Saturday, December 12, 2015

Christmas Message and News 2015

Dear Friends and Fellow Travelers,
I am blessed in so many ways. I never wanted to live here but it is here that I have found community, opportunities, inspiration. And as well, the awareness that changes are needed in our culture and our world as we bear witness to those whose lives and voices must no longer be silenced. You may have heard that Minneapolis is one of the best cities to live in. You may not know it is one of the worst for black people, including one of the highest incarceration rates in the country. What we are called to do is to speak up and stand as allies for people of color—so that is what I am doing before I share my accomplishments of this past year, while I have your immediate attention. Please think of how you can speak up, be an ally, for those who struggle for justice, for their lives. It’s possible to do more than just show up at protests. There is showing up at your place of work or local hang out by saying something when someone is unthinking, racist, intolerant. There is educating yourself by listening and reading. And there is offering what you can in the way of space, visibility, opportunities instead of deferring to the usual people you know. Reach out. That’s my message for the holidays. Be the peace you want to see by being the human you imagine you can be.

 Most of you know that I was honored to facilitate the writing workshop in Stillwater prison in order to have a reading on the topic of remorse during Victim Awareness week. The reading was attended by invited inmates, staff members of the Department of Corrections, Restorative Justice and Victim Services, the commissioner and 9 fellow instructors of Mn Prison Writing Workshop. It was cathartic as the men shared the impact of their crimes on others, finishing with healing stories of self-awareness and transformation. The reading cracked our hearts open. Tears, laughter, and handshakes completed the evening. Teaching this class gave me the inspiration to offer a panel at Split This Rock Poetry Festival in Washington, DC this coming April 2016. I am thrilled that Nell Morningstar and I will present this panel as well as attend readings, workshops and panels on the issues of social justice. The Times They Are
A’Changin’….right? They have to. Right?  I also taught a class at Shakopee women’s prison using an anthology of local African-American writers as our text. It is quite different to write with women. The emotions are closer to the surface; tears flowed as they shared stories of abuse and losing their children. This work is so deepening and fulfilling in ways I can’t describe but I know I am helping to birth stories that need to be told. Our annual reading of MPWW was attended by over 200 people. And the in-house journals, edited by the Stillwater Writer’s Collective with guidance from our instructors, continue to be a wonderful way for our students to see their work in print. Not to mention, some are getting published in journals on the outside.   Those of you who contributed to our fund raiser: it means so much to us to have your support: thank you!  

Another organization I work for is Saint Paul Almanac, collecting stories from diverse communities for the annual publication, now an anthology instead of a datebook, and the StoryMobile, collecting stories through ipads and videos, in locations embedded in the community such as street festivals.

And of course, Unity Minneapolis continues to be such a blessing to me. This year my goal was to help our children meditate. After practicing Centering Prayer with the 4-5th graders, some said it was their favorite part of Sunday morning. Some mornings we do mindful movement or yoga, visualizations or chanting or toning, and some mornings we are actually completely silent and (mostly) still.  When we enter silence together, it is magical.  I also was inspired to create curriculum on celebrating differences: differently-abled (blind, disabled, deaf); different behaviors (Autism, Asperger syndrome, ADD); different families (two moms or two dads); and different gender self-expression (boys who wear dresses, girls who play sports) because our congregation includes differently-expressive people. The Times are a’changing! There is an impressive variety of children’s books on these topics. Our favorite activity illustrated the final lesson—we poked our faces through life-sized painted figures (a karate kid, a princess and a soccer player) and had our photos taken. We also had a fun house mirror and face painting. When I asked the children which was the hardest to try, their answers surprised me: they were not what you think! These were followed by lessons about healing because our founder Myrtle Fillmore healed herself of TB with prayer and Jesus, our teacher and Way-Shower, was a healer. Well….this Sunday when we asked one of our preschoolers if he wanted to sing a Christmas song, he said, “Jingle bells: I am tired of those songs about Jesus!” Next up: Our wishes for the world based on Desmond Tutu’s children’s book and then we have a Muslim guest (a friend of mine and spoken word artist) coming to share the traditions and meaning of Ramadan. I am happily using my creative skills in service of our children’s spiritual development. Lucky I am to work with an incredible, enthusiastic, patient director of Youth & Family Ministry, Nancy Maiello.

With an increase in arthritis pain, a Y membership enables me to attend yoga classes, swim and hot tub. Unfortunately, acute discomfort prevents me from attending evening events the way I used to. Young at heart: but alas, “my body my horse” as May Sarton wrote: slowing down. Can you believe it?

In my own work, the professional edit of my memoir is complete and I am seeking a publisher or agent. Please add your prayers to mine that it finds the right home. It’s a fascinating, complicated, heart breaking, disturbing, healing story to write and to re-live by editing. Poetry has been part of my path to wholeness but during the 10 years I lived communally, I only started to write again at the end. I am lucky to have rekindled my passion and luckier still to have readers. Now may the circle widen. So be it!

Family matters: Boys are doing great. Shawn does payroll for the entire company; he has employees. (That will show you what bringing up children in an alternative lifestyle can do!)  Brenda was accepted into nursing school. Nicholas still loves football, Joshua is quite skilled at ice hockey. Oliver is grandma’s boy (of course!) and loves books, games, puzzles, numbers, and riding the bus. Jason plays basketball and baseball. I’m taking the older boys to see the play Fahrenheit 451. How strange that the futuristic technologies Bradbury predicted have come true. My mom endures, somehow, my dad’s severe dementia, as she turns 80. My next visit is planned for April. Continued prayers welcomed.

These are tumultuous and transformative times. I believe each time we remember who we are and salute those we meet with Namasté, each time we connect deeply to Mother Earth, to our fellow human beings and all God’s creature large and small, each time we accept ourselves as worthy of love and extend that love through an act of kindness, of beauty, of awe and reverence, each time we choose to think a positive thought, light the wick of our candled souls, we are bringing peace to earth. May your heart crack open in wonder and love. May all beings shine forth their light! May your year be filled with whatever delights your soul and brings you joy!

What do you need but the will to move 
through the wilderness of your mistakes
until you recognize each step is a candle
each breath is a prayer
When you melt in the heat of your heart's

desire what will remain? Ash?
Surely not. Surely only flame
Surely only love

Love to you and many blessings, with joyful gratitude, 

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