Who I Am.
My career as a performance artist started at age seven. I danced, acted, and sang professionally on television, in theater, and in commercials for twenty years. One of the highlights of this exciting period in my life was working on the Jackie Gleason television show in New York City from 1962 to 1964 as a June Taylor Dancer. Every week, we videotaped our live performance at the Ed Sullivan Theater. I was a small part of American history, fortunate to work with Jackie and other celebrities who graced the stage upon which we danced.
At the age of 79, the spirit lives on from those heady performance years, which morphed into writing as I chronicled the most memorable experiences. Photography grew in importance in my life as I developed the wisdom to see the simple glory of a flower petal, a leaf, trees in all their glory while leafed, and nature’s architecture, the bones, of their existence when bare. I see the aura in every subject I photograph, including the ocean’s vastness, the majesty of mountains, and the soothing flow of rivers.
"A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance," a memoir, was completed after two decades and published in late 2019. The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
My second book is my current project in 2022-2023 or longer! Photography continues as a labor of love for me!
Autumn’s first winds carry God’s messengers whispering secrets.
Deafening noise: bulldozers hollow out the landscape; jackhammers crush stone; chainsaws slaughter healthy pines.
Each cut into the pines and gouge of fertile land carve pain into my heart.
I hear the pines scream, their final gasps for breath.
They lay like amputated warriors on a battlefield. Once grand and noble, now stumps.
Millions of tiny beings live in the pines. No longer. Their existence is no more.
Heartless, indifferent people fill their pockets for ill-gotten profits and beer.
Workers use shameless language.
My windows are shuttered to nature and fresh air.
Birds no longer sing. A lone bird starts her song and stops.
She chokes and dies. Fumes kill.
Jackhammers shatter windows and vibrate apartment walls.
Returning from chemo, a cancer patient can’t enter her home. Entrance blocked.
Management cares not.
Wildlife sequesters in secret places, losing their home and their peace.
And I lose mine.
Why destroy the land for crumbling sidewalks no one uses, I ask?
Because they say.
I inquire whether pressure-treated wood and carpenters were considered rather than three construction crews.
Wildlife stays. Survives.
Our peace, too.
Never heard of that, they say.
They dishonor those who ask questions, spitting arrogant, angry responses.
We are three years old —in their eyes.
We are old without wisdom—in their eyes.
Weariness transports me into another realm of existence.
The Stories of Mystic Isle, the book I write, waits for me, as do the primary characters I live with daily. I sketch them with more depth and definition in words and voice; they are constant companions.
Abigail and Esme. Kate and Issa. Timothy and Pastor Sam. Emma and Sarah.
The creatures, too, inspire my world with hope: Sophia, Hank, and Midnight who perform magic in the ancient, fertile pine forest.
Rebirth is constant. Peace prevails — on Mystic Isle.
Elsewhere, too, I hope.
Impermanence reigns, and this episode in our lives, plus destructive events in others’, will pass and emerge into something new. Hopefully, it will be better. Today’s world offers no guarantee of “better,” but hope and faith endure in the human spirit.
Our Ancient Mothers’ Voices were silenced because they were wise, intuitive, intelligent, and powerful.
Today is my 79th birthday. I write about our Ancient Mothers’ Voices for my awareness of them started with a life-changing experience I want to share with you from 27 years ago.
The Burning Times
The Mothers I speak of were healers, midwives, counselors, oracles, and influential—leaders revered in their communities. They practiced a craft, part science, and alchemy, part art, honoring a Mother-Father God representing everything nature offered: the feminine in Mother Earth and the masculine in Father Sun—creating and sustaining life.
These Mothers lived in a time when men respected a woman’s voice. As patriarchal Christianity grew, our Ancient Mothers’ voices were silenced, stifling their leadership, intuitive gifts, and healing skills. Over three hundred years, from the early 1400s to the late 1700s, statistics range from three and a half million to nine million women and some men who were tortured and burned to death. These 300 years, called TheBurning Times, overlapped with the Christian Inquisitions and Reformation. Some historians deemed the utter bloodthirstiness of this tragic period as the Women’s Holocaust. Burnings were in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Britain, Europe, and Salem.
Two images I present in this essay relate to its theme. The first, at the top of the page, represents too many women today who cannot, or do not, speak their truth to be heard, listened to, respected, and understood. This small peony aspired to bloom. It is her nature, her reason for being. I passed her daily, yet she never fully blossomed. She was beautiful but did not unfurl into the fullness of her being. The second image at the bottom of this page is a peony, too. Yet she exploded with color, a profusion of petals, with a resounding voice—I Am Wondrous.
Suppression Exists Today
It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman who leads a corporation, manages a busy household, or a school teacher, a professor, a politician, a doctor, or a lawyer. Suppression of women’s voices and their innate powers exists in our world today. Those who speak fearlessly, shatter glass ceilings, and crash through barriers are microscopic in percentage to those who remain timid, fearful of expressing themselves and revealing the inherent powers that their inner voices prompt. Instead, they stagnate.
I do not speak only of marginalized women who are disadvantaged in our over-culture. I include women of privilege who still yield to male powers, overbearing husbands, fathers, et al., abdicating their personal beliefs and passions. They fear it is not worth the effort to capsize the boat or, sadly, disturb their comfort zone. They remain unrealized. Denial and inhibition to live in the fullness of one’s being leads to anger, bitterness, depression, obesity, lack of self-worth, and many other problems. Perhaps I project my journey here, too, challenges I overcame and still must at times. The following are personal questions to contemplate.
Do we acknowledge the veracity of our inner voice that whispers dreams and vibrates with visions? Who is our inner woman? Are we wholly her? Do we speak with full-throated resolve in any situation? Do we allow our inborn power to emerge? And importantly, can we declare our personal sovereignty?Sadly, after our Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, too many women and girls lost the freedom of sovereignty over their own bodies.
The Journey & The Poem
Twenty-seven years ago, I met a woman on a flight from San Francisco to New York. The following prose poem is about that chance meeting, a journey I’ll never forget. But, I wrote it to pay homage to our Ancient Mothers: their extinguished, forgotten voices—and powers. I dedicate it to all my sisters, brothers—anyone whose inner voice and dreams remain unrealized.
Singing Over The Bones
I approach. She is seated. We share a space. We glance and assess.
She in a long dress (something I would wear at another time, another place).
I, in overalls (something She would wear in Canyon de Chelly).
We are without makeup, our eyes swollen. We have cried (privately in our hearts).
We dance a dance of formality. She hands me Her card and I hand Her mine.
She notes my name and calls me by it.
I sit and wait. She has a story I need to hear.
She is battered, so am I. She is wealthy, I am not.
Our souls begin their dialogue: We share, encourage, teach, nurture.
Energy from our creative wombs flows down, down into the Earth.
We hear the voices of our Ancient Mothers. They say we are the Crones, the Wise Women.
