Do You Hear What I Hear

Collaboration is when you are not going into a meeting to show what you know, but going into a meeting to show what you don’t know yet.” – Bevin Bell-Hall, puppeteer

This could also be described as an attitude of unknowing. When we listen to people to form a response, then we are not truly listening. When  we listen to learn, we enter into a mutual agreement that uplifts all.

In peacemaking circles,* often the parties that are interacting with one another are at entirely different parts of their journeys. The person-who-did-harm and the harmed-one may not be at a place where they can sit together without their own brokenness hurting the other people in the circle. In those cases, rather than leaving either party behind, I would suggest that each party have their own circles until such a time that they can unite and repair the breach between them. I think that would be the peacemaking way. It is also the time-consuming, hard way. Of course, the parties have to want to work towards healing. This also means they need to recognize that they have done harm or have been harmed.

It is hard to see yourself as a victim in need of healing. It is hard to see yourself as a perpetrator of harm. Nobody likes these labels. In the broader scheme of our national identity, racism, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia, it becomes even harder because some people say, “I see all people the same.” And then they support policies and politicians that make it harder to exist. They don’t acknowledge the cry that is, “Please just see me.” If we truly saw each other. Listened to each other. Healed with each other. We would be in a different place. If we could see the person in front of us as a whole person that fits into a system that goes towards healing for all, then we could say, “Your life matters.” In order to do that, they would have to admit that they do harm. Are an oppressor. Come from a system of oppression. That is work harder than a march in the streets.

This is the failure of our religious institutions and largely the Christian Church in the United States. It is the system that I am intimately familiar with and love. And if we can’t critique our own systems, then we should not be willy nilly critiquing other folks’ systems.

Until recent years, the church and the USA have walked hand-in-hand together. Proudly. That is where the nationalism and patriotism and idolatry of the church has grown. The church has identified with creating an idealized version of society while holding apart healing. Women have been told to stay in abusive relationships because that is their place (and this still happens). Couples have been told to not marry because they were not of the same ethnicity (this still happens). And lovers have been told not to marry because they were not of the right gender (this still happens.) This still happens. Good grief. It still happens.

What if the church, as an institution that has been shadowing the growth of the US, stood apart and declared itself a place of healing? That embraced the victim and the oppressor? That held them in healing until they could come together? That said to each life, “You matter!” And then brought them together to say, “We matter. Together. We matter.”

Well, I suppose I dream a dead dream. Sometimes it feels that way. But I don’t believe that. We who strive will keep striving. And in the Peacemaking Circle way, the only person you can change is yourself. So if I become more peaceful and more peacemaking, that is all that can be expected.

And so it falls on the shoulders of those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Listen to each other.
Listen with love, in your heart.

Seek peace.
Peace with listening, in your heart.

Find love.
Love with justice, in your heart.

Be just.
Justice with mercy, in your heart.

Offer mercy.
Mercy that listens, in your heart.

Peacemaking Circles are certainly one way to offer this healing to one another. Only in that it embraces these principles. Finds the way that brings healing. Creates “communities of peace where everyone belongs and matters.”*

What will you see or hear today?

Onward!

Peacemaking Circles come to me via Saroeum Phoung who was taught by the Tagish Tlingit people. It is a tradition very similar to group Spiritual Direction.

King County Peacemaking Coordinating Team vision: Creating communities of peace where everyone belongs and matters.

-© 2017, Terri Stewart

Justice in a New-Old Way

Today, we sat in the King County Youth Service Center lobby that had been turned into a courtroom for the sentencing of one of the youth we have been working with. I am a member of the King County Peacemaking Coordinating Team (PCT). We apply the principles of Peacemaking Circles, an ancient process taught to us by the Tagish and Tlingit First Nation people to modern court cases. A new-old way.

Today, we heard from the judge, the prosecution, the defense, the PCT…and then the respondent (person who did harm) spoke. And then the victim’s mother spoke.

We were all blubbering and sniffling by the end of it. But not because it was hurtful. The tears were because of the witness of transformation and hope. To see a genuinely healed person extend their hand to honor the victim. To see the victim’s family stand up and say, “Do more of this.”

There are some flaws to work out but that is because we are human. And this process is all about becoming more completely human.

In this particular case, the respondent had committed felony harassment. This charge on a juvenile record could irrevocably alter his future. It would limit his housing, loans, educational opportunities and more. I don’t know if we really understand what we do to juveniles when we hang felonies around their neck during a time in their life when their brain is not fully formed. But I digress.

I remember the mother of the victim looking at the respondent and saying (paraphrase), “It is so good to see you this way. Before, all I had as an image of you was the threat on social media where you had a gun and were threatening my boy’s life. You were scary. Now you are human.”

During the Peacemaking Circle process that took about 8 months, we discovered how similar the respondent and victim were. They were both from homes going through divorce. They both loved photography. They were both kids being sunk by the social systems around them. One responded by acting out. The other by withdrawing. In this case, working towards healing the family systems healed the crime. It helped everyone remember that they were human. And that we are all human.

I share below with you the recommendation from the PCT and the joy in a complete dismissal of charges against the respondent. (I’ve removed the names of the young people involved).

Can I get an Amen?!

Summary and Final Recommendations for Referral #4

July 7, 2017

Good afternoon, my name is Safia Ahmed and I am a member of the King County Peacemaking Coordinating Team.  I have the honor of speaking on behalf of the team to share the work that has been done in this case and our recommendations for sentencing.

To begin, the Peacemaking Coordinating Team would like to honor and thank the victim and his family who gave their courageous support for this case to be referred.  Their support and willingness to participate was instrumental in this restorative process to promote healing and partnership between King County, community based organizations, faith based communities, and the youth, families and communities of King County.

We received a referral for the respondent’s case on October 11, 2016 from Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jimmy Hung.  A home visit was conducted with the respondent and his family to determine the suitability of this referral for the Peacemaking Circle process. In addition, a home visit was also conducted with the victim and the victim’s family to share an overview of the Peacemaking Circle process, answer any questions and gain an understanding of what level of participation in the Peacemaking Circle process they may want to have.

After completing both home visits, the Peacemaking Coordinating Team accepted the case. The following summarizes the work done since accepting the case in December 2016 until July 1, 2017.

  • Five Healing Circles with the respondent, the respondent’s family and community members who wanted to show support. Each circle was on average 3 to 4 hours long.  These circles were to promote healing, peace and reconciliation and as preparation to meet with the victim and the victim’s family since they indicated their openness to actively participating in the Peacemaking Circle process.
  • The respondent and his parents participated in an all-day community circle with King County Executive Dow Constantine and other King County leaders on March 11, 2017.
  • The respondent’s mother attended a 3-Day Introductory Peacemaking Circle Training from April 26-28, 2017
  • One Pre-sentencing Circle and One Sentencing Circle that included the presence of the victim’s mother along with criminal justice stakeholders; friends and family from both parties.
  • Approximately 8 hours of check-ins via phone and text with the victim’s mother and her family, keeping them apprised of the respondent’s progress with the Peacemaking Circle process.
  • Ongoing check-ins with the Criminal Justice stakeholders involved in the respondent’s case, keeping them apprised of the respondent’s progress.
  • One home visit and approximately 20-25 hours of check-ins via phone and text with the respondent over the course of 7 months.

The following outline was agreed upon in the Sentencing Circle as a conclusion to this case:

  • Reimbursement to the victim’s family for 8 of the 12 counseling sessions the victim partook in for self-care and healing work. Each session cost $120 for a total of $960
    • 2 sessions paid by the respondent
    • 3 sessions paid by the respondent’s family
    • 3 sessions paid from funds provided by the community and the Peacemaking Coordinating Team
  • The respondent’s father kindly agreed to show support to the victim and the victim’s mother by offering to pay for a trip as an opportunity to spend time with each other to rebuild their relationship along with having a positive experience coming from the respondent and his family.

In addition the Peacemaking Coordinating Team also recommends the following:

  • 6 months of volunteer work with the Peacemaking Coordinating Team as a way to give back and pay it forward that includes:
    • Attending the Peacemaking Coordinating Team meetings once a month
    • Participate and help lead a monthly Young Men’s Circle in support of other young people who are going through similar situations.

The respondent, with the support of his brothers and parents, has agreed to these recommendations as a way to heal the harm he has caused to the victim, the victim’s family and to the community at large.

The Peacemaking Coordinating Team would like to conclude our review and recommendations to this case by again expressing our heartfelt gratitude to the victim and the victim’s family who graciously permitted the respondent and his family to participate in the Peacemaking Circle process even while contending with the harm inflicted by the respondent’s actions.  It is our belief that their generosity and commitment to restorative practices have given space for the healing process to begin for both families.  We would also like to express our appreciation to the court, our criminal justice partners and the community for the continued support of our work.

Shalom and Amen,

Terri Stewart

Zero Incarceration for Youth

League of Women Voters Discussion Juvenile Detention: Zero Incarceration for Youth

Our own Terri Stewart moderated a panel for the League of Women Voters on April 6. Here’s the youtube!

