I walked into year two

Sometime in the last two weeks, I have slipped into the role of a second year graduate student. Just before the whirlwind of a week of welcoming and orienting ourselves again to the rhythms of our academic community, I was gleefully road tripping around the Olympic Peninsula and the northern Oregon coast. The days were marked by extended glimpses of open ocean, beach-y walks, a one-of-a-kind playlist, tidal pools swirling with aquatic life, and a really special moment when a pod of whales appeared on the horizon. At one point I remarked that I wasn’t sure I could contain any more beauty. The return to cell service, work, and “real life,” as it’s so narrowly defined, was brutal. I felt ill-prepared for the onslaught of media and contact with persons other than my road trip companion. I so badly wanted to integrate the beauty and wonder of our time along the ocean and through the forests into my “real life.” I so hoped that such awe and beauty, overflowing from it’s wonder-sized gulf, would seep into the first days of our academic year.

At last year’s orientation, I had been in Seattle for barely two weeks. I was too doe-eyed and stunned to really absorb the words and warmth of the community I had just stepped into. I really didn’t have a clue what the year ahead of me would hold. When I entered the red brick building for the first time as a second year student, I was overwhelmed. It felt impossible that I had earned my second year status, but the arrival of more than 100 expectant first-year students confirmed it. At re-orientation, I saw a sea of faces, warmed by the many that are now familiar to me, and felt all the anxiety, fear, joy, and anticipation in that space. I was struggling to re-orient myself to the idea of school when dean Derek McNeil addressed our community. He spoke to us as academic dean—inviting us into a new school year—but also as a father-figure—containing the anxiety and fear in the room with his words, “This is the moment where I begin to fall in love with you.” My emotionally overwhelmed self wept at the love and care of Derek’s words. Because I knew that he spoke with sincerity, attuned to the students and stories before him. Last year I didn't know what I was getting into, but this year, I walked into year two with my eyes more or less open, knowing the profound healing and heartache this process holds. I couldn’t help but wonder…do I really want to do this? While my anxiety, uncertainty, and sense of overwhelm did not disappear, I felt cared for and loved in a way that enabled me to step into the week of welcome feeling just that—welcomed back. 

At Convocation later that week, I walked into the sun-streamed sanctuary of St. Mark’s and sat among students who I now know and love, remembering that last year I sat with near-strangers. As the alumni, staff, and faculty paraded to the altar, I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride, so honored by who I get to learn from, the community and leadership that guides, cares, and abides with us. As we encircled the sanctuary, I felt so profoundly privileged to be a part of this learning community, awed at the beauty of the space and the souls beside and before me. And as I went forward to receive the elements of communion, I wept at God’s overwhelming kindness and grace. I was entering year two with a new level of anxiety and angst, so aware of my own brokenness, and God met me in that place, surrounding me with the welcome, warmth, and hospitality of a community that said, “We’re so glad you’re here.”

In his Convocation message, President Keith Anderson said that he hoped The Seattle School would be a place safe enough to hold us but not to keep us there. We are doing this work so that we might go out and offer the same warmth, hospitality and healing to the world.

As I page through my syllabi and look at my stack of books, I’m still so overwhelmed and doubt whether I can really do it. But I also know that I will read, write and wrestle in a place safe enough to hold us, surrounded by voices that affirm we can do it, and with the reverberating word that, “He who called you is faithful.” 


I like that about a season

When I woke up to see August 1 big and proud on my phone this weekend, I winced, realizing we are one month away from the start of school. I never want summer to end. Until this week, it's been hot and sunny and gorgeous every day. It feels like a summer that really knows itself, what it's supposed to be, and I like that about a season.

Summer in Seattle is kind of like heaven. People are outside as much as possible. I've hammocked in as many parks as I can, swam in as many bodies of water that I can, and I judge any potential eatery or coffee shop by the ability to sit outside. 

It is also the perfect time to have visitors. I'm so grateful for friends who remind you of goodness. Adventuring with friends, sharing the pure beauty of a place is one of life's greatest joys.

It is a season for watching the sunset from a hammock, exploring Deception Pass and poking around in the tidal pools like amateur marine biologists, eating the best sandwich in Seattle, having drinks with a view of the Olympics, and discovering the most beautiful hidden lakes in the Cascades.