Our souls, now recognized, now understood see through softened, aging eyes.
We speak of love, not bitterness.
We embrace our emerging creativity and begin singing over the bones of our Ancient Mothers.
Though our battles map our faces, we are strong. We still have work to do.
Listen, listen! Hear our singing over the bones, not of lament but of freedom.
To be. To bask in Cronehood. To begin again at 50, 70, 90 years of age!
We sing loud, clear, resuming the songs of our Ancient Mothers.
Hear us: We are the Wisdom Keepers and now the voices of our Ancient Mothers.
Singing Over the Bones. Copyright 2022. Lee Anne Morgan. All Rights Reserved.
Thank you for listening. Have a beautiful day. I intend to enjoy my sovereignty, my full-throated voice, and celebrate my 79th birthday!
On August 27, I begin my 79th year, and today I arrive in your inbox bearing gifts with words, a video, and images. I see the horizon of my eighth decade before me, one I ponder with wonderment.
A tectonic shift has occurred within. I may lose all humility in what I’m about to say, but mystery, curiosity, and eagerness interlace with everything I do now. Perhaps I’ve earned Cronehood status with a soupçon of sageness? Wouldn’t that be grand?
The world groans with sorrow, and my heart beats with concern and compassion, doing what I can. Yet every particle in the universe is impermanent and will change, so I choose to see the beauty in the world and my life instead of watering seeds of frustration, anxiety, and discontent.
I am free—to be wild, weird, wonderfully wicked, sensual, loving, and creative.
I know who I am—finally.
I understand my full powers as a woman—finally.
Fear has no home in me. Fearlessness does.
I accept what I can and cannot do for others and the world.
I know simple things make me happy: candlelight at dusk, especially in the winter, the scent of incense burning, our Goddess Mother Earth, birdsong in the mornings, leaves falling, the first snow, freshly brewed Assam tea, puppies and kittens—and more.
I cherish the slower, measured pace of my early morning walks along the river and through our historical village.
The wrinkles and spots sketched upon my face and body are as beautiful to me as the bark of a tall old pine tree.
I am profoundly grateful for my family, biological and extended through friends and neighbors as most of us embark on this aging oddessy—together.
I do not deny the challenges of aging, but I also look for gifts that can only come with age. I am emerging from a chrysalis and cannot wait to see the pattern painted upon my wings!
(This was initially posted as a podcast on July 7, 2022)
I wrote Confessions of an Evangelicalon another platform in July, 2022. I felt a little off-balance when I received hate email, unsubscribes, et cetera because I unveiled the truth. I WAS a Bible-thumping, arm-waving evangelical and did not realize what happened to me until my pastor urged me to vote for Trump and lead a pro-life campaign of which I was not in favor.
A passage so often referred by fundamentalists is in Ephesians 6:10-17. It is an important backdrop to the violence and threat of violence we witness today: It is about warfare. Put on the armor of God to fight satan. If one is not born-again and does not believe that Jesus is the son of God, one goes to hell. In the evangelical mind, this is their core truth. They exclude others not like them, while so-called Christian women scurry to get licenses for pistols,while men carry guns openly. Those I thought were my friends and parishioners edged me out of the church because I was too feminist in my views, among other things.
Evangelicals are more than one-third of this country. Think of the mega-churches with thousands in attendance every week, the televangelists reaching millions every day. They read one book: the Bible, believing in the ‘talking snake’ metaphor and that the Bible is the literal written word of God. I left this church traumatized and opted into their madness for reasons detailed in Confessions of an Evangelical (below). However, when I asked why guns, hate, and violence when Jesus taught the opposite and did not carry weapons, I was sent packing and branded … a whore.
These people are more than a cult. It is a reality of distorted, malevolent thinking and belief deeply ingrained in their hearts and minds. And the brainwashing is terrifying. Go to an evangelical church next Sunday morning and see what unfolds. Witness the madness that helps divide our nation today.
Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is skepticism; bewilderment is vision.
My intention is not to confound you, for that was in the hands of Rumi when he wrote the two short lines of his poem, speaking volumes in its brevity. We have an overabundance of cleverness in our world and a lack of bewilderment: inspiration, magic, wonderment.
Cleverness surrounds and bombards us in the news, peoples’ opinions, inequalities, and hatreds, with an addiction to a hyper-focus on negativity, fear-based headlines, and soundbites. Yes, we grieve as we must, and there is much that needs mourning and healing in our country and globally, given the harsh realities in which we live with others who share our planet.
Bewilderment is about visioncoming into view from not knowing. Our egos fight confusion, not realizing the stress resistance creates. Some people choose denial, while others seek clear waters for truth and reality. In Hermann Hesse’s seminal work, Siddhartha, Hesse’s Siddhartha decided to embark on a challenging journey during which he was bewildered and resistant, experiencing cycle after cycle of Samsara. At the end of his life, Siddhartha discovered clarity and truth:
It seems to me that everything that exists is good—death as well as life, sin as well as holiness, wisdom as well as folly. Everything is necessary, everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding; then all is well with me and nothing can harm me. I learned through my body and soul that it was necessary for me to sin, that I needed lust, that I had to strive for property and experience nausea and the depth of despair in order to learn not to resist them, in order to learn to love the world, and no longer compare it with some kind of desired imaginary world, some imaginary vision of perfection, but to leave it as it is, to love it and be glad to belong to it.
Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
Of course, we will stand and speak out for truth and justice. However, we might consider losing our cleverness and snarky attitudes. Instead, let us invite wonderment in the face of these realities, bringing curiosity rather than suspicion, and create visions that inspire and incite the best part of ourselves to serve well in this human dance.
(I humbly add that this is a personal aspirational journey, and I rarely succeed and often fall short. Nevertheless, I continue on this path, for it is my dance in this lifetime.)
A major storm system approached and landed several weeks ago. I adore BIG WEATHER so I couldn’t resist. I stood on the Riverfront walk and photographed its arrival and, eventually, its departure. Fortunately, I took shelter at Athens Rooster where I sipped a mocha latte.
I walked past the sweet scent a dozen or more times. I looked for fragrant blossoms and saw nothing that would emit this heady, sensual fragrance. The mystery lived on a patch of grass bordering the sidewalk. It was milkweed. Beautiful, wondrous, ordinary milkweed.
I ventured into the Rural Cemetery of Athens, now a part of my daily walk. There is peace among the gravestones resting in lush greenery and shaded by tall, ancient pine trees. There is one that stands taller than the others and its bark and roots are strong, communicating with possibly every other tree in Athens. Its bark tells of its age but the tree does not reveal its stories of the souls that passed on, some before the Civil War.
Every so often a flower weaves itself into my soul. For me, I see and feel the energy of my subject through my camera’s lens. This flower was in its own realm of joy. It gave itself total abandonment.
May this day bring good memories. May each moment be cherished. There is beauty all around to soothe the soul, inspire bewilderment, then magic with a finale of vision!
