To My Friends Reading Here, Feast on This

by Jane Tawel

assorted title book lot
https://unsplash.com/photos/eeSdJfLfx1A

A friend posted an article today entitled, “The Case Against Shakespeare” and the article, (not my friend) both angered and saddened me. The bottom line of this article was that we shouldn’t “force” any one to read the classics like Shakespeare because this keeps someone from learning to love to read. Now if I only take that one argument, all I need is a subscription to Netflix and a video game to prove the author wrong on why people don’t read anymore. However, one thing made my head want to explode, and of course I had to write about it. Of course I wanted to share my meager but impassioned thoughts with my trusted WordPress friends, my community of writers who keep the love of art and life alive in the little corner of the world in which I choose to dialogue with others and the platform upon which I have the occasional soliloquy published on.

I am grateful for the community of like and sometimes unlike souls that I have found amongst you. Keep writing, keep teaching, keep yelling into the howl, or lighting candles on the dark way, or dancing in the rain, or just sharing where you are at and who you are today. And I am grateful to each of you for including me in the “company of fools and players” that we create together here and sincerely and humbly thankful for you, whether you like Shakespeare or not.

Cheers — Jane

My Convoluted Case FOR Shakespeare

The author of this article, “The Case Against Shakespeare”, may have a point about Shakespeare but his analysis of literature and what it’s purpose is and why it should be read and how it should be taught breaks my heart and makes my poor Literature / Writing teacher’s mind go ballistic. I have spent a life time trying to help students and sundry others try to overcome this philosophy. So, as I teach my students to write boldly, I shall simply say, the author could not be more wrong.  I hope to encourage him and others to rethink the purpose of reading, much in the way we should all constantly rethink the purpose of our lives.

One point of his only I will take up, and that is the author’s comment that “literature doesn’t exist for its symbols and imagery, nor are they the reason authors write”(Stratton). Woe! (Sound of hair being torn out!) The person who is not taught the importance of symbol and metaphor, imagery and the allusive allure of alliteration is not being fed by the best in our literary history; but instead, in the cause of “getting ahead”. That deprived person is being starved by an education focused on a future practical use of that person’s brain or brawn, not focused on their well-being, their being well, and the fact that every human being has always wanted to be much more than a cog in a well-oiled machine or a pamphlet that is glanced at then tossed in the trash. We long to be poetry, to have poetic justice, to be understood in all of our mystery and meaningfulness, and to think that we can be taught to read without being taught how to learn any of that about the human condition or the world or the universe or the mysteries beyond is a tragedy long in the making.

To be taught and coaxed, goaded and coddled in not books, but literature, not reading, but exploring and expanding the mind, heart, and soul — this is the charge of those of us in the past and present to pass on to our future and our children and our children’s children. We all must keep desiring the wherewithal of how to spend a lifetime in the exploration of the changes in the meaning behind the meaning, the sublimity of poetry, the divine essence beyond mere rational debate of the written word, comparable to that of the played symphony or the painted masterpiece. The person who is not taught and encouraged in this philosophy, is not merely uneducated in the type of classical, heady stuff that endures the passage of time, but unschooled in what it means to be the best human being a person can be. That is what Shakespeare can teach us today, yes, after all these years.

And of course, this poor human who is taught merely to read, and not to delve into the unfathomable treasures hidden in the deeps of the written word, that one will never have those moments of divine revelation, the sublimity of being awed by the essence of “The Why”, nor the hope that we really are more than black and white words on a page; much more than simplistic, useful, practical, or merely entertaining and entertained commodities.

Why one can not even understand what it means to be nothing more than “dust in the wind” or to have “everything to a season”, or to, as the poet read at the recent inauguration of a U.S. President, what it means to “brave the belly of the beast” and be as brave as we must be on ‘The Hill We Climb”(Gorman). No, one can not simply be taught to read, but must be taught how to read and above all Why to read. One can not be left to wade in the shallow end forever, to never know what it is to dive and swim. We must not be afraid of not knowing and not understanding, but we should be terrified of never immersing ourselves in the deep waters of great literature and poetry, never climbing to the apex of the mountain ranges of great artists, past and present, and still always to aim to climb higher and higher, and always finding more mystery there, even on the pinnacles of greatness.