It's also been lovely to read as many novels as I can. At the start of last year, one of my instructors told us to read something for fun while in grad school, otherwise we would hate reading by the end of it. So I kept a novel by my bed all of last year, and sure, it took me two months to finish a book, but it was a worthwhile reprieve. This summer's not long enough for all the books I hoped to savor.

Like everyone else in America, I just finished Harper Lee's new book. I approached Go Set A Watchman skeptically, afraid the rumors about one of my greatest literary heroes would be true, and afraid that the reclusive Harper Lee's 60-year-old manuscript just wouldn't resonate like To Kill A Mockingbird. While the rumors turned out to be true, they were also incomplete. And while it's not Mockingbird and we were wrong to expect it to be, the beloved characters still had something to teach me. I wept as the kindred-spirited Scout came to some heavy realizations.

I appreciate these words from Scout's Uncle Jack:

Remember this also: it's always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you'll get along.

And with that, I'm determined to make the very most of these next four weeks of summer. Don't let me down, Seattle.


A Poem!

I don't write poetry often, and I almost never share it. But I've been learning a lot about taking risks and leaning into discomfort this year. I'm trying hard-ish to practice this ideology.

To that end, I recently had a poem published in The Seattle School's literary magazine Lit. It's about roots and belonging. Thanks for reading.

The Swede

I thought the red wooden horse would do it,
the candelabra, the crown
To satiate a deep-seated desire to be fixed 
to a people, a place.

They say you have to know where you’re from
to know where you’re going.
Where do you go to learn where you’re from?

I ferried to Ellis Island,
pressing into the summer crowd pilgrimaging
to a place of perpetual transition, of grief,
the promise of peace, prosperity, freedom
still ringing
hollow and empty in the great hall,
queued with ghosts.

The ghosts and I, we gaze up. 
A farmer, a watchmaker, a cook.
A girl.
We ogle and awe at the same tiled ceiling,
90 years between me and the genesis of belonging.

It is enough to make one feel rooted.
In a day when roots are so quickly yanked and plunged 
back into an arid soil,
clods of dirt in my wake.

What must it have been like to file in, fearful? 
Under that vast dome of collected and arranged 
white tile, burning hope.

I braid my hair, bake my bread. 
All the while, paying homage to 
the man, the farmer, the ghost. 

I am not so good at hope. 
It takes practice, 
said the girl
whose feet ache to meet the earth,
tendrils shooting from the pads of her feet
grasping desperately at anything that feels like grounding, like home.

How good it is—how necessary—
to remember, to know, to practice.
You have to look hard, dear heart, for those records, those roots, 
this terra firma. 


If there is a task

This past month has seen profound heartache––in our own neighborhoods and in those worlds away. As I've been pulled back into the rhythms of school, it's been hard to know how to engage, what my role is in such tragedy. Several times over these past weeks, I've found myself writing and tracing the words "Nepal," "Baltimore," and the specific names of others in my world who are battling towards life––it has become its own sort of prayerful, palimpsest-like practice. When words seem less than adequate, I hope that presence and mindfulness can serve some sort of purpose.

There was an article posted to "On Faith" a couple weeks ago, a collection of voices on what to learn from the situation in Baltimore. This voice, in particular, has stuck with me:

"What is the call for people of faith when they are faced with the aftermath of a riot they may have helped create due to neglect or ignorance wrapped in arrogance? What do all riots have in common?

They are the phonetic and kinetic sounds and rhythms of the unheard."

(Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Trinity Church, Chicago)

With that in mind, it seems like we had better listen much, much better.
And this has made me wonder how well I have sought to listen to the unheard among us.

At the end of last term, I was meeting with one of my faculty. We were talking about race, intercultural competency, and asking hard questions of ourselves. At the end of our conversation, I was frustrated by not knowing where to go from here, as a student in a community of those privileged enough to go to graduate school. I asked him what my task was. He said, if there was a task, maybe it was something like Ezekiel's. In the Old Testament, a man named Ezekiel is called to be a prophet. The poor guy is commissioned to go to his own people––the nation of Israel, a people who will not listen, a rebellious nation.

The beautiful thing about this narrative is that God recognizes this is an impossible task. He says to the deeply distressed Ezekiel, "But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people." You see, the Maker of the Universe does not send Ezekiel to these hard-hearted people without first equipping him with a hard forehead. Nevertheless, God sends Ezekiel to speak to the nation of Israel, whether they listen or fail to listen.

If there is a task, maybe this is it.