I use this image frequently because it appeared in late October, so pure, beautiful, and a miracle in its very presence. It says to me: Do not despair for despair is a lack of imagination, an absence of hope. It is the perfect antidote to what I write in the brief essay that follows, originally aMorning Musings Podcast also titled “Allow Me My Rage.”
In 2016, my older brother said: Lee, if Trump is elected president, he will march our country backward 50 years. Brad died while Trump was in office. My brother would be called a RHINO by today’s political standards. We often argued about politics, for I am a progressive democrat. However, we spoke continually during the last six months of his life and came to understand and respect our differences. He would be outraged at what is happening in our country and appalled at the Supreme Court’s overturn of constitutional law for half a century and the patriarchal reactionary minority who forged this travesty for which women and girls will die.
We knew SCOTUS would overturn Roe v. Wade. Still, the shock is not unlike knowing someone is dying. We sit by their bedside, watching them slip away, and we believe we are prepared for the inevitable. Yet, when that last moment arrives, it’s a trauma to our hearts, minds, and sensibilities. And that’s how many of us felt yesterday when the Court’s final ruling came down.
The hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty of the Court’s right-wing justices lead to the conclusion that they have simply appointed themselves super-legislators free to impose a view of the United States as a White, Christian and male-dominated society despite the values, beliefs and choices of a majority of 330 million modern Americans.The Court’s decision may result in women’s deaths. But it has certainly killed off what is left of the Court’s credibility. And for that, there is no solution in sight.
I certainly don’t have a solution other than to say that this is a moment in time and one in which it has never been more important to vote. Time has a way of settling “bad deeds” and righting wrongs: Exercising our right to vote is a vital part of the solution. Tomorrow I will recover and work with others for all women and our collective daughters and granddaughters.
It is 3:30 a.m. I’ve awakened at this time for weeks, and I don’t know why. The night is black as pitch, but I listen to the steady, soft rain and the trees’ leaves dancing with a gentle breeze. A mug of freshly brewed tea sits beside me. I start this writing now, which will change by publishing time. It may be days or weeks. I never know.
Why do I wake at 3:30 a.m.? This habit started soon after I put down my cat, Abbey. There is a hole in my heart, for I miss her presence, warmth, and gentle, thrumming purr. Abbey is not on my mind when I wake up or dream. The state of our country and the world could be the cause. Except for the forthcoming January 6 Committee Hearings, a landmark in American history, I stay away from the news. Sadly, the misinformation in general that people gather from questionable sources causes them to spew anger and hate while illuminating an alarming ignorance. This negative energy penetrates, and I absorb enough to irritate my spirit and close my heart.
Irritation, anger, and a hardened heart are a few guests who visit me in my guest house. The guest house I speak of is one we all have and the one Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet, Sufi mystic, Islamic scholar, and more, wrote about in his poem The Guest House.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
It is unnerving to welcome these guests into our inner life. Embracing the darkest aspects of our humanity is the opposite of what we usually pursue. We suppress these pesky visitors or act out; neither way brings peace. When we feed anger, fear, and hate by watering these toxic seeds, they grow to loom large, dominating our lives. We deepen depression by not letting go of its root causes. And, we lay hold of despair and anxiety, clutching them like a sick child.
When we greet the visitors, offering entry into our hearts and minds, we can laugh and say you are welcome, but I don’t need you today! Thank you for showing up and for caring. Rumi said, be grateful…because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
I have met my guests, and they have met me. At first, I rejected them, denied their truth, and tumbled into a malaise. I now welcome whatever walks into my inner life. I’ve learned to rely on mindful breathing and walking to help me greet unwanted visitors. It is human to have bad days, and I will always have my share. I photograph and write with mindfulness. Walking to the Hudson Riverfront, I try to be mindful of each footstep as it touches Mother Earth. I breathe in and breathe out, knowing I am alive with each breath.
Pollyannaish? No. It is hard work to look within, acknowledge imperfection, yet love ourselves for who we are so we can genuinely honor, if not yet love, others with an open heart. Mindfulness is a continuous learning experience. I am not a master, but when I forget, and I do, I start again with one breath in and one breath out, arriving back to my center, back to home.
Yes, I wake early, knowing this will change with time, but for now, perhaps it is to do precisely what I am doing: writing this post and sharing recently created images. Please enjoy my happiness in presenting these to you.
My morning walks take me to known and unknown places in my little Village. The historic Athens Rural Cemetery is one of my favorites. There is a cathedral of trees I saw in a different light and decided it was time to photograph.
My teacher, Thây (Thich Nhat Hanh), wrote a poem and ended it with this line: In the garden of my heart, the flowers of peace bloom beautifully. Here are a few for you.
This essay was completed following the first televised January 6 Committee Hearing. It is impossible not to have anger, even horror, and want to strike out at someone or something, given what we learned and saw in written evidence, videos, and testimonies. True warriors sat on the dais and in the audience, for there were present those who fought on the lines for our Constitution, suffering significant loss. There was no hate speech coming from the dais, no diminishment of human dignity, no animus as we endured for four-plus long years under the dystopian former president. Liz Cheney showed her courage, honor, and dedication in presenting harsh facts that shone a bright light on an attempted coup to overthrow our government. She dared to say to Congressional Republicans: There will come a day when President Trump is gone. But your dishonor will remain. Liz Cheney’s honor will endure.
More hearings are scheduled, and I suspect for some of us, our ire will increase. Let us try to welcome these uncomfortable visitors into our inner guest house, even those we most want to turn away. Though a struggle, may the gardens of our hearts try to bloom with peace, even in these dark times. We must prepare as peaceful warriors-in-training for the harsh realities in the days, weeks, and months ahead, endlessly seeking the truth.
Our inner resolve needs to stand as solid as a tall oak. May we be willing to comprehend our differences through deep listening and hone words that inspire rather than those that divide and incite. Let us water our seeds of kindness and understanding to nurture the best of ourselves and our hearts.
On Thursday night, no one on the dais wore the armor of distasteful antics and lies, nor did they speak with mockery; they showed and told us the truth.
The image above is of the Athens historic Lighthouse. I took the picture recently around 7 a.m. as the mist rose from the Hudson River into the rich green of the mountains.
It is early as I write this short piece, and, yes, my mug of Assam tea is at my side. I want to alert everyone to the CHANGES I’ve made to the offering of my essays, stories, and artwork.
I may continue an intermittent Morning Musings Podcast, but not on a fixed schedule. I need to do these as the spirit moves me.
There is nothing for most of you to do. I am moving my writing and artwork back to my blog platform, WordPress, which technologically offers me more graphic capabilities. I will go no further, so your eyes don’t glaze over. Since April, for those of you who subscribed to the Substack forum, I have tried adding you to my contact list on MailChimp. It is through MailChimp that you receive a link to my blog. I will only publish once a month, for the most part. Please email me, and I will add your name and email to the list. Or, you can go to the Mailchimp signup in the righthand sidebar of this page and subscribe from there! The MailChimp “subscribe” does not apply to most of you but to only those who have been new subscribers since April.
