To be mindful means to remember to let go of compulsive reactivity and realize a nonreactive way of life.
~Stephen Batchelor, “The Art of Solitude”
Today is Mardi Gras and I still haven’t decided what my Lenten practice will be. I live alone with my dog so there is plenty of solitude for me. What does it mean to be intentional and mindful when the Lenten season is upon us?
I’ve been working on getting my diet healthier so there’s nothing to give up there. Yet, as I think more about this quote, perhaps the journey in the days to come is to focus on what it means to trust G-d working within my own life.
The practice of meditation is one that requires us to be alone with ourselves. In committing to sit in solitude, regularly and without distractions, we are exploring a new way of being alone—a new way of being intimate with ourselves.
Since last summer, discernment of where G-d is leading has put me on an unusual path. Of course, I’ve never been 58 and nearing 60. No, I won’t skip the 59th year, just saying that part of the journey is one of embracing the beauty of aging.
The best thing I’m learning from the aging path is that there is much beauty in going slower. Sometimes it drives me crazy that I am a tortoise now, but there’s always some glittering gem that shows itself when patience breathes into my soul.
Yet, as the season of Lent begins, questions arise for which I have no answer. In my weariness, can I find a way to make a difference? Can making a difference be as simple as being brave enough to ask the questions and put the questions into the stratosphere for other believers to ponder?
Then, that easily it becomes clear what my Lenten task is. This year for Lent, my focus will be on changing and transforming my own heart into a heart of justice. Justice for the oppressed begins with me. We are all in this mess together. Let’s pray and act in ways that turn the tide towards justice, hope, and love.
‘If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.’
~ Marvin J. Ashton
Questions I will pray and ponder over as part of my Lenten journey:
- Why hasn’t the Episcopal church taken a stand to be a safe haven for immigrants? What is my part in the action or inaction?
I wrote both bishops and no response at all. Yes, 5 bishops of the Episcopal church are making a difference, but what about the rest of us? Bishop Curry does address what can I do here. The bishops are from the border region, but there are others being deported across our country and some of them unfairly.
- We have migrants in NC, what does our bishop say?
Last summer, when I still had a car, I was driving home from church and two carloads of brown people (who were small in stature like many Mexican families) were pulled off to the side of the road. The stunned naked child on the hood of the car made it clear they had to pull over for the child. Yet, all I could think of was what if they were running and trying to find a safe place to simply BE?
They pulled over in one of the switchbacks between the church and Spirit Ride Therapeutic Riding Center. It wasn’t a safe place for anything. What do our people, in this community, know about Protecting Immigrant Families? I do understand that I am still learning the communities here. However, there was a huge migrant camp in Cullowhee before the deportations started. One of our church members got deported with her husband. She could have stayed behind I’m sure because her parents were white. However, she was pregnant and also had a toddler. The marriage was new and obviously, it must have been illegal too. I did not pry. Now I find, In Christ There Is No Border and somehow it eases my sense of justice that the institution is making progress in justice issues. What can we do to become a sanctuary congregation? I am willing to begin the talk if that’s what’s needed.
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church recommend that its institutions and congregations become places of welcome, refuge, healing, and other forms of material and pastoral support for those targeted for deportation due to immigration status or some perceived status of difference and that we work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and human rights of all people; and be it further…
I type in a google search for a count of how many Episcopal churches offer sanctuary and at this writing, I’m only finding one and it’s in North Carolina!
- I do see that there are LGBT issues that are being addressed a bit. Yet, this government administration seeks to take away what rights we do have. What can I do as a person of faith that will give hope to those who have no hope in rural areas?
Though the Advocate Magazine often talks about issues that are not political here, it also seeks to keep us aware of how the current administrations wishes to take way adoption rights, marriage rights, and also keep us abreast of the hatred spewed by xenophobic attacks. What am I going to do to spread hope?
“It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.”
I rise early on this rainy morning, excited about the book I’m editing, excited about the essay I’m writing. There is joy in the morning. This often happens for me as a morning person. Classical piano music plays as a light rain falls on this Thursday morning. A day before Valentine’s day, I think of a new gentle friend I’ve met and how nice it would be to share a cup of coffee with her in the beautiful morning of classical piano music. Along with thinking of sharing a cup of coffee with a beautiful woman, my mind also considers a question asked by a different beautiful new friend. Here is the scenario she presents:
You meet someone and there is instant attraction. There’s no denying the connection, vibe and energy between you. You go out a few times and things are great. There’s also no denying where this is heading.