Panelists are Judge Wesley Saint Clair, Judge Laura Inveen, and Dominique Davis.

Room at the Table

 

We have seen how writing and images allow us to penetrate the mysteries of incarceration, justice, and restoration. Music also allows us to do this. Carrie Newcomer and Mark Miller are two of my favorite current justice musicians.

Carrie Newcomer is from the Unitarian Universalist tradition and creates songs that are easy for singing and for memorizing. They can become ear worms! This song is Room at the Table.

Mark Miller is from the United Methodist tradition and creates songs that are on point. I offer a song he wrote to a Langston Hughes poem.

– Terri Stewart

A Ritual for Gratitude

by Terri Stewart

Rituals can make you happy, according to neuroscience. This ritual is, drumroll please, gratitude! Now, gratitude isn’t exactly a ritual but more of a way of being. But when we get stuck in a negative loop, perhaps we need to have a handy gratitude ritual. Rituals are so easy to create for our own lives (thank you for teaching me, Deborah Globus at lapadre.com).

Rituals have four steps:

  1. Create a sacred or holy space. I use sacred and holy in the sense of healing and wholeness.
  2. Declare your intention. What are you doing? Name it!
  3. Embody your action. Do or say something that embodies your intention or moves you on the path.
  4. Closing. A simple “may it be so” or “amen” or whatever your imagination brings!

So, back to gratitude. When we are in a negative loop (and it does happen) or when we are anxious, according to an article in Time magazine, practicing gratitude “activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine.” So it actually does a thing! How can we create an easily accessible ritual that will remind us to practice gratitude?

mason jarMy first thought was to have a gratitude jar. Then I found this pinterest page: Mason Jar Crafts for Kids. It had a picture of what I’d like a jar to look like! It is decorated with shiny shells and twine. Easy peasy. Of course, I don’t have shells, so maybe another option like one wrapped in pretty lace. But I’m going to pretend I have shells for now. I will also need little strips of paper (fortune cookie size) and a pen or pencil. Ooo…colored pens! Or sparkly pens! Whatever you want to make a healing space.

  1. My jar is my sacred space for gratitude.
  2. I say, in my head or out loud, “I declare this a time to move from negativity to gratitude.”
  3. Write three gratitudes on your little strips of paper. Fold them in half and put them in the jar.
  4. Closing: May I remember to be grateful. May it be so.

That is sooo easy to do. And even if I don’t have a pretty, sparkly, shiny jar, I can stop myself and do all of the above and just say that wherever I am is sacred space. I think it is a good idea to have a physical reminder in your day-to-day territory, so I like an idea of a decorative container of some sort to remind you or even nag you into being grateful. 🙂

What are you grateful for today? How would you make this ritual your own?

Onward!

Deborah Globus/LaPadre’s link to creating ritual: http://www.lapadre.com/your-path-to-practice.html

Time article on neuroscience and rituals: http://time.com/4042834/neuroscience-happy-rituals/

Mason Jar Crafts page: https://www.pinterest.com/FreeKidsCrafts/mason-jar-crafts-for-kids/

© 2016, words and photograph, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

A Ritual for Naming Difficult Emotions

by Terri Stewart

Ritual creates a movement and an opening. Scientific American summarized research on ritual and pointed out an experiment on losing the lottery. In this experiment, they offered a winning stake of $200. They asked people how they would spend the money if they won. They drew a winner and that person left the room. Then they divided into two groups. One group was asked to “draw about how they felt.” The other group was asked to perform a ritual of drawing, then sprinkling the drawing with salt, tear up the piece of paper, and then count to ten, in their head, five times. After this, all folks had to do a survey on how they felt after their loss (angry, sad, etc.). The ritual group was found to be calmer than the non-ritual group.

All that is to say, ritual helps create calm, inner peace, and strengthens our existing spiritual practices.

A ritual around naming negative feelings might be aided by the article in Scientific American! And those items are easy to acquire. You will need paper, pencil, salt (or other herby thing that might burn pleasantly), and a place to do fire. If you can’t do the fire thing, then I might suggest acquiring dissolving paper from any magic store.

The ritual might look like this

  1. burningbowlForm a sacred space. For this, I am going to use the little bowl I use to set my lavender/sage smudge stick into. It is a little tiny souffle dish with sand in it. This might take preparation! But you don’t necessarily need the sand. If you get the dissolving paper, then a bowl with water. I am using this bowl because it is already a ritual point for me when I use it for smudging.
  2. I say, in my head or out loud, “I am here to learn from my feeling of ____________.” Insert negative feeling here. Note that it is a socially negative feeling. Feelings aren’t really negative, they serve a purpose. Anger, anxiety, sadness–they all deserve to be named and they will teach us. If you have a difficult time naming your feelings, then a feeling wheel might be helpful. I am wondering about naming anxiety about the electoral process and symbolically burning the entire RNC and DNC conventions. This may be the only way I make it through the US elections.
  3. Write your feeling onto the paper. Listen to what the feeling is saying to your body (are you amped up? is it saying run?). Acknowledge the wisdom of the feeling letting your body know you are not controlled by your feelings but you definitely take into consideration the wisdom there. Sprinkle a little salt onto the paper or a dried herb. Salt is good as it has been symbolically used in the past to do rituals of clearing energy. Tear up the paper into little pieces and burn the paper. (or dissolve it in water).
  4. Closing: May I remember to love and embrace all my feelings as the wisdom of my body. Let it be so.

That’s not too difficult! A ritual that would work to help name difficult emotions.

How would you make this ritual your own?

© 2016, words and photograph, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

A Ritual for Decision Making

by Terri Stewart

The neuroscientists point out that making decisions involves the prefrontal cortex in that it reduces worry and anxiety. Additionally, it calms the limbic system and a “good enough” decision involves the prefrontal cortex in a way that makes people feel as though they have more control.

I love the idea of “good enough” decisions. Sometimes I get hung up on making “the best” decision. Neuroscience says that is a bad idea! Making “the best” decision “brings too much emotional ventromedial prefrontal activity.” Or, it fires the wrong part of the brain.

I remember, in my brief studies of Ignatian Spirituality, that in St. Ignatius’ rules there was a point in time on our path towards living lives of love, that people no longer make choices between good and bad. The choice becomes between good and good. Eventually, over time, the differences are barely discernible. Do I choose “this good” or “that good.” Waiting for the interior movement to identify what he called feelings of consolation or desolation could take forever. Perhaps, no one is displeased if you choose good. A radical thought, I know. But any choice towards good, is, in itself, a good choice.

Ignatius did specify seven qualities for entering discernment:

  1. Openness
  2. Generosity
  3. Courage
  4. Interior Freedom
  5. Habit of Reflection
  6. Good Priorities
  7. Not Confusing the Ends with the Means

I am wondering if a ritual for decision making is needed or if a ritual to celebrate a decision is needed. Or both. Hmm. Also, remembering that ritual, in itself, increases feelings of calm, control, and peace. So neuroscience is on ritual’s side.

I think this may take up more space and more time. But thoughtful decisions generally require more than a slip of paper! In discerning good from good, I wonder if relying on our artistic senses might help us find the heart’s calling. Yes! Letting go of the words and entering into the artistic expression of art, poetry, or music. I suggest setting aside a good chunk of time. Four hours or more.

The ritual might look like this

Sacred Space

Form a sacred space. Set up a work space. Bring to your space the things that ground you. That could be holy texts, symbols, flowers, photos of your cloud of witnesses, etc. Also bring to the work space the things you need to be creative. I’m going to borrow from SoulCollage(R). I am a SoulCollage(R) facilitator and think it lends itself here with a few modifications. The art supplies you will need are: magazines, pictures and photos; glue; scissors; cardstock (5×7 is easy to find, 5×8 is the typical SoulCollage(R) size), pencil, pen, journal. I also recommend having some meditative music playing in the background. Spotify has a meditation playlist that is pretty good!

Declare Your Intention

I say, in my head or out loud, “Before me, I have a decision between _______________. I am here to discern the good path.”  Write this down in your journal.

Do It! Embody Your Ritual!

Create a typical pros/cons list before you begin. On two facing pages, list out decision 1, pros, cons and on the right page list decision 2, pros, cons. When you are done, pause and check-in with yourself. Lay your hand on the decision 1 list. Do you have feelings of happiness? sadness? anxiety? Take a moment and write down your feelings at the bottom of the page for decision 1.

Lay your hand on the decision 2 list. Do you have feelings of happiness? sadness? anxiety? Take a moment and write down your feelings at the bottom of the page for decision 2.

Is clarity rising?

Wisdom cards are coming! Next, take two pieces of cardstock. Lightly write on the backside of each piece of cardstock one of the decisions. New job/current job; back to school/current education is enough; pizza/lasagna? (ok, kidding aside, I’m on a huge food thing right now).