And with the words of Rev. Dr. Otis Moss ringing, I wonder if we can afford to "fail to listen" any longer. The beauty of a prayerful, mindful, listening posture is that we don't have to get it together before we show up. We can take a hopeful chance that history does not have to repeat itself. My hope is that the things we face are greater and more important than the things we refuse to face.


Leaning in so far that we fall

Last fall I wrote a paper on "The Essential Pause of Holy Saturday in the Triduum." And I was really into the paper. But I don't think it was really until yesterday that I saw the truth of what I'd written months before.

Though I had been recognizing the movement of Holy Week for years with Good Friday prayer, a Saturday Easter vigil, and of course, a big brunch party on Resurrection Sunday, I had only just learned that this three-day narrative arch was known as the triduum (trij-oo-uh-m). In my paper, I wrote about the role that Holy Saturday plays as a paradoxical space in which the silence of the God of the universe speaks volumes. I wrote that it is not merely a turn of events between the death and resurrection of Jesus but rather an essential pause in which Christ's descent into hell deprives evil of its power over our lives and all of creation. I wrote that in the stillness of Holy Saturday, Jesus bears witness to the suffering of the world and we are released from the binds of our grief. On Holy Saturday, we are invited to lean into the silence of the world's wounds.

And I think my hope is that we'll lean in so far that we'll fall right into the celebration of resurrection.

In reading these words again today, on this Holy Saturday, I see the truth behind the hunch of my creative process. I'm grateful to have these words to reflect on, and I'm grateful for a renewed richness to this day.

This past Holy Week has been rather bogged down by the weight of the final weeks of a graduate school term. And I know I've really missed out on the usual rhythms to this week. I'm 2,000 miles away from the people I usually convene with on Good Friday for prayer around the cross and the fantastic gathering of folks who ring in the resurrection with an Easter Vigil like I've never seen. A dear friend reminded me to be alert to how the Master of the Universe might break into these disrupted rhythms in a unique way, surprising me with his presence. 

I just love it when people are right in things like this, because I got to recognize Holy Saturday and anticipate the resurrection with row after row of tulips. 

It seemed fitting that we would be surrounded by such beauty in abundance and then get stuck in the mud. When we happened upon these white tulips splattered with mud, I couldn't help but see these as an emblem of Holy Saturday. 

It's neat how God sees us so well and meets us in that space.

Lastly, I'm grateful for the unexpected means of learning and reflecting. And yes, somehow we find ourselves reading just the right thing in just the right season. On Maundy Thursday, Mary Oliver's words graced the day:

Where are you?
Do you know that the heart has a dungeon?
Bring light! Bring light!

And yesterday, a friend shared these words from none other than the Tale of Despereaux:

Despereaux looked at his father, at his grey-streaked fur and trembling whiskers and his front paws clasped together in front of his heart, and he felt suddenly as if his own heart would break in two. His father looked so small, so sad.
"Forgive me," said Lester again.
Forgiveness, reader, is, I think, something very much like hope and love - a powerful, wonderful thing.
And a ridiculous thing, too.
Isn't it ridiculous, after all, to think that a son could forgive his father for beating the drum that sent him to his death? Isn't it ridiculous to think that a mouse ever could forgive anyone for such perfidy?
But still, here are the words Despereaux Tilling spoke to his father. He said, "I forgive you, Pa."
And he said those words because he sensed it was the only way to save his own heart, to stop it from breaking in two. 

I love when the words of a children's book nail it so profoundly.

And so, dear reader, go forth and bring light, lean into the ridiculous hope and love of the reverberating drum.


It takes practice

Let me begin with an excuse: it's hard to keep a blog while you're in graduate school. Really hard. When I get done working and writing and reading, I actually just want to watch the latest BBC series I'm into or clips from Late Night, not write a new piece for my blog. Does that make me a terrible person? A not-serious writer? Maybe. I'm trying to get past that. And I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself in this season – I'm really good at doing that and friends keep reminding me to give myself grace.

It's hard to believe we are halfway through our second term already. January and February have felt equally slow and whirlwinded. My family started the year off with some fairly affecting health concerns, which kept me from any real ability to focus and be present in my first weeks of the term. It took me a while to settle back in and continue to work towards making this place my home. I continue to be grateful for what feels like a burgeoning sense of place and friendship here. Every once in a while that familiar pang of loneliness hits me deep in the gut and I remember the 2,000 miles between me and the humans closest to me. I have learned to share this not out of a need for your sadness or compassion – though I'll take it – but because I have learned there are many other souls around me who know this loneliness too, and sometimes it is enough just to know you are not in it alone.

