It’s not the easiest quality for me to find in these dystopian-feeling days.
So I turned to a fourteenth-century mystic who somehow managed to find hers in the darkest of times.
Julian of Norwich, an anonymous anchoress (recluse) lived during a time in which a third of the population died from the bubonic plague. Julian may have lost her own children. The world reeked of poverty, pestilence, and war. Then, on the brink or her own death, Julian received visions that stayed with her for the rest of her life. She proclaimed:
“All shall be well again.”
Julian spent the remainder of her life living in a cell built into the walls of the Norwich church, with only a window from which to view the world. Not a lifestyle that would appeal to me, but a good way to spend one’s life in prayer and conversation with God.
In researching her famous quote, I learned two things about Julian.
She didn’t invent the words “All shall be well,” but attributed them directly to God. (I use the word God because that’s the word Julian used, adapt to your preferences.)
She didn’t use them lightly. Apparently she first had to duke it out with God. “Dude, can’t you see that’s there’s suffering, pain, and evil everywhere? The world is NOT OK and not likely to be getting better soon. How can you possibly say ‘All shall be well?’ “(My paraphrase.)
God was not forthcoming with an answer.
What Julian received instead was a deep sensing, a trust she didn’t have to understand, that the future would bring wellness.
It fueled the remainder of her life.
“All shall be well” might sound like an invitation for passivity, but for Julian, it was an invitation to work. She spent her days writing reflections and helping the locals who came to her cell window for support, consolation or advice.
Is our ship going down?
Many of us today feel the ticking clock of climate change and the imperative to do something before our environmental ship goes under. We watch our core values being mocked, see greed in action, and observe the stalemate of our political systems. After decades of environmental near-complacency, we risk unprecedented disaster.
How can we believe in the wellness of the future and still act?
We have to trust and feel urgency. When we work out of a negative view of the future, we sprinkle gloom into what we do.
Granted, there’s a lot of data that could justify apocalyptic conclusions.
Trust invites us to dig deeper.
It’s not a matter of making a list of the good and the terrible about our prospects and then adding up the results.
Trust invites us to go within ourselves to discover an inner equanimity that doesn’t preclude sorrow or even rage.
Trust is a stand we take, not a conclusion we draw.
Trusting creates an energetic container in which to work with goodwill and hope, collaborate, and look for solutions.
Working hard, with hope
Just today, I read about two positive hope-worthy initiatives (among the thousands out there).
My friend Rondi Lightmark founded the Whole Vashon Project, to give her community a way to “stand up to climate change with creativity and hope,” and showcase the positive work being done. Thus far, over a hundred of local businesses have made green pledges as part of the initiative
76-year-old author, and theologian Matthew Fox teamed up with two activists half his age to create an intergenerational, inclusive community called the Order of the Sacred Earth, inviting people to deepen their commitment to the earth with the vow:
“I promise to be the best lover and defender of the Earth that I can be.” (I signed on.)
Initiatives are everywhere. (What’s inspiring you?)
It’s time to trust and garner hope, without denying our grief.
I still plant oak trees. I wouldn’t do that if I thought the world was like the Titanic.
Staying positive doesn’t require knowing HOW the world will evolve. Julian didn’t.
I can offer no PROOF that “All shall be well.”Julian couldn’t.
I wish I could save the world through my scientific knowledge, medical training or political acumen, but, like Julian, I have none of these.
What I can do is strive for a sense of equanimity and then do what I’m called to do.
Today, I sing in the spirit of Julian’s vision. Here are her words set to music by the late English poet and songster, Sydney Carter, and sung in one of my favorite old recordings by Anna Mayo Muir, Ed Trickett and Gordon Bok,
Join me. It couldn’t be easier to sing.
Loud are the bells of Norwich and the people come and go. Here by the tower of Julian, I tell them what I know.
Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go All shall be well again, I know.
Love, like the yellow daffodil, is coming through the snow. Love, like the yellow daffodil, is Lord of all I know.
Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go All shall be well again, I know.