Turn the cardstock over. Make sure you don’t know which is which. Mix them up. Shuffle them. Don’t look! Trust the process. The process for each card will be the same.

Choose a card. Place it before you. Start looking for images in your magazines, photos, or books. Start pulling out images that are screaming, “use me!” “I’m yours!” “Choose!” Start layering the pictures onto the card in front of you. Typically, we think of having a background image and a few foreground images. Cut and glue to your heart’s content. Repeat the process for the second card.

Return to your journal. Have two facing pages open. Look at your cards. Are they naming themselves? If so, write the names across the pages, one on each page. If not, write a description of the card. Maybe the name will come.

Take a moment and write down any emotional reactions you have to the cards when you are viewing them.

Now for the reveal! Turn the cards over and see what they are saying. Write your decision under your card name in your journal. Like this:

-cardname-
-feelings-
-decision 1-

soulcollagewhaleNow is the time to interrogate the card. With your potential decision in mind, put yourself into the images on your card. Look at the image. Become the image in the card. Now speak from the card’s perspective. Answer each prompt in your journal. Writing for about 5 minutes for each prompt.

-Complete the sentence. I am the one who ______________ . Write until you are left without words to write or until your time is concluded, your choice.
-Ask the card, “What do you have to give me relating to decision 1?” Again, write for 5 minutes or until you are without words.
-Ask the card, “What do you want from me relating to decision 1?” Again, write for 5 minutes or until you are without words.
-Ask the card, “Is there anything else you have to tell me today relating to decision 1?” Again, write for 5 minutes or until you are without words.

soulcollagecowDo this for each card. When you are done, hold both cards together. Has a decision settled into your body? Have you moved forward in clarity? It is possible that it may become cloudy before it is clear!

If a decision is clear, circle it. Or glue glitter onto it! Or decorate it!

Closing the Space

What feels right to me to close the space is a sacred time of cleaning up. Putting away the magazines. Washing the table if the glue got a little wild. All of that, within the time of holiness. Whole-iness. But having the cards and journal centered so that you are working around them, honoring their presence in the space.

At the time of completion. Turn the music off, face your cards and journal, and make a deep bow honoring the work that you have done and the decision you have made. Acknowledge the joy of a decision and the grief of letting go of the “what could be” in the alternative.

Read this:

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.

May it be so.

OK. This is a more complex ritual. But decision making is complicated. It involves our self-worth, self-perception, often loved ones who are relying on us, and resources that we may risk. A complex decision deserves to be honored. If you like your card that became your decision, you may want to keep it nearby to remind you of what went into your becoming.

Onward!

SoulCollage(R): http://www.soulcollage.com/

Deborah Globus/LaPadre’s link to creating ritual: http://www.lapadre.com/your-path-to-practice.html

Time article on neuroscience and rituals: http://time.com/4042834/neuroscience-happy-rituals/

Scientific American article on why rituals work: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-rituals-work/

© 2016, words and photographs, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

A Ritual for Touch

by Terri Stewart

Neuroscientists point out that touch releases oxytocin into our systems. Touch has several categories and corresponding changes on your body:

  • Handshakes and pats on the back actually release small amounts of oxytocin. Of course, we need to be clear with our permission boundaries and that the person is not hyper-sensitive to touch or has a history of abuse. Perhaps this is why passing of the peace is so popular in churches that practice it. The drawn out shaking of hands and hugging goes from person to person! Upping everyone’s oxytocin!
  • Touching someone you love actually reduces pain
  • Holding hands with someone you love alleviates pain and helps you get through difficult situations. They did this experiment:

One fMRI study scanned married women as they were warned that they were about to get a small electric shock. While anticipating the painful shocks, the brain showed a predictable pattern of response in pain and worrying circuits, with activation in the insula, anterior cingulate, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. During a separate scan, the women either held their husbands’ hands or the hand of the experimenter. When a subject held her husband’s hand, the threat of shock had a smaller effect. The brain showed reduced activation in both the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex— that is, less activity in the pain and worrying circuits.

  • Hugging five times a day has been shown to increase happiness
  • Can’t hug or shake hands or any of that? Massage has been shown to release serotonin and dopamine and decreases cortisol.

So there’s the science. I don’t think it is advisable to randomly walk up to people and start hugging them. So how do you design a ritual around touch? Or around hugs? Pretty sure this will take two people. And I’ll admit it, I am a non-touch person. I’m a little hyper-sensitive to touch so I generally go on high alert when being touched. It’s awkward. But I do like hugging a safe person.

Ok. Let’s see what we can do.

A quick research reveals to me that touching animals also releases oxytocin as does touching yourself. Woot! We’re in!

Sacred Space

To form a sacred space, I think I’d like a circle. Surround yourself with the things you love in a circle around you. Flowers, in a grove, books, pictures, art supplies, music sheets, candles, your gratitudes, or be in the center of a labyrinth…whatever it is that you love. And it doesn’t need to be a lot of whatever it is. Shoot, you could be in the middle of your favorite work space! Choose to be standing or sitting, whatever makes you comfortable.

Declare Your Intention

Today, I choose to reconnect with myself. To accept my body as a gift of comfort and joy.

Photo by Spirit Fire (CC BY)
Art by Spirit Fire
(CC BY), flickr

Do it!

Now, we’re going to travel chakra by chakra, visiting the body’s energy centers by direct touch. For some of us, our range of motion is limited. Adapt each item as you are able. Also, where possible, touch your direct skin. Take your shoes off!

  • Touch your feet (root chakra). The root chakra is for grounding and security. For some of us, our feet and ankles are weak or damaged. Acknowledge this while accepting the connection to the earth. Hold each touch for as long as you desire. Do a breath practice while holding your touch. When you breathe in, think or say “Root of life,” on your exhale think or say “Thank you.” Do this five or more times.
  • Touch the area below your naval. This is the sacral chakra. Sacral means sacred or holy and it also is the sacrum at the base of your spine. It is for relationships and emotions. This may be a difficult area for many. I have two c-section scars and of course, it is not as flat as I’d like. Set those thoughts aside. Do a breath practice while holding your touch. When you breathe in, think or say “Sacredness of life,” on your exhale think or say “Thank you.” Do this five or more times.
  • Touch the area at your solar plexus. This is for vitality or power. When singers sing, they use their diaphragm to give them power! When you take big breaths that reach every part of your lungs, you touch the diaphragm area. This may be difficult for those who are affected by asthma or even if you have a cold. Accept the limitation at the same time you hear its strength. Do a breath practice while holding your touch. When you breathe in, think or say “Power of life,” on your exhale think or say “Thank you.” Do this five or more times.
  • Touch the area at your heart. This is for love, connection, and balance. Let go of any short comings you feel and move into the gift of your heart. Do a breath practice while holding your touch. When you breathe in, think or say “Power of love,” on your exhale think or say “Thank you.” Do this five or more times.
  • Touch the area at your throat. This is for communication and healing. Let go of any short comings you feel and move into the gift of your voice. Do a breath practice while holding your touch. When you breathe in, think or say “Power of voice,” on your exhale think or say “Thank you.” Do this five or more times.
  • Touch the area at your forehead. This is for intuition and understanding. Let go of any short comings you feel and move into the gift of your knowing. Do a breath practice while holding your touch. When you breathe in, think or say “Power of wisdom,” on your exhale think or say “Thank you.” Do this five or more times.
  • Touch the area at the top of your head, or the crown of your head. This is for transcendence or enlightenment. Let go of any short comings you feel and move into the gift of the cosmos. Do a breath practice while holding your touch. When you breathe in, think or say “Power of all,” on your exhale think or say “Thank you.” Do this five or more times.

Closing

Let your hands come to a gentle rest in your lap. Breathe in, breathe out. Bow or tip your head downward. Breathe in, breathe out. Move your hands back as possible, tip your head back, open your chest area. Breathe in, breathe out. Return to neutral.

Namaste.*

Onward!

Self-Soothing Behaviors: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25628581

Translations of namaste: http://www.wakingtimes.com/2014/11/08/meaning-namaste-many-translations-one-universal-intention/

© 2016, words, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved; illustration as indicated above

A Ritual for Release

by Terri Stewart

Note: This is from my context, please release what you need to release and adapt as you see fit for your context.

Ritual for Release on the Sabbath Day

Social justice work can often seem to be very sad and disenchanting. You really do run into the worst of people. However, you also meet the best in people. Where they transcend what-is and move into what-shall-be. I find that Sabbath is necessary to sustain social justice work.

Sabbath from everything that I’ve learned is grounded in work-stoppage, rest, being in contrast to the prevailing economy, and holiness. Why do I say these things?

The recognition of Sabbath comes from the creation story in Hebrew scripture in Genesis. G*d does all this work creating the world and everything in it in six days. And on the seventh day, comes rest from creating. That is work-stoppage and rest!

