On Tending Art, Heart, & Hearth:
Reflections from Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
It’s so difficult to hold all the danger and uncertainties around us and stay active, engaged, and creative!
In a single day I cycle through a bunch of different frames of mind, each with its own level of adrenaline, fear, anger, courage, and hope. Fortunately I know what shuts me down and what keeps me present, visionary, and courageous. I have learned this: How we frame what is happening has everything to do with how available we are as agents of love and transformation.
So let’s talk about the frames we use to talk about what is happening now. I have four different ones I pass through on any given day. I hope this list might help you identify the meaning you are making of these times and how it affects your ability to engage fully.
“This is a horrible disaster”
This is can be my gut, adrenaline-fueled reaction to the news. It is essential that we call the racism, misogyny, imperialism, extraction etc. currently at play by their true names and not ignore them.
Yet focusing on how bad things are totally wears me out physically, emotionally and mentally. If I’m not grounded, the notion of “things are breaking down” can quickly spiral into “creation itself can break.”
“Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered.
We must hold each other tight & continue to pull back the veil.”
This widely circulated quote from adrienne marie brown has helped me get some perspective and take courage. Many hidden systems of exploitation are being brought forward so we can finally really see them and deal with them. It’s like an addict’s bottoming out. At least that’s my hope.
I love the image of holding each other tightly with love and courage so we can get to truth. That compassion and solidarity is essential. Yet when I’m in a similar place with my daughter, who is highly sensitive and sometimes feels sheer terror over peeling off bandaids, we just get stuck with her clinging to me. The idea of unveiling as part of healing simply does not compute in her terrified, clinging mind. When I’m afraid, I too need an ever stronger guiding statement about the process of unveiling as part of healing.
“We are in the midst of the Great Turning.”
The Great Turning is a phrase popularized by Joanna Macy and names the essential adventure of our time: shifting from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization. I have found this framing deeply meaningful because it gives me direction. Joanna Macy has also helped me work with the grief that comes with loving a planet in peril. The grief is actually an indication of connection, and this connection is what can guide us.
I have really wrestled with my fear: Are we going to make the Great Turning happen quickly enough for complex life forms to continue to have a presence on this planet? Underneath my fear has been a lingering existential question: Even if we are in collective danger – on the social, political, or climate level – do we live in a safe and loving universe? Is the Great Turning simply human centered?
“We are careening towards oneness.”
This is a phrase from theologian Cynthia Bourgeault. (I recently blogged about it here.) It has become an important handle for me lately because it holds two important ideas together. The word careening captures how chaotic things feel. More importantly, the idea that we are moving towards oneness is an expression of deep faith in the evolutionary nature of the universe and of the divine to move towards more love and more consciousness. We are moving towards both increasing complexity and unity. This movement requires our conscious participation.
This is a significant statement of faith and way of knowing the universe that I have arrived at through contemplative practice and study. It is much too big an idea to fully transmit right here in this blog. The essence that I want to convey is that I am finally coming into trusting deeply that this is a loving and safe universe that can hold these times. Ultimately this allows me to become in instrument of the divine dance of love with a lot less adrenaline and much more power and creativity.
If I had to pick which of these four statements I’d say to myself as I’m trying to settle into sleep, I’d pick the this final one. It is the one that contains the most faith and possibility for me.
What’s your handle for holding these times?
You may have many like me. I’m curious which ones fill you with the most sense of courage, vision, and possibility. Your wise take might be exactly what someone else needs to hear.
If you are having trouble accessing your best self, this can be a sign that your worldview also needs attention. I firmly believe that transforming how we see the world is the fastest and most powerful way to shift both the inner world and outer world. It is not a substitute for making phone calls to your legislators, but no less important.
Elizabeth’s Upcoming Events
Second Fridays; 1:30-3:30 p.m.: Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions, Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.
April 14: Living the Questions
May 12: The Natural World
June 9: Looking Back, Seeing Again
March 26-April 1, 2017: Self-Guided (DIY) Writing Retreat with Naomi Shihab Nye, including 1 on 1 consultations with Elizabeth, Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.
Do you live in Waukesha or Marinette, WI? I’ll discuss incarnation, Christianity, and bisexuality at noon on April 5th at the University of Wisconsin–Waukesha and at noon on April 6th at the University of Wisconsin–Marinette. Please join me!
Save the Dates:
September 24-28, 2018: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.
Gwyn and I were at the piano labeling chords in her lesson book; she’d just learned tonic and dominant, one and five and their corresponding Roman numerals. Because piano practice can be grueling, we do it before school when Gwyn’s most alert, but this also means an awful time crunch, so when Gwyn leapt from the bench to stand in front of the fireplace, I had little patience. She pointed at the clock on the mantel, a fancy one with Roman numerals. “Now I can read it!” she proclaimed, and told me it was 8:40. She had cracked the code.
Which was all so exciting she couldn’t practice, she wanted me to write one through a hundred and I started while Emily did her hair, but then I remembered why we use the Arabic system—Roman numerals are cumbersome, laborious, and there’s no way I could write a hundred before 8:50, when we needed to leave. “But you promised!” she wailed and a meltdown ensued, a full-fledged, stiff-bodied temper tantrum. I kissed a timely school arrival goodbye. read more…
Hidden deep within the writing process is a powerful tool for social change.
