In my Christian tradition today is the beginning of Advent, four weeks of reflecting on and honoring the sacred and blessed dark out of which emerges new life. Four weeks of cozy-ing in, nuzzling with our own deepest hopes and dreams for all the possibilities of justice and joy, peace and abundance. In my Christian tradition those possibilities are humanized, personified, by a child in the womb of a 1st century Middle Eastern woman named Miriam (Mary) - it is the promise of all that is Holy and Sacred knit into the bones and flesh of her baby, Jesus, and every baby, and every bit of energy that incarnates into matter. Blessed are the mothers carrying the possibilities of our deepest hopes and dreams in their wombs. Blessed are the Divine possibilities that will emerge as Divine realities. Blessed are those who wait, who prepare for all that is possible to emerge from this time of sacred and blessed darkness. Blessed is the Darkness of Advent.
November post on the SageWoman channel at PaganSquare
Even though I was born at the end of the baby boom, one of the ways I know I am an American boomer is that I remember the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The shock and grief of it is etched in my bones and still quivers in the sacred cells of my body. I was barely four years old on that November day in 1963. I was with my mother, who was attending a tupperware party at a friend’s trailer near where we lived in the mountains of Northern California. While the women learned about saving leftovers, my father and my mother’s friend’s husband went out back for some target practice. I can’t remember how the news arrived - but I do remember the deep shock and grief of the adults, and since I’d been hearing gun shots so close, in my four year old brain, I thought I’d heard the shot that killed him. Grief and shock have a way of doing that, etching collective pain into our bones and jarring the very sacred cells of our bodies. My country (and many around the world) continued in that state of grief and shock as we, as Americans, gathered with family and friends the following Thursday for my nation’s Thanksgiving.
I don’t remember that Thanksgiving in particular. At that point in my life, and for many years thereafter, my family gathered at my Grandma Peggy and Grandpa Ed’s house every year. We also always had extra folk who were far from their families, either in actual geography, or in the landscape of personal relationships. I don’t remember that particular Thanksgiving because what I remember is all the Thanksgivings at Grandma Peggy and Grandpa Ed’s house. I remember the smell of turkey, sage, and thyme, and Grandpa Ed’s pipe smoke. I remember the soft color of Grandma Peggy’s Desert Rose dish pattern, and her pink and black apron. I remember the voices of joy-filled welcome that each person received as they walked through the front door. I remember the cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg on my tongue with each bite of pumpkin pie. All of it swirls as olfactory memory, flashbacks of vibrant color, echoes of sound and lingering taste, a deep warmth and joy etched into my bones and cradling each sacred cell of my body.
Years later my family and friends gathered again for Thanksgiving. It was 1978 and the center of hospitality had moved from my grandparent’s house to my mother’s. Again, I don’t remember that particular Thanksgiving. I just remember the joy etched into my bones and cradling my cellular structure, of all the Thanksgivings at the various homes where my mother lived and hosted our extended family. I just remember the cacophony of voices echoing between the kitchen where magic was happening and the living room, where a variety of opinions were being expressed and wonderful stories were being told. I just remember the shade of my mother’s lipstick and the sweep of her hair. I just remember the smell of garlic and onions, and Grandma Peggy’s White Shoulders perfume. I just remember the hugs from family of blood, and family of choice, and family for a day. I just remember the taste and feel of whipped cream squirting into my mouth, and hoping my brother and I left enough, after doing that several times, to actually have some on our pie.
The following Monday, on November 27, 1978 I took the Greyhound Bus back to college in San Francisco. My roommate, Diane, and some friends picked me up at the station. As we were driving down Market Street news came over the radio that City Supervisor Dan White had walked into Mayor George Moscone’s office and assassinated him, then went down the hall and shot and killed Supervisor Harvey Milk, one of the first and brightest heroes of our Queer community. My roommate had worked on Harvey Milk’s campaign. I and everyone in the car reeled in deep shock and grief. In those first moments the disembodied voice on the radio bounced through the car etching that shock and grief into our bones, jarring the very sacred cells of our bodies. Over the next few days we poured into the streets with candles and chants, marching from The Castro down to City Hall. The whole San Francisco Bay Area Queer community gathered in communal shock and grief. Queer folk and our allies in the whole country, feeling that shock and grief.
It is 2015. November again brings shock and grief. Around the world shock and grief again etches into bones, cellular structures are again jarred as refugees continue to flee war ravaged Syria. Bones again etched with grief as boys (some barely old enough to grow facial hair) blow up themselves and others in terrorist acts in Beirut, Paris, Bagdad, Cameroon, Nigeria…The global community reeling with shock and grief as we pass images and information one to another through the instant and ever present network of social media making us remember exactly where we were when we heard the news.