Ring for the yellow daffodil, the flower in the snow. Ring for the yellow daffodil, and tell them what I know.
Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go All shall be well again, I know.
When I was traveling in France after my mother’s death, I sought out the prayer candles stored in the shadowy corners of village churches. Even though I’m not Catholic, I’d light a candle for Mom, letting it glow in the dark as I thought about her.
After listening to it multiple times, in both the Mike Scott solo and Waterboys version, I’d call it my best-song-for-these-times that calls out the brotherly, universal kind of love we are starved for today. Maybe if I didn’t feel starved for reminders of the higher side of who we can be, I wouldn’t be so teary-eyed.
It’s a chant, a mantra, it gets under your skin.
A sample of the lyrics:
Bring ’em all in, bring ’em all in, bring ’em all in
Bring ’em all in, bring ’em all into my heart……
…Bring the little fishes
Bring the sharks
Bring ’em from the brightness
Bring ’em from the dark…
…Bring ’em out of purdah
Bring ’em out of store
Bring ’em out of hiding
Lay them at my door…
…Bring the unforgiven
Bring the unredeemed
Bring the lost, the nameless
Let ’em all be seen
Bring ’em out of exile
Bring ’em out of sleep
Bring ’em to the portal
Lay them at my feet
Bring ’em all in, bring ’em all in…
Have a listen:
As the chant of the chorus continued, I remembered how subversive songs can be.
Once they get into our ears and hearts, they can’t be stopped.
Scott wrote the song in 1995. While I doubt he’d called it a protest song, it’s embrace of humanity makes it stand out today like a candle in a dark culture of exclusion, walls, and hard-heartedness.
Music is subversive because like a (hopefully good) virus, it’s hard to stop.
You can’t ban it, executive order it away, or send your pollywogs into the judicial system to disappear it. We may not (yet) be able to stop “the Muslim ban,” but goddammit we can sing about the beauty of refugees, immigrants, trans folks, the poor, the rich, the mentally impaired, and all those who are part of our big messy world.
Bring ’em all in, bring ’em all in, bring ’em all in.
That’s all for today. Light a candle, Bless the world and all its peoples. And have a listen. (The version with the band and a great fiddler is below.)
How might your life be different if, every day, you tracked on delight?
I stole this idea from a poet.
One of my reading finds at the end of the year was The Book of Delights by poet Ross Gay. Gay challenged himself to identify and write about a delight each day for a year. Admittedly, he missed a few days. (Delight never needs to be pushed!)
Reading his short daily essays is like soaking in poetry wrapped in prose.
His brief essays include scenes of his noticings, musings, and reflections on events that have delighted him (criteria open-ended). His thoughts include riffs on beauty as well as racism, taken from his life as an Indiana-based, mixed-race professor. He shares some of the secret code of brotherhood that allows a black man to tap the arm of a black stranger or be lovingly addressed by a stewardess as “baby.” Both delight him.
My commitment to delight
As a result of reading Gay, I’ve decided to:
notice more and start tracking on delight.
scribble a few occasional notes.
I’m taking his idea, without committing to the high bar of his prose. Already, delight-keeping has made my daily trip to muck the paddock more interesting!
Keeping a diary of delights sounds like the oft-recommended gratitude journal, in which you record one or more things for which you are grateful every day. Both practices tune your mind towards appreciation.
Gratitude and delight are cousins, sharing many of the same traits with a few differences.
Although we sometimes say, “I’m just feeling grateful,” out of a feeling of plenitude, gratitude usually implies a context, even if not stated. I may delight in a baby’s smile, but, if I’m grateful for a baby’s smile, it implies a background, perhaps a reason, e.g., not enough smiles in my life recently, the baby wasn’t able to smile for a while, I know what it means for the parents, it lights me up, etc.
I am grateful for something. I’m delighted in something. The baby’s smile delights. Period.
I can delight in things I may not be grateful for and I can be grateful even if I haven’t found delight.
When I search for delight, I use a micro-lens searching for the small, common, unnoticed parts of my life.
