Excerpts from _The Awakening_ by Kate Chopin

“But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!”

“To be an artist includes much; one must possess many gifts—absolute gifts—which have not been acquired by one’s own effort. And, moreover, to succeed, the artist must possess the courageous soul.”

“Above all, there was understanding. She felt as if a mist had been lifted from her eyes, enabling her to look upon and comprehend the significance of life, that monster made up of beauty and brutality. But among the conflicting sensations which assailed her, there was neither shame nor remorse.”

“And you call yourself an artist! What pretensions, Madame! The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies.”

youth is given up to illusions. It seems to be a provision of Nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race. And Nature takes no account of moral consequences, of arbitrary conditions which we create, and which we feel obliged to maintain at any cost.”


Gasping for Hope: Part 2

 

Every morning begins in darkness. Every morning begins with this stretching out of the still dark across mountainous horizons, over tree tops, mirrored in bodies of water. Even in our houses in the city, the early morning, before any waking has occurred, has a stillness to it that reminds us of the dark. This stillness, the heaviness of dark, begs the question of what can be done with this time of day. As the temperature drops towards its lowest point in a twenty-four hour cycle the moon begins to set.  The queen of the night sky quietly slips away, leaving behind her a space for preparation. In my cabin out here on the lake, though the hour aches of 4am, I need a flashlight to walk outside and find my way to the bathroom. Instead, the cold keeps me tucked away, waiting.

Laying in my bed in the dark I am free to see the reality of my soul, and to enter into the cavern of self-doubt that becomes my dwelling. Who have I become? Do people respect me, look up to me, do they like what they see. Do I like what I see? I get impatient with my little ones, and blame them for faults that are usually my own, like running late. I’m a failure at cooking, it keeps me all bound up in anxious knots. My weight has crossed over that thin line on the panty-hose box that tells you you’re “regular.” I’m not published, I yell too much, and I’ve really never been cool. Deeper in this cave I search for God. My heart sinks when I realize that I have not spent a moment thinking of God between my last night of discontent and this one. Is she kind? Is she listening to me? Have I betrayed her eternally? Does it make any sense to still believe?

I buy things unnecessarily. Sometimes it’s a new pair of shoes, or a kitchen appliance, sometimes a plant for the garden or an expensive lunch at the local health-food store. This culture teaches us that buying something will make us feel better, and oh how I have followed those instructions. Instead of binge eating I’m afraid I have a problem with binge buying, and always the justification that it serves some greater purpose in our family life. But this is always a lie.

A few weeks ago I had an experience in the woods that sought to reach inside me and mold my perspective from my heart out. There is a question that has begun to surface. If I can be nourished by the beauty of the woods, and continue to pay attention to other sources of life that are crying out, will this emptiness that I keep falling into, be filled?

The destruction fueled by our consumption in this culture, by my own addiction to stuff, is a creeping massacre across this earth. The cutting down, the poisoning, the burning, the enslaving of both land and “human resources,” is well hidden from the vantage point of strip malls and middle class houses. But really, it is so obvious once you care about what’s missing. There is a new development of box stores in our town called “The Orchard.” It bares that name as a fabricated monument to the acres of apple orchard that were cut down for the concrete foundations and pavement that now monopolizes those acres. And what was clear cut before that to plant the apple tree seedlings?

When I am driving around that section of town, aimlessly wondering what will become of this day, this year, I can feel the pull of that shopping plaza to buy my future and play dress up with sophistication. The way out of that alluring mind game is to put on the perspective that can see through the mirrors and facades and seek the spirit that is living. A day spent exploring existence with a community of trees and seeking beauty and finding beauty step after step in the undergrowth is a mind changer and consumption buzz kill. I find my hope in a future where forests flourish, and where children flourish in forests, and my will to consume pales, starves, and wastes away.

I ache for my children, alive in their creativity, brought to ecstasy with the expectation of a dip in the cool forest stream, speaking with back-yard squirrels, making up words for things and falling back in cascades of laughter at the things they have discovered and invented. Will they soon just become consumers too? Will they someday seek to be defined not by their sense of humor or free style dance moves, but by the technology they can master and the expense they have spent on clothing? How will I survive the coming struggle over purchases and the constant “I want” if I look inside our family to see that I have perpetuated this false hope. This empty meaning.

