The Single Garment of Destiny

“…I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.…”
––Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

With yesterday’s holiday, I am considering many aspects of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work. I am remembering the retreat that never was with Thomas Merton (as planned for the month of Martin’s death in April of 1968). I’m recalling the many ways in which his work reminds us what happens when we are silent amid injustices. I am thinking about how his work revolved around love and truth. And I am most focused on the many, many, many lengths our society has to go in the good work he was a part of propelling.

Many of you know that a lot of my work has to do with silence. While I am sure to address the issues related to toxic and negative silences (i.e. silencing our fellow human, the silent treatment, the toxic ways in which society minimizes minority voices), I also try to focus on good and loving silence––the meeting place for ourselves and our loved ones. In the same breath, I’ve learned that silences amid social injustices of any kind not only wound humanity as a whole, but injure our very personhood and limit our common humanity.

Exactly one year before his death, MLK Jr. gave a speech titled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break The Silence.” In this speech he shared: “And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak… Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart”

My spirit is stirred as I read these lines. What is burning within my own heart? What places in my life are love and truth begging to be spoken to? What wrongs cry out to be healed, moved towards justice, or pursued for change? What humans desperately need our voices, our presence, our standing alongside them?

“But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love?… So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”

––Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

May our burning hearts lead us to extreme love. May we all grow in knowing when to break our silences, when to listen, and especially the many ways we can more deeply love one another in this “inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” we call humanity.

“I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. … The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.”

–– Audre Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”

Thank you, Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. (1929-1968).

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(Another) Ode to Mary Oliver

That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?” (Mary Oliver, Long Life, Forward)

We’ve all been reading a number of poems by and tributes to Mary Oliver since her death on January 17, 2019. And, to be honest, that’s exactly what this is… Another tribute, another ode, another homage.

I’ve often thought of her as my spiritual friend––reaching out beyond the page, sitting with me in sadness, elation, and especially awe. Her writing has a way of pointing the reader to wonder in the most simple moments and profound ways.

I was on a lunch break when I heard the news of her death. It was raining and my mind was detached from everything at hand, so I opted to go be with her in some small way by finding her in a bookstore nearby. And, of course, we all know Mary Oliver isn’t found indoors. Her work is steeped in the great outdoors from her long walks collecting clams, to her undeniably sacred practice of paying attention.

There are plenty of things I think about when I consider Mary and her canon of work: I am drawn to an endless list of poems, prose, essays, and even her instructional books for writers and poets alike. But, in an attempt to be true to what this poet-teacher has taught me, I want to focus on how and where she guided me in paying attention. 

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

(Mary Oliver, Red Bird, Sometimes)

Mary taught me that when I fail to live headlong into life––and love, I’m as good as being breathlessly underground.

In her love and adoration for her partner of over 40 years, photographer Molly Malone Cook, she pointed to the many ways she noticed her. In The Whistler, she writes of her beloved M: “All of a sudden she began to whistle. By all of a sudden I mean that for more than thirty years she had not whistled. It was thrilling… I know her so well, I think. I thought. Elbow and ankle. Mood and desire. Anguish and frolic. Anger too. And the devotions.” And in Long Life, she says of her life with M: “The touch of our separate excitements is another of the gifts of our life together.” 

How do I love you?

Oh, this way and that way.
Oh, happily. Perhaps
I may elaborate by

demonstration? Like
this, and
like this and

no more words now

(Mary Oliver, Felicity, How Do I Love You?)

Mary taught me about how loving the world takes many forms, all of which take uninhibited attention.

From “Yes! No!” Mary declares, “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” And from her book Thirst, “My work is loving the world. Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird – equal seekers of sweetness… Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”

Mary taught me how recognizing the divine, alive in nature, isn’t just a way to live, but the only way to be more fully alive.

In her almost liturgically rhythmic words about nature, she shares in Morning Poem,” “each pond with its blazing lilies is a prayer heard and answered lavishly, every morning, whether or not you have ever dared to be happy, whether or not you have ever dared to pray.” And, in Upstream she writes, “I could not be a poet without the natural world. Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.”

