Blue Socks for the Journey

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Last month I went on a silent retreat at the Five Oaks Retreat Centre near Paris. In exploring the beautiful property and beyond, in peaceful quiet, I was able to slow down, reflect and simply be. It was a good time out to catch my breath and clear my thoughts.

Activities were put out for us to pursue if we wished, colouring mandalas, creating prayer beads, and poems to contemplate. I loved the fairytale images in this poem by the tremendous Canadian poet Lorna Crozier.

Packing for the Future: Instructions

Take the thickest socks.
Wherever you’re going
you’ll have to walk.

There may be water.
There may be stones.
There may be high places
you cannot go without
the hope socks bring you,
the way they hold you
to the earth.

At least one pair must be new,
must be blue as a wish
hand-knit by your mother
in her sleep.
Take a leather satchel,
a velvet bag an old tin box –
a salamander painted on the lid.

That is to carry that small thing
you cannot leave. Perhaps the key
you’ve kept though it doesn’t fit
any lock you know,
the photograph that keeps you sane,
a ball of string to lead you out
though you can’t walk back
into that light.

In your bag leave room for sadness,
leave room for another language.

There may be doors nailed shut.
There may be painted windows.
There may be signs that warn you
to be gone.Take the dream
you’ve been having since
you were a child, the one
with open fields and the wind
sounding.
Mistrust no one who offers you
water from a well, a songbird’s feather,
something that’s been mended twice.
Always travel lighter
than the heart.

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Be a Great Poem

Scott Weber Creative Commons

Scott Weber Creative Commons

A few weeks ago I based a service on one of my favourite texts. This is an excerpt from the reflection. By American poet Walt Whitman, this famous poem is found in the preface of his grand work Leaves of Grass.

This is what you shall do:
Love the earth and sun and the animals,
despise riches,
give alms to every one that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others,
hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men,
go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families,
read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life,
re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book,
dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
and your very flesh shall be a great poem and
have the richest fluency not only in its words
but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and
in every motion and joint of your body.

I love this image of our bodies becoming lyrical poetry, objects of great beauty and rich fluency. Imagine a world where our elders are understood as great poetry.

Whitman’s advice from 160 years ago is still sound. Devote your income and labour to the service of others,
Fight against injustice, examine what authority tells you. Be patient with other people.

And while Whitman was suspicious of church, I think that Unitarian Universalism is precisely a place that encourages this way of principled living. Unitarian Universalist communities are intended as spaces for reflection, to examine all the endless information and opinion that is thrown at us everyday and to dismiss what insults our souls.

We need spaces like this more and more in this busy technological world. We gather on Sunday mornings for a moment of rest and reflection. This time together is time to simply be, as you are. It is for self-examination and understanding.

If we all strive to become great poems, through living our seven principles and being grounded in our six sources,
then perhaps our children will have the same ambition.
Pulitzer prize winning poems will be everywhere!

Imagine that.

All Summer is a Temple

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It has been a quiet peaceful summer, a respite before I begin a full time ministry in Mississauga.  Spending my days at home, for all the attention I have offered this small piece of the world, I still managed to miss so much of the abounding life that surrounds my home.  Mary Oliver says it best.

Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith

Every summer
I listen and look
under the sun’s brass and even
into the moonlight, but I can’t hear

anything, I can’t see anything —
not the pale roots digging down, nor the green stalks muscling up,
nor the leaves
deepening their damp pleats,

nor the tassels making,
nor the shucks, nor the cobs.
And still,
every day,

the leafy fields
grow taller and thicker —
green gowns lofting up in the night,
showered with silk.

And so, every summer,
I fail as a witness, seeing nothing —
I am deaf too
to the tick of the leaves,

the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet —
all of it
happening
beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.

And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body
is sure to be there.

Mary Oliver
From West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems.

Winter Thanks

This endless winter cold is making me very grateful for all the technology, food and activities that keep me warm. I am grudgingly grateful, but grateful none the less for our gas fireplace, electric stove, and lovely hot water. This poem sums it up.