And it is again Thanksgiving week here in my country the United States. On Thursday my family of blood and choice, and some just family for the day, will gather at my house as they have now the last decade. I have inherited the hosting from my mother who inherited it from her mother. This Thanksgiving I will again smell turkey and sage and thyme, garlic and onions. This Thanksgiving I will again hear stories being told, and folks being greeted at the door, and opinions being expressed. This Thanksgiving I will again see the soft colors of my Grandma Peggy’s Desert Rose dishes and the shade of my mother’s lipstick. This Thanksgiving I will again taste the spice of pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream. This Thanksgiving I will again hold close people I love. In a few years I may not remember this particular Thanksgiving, but I will feel the deep warmth and joy etched into my bones and cradling each sacred cell of my body.
The warmth and joy can’t erase the shock and grief, but it can help us know Thanksgiving in the midst of it. Blessings on what is etched into your bones, what lives in and around the sacred cells of your body. Blessings on who and what you grieve for, and may you be blessed with thanksgiving.
Most of you know I am one of the Campus Pastor's at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. Our chapel service this week was in honor of Worldwide Trans Day of Remembrance (officially Nov. 20th). Statistically Trans folk (most specifically Trans Women of Color) are more likely to be victims of violence than almost any other single group worldwide. Trans Day of Remembrance seeks to lift their names and stories into the consciousness of the wider world. Yesterday's chapel service most certainly did that, and went far beyond that, holding space for a vision of actively changing that story ending, and lifting up the vibrant lives and work of trans folk in our world. We have a substantial cohort of trans women and men, and gender queer folk at PSR (most likely the largest of any seminary) who led us all in a chapel service entitled "Who do you say I am: Living Stories Unsilenced" echoing Jesus words before Pilate. It was a service about remembering, honoring, thriving, and transforming. Below is this stunningly beautiful graphic by one of our students, Rae Strozzo (in collaboration with a friend in Tucson). Blessings on all Trans women and men and gender queer folk - may your lives be strong and vibrant and may you be defined by your own stories of who you are! Blessings on those of us who are more (it's a spectrum) cis gender, may we come to understand your blessings and gifts.
Tuesday of this week in my country, the USA, was Veteran's Day (also celebrated in many other countries as Armistice Day commemorating the end of World War I on 11/11/1918). This week I am thinking about my grandfather, a Naval Officer in World War II who came home with PTSD and bought a bar to have a place to self medicate, because back then no one really understood PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). He eventually got sober and help. I am gratified that in 2015 we understand more about PTSD. Yet, as a country and culture we still are not fully seeing and treating WWII vets in nursing homes who were never diagnosed but are still having nightmares. We are not fully seeing and treating Korean War Vets who were never diagnosed but whose spouses, children and grandchildren feel the effects of their unhealed trauma. We are not fully seeing and treating Vietnam Vets who are living on the streets because their PTSD was never acknowledged and treated. To the vets from the first Gulf War, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, may you be fully seen and treated by our medical systems, by our political systems, by all of us who spend a day thanking you for your service, but sometimes fail to remember you live with what it means to be a Veteran (all the positives and the struggles) every day of the year. Blessings to Veterans of my country and all countries, may you be fully seen.
I was blessed to spend part of my sabbatical in 1997 in a small village outside of Morelia Michoacan in Mexico. As Dia de los Muertos approached the family where I was staying went into Morelia to the flower markets and got buckets full of flowers. The evening of November 1st we dressed in our finest clothes and walked the flowers, mounds of food and drink, and small things that had been precious in life to their beloved dead, into the graveyard. The whole village set up chairs around graves and someone parked their pickup truck nearby so that we could have music from the radio. Through the evening folks visited the graves of their beloved dead and the beloved dead of others, and told their stories. Late in the evening I had a sleeping child in my lap (I had become an honorary madrina, godmother) as the party and stories and music continued well into the wee hours of the morning. This night in 2015, once again all over Mexico (and many places where there are folk of Mexican and Mesoamerican descent like my own country, the USA) folk are honoring their beloved dead. For many branches of my Christian family, today is also All Saints Day, a time to remember those in their local and wider faith community who have died. Christian Churches all over the world read names, bring photos, light candles, give thanks for the lives of those who have died. Blessings on all these celebrations, blessings on the remembering, the story telling, the love that continues through the rituals and sharing.
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You can read the blog about my newest book project, "What's Remembered, Lives!" here...