Mary taught me the ways in which paying attention to myself can be an opportunity for growth and change.

From her short poem, “The Uses of Sorrow:” Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” And then, from “Wild Geese,” You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Finally, once again from Upstream, “Certainly there is within each of us a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours. It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others. This self is out of love with the ordinary; it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.”

In these ways––paying attention to love and the beloved, paying attention to the natural world, paying attention to ourselves––is not just about a life well lived but a life whose legacy is love. In her book Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil writes, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity…. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”

Mary Oliver’s life testified to what it means to live into that great prayer of attention. She quite literally walked the things she wrote, lived the things she spoke, and always paid attention.

So I just began with these little notebooks and scribbled things as I — they came to me. And then worked them into poems later. And always I wanted the “I.” Many of the poems are “I did this. I did this. I saw this.” I wanted them — the “I” to be the possible reader.

Mary Oliver in interview with Krista Tippett 

Thank you, dear Mary. Your courage in life perpetuates courage to live headlong in all of our lives.

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world

(Mary Oliver, When Death Comes)

Now, I picture here being reunited with her darling partner Molly Malone Cook as they wander the great outdoors of the unknown.

RIP, MO (1935-2019)

 

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When Letting Go Is Holding On

“My dishonesty with myself and others hinders the honesty of all humanity, hinders the progress of all people.” Journal entry on 2/12/12

In 2012 I made the decision to let go of some certainty in my life for the sake of exploring something unknown. I quit my job. I quit my salary-paying, insurance-giving job full of security and certainty so I could travel to the seventeen Cistercian monasteries of the United States. As someone who isn’t Catholic, this was a surprise to everyone I knew. I would say that this decision surprised me too, but as I went on doing what I was supposed to do each day, I only felt myself dying a million deaths. It doesn’t surprise me I took on such a drastic measure to keep on living.

So much of my life at the time was wrapped up in what other people thought of me and meeting the expectations meant sticking to the script. Quitting a secure job with a salary and benefits wasn’t just an unwelcome improvisation—it was dangerous one. And thrill seeking was absolutely not a part of those predictable characters’ make up.

Yes, I was open about my sexuality, but only quietly, only where I felt safe. Sure, I was open about my spirituality, but only to the degree that it blended in a room. Yes, I loved my job and the amazing people who crossed my path while working it, but it became mostly an uncomplicated way to pay the bills.

I thought I was “doing all the right things”, but as I did them, I couldn’t shake the nagging; the blatant certainty that there was more to this life and that it wasn’t reserved for the few, and that it might even extend to me. Fitting everywhere but belonging nowhere—it was no longer enough, and something inside me sensed my restlessness could only be calmed by letting go.

Quitting my job to pursue that which was pulling me from the center of my heart made me feel exhilarated in a way that I hadn’t experienced since the beginning of these piling expectations. The monasteries, their silence, their mystery, their unique provision of solitude felt like they could be an exception to the lack of belonging I sensed at every turn. As I gave more and more thought to this longing within me, the unknown abundance of mystery that was before me, a unique way of exploring my interior spaciousness, I knew I had to go.

And when I stepped inside these sacred places, overcome with a sense of belonging, I knew instantly I had not made a mistake. It was in these moments away that the focus sharpened and I could sense my place in the world more clearly. It was a space where the noise of any perceived audience’s approval or disapproval literally and metaphorically cleared from my life and I could hear the voice of my heart instead.

So, I poked my head into seventeen spaces bathed in prayer and talked with monks and nuns about silence, solitude and contemplative life. I didn’t realize until the pilgrimage began that part of this expression of my true-self was bound up in my existential and spiritual curiosity that had been a part of my meandering thoughts since childhood. We further explored topics related to social justice, the true-self, acedia, mental health, and community. My joy and curiosity could not be contained.

