Let Go. Return.
posted January 10, 2022
photo by Katryna Nields
From the poet Josephine Johnson:
This is the need, the deep necessity of every life;
To scatter wide seed in many fields,
But build one barn.
This is our blunder, to have built
Gilt shacks for every seed
And followed our sowing on fast, anxious feet,
Desiring to grind the firmest grain.
Let go. Let go. Return.
Heighten and straighten the barn’s first beam
Give shape and form. Discover the rat, the splintered stair.
Throw out the dry, gray corn.
Then may it be said of you:
Behold, he had done one thing well,
And he knows whereof he speaks, and he means
What he has said,
And we may trust him.
This is sufficient for a life.
I’m back from my ten-day residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, full to the brim with excitement, inspiration and gratitude having spent so much time with my writer kinfolk. In truth, I didn’t venture far physically; I merely crossed my yard to my Little Blue studio, and when I say, “my yard,” please understand that this land is not mine except legally, which is the weakest tie. I’m living on lands once called Nonotuck or Norwottuck, belonging to the Pocumtuck, Norwottock, Woronoco, Agawam, Nipmuck, and Abenaki. I’m benefitting from centuries of systematic oppression of others. I know all this, and I also know that the feelings I’m feeling these days––hopelessness, fear, confusion, loss of a sense of self at times––are feelings others have experienced for millennia. The thick padding of my privileges has prevented me at times from an essential awareness of what matters most.
It’s a new year, and I’m wrestling with the question of what my one barn might be. I’ve always had music, I’ve always had writing, I’ve always had family. I’ve always had a cluttered barn, people. I’m learning to do less, to leave more space for the Other, for spontaneity, for stillness. I haven’t written in this space for so many months, mostly because I’m trying to finish my new novel, write songs for our next album, trying to focus on my graduate school studies, trying to care for my family, my church community at West Cummington, and I think, if I go back to my blog, I need to do it better.
I need to post more. I need to post less. I can’t put this up, because it’s terrible. I can’t put this up, because this might be publishable elsewhere.
For a brief time, when I wasn’t writing novels, I used to post every day. My usual contract with myself was to post once a month. It’s gratifying to see positive comments and affirmations of these little pieces, but I never wrote for affirmations. I wrote for connection. I wrote because when I had a knot inside me, writing about that knot was the only way I could untie it.
Yesterday, Steve preached a sermon about the attack on the Capitol on January 6 2021, and my back started to hurt. We were all together on Zoom, and I was supposed to sing my version of “America the Beautiful” after the sermon. But as he began––as he asked us, “Do you feel safer now than you did a year ago?” and the responses came in (no. No. No. No. No)–– I had to lie down on the floor and listen that way, staring up at the gaping hole in the ceiling where the fire alarm is supposed to be, where a new light fixture will one day go. “If we don’t pass the Voting Right bill, Steve was saying, there is little hope that our democracy can survive.
If our democracy can’t survive, what hope is there for the planet that my children and their children hope to inhabit?
The scripture Steve read was from Viktor Frankl and 1 Kings 19. The prophet Elijah is fed up and has gone to hide in a cave. The “still, small voice” of God came to him, asking,
“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
I pulled myself up off the floor and sang my lyrics to “America.”
I don’t know who you are, reading this, but you are probably my friend, or at least someone who knows me. What came to me as I listened to Steve read this passage––as I listened to the discussion around what we can possibly do, those of us who believe in science, those of us who believe in democracy, those of us who are committed to being changed, those of us who believe in love––was that I am no Elijah. But I do have a voice. It’s none of my business how large my voice is, how wide its radius. But I don’t want to hide in a cave any longer.