The command to honor Sabbath comes down to the Israelites after they leave Egypt (the prevailing economy) and are called into a new life. So Sabbath life is in direct contrast to a productive life. Additionally, the commandments call for us to honor Sabbath and to make it holy. Not just rest, but honor and holiness. The roots of the word holiness include meanings like “to make whole” and “to heal.”

As I was ruminating about posting about Sabbath and all that it means to me to step outside of the prevailing production system, I thought, “I need a ritual that will help cleanse the seemingly endless supply of idiocy that comes my way.” And let’s face it, we all have an endless supply of idiocy that comes our way.

So here it is! Using the handy-dandy template from LaPadre.com (Deborah Globus):

  1. Declare sacred space
  2. State intentions
  3. Create an embodied ritual
  4. Close

Since this is a ritual for releasing angst and the need to solve social justice issues in order that Sabbath may truly be a place of being made whole, I think the sacred space should be in my home. Or yard. But definitely somewhere close by. I will do it in my back yard.
Things I needed to create the ritual:

  • Bowl
  • Pitcher of Water
  • Towel <–very important!
  • Yoga Mat (my yard is not great so I want the mat to sit on)
  • Something to write my ritual onto (I used my handy dandy Surface)
  • My favorite sacred poetry book: Women in Praise of the Sacred (all the readings except scripture readings are from this book)
  • My favorite sacred text (Bible for me): The Voice
  • My iPod to play my favorite meditative music:

Please use this is a guide to create your own meaningful ritual. I am choosing five readings-2 from Hebrew scripture and 3 from Women in Praise of the Sacred.

Everything is set and I'm doing the breath prayer.
Everything is set and I’m doing the breath prayer.

Opening:

Breath in / Breath out – Breath Prayer – at least five times

On inhale name your idea of God or Ultimate Transcendence, on exhale name the results you desire

Example: Holiness / Bring Peace

First reading (A reading that speaks to the issue of how we treat other people. Excerpted from Exodus 22:21-27.)

21 Do not wrong or oppress any outsiders living among you, for there was a time when you lived as outsiders in the land of Egypt.

22 You must not take advantage of any widow or orphan. 23 If you do oppress them and they cry out to Me, I will certainly hear them, 24 and My wrath will be kindled.

25 If you loan money to any of the poor among My people, do not treat them as borrowers and act as their creditors by charging interest. 26 If your neighbor gives his coat to you as collateral, then be sure to give it back before night falls—even if he has not repaid you in full. 27 You see that coat covers his body and may be his only protection against the cold. What do you think he would sleep in? When he calls out for Me, I will hear his cry. I am kind and compassionate as you should be.

Confession: I have heard your cry to care for your people. All the people. At the same time that I cry out against injustice, I am aware that I am inextricably part of this system. I am both oppressor and oppressed. I give my heart up today so that I may be forgiven when I am too zealous and when I am not zealous enough. Please forgive me.

Ritual Pouring: Pour the water into the bowl. Hold the pitcher high! Make it splash. It is meaningful water! Breath prayer: I am / forgiven. I am / forgiven.pouringwater

Second Reading (please substitute words as you see fit for your tradition, “The French Beguine,” 13th century, from The Soul Speaks):

Beguines who hear these words,
If life on earth
Makes you weep and complain,
Find your comfort in God:
Know that it is His will
That keeps you dwelling here below,
And the more your hearts burn with love—
As mine did, when I lived—
The more lovely to Him you will be.
It is the color in which He is clothed.
In this you will be like Him.

Prayer: I am here to rest in Gracious Love. Still my burning heart just for this day so that I may be refreshed, renewed, and restored.

offeringwaterRitual Offering: Lift the bowl of water to the sky, let it carry the meaning of your heart. Connect yourself, grounding in the earth, through the bowl of water, through the air, to the flame in the sky—the sun. Take in all the elements supporting you and your breath.

Third Reading (by Mechtild of Magdeburg, 1207-1297ish, “How God Answers the Soul):

It is my nature that makes me love you often,
For I am love itself,

It is my longing that makes me love you intensely,
For I yearn to be loved from the heart.

It is my eternity that makes me love you long,
For I have no end.

Prayer:  Let me be love, today and always. Let me unite with love, today and always. Let me walk with love, today and always.

Ritual Cleansing with Letting Go: Wash the waters over your face. Say a word of release for each washing:

Igflickingwaternorance (wash water over face quickly and then flick the water off of your fingers)
Hatred (wash water over face quickly and then flick the water off of your fingers)
Disregard (wash water over face quickly and then flick the water off of your fingers)

Fourth Reading (excerpt from the Gnostic Gospel: Nag Hammadi Library, 2nd-4th c., from The Thunder: Perfect Mind) This reading reflects the dichotomy of being oppressor and oppressed:

reading2Sent from the Power,
I have come
To those who reflect upon me,
And I have been found
Among those who seek me.
Look upon me,
You who meditate,
And hearers, hear.

For I am the first, and the last.
I am the honored one, and the scorned.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother, the daughter,
And every part of both.
I am the barren one who has borne many sons.

I am the incomprehensible silence
And the memory that will not be forgotten.
I am the voice whose sound is everywhere
And the speech that appears in many forms.
I am the utterance of my own name.

I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am modesty and boldness.
I am shameless, I am ashamed.
I am strength and I am fear.
I am war and I am peace.

I am the one they call Life,
The one you call Death.
I am the one they call Law,
The one you call Lawless.
I am the one you have scattered,
And you have gathered me together.
I am godless, and I am the one
Whose God is great.

Ritual Cleansing with Letting In:  Wash the waters over your face. Claim a word of life for each washing:

Ritual WashingLove (wash and hold over your face for a moment)
Peace (wash and hold over your face for a moment)
Mercy (wash and hold over your face for a moment)

Closing:

2 On the seventh day—with the canvas of the cosmos completed—God paused from labor and rested.  3 Thus God blessed day seven and made it special—an open time for pause and restoration, a sacred zone of Sabbath-keeping, because God rested from all the work done in creation that day. (Genesis 2:2-3)holdingwater

Go now in peace to rest, rejuvenate, and be restored.

Amen. (So mote it be).

What would you release?

What would you hold onto?

How could you use a ritual like this? On a special Sabbath day or in daily life?

terri

© 2016, words and photographs, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

Trespass

This is a series of haiku I wrote reflecting on people who trespassed into a bird sanctuary so they could get the “right” photograph. The photos were taken across two days at the same location. Both days, there were people stepping into the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge off-limits area. Hiking guidelines here.  Shalom, Terri.

 

footsteps trespassing
coastal bird sanctuary
seahawk stands guard

 

seahawk

disturbing the shore
stopping to examine shells
pocketing the forbidden

voyeur

ignorant touches
disturbing nature’s balance
the seahawk is gone

all_gone

Photo and haiku by Rev. Terri Stewart. Covered under Creative Commons licensing: (CC BY-ND-SA).

Reflections on a Snowy Owl and a Raven …

A description offered at vimeo:

The first thing to notice is that the owl is TOTALLY unimpressed. It’s not scared in the least, and the raven has no aggrssive intentions, but starts out being just curious- like: “what the hell is This!” So it tests – tries to get a reaction. But the owl still stays totally nonchalent. At some point the raven then tries a different tactic- it puts on its “I’m a big guy” display of erect “ear” feathers- usually used to show status in the presence of potential superiors, but here used also with a bowing and wing-flaring,which is used in supplication if there is NOT going to be a challenge- so, yes, i think the raven was having fun, and then also starting to have some respect, because this big white thing was NOT going to cooperate and be its toy. –Bernd Heinrich

I thought two things when I saw this video. First, how much the snowy owl is like my cat when he deals with the girl cats in the house. Second, how much this interaction seemed like the boys in juvenile detention.

I offer a haiku.

a sturdy perch
two rivals meet
detente

Shalom,

Terri Stewart

Heros Seldom Wear Capes

  • a pantoum

Heroes seldom wear capes
Flying through the air with ease
Knocking out evil doers
Champions of our fantasy

Flying through the air with ease
Holding the trapeze bar
Champions of our fantasy
Launched through the air

Holding the trapeze bar
Heroes seldom wear capes
Launched through the air
Heroes seldom wear capes

They wear white shirts
Stained at the collar
Uniforms of frayed edges
Almost escaping poverty

Stained at the collar
Eyes searching endlessly
Almost escaping poverty
Filled with determination

Eyes searching endlessly
They wear white shirts
Filled with determination
Uniforms of frayed edges

He overcomes prison
She becomes a nurse
Tattered heroes
Knocking out evil doers

She becomes a nurse
After being trafficked
Knocking out evil doers
Courageous hard work

After being trafficked
He overcomes prison
Courageous hard work
Tattered heroes

– Terri Stewart

© 2015, poem, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

Eli Eli lama sabachthani?

where were you
when the embryo
hatched and was formed
by blood-spattered hyenas
tearing hope from
limb to limb and
laughing gleefully
at the mockery

where were you
when the embryo
fell and love
offered a hit
of a crack pipe
covered in symbols
flashing through
the ghetto offering
escape from the
desolate heat

the hands that
should be reaching
out are cut off at
the wrists bleeding
sanctimonious tripe
in defiance of the call
to love the
least , lost, and lonely
while sentencing each
embryo to death

guilty rings through
the room as we
continue to bleed the
embryo out with
ignorance born of
fear and shame and
the lie of the only way
being my way standing
on the corner shouting
belligerently to
repent or die

revelation rings through
the cosmos as the
embryo marches the
guilty to sheol while
silent tears are birthed
wresting the stumbling
breath of hope into a
silent scream reaching
to the ramparts and
calling forth the final
battle fought with
easter lilies

Lily

©vPoem and Photo by Terri Stewart

Mentoring At-risk Youth

terri_detention_christmasThat’s me in detention on Christmas morning. I was teaching some folks how to make a selfie and lo! The resulting picture just captures what it means to work with youth in detention. The simultaneous holding of hope and the desperation that can only happen by arriving at detention in the wee hours of Christmas morning after running three church services the night before.

