I look out my window this morning and see naked trees, where just a couple of days ago there was a brilliant array of yellow leaves, and before that a lush forest of green. I realize with some sense of dread, that this is how it will be for the next eight months. Naked trees, hunkering down to their roots where their sugars are stored for the winter. Hunkering down. I’m not ready. I’m never ready.
In worship yesterday I asked myself the question, “Where is the blessing in this season?” As I settled with this question, I recalled a haiku by a 17th century Japanese poet, Mizuta Masahide: “Barn’s burnt down. Now I can see the moon.” I once bought a card with this saying on it (it was intended as a sympathy card), but I’ve never found the right occasion to send it to anyone. It comes to me now that being able to recognize the blessing that comes from tragedy, or from a season of despair, may not come until later. It doesn’t help someone who is grieving to say, “Hey, consider the blessings that may come from this loss.” But I met with a friend last week who went through a messy divorce years ago and is now in a much happier and healthier relationship with someone new. She says having her first husband leave her was devastating at the time but now she sees it as the best thing that ever happened to her.
Okay, so now I’m looking out my window again. I feel the warmth of the sun on my face. Wait—the sun isn’t being shaded by the trees. This feels like a blessing. The sun is also shining more directly on the solar panels we installed on the roof last summer. That’s a blessing, too. I look more closely at the birch trees as they reflect back the light of the sun, unencumbered by leaves. Beautiful. Blessing.
Maybe I need to be more like the birch trees, slowing down, sinking down to the tap root, reflecting the measure of Light I’m given today, and waiting.
My mind is filled this morning with thoughts about a lecture I will be giving tonight. Months ago a colleague invited me to give a “Professor’s Choice” lecture for members of Osher Lifelong Learning as well as the general public. I agreed, but struggled with the question of what to talk about. Should I dig out old papers, delivered at conferences long ago? Should I talk about my current social justice activism around issues of climate change? I raised this question with my spiritual nurture group and came to the idea of telling my story, or at least telling A story about my academic work. My musing about this has led me to see the threads that connect that work with my current concerns.
“Indigenous Language Revitalization” is the stated topic, and I hope to move beyond the objective, observable “facts” and get to the deeper issues, such as historical trauma that disrupted the lives of Alaska Native people in so many ways, including the loss of the ancestral languages. I also want to hold out the very real possibility that Native ways of knowing, embedded in the indigenous languages, can teach us how to survive. That’s what I believe, but is that my story to tell? We’ll see. I have a number of personal stories to share and hope to weave them into the larger narrative in a way that makes sense, at least to me. This exercise, after all, is a kind of review of how I spent some 35 years of my life.
I have never before, in a large public setting, attempted to talk somewhat extemporaneously rather than read from a script. I pray that words will come from the heart and not just the head.
What resonates for me today are the three simple prayer words suggested by Anne Lamott: Help, Thanks, Wow. Yesterday in our time of “afterthoughts” at the rise of meeting for worship I heard one person ask us to hold her friend in the Light, and another express gratitude for something that had happened. I noted that these expressions fit the first two kinds of prayer and I added an example of the third. My weekend had been one big WOW, and I was still relishing it. We had gone to Denali Park on a sunny day, with a few clouds scudding across the mountains allowing the sun to spotlight one point and then another. Some hillsides were splashed with golden birch and aspen leaves intermingled with the deep green of spruce. Other hills were cloaked in red tundra vegetation. We took a couple of short hikes, feeling grateful that our feet, legs, and knees still support us. We stopped to rest along the Savage River and marveled at the ancient rocks that were tumbled over time and carved into overhanging cliffs by this relentless waterway. We saw a couple of hoary marmots scampering among the rocks. At each point, as I uttered or simply experienced “Wow,” I felt in the presence of God. This is what Anne Lamott calls prayer: “Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we’re invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence.”