Thursday, December 31, 2015

Frosty Morning and Flowering Maple (Abutilon) / The Last Day Of 2015

At 5:45 this morning when I went out on my porch, the temperature had dropped to almost 20 degrees, and the sky was clear.  High and to the south, I could see the moon and Jupiter.  The Big Dipper was overhead.  Venus was just above the hills.  

"January Stars":

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Nameless Day / December 22 / Love Itself / Holy Places

 From The Wisdom of Trees, by Jane Gifford:

One day remains completely unaccounted for in the Celtic Calendar, December 22nd, known as the "Nameless Day."  This is the extra day that features in so many folk tales where the story takes place over a year and a day.  On this day, when the King of the Waning Year was dead and the New King of the Waxing Year not yet born, it was the custom to fast to appease the goddess in her darkest aspect so that she would permit the sun to return to the world and the cycle of the year to recommence.  This darkest of days has neither tree nor name and is sacred to Morrigan, goddess of death and destruction.  Her name means Great Queen in Irish.  She appears in Arthurian legend as Morgan le Faye, sister of King Arthur: "le Faye" means "the Fate." This dark queen took the form of a raven and was feared and respected by everyone.

                                    "Love Itself"

The light came through the window,
Straight from the sun above,
And so inside my little room
There plunged the rays of Love.

In streams of light I clearly saw
The dust you seldom see,
Out of which the Nameless makes
A Name for one like me.

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then Love Itself
Love Itself was gone.

All busy in the sunlight
The flecks did float and dance,
And I was tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance.

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then Love Itself
Love Itself was gone.

Then I came back from where I’d been.
My room, it looked the same –
But there was nothing left between
The Nameless and the Name.

All busy in the sunlight
The flecks did float and dance,
And I was tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance.

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then Love itself,
Love Itself was gone.
Love Itself was gone.

From "Holy Places," the December 22nd chapter of A Winter Walk, by Tolbert McCarroll:

... A child's intuitive sense of the sacred often helps us understand spiritual fundamentals.  When my daughter, Holly, was almost seven, a fatally ill infant came into her life.  We all knew the child would die, but it was a shock when it happened.  Holly received the news one morning as she was setting out to school. She told me that we would need to do something before she could go to school. "We have to go to a place where people pray," she announced.  I walked her to a nearby Catholic church where a Mass was in process and asked if this would do.  "No," she said, "we have to wait 'til the priest leaves." In the after-service silence of that space, Holly somehow came to terms with the death.  I think she also said good-bye.  After a while, Holly told me, "We can light a candle and leave now." We did ...

Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice / Nisse / Tomte / Blue Herons

In December, when I was 11 or 12 years old, in the very early 1960s, my family flew from San Francisco back to Minnesota, which is where both of my parents were born and where all my aunts and uncles and cousins on my father's side lived in Minneapolis.  My mother had no living relatives in Minnesota, but we visited with her best friend from childhood who lived in St. Paul and with some elderly people, living near Hastings, who had been friends of her parents.  The elderly people lived on a farm and had an old Victrola in their icy cold attic.

Before Christmas, my father brought my sisters and me to a German department store he remembered from his childhood.  We were each asked to choose a toy.  I was drawn to a little man with a white beard, a tall pointed pale blue hat, and a yellow tunic over a plaid tunic.  He is over 50 years old now.

A few days ago, I moved him from the place he had been on my bedside bookshelf for years to a spot next to a book about trees on the top of the bookshelf.  Coincidentally, soon after that, a book I was reading happened to mention"tomte," and I realized that he could be some kind of "tomte," except that his hat is blue.

Looking through Google images of "nisse" and "tomte," I didn't find any that were like him, but I was delighted to find a photo of a "nisse" with a cat who looks a little bit like my Oboe.

There has been a heavy cloud cover all day today for winter solstice. Snow is not predicted in the lowlands, but from my porch I can see snow at higher elevations.

A few days ago, I noticed two large birds high in the sky, flying north.  Or are they flying south? Although the photo is blurry, I think they are Blue Herons.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

John Trudell's Vision and Wishes

It must have been in 1983 or 1984 that I first heard John Trudell's strong clear voice while waiting for a Bob Dylan concert to begin and during the intermission of that concert in Vancouver, British Columbia, and soon after I bought a copy of the tape he had made with Jesse Ed Davis:

Along with:

On December 8, 2015, I learned that John Trudell had died.

December 10, 2015 -- Open letter from the family of John Trudell:

“We know all the people who love John want to know about plans and how to pay their respects. John left clear instructions for his passage and for what he wanted to happen after he crossed over. He did not want a funeral or any kind of single gathering. He also did not want his family to write a standard style obituary or ‘toot his horn.’ He didn’t want to tell people how to remember him.
“His wishes are for people to celebrate life and love, pray and remember him in their own ways in their own communities.