I read that in the new generation’s children, just entering high-school, some have declined to create facebook pages and rejected the digital relationships of text and status updates. With their youthful belief in possibility and meaning, they can see through into the emptiness of all these games. And if we don’t destroy it first, they may find the fullness of life in the living earth. Maybe the next generation of children, like my children, will grow up allowed to step outside each day, to feel the warmth of sun and run barefoot in the cold autumn because they don’t care to know the difference between 60 degrees and 65 degrees. Unless we teach them not to, they will see hope gasping, and they will grasp it and pull with all their might, pull hope out of its hospital bed and it will grow with them. We must not only force them to learn from us, we must learn from them, and together, from her, the creator that dwells in mother earth.

Every morning begins in darkness, and yet, something happens with that darkness every day.  Most of us miss it because we are asleep, but it happens whether we are watching or not. Out of God’s womb comes the thing she has birthed over and over. A thin band of light grey becomes a thin band of pink, and then pale yellow, 1000 miles wide and 10,000 miles deep. There emerges a hint of light, a pale beckoning from beyond our reach, calling the day to come, ushering in the sun. With each passing day, and each birth of a new day, as with each birth of a new life, human and non-human, there is a sure moment where hope is king.


I SHOP therefore I AM

I arrived an hour early at my destination. It was a small church tucked in between a bed and breakfast and a culdesac filled with houses. It was difficult to even figure out where to park, and there was little that invited me to waste away the coming hour purposefully. So I kept driving.

A mile further down the road and I knew I was in a foreign country. People who are from New England, Upstate New York, or even urban centers like Manhattan or Philadelphia talk of New Jersey as if it’s a foreign country. It has it’s own dialect, it’s own style, it’s own sense of success and of what is fun. This place looked and felt like the Jersey shore. The traffic moved at 25 miles per hour, people hung out in lawn chairs saving parking spaces, EVERYONE was wearing a bikini, everyone was tan and traveled in packs of three or more. But this wasn’t New Jersey, this was New England, York, Maine to be exact. I felt ill prepared for a summer destination city, and even more at a loss for how to spend my full hour, waiting for the time that was on the event material I had down-loaded and printed before leaving home. So, as I drove I looked out the window at the waves, the boogie boards, the beach balls and felt like a fish out of water.

After about twenty minutes of driving through this mess of hedonism I turned onto a road to my right that led through a residential neighborhood out to a point. I was pleased to find a parking lot at the point where tourists could look out over the ocean. I got out of my car, slightly more comfortable as I surveyed the rock cliffs which were dotted with fully clothed outsiders, like myself, all ostensibly enjoying the raw nature that one could capture when surrounded on three sides by ocean waves. I found a place to nestle and tried hard to ocean watch, but was distracted every other moment by the watching of people as they made their way gingerly on the rocks. Approaching the half way point on my watch between my arrival and the time I would be due back at the church, I got back into my car.

I began by turning right so as to continue the loop of the road and see the other half of the neighborhood when I saw a sign for a local ice cream shop. I can see now that I am so weak because with out so much as a thought to the date being August 3rd and firmly with-in my vowed month of no buying, I swept into the parking lot and bounded out of my car and down to the line of people waiting to place their orders.

Eating my small Mocha chip on a sugar cone the feeling of belonging and purpose washed over me. Just an hour of un-scheduled time in a destination 300 miles from my home and I was facing a crisis of identiy and wondering how I fit in and what would I DO with myself! Never the less I felt instantly better the minute I could engage in the familiar and powerful act of choosing something, paying for it and owning it.

I SHOP therefore I AM.

The following morning I woke up in the house of a friend of a friend and enjoyed some gentle conversation and some play-time with her three-year old son.  I’d showered, packed up my belongings and eaten a satisfying breakfast, but I was feeling un-easy, not having slept all that well. I got back into my car and began to tell my gps where I needed to go next. As I pulled out of her driveway I felt resolute about the fact that I could find my way into town and locate the cool coffee shop my friend had suggested I check out. The houses in the neighborhoods I drove through were all brick duplexes, built in the early 20th century when this had been a mill town. Now, young twenty-somethings peddled about on schwinn bikes and thirty-somethings went for Saturday morning walks with thier babies in a stroller. The river was easy to miss as the town park and main street development had built up around it. I recognized some of the beat of this affordable yet hip, not-quite college town, but I didn’t have the time to stay and so I drove through as the outsider.