You want to be upfront and honest, so you decide to sit down and have one of ‘those conversations’ with her. You say, ‘this is my stuff’… What is it you’re saying to her?
At first, I didn’t know how to answer it AT ALL. During the day, I found myself pondering the question and how I would honestly respond. This morning as I washed dishes, the question turned over in my mind again and again. I thought of the pain when my ex-wife asked me to leave
because I was disabled, and she couldn’t deal with it. How does one come back from that? Being called “disabled” and having my physical ability limited was not my choice. How does one outline that to a new person especially when we know that aging and its natural course doesn’t necessarily mean everything will be better with time?
Then, my mind hears the piano music again and I remember the letter sent to me complaining about how much time and energy I spent on music; that I performed outside of the house and taught lessons, directed choirs. I’ve been a musician all of my life. At a young age, I
knew that the life of a professional performer was not the life for me although somewhere in my training, I became a performer. The life of the professional performer required too many sacrifices of self: how one dressed, presented sexuality, no time at all for loved ones. The life of a professional performer was one that would take too much from my soul. As a result, I chose the life of a professional choir director and teacher.
When my ex sent that letter, I could NOT believe it. I asked her why she even got into a relationship with me if she did not want me to share my music? Later she apologized, but those types of things cannot be unsaid. That was an attack on my soul. I say an attack on my soul because I cannot imagine a life without music. So, what would I say to a new person if there was mutual interest? What would I say about that? That my first love was music? And, would that be true?
I ask if that is the truth because I don’t know which came first, my love of G-d or my love of music. In truth, they are somehow tied together for me. As I typed that last sentence, one of my favorite pieces of piano music plays, Debussy’s “Suite bergamasque, L. 75-3 Clair de lune. The pianist is Lang Lang.
My first thought is of my sister. This was a piece she was assigned when we took piano. Then, as the piano piece proceeds, I feel the flowing of our Carolina streams and see sunlight dappling the water. It causes worship to rise in my heart. Not worship of my sister or the pianist or the composer, but whatever entity brings that music into being, I want to know THAT ONE! That being who causes poetry, music, and sisters to be formed, I want to know and give thanks to that ONE.
Therefore, my next confession is that I am religious. I tried on the “spiritual but not religious” cloak and it was well, weird. I felt like I was wearing someone else’s shoes and not my own hiking books. The truth is that I’m both spiritual AND religious. Each day is a day of searching for what it means to live an artistic and sacred life. Many cannot deal with that and I understand. At this point in life, I know I also cannot compromise that part of me any more than I can compromise being a musician or lesbian. There are some things you just know are TRUE about your life.
Those truths may or may not work for another. This is the beauty of life, self-discovery. You be free to be you and I can be free to be me. Alexis Ffrench plays “Bluebird” as I type about the freedom to be.
I’m not one to be caged. When you meet me, the first thing that usually starts is short jokes. LOL, I’m okay with that. Sometimes though, people think that because my physical being is small that they can put me in a box, but my soul will not be contained. Don’t expect me to be anything other than who I am.
In truth, I’m a poet, peacemaker, healer, but when someone puts me in a box, I will fight, and I can fight because I come from a family of warriors. I’ve also discovered and must admit that I may suffer fools a bit in public, but not for long. At 58, I admit being tired of the nonsense. My goal is to be a peaceful warrior, but my choice would be not to fight at all. If I had my way, each day would be spent with art, music, poetry, children, and friends. Yet, politics happen, hunger is daily, and dishes must be washed. The mundane can be beautiful too when those in charge are not power-hungry.
Though this essay is about responding to my new friend’s question, it is also a Valentine of some sort. I’m unsure what type of Valentine because the day itself has never been a good one for me. Yet, I want to love a special someone again I suppose. No, I know I do, because I love to love and care for another. Time and again the lesson that I keep learning is that first, I must learn to send a Valentine to myself. That is the hardest thing of all. We all must learn to love and accept our own flaws before we can truly love another. As I ponder Audrey’s question, I know the task is essential. Especially now, when all I know for sure is that I can offer is love, a song, kindness, and joy in the morning.
from “A Wave” by John Ashbery
When the Sun Went Down
To have been loved once by someone—surely
There is a permanent good in that,
Even if we don’t know all the circumstances
Or it happened too long ago to make any difference.
