A Beautiful Moment in a Time of Despair: Everyday Magic, Day 876

img_2686It’s hard to look at the news or social media without feeling like we’ve failed as a species. The Great Barrier Reef is dying, the bees — essential for the pollination that feeds the world — are endangered, and a presidential candidate not only brags about sexual assault but calls his accusers names, all the time unleashing America’s underside of horrendous sexism, racism, xenophobia and other social illnesses. Below the splay of horrifying headlines, I’m tuned into the stories of beloved friends and family, some of whom are struggling mightily with depression, debt, grief, and other ailments of our time and propensities of being human. Having had an on-and-off-again cold and some nightmares lately, I’ve dipped into the pot of despair at my most local level too.

As I turn away from the news of collapsing politics and ecology, I also see this: the sky to the west is filling with clouds, the wind is tossing around the heads of the big, leafy trees, and the last tomatoes have ripened on the vine. The moon, rising over the field last night, lit the tips of the grasses silver. Ten hours later, the horizon shines golden white. As Charles Bukowski says in one of my favorite poems, “The Laughing Heart” (watch this great little film here!):

be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the

Add to that one of our favorite Leonard Cohen (and all-time-ever) choruses from his song, “Anthem,”

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

So during this season of some very real despair and enduring danger all around us, I’m looking at this moment, another time of great beauty and promise, toward what light I can find, letting it penetrate the cracks I carry in my hope and heart.

Holiday Gifts For the Heart & Soul: Everyday Magic, Day 461

I believe in giving gifts whenever the spirit moves us as well as giving ourselves whatever gifts feed our souls and lift us up to live out our callings. In this tune, I want to recommend these possibilities for you to give others and/or give yourself, all of which are home-grown (benefiting the 99% and not just the 1%) and offered by people I believe in.

  • Writing as a Way of Healing: Ourselves & Others, an online class with Sharon Bray: Sharon is fabulous at helping people connect with their deepest truths, and she’s very experienced at offering superb online classes. She writes of this one, “What is the story you want to tell? In ‘Writing as a Way of Healing: Ourselves and Others,’ we begin with you. Your experience. Your story. We will work together to create a virtual community that has as its ground rules an atmosphere of safety, support and mutual respect, one that allows you to write authentically and deeply from painful life experiences. In this way, we will experience and model the ways in which writing can be healing, for ourselves and for others.” This class is offered by the Transformative Language Arts Network.
  • The Music of Kelley Hunt, Greg Greenway, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Leonard Cohen, and Others: Music keeps speaking through us and to us, and a gift of music goes, like the song, on and on and on. These are some of my favorites, but feel free to ask people around you who their favorites are, and then investigate! Also, Kelley has an amazing New Year’s Eve Eve concert coming up on 12/30.
  • Great Books!: I recommend these books I’ve read in the last year and loved: Chris Offutt’s The Same River Twice, Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, Harriet Lerner’s The Marriage Rules, Betsy Sholl’s Rough Cradle, Katherine Towler’s Island Light, Dick Allen’s Present Vanishing, two anthologies I edited (so of course I love these poems!) — Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, and An Endless Skyway: Poetry from the State Poets Laureate, Stephanie Sandmeyer’s Broken for You, and anything by Pema Chodron.
  • Solitude & Beauty: Consider a retreat, particularly in Kansas at Shantivanam, a beautiful center just an hour from Kansas City or Lawrence. It’s a great way to recharge and relax.
  • Brave Voice: Writing & Singing For Your Life: This six-day retreat I offer with Kelley Hunt is all about recovering and celebrating your creative spirit. Past participants have gone on to write and publish books, release CDs, perform and read, and most of all, make enduring community with others who support their art and share the riches of their voice and vision. We have a solstice sale — $60 off if registered by 12/21 — here.

Time To Repent, Reflect & Reconvene: Everyday Magic, Day 422

Yom Kippur begins at sundown, the biggest holiday (not counting regular old shabbat, which counts as the biggest regular old holiday) of the Jewish year, and also the most confusing…..or the most simple, depending on your point of view. Tonight, Rachel Black will sing the Kol Nidre, a hauntingly holy song, long and sorrowful, that we stand during, which basically begs with heart and soul, words that in English translate into an extremely complicated legalistic statement/prayer/plea to give us clearance to pray and repent together. But what speaks to me isn’t the precise and multi-layered meaning of the words, which were scripted in the Middle Ages and are tied into Jews having to renounce and hide their Judaism just to survive.

What breaks my heart open is the sounds (listen to this gorgeous version with cello oloist Teodora Miteva, Bulgaria/Austria, with the Vienna Philharmonic Women´s Orchestra at the St. Thekla Church in Vienna). There is something about the melody, and how it surges through us, all standing in unison, many of us dressed in white with our tallit (prayer shawls) around us. This song ushers us through the archway between the daily life and this holiday.

There are many other songs, most beautiful and familiar to me, that surge through our services along with prayers I love, particularly the ay-yi-yi-yi-yi hitting-our-heart gently with our right fist as we list all the ways we as a people have gone or done wrong, and that’s a key to this observance: we pray for ourselves as a people, we repent and reflect as a people, we reconvene in the land of our collective soul with prayer and fasting.

My friend Judy quoted from one of our prayers this today: “But repentance prayer and compassionate acts will avert the severe decree.” Okay, so the whole “severe decree” part is dark, confusing and open to interpretation (as is everything — to me that’s the ultimate essence of Judaism: deep questioning). Since I read this on her facebook status this morning, I’ve been thinking about how compassionate acts, Tzedakah in Judaism, is also part of this reconvening. The prayer and repentance aim my heart more toward compassionate acts, and the way we pray, in song and chant beyond the reach of my engagement with language so often, is what shows me most how to live: as a continue reconvening with all that’s alive all around all the time.

Good Yom Kippur to us all, and for another beautiful angle on one of our prayers, listen to Leonard Cohen singing, along with Sonny Rollins on saxophone, “Who By Fire?”

Leonard Cohen, "If It Be Your Will," and the End of the Year: Everyday Magic, Day 163

There’s nothing like it: his voice, his music, his lyrics. There are so many lines that break me open in gratitude and heartbreak for being alive — especially “There’s a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in” or “I love to see you naked, especially from the back.” But today I want to land on one of my favorites of favorites, “If It Be Your Will,” especially as performed with Cohen speaking the first two or three stanzas of the poem/song/prayer, and then having the Webb Sisters, with their haunting and twining harmonies, “unfold it,” to use Cohen’s description of the performance.

First, there are the words: “If it be your will/ that a voice be true/ from this broken hill/ I will sign to you/ from this broken hill/ all your praises, they shall ring/ if it be your will/ to let me sing.” I also love how he prays for alignment with the greater will of the universe, and how he speaks of everyone “in their rags of light/ all dressed to kill/ and end this night/ if it be your will.” It’s an amazingly simple song that opens to turtle upon turtle of meaning, and I know of no other better plea for connection, healing and wholeness.

Then there is the singing — his low voice speaking with such earnestness and simplicity these words, and then having these words lifted on the wings of winding and climbing harmonics in angelic voices of Charley and Hattie Webb.

As this ends walks toward it end and turning, I let this song land in me, willing it to rise through my words and deeds, and show me more about how to live out this coming year. May we all have such shimmering voices to guide us.

Watch it here, and to hear a clearer version, try this link, which includes fascinating graphics.