Thank you to those so generous to sign on for ‘paid’ subscriptions. The money helped. You will not receive a renewal notice next year, and if you do, please ignore it.
Those are the basic housekeeping details of the CHANGES. My reasons are twofold: Substack is a pragmatic platform for political, economic, and science writers who produce weekly and daily newsletters. That is not what I do nor want to do. The other reason is that I’ve felt uneasy with all the “asks” for subscriptions, money, comments, likes, et cetera. That is not who I am.
My work is created to stir, give pause, inspire, and provide another lens through which to oneself and the world. I may post a sporadic donation button at some point, but not regularly.
Please email me if you need clarification. You all have my email.
For all those lost in the service of our country, we give gratitude while honoring them on this day.
Memorial Day 2022 will live in our hearts and minds for a long time. In addition to those who bravely served, we mourn the killing of nineteen innocent children and two adults in a Texas school shooting a few days ago and those murdered in Buffalo two weeks ago and—far too many before that, again and again.
I will not repeat the words we’ve heard that do not soothe those left behind, nor do they do more than churn ours’s and others’ outrage.
We cannot heal our country with anger and fury. The way out of this negative quagmire is to recover ourselves from within: Heal by calming the muddy waters in our minds and hearts until we can see a clear pond with no ripples; until we have a good measure of objectivity and—understanding.
The Monastery Bell
Once heard, the sound of the monastery bell reaches into our hearts and minds, shifting us to that place within which cradles the best part of ourselves, whether the Buddha, Jesus—all our Spiritual Ancestors. Throughout the millenniums to today, poems are written and chants sung about the monastery bell.
The Great Bell Chant and Prayer
May the sound of this bell penetrate deep into the cosmos Even in the darkest spots Living beings are able to hear it clearly So that all suffering in them cease Understanding comes to their heart And they transcend the path of sorrow and death The universal dharma door is already open The sound of the rising tide is heard clearly The miracle happens A beautiful child appears in the heart of a lotus flower One single drop of this compassionate water Is enough to bring back the refreshing spring to our mountains and rivers Listening to the bell I feel the afflictions in me begin to dissolve My mind calm My body relaxed A smile is born on my lips. Following the sound of the bell My breath brings me back to the safe island of mindfulness In the garden of my heart, the flowers of peace bloom beautifully
I find mysteries, illusions, and other energies surrounding or within my chosen subjects when I photograph. The petals appear transparent; they overlap in inexplicable ways I did not see but my camera revealed. For me, this is part of the Divine and its mystery, and for you, it may be God.
Hello Friends ~
The morning air has a mild chill to it after an intense heat wave this past weekend, the birds sing their praises, and I am holding freshly brewed Assam tea in my favorite mug with a dollop or two of cream.
I received numerous emails following my essay titled Confessions of an Evangelical.For the most part, these were comprised of questions: Am I an atheist? And I liked this one a lot: Am I a witch? As my essay pointed out, I have been called worse, and I took no offense. However, I do not need to defend my views, but I believe today’s topic, The Womb of God, may answer those questions. And, by the way, people were very respectful in their queries.
Just a quick sidebar, if I may, concerning the questions about being a Witch? I do not practice the Wiccan religion, possibly the oldest on our planet. But I’ve been researching the burning times, when an estimated seven hundred thousand to over one million women were burned in Scotland, England, Europe, and Salem as so-called Witches dating from the 1300s to 1700s. Several factors contributed to this: the fear of a woman’s power to heal and her intuition—that almost-supernatural sixth sense that sees beyond the solely rational left brain. These burned women were midwives, medicine women, and healers in their villages and towns. They gathered herbs and nutrients from tree bark and weeds, making tinctures and salves to heal—potions to drink for driving out infections and fever. But the subjugation of women’s power began when Christianity decimated the Wiccan and Druid traditions. And Christianity is a patriarchal citadel, as are all religions except for Wiccan. Before that, the feminine, or Goddess was revered as the Earth, Sun, Harvest, and Moon: She was of the cosmos and our Mother Earth.
Creation, The Womb, and The Bible
The Womb of God was introduced to me while listening to a formidable scholar, author, lecturer, and Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister. For years before her writing thrust her onto center stage, she was the abbess of the Benedictine Sisters in Erie, PA. She mentioned the Womb of God in several lectures and at a faith conference with the Dalai Lama. She did not go into depth about the Womb of God, but the concept stayed with me. How did human life begin without a womb? Our very makeup demands it.
My issues with the Bible and the doctrines and dogma of all religions are that they are all patriarchal. Every one of them. The Bible was written by men, then translated into Ancient Greek, Hebrew, then Arabic by men. During 300-400 AD or CE, the Nicaean Council of men decided to discard books from the Bible, such as the gospels of Thomas and Mary Magdalene, among others. Add to this that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute but a wealthy woman who helped finance Jesus’s ministry. More than 50% of Jesus’s followers were women. Martin Luther and John Calvin removed the Apocrypha during the Reformation, which remains in the Catholic and Episcopalian bibles, but no other.
Theologian scholar Marcus Borg’s careful study of scripture reveals many female metaphors for God. Here he shows how God’s Wisdom was invariably presented as a woman:
The most fully developed female biblical image for God is in the wisdom literature of ancient Israel—in Proverbs and in two books of the Apocrypha, namely Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon.“The wisdom of God” is often personified as a woman in these. Scholars now commonly refer to this personification as “Sophia,” the Greek word for Wisdom.
In Proverbs, Sophia speaks of herself: She was with God before creation, and she was the master worker through whom God created. In Ecclesiasticus, she is from eternity and fills all that is.
What Works for Me —What Works for You?
My God is about Divinity: a vast consciousness and energy that is light, love, and compassion. The Divine One is everywhere and inside of us. I love Jesus, and I love the teachings of the Buddha taught six hundred years before Jesus was born. Jesus and the Buddha are the best part of me, with all my spiritual ancestors: Christian mystics, Sufi mystics, the Buddhas that followed the Buddha, Padre Pio, and saints in every religion. I also carry our Native Americans like Chief Dan George of Canada and their cherished beliefs: Honor nature and respect Mother Earth and her animals. * I bow to all my spiritual ancestors.
Most of all, it is Sophia I ask for Wisdom, carrying the idea of her within. I am weary of linear thinking, which brings me back to the concept of the Womb of God. This phrase came from a woman devoted to the rigors of being an abbess and a Catholic nun serving her community. Can we open our minds and allow that feminine sacredness of the womb to be part of the Divine or for those who call the name God? I honor people of true faith, whatever religion or form that may be. I have friends whose Catholicism is deep and reverent, and genuine. I bow to their constancy in what they believe.
