What the World needs now

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.

53 replies
  1. Gabriele Uhlein
    Gabriele Uhlein says:

    Yes, and YES!
    Thank you Christina for a light, a way in the darkness. The candle and bell on my living room table now shine and resonant anew with yours each morning. In Christian tradition, Christmas is the night God’s Word leapt to Earth. Peace and all good as tear by tear, we find our next heartful gesture, Love leaping thru like yours, in the midst of a world ever good enough for God.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you Gabriele, we are now more deeply connected by the candle and the bell… and in the circle. Ann and I think of you and the community and continue to pray all is well with you.

  2. Cathy L Stengel
    Cathy L Stengel says:

    Oh dear Christina how my feelings have mirrored yours. In church wanting to melt onto the floor with images of children killed or dying, infants rescued to Egypt with no parents to be found. Love is all I have and sometimes it is shrouded in grief and the darkness of no answers. May we find blankets and partners on the floor, holding vigil alongside us. Cathy

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Oh Cathy, you are in such a strenuous position where people count on you for support and guidance, and your are as much in need as your congregation. May you have or find a circle where you can relax and just Be. And thank you for your sacred work.

  3. Rosi
    Rosi says:

    This spoke so directly to my bewildered heart. I thank you with all my heart, which now feels a path, a small beacon through my desperation, for my own life and for the Life of All of Us.

  4. Bonnie Rae
    Bonnie Rae says:

    I’ve got to say, it is all I can do these days not to give in to discouragement. My heart breaks to read your words here and yet at the very same time I am grateful to know people like you who are deeply affected and are willing to step in and hold these horrors until they transformed into light. And they will. I believe that. 

    I sat down this morning to write and what came to mind were the words of Mary Oliver. It went something like this: “Oh, Mother earth, your comfort is great, your arms never withhold. It has saved my life to know this”. Pondering this again tonight after reading your words, I know without a doubt that my time outside is pivotal and that whatever good I hope to see in the world begins with me. Thank you. May hope lift us to our feet ❤️

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Your ventures into Nature with the eye of the camera you share is one of the greatest points of solace I have. May you always have strength to get to the mountains and lift the lens that takes me with you.

  5. Judy L Todd
    Judy L Todd says:

    Yes, it is heartbreaking beyond words.
    Yes, we cannot touch or even know the pain and suffering of others.
    Yes, we can offer love, breath, prayer, into every action and interaction of our day where we are.
    I am grateful for your bravery in telling your truth and beginning again each day. Thank you.

    (I heard Roshi Joan Halifax yesterday at dawn share how she ‘titrates’ the input. I understood this to be how she thus bows, and accepts her defeat. And thus strengthens her resolve.)

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you Judy for your long years of earth devotion, and for sharing Roshi Joan’s words… interesting that she speaks of defeat/surrender/resolve/strength and shifts these words into spiritual context.

  6. Anne Stine
    Anne Stine says:

    Yes dear Christina word smith, and every breath is connected to every living being, from rocks to waters, and stars and worms. I truly believe that every thought, word and deed matter. Your stories have healed, fed, inspired and more, countless beings. When I sat alone under an old growth tree for a month, several years ago the earth said almost the same thing to me, as she spoke to Roswitha. I think it’s one voice, ancient and true and universal and belongs to us all. I always read and am inspired, nurtured, guided, etc. by your words that come from such deep caring. Keep them coming…. love, love…. Anne

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Anne, you are a profound kyther with nature, and yes, the message would be the same for the Earth is working to get through to us in many ways. We are earthlings… remember that. Love to you.

  7. Roswitha
    Roswitha says:

    Dear Christina, thank you for your words. Thank you for sharing with us how you feel when you receive messages that are just despairing. I see and feel you. We are connected. For me, it is a high art of living when I can hold all that is: Despair and powerlessness and gratitude, for all that I have and others don’t. That’s not fair. Life is not fair, not in war, not in hunger, not in hate… The only thing I can always choose is love – on the side of Mother Earth and on the side of peace. Thank you, dear friend, that we are united in love. Thank you.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Dearest Roswitha, Your message is out now into the wider world. Thank you for trusting me to share it, and thank you for all the ways you express love. Yes, we are united in the gentle and the fierce ways we stand in the world. Vielen danke.