The person who is not stretched early to expand the mind through literature and plays, poetry and Psalms, has a bleak, spirit-less life ahead of him or her. How to read Holy Scripture without being taught how to read poetry? How to listen to Amanda Gorman without first trying to stretch the brain on the poetry of Shakespeare or Frost, Whitman or Hughes or Angelou or the Psalms of David or prophetic metaphors of Isaiah? How to hope and dream for a better world without understanding the complicated but profound works of Dickens or Gabriel Marquez, Dumas, or Dostoevsky? How to understand America without being taught how to read Twain, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck? How to understand China without attempting to understand Wang Wei or Cao Xueqin? How to understand Latin or South America if one hasn’t been taught the poem “They Have Threatened Us with Resurrection”, by Julia Esquivel? How to march for Black Lives Matter without reading the essays of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or the poetry of Langston Hughes? How to know what it is to be from somewhere that you aren’t, to be someone you aren’t, and then how to realize that once you walk in someone else’s moccasins in the poetry of Native American poet Laureate, Jo Harjo or immerse yourself in some other place or time’s literature, and to find that one can turn a corner or turn a page and be stunned by the realization that we are all so much more alike than we could have ever guessed, and we are all much more unique and special than we could ever hope for! 

Spending a lifetime trying to read anything without a basic understanding and at least grudging admiration of symbol and metaphor and imagery, is like spending a lifetime trying to dine on steak and potatoes or baguettes and cheese or sushi and cupcakes by trying to suck on them out of a baby bottle. Not being taught the joys of chewing on poetry and imbibing great literature is like having your teeth ripped out and not being allowed to taste when you masticate.

Let alone personal enjoyment, we haven’t even begun to wonder how one would find expression of one’s own deepest emotions and thoughts, in any relationship of love, whether of a God or of a mate or of a friend or of a tree or of cat or dog or garden or sunset — of anything or anyone that awes us. How would we enthuse over all of that which exists beyond the mundane, that which surpasses and endures the test of time?

And why can’t one be entertained by C.S. Lewis, or Lewis Carroll, or Stevenson, or Barrie, or Nikki Grimes or Rowling and still learn about symbolism, metaphor, allusion, and irony (God knows, we need to learn something about irony in America!)

By all means if someone can find writers today who do poetry as well as Shakespeare or Dickinson or Frost or Neruda or the Psalms or even Silverstein, by all means, teach it and read it. Feel free to add to Dostoevsky and Steinbeck and Dickens and Forster and Angelou, some novels by Atwood or Ishiguro for deep thinking. Include with the reading of Wordsworth and Cummings, modern poets like Claudia Rankine or Amanda Gorman, and with Shakespeare and Chekhov, plays by Miller or Shephard, along with the Shakespearean-worthy plays by Tony Kushner or Lin-Manuel Miranda (although on my salary I doubt I will ever actually see “Hamilton”). Teach everything but Shakespeare if you don’t have the heart for it, but for pity’s sake, don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water, nor the metaphors out with the dated conversations or jokes.

If it is tough to read or hard to understand, remind yourself there is nothing harder to understand than the human being; and nothing tougher than going through life without beauty and mystery, or empathy and wonder. Poetry and great literature will help you with all the tough parts, and if it doesn’t always exactly make life easier, it certainly will make it more worthwhile.

The dearth of education today lies in our thinking that all we have to do is teach reading and practical skills, not how to think, or how to feel and express those thoughts and feelings to others. The lack is not in not learning to love reading, but in not learning that by reading great literature, or by attempting to write down ourselves on page or screen, those ideas and ideals that require poetry and metaphor and imagery — in this lies something worth working at, something worth learning, yay, even something to be challenged by, to love and at times even to cherish. We must attempt, first the taking in, and then the expression of those human creative endeavors that try to narrate something more lasting and meaningful than an entertainment interrupted by yet another car insurance commercial. By those excellent and artistic forms of muse-inspired communications, we are enlarged, we are made to be “more”.

We have to learn, or relearn, be inspired by or remember how to find those things worth reading that teach and inspire us to live with meaning into a life that is richer, fuller, and paradoxically, metaphorically more human and more divine.

