Marking the Days and Sometimes, Rage

Raging Corona Virus Diary

April 14, 2020
Normally, my days are marked by church days. On Sundays, it is worship and Adult Christian Education (ACE) when possible. That way, I know if the next day is Monday. I know if it’s Tuesday by its location between church on Sunday and my prayer group on Wednesday. Now, NOW is all there is.        “What kind of freedom is it that exists in doing nothing? It is the freedom not to interfere or react. It is the freedom to merely observe.” ~Ananda Baltrunas, “A Prison of Desire”

Window On Beech and a painting by JRobin Whitley

4/20/20
More days have passed and writing was set aside. Thoughts are more elusive these days. One moment, like above, I have something on my mind to write or draw or sing. The next, I am standing at the door staring out at the trees. Trying to calm myself, find a place to anchor my prayers that is not a place of fear, I bounce from moment to moment. Yes, that place is in our Creator. But also, isn’t it somewhere within the goodness of humanity? Aren’t we called to care for each other and the earth?

Going on without denying any aspect of the human drama is what strength is all about. We are carved by life into instruments that will release our song, if we can hold each up to the carving.”  ~Mark Nepo

Something is being carved away from us with this virus. We have a choice right now whether to pick at the wound of it and end up with scars, or to allow healing to occur more naturally. Yet, as humans, not only are we fearful but we all want to be in control. Though experts on the virus, actual doctors and epidemiologists, tell us to remain in quarantine, there are those protesting the stay at home orders. I understand that they are afraid of their livelihoods. Many have been posting things on a FaceBook page that go along with The Proud Boy message. It’s frightening. The group is a designated hate group.

“Established in the midst of the 2016 presidential election by VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys are self-described “western chauvinists” who adamantly deny any connection to the racist “alt-right,” insisting they are simply a fraternal group spreading an “anti-political correctness” and “anti-white guilt” agenda.”  from Southern Poverty and Law Center[1]

I don’t know how to address this with love. When Obama was elected President, many believed all the nonsense about Obama taking guns away. Some of my family members are taking risks now with their lives that scare me. This morning, I am alternating between writing and catching up on the news that happened in the short time that I slept, a powerful article by John Pavlovitz speaks to me.

“I may be wrong, but I don’t believe whatever or whoever god is, that such devastation and death are part of the plan. The best guess I have right now, is that this season of suffering (like all moments), is the sacred space for we who claim faith to live what we believe: to persevere and to give and to heal—and above all, to love. That love, is the only plan.”[2]

Love as the only plan leads me back to speaking up when I can and it is timely, but otherwise to mind my own business. As the theologian Buechner says, to love is to work for another’s well-being even if it means sometimes leaving them alone.[3] That leaving them alone is really hard for us. I say us, because on one hand, I understand that we are all entitled to our beliefs and points of view. On the other hand, in this time of the unknown, the only thing we DO know for sure is that the only way to stop the pandemic is to STAY HOME. I understand what it means to fear for one’s income. Most of my life, I have struggled financially.

None of us in the U.S. have faced what all are facing with the downfall of our government since 2016. No one in the world has experienced COVID-19, so who knows what is best for anyone really? I was glad to see that Pavlovitz addressed the fact that some think that the pandemic is an act of a god. Only a little insecure god would do such a thing.

Taking a break to do the weekly chore of garbage duty, it is hard to return to writing because of the topic at hand. Karl Barth said that the pastor should read both the Bible and the newspaper. His actual quotes about the importance of keeping up to date on our society is so that we understand what it means to live as a person of faith in any era.

“The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need – according to my old formulation – the Bible and the Newspaper.”

“Reading of all forms outspokenly secular literature – the newspaper above all – is urgently recommended for understanding the Epistle to the Romans”

Perhaps the most clear statement on the record from Barth concerning these matters comes from a Time Magazine piece on Barth published on Friday, May 31, 1963:

“[Barth] recalls that 40 years ago he advised young theologians ‘to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.’”