For example, I delight in the daddy longlegs hovering precariously above my bathtub, risking his life should he tumble into the hot water below. Am I grateful for turning my bathtub into a floating graveyard for insect carcasses? Not really. Is his dance intriguing and delightful? Totally.
I took the above photo of dried cow dung while walking through a sun-soaked meadow. I delighted in the beauty of the brown sculpted spirals. Am I grateful for the dung? Hmmm. I’m grateful for the photo and the experience.
A fly in my bedroom can be delightfully acrobatic as it careens at high speeds, landing, pausing, launching again, keeping its tiny motor of sound going whenever in flight. As choreography, it’s amazingly delightful. But I wasn’t exactly keen on lying awake in bed waiting for my aerial star to close down flight school for the day.
Tracking on delight opens my eyes. How many of us loved the poet, Mary Oliver, because she could go out into her backyard or the woods behind her house and see a poem others might have missed?
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.
From the poem “Wild Geese”
Can I find delight in everything?
Nope. At least not yet. I find no delight in catastrophic fires in Australia, threats of war, or most politics in D.C.
Still, the old barbed-wire slung across a New York City bridge looks whimsically architectural.
The shot-weed that will threaten my garden in a few months is quite beautiful today.
The chic style of a friend’s “chemo cap” is gorgeous (delight), even though it hides a sadly bald head.
Three tips for discovering more delight
Pay attention to what surprises, startles, or strikes you as unusual.
Let go of your judgments of good/bad or ideas of what something is supposed to be or do.
Squint/change your perspective; view the world like a newcomer.
Delight lives everywhere, expanding as you acknowledge it.
(Unlike the shotweed, this is a good thing.)
Thank you Ross Gay. While I’ll never compete with your prose, you opened a door for me to see the world, one small delight at a time.
I hope I’m not too late. I wanted to catch you before you make any…resolutions.
Tonight, before the clock strikes twelve, whether you’re in New York, India, or our soggy Northwest, you may be tempted, as you stand before a slightly soused group of friends, to declare your intentions for the year.
Take care! Resolutions can be tricky.
(Happy New Year, by the way.)
Like a vampire, (I saw the play “Dracula” this fall) resolutions appear so seductive and appealing. But one blood-sucking bite can turn you into a powerless blob–or worse.
You start the year oh-so-hopeful. Then, your resolutions slowly transmute into yet another reason to beat yourself up for falling short of your goals.
Wanting to stay the course, you add a whopping dose of willpower, which keeps you going for another week or month. Until your body, which has taken the brunt of your folly, cries,“stop,” proving once again that it’s the keeper of good sense in the household.
Regretfully, you add another scratch mark to the scorecard of life, confirming that you can’t… (you fill in.) The vampire’s won.
There are much gentler ways to step into the new year.
If you want an “-ution,” try absolutions
Absolutions are a formal way to let go of guilt or obligation. That might sound pompous but most of us require some heavy-duty permission before we can purge the toxic-waste dump we carry of regrets, disappointments, and self-judgments. Think of absolutions as a form of old-fashion psychic slate-cleaning.
By the time you’ve reached my age, or whatever age you are, you’ve probably made a ton of goals that you haven’t met, resolutions that you couldn’t keep, and good intentions that sounded so right before abruptly going flippity-flop.
Time to absolve! Find some inner freshness. Learning from your disappointments is good. Dragging them around like Linus’ thoroughly sucked and soggy blanket is not.
Without all that junk you’ve been carrying, you’ll feel lighter. Guaranteed.
My New Year’s gift: a blessing from the universe
I know it’s a bit inflated to speak for the universe and offer you a blessing, but someone had to do it. The world situation calls for more human beings who dare to move with joy into what they’re called to do next.
So here it goes:
I, on behalf of the universe, hereby ABSOLVE you, of all shame, guilt, self-blame and excessive self-judgment, constriction, and sense of defeat caused by what you failed to do, or who you failed to be.
