Saturday, 12 March 2011

'Baptism: The Good Fathers' by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I was reminded of this incredible poem, that never fails to move me, by a friend's wonderful post, entitled 'Be your own man'

by Dr. C.P. Estés

Our bodies painted red by the dawn sky,
our hair stuck up in cockscombs from sleeping,
we two snuck down to the rowboats.

We wobbled across the lake toward the lily ponds
to gather blooms for our mothers. What a big boy!
What a big girl! they would exclaim upon our return.

We tugged up the white blush flowers with roots so long,
till the bottom of our boat was filled to the bow.
And as we turned toward home the rain began.
Then fog threw back its hood and roared; and we rowed.
The waves turned black, and we rowed.

We lost first one oar and then the other; and we cried out.
Our thin night clothes stamped with cowboys and stars
went transparent like tattoos
all over our pale blue bodies,
and we cried out, Mother! Father! God! Help us!

Death put its hands over our eyes, and suddenly the fog
was pierced. Leaping and bucking came
a battered wooden boat filled with four phantoms,
rowing and rowing like madmen,
their faces distorted by rain and rage, eight oars
slugging the roiling waters over and over,
and they were calling out our names, bellowing
over the storm, Hold on! Hold on! We are coming for

Vessel crashed into vessel, and big wet hands flailed
till two huge wraiths of the lake rolled into our boat.
They hooked oars into iron stocks, tethered the boats,
and we crouched beneath the phantom rowers’ arms
as they rowed and rowed, cursing words we did not know,
as they rowed through the heavy drapes of rain and noise,
and with every hit of swash, lilies spewed overboard,
floating and drowning in the spume behind us.

And when at last our vessels ran into the soft slough,
and the rain went sideways,
the gray-faced phantoms grabbed us up, snagging
long ropey roots and green-heart leaves
and dangling white lilies as well.

With us in arms they strove up the howling hill,
holding us hard against their bony breasts,
shielding our faces with their hands.

And then finally, in the sudden heat from the open cabin door,
they bowed their heads like horses, offering us
held out like armfuls of heavy wild bouquets,
– two trembling children covered with broken flowers –
delivered into the arms of the weeping women.

When I dream of that time so long ago,
though in years intervening,
there would be at least one long year
of silence, one of forgetfulness, and
one of forgiveness, even so — in that one despond
of fog and rain and waves, these flares remain lit:

the men
who rowed the boat;
the men
who climbed the hill;
the men
who carried us toward home …
the uncles, the brothers, the fathers…
who despite their imperfections,
did not forsake The Heart of God –
that is, a child stranded in the storm –
these souls, all of them, now anointed forever
with the waters from all the tempests
they have braved,
now anointed forever
by the fragrance of the wild lilies
they have, with great effort,
carried up from out of the dark …

“Baptism: The Good Fathers”, © 1990, 2010, All rights reserved. Dr. C.P. Estés, poem from La Pasionaria: Collected Poems of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés: A Manifesto on The Creative Fire. This particular work may be used non-commercially as long as it is kept entirely intact, not added to nor taken from, and this complete notice including usage, author’s name and copyright notice are clearly printed upon it. Other permissions

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Renovate: Part II

A few weeks ago, there was nowhere in our messy, dirty, chaotic house that I wanted to pray; I wanted somewhere beautiful and ordered to pray pleasant prayers and think nice thoughts. When I realised this, I chose to sit instead in the very centre of the stripped-bare den amidst layers of dust and piles of tools. I wanted to BE in my home, my life and myself as they really were, really are. I wanted to come and present myself to God as I really am, to let my prayers and thoughts and questions and feelings be as messy as my surroundings, and not try to brush my dirt under the carpet or whitewash my crumbling walls. And it was good. Instead of feeling uncomfortable and ill-at-ease as I’d expected, I felt relieved, welcomed, accepted. It was OK. I was OK. God was OK.

The truth is, you see, that I am as much a work in progress as my oh-so-nearly-finished den. Truth is, I get as frustrated (or probably more!) with my own unfinishedness and messiness and imperfection as I do with that of our room under renovation. Truth is, I’d like the work on me to be over and done with – I would like myself, my life and my relationships to be beautiful and ordered, with everything in its place – and I often make out to myself and others that what I hope and long for is already the case... And then I get sorely disappointed and ashamed when I ‘remember’ and see again those parts of myself that are still battered and broken after all this time, stripped bare and not yet renewed, or simply changing and therefore still incomplete. But sitting in the unfinished room that day, I could clearly see that its ‘ugliness’ and ‘imperfection’ were not a product of defect, failure or deficiency, but of transformation. Its chaos was beautiful as a sign of change and potential. The room is messy because it is being renovated, renewed, restored... and so am I. And so are you. We are beautiful works in progress, incredibly loved and with untold potential.