The world is full of that which we can not understand with a mere glance, nor a nod to being simply knowledgeable. We must teach and inspire within ourselves and others the hope and faith that there is more to living life than acquiring a desire to use and gain more “stuff” by our knowledge.

We will only truly gain the fullness of a life well-lived when we learn to desire to be awed. As the Bard himself says in one of the plays people don’t think we should read, “the time of life is short; to spend that shortness basely, were too long”. 

The mystery of that which defies all comprehension but that which is expressed by our artists, by the shared hopes, dreams and experiences of humankind, and by the ineffable faith and progress of our greatest ideas and ideals, the stuff of our lives set to poetry awaits our engagement to be One with the Sublime. Reading the “good stuff” can even just be a rollicking good time, and vastly more fun than the literary junk food we are led to believe we can get by on. Let’s stop teaching others to spit out the good food of great art before they even try it. We all need to know how to look for the tastiest morsels, how to “taste and see that it is good”*.

As for me, to riff on the Bard once more, “if poetry and literature be the food of love, give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die”.

Here’s to the banquet feast of the written word. Feast on!

(c) Jane Tawel 2021

https://thehill.com/homenews/news/535052-read-transcript-of-amanda-gormans-inaugural-poem

Quotes from “Henry IV” and “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare

“The Case Against Shakespeare”. Stratton, Allan. The Walrus. March 31, 2021

*Psalm 34:8

Commemoration and Belief

by Jane Tawel

body of water

https://unsplash.com/photos/oQC81OHcl4Q

Whatever one’s belief system, this is historically a good weekend to meditate on what makes a belief “true”. If I say I believe something, but don’t in fact, myself, act in accordance with it, what is the meaning and purpose of my belief? If I say I believe Someone loves me enough to suffer for me (and some believe die for me), but I accept that Someone’s love only to make myself feel better, and not in order to love those others in the world in need of a belief in A Love Without Strings Attached, what does that say about what I truly believe about the quality of a Higher Love?

As we look to what we say we believe, we often get stuck in the childish questions, like, “How has it changed me? How am I better a person? How does my future look brighter?” But the real questions to ask myself that the events commemorated in this weekend ask, the grown-up questions of The Christ are: “How does what I believe make me want to change the World? How does The Divine make me a better human being? How do I bring the future Kingdom of God to earth — now, today, here, for all — as The Christ did?”

If we aren’t suffering with others on Friday, and mourning for the whole world, the whole Earth on Saturday, we will never truly know what it is to celebrate life and resurrection on Sunday. No matter what one claims to believe, this is a good weekend to ponder as the philosopher might ask, What do we owe each other? And as the prophets or saints might ask, What would happen if some of us began to really believe in Love?

(c)Jane Tawel 2021

One Thousand and One Things I Should Be Doing to Make My Life More Meaningful

(But For Now, Here are Five)

https://unsplash.com/photos/7h4ladPzhn0

One Thousand and One Things I Should Be Doing to Make My Life More Meaningful

(But For Now, Here are Five)

By Jane Tawel

March 31, 2021

Now that I am of an age, there are regrets, of course about wasted time and wasted energy, wasted dreams, and wasted relationships. But of course, looking back on regrets is worthless if I can not use them to make myself, or at least just my day better. With hope and a bit of luck, maybe I can even make my “Tomorrow Me” much better. You know the one I’m talking about; that Person that Tomorrow will be all those things She is meant to be.

Yep — hope springs eternal that with a little elbow grease and grace there may be within my life a confluence of context; a critical combination of conveyances to convey more meaning to my existential essence. Ah, that “thing with feathers”, that beats within, giving meaning even to the falling of a sparrow or the timely chirp of a chirpy-bird, that excruciatingly human attitude we call, “hope” shows up “asking nothing at all” but to remind me that The Greatest Meaning of All has created my being to seek and live out and unto others, a life of meaning.

Of course, maybe you are not like I am, always wanting to add more, je ne sais quoi? Maybe you are a girl who just wants to have fun*, or a just an ordinary average guy* (*song allusions intentional). But I am that “sort” — one of the ones who desire more sense, connotation and denotation, elucidation, substance, significance, more purport and implication. As Francois Rabelais might say, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”.