I know; that statement can’t be substantiated. But let’s try on the idea for a moment.
If you’ve ever penned your thoughts or memories or imaginings, you know that the writing process surprises you. Writers say they write to find out what they think. The process of writing is revelatory. We see differently for having written. This is “re-vision”, even if you’re just writing a journal or first draft. read more…
January 17, 2017
You don’t want to go to the Women’s March this Saturday. I understand; you’re eight, and two summers ago at a climate march you experienced the unfortunate combination of too much heat, exhaustion, and greasy eggrolls. We’re marching anyhow. I’m writing this because I want you to know why. I also want to tell your older self, so I’ll tuck this letter aside to show you again later. read more…
Twenty-two years ago I started writing a monthly column for my church newsletter. I appreciated the immediate feedback. If a member of my congregation disagreed with something I’d written, I’d hear about it on Sunday. Usually I received a lot of encouragement.
As people outside church expressed interest, I sold subscriptions to the column for $12 a year, printed out copies, and put them in the mail. Eventually the internet arrived, and the blogging phenomenon; I posted my “column” for years before I deigned to call it a “blog.” Nine years ago I added a second monthly entry on writing. A tally of my slow and steady posts is around 370—a figure that stuns me today. Here are some thoughts on the hidden value of all that writing: read more…
“Fear not, for behold: I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” I’ve listened to these words, sung them, shouted them from a church basement, and read them hundreds of times. They are the great refrain of Christmas. This year they strike me differently, though, because this year I am afraid.
I’m afraid because my mother’s no longer here, which is just sad on most days but then sometimes feels like the ground under me has heaved and is no longer trustworthy. I’m afraid because, walking to work last week in below-zero temperatures, I passed through a happy flock of robins—the climate is changing, what used to be predictable is no longer, and we’ve elected a government that will likely aggravate the problem. read more…
Whenever I speak about writing and inevitably mention revision, people roll their eyes. Even experienced writers. Even published writers. A few years ago I pitched my book about revision to a series of editors at the Associated Writing Program’s conference; each and every one laughed at me.
Revision is dreaded, universally. Even those like myself who thrive in revision understand the sentiment. Change is hard. Changing the way we see our creations and then changing the creations themselves is especially challenging. But it’s even worse than that. To change the way we see our creations, we ourselves have to change. We have to willingly step away, shift positions and perspective, and look again. Ugh! read more…
Cancer does this: Shake you out of the status quo and drop you into a different realm, one where your everyday priorities are rearranged and suddenly small talk, the cleanliness of the house, even your job ambitions seem ridiculous. Instead you give yourself over to what really matters: Being present to one another. Doing everything possible to tend to health and well-being. Emily and I call this place of intensity Cancerland. Life-threatening illness does a marvelous job of helping you reprioritize.
But so do other things, like the death of a loved one or losing a home or experiencing trauma. The last time our country did a collective gasp and had to reprioritize was 9/11. The recent election shocked some of us into a new way of seeing the world. Our national shadows—the parts of us that fear the Other, that wants to eradicate whatever seems to threaten our wellbeing—are now out in the open. They’ve been there all along, as people of color and immigrants and trans folks have been trying to tell us. But now we’re all plunged into a new reality: Shadowland, a country where democratic processes are scorned and fear has taken the reigns. read more…
I can’t tell you how many times writers hand me a stack of pages and ask, “Is it any good?”
I’ve stopped answering this question. Sure, some writing is better than others. Sure, I have strong opinions about what makes a good story. But I’ve become increasingly wary of writers’ need to ask this question and my ability to answer it.
When a work-in-progress is deemed “good” by a reader, what purpose does this serve? All artists—all humans—want and need external affirmation; to continue hard work, we need our efforts affirmed and the essence of our endeavors recognized. read more…
First thing in the morning I make my tea, sit in the red chair, and read the early Christian mystics. Then Gwyn wakes, curls in my lap, and we read Greek myths. I bustle off to work where I write stories, read emerging writers’ stories, review published stories, and teach others how to create effective stories. I return home to Gwyn listening to an audio book. I read magazines on the toilet. I listen to Gwyn read her homework. I tell her a bedtime story. Finally, exhausted, I curl up with a good novel.
I’m steeped in stories.
When I take the stuff of my life and make it into a story, I feel myself and my world transformed. I come alive. I participate in ongoing creation. One of my greatest delights is that I get to support others in this work. When I teach writing, I help others know the “aliveness” that, as Ann Belford Ulanov says, “springs from our making something of what we experience and receiving what experience makes of us.”
Is it any wonder, then, that my most intimate name for God is Story? read more…
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- How do we frame these times?
- The Grief of Discovery
- Writers: How to Strengthen Your Sword Arm
- We Are Marching
- Six Ways Blogging Helps You Be A Better Writer—And Person
- For Behold
- Seeing Again—and Again, and Again…
- Entering Shadowland
- Goodness Gracious
- Liberating Stories
- Play with Me!
- Just the Pond
- Seeking Justice Through Stories
- Corrective Lenses
- Enduring the Discomfort of Writing