This strange pilgrimage was spurred on and then validated by Thomas Merton’s words in New Seeds of Contemplation, “Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves… They never become the man or the artist who is called for by all the circumstances of their individual lives. …They wear out their minds and bodies in a hopeless endeavor to have somebody else’s experiences or write somebody else’s poems.”

This idea of spending my life on the things that aren’t of me is something I have had to navigate in my own way. It’s a lesson that is never over once it is over. It certainly isn’t easy for me to be true to myself. I have to learn and then relearn nearly every single day.

I know, for example, that in my writing life there are many topics I’ve avoided for reasons I’d rather not admit. Reasons that ultimately declare the comfort of others and myself as more important than the truth and freedom of all humanity. Reasons that shun my inner spirit and remove dignity from my identity. I learned long ago on my pilgrimage that the danger in not being my true-self had a ripple-effect that was larger than just me. My self-expression, being true to who I was, affected other’s ability to do the same.  After all, we belong to each other. I knew then it was time for a change. It was time to let go of the world’s agenda for my life. And, it’s just as true now as it was then.

“Trust is very much about going beyond the guarantees; engaging into the future that is beyond what is known and seen.” A Monk of Mepkin Abbey

When I arrived home after nearly a half year on the road, I had no extreme revelations or clear-cut certainties to reveal. I only emerged with a new sense of listening to the heart of who am and an openness to the silences and the stillnesses that speak into that true identity. I began to let go of those preconceived notions the world had seared into me for years, I began to let myself unfold and go off script. 

“I don’t want to stay folded anywhere,because where I am folded, there I am a lie.” Rainer Maria Rilke

All of life is loving as much as it is a constant letting go. Sometimes that letting go is an initial step away from the noisy world into finding out more of who we are. And, sometimes this requires a grieving. A grieving of a narrative we’ve clung to or been told, or grieving a sense of certainty or ownership. But we cannot begin to meet ourselves without this letting go. We cannot begin to reunite with the wholeness of who we are until we strip ourselves of assumptions, predictions, and expectations. We cannot hold on until we truly let go.

“There is in us an instinct for newness, for renewal, for a liberation of creative power. We seek to awaken in ourselves a force which really changes our lives from within. And yet the same instinct tells us that this change is a recovery of that which is deepest, most original, most personal in ourselves. To be born again is not to become somebody else, but to become ourselves.” Thomas Merton, “Christian Humanism” in Love and Living

Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, filmmaker with a MA in Professional Counseling. Cassidy’s writing is featured on The Huffington PostPatheos and her website, www.cassidyhall.com. You can find her on twitter @cassidyhall | instagram @casshall | and Facebook cassidyhall77

Cassidy’s forthcoming book, “Notes On Silence,” co-authored with Director Patrick Shen can be pre-ordered here.

Originally posted on The Sick Pilgrim Blog.

 

 

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Creating From The Wound

I live in Los Angeles, the epicenter of self-defining artists. And, like most people in this city, I consider myself an artist. However, unlike most people living in Los Angeles — I believe we’re all artists in some form or another. I’m in constant awe of the way people create, perform, produce, and refine their skills. I see this in the visual arts, parenting, writing, cooking, teaching, care-taking, and most avenues of life.

In LA, I’m constantly bombarded with things that take me away from my ability to create — the time in traffic, the busyness of a day’s work, the notifications on my phone, the amount of people. Because of this, I try to hike a couple times a week. Hiking seems to be an activity where I process through things in my life — often to the point of talking aloud as strangers walk by me curious about my babbling. More often than not, it’s reworking a conversation and my place in it, sometimes it’s prayer, and other times it’s just a subconscious dialogue I’d yet to consider. This personal jukebox seems to flow most easily in a natural setting; the safety of nature guides me into letting it all out. This sense of safety is not only ingrained in our genetics but is also evident in our psychological interaction with uniting our bodies with the earth.

