I get up before dawn (easy to do this time of year in the North). I turn on my prayer chimes—two small speakers that electronically emit the soothing tones of singing bowls. I breathe. I recite The Seven Whispers which have centered my days for over two decades. There is tea in a cup, one small lamp. I raise the blinds. My journal is in my lap. My laptop is on the side table. I choose muse or news. As an elder of story, I expect myself to make meaning out of life’s jumble, at least for myself, but the past few months have been overwhelming.
End of October, I got a text from my sister-in-law: “Go to Instagram and check out my adorable grandkids.” The Ap opens instead to a video of Palestinian children covered in cement dust from wherever they have been excavated. Someone with a cellphone is filming them. A little girl stares from the tunnels of pain her body has become. She gazes into the phone—and directly at me. Her hands flutter weakly.
I start to cry and cannot stop. I slide down the cabinet walls onto the kitchen floor huddled against corner drawers that hold pots and pans and my mother’s china—all intact. There is a roof overhead and windows that look over the neighborhood to salt water and mountains. I do not “deserve” this place of beauty and refuge any more than she “deserves” her place of war and destruction. The cells of my body flinch in trauma.
It is the second time in a month I have slid to the floor. The week of October 8th as stories and images of Hamas atrocities emerged, I scrolled compulsively through news sources looking into the faces of families who died together and the blood-spattered walls of bomb shelters. I bear witness to the slaughter of innocent children whose deaths were documented by their murderers’ body cameras.
I have lost count of how many times my heart has been ripped to shreds by documented acts of violence and war. This corner of the kitchen could easily become my personal bunker of hunkered despair. But the evening’s supper is scorching on the stove above me, a friend is coming by. We will light a candle, lift our plates in offering and bow our heads. “May the nourishment I take into my body also reach the world’s unnourished places.” I call this gesture “kything.”
In olde Celtic, kything meant “to make known,” and was the practice of focusing on shared connection. The word was reintroduced by Madeleine L’Engle in her novel, A Wind in the Door, as a form of telepathic communication. For me, it means offering daily moments of peace and plenty as though each gesture can in some way reach those in need. “Here, beloved strangers, is a sip of hot tea, a plate of good food, a seat by the fire, a listening heart.”
Does it do any good? I don’t know. It keeps me aware.
As we head into the holy days that culminate the calendar year, our brokenness is huge. I am trying to braid together respect for the world’s suffering, acknowledgement of our collective trauma, and moments of spiritual reflection. How do I get up off the kitchen floor and keep on?
In September, just before the world got worse, our friends Roswitha and Holger visited from Germany. They came for friendly counsel on their way to a three-week training in wilderness guiding and sacred solo times. Roswitha, a facilitation trainer of young leaders and a grandmother, arrived with sorrow dragging down her heart. How can she hold out hope to young people and children when she, herself, was in despair?
Later she tells me this story of her wilderness experience (with permission to share it). During her solo-time, mid-training in Colorado, she laid herself down in a high mountain meadow to weep and listen. “And then I heard loud and clear the voice of Mother Earth proclaiming, ‘I do not need your despair, I need your love.’
“Every day since then, Mother Earth’s message is like a stop sign in the depths of my being. All the bad news no longer reaches into the cellar of despair but is turned around and sent back with love. The practice supports me a lot – despite everything – to continue travelling with an open heart and a loving gaze.”
Thank you, Roswitha, for kything with Mother Earth.
I do not understand how such messages come through, I only know when we ask, we receive. And I remind myself: Love is a verb. Love is taking whatever actions we can, every moment we can, every way we can, with whomever we can, as long as we can.
I get up before dawn.
I pray with my chimes.
I watch the day rise.
I get ready to live with heart.
And one thing more: there is no justification for the killing of children. Ever.
And another: the side to be on in this war is the side of peace.