I think when you get to be my age, you want to find more meaning than you are used to because maybe you are more sorta kinda okay with the uncomfortable pauses and the untidy questions. That seems silly maybe? Maybe it is the young who are truly seeking, searching, defying, rebelling, hating, loving, and jumping into life to find true meaning, big meaning, small meanings, ultimate meaning, and just the meaning of choosing to make sustainably-grown-coffee-at-home meaning. I don’t know but I fear the young ones have been led astray that finding meaning is a waste of time if it takes them away from working towards success. I hope I’m wrong.

I fear the young ones, my own dear adulting children included, are a little afraid of using the best time of their lives wisely, not by being smart, but by being curious. I know I didn’t know how important that was when energy was in excess. And that word “use”– goodness what a horrible word “use” can be. I talk about how we “use” time but that is the Great Lie, the fallacy perpetrated by bosses and kings and a chimera of meaninglessness, followed like a mirage, like a Pied Piper — just up ahead — almost there –keep marching — one-two, one-two, one-two –struggling on scraped and banged up hands and knees towards an idea of Time we never reach. Meanwhile all there is to be seen on the road, all the glory that hides in bushes in weeds along The Way, that we speed by or plan to come back to someday, is ignored. But as Robert Frost reminds us, whatever road we take, whether the one less taken or the one equally fair, we can’t keep the time we spend for another day.

Time is not useful. Time is the dream. Time is not to be pulled and pushed like putty, nor molded like play-dough, soon to be flattened and reshaped in a new Monday, a new Tuesday, a new Wednesday and on and on and on. No, Time is to be coddled like the new-born infant it is each time we awake to it and each night when we put Time to bed. Time is to be caressed like the Lover we dare not take for granted, or it will leave us, deadened and dried up, longing for that first love of Time when we were young and thought we had all of it we could ever desire. Time is not a hive where we all, like worker bees, continue to stay busy, busy, busy, buzz, buzz, buzz, making honey-money for someone else, some other day, some storage unit dripping with nectar we never take the moment to taste and enjoy. Time is the thing that separates us from the birds and the bees, the essence, not the effect, the hint that our humanity is not created to be a slave to time but a partaker of The Dance of Timelessness. My search for meaning is, at heart, a search for how to give Time its due, to return to Time my love and to honor it for the precious gift it is.

Now that I am old(er), I hate how much time I wasted but more than that, I hate how much time I waste on a daily basis. I don’t mean I hate having to work a job; I mean I hate thinking about how much I hate having to work a job when I am working at my job or even when I am not working my job. I don’t mean wasting time watching a show or reading a book; I mean wasting time watching something or reading something that isn’t edifying or inspiring or at least just plain darn well-done or good-fun. I don’t mean I hate wasting time talking with other people or doing stuff for other people; I mean I hate wasting time not really listening to people I care about; I hate doing stuff for other people because I “have to”, not because I love the fact that where there is life, there is still the ability to do things, to give something, to share or sacrifice, or even just to plain do the darn dishes for someone else. I hate wasting time thinking about politics and everything wrong in the world; instead of skimming the headlines and then thinking about what I can do to make the world a better place.

So though I wish every day I could expand time to do one thousand and one things more to give my life meaning; here are at least five things I am becoming, no I am committing to make myself, more aware of in order to try to make my life more meaningful. Just five to start with out of a thousand and one to seek and find, learn and love, and hold and share. They are little tiny things, and you don’t have to agree with my choices here, but I hope it will inspire you to find those small things in your own life that you can look and tend to, cherish or change, and give more meaning to who you are and where you are journeying in life today.

As the Ecclesiast says, “there is nothing new under the sun”, but that is also the amazing thing about time and the search for meaning — we share the passage of one and the search for the other with our ancestors. I hope we can learn to better preserve the preciousness of Time and impart the purposefulness of meaning for our future children.

Five Little Meaningful Things on My To-Do List Today

1. See, hear, touch, taste, smell. In other words, although words can not truly describe the quality of our five senses, I tend to think Fritz Perls had a point when he said, “lose your mind, come to your senses”. I just plain think too much. Life would have so much more little special moments of meaning if I just enjoyed whatever sense I happen to be using at the time.