I give you the RIGHT to make mistakes, make goals and not reach them, fail to keep an intention or resolution, fall flat on your face and feel momentarily terrible–all in service to you being you and continually learning.
I INVITE you to joyfully take the next step in service to what calls you throughout the next year.
For the greater good of all. Amen.
Let enthusiasm fuel us
What helps me more than resolution is enthusiasm. A sense of grounded excitement about the future. A hint of meaningfulness. A sprinkle of joy. A belief that whatever is calling me is what I need to be doing. Even if it’s not fun. (I don’t pretend that all of life can be a ten on the fun-ometer)
Delight. Energy. Uplift. These give my dreams fuel.
If I were an intention, I’d be much more attracted to someone who was joyous about it, than someone who was moping around in a state of wish-and-hope.
None of the great things in life (e.g. my husband, horse, friends, dogs, dark chocolate or the program I created…) came out of a sense of willpower, desperation, or resolving.
I have friends who have given up intentions altogether. They’ve learned to float down the great river of life–which is probably a very good thing if you can pull it off.
Me, I need a life raft to go with the flow.
Which is why you’ll still find me setting a few intentions, goals, and visions for the future. But not out of a sense of duty.
Add more delight to your dreams
Maybe this week, I’ll head to my cabin, pull out a large sheet of sketch paper and a set of pens, and mind-map (or doodle) ideas that appeal to me. The plan: dream, then draw. Delight, then do.
Henriette Klauser wrote a book called Write it Down, Make it Happen. I’m not keen on the word “make,” but I enjoy her writing, even if she forgot to talk about absolutions.
Why do any of this if you can’t celebrate what you can do and forgive what you can’t?
Adding “should” to a batch of intentions is like adding a rotten apple to a bag of clean ones and waiting for what happens. (I harvest lots of apples and can assure you it’s not pretty.)
I had an opportunity to visit Santa this December when he was at the LeMay Car Museum. He asked me what I wanted, and I said, “world peace and a sustainable environment.” He said he’d work on it, but I didn’t leave convinced.
With big aspirations like world peace, and, in my case, finishing a draft of my book, I’ll need plenty of spark.
So as you think about your new year, please chart on more fun and delight. The world needs your lighter heart, skipping down the path towards much-needed change.
That meant no heat and no hot water. We warmed the house by turning on our stove’s gas burners. My husband chivalrously carted buckets of hot water from the kitchen to the bathroom so that I could take a bath (sacred evening ritual) pioneer style.
After the furnace was repaired, I had several moments of reverence for the miracle of hot running water.
Last winter, we lost power during a winter storm (not unusual on our island). After a couple of days, the delight in dinner by candlelight and experiencing a computer-free existence faded, and I was tired of looking for clothes in a dark closet.
When the power came back on, I flipped on the closet light with amazement.
Years ago (many), while a college student, I traveled to Turkey on the cheap and encountered overflowing stand-up toilets in a hostel in Istanbul.
When I returned to the States, I had epiphanies of appreciation feeling the soft toilet paper in a clean bathroom.
Each of these times I felt, for a moment, the magic of the ordinary.
Sadly, in all cases, my reverence faded away with time, and I returned to taking much of life for granted.
How can we wake to the magic of ordinary life without enduring blackouts or filthy toilets?
The magic in ordinary life
I’ve read that what people miss most when they are forced to leave their homes or know they are dying is not the lost opportunity to visit Timbuktu or climb Kilimanjaro, but the simple stuff: Adam’s peanut butter on whole-wheat toast, the smell of fresh ground coffee every morning, the purple and yellow blooms on a winter pansy.
My friend Merna teaches immigrant and refugee teenagers to write poetry; the results are heart-rending. The kids describe what they miss from their homelands: onions cooking on the stove, tortillas on the grill, honking bicycles and jitneys, the morning smell of jasmine, a grandmother’s touch. Daily life. Ordinary stuff.