Woman was tainted by a talking snake. According to the Judeo-Christian Bible, Woman was created less than Man because she was a mere rib taken from Adam to be his helper, not his equal. And Wisdom as the “feminine” was either minimized or removed from the Bible by patriarchies through the centuries. Yet Woman is Wisdom called Sophia, and she is the womb of Divine Creation. That is merely my view.
*If you talk to the animals, they will talk with you, and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them, you will not know them, and what you do not know, you will fear. What one fears, one destroys.
Chief Dan George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, British Columbia, Canada
Typically, my opening image is one of color. Given the subject of this essay, I deliberated on choosing the first image. While I am pleased with capturing white lilacs on a black background, the image has a portentous quality. That is one of many aspects of Nature: beautiful and threatening.
Sharing this confession was reflected upon for six or more months. You may believe the narrative or not. However, I did live a life for which I am no longer ashamed but regret that I may have caused unintentional harm to others.
I wrap my hands around a mug filled with freshly brewed Assam tea and look out upon a vibrant spring of thick greenery, young blooms appearing in new places, and perennials bursting forth where they’ve resided for years. It is quiet in this now, but the world and its people are not. I wrestle with telling this story, but I believe it is urgent. There is a dark shadow upon our land that is odious and cleverly cloaked as it slithers into the foundation of our Democracy, forging injustices, misogyny, racism, and inequality of wealth. Does my story have any significance to the political and governmental issues we face in our country? I can’t answer that, but I hope it does.
I was an evangelical for eight years. Three years ago, I was condemned, expelled, and branded a harlot at the evangelical church to which I worked tirelessly to show my loyalty, reverence for our Lord Jesus Christ, and acceptance that the Bible is the literal Word of God. I am not a harlot, nor do I believe in the God of the Bible. I am aligned with Eastern philosophies and, as such, before I became a born-again Christian. I was brainwashed and allowed it. There is no one to blame. Desperate and needy, I made a choice and stood by my decision until everything unraveled, not only for me but for our country. Consider this narrative a cautionary tale.
In 2013, after losing my home and pets, moving into subsidized housing with total strangers, and selling and gifting nearly everything I owned, an acquaintance saw my despair and offered to take me to her non-denominational church. The experience was surreal: live “worship” music and singers that were infectious, drug-like, and addictive, with no men in long robes but pastors dressed in jeans, sneakers, and sweatshirts. For forty minutes, the music whipped itself into a frenzy with hands clapping, people singing, dancing in the aisles—all to juice the audience for the Lord and the sermon. This exhilarating experience was nothing I experienced in institutionalized religions, especially coming from a Roman Catholic background with a few years as an Episcopalian. I believed I landed in the right place where people hugged one another openly and abundantly, laughed, and welcomed me with their joy.
I attended this church for several years until the women urged me to apply for a permit to buy a pistol, register as a Republican, and, eventually, lead a pro-life campaign for 40 Days for Life. Early on, two Christian women came into my home and “cleansed” it of items the Bible deemed pagan and non-Christian: books and art on Buddhism and any book hinting at non-Christian literature. They asked me to smash beautiful crystals I gathered over forty years, hammer Buddha statues into dust, and throw them in the dumpster. There was intended violence in destroying these items, so no remains of my wrongdoing would enable others to follow pagans and satanic worshipers. While the demolitions of books and art, even some of my art they believed to be satanic, should have raised a red flag, I was in a hermetically sealed alternate universe of evangelicalism: Jesus saved me, and there is nothing God will not do for me, but earthquakes, fires in California, tsunamis, et al. happens to pagans, other Christians, and anyone who does not honor Jesus as the son of God.
I allowed myself to be ‘used’ by my pastor to head up the pro-life campaign. My abortion experience is covered in my book Time to Mourn & a Time to Dance, but I was deeply hesitant to tell him that I was pro-choice. The pro-life episode ate away at me every day as I stood across from Planned Parenthood and read my Bible.
During the height of WWII, my parents decided to abort their baby. My mother was well into her second trimester. Abortion was illegal in 1943, so she went to a back-alley abortionist, not a doctor. He struggled with tools unsuccessfully, sending my mother home with a concoction to drink. A baby slipped through her womb in the middle of the night, and that baby was my twin sister, Lily. No one heard two hearts beat, and no one knew I remained in her womb until her seventh month when she felt me move. My sister’s death and my survival have consequences to this day.
Had my mother been in a hospital or a clinic with doctors and nurses, they would have heard two hearts. I don’t know if they would have aborted twins. I can stand on both sides of abortion, but only to a point. I lost my sister, and my skull was damaged from the torturous event, creating epilepsy in my early childhood years. I was torn to my core as I stood on the pro-life line. I would never have an abortion because of losing my sister. Nevertheless, I believed that I nor anyone else has the right to tell a woman what to do with her body.
Rubin is correct, for religious tyranny comes from fanaticism with the Bible as the only source of wisdom and teaching. However, pundits, professors, and some statistics say evangelicalism represents only one-third of our country. That may be true. But as we learn week by week, they are loud and speak through a giant megaphone. And they are poised in essential places in our government’s judicial and legislative branches. They are governors of states defying and erasing our hard-won freedoms of the last 50 years.
I challenge the one-third number of evangelicals in America because 10,000 attend many mega churches planted all over our country and the world several times a week. Add to that the millions who watch televangelists every day, all day, while writing checks to already wealthy ministries.
Millions worldwide, even charismatic Catholics, are part of the evangelical movement, which has become a radicalized cult. I hasten to say that not all, but too many align themselves with our former President and his acolytes. They inhale their news from Newsmax and conspiracy sources like a drug. This movement is more than one-third of our country.
We are a country divided by politics, religious beliefs, racism, injustices, and a vast chasm between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ The genesis of these confessions is that an extremist, pseudo-Jesus-loving group of people formed a deep belief about me as they do about anyone who is not like them. They acted on their self-righteousness and branded an invisible scarlet letter on my forehead for something I am not and for being who I am as a woman and an equal. White Christian evangelicals advanced themselves into the public square through the narrow lens of one book. They supported a sociopathic man for President and primed him to do their bidding to win.
You may wrap words around the evangelical influence in our governmental and judicial arenas to soften the reality or deny it altogether. However, our Democracy is at risk, and anger rages through our neighborhoods with guns to wound and kill those who are not like them.
It is almost 5 a.m., and after a heavy night’s rain, I look out upon a rainforest still in dim light. This hour has a holy silence as a lone bird begins singing her aria. My morning ritual involves making a small pot of freshly brewed Assam tea. My hands are wrapped around my favorite mug as I sit for a few moments listening to the raindrops gently fall from one leaf to the next. Once they reach the earth, they will continue as a cloud or nurture the roots of trees and flowers, enabling them to continue. The scene is mystical, and it is a perfect hour to tell you a story. It’s a true story, and I hope you enjoy everything.