The words below from Teilhard de Chardin are some of my very favourite in the world, to which I return on paper or in my heart time and again, reminding myself to ‘trust in the slow work of God’ in me, my life, and in the world and people that surround me, accepting the in-between-ness and ‘chaos’ that this necessarily entails. I hope you enjoy and are encouraged by these words as much as I am:

Patient Trust
by Pierre Teilhard De Chardin

Above all, trust in the slow work of God
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of progress
that it is made by passing through
some states of instability ---
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.

Your ideas mature gradually --- let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

Copyright: The Institute of Jesuit Sources

Monday, 7 March 2011

Renovate: Part I

Our house and our life have been in a certain measure of chaos for some weeks now as we renovate our den/family room/TV room downstairs, which has involved completely gutting the room, raising the entrance hall ceiling, knocking down some walls to open the space up, laying new wood floor and stairs, and creating beautiful window seat storage. It’s wonderful! The chaos of house and life stems in part from the dust, noise and dirt of the renovations, but also from the furniture and trappings of the emptied den now piled high in other corners of the house that do not have the space to adequately contain them, as well as simply – I confess – from the fact that when my home is not working the way it normally does, I just can’t find the energy to pick it up!

Since this is the first real renovation we have done in any house (while living in it) I have long watched others in the boat we are now cast adrift in, and not understood the stress they experience. “They should be excited not stressed”, I have thought in my inexperience. “They know it won’t last forever, so why fret and fuss over temporary inconvenience?” But now I know how it feels from the inside, I get it... and we may never renovate again! (Until perhaps, like a woman who decides to have another child 18 months after a labour she loathed, we forget the ‘pain’ and skip blithely into another season of stress for the ‘aesthetic joy set before us’!) I am amazed – and this is a great learning curve for me – how life just does not work that well and doesn’t feel ‘quite right’ when the space we inhabit does not work and isn’t quite right. What creatures of place and habit we are – so desperately in need of beauty and order, space and light, rhythm and flow. And how the lack of these can curb energy and strangle spirits as surely as any more purely relational or emotional disturbance!

Now of course we were excited to begin this project, we still are excited to see it all fall into place, and I know we won’t regret the decision and will SO enjoy the results; but there has been many a moment when I have found myself wondering why we decided to do this, and if it is really worth it. It almost feels as if we have survived rather than fully lived the last two months, and I regret the lack of energy and creativity for things I care about, especially those carefully crafted moments of family connection and hospitality to friends, which are so enabled and enriched by the space in which they take place. I feel very keenly the tension between, on the one hand, wanting to improve and beautify these spaces in order, hopefully, to improve and beautify what can take place in them, and on the other hand missing out on what I most love and value because of the ‘improving process’. I also wonder how much I miss out on what could go on in my house because I am not yet happy with quite how the space looks or feels or ‘works’... So I sometimes question if it would have been better to be content with the room as it was... and then really LIVE in it, and in the rest of the house, with gratitude and enthusiasm.

Such paradoxical thoughts and lessons I am taking from this experience, this process... Firstly, I take gratitude for the many different spaces I have lived in, and a greater awareness of how each one has deeply affected – for good or ill – how I live and experience life and relationships. I recognise more clearly that part of the relational strain my family experienced as I grew up truly did stem from four humans of over 5’11’’ sharing a small ‘trailer’ home (though as a WW1 era wooden caravan it had some added appeal and ‘cool factor’ that the word trailer cannot convey!) with very little opportunity for space or privacy from each other. Likewise, the happiness of the first four years of Amelie’s life were beautifully enabled by a house whose living space flowed well, by the big kitchen/dining room where it was so easy to be together, cook, play, and hang out with friends and family, and by those unnecessary but wonderful luxuries such as two bathrooms, a laundry room, an open fireplace, views of the estuary, and the incredible stainless steel, seven burner gas hob with double electric oven (yes, I admit I miss it!). I do think that the changes to our den will better facilitate our life as a family in this home. However, a beautiful space doth not a happy family make, and the other paradoxical thought that’s playing inside me is that I don’t want to limit the energy and creativity and enthusiasm and commitment I give to life, to family, to God, and to others, due to the space I inhabit. Aware that beauty and order, rhythm and flow, are important to me, I nevertheless don’t want to serve them, but instead ensure that they ‘serve’ me and those things that hold higher value for me. When they are lacking, I don’t want this to needlessly put my life on hold, until everything is ‘just so’ again! And, above all, I want to be able to be content with and grateful for how things are NOW, not always jumping ahead in heart and mind to how things could be; I long for this sort of ‘presence’ with my home and in wider spheres of life too.

So I’m thinking I could probably extend Jesus’ Matthew 6 teaching – “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” – to ask “Is not life so much more than the space we live in?”. Tonight, I love that this comes out as a question not an emphatic statement, because although I believe this to be true, quite what it means still eludes me as I pace the newly varnished floorboards, remember the manky carpet they have replaced, and long for the furniture to be moved back in so that life can begin again in this room...