  8. Marina Lachecki
    Marina Lachecki says:

    Thank you.
    I too wake before dawn with candle and tea and prayer and journal. Can we write our way to Love and hope and Peace?
    I became overwhelmed with the weeping of our world this summer. I had to go back to the earth to our family cabin up north to find a way back from despair. I am still praying. But I am now hoping with each step I walk my dog pre-dawn, sending hope and comfort to places I do not know.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Ah Marina, as I sit by the dark window (before we wake the dog) I will rest in knowing that you are up and walking… and soon will join you on the wintery paths. love to you.

  9. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    I’m sitting in the dark with only the ring of tiny lights above the windows as the day lightens somewhere beyond the fog. I’m continuing to grapple with what to do about all the “noise” in the world that bombards us through our various screens. Do I stop looking and try to get quiet again? I feel that I must. My 101 yo mother’s words come back to me then, when—her own eyes too dim to read—she asked me what was happening in the world and I told her I wasn’t reading the news. “Don’t you want to know what’s going on in the world?” she asked, incredulous. “No,” I said. Sometimes I just can’t bear it any more. Is it enough to know it’s a shit show without having it staring you down every time you open your news app? Yesterday I sat in the dark on the deck, wrapped in a shawl, while the sky exploded in color, and felt some clarity. Your words help, my friend, always.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you, Gretchen. I know we are sisters in our determination to hold onto the narrative thread in the midst of it all. I feel this companionship when your blog posts come in. I know the effort it takes to keep writing in these times. Keep watching the sky–the constancy of sunrises and sunsets are sometimes the best we have to sustain us. love.

  10. Meredith Jordan
    Meredith Jordan says:

    I have no words except “gratitude” for expressing what breaks my heart open every day. “The only side of this war to be on is peace.” A wisdom teaching for us all. Much love to you as we navigate what it means to live in a wounded world while holding the light.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      The Sun Magazine has put out a statement that contains the phrase: We want to make our stance clear: we are pro-peace. All systems of oppression reinforce one another. Advocating for Palestinian rights and the safety of Jewish communities around the world go hand-in-hand.
      It was the inspiration for my including it here. love to you, Meredith.

  11. Jaune Evans
    Jaune Evans says:

    Thank you, Christina, for this beautiful offering. So wonderful to read comments from Mother Earth’s wisdom of “I do not need your despair. I need your love,” joins with two other ‘messages’ – inspirations – that have been guiding me lately: 1. Krista Tippet’s urging listeners to join her and others in telling generative stories. 2. Reading “Ode To Dirt” by Sharon Olds sparked a group process of writing odes – love songs – to Mother Earth, her protectors and her treasures. A few to mention were Ode to Mycellium, Ode to Greta Thunberg, Ode to the Coast Miwok People, and Ode To Early Girl Tomatoes. Sending love and prayers to all.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Oh Jaune, thank you for all the additions to my own thoughts… yes, there is a great alternative to the news-stream world and we need to keep it lively–generative stories, poems, seeds for the birds, smiles for the strangers.

  12. Roslyn Duffy
    Roslyn Duffy says:

    Ahhh! Thank you.
    My goal is to notice and value every moment of joy that appears, even in great darkness. I just ordered your book to add to my daily life.
    Blessings and love to you.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      That is the beautiful trick of it–to notice the cracks of joy as they come into the dark… like stars breaking through.

  13. Sandra Marinella
    Sandra Marinella says:

    A beautiful share, dear friend. I often cry in my sleep over the images and deaths of children. As you note–there can be no justification. But as your wise friend, Roswitha, reminds us, we must hold to love and to hope and to doing good even amid all the pain surrounding us. Thank you for your beautiful words and your presence in my life. Much love!

