Acquiring fire

If you can’t start from scratch, how do you fix a broken system? How do you shift into new practices? How do rediscover a part of you that seemed lost?

These questions echoed in the back of my mind while moving through two seemingly disparate experiences last week. It started with the Arrabon conference, a time of discussing racial and socioeconomic reconciliation when it comes to faith communities as well as the community entire. A firemaking workshop followed (held by Owlcraft Healing Ways/Blue Heron), which was a time of, frankly, learning how much I don’t know, how easy it is to ignore what your intuition knows (and how challenging that makes your life), and that I am perhaps a bit more out of touch with Nature than I realized.

How do you rediscover a part of you that seemed lost – that part of you that knows we are all connected, even when your monkey mind dwells in fear that it’s not so?

I don’t know the answers, at least not out of any place of logic, but what I have realized is that “acquiring fire” is not quite it. It’s not all about brusquely seeking out that fiery energy.

What do I mean by this? The instructors of this workshop said it best – you don’t “make” fire. You invite fire to come and be with you. And this posture informs not only the lay you set up, but also the way you do so. The climate, weather, and environment inform what of the Earth’s offerings you use.

After that, all you’re really doing is creating space.

So to me, more than anything else, the act of making and tending a fire is about awareness. What materials have you been given? How can you use them to create a hospitable place for warmth and light?

What’s interesting is, the same could be said about the topic of “race, class, and the kingdom of God” that was the focus of the conference. Reconciliation is less about making an inner fire that bids one to fight injustice and more about, instead, creating space within you for that fire to catch – because the fire already exists.

It is about creating space for warmth and light to radiate from a new way of relating to people. A new way that is, actually, an old way that already exists.

And perhaps this fire is a different kind of fire than one would expect. Perhaps it is the kind that does push against injustice, yes, but from a place of understanding exactly what tools are needed to do so – the tools of narrative, of cultural context, of frameworks that are not your own. The tools of experiences from people who have already learned about this over and over again.

It is a fire that comes from a place of desiring to see the world and other people (who are not so “other,” of course) in a better way.

That’s really the only way to make these changes: a mindset of generosity. Be generous with yourself, forgive yourself for the past, and be willing to receive new experiences. Be generous with others, and what you perceive their intentions to be; be willing to make space for them and their reality in your own reality.

This seems simple but it is not always easy. For me, it is a process – a journey. But it is a journey that will be well worth making, I am certain. No matter how bruised my knuckles get while trying to strike flint with steel; no matter how bruised my heart gets in trying to strike up hard conversations.

There is a thread of love and light that draws us back to who we were, the world that once was, and I am starting to feel it draw near. Can you?

Where we go from here

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It has taken me a week to process the Women’s March. Yes, in this high-speed world I remain impossibly slow. But in this case, and from my big picture perspective of a culture on the edge of change for the better (and it is), I think that’s not a bad thing.

I had my hesitations about being part of what promised to be a big moment. But most of them stemmed, I admit, from what-ifs – worries that, even if they were valid, should simply not have been entertained.

Every what-if was a strain of one disease: fear.

There was the initial concern, related to my experience at Richmond’s March on Monument (my first such march since college), that it would be too overwhelming to handle. (Overwhelming, the Washington one certainly was.)

There was the sense that something scary or violent could happen. (Though it didn’t, there had been violence in DC the day before; the spectre was all too real.)

And then there was the worry that maybe it wouldn’t mean quite what I thought it would. That it would ring insincere, or hollow, somehow.

The latter proved to be entirely wrong, and that, I think, speaks volumes.

Here are two truths about, at least, my own experience.

img_0136First: it was incomprehensibly encouraging and eye-opening. It was the togetherness that made it so. Moments of despair over others’ suffering leads me, as it does so many of us, to feel utterly alone. This protest proved that this is not so: we are not alone. None of us is alone. No matter the struggle, no matter the suffering. It cannot be said enough.

When we feel alone, many of us (myself included) continue to isolate ourselves, for – of course – fear of others knowing how strong we are not. But there is another story we can choose to tell ourselves. That story is: when we feel alone, we decide that the medicine is love and understanding. We come alongside one another to prove that you don’t have to be alone. Then we get to stand in a shared strength that says: your sadness, confusion, and grief are mine, too. No matter what the issue at hand is. Even if there is no issue at all.

Which brings me to the second truth: the march was very physically (and at times, emotionally) uncomfortable.

