say here, too, that no words by any person, even those who have also known great suffering, are equal to all the realities that are happening among us. Accept whatever grace or support you may find in these words, put down what isn’t helpful or relevant to your situation. Know these are offered with love, but what we truly mean to offer is our presence in your life.  — Rev Gail Pomeroy Doktor

Songs:
Seasons of Love from the musical RENT
I Will Remember You by Sarah McLachlan
Holes in the Night Sky by the Smith Fraser Duo
Let It Be by The Beatles
Candle in the Wind by Elton John
What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
Stars by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel
Holes in the Floor of Heaven by Steve Wariner
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? performed by Carole King & James Taylor

Blessing for the Brokenhearted (excerpt) — Jan Richardson
Let us agree for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.
Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound,
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.
Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—
as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it,
as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still …

For Grief (excerpt)— John O’Donohue 

When you lose
someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you
gets fragile,
Your thoughts
make your eyes unsure
… words have no confidence.
Your heart has
grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss
has wounded others too,
No one knows what
has been taken from you
When the silence
of absence deepens.

… There are days
when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have
your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle
of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain
faithful to itself.
More than you,
it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form
of your departed;
And, when the work
of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul
where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

Musings on Grief, Loss & Sudden Change

This business of having been issued a body is deeply confusing… Bodies are so messy and disappointing. Every time I see the bumper sticker that says “We think we’re humans having spiritual experiences, but we’re really spirits having human experiences,” I (a) think it’s true and (b) want to ram the car. — Anne Lamott

The Abyss of Grief (full essay here): Suddenly, the sacred fire I have been chasing all my life engulfed me. I was plunged into the abyss … So shattered I could not see my own hand in front of my face … Immolated, I found myself resting in fire. Drowning, I surrendered, and discovered I could breathe under water. … This was the sacred emptiness … And I hated it. I didn’t want vastness of being. I wanted my baby back. But I discovered that there was nowhere to hide when radical sorrow unraveled the fabric of my life. I could rage against the terrible unknown—and I did, for I am human and have this vulnerable body, passionate heart, and complicated mind—or I could turn toward the cup, bow to the Cupbearer, and say, “Yes.” I didn’t do it right away, nor was I able to sustain it when I did manage a breath of surrender. But gradually I learned to soften into the pain and yield to my suffering … I became acutely aware of my connectedness … everywhere … who had lost  … who were, at this very moment, hearing the impossible news … Grief strips us. According to the mystics, this is good news. … Few among us would ever opt for the narrow gate of grief, even if it were guaranteed to lead us to God. But if our most profound losses—the death of a loved one, the ending of a marriage or a career, catastrophic disease or alienation from community—bring us to our knees before that threshold, we might as well enter … — Mirabai Starr for the Center for Action and Contemplation

Resources

  • Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. This is a book available through the library or White Birch Books (place an order); it’s also a community-building resource through their website. Resources for grief due to death, domestic violence/trauma/abuse and other challenges.
  • Resources from the Forgiveness Project: some resources for the process and journey of forgiveness – forgiveness toolkit.
  • Guided Meditation for encountering grief: Joan Halifax

DON’T HESITATE — Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and
Unexpectedly feel joy,
Don’t hesitate.
Give in to it.
There are plenty
Of lives and whole towns
Destroyed or about to be.
We are not wise,
And not very often kind.
And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left.
Perhaps this is its way
Of fighting back, that sometimes
Something happens
Better than all the riches
Or power in the world.
It could be anything,
But very likely
You notice it in the instant
When love begins.
Anyway, that’s often the case.
Anyway, whatever it is,
Don’t be afraid
Of its plenty.
Joy is not made
To be a crumb.

ANTIDOTES to FEAR of DEATH
— Rebecca Elson

Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.

Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.

Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:

No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
Already there
But unconstrained by form.

And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.

Kindness (excerpt)
— Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know
what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted
and carefully saved …
… You must see how
this could be you,
… someone who journeyed
through the night with plans
and the simple breath
that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

The Peace of Wild Things
— Wendell Berry

When despair for the world
Grows in me
And I wake in the night
At the least sound
In fear of what my life
And my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down
Where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water,
And the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives
With forethought of grief.
I come into the presence
Of still water.
And I feel above me
The day-blind stars
Waiting with their light.
For a time
I rest in the grace
Of the world,
And am free.

Excerpt from writings by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Contrary to the general assumption, the first days of grief are not the worst. The immediate reaction is usually shock and numbing disbelief. One has undergone an amputation. After shock comes acute early grief which is a kind of “condensed presence” — almost a form of possession. One still feels the lost limb down to the nerve endings. It is as if the intensity of grief fused the distance between you and the dead. Or perhaps, in reality, part of one dies. Like Orpheus, one tries to follow the dead on the beginning of their journey. But one cannot, like Orpheus, go all the way, and after a long journey one comes back. If one is lucky, one is reborn. Some people die and are reborn many times in their lives. For others the ground is too barren and the time too short for rebirth. Part of the process is the growth of a new relationship with the dead, that “véritable ami mort” Saint-Exupéry speaks of. Like all gestation, it is a slow dark wordless process. While it is taking place one is painfully vulnerable. One must guard and protect the new life growing within– like a child.

One must grieve, and one must go through periods of numbness that are harder to bear than grief. One must refuse the easy escapes offered by habit and human tradition. The first and most common offerings of family and friends are always distractions (“Take her out”–“Get her away” –“Change the scene”–“Bring in people to cheer her up”–“Don’t let her sit and mourn” [when it is mourning one needs]). On the other hand, there is the temptation to self-pity or glorification of grief. “I will instruct my sorrows to be proud,”  Constance cries in a magnificent speech in Shakespeare’s King John.  Despite her words, there is not aristocracy of grief. Grief is a great leveler. There is no highroad out.

Courage is a first step, but simply to bear the blow bravely is not enough. Stoicism is courageous, but it is only a halfway house on the long road. It is a shield, permissible for a short time only. In the end, one has to discard shields and remain open and vulnerable. Otherwise, scar tissue will seal off the wound and no growth will follow. To grow, to be reborn, one must remain vulnerable– open to love but also hideously open to the possibility of more suffering.

More Musings

Most of us do as well as possible, and some of it works okay, and we try to release that which doesn’t and which is never going to. … Making so much of it work is the grace of it; and not being able to make it work is double grace. Grace squared. — Anne Lamott

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect the shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be “healing.” A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to “get through it,” rise to the occasion, exhibit the “strength” that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves the for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself. — Joan Didion, Year of Magical Thinking

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

— Maya Angelou

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