“We’ve learned over hundreds of thousands of years, that when the birds are singing, we’re safe. It’s only if they suddenly stop that you get a really bad feeling.” Julian Treasure of The Sound Agency via In Pursuit of Silence

While hiking the other day, I unknowingly lifted my right hand to the left side of my face, holding it ever so tenderly, like a lost lover would. I stopped, closed my eyes, and began to weep. After a few seconds of embracing this deep grief, I finally gathered myself enough to keep walking, continuing to cup my own face as if I wasn’t alone, as if I was someone’s beloved, as if she was with me. And, as these moments turn out, I was indeed alone, on a trail, walking by strangers as I held my own face. And just how many times have I found myself grazing my own hand, twisting my own rings, comforting myself? More often than I’d like to admit, but less often than I’d like to feel. 

This alienated agony we all face reminds me of the bottomlessness of my need to belong. A human need that we all know so well. That the depth of my longing is quite simply a part of my being, a part of how I was created, a part of my insatiable thirst for finally feeling home.

“…The normal way never leads home.” John O’Donohue

I’ve often considered one of the few certainties of our lives (as if there were any actual certainties in life) to be found in our relationships. Because, let’s face it, this woundedness demands a sense of tangible security. A security that no human ought to be made responsible to carry for us — both because it is beyond human possibility, and as we well know — the pain never dissipates. The cracks never fill. Belonging feels momentary. Home is never really found. It is eased, comforted, soothed — but it is the precisely the agony of these stirrings that call us to our work. And that is the artist’s response. That is the response of the creative that leans into her image as being made in the image of her creator. That is the moment where we become the artist and create our work. The work so deeply intertwined with eternity — the work that meets the infiniteness of our fellow humans because it comes from the infinite broken-heartedness of our own being.

“We all have wounds. We all are in so much pain. It’s precisely this feeling of loneliness that lurks behind all our successes, that feeling of uselessness that hides under all the praise, that feeling of meaninglessness even when people say we are fantastic—1that is what makes us sometimes grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give.” — Henri Nouwen

Our hearts are bottomless pits that no human can fill. But, that is a gift. A gift that must be poured out in the creative work. A gift that requires constant courage and vulnerability of the self. The artist points to eternity because she creates from an eternal emptiness, woundedness, and ache.

These are the things that keep the artist alive. Tenderness. Intimacy. Love. Connection. Community. There are certainly times a friend’s touch can reignite us. There are moments a companion’s gaze can reinvigorate us. And there are seconds our own hand on our face might remind us that we do indeed belong, if only to ourselves. These are the moments that must be recalled time and time again so that we might stay afloat and keep creating.

“Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.” — Audre Lorde

“…But I believe that loneliness is something essential to human nature; it can only be covered over, it can never actually go away. Loneliness is a part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart.” — Jean Vanier

This piece was originally posted on the Sick Pilgrim Blog.

 

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“Cassidy Hall found silence in an Iowa monastery and brought her discoveries to a new documentary” Des Moines Register

“A cricket chirped in the monastery’s library. That and the swish of a turned page, Thomas Merton’s “New Seeds of Contemplation,” was about it for sound.

Cassidy Hall stopped on page 81. Merton did not write on the absence of sound on that page but the abyss of solitude in the soul: “You do not find it by traveling but by standing still.”

Hall scrambled to write it down, as if it was a new line she had overlooked while reading the book three years ago when the direction of her life changed, when she took off around the country to seek silence in her soul. She would, in fact, travel great distances to learn how to be still.

Hall, 31, quit her job as a therapist in Ames not long after reading the book. She called the New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque, where monks have lived in the Trappist monastery since 1849 in long periods of silence and contemplative prayer. She met Father Alberic Farbolin there and spent long periods talking with him about the infinite possibilities in stillness…”

Read the rest of The Des Moines Register feature article “Ames native goes on quest for silence” by Mike Kilen here.

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Photo by Rachel Mummey of The Des Moines Register

Faith and Doubt in the Labyrinth

I am easily led to anxiety in unfamiliar situations. I don’t like to do things with other people, and though I recognize the necessity in community, I’d almost always prefer to go about my day on my own, for comfort’s sake. Like most of us, I like certainty. Like most of us, I realize life isn’t very certain.