  14. Suzanne Fageol
    Suzanne Fageol says:

    I just finished an online course from the Univ of Victoria in BC Canada. It is called Facing Human Wrongs. For the past 6 weeks I have been presented with everything – and I mean everything- that is wrong in this world. Social injustices, Climate injustices, Denial of Entanglement with the rest of the world (human and all other sentient beings), Denial of the Challenges we face, and more. The course is based on a book by Vanessa Andreotti, Hospicing Modernity. The purpose of the course is to learn how to hold the world we face without going into overwhelming denial, fixing, despair, anger and any other response we might encounter. It does not mean denying any feeling, but rather how to maintain or come back to equilibrium when faced with all these human wrongs.
    It has changed my life – how I live and how I proceed in the face of all that is. It offers us alternatives after sinking to the kitchen floor. It offers indigenous wisdom, as hints and clues, as to how we might change our thinking and it is facilitated by indigenous folks from many different communities. I highly recommend it. It can be accessed through the U Vic Continuing Ed Dept.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you Suzanne! One of the things I love about this blog is the community of response and the good ideas.suggestions, and additional resources that emerge. I will definitely look this up.

  15. Glenda Goodrich
    Glenda Goodrich says:

    Thank you for this beautiful reminder. Yes, love IS a verb and it not a passive act! As Joanna Macy says,”The heart that breaks open can contain the entire universe.” Sending you love my sweet soul sister.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Love you, too, wild hearted grandmother. Ordinary living becomes quite the “quest” as we live with unanswerable questions.

  16. Leckey Harrison
    Leckey Harrison says:

    One thing I do when I hear such news is tremor. I don’t know that it works intercessorally, but if nothing else, it helps me process the awfulness, and I can use the Buddhist practice of tonglen with it.

    I feel in me that good is arising, so the awful right now is fighting to survive. I’ll be the first to say I could be dead wrong. There are so many wounded people, yet more and more people are healing, and that changes the energy. And there is a lot of awful.

    On the other hand, I am challenged as a Warrior to find how to war, so that love wins. And just by singing a little tune, people respond. A little Beatles tune, some Beach Boys, even a Christmas tune that might ear worm me. And people respond. That is one way. That is local, and somewhere at work I was the tee shirt that says, But local, Eat local, a third thing, and the Love local. Which just means love the local thing, but I took it to mean something different. Show to love locally, even for me, being single, romantically. Love local. That is how we can change the world.

    And frankly Christina, I can’t think of a better example than you.

    Leckey

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Love local, indeed. It’s been harder to do during the pandemic when we were/are masked and cautioned to stay two meters apart… now we dare to hug again. Keep singing, Lecky, you are a warrior of the heart.

  17. Gayle Colman
    Gayle Colman says:

    Dear Christina,

    May I join you on the kitchen floor?
    Thank you for true words that will carry tears I shed daily. My heart breaks again and again, with each tragic event.

    This: “there is no justification for the killing of children. Ever.”

    Killing children is how humans go extinct.
    🙏

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      It is such a balance to be living as many of us do… in “the ordinary” and hold the breadth of the extraordinary–from awe to awful. As the heart breaks, may we have the strength to let it break open not closed.

  18. Pierre GOIRAND
    Pierre GOIRAND says:

    Dear Christina,
    Thank you for speaking to where I am right now _like so many of us living in safe and comfortable places while others are suffering directly from the madness of humans. Since a child I have been deeply and constantly aware of pain in the world and the huge difference of the life that is offered to us according to where we’ve been placed in this world. What is strange is that I am now experiencing at the same time a state of inner joy like never before. The question of allowing all these different feelings and the question of one’s contribution repeatedly presents itself and never seems to be completely solved. Allowing pain to transform into love is nonetheless a wise and consistent message. There are so many ways we can open to pain and offer love. It reminds me of the practice of Tonglen. In the weekly chanting circles I hold we chant for healing and peace. Holding and strengthening that intention again and again. One thing I believe is that here will be never be peace nor love for humans and the earth without healing. And I can’t help wonder, what more is there for me to do?

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you for chanting, for “kything” peace and healing into the wider world. And for holding onto joy in the midst of suffering… and for the question: what more is there for me to do? I hold that with you.

  19. Holger Scholz
    Holger Scholz says:

    Dear Christina, thank you for your words and your stories. They connect us. The time together with you and Ann prepared us perfectly for our solo time on the mountain. I will always carry that in my heart. And what I also learned out there: What rises from the silence is often so crucial. We’ll have another opportunity to do this in the coming days and nights. On that note, we won’t be speaking again this year, but you and Ann are in my heart and always in my silence. See you soon, in spring. 🙂 Holger

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      I will be listening to you in the holy silence… what I love most about this time from Solstice to Epiphany is the stillness. Meet you there.