Then I saw a sign that read “Cracked Skulls Coffee & Books” and I slipped into the parking space right in front. As I stood at the counter with my Bagel Grove travel mug I hoped that the barista would see the “Utica, NY” on my coffee mug and wonder where I was from and what I was doing there. She didn’t say a thing about me as she directed me to the air pot of dark roast that lined my side of the counter and took my $1.75. The middle-aged couple that was sitting in the window did give me a smile as I turned to leave, and perhaps they were thinking that I was a new face and where did I come from…

Now, caffeine addiction aside, I felt a similar jolt of the recent purchaser. As I twirled into my car and prepared a place for my cup of hot coffee I felt the full identity I now possessed, “Patron of the super cool anarchist book store and coffee brewer called ‘Cracked Skulls'” The entire drive back to the little church in York, ME, where I was learning valuable lessons and spending plenty of time thinking about my life and decisions, was spent sipping coffee and feeling that I had fulfilled my will for the morning. I’d got my coffee at the super hip but also laid back and hard to categorize coffee shop, I was ready for anything.

I SHOP therefore I AM.

I wonder who I would have been that whole trip if I really had stuck to my guns and “bought nothing.” I am sure I would have wilted away into identity-less invisibility and been profoundly lonely and homesick. What is the remedy for such loneliness if we can’t buy ourselves out of it? I hope I can follow through with this buying nothing for long enough that I get a chance to find out.


and so it begins…

I paused the video I was watching as images panned of bombed out Camden, NJ, (by poverty, drug violence and fleeing industry) where my husband and I lived when we were first married. After hitting the plus sign at the top of my browser to open a new tab, I tapped into the google quick search “Days of Destruction Days of Revolt” and thought to myself, “oh this will be right up Matt’s alley.” (Matt is my husband, he’s pleased to be introduced here I’m sure).  “A New York Times reporter, dissenter, anti-war activist, Camden, ooooh” and I moved to click on the amazon.com link and then

………………………………………………………

Oh, it’s August. This is our “buy nothing month.” (This is the whole reason I’ve started this blog).

And so it begins.

Rewind back to lent 2012, our family was in the mass consumptive phase of our kitchen remodeling project, and I had undertaken the task of fasting  and praying to figure out where God was leading me, and where I was willing to go, in this new impulse to begin a career in ministry. Matt and I sat on the couch, lackadaisical, tired, and hungry from our fast; it was only 10 AM. We lay there feeling lazy, lost, and totally not connected to the spiritual motive that had inspired this restraint from caloric nourishment. It was unproductive physically, and falling into the abyss of unproductive in any other plane we traditionally value. And so, we paused and took stock of our motives, and our best course of action.  Out of that failed religious act of fasting came this challenge: A month of buying nothing.  We would fast from buying as an antidote to the frenzy of creating a dream kitchen (which somehow morphed from the design to create a space with a window to our back yard into a debt-creating, culinary museum – in the context of our modest, mostly second hand decored old house). A fast from the addiction to having that draws us away from ourselves, our happiness, and the future we want for our children. We picked August as the month to begin this journey and…

Well, it’s August.

I look over the side of my couch and there sits an insert from the day’s paper, “KOHL’S BIGGEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL SALE” (the all caps is not mine, it’s how the flyer is written) “3 DAYS ONLY FRI., AUG 3 – SUN., AUG 5.” I think to myself, hey, those dates look familiar. I am embarking on a journey beginning tomorrow, this FRI., AUG 3, to York, ME where I will learn about an inspiring approach to teaching children’s spirituality called “Godly Play.” While I did have to pay for this 3 day training (it was July when I press the “submit” button in my browser for this), nothing has been consumed, and I know that the experience will consume me in a most enriching and inspiring way. The other option is to spend the weekend enjoying the themed back-to-school sale. This fast might end up being too easy.

Or maybe not.

I’ve conquered my first temptation to buy, this book by Chris Hedges. And in the conquering I find a question emerges: What did I want to give Matthew that I thought would be found in this book? The answer to that question leads me into the depths of what the book, which is an expose of the destruction by big business in some of the most blatantly ruined communities in our nation, means to us, and why we care. If I had just clicked “buy” at amazon.com (or perhaps I would have skipped over to the alternative, unionized, Powells book store) I would risk feeling that I had done my part in fighting that destruction. Instead, I realize that the fact that I have lived in Camden, seen the emptiness and felt the fear first hand, means I don’t need to buy the book, I already know the message.