While walking a labyrinth with a group of friends last week, I was brought to a place of holding this uncertainty in a new way. In our preparation to walk, we reminded one another that the walk is not a maze, and no matter how lost we may feel at any time, we aren’t lost at all — as long as we keep our eyes on the path under us. We read aloud, “there’s no wrong way to walk the labyrinth.”

My anxiety led me to jumping in the labyrinth as soon as I possibly could, keeping only a few things in mind from our previous discussion. I chose to walk in with my hands down, symbolically releasing all that was hindering and holding me back — the heaviness that has been insistently upon my mind and heart in recent times. And as I sauntered into the center I recalled the only other thing I retained from our discussion — that the 6th petal in the center represents the unknown, and I was darting for it because that’s all I did know.

“Fear of the unexplainable has not only impoverished our inner lives, but also diminished relations between people; these have been dragged, so to speak, from the river of infinite possibilities and stuck on the dry bank where nothing happens.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

…Read the rest of my guest post at The Sick Pilgrim Blog.

A Poetic Hope

“I don’t care to wake up in the morning without hope. Hope is a survival mechanism.” Norman Lear, Producer

I’ve been sleeping more than I usually do, and not because I need it. I’m waking up every day to the latest news alerts reminding me of our country’s status and that things can dramatically change overnight. Various forms of fatigue are taking over faster than we can define them: internet fatigue, news fatigue — there’s a new reason for exhaustion every day if only just for the need to stay informed. My tired eyes scrolling through the day’s news are about as slothful as my hope feels. And this innocent gaze into hope reminds me of a man at the Los Angeles Airport protest last week who was carrying a sign that read, “Praying With Our Legs.” Hope may be innocent, but it is not ignorant, and it is never inactive.

Still, our days are spent helplessly thrashing towards countless causes of great urgency that seem beyond manageable. The many tasks at hand seem innumerable and our collective flailing towards “what now” is so scattered that we’re left far more hopeless than hopeful. What does hope look like now when the urgency of so many calls leaves us floundering and spreading ourselves thin? What does hope look like when it’s drenched in despair and feels more hopeless than hopeful?

Hope is more like poetry, and our lives are far more poetic than we think.

The hope of hope itself is found in our ability to sketch it without defining it, as Audre Lorde said, “Poetry is an absolute necessity of our living because it delineates.” In this inexplicable mystery, hope allows me to move from fear to freedom quite simply by knowing there is something better. That something I may define with explicit clarity some days and only sense as a weeping ache in the direction of desire on other days.

“The hope that rests on calculation has lost its innocence.We are banding together to defend our innocence.” Thomas Merton, Message To Poets, 1964

Innocent hope is beneficial. It leaves room for evolving towards better, beyond the goodness we can see on these foggy days. Of course, this all sounds nice, but what does a poetic hope really mean without specific stances? What does such a hope decipher without clear proclamations against what is innately wrong? Hope may be innocent, but it is not ignorant, and it is not inactive.

Poetry often means what I need it to. I can pick up Mary Oliver and weep over lost love while maintaining love exists; I can walk through the words of Walt Whitman and predict a tone that is in unison with my own. Yet there remains a core to these poems – a style in the writing, a unified voice with nature, a spiritual timbre in the pauses. Poetic hope heeds the wisdom of those who have gone before us; it listens to those who have been in struggle longer and recognizes these are not newborn war cries.

“Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.” Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

Hope listens. It is vigilant to the cries of others, cries it may have previously ignored — but hope humbles itself to embrace the call of the whole. At the end of the day, we cannot be about hope if we are not about our fellow humans. So this is my war cry, a poetic hope. A hope that heeds the notes of those who have been here before, a hope that finds my entry points across the urgent calls, a hope that educates and moves in the ways of love, a hope that is active, a hope that is poetic, a hope that is truly hopeful. Hope may be innocent, but it is not ignorant, and it is never inactive.