Look and wonder or discover. Listen and take the sound into your heart, whether it is the sound of a friend speaking or the sound of a cricket or a bird singing. Enjoy the amazing ability to taste food from the time it touches your lips until it reaches your belly. Inhale a scent and let it settle in, making itself a mysterious acquaintance. Perls, the psychotherapist who discovered Gestalt Therapy believed that humans are a wholistic entity, consisting of body, mind, and soul. He was a great one for understanding that when we view ourselves in the moment, through our own eyes, and not by looking back into the past but by bringing the past into the present, we become more whole. Focusing on using our senses goes along way toward reviving the mind and soothing the soul.

2. Do it with purpose but not always purposefully. There doesn’t always have to be a goal to achieve when we do something. In fact, we need to do more things more often with no other goal than joy in the moment’s journey. For me, the example would be humming or singing. I find I am one of those people who just hums all the time, like a crazy person. But I hum, well frankly, just dopey sounds that do comfort me, I guess, and activate that old Vagus nerve, but I am trying to make this a more meaningful meaningless exercise in my life. So, whenever I find myself humming some stupid syllabic scales, I try to “change my tune”.

Sometimes now when I catch myself humming nonsensical garbage, I make myself focus on the fact that I believe all of life is spiritual and that the Divine is present; so I’ll hum something like “Be Still My Soul” or “For the Beauty of the Earth”. Sometimes however, I will hum something that just makes me happy, like Mr. Roger’s “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” or “Feeling Groovy”. Sometimes I make myself hum something that is fun and has the added advantage of bringing to mind a memory of someone dear to me like when I hum or sing my dad’s old stand-by “You Get a Line and I’ll Get a Pole” or I sing something I used to sing to the kids in our big bed at night like “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” or “On Top of Spaghetti”.

If you are not a hummer, I highly recommend it, but if it’s not for you, find that thing you do that maybe seems meaningless, but could do with a little attitude change directing it towards meaning. For instance, do you, as I have always done, play with your hair? This habit drove my mom crazy for some reason, but I realize now that it was a comforting technique. Do you have a habit you do that comforts you and doesn’t hurt anyone else? Then do it with meaning. If you are a hair-stroker, stroke with contentment and really feel the silky strands or crunchy curls or just be glad you still have hair to fondle! Maybe you are a “tapper”. I taught a lot of students, especially boys and young men, who were “tappers”. If you are a person who taps with a pen when stressed about a test or taps when you are working on a project or taps mindlessly when you are trying to keep your cool or patiently wait or someone who just enjoys the sound of drumming, then — tap with meaning! Do a drum beat and make your own rhythmic music. Mix it up a bit and see what happens if you use your other hand to tap out some beats. Let yourself feel primal and connect to the age-old and ancient art of beating. Whatever you do, tap to the beat of your own self-be-true.

We should remember when it comes to these habits or seemingly meaningless activities that we can give them meaning if we recognize they reveal something about how we are created and how we exist between the natural and the sublime. As animals we often unconsciously make sounds or fluff our feathers, but as humans we can consciously create and we can imbue with a greater meaning, those instinctual or habitual actions. We don’t have to be consciously purposeful all the time, but finding more meaning even in the instinctual or habitual can bring us unexpected enjoyment in random creative acts. We are those beings who can create our own delight or pleasure or calm, even in the boring, mundane or stressful.

3. Breathe. How many times do we have to say it? hear it? preach it? I am so sick of people telling me to breathe and breathe deeply, but the fact remains, we have just stopped breathing deeply. At least in my Western, uber-get-ahead culture, we decided as a species we no longer could waste time breathing deeply, feeling our chests rise and fall with the intake and out-take of air, enjoying being alive because our lungs work or our lungs are healthy. Ain’t nobody got time for that, man! Breathing is such a waste of time. So, we will do the minimum to stay alive and leave the deep breathing to babies and monks.

If you didn’t have Covid issues this past year, thank God or your lucky stars, but for those who did or suffered with someone who did and who had trouble breathing, it is one of the things this pandemic should make us grateful to be able to do. Instead of just shallowly breathing the way I have gotten used to doing it, as a rote bodily function for merely staying alive, breathing with attention, with a bit of meaning in it, is my goal to do at least as often as I can.