I started working in detention as a chaplain in 2008. That fall, I met with a young man named “James.” He had come into detention high on drugs. After detoxing and fulfilling his commitment, it was time for him to go home. The night before he went home, he and I sat together along with a couple other young men and played a game of Spades together.

As I dealt out the cards, I asked James, “What is the first thing that you are going to do when you get out?”

The answer I expected was, “I want to go to my grandma’s and get some food!” That’s the answer I get about 90% of the time when I ask that question. Or some variation of a food related answer.

But not this time. This time, the answer was, “I just want to go home to a normal family.”

I kept quiet. Kept dealing the cards. He continued talking.

“You see, if I go home to my mother, she will ask that I do drugs with her. And I just came clean! And I really don’t think I’m strong enough to say no to my mother.”

“What about your father?” I asked.

“My dad runs guns. If I go home to my dad, I don’t think I’ll live until the age of 21.”

My heart broke that day.  And I made a decision to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

That evening, when I heard that young man’s story and the other stories of young people at the table, I faced an epic challenge. How do you maintain hope in a hopeless system. You see, my undergraduate degree is in Criminal Justice. I know the national and local statistics around incarceration and its intersection with poverty, race, education, and mental illness. And at every turn, all I could see for this young man was further incarceration. That is, if he is just a number.

statisticsThe numbers say that if you are poor, you will be incarcerated.

That if you are a youth of color, you will be incarcerated.

That if you are under educated, you will be incarcerated.

And that if you have a mental illness, you will be incarcerated.

  • By the numbers, black youth are suspended and expelled at higher rates than white students
  • By the numbers, 16% of black students are suspended annually compared to 5% of white students
  • By the numbers, students who are suspended are three times more likely to drop out by the 10th grade
  • By the numbers, dropping out of school triples the likelihood that a person will be incarcerated later in life. 68% of inmates were school dropouts.
  • By the numbers, black youth are 4 times more likely to be in juvenile detention
  • By the numbers, 77% of juveniles sent to adult prison are African American
  • By the numbers, about 20% of the population of Washington is people of color and yet 49% of incarcerated youth are youth of color.
  • By the numbers, over 350,000 prisoners are diagnosed with “serious” mental illness.

But I do not believe in living life by the numbers. We are called to transcend numbers and to be hope for the hopeless. So it is a problem when we incarcerate those who are hungry. When we lock up the thirsty. And when we throw away the key for those we should be healing.

What do you do when statistics say there is no road to healing for this poor, hurting person but there is only prison? When the only safety net we have built is one that locks up and locks out the lost, the least, and the lonely?

And, what do you do when your soul confronts the difficult task of transforming just one life in the face of so many challenges?

That night, the night I heard the stories of lost youth and systemic failures, I wondered. Where is hope? My soul cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” My God, my God, why have you forsaken them?

I sat down and worked it out with God. We wrestled and I walked away with a renewed sense of purpose. A sense of purpose grounded in the theology of resurrection! New creation! God can make anything new. And walking in that renewed hope with me that day were anger and courage as partners. Partners that enabled me to transform my ministry from one person to a state-wide para church organization. And partners that enabled me to advocate for young people and eventually be seated with the decision makers in the state.

I was angry that any young person has to face the incredible choices these young people face and that gave me courage to stand in the gap with them.

Now, for me, standing in the gap means more than just holding their hand and patting it and telling them that if they “just say no” they will be able to make a new way.

The vision I had of standing in the gap has led to creating a program that has a state-wide reach to youth affected by incarceration.

These youth are our most vulnerable people. As much as we look at them as tough kids, they are hurting inside. There is this test, the ACE test. It measures Adverse Childhood Experiences or childhood trauma. The score is zero to 100. Zero is no trauma and 100 would be so much trauma they are probably like a bowl of jelly. They administered the ACE test to incarcerated youth. Can you imagine what their score was?

It was 92.

These youth are not just tough kids, but they are seriously traumatized and they need people to stand in the gap with them. That is where I come in. I developed MAP which is a mentoring program that stands in the gap with incarcerated youth in the state of Washington. And together, we, the mentors, can interrupt the cycle of trauma that is so ingrained in their lives.

Standing in the gap has given me the courage to engage with advocacy work that has led to my placement on the state’s Sentencing Guideline Commission where I am sure that I will be a lonely voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way! Make the road straight, raise every valley, and make low the mountains. Make it easier for our kids. Because then we will see the glory of each youth reflected as resurrected lives and our world will be transformed.”

We are called to transform the world through creating disciples of Christ. That starts with the lifelines thrown when mentors stand in the gap with youth.

by Didrik Johnck flickr.com CC (BY-NC-SA)
by Didrik Johnck, flickr.com
CC (BY-NC-SA)

This picture illustrates what I mean by standing in the gap.

The gentleman crossing the crevasse is blind and he is climbing Mt. Everest. Talk about overcoming the odds! He has a guide before him and a guide behind him. You might say that he was being mentored up that mountain! And note that it took more than one fabulous person in his life to get this accomplished.

Mentors stand in the gap with youth and help them traverse the most difficult terrain of their lives.

Mentors help youth move from leading a conventional life to a committed life

Mentors help youth trust themselves and build a conscious community

Mentors see youth as the best person they can be while realistically holding onto who they currently are. They see the new creation before it is even formed.

Mentors have a view of the world and a view of the potential within each youth that will allow the youth to transcend the events that place them in detention.

Instead of a life of busyness, they can live a life of meaning.

Instead of a life of consumerism, they can live a life of worthy purpose.

Instead of a life of cynicism, they can live a life of complexity.

Instead of a life of addiction, they can live a life of reality.

Mentors do that. For every child released from detention to a place without a mentor, my soul knows that their life is going to be harder, simply because there is nobody there. They need trained, competent mentors in their home towns to help them continue the hard work they began while they were incarcerated.

This is a very special challenge but one that we are steeping into. Kids need mentors. Whether it is interrupting their lives so they can avoid the school to prison pipeline or whether it is holding hope with them after they are incarcerated, young people need us to show up.

And let’s face it, mentoring can be fun. Here are some things I have done with incarcerated youth.

We went and saw Dr. Cornell West, we have gone bowling, go-carting, built gardens for food-at-risk families, and climbed mountains together. So maybe, in some very real way, we have been in the gap together.

The time is now. The time for your participation is now. We have too many kids that are counting on each of us to be holders of hope and transformation. It is time to multiply our mentoring power. Time to multiply happiness in our most vulnerable youth. Love. Full Stop.

Together, we can make sure that every child feels loved, every child feels valued, and every child knows that they are, indeed, very, very, good.

If you would like to make a donation to this worthy endeavor, please send a donation to:

Youth Chaplaincy Coalition
PO Box 18467
Seattle, WA  98118

We are a 501(c)3 through the Church Council of Greater Seattle.

Shalom,

Terri Stewart

© 2015, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

True Story

Children fight for their lives every
day. But this one child, she fought extra
hard to escape her home that was filled
with a drunken father and an absent
mother. So traumatic that at the age of
twelve she left. Living with

a man who traded sex for safety and
sex for drugs. She was twelve. She
blocked it out of her mind as much
as she could and took the path of
drug addiction. Using and abusing
until she was locked up. Living with

the man who caged her trading her
freedom for safety and freedom for
an education that she never received–
not even a GED was completed by
the time she left. Living with

whoever would put her on a couch
at the age of seventeen. Safety
abandoned and trading her body
for love that she has never been
able to feel for herself. Until she
was eighteen and pregnant. Surfing
trailers and friends until birth.

Children fight for their lives every
day and children of children fight
to find just one place of safety but it is
too hard when children are living with

children. No service came to bring
a car seat or food or education or
a future. The safety net has holes
so large that children fall through,
drowning. The hospital judged them
a drain on resources and sent them
home to surf one last night. Children
are no longer living with

children. There is one less at-risk child.