These days what I would sorely miss are my husband’s hugs, horse’s kisses, and movie night with the dogs, when we all crawl onto the bed to watch “The Queen” on Netflix. (The dogs are crazy for the Queen’s corgis.)
How can we wrest ourselves from the unconscious sense of entitlement that lets us take so much for granted?
If we could see how much is there for us on an ordinary day, we’d soak in abundance and delight in wonder.
Welcoming more enchantment
Enchantment invites the imagination to be a part of our everyday, grounded, worldly life. No need to leave science and common sense behind when we allow curiosity and surprise to accompany us through our days. (How many great scientists were enchanted by their fields and used imagination to interpret their data?)
Here are some ways to try:
Do without something for a while. You may be able to interrupt the trance of taking things for granted.
Stop and observe. Notice the world before you. If you were painting, what would you see? If you were conducting, what would you hear? If you had to leave, what would you miss?
Imagine that stones carry stories and trees, history. What might they tell you if you were willing to listen with curious ears?
Wander differently. You don’t need to visit another country. Take a spin around your backyard, neighborhood, or city, and deviate from your usual path. Walk backward for a bit. Close your eyes, and listen to sounds. Try navigating without sight. Vary your routine and see what you discover.
Indulge your senses. Eat your food super-sloowly and track the sensations that come with eating an everyday fruit, like an orange. Imagine what it was like for the first Northern European to take a bite. Using your imagination and all your senses, you may taste the hot sun and dusty paths where that orange was born.
Talk to the things that surround you. Not everyone wants to be Dr. Doolittle, but I regularly converse with my horses and say hello to my trees (especially Harriet, my copper beech). Do they understand? Don’t know–but it puts ME into more relationship with them.
Be grateful for the small stuff and the people around you. In amplifying my appreciation, I feel more connected to the world, and crack the door open for new enchantment to enter.
While we may think “enchantment” means spells, the real spell we’re under (or I am) is sleepwalking through life, taking the ordinary for granted, ignoring the opportunities for wonder that are right in front of us.
Brewing a batch of enchantment requires doses of gratitude, sensory awareness, being very present, wonder, and imagination.
This week I interrupt my usual desire to bring you important, reflective, timely, or occasionally useful information, to bring you this fast-barking news:
We just adopted our joy-boys, brothers Winston and Royce, after several months of fostering these young, high-energy English Springer Spaniels.
Color us nuts. It makes NO SENSE to do something that adds complication, let alone expense, to our lives.
But what seems to make no sense may actually make the most, especially when it comes to infusing affection and joy into our lives.
These guys never care that the news about the White House, California fires, or climate change is dire. EVERYTHING can be cured with enough kisses and hugs.
I’m a total lush for doggy hugs. (Even if it makes writing in my chair a little more difficult.)
Clearly, they are changing our lives.
Mr. Royce considers flies to be his personal home entertainment system. Fortunately, this fall we have a bumper crop flying around the kitchen, keeping him very busy.
This week, he created a new slogan: “I’ve never met a fence I didn’t like (to get out of).” A half a mile of fencing around the property was enough to keep deer out, but not Royce in. Being the true explorer he is, he lives for making (or digging) discoveries, like this secret tunnel into the horse paddock:
Winston delights in watching old Downton Abby episodes with us, waiting for the moments when he can run with the hounds. They bark on screen and off he goes. He appears to have been born without any gearing between sleep and high-speed, turbo-charged racing around the property. If only I could burn calories watching him run…
In a different vein, I have been using my non-existent free time to research robotic vacuum cleaners and cordless-stick vacuums, and the possibility of hiring a house staff like at Downton to remedy the daily dirt disaster on our floors. I never thought I’d be working for the dogs. (Cleaning tips gratefully accepted!)
My husband? He’s onto the fences. I suppose great adventures always come with challenges.
All I can say is that at those times when the four of us huddle together on the bed, reading, watching movies, or staring at flies, life is good.
Our thanks to our friends at English Springer Rescue America (ESRA) and to our beloved senior Spaniels Riley and Jackson who broke our hearts while they broke us in.