I breathe deeply for the sheer enjoyment of being able to do it, and for any of you spiritual folks, like I try to be, we should remember: there is a divinity in breath and breathing. The Divine is often pictured as revealing to us a holy spirit encountered through our breath. Without breath, no life; and without life, no meaning.

4. Stop complaining; Start Maintaining. This poem by Gunilla Norris is about the paradox of maintaining and her words and thoughts are more eloquent than I could ever express.

Paradox of Noise by Gunilla Norris

It is a paradox that we encounter so much internal noise
 when we first try to sit in silence.

It is a paradox that experiencing pain releases pain.

It is a paradox that keeping still can lead us

so fully into life and being.

Our minds do not like paradoxes. We want things

To be clear, so we can maintain our illusions of safety.

Certainty breeds tremendous smugness.

We each possess a deeper level of being, however,

which loves paradox. It knows that summer is already

Growing like a seed in the depth of winter. It knows

that the moment we are born, we begin to die. It knows

that all of life shimmers, in shades of becoming — 

that shadow and light are always together,

the visible mingled with the invisible.

When we sit in stillness we are profoundly active.

Keeping silent, we hear the roar of existence.

Through our willingness to be the one we are,

We become one with everything.

 — Gunilla Norris

People used to use phrases like “maintain your purity” or “maintain your integrity”, but now we don’t have much use it seems for maintaining things any more, in our easily disposable world of everything from disposable fast food containers to disposable relationships. The title of Norris’ poem reminds me that we too often let our inner lives become as distractingly, irritatingly noisy as is the constant noise we have to endure in our outer lives. But we have a choice about letting so much noise rule our inner beings. Stopping negative thoughts is one good way to begin to make a courtship with silence and to nurture a peaceful inner environment.

The Norris poem coaches us to see through the charade of complaining and to recognize that maintaining illusions of safety by needing things to be clear or black or white even just wanting to understand a thing or a person, are just that — not quite what they seem — illusory. We humans are the greatest paradox the world has ever known; demonic and angelic, foolish and brilliant and wise; fearful and brave; selfish and sacrificial; hateful and loving; anxious and peaceful; greedy and generous — we are paradoxes alone and a paradoxical community of beings and all of us are everything and nothing and it is rarely if ever as clear-cut as we make it out to be.

To stop complaining means to understand that the mystery of anything is much more holy and desirable than the knowing and owning of something or someone. To maintain an even keel through life’s ups and downs, is to keep balancing the teeter totter of one’s existence daily; flowing back and forth; swinging in the pendulum of the glorious idea and ideal of being fully and incredibly human. “For we are fearsomely and awesomely made”. Human maintenance requires a great degree of bravery in the face of all we do not know. Complaining is an unworthy shield to hide our fears behind, fears of sallying forth into the battle and possibly being victorious. We will never know until we put away the things of a childish attitude, and take up the things of an adult. Giving up grumbling leaves a pretty large, wide open field for all the things we can take up instead to do with our feelings and thoughts.

5. Be Yourself. And yes — here one must add the old standby — because everyone else is already taken. And isn’t that wonderful! Think about how many “everyone elses” there are for each of us to get to know! And seize hold of the idea that you are unique and that that it is not only just “okay” to be who you are, but it is wonderous and inspiring and you are so very, very needed in the world because there isn’t another You.

No one else can connect the same dots of a life to make a “me” in the same way I can — it is exponentially impossible. Like a pointillism painting, my own specks of a life come together to make something uniquely lovely and meaningful.

So today, I will try not to let anyone, including myself be unhappy with who I am. I will accept I am not perfect, that I need to make changes, and that there are some things that need work. But I will find meaning in the fact that I am Wholly Me. And that is a Me-aning worth living and worth loving.

As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life”. The Great Perhaps becomes the Great Purpose when we choose to make meaning however, whenever, with whomever and whatever we can. It is our great Why and all meaningful moments make the Why the raison d’etre. What is the reason for my being today? The answer is simply and profoundly complicatedly — my life.