I live in a highly walkable city that’s not very densely populated, in a life that rarely requires driving a car or using mass transit. Never before have I stood on a metro train so tightly packed as those we rode this weekend, or in a crowd with as little space to move. It is difficult to describe how little, but imagine being able to stand without putting weight on your feet, and you’ll get a vague idea.

Panic was my first instinct. There was so much heat and so little air. There were so many people. A disaster could be imminent, with so many people. The thought of how do I get away floated through my mind.

But then I remembered: of course. This is the point. And I, for one, have some work to do when it comes to getting this kind of uncomfortable.

Too many people – too many women – have had to live this way, in systems and structures and even families packed so tight that they can barely breathe or be. Too many people – women and men alike – have been wrongfully kept in quarters like this before, too – be it on a slave ship or concentration camp – with no choice but to keep going until they could no longer.

In short: on Saturday in DC, we were all exposed to some very extreme empathy, if we so chose to let the experience affect us.

There were, unfortunately, a few individuals nearby who were not ready to do that. There were complaints. There was a palpable dismay. It was disheartening, for a few moments. But I understand them; I do. I was there not so long ago.

But the thing is, there are costs to comfort. And to this woman, it is too late to continue to be afraid of getting uncomfortable. There are too many people who will suffer otherwise.

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contrary to what the picture shows, we are actually the ones (pl) we have been waiting for. but anyway.

And frankly, more intense than the discomfort – more beautiful, and more freeing – is this sense of pride that I carry with me as I return to my regularly scheduled life. It’s strange, that this pride is so foreign and new. It feels as odd a fit as a style of overcoat I’ve never worn before. But this sense is that I am proud to be a woman.

It’s unreal. What if we were all so joyous? What if we decided that we are proud of each other?

Maybe this is where we go from here.

Peace be with you

Peace be with you on a day when politics is the watchword. But even so, it is not necessarily a bad word. It’s on all of our minds; why is it on all of our minds? Perhaps because politics is about power. But more than that, and fortunately for us – and our well-being, and our sanity – it is about people.

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A wise woman recently reminded me how much a President of the United States cannot do. True: the people’s ability to elect a leader is important and revolutionary. Also true: an election in itself is no small thing to be dismissed. Truer still: the President does carry weight and possess power (that is, influence).

However, we live in a country that was founded upon certain principles, one being that absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely, no matter who holds it – people or President. Furthermore, we live in a time wherein a powerful work of art heralding this painstakingly constructed framework is popular and celebrated. (Yes, of course I mean Hamilton.) That is a reminder we are lucky to have.

What is interesting about Americans, then, is our proclivity for choice. Yet, interestingly enough, this seems to be on the backburner in this present climate. Nevertheless, in spite of environmental influences, in spite of the people around us, and in spite of whatever toxicity breeds on the Internet, we do have in our possession the ability to choose.

And in spite of what many would say, believe, or do, that ability does not end after a so-called historic election.

What if every election is historic? What then? Then, the effects would only be meaningful to the extent that we allowed.

By this, I mean a few things. First: none of us has to play the victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy. We all see negative patterns, and we predict their sore outcomes. But the pattern I see is that, when we predict these outcomes, they are shudderingly likely to occur.

Second: the opposite is true as well. If there is an ill that is eating at you, and that should be remedied – if the reality of hateful words and energy bothers you – if you are unhappy with, perhaps, certain systems –

– well. You are not alone. I’m there with you. I feel angry, anxious, entirely powerless.

But we are not alone. And in that unity, that powerlessness, bit by bit, will start to dissipate.

I say this in defiance of our concocted ideas about what power is or looks like. There is a different kind. It is a power that does not come from force, or volume, or occupying a seat in the tallest tower (literally or metaphorically). It does not come from having the time or energy to post grievances on Facebook.

No: the most effectual power comes from discernment, and wisdom. This power comes from giving up your ego in favor of your fellow man. We’ve seen it in the actions of those who change the way we think, see one other, and act. We know there is a different kind of influence; we’ve seen it exude from people – Mother Teresa; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Nelson Mandela – who have chosen to see and stand for the good within each of us.

Power, in short, comes from that which conquers fear: love.

None of us knows exactly what the future holds. But it is better that way. There is so much beyond each of our individual control, but those circumstances should have no bearing on whether we choose to act – whether we choose to change ourselves, in big movements and small words – to bring people to peace and to better the world around us.

I have no illusions that utopia is near. Nor do I have illusions that it would even look the same for everyone. Indeed: I hope it would not, as balance is beautiful.