In Memory of Baby T.

– Terri Stewart

Yes, indeed, that kind of singing …

Music is an essential practice in my family. My dad sang. My aunt. My grandmother. And when I say they sang, I mean the kind of music that mournfully peels you off of the floor, props you up, and holds you entranced. Or the kind that lifts you to the sky while the clouds peel away revealing a glaring brightness that confirms that joy, indeed, does come with the morning.

That kind of singing!

My mom played the jukebox. I played the piano and sang a little. My brother carried the tradition in a new way finding his muse in the French Horn and in speaking the words of music as a DJ for public radio. Music. It was there all the time.

Then I had children. And I discovered music that will dissolve your soul. Together, with other voices in concert, I swept away by their music. Tears running down my face. Una voce they tore my heart out, reformed it, and planted it back into my body as if I was merely a tin man.

Then came guitar, ukulele, and flute. Music. There is an extra seat at the table for her. It is always occupied.

When my youngest came out as transgender in 9th grade, the biggest conversation we had about starting the SRS* process was what if? What if he had to give up singing? What if music left? What if testosterone changed his voice so much that he had no voice? Or at least, not the voice he was accustomed to. The voice. It had to go. That was terrifying. It had seemed that music swirled through his DNA more than being girl or being boy. But now, it was different. Being masculine was a life-saving necessity.

I say life-saving because it was. The cuts and scars that were being inflicted by his beautiful soprano and developing body were draining his spirit. The volley of notes that danced in his blood were landing like grenades.

There would be no music dancing if he did not survive.

Suddenly, over and against the children’s choir that had swept him away, swept me away, there was a terrifying drum beat that defined a new reality

We, I say we because hello, motherhood, entered into hormone therapy. The soprano was replaced by an alto and then replaced by a tenor. His voice is now lower than his older brother’s. He is not amused. Now they sing together. Two tenors harmonizing. A new rhythm.

And what a gift his music teacher was! He documented the discovery of his new voice. Recording the same song over and over through changes and octaves. Layering him into his own choir singing the most beautiful song I have ever heard.

I am me.

Music. It was there all the time.

Shalom,

terri

Colin singing one of his own creations at his recital. Sorry for the recording quality!

*Sex Reassignment Surgery

Colin Jon david Stewart by Terri Stewart
Colin Jon david Stewart
by Terri Stewart

© 2015, story/video/photograph, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

Sacred Space and Photography: Light

In my journey with photography, I have become more aware of light. The presence of light, the absence of light, how it causes reflection, my friend, Paul Jeffrey, told us once that he always turns the flash off, taking advantage of natural light. (I’m sure the rule is “almost always.”) I find that in photographing nature, that I try to stick to that rule and rely on photo-editing software to help me out if I need it. He also taught us how to make a faux tripod to steady ourselves when our shutter speed is taking just a little bit too long.

Light is a dominant theme in religious traditions also.

  • Christianity: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5),
  • Islam: “Knowledge makes you free from the chains of ignorance, and revives your heart, knowledge takes you out from the darkness of suspicions and superstitions, and gives a new light to your eyes. (Hazrat Abu Ali Saqfi)
  • Judaism: “I will say to the prisoners, ‘Go free!’ and to those who are in darkness, ‘Come out to the light!’ (Isaiah 49:9)
  • Buddhism: “Doubt everything. Find your own light.” (Gautama Buddha)
  • Hinduism: “One who kindles the light of awareness within gets true light.” (Unattributed)
  • Baha’i: “Grant that the light of unity may envelop the whole earth.” (Bahá’u’lláh)

The general thrust is that light is a metaphor for that which brings us to a higher consciousness or awareness, provides hope, guidance, and love. It is a beautiful thing when, through appropriate use of light, we can communicate a deeper exploration of these qualities—awareness of what is unseen, hope, love, beauty—a very real reflection of life. And sometimes, light lets you see something in a different way.

My favorite picture that I’ve ever taken of one of my children captures light and it seems, to me, to convey innocence and an essential quality of “child” that is so easy to forget. This is an old photo, by the way! And the picture isn’t perfect, but it still conveys a lightness of being that transcends the particular quality of the photo.

by Terri Stewart CC License (BY-NC)
by Terri Stewart
CC License (BY-NC)

How do the following pictures and their use of light point to something beyond the images captured in the photo?

Light Collage by Terri Stewart
Light Collage
by Terri Stewart

What do thoughts of light lead you to? Do you have a favorite photo that features light or the absence of light?

 

Shalom and Amen!

Post by Terri Stewart, 2014
Photography, CC License (CC BY-NC)

Sacred Space and Photography: Shadow

In Part 1 of this piece, I wrote about the symbolism in our religious traditions of light and used photography and light to show how we can point to something that transcends our understanding. Plato would say that the photo of sunset points towards the form of sunset—that perfected form of sunset-ness.

Plato’s Theory of Forms “described the common nature of all things in the world, not just of a table, for instance but of all the tables that ever were and ever will be. This Platonic form of the ideal table is eternal and changeless. It has an essential tableness, as it were, that exists whether the table is where you ate lunch in the school cafeteria or the one at a Paris café where you fell in love. In Plato’s famous allegory of the cave in “The Republic,” the things that we see on a daily basis, like the table in front of you, are merely shadows of the ideal form.” (https://www.archetypes.com/article/plato)

Any object can point towards the perfected idea of that object. And what we see in front of us is essentially a shadow of its ideal self (as no perfected form can be reached—saving this philosophical and theological discussion for another time!).

In photography, shadows are only achievable when there is light. Without light, no shadows. And sometimes, shadows can lead to beautiful pictures. When we handle shadows correctly.

Pointing Towards the Form of Tree by Terri Stewart
Pointing Towards the Form of Tree-ness
by Terri Stewart

And isn’t that true of life? We need to handle our own shadows correctly in order to have a more perfected life? Our shadows, like Plato’s cave, leave us living lives that are not quite ideal. Often, our shadow grows out of shame. Shame comes from unresolved trauma—something that we have not dealt with entirely. For me, shame is often connected to my body image. I remember, 30 years ago, sitting at the dinner table all of 5’3” and 120 pounds and being told, “No wonder I was fat.” And then crying into my plate. Logically, I know that 5’3” and 120 pounds was just fine. But that shame experienced at that moment is seared into my brain and I can recall the rush of tears that made me ashamed of my body. That feeds into self-sabotage of my embodied self in some ways and can lessen my general enjoyment of life unless I deal with it and learn to look at my shadow and bring it into the light!

I can use photography to examine both myself and my shadow. Selfies aren’t all selfish. You can use them to take photos of your shadow self, bringing yourself more and more into the light and into a fuller realization of our perfected selves.

Pointing Towards the Form of Terri-ness by Terri Stewart
Pointing Towards the Form of Terri-ness
by Terri Stewart

Someone said that photography is painting with light. It is also learning how to cope with shadows and darkness.  Do you have a shadow—in your photos? Can you peek into it and see how it points towards the fullness of life?

Shalom and Amen!

Feature by Terri Stewart, 2014
Photography, CC License (CC BY-NC)

 

Created To Be Included

pink hair, ponytails
outrageous make-up
silicone breasts popping
the buttons of a polyester shirt
rainbow scarf waving in the air
a neon-green mini-skirt
revealing muscled legs
in tattered fishnets
with size 11 feet
in 6 inch heels
created

brown hair, styled
like Clark Gable
lightly speckled face
from a long-ago shave
baggy Fitch shirt over a
naturally expanding chest
faded jeans worn at the hips
and a rainbow belt
with size 7 feet
in brown loafers
beloved

the bread of life
given for you
to live a life as you were
made and created
loving as you were made to love
the cup of a new covenant
given for you
to create a space
to meet the one
who loves you
included

In honor of Pride*

Terri Stewart

* Just a note about June and Pride.

June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York, police invaded this inn that was known to be inclusive and supportive of those in the LGBTQIA community – especially the poorest and most marginalized. The raid quickly turned into a riot with people being hurt.

“In 1969 Police raids on gay bars occurred regularly.  It was illegal to serve Gay people alcohol or for Gays to dance with one another.  During a typical raid, the lights were turned on, the customers were lined up and their identification checked. Those without identification or dressed in full drag were arrested.” (here)

For the first time, the LGBTQIA community fought back. And one year later, Pride was born as a remembrance of Stonewall and as a way of looking forward and imagining and fully inclusive world.

We still have a long way to go.

by yosoynuts flickr.com CC (BY ND)
by yosoynuts
flickr.com
CC (BY ND)

Darkness

Darkness

by CJ d.

Darkness is frozen in moment and time

Moments of existence in ice covered wind that presses on our cheeks, making our lips rainbows

‘Cause how do we know that they aren’t rainbows?

We say red and pink and blue from cold – but why not orange and green and yellow?