This resistance to buying, this stopping and thinking instead of clicking, has made me ask another question. “Why do I care?” and “What is the call to action?” and most wonderfully, “How will we respond?”

We shall see.


Gasping for Hope: Part 1

Evelyn de Morgan (British, 1850-1919)

Twenty-five meat pizzas and five cheese were ordered but not delivered. My credit card was charged, but the order was cancelled. “For now,” the prison official told me.

Ramadan began yesterday, so there will be no pizza for at least a month. Observers and non observers endure the harsh realities of death. Everything except for one’s own mind is out of their control.

Hearts ache for redemption. A few ache for their corrupted and lost brothers knowing now that the road to healing will be even longer than before.

“We are on lock down,” she tells me,” I don’t know when we’ll be able to have the graduation, hopefully down the line.”

Then the news out of Aurora comes down the line and it’s clear that this violence is not isolated. The peal of this nation, those most close to the open, life giving air, is revealed to be just as rotten as the core, those parts we lock away.

“Did anyone die?” I ask.

“Yes, we had one killed.”

Each of us swallowed back, for at least the first moment, repulsion, anger, and fear when we heard the news of 12 dead at a late night movie viewing. On the other side of the country a community of inmates, those who are trying to find the antidote for violence and hatred, hang their heads and shake them, hopes dashed. And in that Colorado town, in my hometown, in a Georgia prison, there are tiny hearts beating, gasping for hope.

There are gang fights in prison, did you know that? In a place where there is no remedy for despair, the violence of the streets is present and more concentrated. My friend William, a so called “inmate” in the Georgia prison system, writes me, “Around any prison you do have to be very careful about what you say or do because it could cost you your life. That just the way it is inside prison’s walls.” A month later he wrote, “One inmate was so badly wounded his intestine was hanging out of his body when he were fighting for his life. He were air lifted to a nearby hospital. We do not know if he made it or not.”

For the first 9 years that I knew William he made vows to keep to himself, so as not to get in any trouble.  Through letters I saw him longing to encourage the other inmates to follow God, and change their words of hate into words of love.  He’d memorized speeches by Dr. King, and sometimes would recite them in the dark, his powerful voice luring cellmates into sleep.  Mostly, he turned those words of wisdom on himself, and into letters.

Last year, William found some others and started a group called “The Brotherhood of Hope,” reaching out to men serving life in prison sentences,and together trying to turn their lives around, condemning violence and speaking of change. More often then speaking of victory, they speak of hope. After one year of meetings, testimonies, building relationships, and following strict prison guidelines without misstep, a ceremonial graduation was scheduled for Friday, July 20th. What might seem like a forced school assembly to an outsider, pizza, soda, and a ticking clock, was a chance for these guys to feel normal and celebrate like those on the outside. Instead they are on lock-down, no party, no meetings, no packages, no visitors, no internet.

For a life trying to find a future to hope for, prison isn’t conducive to change. Every concrete wall, which is every wall, the sound of gates, the institutional voice over the loud-speaker and list of restricted behaviors is a reminder of worthlessness. You ARE your crime, and don’t you ever forget it. And yet, when I visited the Brotherhood of Hope in April, I heard so much talk of purpose.  From prison reform, to reaching out to the most anti-social, hate-filled, angry, dangerous guy on your cell block to get him to come to a meeting, possibly at the risk of your life. These guys were informed, passionate, thoughtful, eloquent, convicted. What will these men do now, locked down and locked away.  Where will they find a whiff of Hope in this dark time?

And me, impotent with my credit card, ready to buy pizzas that no one down there  is allowed to eat, what can I hope for?

Perhaps this:

That my life will be the truth I speak of. That my love for these incarcerated I have come to know and care for will be worth something real in those lives. That is certainly what William has given me.


A community of trees

Photo taken on Sunday by Pamela Underhill Karaz (pamelaunderhill.com) of the woods and Mill Creek in Remsen, NY during our first rain in weeks.