Winter Thanks

by Marcus Jackson

To the furnace—tall, steel rectangle
containing a flawless flame.
To heat

gliding through ducts, our babies
asleep like bundled opal.
Praise

every furry grain of every
warm hour, praise each
deflection of frost,

praise the fluent veins, praise
the repair person, trudging
in a Carhartt coat

to dig for leaky lines, praise
the equator, where snow
is a stranger,

praise the eminent sun
for letting us orbs buzz around it
like younger brothers,

praise the shooter’s pistol
for silencing its fire by
reason of a chilly chamber

praise our ancestors who shuddered
through winters, bunched
on stark bunks,

praise the owed money
becoming postponed by a lender
who won’t wait

much longer in the icy wind,
praise the neon antifreeze
in our Chevrolet radiator,

and praise the kettle whistle,
imitating an important train,
delivering us

these steam-brimmed sips of tea.

“Winter Thanks” by Marcus Jackson, from Neighborhood Register. © Cavan Kerry Press, 2011.

the way home is all downhill

I wrote this poem many years ago when, after having a rough few months, I found a good place for myself. The house where I was living was down a hill from the centre of town; biking home I knew when I was almost there as I could stop pedalling and glide easily down the hill. Walking, it doesn’t feel the same, but on a bike it is a lovely way to arrive home. The same is true of where I live now – at the convergence of two gentle downward slopes – and there is something about that easy, invitational last move towards home that is a true gift.

the way home is all downhill

your neighbour’s gift
+++ of cheerful bulging cucumbers
mail in the mailbox
+++ with your name on it
the stray cat
+++ swirled around your legs

these  make you stand in the living room and
+++ lose your mind
++++++ in ordinary delights

i am here    you think

and everybody knows

your laughter causes dust to rise up off the ficus
+++ and dance
++++++ in the encircling sun

silver rain

icy crocus

Spring has receded as winter returns in the form of freezing rain and icy snow.  Trees, cars, mailboxes – every surface slicked over with ice.  Even the crocuses, which were merrily blooming yesterday, are closed up against the ice.  I have been thinking of poet Langston Hughes’ poem In Time of Silver Rain, which has been adapted into a Unitarian Universalist hymn.  I love this gentle song, and while Hughes was writing about a much warmer spring, the silver rain has been in abundance here in South-western Ontario.  But even with the freezing rain, spring is lurking, waiting to return.  Robins, cardinals, finches, sparrows, and blue jays are busy in the gardens, and the first pale mist of green is emerging from grass and shrubs.  Life, life, life, indeed.

In time of silver rain the earth puts forth new life again,

green grasses grow and flowers lift their heads,

and over all the plain the wonder spreads of life, of life, of life!
In time of silver rain the butterflies lift silken wings,

and trees put forth new leaves to sing in joy

beneath the sky in time of silver rain,

when spring and life are new.
from the hymnal Singing in the Living Tradition
adapted from the Langston Hughes poem.

Gratitude

I’m feeling gratefsnowdrops twoul today.  The chalice is overflowing!  I’m grateful that the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Durham in Whitby, Ontario has hired me to be their consulting minister beginning in April.  Grateful that the Grand River Unitarian Congregation will ordain me in May.   Grateful that the snowdrops beside the house are just coming into bud.   I’m grateful to be part of this world, a world that include poets like Gary Snyder.

Prayer for the Great Family

Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day—
and to her soil: rich, rare and sweet
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing, light-changing leaf
and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind
and rain; their dance is in the flowering spiral grain
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and silent
Owl at dawn. Breath of our song
clear spirit breeze
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,
freedoms, and ways; who share with us their milk;
self-complete, brave and aware
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
holding or releasing; streaming through all
our bodies salty seas
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through
trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
bears and snakes sleep— he who wakes us—
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Great Sky
who holds billions of stars— and goes yet beyond that—
beyond all powers, and thoughts
and yet is within us—
Grandfather Space.
The Mind is his Wife.
so be it.

after a Mohawk prayer

Gary Snyder, Turtle Island