Like almost too much sunlight or an abundance of sweet-
caramelized things—who can tell you it’s wrong?
which of the others on your team could darken the passive
Melody that runs on, that has been running since the world
Yet, to be strapped to one‘s mindset, which seems
As enormous as a plain. to have to be told
That its horizons are comically conﬁning,
And all the sorrow wells from there, like the slanting
Plume of a waterspout: doesn’t it supplant knowledge
at the different forms of love, reducing them
To a white indifferent prism, a rooﬂess love standing open
To the elements? And some see in this a paradigm of how it
slowly to the indifferent heavens, all that pale glamour?
French Translation by Michael T. Bee
… de “A Wave” de John Ashbery c’est une chronique de haibun. de nombreuses émotions complexes à la fois
comme l’adolescence ou tomber amoureux
Quand le soleil s’est couché
Avoir été aimé une fois par une femme – sûrement
Il y a un bien permanent là-dedans,
Même si nous ne connaissons pas toutes les circonstances
Ou c’est arrivé il y a trop longtemps pour faire la différence.
Comme presque trop de soleil ou une abondance de sucreries
des choses caramélisées – qui peut vous dire que c’est faux?
lequel des autres membres de votre équipe pourrait assombrir le passif
Une mélodie qui continue, qui court depuis le monde
Pourtant, pour être attaché à son état d’esprit, ce qui semble
Aussi énorme qu’une plaine. devoir être dit
Que ses horizons se bornent comiquement,
Et tout le chagrin jaillit de là, comme l’inclinaison
Panache d’une trombe: ne supplante-t-elle pas la connaissance
aux différentes formes d’amour, en les réduisant
À un prisme blanc et indifférent, un amour inexorable debout
Aux éléments? Et certains voient en cela un paradigme de la façon dont il
lentement vers les cieux indifférents, tout ce pâle glamour?
Beautiful Piano Music for your soul (playing this morning)
At Last (Solo Piano Version) Alexis Ffrench
Underwater Dream Eluvium
Keyboard Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056: Harpsichord Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056: Largo Hae Won Chang & Johann Sebastian Bach
Chopin: Nocturne No.2 In E Flat, Op.9 No.2 Daniel Barenboim & Frédéric Chopin
Olivia Belli – Max Richter: Departure (Lullaby from “The Leftovers”)
Peace descends upon my heart this morning which is not made of my making. The awakening to the day, however, was filled with worry over my dog, Birdie. Congestion bothers her breathing and I can hear it. I come to the computer to rearrange my budget. Yet, all I can do is wait for the vet to open and pray. While praying for this 17# of pure love and wonder, I remember my friend, Jane, suggested a podcast about poetry. Since I had no chance to listen to the podcast yesterday, I take the 8 minutes to listen today.
The poem is written by Faisal Mohyuddin’s and it is his poem “Prayer”. The first part of the podcast is a bit of a preface of how the poem was birthed, and poems are always born. The podcast where you can hear Mohyuddin’s poem is called Poetry Unbound and the episode my friend wanted me to hear is called A Poem for Ritual and Reset. The poet’s voice calms my anxiousness. The story of the poem’s birth paints a picture of ritual I recognize from my own faith. The poem itself, holy. I listen again.
Then, I realize it is time for the gathering of rubbish. On Beech Mountain, we cannot put our trash out the day before pick up because of bears. Even if the bears are sleeping through the winter, the raccoons, coyotes, and cougars are active. The raccoon is bigger than my dog. I have heard but not seen the neighboring coyotes and only recently learned there is a big cat somewhere on the mountain. Reluctantly, I set aside my headphones of the poem to turn to the necessary task of recycling.
My grandparents were born shortly before the Great Depression. I watched them reuse/repurpose/recycle before we used those specific terms in our vernacular. To them, it was to avoid being wasteful. It’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My parents followed suit giving us a good understanding of care for the earth.
During Lent of 2019, my choice of “fasting” was to lessen my use of plastic. It required me to be more intentional in every purchase. It was both amazing and sad how hard it was to choose cardboard containers. Amazing because the practice pointed out how careless and thoughtless, I had become. Sad because of remembering a time when every piece of food wasn’t wrapped in plastic; when milk was available in glass and the milkman picked up the recycled glass bottles from our back porch.
The practice was enlightening, and it also lightened my burden on trips down the mountain to recycle. Then, after losing my car, it became clear that the next practice will need to be to lessen my use of cardboard. That, however, will be harder since I have to order everything I need. Whether it’s Walmart or Amazon, the ridiculousness is that though I order only once a month, the boxes come piecemeal. As I prepared for my morning task of recycling, I remembered someone mentioning a program where the boxes would be reused.