Thich Nhat Hanh was a Zen Buddhist Vietnamese monk who died on January 22, 2022. He was a slight, gentle man who dramatically changed hundreds of thousands of lives. How does a humble monk help people to see their world and their lives through the lens of understanding, compassion, and love? These thousands of diverse people are from all corners of the globe, ranging from notable to unknown and from different religious beliefs and philosophies. Yet they originally came to Plum Village in France, which was one of many monasteries that grew out of Thay’s (Thay means teacher in Vietnamese) teachings of engaged Buddhism. He was a peace activist, poet, author, and artist. Martin Luther King nominated Thay for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thay was like no other being. His understanding of the human condition and his love of our Mother Earth affected all who grew to know him through his books, video teachings, interviews, et cetera.
My favorite poem is one for which Thay is best known, and there is a story about how it came into being. Thay attended a global faith conference where there was much ritual and grandstanding for most of the day. I don’t know if Thay was the final speaker, but I believe he was. The person who relayed the happenings to me was there that day. Thay, wearing a brown cloth coat over his long robes, walked slowly, as he was known to do, across the stage. As he approached the microphone, he reached into his coat pocket, pulling out a folded piece of paper, which he unfolded with care and attention. He said I wrote a poem on my here. I guess I’ll read the poem today.
The title of that poem is Please Call Me by My True Names.
Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.
Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.
My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.
Thank you, Thay, for writing this poem. I believe that if we have a willingness to look within at all aspects of ourselves, we will develop a deeper understanding of who we are, why we are, and how we can be more compassionate towards ourselves and others. That, then, leads to true kindness, love, and a vast understanding of all people and life on this planet for we are connected as one.
I leave you with an older image I took many years ago, but it is quite appropriate to our true names. And, the wee-one you see is real. That is a whole other story I’d love to tell someday.
This was originally a podcast and Please Call Me by My True Names was read with permission from Parallax Press and is one from a collection of poems in his book, Call Me by My True Names. Thank you!
We wake one morning, look in the mirror and see that our bodies have changed. We notice lines on our faces, sagging skin, less hair on our heads, yet more hair in places where it’s not supposed to grow.
My body betrays me, for I am young inside. Our inner selves and spirit are eternally young, which is one of the existential mysteries. Yet our external bodies betray that spirit, illuminating our lives mapped on our faces for all to see. Is our walk a shuffle or a firm stride? Do we stand erect or bent? Is there a wobble or imbalance in our movements? However, deep within ourselves, we feel the energy of youth: enough life remains ahead to live and dare to dream, and we hope to do even more in our seventh and eighth decades. Is this denial, hope eternal, truth?
We are energy, and that energy starts with birth, continues through death, and begins again in rebirth—this is the Law of Nature. But in this moment of life, our now, our spirit seeks a bit more: another day, more springtimes, colorful autumns, waves splashing against the shore, and the majesty of every sunrise and sunset. Yes, we want a bit more. And, why not?
I euthanized my beloved feline, Abbey, this past Monday. She was twelve years old, and we rescued one another nine years ago when I moved into my Athens treehouse apartment. The above image shows Abbey alive but in an ethereal, blissful sleep.
How did this happen so suddenly? There were signs with Abbey as there are for us, and I ignored them because Covid was rampant, and I couldn’t visit a vet except on the phone. The first signs were a tiny mole behind her right ear and a little soft lump in her tummy area that the vet believed, without seeing her, was fatty tissue. Time marched on through Covid and the loss of my car. About three months ago, Abbey’s behavior changed. She was lively, eating, and playing with her toys, but turned on me to bite, howled at times for no apparent reason, and rolled at my feet in the dark of night, causing several significant falls. I believed these were behavioral aberrations, but a growing disquiet took root, yet I suppressed it for all seemed well on the surface.
Cancer permeated Abbey’s body, though she seemed content, especially while lounging on our windowsills, following the sun’s journey throughout the day. Yet things were not right with her or me, for I refused to abandon the delusion that she was wholly well. Nonetheless, cancer entered Abbey’s body with silence and stealth,and I refused to acknowledge what I knew to be true: her tumors were growing and malignant. My second heartbeat, Abbey, this is for you. (I took a poetic license from The Bard, changing pronouns from ‘he’ to ‘she.)
When she shall die,
Take her and cut her out in little stars,
and she will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night.
~ Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet
I do not know when I acknowledged I was old, as our society defines it in chronological age. Yet here I am at seventy-eight years, soon to enter my seventy-ninth, and close to the advent of my eighth decade. I never thought that aging would catch up with me! Aging and dying were for other people, and I believed death was in the distance. When I turned seventy, I did not consider myself a senior.
I’m keenly aware I’ve reached another stage in unfolding my life’s journey. So, I embrace a kinder, gentler relationship with my body and reframe how my mind perceives aging. I am grateful for the years I’ve had and have now: This human existence is profound, perhaps rare, and is to be cherished no matter what is happening.
This essay, the courage to age, is not intended to dismiss the challenges of those with terminal or disabling diseases. I could write further on subjects you know about, such as ageism, an inadequate healthcare system, sloppy eldercare, nursing homes, and aides who do not help. At the same time, doctors bombard the elderly with twenty bottles of unaffordable drugs daily that cause them more distress. These issues deserve much more attention than I can provide here and now.
There is a stigma about aging in our culture. An overarching societal assumption is that because our hair is graying, crinkles reside at the corners of our eyes and mouths, and we walk a little slower; people treat us as infants. Do people not realize that we are Wisdom Keepers and RELEVANT? Whether one is educated or not has nothing to do with having wisdom or being relevant in this life.Not treating Elders with dignity, respect, and honor is shameful.
I recognize that I must embrace my body’s inabilities to do things I took for granted and breezed through just a few years ago. Each decade asks us to compromise, surrender another aspect of our bodies and lives, and cooperate with our physical capabilities and liabilities. Gratitude for being alive helps us reinvent ourselves and be relevant, continuing to contribute to our world and our families in whatever ways possible. I choose to spend time writing and creating painterly photographic images. Others find their joy in their children and grandchildren. What we cannot do is focus on what we perceive as loss. What I’m about to say may sound insensitive, but lack of compassion is not my intention: Gratitude for what no longer remains in our lives is a blessed release.
Looking forward to our remaining time opens new visions of who we are and what we can offer through our beautifully mapped faces of wisdom. Being grateful is how we can joyfully age.
We may walk a little slower, sit in a wheelchair, or breathe with oxygen. This adagio passage gives us more time to smile at one another, enjoy the newness of spring, hold a newborn grandchild gazing into innocent eyes and ponder the cotton candy white clouds moving across a robin-egg blue sky.
Yes, it takes courage to age, but we are the Wisdom Keepers. As cherished gifts, we must learn to adapt, accept, and redefine how we are relevant to ourselves and others with each new day, month, and year.
I did not know of the budding flower, Fritillaria (above), hiding in the new, abundant greenery.