As I settle into Seattle and foster relationships here, I also grieve for what I leave behind, for how my true home feels a little more foreign each time I go back. I have been so desirous to feel more grounded that I didn't expect to feel grief at what I give up in turn. Dang. An instructor at school tells me life is not without grief, we cycle in and out of grief always. She often asks me if I can bless that, bless the life that moves in and out of these spaces of heartache. I'm trying. It is very hard work, but I'm giving it my best go.

This reminds me of a stunning image of modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. She created a movement language based upon the expressive capacity of the human body. This image was referenced in class last term under the title "a gesture of hope." This is not a movement you just wake up one morning and do; it takes practice. It is a gesture achieved only through the intentional practicing towards the hoped for goal. We practice ourselves into a hopeful gesture. The desire and the work towards blessing what life is in this moment and any heartache it may hold feels much like Martha Graham's gesture of hope.

In between my practicing of this hopeful gesture and the absurd amount of reading required of me, I have been exploring a bit of the Pacific Northwest.

The grey and lovely Port Townsend.

Perhaps the most stunning sunset I've ever seen ... from the third floor of my school building.

And hiking Little Si on one of the most gorgeous days of a Seattle "winter."

I finally hung my amazing Christmas gift terrarium – laying the bark and mounding the dirt, making little ebenezers of the stones, and putting the moss just so, with my favorite bits towards the front. I'm grateful to have this little microcosm of life and substance in the corner of my room, a small and beautiful thing to tend to.

Today a friend and I made the first batch of hot cross buns of the season. The citrus and spice smell as they bake is a true sign of the lenten season and reminds me of home and easter and family. I was feeling both nostalgic longing and a comforting familiarity as I marked each roll with a cross. When the week starts to feel a little muddled, it's good to return to the known. I feel like I can better go out into the world, having practiced a bit of a hopeful gesture. 


365 days of grace

At the beginning of 2014, I couldn't have anticipated all that this past year would hold. At this time last year, I had recently moved into Lawndale, learning how to be a good neighbor, and I hadn't even applied to graduate school. Today, I am one term in, and living on the other side of the country. It just goes to show that when a new year dawns, we're in for a journey of unrest, joy, and new beginnings.

On New Year's Day I joined with 800 or so others to pray for peace, sending love and light into the world as we gathered with gratitude and one-ness of heart. The cantor referred to the year ahead as "365 days of grace."

What a beautiful reminder of the grace of each day. It has been a very full year, filled with grace and kindness, with a great deal of disorientation and unrest. And when I didn't think I could bear another day of heartache, my God drew near with tenderness and care. I had heard this first term of grad school described as disruptive, which was true, but I couldn't have anticipated what a privilege it would be to be a part of such a unique learning community.

One of the areas that I spent a lot of time reading, writing, and learning about these past few months is the profound space of stillness and darkness before the dawn of light and life. What can we learn from the shadowy places? We spend most of our time trying to distill darkness with light, filling our homes and lives with as much light as we can, even if it is artificial. But what of a spirituality from the nighttime? Our lives are dotted with shadow and grievous light-less-ness. What if we were to live into the shadows, in order to see a far greater light? I've started reading Barbara Brown Taylor's Learning to Walk in the Dark, a beautiful book on this very thing. She quotes Chet Raymo's The Soul of the Night at the beginning of the book, who posits that it is in the wild silence and dark that we testify to the voices crying in the wilderness. To practice a spirituality only from a dazzling light, is to dismiss that cry, to fail to hear the rattling reed.

There is a tendency for us to flee from the wild
silence and the wild dark, to pack up our gods
and hunker down behind city walls, to turn
the gods into idols, to kowtow before them and
approach their precincts only in the official robes
of office. And when we are in the temples, then
who will hear the voice crying in the wilderness?
Who will hear the reed shaken by the wind?

As we embark on 2015, I am already wondering about all it will hold. Someone recently wrote to me, imagining a 2015 full of hope and possibility. I think the shadowy night of the soul holds great hope and possibility, if only we have the eyes to see.

I've written previously of these past months feeling like a wilderness, which still feels like the truest way to name this beastly task. What gives me pause is that the wilderness is not without refreshment, it is not without promise. These words from the prophet Isaiah have surfaced repeatedly this past year, it seems befitting to name another 365 days of grace with this marker of hopefulness:

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.