“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” Thomas Merton, in a letter to Jim Forest, 1966, reproduced in The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters by Thomas Merton

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Embracing Winter

 

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” Albert Camus

I’ve had a disdain for winter for as long as I can remember. When I was a child in Iowa, my older sister could get me to go outside only by explaining an exciting game we were going to play in the blistering cold. Her games usually involved making food – pizzas in the ground, snow cones in my hands, or building something else completely impossible. But every time, just as soon as the negative temperatures grazed my face, my imagination would halt and lay dormant against the frigid ground. I’d quickly become frustrated, irritated, and just wanted to go inside where it was safe and warm.

Recently, I found myself in an emotional and literal winter. While home visiting family and friends in the midwest, I was simultaneously drudging through my own difficult emotions as the first snowfalls arrived. One day, while shoveling the snow with a friend, I managed to conjure up a few words alongside my sarcastic smile, “thank you for teaching me to love winter again”. These synchronized encounters of winter have challenged me to consider winter as something I could learn to love, even if only because it’s here.

I’ve tried, like so many of us have, to enjoy my winter. To let it be and behold it for the miracle that it is. To cherish the snow falling as if I’m getting to see a snow globe live; to move through my emotional pain and accept it just as I am. This has proven much more difficult than I ever imagined. It’s much easier to despise the winter or suffer through it knowing spring is imminent, but what if it’s not? What if this is the winter that spring never enters into? What if these are the sorrows that never go away?

Though contrasting seasons can assist us in embracing the one that is present, what if a contrast never comes again? I so often hear and tell myself to live here and now – that the day before me is all I have, and I wonder what it might look like if I truly lived like winter is all I had? What if I basked in the freezing temperatures and reveled in the thoughts of snow? What would it feel like to constantly be okay with a flow of tears and an openly aching heart? Loving winter requires a vulnerability I’m still unfamiliar with.

It is certain that in my figurative winter, I’ve been opened up in a way I never knew possible. The rawness of my spirit has forced in a light often too bright to stand — but in my openness, it keeps shining in. Though this can be a painful experience and usually makes me want to dive deeply into hibernation, I’m managing to stay outside longer. I’m learning to be with the light of day. As it always is, getting in touch with my own soreness has made me more aware of those in pain around me. I find myself all the more often sitting side-by-side with those in need as we watch the snow fall together. Then, in our togetherness we become ready to shovel our neighbors out and play as best we can in the hideous bone-chilling cold.

For one of the first times in my life, I’m listening to the exciting games of winter and joining in their fun, doing my best to forget the pain of the wind against my face, doing my best to be here, now. Sometimes, or usually, my laughter is in vain, and my cheer is fake – but I’m still going outside and doing my best.

At the end of the day I know winter is a sure sign of spring, but it is still worthy of my imperfect effort to enjoy – especially knowing there are so many already out there scooping the sidewalks of strangers, just so we can all play.

“The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.” Parker J. Palmer

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Ames, Iowa (Photo by Cassidy Hall)

The Voice of the Heart

Listening to the voice of my heart has never come easy for me. I’m usually quick to assume a present feeling is final, an agony is forever, or that all of my questions should have answers and answers NOW. Yet, I know better. And, the more I grow through those fleeting assumptions–the more I find myself truly pausing and listening to the utterances of my heart–the more I’m truly in touch with those parts of myself that so softly speak my own truth.

…Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final…” Rilke, Book of Hours I, 59

I’ve found sacred pauses to buoy up my ability to hear those quiet whispers of myself: from going to monasteries, to turning off my car radio, and even truly sitting still in order to tend to “nothing”. Most recently, I returned from my second visit to Snowmass Monastery in Colorado where through the solitude and silence I was once again brought face to face with that interior whisper of who I am. Though the clarity is never striking or certain, it seems to offer a meeting place with the great unknowns and mysteries that somehow always know more, if even unspoken.