Life is too colourful to define itself in single handed monochromatic injustices

Time is so indefinable

Broken into bits and pieces here and there, floating about in the micro fraction of the universe that are our golden brains, shining through a light that blinds

Darkness is beautiful

There was a Princess, marching back and forth along her balcony

Fingertips digging into the marble of the railing that is dim

It doesn’t glow the way darkness does

And she makes her way forth to announcements of the utter most importance

Because she is a Princess, and that is what Princesses do

They speak words for their command, explaining the tithes that we give daily

People fighting for their freedom

People working at their long daily jobs

People playing on climbing sky scrapers

People walking down beautiful beaches, rosy in the arms of a friend

And the Princess proclaims this good

This good is the broken nature of being

Fighting for the existence of existing

Breaking for the love of loving

Falling in the joy of playing

Hiding and seeking in some crazy game of cat and mouse that the Princess just has to watch

And she smiles and waves, dances and flows about her ballroom in clothes fit for a Knight and stumbles

So focused on what people see of her that she forgets to just be her

Because sadly things work like that

And I, she, we are sick of things working like that

Darkness surrounds everything, swamping it in valley’s and shadows doubts and beauty

Beauty because we are all so different, and can be observed as different in the purity of darkness in an entirely different way than we can in the light

Darkness enhances differences felt by fingers, heard by ears, experienced through scent

Darkness causes us to keep our balance within our validity being pulled by the magnetic north to wonders of reality

Reality that shapes itself around the reaction, the shadow

Darkness

A young child is playing off by themselves

Not alone, but with others

Throwing around balls of love and life and relationships

Friends dancing around a symmetry caused by everything being timed

Timeouts are punishment

The removal of those who misuse their balls of darkness, of sanctity

And it’s misused all of the time

Flowing from fingertips to screaming words to pain and fear before it translates back into the meditative peace

This child is forced into the spotlight when they’d prefer to be in the darkness because they understand

They understand that darkness is the compromise of fire for self love and worth

Darkness is where one goes to not judge, where one can dance and scream and feel without waiting to be told to

Darkness is loving and thoughtful and surrounding

It’s encompassing

And in a world full of so much light, it’s the bringer of sensation

And fighting against the void

The void and darkness are very different

The void is the loss of everything and the gain of nothing while darkness is the acceptance of everything and the love of nothingness

Nobody is afraid of the dark

They’re afraid of the void

A boy is in his bed, terrified that monsters are under it, going to attack him or take him

And his hands are shaking and he fears the dark, vilifying it to become something it is not

Shoving with his mind to say that all darkness is bad, when darkness is just trying to care

Darkness is the universes caretaker

Loving everything, even when it decides it doesn’t need that love

So remember that the darkness is your caretaker in form of friend, parent, teacher, lover, sibling

And that everything is always loved

No matter what you’ve done

By Colin Jon david Stewart

Glow Stick by Terri Stewart CC (BY-NC-ND)
Colin Jon with Glow Stick
by Terri Stewart
CC (BY-NC-ND)

No Child Is Safe

In the year 2015, I would expect that we should have mastered loving one another by now. After all, we have had 6,000 years of practice! Unfortunately, this is not true. And it is the reason that we need to focus on things such as diversity and inclusion.

Recently, this was brought into focus in the area that I live. You see, I live in a super white area of the world. Washington state has about 4% African Americans. It is over 80% white. Seattle is on the list of the whitest cities in the US and I don’t even live in Seattle! I live in the privileged suburbs.

In these privileged suburbs, racism recently reared it’s ugly head. At the very same school that my son went to, 3 African American youths lives were threatened. Why? For being black. Simply being a person of color made these youth a target.

My son knows something about being a target just because of who he is. He decided to share his testimony with the local school board to talk about the issues he faced and what is and isn’t possible. And so, I share with you Colin’s testimony to the Northshore School District.

This is why we need to practice diversity and inclusion at every turn. This shouldn’t happen in 2015.

No child is safe until every child is safe. (written testimony below video)

Hello, my name is Colin Stewart, I’m nineteen, transgender, assigned female at birth, and I was a student of the northshore school district during my elementary and junior high school years. I decided, my sixth grade year, that I no longer wanted to deal with the seclusion and name calling I dealt with because of the intersections of my quirks, and interests, and decided being at a school the rest of my elementary class was not going to be at, was better than being at a school with the three friends I had. My logic being, at least the bullies that call me clown, freak, weirdo, and so on, wouldn’t be there. I could start over. I started my seventh grade year at Northshore junior high school, with high hopes of the friends I had always wanted, in an environment that was safe.

But nobody knew me, and I didn’t know them, and outside of a friend I made in choir within the first week of school, I didn’t talk to people much. I’m loud and outgoing, I love talking to people, but nobody wanted to talk to me. It didn’t happen instantly in this case. People slowly started repeating the phrases I was far too familiar with. Freak. Weirdo. Abnormal. Annoying. Lesbian. Bumblebee, because I happen to like the color yellow. I learned what it felt like to be tripped in hallways, and have our teacher hall monitor tell me I was in the way as I picked up my belongings, be slammed into walls hard enough that it left bruises, and to have a teacher tell me that he couldn’t do anything if he didn’t have names. I learned to say thank you to being treated cruelly, and that if I volunteered for lunch detention and then sat in the library during the rest of lunch, I could usually avoid a confrontation.

At the end of the school year, I didn’t rewaiver, and went to timbercrest junior high school for eighth and ninth grade. My experience wasn’t much better – with a week of school somebody asked me if I was really a lesbian. My life started to fall through the cracks as I struggled to maintain my studies and the few friendships I had. The last place I wanted to be while I was at home was school, not because I dislike learning, but because I was nervous of the next name, the next jab, the next time somebody decided they had the right to push my body around. I told a teacher at one point that I was being bullied and didn’t know what to do, and he told me, kids will be kids, and nothing happened. As I continued to struggle with keeping up with school while this was happening, a teacher pulled me aside, and told me, I was a failure, and that I wouldn’t go anywhere if I continued like this. Like it was all my fault.

In tenth grade, I left the school district after a few meetings with the school counselor at Woodinville high school, and told me there was no way she could make sure I was safe, even though that was the first year I was publically transitioned to Colin, presenting with my name, pronouns, and identity. I went to that school for three days, and within then, got called names I won’t repeat. I wavered into the Seattle public schools district and attended nova high school on capitol hill, which has a zero tolerance bullying rule. They make activism into a way of life, making sure that no comment about your appearance or gender or race, is just shrugged off like my experiences repeatedly were. The one time I was called a name at that school, I told a teacher, and within the day, the student was pulled aside and spoken to. He apologized to me. He had repeated scheduled meetings with a counselor about his standing with the school, and I never had a problem with him again.

The bullying and cruelty that is happening in the northshore school district currently, is not new, nor is concentrated to one environment, one group of people, or one school. Something needs to be done. Because I survived long enough to run away. But not everybody is that privileged.

No child is safe until every child is safe.

by Bronson Boehmer Flickr.com CC (BY-NC-ND)
by Bronson Boehmer
Flickr.com
CC (BY-NC-ND)

Shalom,

terri

Double Dutch

playing with god

double dutch

jump rope

swinging round

and round

the confusion of

ropes going up

and down and

both ropes circling in

contrary directions

beckoning

us to leap into the

flow

©2015, poem, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved; photograph, John St. John,  CC (BY-NC-ND)

Renew in Me

i sat in a pew

hearing the strain

of an ol’ time melody

singing “create in me

a clean heart, o-o-o

god” and i wondered

really? is it me?

does my heart need

cleaning?

each patch of

dust

grime

dirt

stain

does it need to be

erased?

forgotten?

removed?

maybe I will sing

a new melody

building on the old

wishing not for

a clean heart

but for a strong

heart

not for erasure

but for

expansion

not for the unsoiled

but for soil ground in

so deeply that it transforms

me to mud

to adama

giving rise to new

life.

…create in me a heart of mud, o-o-o God, and renew a right spirit within me…

mud maid
“Mud Maid” by Caroline
CC (BY-NC-SA)

Note: the name “Adam” in Hebrew scriptures is connected to the word adama which means earth or mud. So essentially, “Adam” is “mudman.” For more information on the Hebrew meaning of the word: go to aish.com

Shalom,

terri

– Rev. Terri Stewart

© 2015, poem and comment, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved; photograph as above

Words Into Action

It is well and good to reflect on the Divine Feminine, glory in the beautiful art, photos, poems, and texts provided by the Beguine Again/Bardo Group core team and guest writers, but we can also focus on putting our words into action! Together we can change the world by inspiring solidarity with the feminine, but also by encouraging one another to give our gifts, time, and talents to worthy charitable organizations. I’d like to highlight a few organizations that could use your financial gifts to create positive change in the lives of women.

Kiva

Kiva allows you to give micro-loans to people around the globe. I’ve created a team page for us! Here, you can target your giving to women if you desire. Micro loans empower women worldwide to create a better life for themselves and their community.