Quickly I researched and found that Givebackbox will give you a label to mail the box to a source nearest you that can use the boxes rather than clog a landfill. In the past, I had a garden and used boxes as weed barriers. The Givebackbox may be my new way of being intentional about cardboard. After taping the address label to Goodwill, I step onto the porch to leave the boxes for pick up and for the first time of the day see the sunrise.
The color is fabulous. I grab my camera in hopes to share the vibrant color with family and friends. Most photographers wish to capture sunsets, but I always want to capture sunrises. It is only recently I’ve
returned to using my Sony Alpha camera again and I know that with my balance issues, there may be a blur; no matter how still it seems that I stand movement shivers like a sound wave. Once I snap a few of a color I can only find described as “cobaltvioletdeep” or deep magenta, I take the time to set the camera on the tripod. By the time I’ve mounted the camera, the colors have faded but are still lovely.
Morning is the time of prayer for me. One of my life goals is to make each action/choice/chore a prayer of some sort. As I wash my dishes, I give thanks for the water and dishes. Today, each step down the snowy mountain was full of rejoicing over the beauty of another day. I thought of friends who tell me about poetry and prayer. A smile came to my face as I remembered and blessed the melting snow dwarves the young guests built yesterday.
A day that started in worry has been transformed into one of peace. My heart rejoices that I have all that I need and that as the hours pass, an answer will be given for Birdie. It is simply a matter of waiting and trusting. Those are two things that have never been easy for me. Prayer is practice and our practices are prayers.
For more information on Faisal Mohyuddin, visit his website at Faisal Mohyuddin.
Announcing the first prayer journal in a new series called Praying Together. The daily prayers are adapted from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church of American and the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Volume 1 uses Psalms and John as part of the daily devotional reading.
Each volume will also include prayers found from other traditions that may be inspiring as well as modern poets or writers.
Within each volume, there is space to write or draw as one may feel moved. One of the goals, however, is to keep the devotional easy to handle for those with arthritic hands. The BCP and LBW are often too heavy for those with hand injuries or arthritis. The slim format of the book also makes it a book that is easily packed for travel or slipped into the Bible for daily use.
This is the first publication for the new non-profit press, Napping Dog Press of Beech Mountain, NC. Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to support those in need in the Valle Crucis area of the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains. If you would like to use these journals as a way to pray and give back to your community, please contact robin @ jrobinwhitley.net for a quote.
These books will be available with each contributing author as well as at City Light Bookstore in Sylva, NC. Ordering with the Indie bookstore or one of the authors will assure you of a more reasonable price.
Biographies of Writers
Jane W. Blackburn is a librarian, would-be poet, rookie old-woman-with-cats, and a person grateful for the love and mercy of God. Born in Alabama, educated in Kentucky and North Carolina, she now calls the mountains of northwest North Carolina home.
Doris Boulton is a former teacher, Director of Religious Education (DRE), and writer. Publications include Religion Teacher Journal, Primary Treasure, Our Little Friend, Utne Reader, Humpty Dumpty, Highlights, Festivals, numerous poetry journals. Now resides in Valle Crucis, N.C.
Tamara B. Franks is a lover of Creation, intrigued by humanity, and continually seeking the depth of our beings. A native Texan, she lives currently outside of Boone, NC where she passionately serves High Country UCC as its pastor.
Michele B. Jack is a freelance, writer, editor, and graphic artist. Originally from Pennsylvania, she lives and works in the UK. Her other job is as an IT consultant to primary schools, providing technical help and creating educational resources.
Alicia Randolph Rapking is an ordained Elder in the WV Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church serving as pastor of the congregation at First United Methodist in Parkersburg, WV. She is a global citizen, contemplative, writer, poet, artist, traveler, scholar, and seeker of justice and peace.
Jordan Venditelli is an ex-evangelical, queer and non-binary, Philosophy & Religion student in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Their work centralizes their experiences of being born and raised in rural NC, coming out as queer and non-binary in that environment, grappling with their queer and disabled identity, and finding an affirming faith community. They love sour beers, their cat – Java, and long chats about metaphysics and intersectionality.
JRobin Whitley is a freelance writer, musician, and preacher. Robin received a Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. Whitley now lives in the High Country of North Carolina with their dog, Birdie.