The Time article goes on to give us more of Barth’s thoughts on journalists and their place in the world: “Newspapers, he says, are so important that ‘I always pray for the sick, the poor, journalists, authorities of the state and the church – in that order. Journalists form public opinion. They hold terribly important positions. Nevertheless, a theologian should never be formed by the world around him – either East or West. He should make his vocation to show both East and West that they can live without a clash. Where the peace of God is proclaimed, there is peace on earth is implicit. Have we forgotten the Christmas message?’”[4]

These thoughts came out of his experience with the news of his day. Though Barth was a man living at the start of a technological society, the internet was not something the world shared. Now, in addition to newspapers and radio, we have cable news, social media spread across a wide variety of platforms. There is so much “news” that it is not only often hard to discern fact from fiction, but also, how could we read it all and still have time for prayer or scripture reading? The task often overwhelms me and I stick to only three or four reliable sources for understanding what I going on in our modern world.

Trying to check the news of today while also praying, it is hard to finish this essay. I check on the black bean soup I’m cooking. Write a paragraph, then research the news. The news is too overwhelming causing me to stop writing because the angst of the situation begins to choke me. For fifteen minutes, I work on the icon project of St. Julian of Norwich and her holding the words, “All shall be well.” Though it calms me for the time while working on the painting, the question now arises, “when?” When will all things be well again?

That’s the question no one can answer of course, when will life be closer to what we know as normal. At this point, it is clear that our world is being changed through this pandemic. Nothing will be the same whenever we can return to some semblance of life before Covid-19.

The most important implication of the breakneck changes currently underway, though, is that there’s no going back to normality. That train has left the station. The coronavirus isn’t going away. And even when there is a vaccine, the risk will endure, because climate change and the erosion of wildlife habitats will ensure a ready supply of zoonotic viruses. Companies will have learned to build supply chains with resilience built in. White collar workers will have discovered that they don’t have do as much commuting as before. Air travel will go back to being a luxury. And so on.[5]

Though we have no definitive answers on what the world will be like tomorrow, there is an ultimate goal in life for those of us who claim to have faith. That path is one of love. We are called as people of faith to work for each others’ well-being. We are all afraid and some are afraid for different reasons. The thing we must ask ourselves, however, is what does it mean to trust? What does it mean to trust another human working for our well-being? Yes, but more importantly for the person of faith, the question is, what does it mean to trust in G-d in these days of confusion?

 

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[1] Hate, General. “Proud Boys.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 2020, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/proud-boys.

[2] Pavlovitz, John. “No, This Pandemic Isn’t God’s Plan.” John Pavlovitz, 19 Apr. 2020, johnpavlovitz.com/2020/04/19/no-this-pandemic-isnt-gods-plan/.

[3] On the contrary, he [Jesus]is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone. from Wishful Thinking by Frederick Buechner

[4] University, Princeton. “FAQs about Karl Barth.” Frequently Asked Questions | Center for Barth Studies, Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, 2020, barth.ptsem.edu/about-cbs/faq.

[5] Naughton, John. “When Covid-19 Has Done with Us, What Will Be the New Normal?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 Apr. 2020, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/18/when-covid-19-has-done-with-us-what-will-be-the-new-normal.

 

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Mindful of Justice – Lent 2020

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.

Lenten Intentions Page

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

 

  1. 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?

 

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Joy in the Morning – A Valentine to Myself

“It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.”
~Mary Oliver

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?

~Audrey Negron

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

Me playing guitar.

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.

Morning at Church of the Holy Cross, Valle Crucis, NC.

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-
sticky,
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
began?
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
rises
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
gluant,
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
a commencé?
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
monte
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”)

 

 

 

 

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Morning Prayer

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

The color was better in person.

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.

Rejoicing in the day a bird sings.

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.

 

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For more information on Faisal Mohyuddin, visit his website at Faisal Mohyuddin.

 

 

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