But what I also hope for is a trend towards trying to understand each person who walks beside us in our lives, no matter who he voted for, no matter where she was born. We really do have the choice to listen and love. When we believe we don’t, that’s when fear comes out to play.

But when we know deep down how thoroughly we do, there is a flicker of light in the soul, an electric recognition of ourselves in others’ eyes, a hope that positive change is possible.

I have hope. I have hope that it can begin as soon as today.

Post edited slightly on November 18, 2016.

I’ll drink to that: on consumption, Port wine, and brownies

In the wake of holiday revelry, the impendingness of Mardi Gras, and some really stellar gifted Port (thanks Tara!), drinks and drinking have been on my brain. More specifically, the American relationship with alcohol – how historically vexed and fascinating it has been.

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wine: for drinking, for eating, for staring out windows in winter

From Big Beer to craft breweries, from local to well-sourced to biodynamic wines, this is definitely an area and industry always in flux. An interesting recent phenomenon is the fact that, during the recession, it was one of the few markets that stayed strong – and grew. For someone who has spent the last few years in and out of regular work, this is not hard to understand. When finances are tight, and you have to be extremely choosy about indulgences, a bottle of wine is one that you can share with a few friends any old time.

But this brings me back to the fraught relationship with alcohol we Americans have tended towards – that is, from a collective perspective, as I do know many people who have healthy relationships with what they drink. It strikes me as similar to our odd national eating disorder, wherein we’re obsessed with health and/or eating, which seems to make us unhealthier. So my question is: is this trend is a “bad” thing? Or even something to joke about being “bad”? That seems to be such a Puritanical relic sometimes, the word “bad,” but I’m curious: are we drinking more and harder during tough times, or are we truly seeking togetherness because work is lacking, and we suddenly have realized that true community is the most important thing?

Alcohol consumption gets to be so different in other countries: the standards, for one, are unique. So are the amounts consumed. And there doesn’t seem to be so much baggage. I’ve not yet got to the bottom of why (has anyone? if you have, let me know). But since, here, we’ve got to reckon with the ghosts of addiction and binges, I suppose that means that, if this is the indulgence you hang onto, perhaps it’s wise to ask yourself why. Just in case. Just like with anything.

That’s what I’ve been trying to do, still being among the jobless, and for me – as for many – it does swing back around to togetherness. And to flavor, of course.

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I have never been a big drinker in terms of volume (too much of a lightweight, alas), but the taste aspect fascinates me after having worked closely with wine and food. The variations are endless; the pairings, innovative and fun. One of my favorite jobs was at a Charlottesville winery with rustically inspired energy, where I first was privy to adventurous and unique wine and food pairings.

(It was also the first place I ever had olives. A life without olives??)

So, disappointingly, I can’t offer any new information* on wine and beer, although I do love the supposed heart-health benefits. That’s something I’ll go ahead and trust.

But I’m up for achieving harmony in all things, especially when it comes to food and drink, so let’s add to the love with a recipe for port wine brownies. To be enjoyed with or without port, depending on your preference (and family history, and financial state). Salute!

Port brownies with dried cherries

adapted from Curly Girl Kitchen’s recipe

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ingredients:

  • 1/4 c dried cherries
  • 3 tbsp Port
  • 2 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (baking bar or chunks; regular chocolate chips are too finicky)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • pinch salt

(note: Curly Girl includes a ganache; I did not, but check the link if you want to try it)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a small baking dish (5×5 or 6×6) with nonstick spray or butter.

On the stove in a small pan, heat the Port with the dried cherries mixed in.  Bring to a simmer, then immediately remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes.

While the cherries are set aside, in a double boiler over medium heat, combine the chopped chocolate and butter, stirring the chocolate and butter as they melt. (Alternatively you can do this step in the microwave, combining the 2 ingredients in a bowl and stirring every 15 seconds or so.)

When finished, take the cherries-and-Port mixture, and puree in a food processor, or mash in a small bowl.

Then, in a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk or beat the Port mixture, melted chocolate and butter, cocoa powder, egg, sugar, and vanilla, until smooth and combined.  Add the salt and flour, stirring in with a spoon or rubber spatula, scraping the sides all the while.

Spread your batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the center is set. (Check occasionally since every oven is different.)

Let the brownies cool for about 30 minutes before cutting into them.

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so fudgy. so perfect

Recipe yields a small batch of 8-10 brownies; easily doubles to fit a regular 9×13 pan!

*For further thoughts on this topic, I love this article from Forbes. Highly recommended read! > Are You Drinking Too Much? The Myth of Moderation