A group of us wandered not quite aimlessly through the woods following a dried riverbed, watching out for poison ivy, talking nervously of alternative health remedies.  We were looking for a place to pause, to have a small Sunday morning service in the woods, to give thanks.  One of our group suggested a spot up the bank, where a bit of forgotten human remnant, now trash in the woods, caught our attention.  We headed in that direction, wisps of our conversation still carrying, but mostly giving way to the earnest search for a place to be.

Like a wave of wind catches a small clump of leaves and swirls them until they fall gracefully again to the earth, newly oriented, we were swept by some undetected force into a clearing. Here I experienced a welcoming that has changed my experience of the woods forever. Just as we humans will make a gesture, turn our faces in a certain way when a much beloved guests crosses our threshold in a surprise visit, these trees seemed to step back for us, changing the space from just another spot in the woods into THE spot. I had the distinct impression that the trees were doing something that I can only describe as smiling. We stopped, we sat, we sang, we chanted, we gave thanks, we stretched open our bodies, we prayed. And as the silence moved in after the last waverings of our final “aaaOOOmmm” a breeze circled around us and the branches actually bowed. The blue sky beyond the tips of trees filled with deepest green gave the impression of walking inside a painting and being stroked by the very essence of beauty. And it was the trees that beckoned us hear, and we were so glad to have followed.

I am reading a book that just one month ago would have triggered every defensive reaction I could summon. The book, A Language Older Than Words by Derrick Jensen, is a scathing depiction of agricultural civilization’s (our “culture” in his words) effects on indigenous populations, and non-human cohabitants on this planet. His book is a call to listen and respond to the conversations going on all around us among every living creature. He depicts an incredible experiment in inter-species communication while walking to the end of his driveway and noticing a lone Pine tree. He thinks to himself, -“that tree is doing very well.” Immediately [he] heard a response, a completion of [his] sentence that changed it’s meaning altogether: “For not being in community.” (pg. 26) The tree was mostly alone, man made driveway objects were it’s only company.

I’ve delved in animal communication before, it’s a whole lot of listening to voices in our heads and calling this intuition. But I think I may have been trying to hard, committing myself to an impossible outcome rather than opening myself up to the very spirit of God.This time has been different.

I am skeptical, which is just a sophisticated mask over being defensive, because I feel I have too much to loose, too much to admit to, if I begin to really see the destructive nature of this way I am living. But this is like turning down a fresh strawberry in favor of a jolly rancher because the fresh fruit will mean I have to go in and wash my hands. I can no longer turn my back to the voices and spirits in a community of trees, (and where else may I find these gifts?) because I am afraid what it might do to my conscience or my standard of living. I have for many years drawn lessons and metaphors of meaning from admiring trees. But now, to be in the woods is to stand wide open to a reflection of my most essential being, no thoughts or understanding necessary, just the listening.

Thank you trees.


What kind of party is this?

Our first batch

Today my 2 year and 11 months-old son, Ian and I had our very first, and much anticipated “Juice Party.”

His older sister, Miriam (4), had been invited by her Grammie to attend a tea party and when I saw that Ian was bending and hoarding the invitation in protest at being left out, I suggested he and I have our own kind of party. Staying within the category of liquids he suggested a Juice Party. And so, we spent the morning grinding exotic (and expensive) fruits to a pulp and harvesting their juicy offerings.

So what kind of party is THIS?  This inner/outer rendering  of my life and experience that I hope will resonate with you in random and pleasing ways.  This is about TRANSITION and TRANSFORMING. Like the process inside my juicer that turned a mango, an apple, a kiwi, a carrot and 1/2 a pineapple into a multi-layered, somewhat confusing but totally refreshing drink, this blog is a format for blending and transforming ingredients. Christian spirituality, Social Justice, Environmentalism, Mothering, Being an Adult-Child of Imperfect Parents, Career Discernment, Morality, Sexuality,My Body, these are all parts of who I am.  I am in transition, simply by the act of going to sleep and waking up with the expectation of a new day. But more specifically, because I am in a process of literally figuring out, what’s next, and I want to find the right answer. I am transforming, because I can’t say a prayer, walk in the woods, kiss my children’s forehead, relish my lover’s caresses, without this being the result.

And so, I invite anyone who has the time and the desire to read along, to take a sip of the juice squeezed out by these words, from this life.

Thank you,

Annie Wadsworth Grove


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