On this occasion to Snowmass Monastery, I arrived for more than just a notation on pilgrimage or for space and time away. I was attending the solemn profession of monastic vows that my friend, Brother Aaron, was about to take. He’d been a monk now for nearly eight years and was ready to make his vows of stability, obedience, and conversion of manners (Trappist/Cistercian Monastic vows*). Though I hadn’t seen him for nearly three and a half years, we’d been in touch via letters nearly every week since our initial meeting in 2013.

Much like all of my monastic trips, I settled in and rested for a moment before taking a familiar saunter into the church and meander around the accessible monastic grounds. Snowmass Monastery’s bookstore was a special stop for me to make, as it was where I’d met Brother Aaron nearly three and a half years ago. There, I sat on a bench, admired the new collection of poetry, and breathed in the beginning of a precious friendship, a sacred space of growth, and a familiarity with knowing I’m right where I should be in this very moment.

Just as I began making my way out of the store, a strangely familiar yet unrecognizable voice called out from the lawn near the bookstore, “Cassidy?” It could only be one person, someone that could know me so well to know my demeanor and recognize me by way of just that. Sure enough, it was Brother Aaron, and I finally received the true to word sign-off on each of his letters, “Big Hug”.

As we made our way back towards the guesthouse, we talked about all the friends and family pouring in from all over the map to see him on his special day. He spoke about how he was deeply moved by this and joyfully overwhelmed with all the love he was encountering. He explored with me the meaning of his choice in vocation, his decision to move forward with vows, and his sense of overflowing love with all those from his life who had come together for this important day. He told me that it seemed, “the closer I get to love in my own heart, the closer love comes to me.” That as he continued to be true and loving towards himself and love in his own life: his calling, his vocation, his personal truth–the overwhelming way in which love came to him left him speechless.

These profound words fastened to my attention throughout my time there and beyond – two weeks later they’re still searing into my being in a way that elevates my curiosity of what it really means to be true to oneself and one’s calling or vocation in life. How can one listen and be true to the heart’s quiet breathings, loud speakings, and miscellaneous messages in-between?

This dear monk has taught me time and time again of the great love we’re all capable of giving and receiving in our own unique ways and through our own unique vocations, but coming around to what that means for me certainly continues to evolve, as it does for each individual. Seeing his world come together in a way that renewed and fortified his own view on this was wondrous. As he was following his truth, listening to his call, exploring his heart – love flowed in from around the world for him, literally and figuratively.

Needless to say, I won’t soon forget seeing the solemn profession of monastic vows by my dear friend Brother Aaron. I can only hope to continue to strive towards those sacred pauses that continue to be a meeting place with the voice of my heart.

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Temescal Gateway Park, photo by Cassidy Hall

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*For more about Cistercian Spirituality, check out author Carl McColman’s Befriending Silence.

I Wasn’t Ready To Write This

Love alone could waken love.” Pearl S. Buck

There are moments in life that I won’t be ready for. That doesn’t mean they won’t happen. That doesn’t mean I should sit back and do nothing. I wasn’t ready to write this.

This isn’t another article about names in politics; this is an article about you and me.

The hatred and violence in the world today (as if this were a new thing) is beyond my ability to fathom. It bears the infinite weight of endless agony prompted by fear, self-hatred, other-hatred, disoriented religions, and a reckless abandonment of anything associated with love.

Where are we and what are we doing here?

It is important to note that situations and experiences cannot be compared, for none of them are the same. Each of us relates differently to each of the things happening in the world precisely because we bring our own lenses and our own experiences to them. My lens is one of ignorance, privilege, whiteness, and a very clear sense of my lack of experience with discrimination and/or being in unjust situations.

However, that doesn’t make any one of us exempt from the human race. And if I see a brother or sister in the human race hurting or in danger, how is it not my responsibility to speak up, stand up, and do my part to help love grow where it has died? How is it not my responsibility to stand with, near, or in front of those hurting to remind them the importance of their very lives? Every ounce of love-oriented humanness lost, especially unlike me, diminishes all of our lives and all of our abilities to live out who we are.