A sign from the Men Against Violence Against Women (MAVAW) project at the Live and Learn Offices. Photo taken by Irene Scott for AusAID. (13/2529)
A sign from the Men Against Violence Against Women (MAVAW) project at the Live and Learn Offices. Photo taken by Irene Scott for AusAID. (13/2529)

Stop Violence Against Women

A project of the Advocates for Human Rights, Stop Violence Against Women focuses on advocacy and mobilization worldwide.

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood provides healthcare for women and sexual healthcare for men in the US no matter their financial circumstances.

If you know of other organizations you’d like to put up here, put it into the comments! I’ll edit the page. And as a final reminder of the truth of women’s lives, I offer this, a Litany of Truth.

A Litany of Truth

One voice:
IT IS NOT TRUE that women should feel and experience that being a woman is of secondary value to the community.

All:
THIS IS TRUE that women are created women, the image of God, co-workers with God in caring for life, in struggling for the liberations of humanity and for a world order that respects each one’s dignity.

One voice:
IT IS NOT TRUE that land has to be robbed from women and their communities by transnational, profit-hungry companies.

All:
THIS IS TRUE that the earth belong to the living God and God’s people belong to the earth.

One voice:
IT IS NOT TRUE that women–and men–must remain divided by sexism, racism, economic injustices and imperialism.

All:
THIS IS TRUE that all women and men are called to be in solidarity with each other’s struggle for dignity and justice, to learn from one another and to challenge one another as sisters and brothers in critical and prophetic solidarity.

One voice:
IT IS NOT TRUE that becoming a refugee is an acceptable and inevitable situation for millions of women and their children.

All:
THIS IS TRUE that the whole people of God is called to denounce militarism, to challenge the root causes of poverty in the name of God of Hagar, who as a refugee was the first person who dared to give God a name.

One voice:
IT IS NOT TRUE that women should accept rape and incest, battering and humiliation, as the fate of women.

All:
THIS IS TRUE that Christ has come into the world to heal the broken community between women and men, to restore our sense of self, dignity and inclusion.

One voice:
IT IS NOT TRUE that young girls should not be given the opportunity to learn how to read, to write, and how to analyze the developments of their countries.

All:
THIS IS TRUE that everyone is called to respond to the gift of life and to the needs of our community with all our heart, all our soul and all our reason.

One voice:
IT IS NOT TRUE that sexual slavery, bondage and prostitution cannot be counteracted or eliminated.

All:
THIS IS TRUE that Christ has come into the world to overturn the tables of injustice, that women and men, empowered by the Holy Spirit, should challenge poverty and patriarchal culture.

One voice:
IT IS NOT TRUE that women and men cannot live in mutual and just relationships, respecting one another’s integrity and personhood.

All:
THIS IS TRUE that God the Creator has given us the responsibility and trust to care for all of creation in humility and faithfulness, to work and to love as co-creators of God.

HOLY LIVING GOD, The day and the night whisper your name And sparrows proclaim your glory. Make us by grace the winds of justice and the flames of peace in the world. In the name of Christ, Amen.

Anna Karin Hammar and Jean Sindab
Into Action: A Resource for Participation in the Ecumenical Decade

Shalom and Amen!

terri

 

© 2015, essay, Terry Stewart, All rights reserved

The Divine Feminine

So much of our languaging about the Divine is centered on maleness that it is easy to lose the feminine representation of the Divine. Especially in my tradition, Christianity. Over and over

  • God is God, not Goddess,
  • Father not Mother
  • Abba not Amma
  • Adonai not El Shaddai

It is sad. The imagery is there but centuries of patriarchy have taken the feminine away from the church. I won’t let that happen on my watch! On my personal altar, I have a feminine depiction complete with candle. It sits alongside my traditional Christian imagery, my little otter, and my favorite poetry book, “Women in Praise of the Sacred.”

I have a photo of her below. And I have to tell you, it was fun doing a photo shoot with little Gaia! I love her and the orange candle that she holds. Orange is the second chakra, feminine, creative, joyous, adaptable! We all have a little Gaia within.

But now, I will share one of my favorite poems from my favorite book with one of my favorite symbols.

Evening Star who gathers everything
Shining dawn scattered –
You bring the sheep and the goats,
You bring the child back to its mother.

-Sappho, 7th c. BCE

DivineFem2

What image of the Divine calls to you? Where do you find images that inspire? What sits upon your altar?

Amen? Amen!

Shalom,

terri

Notes on photo: Using my computer for the backdrop of gold sparkly stuff, I put saran wrap on the computer screen, put Gaia on a board covered with fabric, propped some flashlights so she had the lighting she needs, and snapped photos from a bunch of angles! This was a fun project!

© 2015, words and illustration, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

Slowly We Go

slowly we go

into the wilderness

naked and unarmed

wilderness

by Terri Stewart

Terri is the Online Canoness at http://www.BeguineAgain.com

Sacred Space In All That Is

I am not quite done with the reading I wanted to do to create the final posting in the series of Sacred Space in the body, so I am going to share this recent post I wrote over at BeguineAgain.com.

…I was, I AM, I will always be…

Really, that’s the definition of the Holy Name that G*d passes on to Moses. This infinitive form of the verb “to be,” makes me think of even more! Reaching my fingers back through time and forward to the future.

Couple that with the declaration in the book of Genesis,

Let us make humans in our own image! Male AND female G*d created them

Lawrence T. Richardson expanded a bit on this. Instead of our traditional understanding that would be more of male OR female, G*d created them, it is male AND female. He is a transgender, queer-identified pastor, someone who has been created both male and female and claims both. Pastor Richardson talks of transgender people being the epitome of G*d since they are both male AND female rather than either/or. Now, I don’t really agree that there is a hierarchy of being most made in the image of G*d, but I do agree that the great I AM is embodied in all people.

One of the things I love about physics is the discussion of matter in regular plain-old Newtonian physics. Matter is neither created nor destroyed. Therefore, the dust that we experience has always been, is, and will always be. The things we breathe and touch that make us sneeze fits, have always been, are, and will always be. We are all connected through earthly and cosmic stardust (to dip into Carl Sagan’s language a bit). We, through our connection to the divine and through our connection to physical matter have always been, are, and will always be.

How can I not feel holiness, sacredness, the divine if we are not all connected?

stardust shimmers

ten thousand light years ago

birthing new life

It is at moments when I reflect on all that was, is, and shall be, that I feel fully connected and grounded in the Sacred Space in All That Is.

from the Hubble Telescope Infrared Horsehead Nebulae
from the Hubble Telescope
Infrared Horsehead Nebulae

Shalom and Amen

– Terri Stewart (Beguine Again)

Originally published at http://www.BeguineAgain.com

© 2014, feature, Terri Stewart; Photograph from the Hubble Telescope, Creative Commons License

The Invisible Spiral of Violence

What Christ Saw from the Cross
What Christ Saw from the Cross

I am away working with youth affected by incarceration this weekend. I recently read the below meditation and found it to be moving. I hope you will also find inspiration. Terri

From Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
Center for Action and Contemplation

The Invisible Spiral of Violence

“If you cannot recognize evil on the level of what I call the world, then the flesh and the devil are inevitable consequences. They will soon be out of control, and everything is just trying to put out brush fires on already parched fields. The world or “the system” is the most hidden, the most disguised, and the most denied—but foundational—level of evil. It’s the way cultures, groups, institutions, and nations organize themselves to survive.

It is not “wrong” to survive, but for some reason group egocentricity is never seen as evil when you have only concentrated on individual egocentricity (“the flesh”). That is how our attention has been diverted from the whole spiral of violence. The “devil” then stands for all of the ways we legitimate, enforce, and justify our group egocentricity (most wars; idolization of wealth, power, and show; tyrannical governments; many penal systems; etc.), while not now calling it egocentricity, but necessity!

Once any social system exists, it has to maintain and assert itself at all cost. Things we do inside of that system are no longer seen as evil because “everyone is doing it.” That’s why North Koreans can march lockstep to a communist tyranny, and why American consumers can “shop till they drop” and make no moral connections whatsoever. You see now why most evil is hidden and denied, and why Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’ (Luke 23:34) We don’t.”

Shalom and Amen
Chaplain Terri

Illustration ~ photograph of opaque watercolor over graphite on gray-green woven paper circa 1886 by James Tissot (1836-1902) and released into the public domain.

RICHARD ROHR, OFM is a globally recognized ecumenical teacher bearing witness to the universal awakening within Christian mystical and the Perennial Tradition. He is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation. MORE

The foundational elements of The Perennial Tradition are: 1.) There is a Divine Reality underneath and inherent in the world of things. 2.) There is in the human soul a natural capacity, similarity, and longing for this Divine Reality. 3.) The final goal of existence is union with this Divine Reality.

– Terri Stewart (Beguine Again)

© 2014, feature, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved; illustration and book excerpts as indicated above