I did not know Antoinette Pienaar (a South African actress, singer, and author) either until I watched this short 10-minute film, luring me with her velvet voice, passion for life, love, and, oh, the kittens!
Green Rennaisance produced this elegant film, among many others. The cinematography is as compelling as Antoinette teaching her truth and sharing her heart. After contracting cerebral malaria on a trip to Mali in West Africa in 2001, Antoinette was severely weakened and decided to stay on Theefontein (the farm of her second cousin Jacques Pienaar). She claims that the Karoo and its herbs healed her.
Believe in the gift of life each morning with 24 new hours ahead.
Believe in the essential goodness of the human spirit.
Believe in being grateful for each moment offered today.
Know the sun will rise, the birds will sing, and the winds will carry the breath of the God of your choice, whispering good things. The melody is always present within us.
Listen to Antoinette’s teaching and feel her fiery spirit. You may want to watch the film twice because it is rich with content, visuals, and a spiritedness for life.
Nine years ago, I first passed this door on a walk to the Riverfront, wondering what was behind the battered portal encircled by brown, twisted vines. The withies will offer fragrant blooms in a few weeks, but whatever lies on the other side of the entryway remains a mystery.
Cracks in the door enable light to caress secret things, reminding me of powerful lyrics in the song, Anthem by the legendary poet and singer Leonard Cohen. His words are prophetic, piercing the heart of realities in today’s world. Yet his music is filled with longing and hope. (I selected lyrics from a favorite stanza, but a 6-minute video follows, containing all the words and music, captivating images, and Cohen’s deep, soft, gravel voice—if you’re inclined to watch and listen.)
We asked for signs The signs were sent The birth betrayed The marriage spent Yeah, and the widowhood Of every government Signs for all to see …
While the killers in high places Say their prayers out loud But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up A thundercloud They’re going to hear from me
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in.
Light weaves itself into our hearts and minds. We seek to soothe others and ourselves while hoping to receive answers to prayers only our souls can hear.
Today’s images radiate light. Their color and vibrance exploded in mere days, disregarding cloud-filled skies and Mother Earth’s crusty winter cracks for rebirth. Enjoy!
Thank you for visiting me today. Have a peaceful and joyous weekend as this season of light unveils Spring’s glory!
I watched almost every moment of the Senate hearings and every minute of the Senate’s vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. When I first saw VP Kamala Harris in the chair in the Senate, calling for the vote to begin and, finally, announcing the results, I was proud. Proud of our Vice President’s accomplishments and stirred by what was about to unfold. I thought of the little Black, Brown, and Asian girls and boys seeing this moment and realizing, “I can do it, too!” I knew the gallery was filled with spectators who cheered long and loud after Judge Jackson was confirmed. I am pleased two Republican women, Senators Collins and Murkowski, will shine in our history books because they dared to cross partisan lines and vote AYE. When the Republicans emptied their side of the Chamber during the applause, the two women Senators joined the Democrats in their joy. I was also gratified to see Mitt Romney, who had the composure and an open mind to overcome his no vote for Judge Jackson as District Judge only nine months ago, vote for AYE because “he got to know her better.” As the balance of Republicans, lacking tastefulness, exited the Chamber en masse, Senator Romney had the grace to stand as the lone Republican on his side of the aisle, applauding Judge Jackson’s confirmation.
Shame, shame, shame on the rest of the Republicans for not having the basic good manners to acknowledge a victory, one that is historic and well-earned.
I fear for the state of the world, Ukraine, and other areas of unrest around the globe. I fear for our country, SCOTUS, and those attempting to unravel our Constitution and the 14th Amendment. Some would-be despots hid in the cloakroom of the Senate Chamber, delaying their vote. And in the dark, hidden corners across our country and beyond, squirmy plans are made to forge violence, anger, hate, conspiracy, white supremacy, and evangelicalism into the Foundational Documents of our Framers’ work.
And, I fear for our beloved Mother Earth, which we continue to destroy daily.
But let us enjoy this historical moment and pay homage to Judge Jackson. Her confirmation offers hope, courage, and a surge of prevailing winds of justice and equality for all. For let us not forget “we the people.”
This week has been a landmark week steeped in the carnage of Ukraine and the contentious hearings by our Senate’s Judicial Committee for approving Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s impeccable credentials as an Associate Justice to sit on our Supreme Court.
My heart was saddened and inspired. Yet, the underlying weariness is present in all of us. We send prayers in various forms to Ukraine’s brave fight for Democracy and freedom. The majority of Americans were disappointed, once again, in the debased dance of race-baiting rhetoric in the Senate hearings. It was no accident that Wendell Berry’s profound poem, “The Peace of Wild Things,” found its way to me in my morning reading.
🌺 May it bring a soothing calm to your heart and mind. 🌺
What words can I possibly say regarding Ukraine, their courage, and daily deaths that would not be cliché? Sometimes I feel I’m there, hovering over the land and cities trying to protect Ukrainians, the starving, and, yes, the misinformed Russian soldiers, too, from pain and suffering.
I pray for inspirational words, but none come. I am amazed at my depth of grief. These are not intimates; however, their blood runs through mine. My maternal family was Russian, Polish, Austrian, and Czechoslovakian. Yes, I am a part of Ukraine and Russia and Poland. Their people are my sisters and brothers.
I’ve followed the teachings of Ram Dass, a spiritual leader of what was called the ‘new age,’ for more than 30 years. He passed in 2019 at the age of 86 while still sharing his great love for all and profound wisdom through his dying process. The following is taken from his last book, Walking Each Other Home, with his dear friend, Mirabai Bush. This morning I turned to the chapter on ‘grief’ for I knew I needed, and wanted, to understand my sadness, my mourning. Tom Waites’ song, Last Leaf, was dedicated to Ram Dass by Joan Baez in a concert after visiting with him just before he departed for his eternal journey. I dedicate these lyrics to the Ukrainians and Russians left on the battlefields and all who lost beloved ones and mourn. This Ukraine war will live on in our hearts. Perhaps, we will hear and even see those who are with us no more: their personal songs in the purr of a cat, the sweet kisses of a dog, the eyes of a new-born living being, and in a robin’s clear, melodic notes that are the first to greet the dawn.
May you live this day well. Send your true heart along with your prayers, always.
Sadness is upon our land. It is not clear, but there is an eeriness about it. We want to help Ukraine—and we are helping with good and not-so-good weapons, ongoing humanitarian efforts, and aid in many forms. We will avoid aggressive confrontation with Russia, fearing nuclear or chemical warfare in Europe, perhaps beyond. Yet there is restlessness among Americans as we watch the destruction of human life and their land. As of this writing, Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, is surrounded.
I can’t sleep at night because I see images of bodies bulldozed into ditches. These images are too reminiscent of when Hitler’s “atrocities” were performed as we stood by as a nation, inactive, until Pearl Harbor. (My facts may not be exact, but the gist of the matter is correct.)