I am therefore not completely human until I have found myself in my African and Asian and Indonesian brother because he has the part of humanity which I lack.” Thomas Merton 

Names should be spoken. The names of victims, the names of movements, the names of those who need us to keep their balance, and whose eyes we need to keep ours. These truths and beyond deserve to be spoken:

Black lives matter. No one should wake up in fear just because of the color of their skin.

The LGBTQIAA community deserves the right to live their lives openly and without fear.

Muslims deserve to practice openly and peacefully without judgments or assumptions.

And, certainty, this list goes on and on.

If one cannot get a grip on saying any of those sentences because they feel all lives matter or because they disagree with Islam or being gay, then they’re missing the point. We say these things precisely because all lives matter; we say these things because we are less whole when our fellow human is in danger physically, emotionally, or otherwise. And, it is time to listen and time to stand with these lives that are in danger.

Listen. Speak. Stand.

I have never felt so strongly in my life that our silence in such situations only arms us with the precise violence that created these problems in the first place. Some of us fear our own stance — that we might lose friends or go into a rabbit hole of discussions with the “other side”.

Do I want to live a life of love? Then, there’s only one “side” and only one clear evident stance to take. To stand in love with my fellow human beings.

How many times have I hindered my love and compassion because I was worried what others might think? Towards lovers, friends, family, or someone different from me? Countless times. Even now, as my black friends are hurting beyond words, my police officer friends put on their uniform trembling, my Muslim friends attempt to discontinue lies being told about them time and time again, and so on.

Do we enjoy being able to walk down the street without fear of being shot? So do our neighbors. Do we like being able to openly love whom we love? So do our neighbors. Do we appreciate being able to openly express our religious beliefs without fear of discrimination, hatred, or violence? So do our neighbors. Do we like being able to do our job peacefully? So do our neighbors.

Neighbors. Whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together. We must listen, weep, speak up, and stand up for more than just our own wounds. We must recognize that we share the same wounds – whether I had a part in creating yours or I simply see it; I have a shared responsibility as a fellow human to work towards healing.

Some days I back off of saying something thinking it will pass. Some days I’m so worried about looking good or hoping others will just feel better.

But our silences do not look good and they make no one feel better. Our silences in matters of hate, violence, bullying, and negativity only give power to the oppressor and make the oppressed feel more and more alone.

The world is a scary place. And, we need each other. We need examples of people being who they are in love. We need people to stand up next to their alienated friends and co-workers as they expose parts of themselves that may be difficult. We need to wander into life hand-in-hand with those different from ourselves. We need more compassion and understanding. We need to look at one another in the eye as the neighbors that we already are. We need hope. And hope is not vain optimism. Hope is a weary voice that keeps speaking truth. Hope is our continual emergence in standing with love, in love.

Hope will not be silent…” Harvey Milk

There are moments in life that you won’t be ready for. That doesn’t mean they won’t happen. I wasn’t ready to write this.

I may be wrong, but maybe Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t “ready” to spend his life on the civil rights movement, but he knew something needed to change. Maybe Gandhi wasn’t “ready” for a hunger strike, but he knew that was his part to promote love. Perhaps, Harriet Tubman wasn’t “ready” to help slaves into freedom, but who else was going to do it? And possibly Susan B. Anthony wasn’t “ready” to be the face of the women’s suffrage movement, but she simply stood up for what was right.

I know I can listen, speak, stand, and will continue to. I know I can weep, and will continue to. Whether alone, in the company of loved ones or strangers; our sadness, outrage, and most importantly our aligned stance disarms us into a unified voice that cannot be denied.

Love evokes hope; hope evokes love. And both tell me to stand. They tell me to stand and be myself and recognize those doing the same or needing someone to rise up next to. They tell me to stand near them, to stand with them, but even if alone — to stand.

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.

What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself — a Black woman warrior poet doing my work — come to ask you, are you doing yours?” Audre Lorde