On Tending Art, Heart, & Hearth:
Reflections from Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
She didn’t read books so she didn’t know
that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop.
–Zora Neale Hurston
Since my mother died over a year ago I’ve worn her jade ring as a reminder that she’s still here. My mother loved beautiful objects and somehow these objects, her jewelry and the quilt she made me and the African violets she grew and even her dime-store spiral notebooks, continue to hold that love.
As do I. Sometimes I feel more my mother than myself—her loud hiccups, her bad gynecological genes, her late night worries and self-pitying whine, and her fondness for home, for a lingering, elegant meal, for libraries, for generous giving. Her goodnight kisses, her pride at my work, her inexhaustible love. These were in me before she died I know them more poignantly now.
None of us, it turns out, are separate, siloed identities. We’re all mash-ups of each other. read more…
Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh tells this story:
A young man wanted to learn how to draw lotus flowers, so he went to a master to apprentice with him. The master took him to a lotus pond and invited him to sit there. The young man saw flowers bloom when the sun was high, and he watched them return into buds when night fell. Then next morning, he did the same. When one lotus flower wilted and its petals fell into the water, he just looked at the stalk, the stamen, and the rest of the flower, and then moved on to another lotus. He did that for ten days. On the eleventh day, the master asked him, “Are you ready?” and he replied, “I will try.” The master gave him a brush, and although the young man’s style was childlike, the lotus he drew was beautiful. He had become the lotus, and the painting came forth from him. You could see his naïveté concerning technique, but deep beauty was there. read more…
I first heard this advice from a camp counselor after a silly skit about texting, missing a sunset, and dropping a cell phone in the lake. “Be where your feet are” was the camp’s refrain. If you’ve traveled into the wilderness, be in the wilderness; pay attention to the natural world; open your being to the moment you’re in.
Being present is, of course, a perennial spiritual practice—for good reason—but there’s something about the out-of-doors that is particularly conducive. read more…
The journal is a writer’s compost bin. It’s tucked out back, behind the fence or along the alley where the smell won’t waft into the kitchen and the fruit flies won’t irritate the gardeners. You add to it daily, or at least whenever you’ve got a heaping bucket of scraps (read: baggage) to unload.
Compost works best if you add equal amounts of “green” (grass, veggie bits) and “brown” (leaves). An occasional sprinkle of ash helps. Regular water and air speed up the decomposition, so it’s good to give it a stir. Likewise with the journal, which can be a dumping ground—and worthwhile as such—but with a smallest amount of intention grows fertile. How? read more…
I was raised by a liberal, seminary-educated mother in a liberal United Methodist congregation, and both blanketed me with a theology of a warm, loving God. But the chill of original sin snuck under the covers regardless. How? It’s hard to say. Through the Adam and Eve of popular culture? Through my mother’s foundational guilt and insecurity? Through the Sunday morning stress of getting out the door on time, as though our lives depended on showing up for worship with clean hair and ironed clothes? Regardless, I understood myself to be fundamentally wrong, and faith was the antidote. Every time I screwed up, deliberately hurting my boyfriend, turning my back on a stranger in need, lying to my parents, my “sin” was a guilt-soaked reminder of my hidden, awful nature. read more…
On a good morning of writing, the words leave my head entirely and reside in my fingers. Writing is a quiet business. Once I tried to explain this to a spiritual director—the way my heart stills and the room pulses with silence—but she didn’t believe me. How can you work with words and be quiet at the same time? Surely it’s impossible. read more…
“The Christian of the future will either be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or she will cease to be anything at all.” –Karl Rahner
Morality, ritual, and blind belief: contemporary Christianity is known for these. If you’re Christian, you adhere to certain moral standards (although these vary vastly between denominations and individuals); you go to church, and you “believe in Jesus Christ,” whatever that means. As best as I can tell, this is how Christianity is perceived by popular culture. For the most part, this is how Christianity is experienced by Christians.
Dig deep enough, however, and I suspect you’d find that many Christians have “experienced something.” For that matter, people of other faiths have, too, and those who calls themselves “spiritual but not religious.” As have artists, nature-lovers, scientists, community organizers, and anyone who volunteers their time to help others. You might call the “something” God or art or nature or love or truth, but regardless, you experience a mysterious happening that brings you alive and gives life meaning. You glimpse a source beyond the scope of human consciousness. You know a beauty that vibrates in your very cells. You sense significance that encompasses even tragedy, even rampant injustice, even death. read more…
For the past decade I’ve been an ardent champion of revision, in my own and my students’ writing, consistently reflecting and blogging about it and finally collecting my thoughts in a book, Living Revision, due out this August. To many people the realm of revision seems rarified, even masochistic. When I pitched my book at a writer’s conference, two publishers laughed at me outright. My mission is to overturn this stereotype, to crack wide the experience of revision and make it accessible to everyone who writes.
Since the presidential election, however, I’ve come to think of revision as a coping skill—one we all need to navigate these tumultuous times. Writing is a means to develop this skill. read more…
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…
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- Boiled Down to a Drop
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- Revising in a Tumultuous World
- 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
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