  20. Carol Kassner
    Carol Kassner says:

    Dear Christina, this meditation took me from your normal morning ritual into cowering in the corner with you and back again to love. No matter how many times we are reminded that love is the answer, we fall into despair at the cruelty in this world. The message to “listen to Mother Earth” is a profound one for me. Thank you for this journey. Blessings and love.

  21. Diane Tilstra
    Diane Tilstra says:

    Dear Christina,
    Tears flowed at the reading of your words. They needed to be released. “Collective trauma” seems to permeate so many of us who can’t stop the tragic devastation that is happening in Gaza, Ukraine, Haiti and on and on. The Tacoma Refugee Choir held their “Let Their Be Peace On Earth” concert on 12/16. (Video on refugeechoir.org) We invited the audience to take the messages of our songs of the refugee story into their hearts to provide healing from all the collective trauma of war in the world. I am now in my 76th year and I have been a witness to many incredibly tragic world crises. I find my retreat to mountains and trees bring me peace and solace to carry on doing whatever I can each day to be love, peace and kindness.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      The choir is an amazing presence and thank you for all your support and leadership in raising these voices up! Let there be peace, indeed.

  22. Jeanne Petrick
    Jeanne Petrick says:

    Dear Christina,
    Your sharing left me quiet for over a day now. Some of your personal reactions are very familiar to me. You articulated them as I could not as yet accomplish. The sorrow can be overwhelming. I keep reminding myself, over and over, that remaining in that place serves nothing and no one.
    The one inspiration and instruction I keep returning to, for it speaks truth for me and disciples my actions, is something that the Dalai Lama shared in “The Book of Joy” (by he and Desmond Tutu): “If there is a way to overcome the situation, then instead of feeling too much sadness, too much fear, or too much anger, make an effort to change the situation. If there’s nothing you can do to overcome the situation, then there is no need for fear, or sadness or anger.” Useless negative emotions serve nothing if it can’t propel us to positive action, he is reminding us. These words help me to hold onto my joy as an action – putting positive energy into the world. I can’t make their lives better by being sorrowful but I can practice sending out something good and positive for the winds to carry to those who are calling out for it.

    I really appreciate your starting this conversation, Christina. It was perfect timing and so vital right now. Thanks for holding the baton of elder of the story. xxx

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you Jeanne, I always count on you to add to the depth of my own words and writing… and you do. Yes, it is a conversation–held here, held in our hearts, brought to other tables and spaces.

  23. Julie Mae Pigott
    Julie Mae Pigott says:

    Ahhhh-Deep Gratitude Dear Christina. I breathe in deeply at the close of your story. It’s been so intense, hasn’t it? Spending energy trying not to be devastated and impotent, while putting great effort into not checking out. All the ancient mothers return us to love again and again. I personally would not want to be tricked into seeing a video or image I wasn’t prepared to witness. I lean into your words: I get ready to live with heart.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Ahhh–dear Julie… one of the things I find being our age(s) is the need to face grief head on, and to keep finding ways to walk through it back to life. Yesterday was hard for me, I was slipping into a river of despair… but still swimming enough to ask how to get out of this mood and into the day I want/need to have, to function in my life here. I found this video from a long ago friend, Tina Lear. Her image of myself as a pebble in the river of life, able to watch the frothing thoughts floating above saved me for the day. https://vimeo.com/398491512

      And, well, her little dog also: https://vimeo.com/653310811

  24. Katharine Weinmann
    Katharine Weinmann says:

    Dear Christina,
    i had to take some time to read through your post, having stopped the first time at your reaction to the shock of seeing the IG reel. Even now I’m at a loss for words. I take away “kything” and its beauty-filled intent. Too, the words from Roswitha, the many comments here and the reminder from another wise one that our way is to walk with our hearts open in hell, towards peace, with love. Sending mine…

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Walking hearts open through hell–quite an intense spiritual practice, my friend. But I know you know how to make pilgrimages, and to make of your life a pilgrimage. With you on the long and winding road. Love, C

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