Friday, December 11, 2015

December Sunrise / Starcross Wreath / Reflections / The Lady of Guadalupe

Many years ago, I learned about Starcross Monastic Community because it is not far from where my parents lived from 1974 to 1994 on the Northern California coast, and my mother was a volunteer there as part of her search for a sense of community during the last years of her life.  She was born in 1916 in Hastings, Minnesota, and died unexpectedly of a heart attack in Gualala, California, on December 3, 1994.  She used to send to each of my sisters and me a wreath made at Starcross Monastic Community.  The wreath would arrive during the first days of December.  After she died, I continued to order a wreath to hang outside my front door.  Because the wreath continues to look fresh, my tradition is to enjoy it there until Valentine's Day.

Because I am not affiliated with any particular religion or spiritual tradition, I appreciate this statement by the members of Starcross Monastic Community, quoted in part:

"At present we feel more authentic standing outside the institutional structure of any particular denomination ... Increasingly we reach out in response to others walking a spiritual path in the challenging circumstances of life and society. We feel there is a divine spark and creativity in every individual which requires respect and support."

From today's email newsletter from Starcross Monastic Community in Sonoma County, Northern California, here is a reflection by Brother Toby:

And the bird's song, and the people's song, and the song of life, will all become one.  (Hopi chant)


And then the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to all white Anglo-Saxon males” …. We have a problem.

A new word has appeared in our vocabulary “microaggressions” — it means something like low-grade insensitivity against minorities. University presidents are resigning, football teams are refusing to play, because of microaggression. And most important, students and others are hurt.

When Katiana sat down in class next to a white student he got up and moved to the other side of the room. Katiana simply sees herself as American. The other student saw her as non-white.
What in heaven's name is this all about! Didn’t we go through all this decades ago? 1954 — Brown v. Board of Education. 1957 — Little Rock Central High School, Rosa Park on the bus, Lunch Counters. Freedom Riders. 1963 — Medgar Evers murdered, 4 little girls murdered in a Birmingham church, 200,000 people marching on Washington. 1968 — Martin Luther King murdered. Did we not live through that and as a nation come out better?
Well, the trouble is that neither Katiana or the white student were born back then in those times of what some might call “macroaggressions” (I hate made-up terms!)
We are talking about racism in 2015. Where does it come from? The older I get the more I believe that these fundamental attitudes about how we see the world around us come from early childhood.  Bear with me for something personal.
1931. I was born in southern Mississippi. One Saturday morning,  when I was about 9-years old, I had a dental appointment. The dentist had his office off the balcony of the local movie house. My instructions were to wait for my uncle to pick me up when I was finished. He assumed I would go downstairs and wait. But when I came out from the dentist the movie had started. It was, as I recall, a Hopalong Cassidy film. I sat down to watch. I was not aware that I was the only white kid in the crowded balcony until several ushers came running up in a panic to get me out of there. I wanted to see the movie and I became quite immovable. There was some support from the kids sitting around me. Finally my uncle arrived. He was a well-known town leader and quieted down the ushers and convinced me to leave. When we got in the car he said, “There are some things you ought to know about.”  I imagine when most adults in our town said that they meant the child ought to know more about the differences among people. My uncle had something else in mind. The next Monday he took me across the rail-road tracks to a school for black children. We went inside. It was dark. There were no electric lights. There was no floor, just pounded down dirt. There were no books. It was not a happy place. After awhile we left.  My uncle was a practical man —  what we used to call a Southern moderate. He didn't think he could change the world he lived in, but he might change how one kid looked at that world. When we got to the car he simply said to me, “Don't forget what you saw in there.”  I haven’t.
I know an American journalist working abroad who says that the most embarrassingly predictable response Americans have to any world catastrophe is that we immediately turn it into “it's all about us.”  Brutal massacres in Paris by the same people forcing millions to flee Syria for their lives? Our response is to stop taking in Syrian refugees. Not that we were doing much of that to begin with. My friend says she feels like our nation basically wants to be a well cared for gated community with just enough “other” people to take care of the lawns.
On July 4, 1776 we adopted a declaration  saying among other things that we were all “created equal.”  Apparently we weren’t meant to take “All”  too seriously.
I live in a state whose population is 39% Latino and 38% white. This coming Sunday a good portion of those 39% will be celebrating the feast of The Lady of Guadalupe. The lady appeared to a young indigenous man in 1531. There were a number of miracles and the whole story had to be fitted within the Spanish colonial religious structure. But recently there are suggestions that the apparition contained coded messages for the oppressed people of Mexico. Her blue-green mantle was described as the color Aztecs once reserved for the divine couple Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl; her belt is interpreted as a sign of pregnancy; and a cross-shaped image symbolizing the cosmos and called nahui-ollin is said to be inscribed beneath the image's sash. Is this just academic daydreaming? I don't know.

But I do know that the day remembering The Lady of Guadalupe is an important spiritual moment to many of my neighbors. And in some small way I want to show my respect. We put out a picture of The Lady. I suppose the sociologists would label that “microrespect.”  But what the heck — it's a beginning.

Brother Toby

Thursday, December 10, 2015


Martin Luther King, Jr.:

All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.  I can never be what I ought to be until you are who you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.

(Quoted by Coretta Scott King in the foreword to Strength to Love, 1963)

Sunday, December 6, 2015


Check out Matthew's YouTube channel.  I subscribed recently.  The power of music.