In a long-ago research project, I searched newspaper headlines and critical articles written on the date of my birthday. I was born in August 1943. There was not one article on the front page of my hometown paper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, nor The New York Times on the war in Europe. I found a brief half-column article on Hitler’s suspicious activity regarding discrimination against “ethnic types,” not defined, buried in the second section of The New York Times. Roosevelt sent planes via Canada, but we wanted nothing to do with their war.
Today, we watch the Ukraine war unfold hour-by-hour. I never thought I’d witness the slaughter of people in a fight à la WWII in which the United States didn’t do more. Yet we are cautious to protect what and whom? I understand the hesitancy. I do. It is unfathomable to me that with all our power, intelligence, and willingness to help, we are not creative enough to provide a solution to stop this horrific carnage. Naively, I always thought that our United States, our homeland, was supposed to protect the weak, the oppressed, the homeless: This is baked into our DNA. No doubt, we have severe problems at home on these issues, deserving dedicated space and time.
However, I feel we are standing on our shores, shaking our heads, saying, “Oh my, this is just terrible,” then turn from the atrocities and tuck in at night. Standing aside is not who we are as a country; it is not how our nation was born. Our Founding Fathers fought at the risk of being hanged for treason. The sadness exists because we, as a nation, are not doing what we should be doing for the first time.
Why is a Ukrainian life valued less than ours so that we don’t help them fight as we would for ourselves?
The Ukrainians are my people, too. They are a part of all of us. I hope that people in our country will unite once again, realizing how precious Democracy and our right to vote are to us all. I do not propose a nuclear winter. But my issues regarding the sanctity of life remain. I know we cannot respond forcefully with all our might, as I believe so many of us deep within wish we could. The result would be unacceptable. However, a serpent lies coiled in a dark place somewhere in Florida, waiting to strike with the swish of his tail. Will those who support the orange serpent and his snakelets see the reality and truth between a liberal Democracy and fascism as the Ukrainians show us by giving their lives with endless courage to fight for what is true, good, and noble: a free Democracy?
No one has answers, and we take one day at a time. Ukraine is a seismic event in our history, and we are the witnesses. Let us not forget the history of fascism; genocide, no free press, no right to be heard or vote. Please take my comments as one who asks questions, keeping me awake at night.
On a lighter note, I share two final painterly images: My cat, Abbey, in her peaceful sleep and a burst of orchid blossom colors that I send to Ukraine along with my heart.
May we send our prayers and hearts to Ukraine. May we not forget our own who are in need. The challenging times ahead will make us stronger and better. May peace reign in all our hearts everywhere.
I am a continuation like the rain is a continuation of the cloud.~ Thich Nhat Hanh
When temperatures plunged below zero in early February, I woke at 4 a.m. to a still, frozen morning. The previous day’s nor’easter left tree branches gently burdened with thin layers of ice. The landscape glittered as dawn made her entrance. Sitting with my mug of Assam tea, I spoke silent, grateful words for the brand new twenty-four hours ahead. Incense burned while the Tibetan bell awaited its invitation to be rung. The day was unplanned. I might write, cook, do tasks in my home. Or I might do nothing but watch the changing light through ice trees: clouds and sun performing a ballet—a pas de deux in the heavens. Doing nothing is not doing anything. It is assuredly doing something: saying yes to each moment that comprises our day.
I thought about Thay (pronounced Ty), Thich Nhat Hanh, who passed on January 22nd, 2022, at 95. I have followed Thay’s teachings since the 1980s. He was a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk who taught Buddhist precepts Westerners could embrace regardless of religious affiliation or none. Rather than instruct from arcane Buddhist texts, Thay made mindfulness, meditation, breathing, kindness in speech, thoughts, and actions accessible and doable, helping us gently weave these practices into our daily lives. Thay was small in stature and gentle in nature yet led a monumental life transmitting these ‘qualities of being’ to all who followed. He was an advocate for peaceful activism, especially during the Vietnam war. Though he was exiled from his home country until a few short years ago, he continued his non-violent activism bringing awareness to injustices, environmental concerns, and much more. Thay was a teacher, scholar, poet, activist, artist, and writer nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize. Though his name may be unfamiliar to some of you, millions mourned then celebrated his continuation as he passed from one manifestation into another.
In his book, No Death, No Fear, Thay writes that you cannot become nothing from something, and you cannot become no one from someone. All of nature and its manifestations, the cosmos, and multiplying universes affirm these truths.
In my memorial to Thay, a photographic essay follows relevant to no birth, no death, but continuation. His slow meditation walks kissed the earth and helped me to slow my life, breathe deeply, be mindful of everything I see and hear, including nothing but silence. Please enjoy these images and thoughts on my journey from that frosty morning to the day of this writing.
I saw a hint of what was to come on that cold February morning, even in the early low light. Two of the ‘ice’ images looked like lights strung across all the trees in the woodlands, an extravaganza of glittering crystalline glory. The final image, taken years ago, reveals the essence of no birth, no death. I gave the last ‘ice’ image a title, almost a Zen kōan, that is fitting to continuation—What comes, follows what has been.
While exchanging remarks with the bank manager, I saw a huge Amaryllis on her desk. It was lofty in stature and flamboyant in color. Using my iPhone, I zoomed in to hear what this magnificent flower had to say about her current manifestation. She will return.
I purchased orchids last year to honor a request from my father. Though dad passed years ago, I heard him say, My birthday is this week. Buy me an orchid. So, I did. They bloomed for a long time. I cared for them once the blossoms fell off, hoping they would return, for orchids do not necessarily flower every year. These did.
A patron sent me a hand-carved wooden Buddha. I’ve photographed many Buddha statues over the years, leading to an exhibit titled ‘on walks with the buddha.’ My patron’s images are not below, but my favorites are. The first image expresses a sensibility of Thay’s core lesson in breathing: Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out. This technique is mindfulness at work: being fully present in the moment. The final abstractionist image is a visual expression of Thay’s great writings and lectures on continuation, no birth, no death.
A poem appeared on faded paper folded in an old book I was about to give away. The poem’s author is anonymous, but the poem is appropriate for Thay’s passing and for anyone we’ve lost at any time in our lives. And, it is not coincidental that it appeared as I began assembling the elements of this art blog.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints in the snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain; am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circles flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there; I did not die.
I alluded to this coda in my opening e-mail. Dan Rather’s newsletter, STEADY, inspired me to share this. The global musical piece (4 minutes) “speaks to a spirit that we believe unites the vast majority of humankind around the world – a yearning for peace, a recognition of the common bonds of humanity, and an appreciation for the wonders of musical expression.”
Recorded in 2014, the song is “Down by the Riverside,” an old African American spiritual. I know Thay would be tapping his feet and smiling in the joy of the music’s intention. May this music, love, and spirit for ‘no war’ be heard in Ukraine and worldwide. May Ukraine’s brave citizens who now fight for Democracy, as we once did, never give up as we must never give up or take for granted.