To get more meaning out of life, we don’t need a thousand and one ways. Starting with one or two will do. Again, I must turn to poetry to distill the important “stuff” about life. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the following about the meaning of our lives and the title alone gives me joy in the journey and meaning for The Way. May it be a Psalm for your life today as well.

A Psalm of Life

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each to-morrow

Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Act, — act in the living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.

May we learn to love “acting in the living Present, heart within, God overhead” and may we each find joy in our own very unique journeys towards a more meaningful, wonderful life. Yes, we can make our lives sublime.

To Life!

©Jane Tawel 2021

God, Racism, and America

By Jane Tawel

March 26, 2021

man in black suit holding white printer paper
https://unsplash.com/photos/72gPbaJt-_k

My friend got me thinking today about racist policies and systemic racism in this country. Well, how are not we thinking about that — we should not “move on” from incident to incident like lemmings. So I thought I would share some meditations on that here as well (does Jane never get tired of putting targets on her metaphorical back, you ask? No, heaven forbid when so many people of color have not just metaphorical but literal targets on their backs.)

Thank you, Kathleen — Tough conversations on racism in our policies and systems sounds like a good conversation. Especially religious people (and unbelievably sadly those who claim the religion of The Christ) people in this country seem to have totally lost any comprehension that evil, injustice, prejudice, selfishness, lies, false pride, yes, racism, misogyny, ignorance, hate, foolishness — all are not just part of the individual’s human condition, but also part of human created and run systems. How could it not be otherwise and yet we cling to an ignorant understanding that it is only about the morality and ethics of individuals and not communities, businesses, and nations.

By denying systemic racism, or any other ill, we can hide in our closets of self-protected self-denial — the “I’m not racist” argument. Which for Bible readers should make us tremble since it sounds much like the defensive arguments of the goats on Christ’s judgment day. America’s worship of individualism and what makes someone a success is in complete contradiction to the principles of any religion’s idea of God’s mandates, but it is a complete travesty of what Jesus taught and lived. Mea culpa!

Racist policies and a racist history that continues to be a racist present, when not seen as one of America’s great ongoing sins can never be fixed and healed if we don’t even acknowledge our mutual acceptance of “the ways things are”. By continuing to point fingers, we neglect the four pointing back at us. By focusing only on “me”, and whether I think I am racist, I will never see that just because I myself, am not drowning, does not mean I am not flailing about in the same sea of systemic racism. We need to pull everyone up on the raft, and then fix the ship, folks.

Any one who reads the Bible should know better, and yet…. In America, we keep looking at the individual and trying to assess with our excruciatingly self-centered thinking: “is he/ she racist or not?” But that is like looking at a whole forest and picking out one diseased tree that is racist in a forest of disease and racism. We must look to the forest’s diseases as well and join hands and hearts to root out the bad and heal and nurture the good. I must help to make the hard and good and Godly choices for all if I want to be better and good and Godly myself.

God, help me today to do something for someone else and help me to find whatever I can do to use my own little hand, joined with others’, to fight the breakage in the dam continuing to break with the weight of racism in this nation, in our world.

Gasping at Glimmers 

by Jane Tawel

https://unsplash.com/photos/__pzUnC_OWA

Gasping at Glimmers

By Jane Tawel

March 24, 2021

*

God-intentioned,

The world breathes, in and out

in and out; and good things come to rest.

When any little thing expires,

another respires in its place.

We settle for moving forward, and not the best

found in realities outside the bounds

of acceptable behavior.

The world is pale with shadows,

and Sudden! Awesome Moment Is — 

overcome by the ennui of bully time.

I am left gasping at glimmers.

*

Oh, to see The Face,

of Whom my meaning mirrors!

There is a holiness in all;

With backs turned

to mankind’s wall,

All faces turn towards God.**

*

I am poor intentioned,

but meager scattered salt;

surviving the winter roads

and adding value by grace alone — 

perhaps others may slip less than I.

Summer is more treacherous

than any icy wind-torn day.

We lie face-down,

and burn our backs once, twice.

The sun blinds to Sun’s Truth

and gorging on purloined picnics

and lulled by warmth, or bit by rabid heat,

we stop extending a hand

to lift another to glory.

Our minds and hearts

bury our souls,

in the sands of time;

or build castles without royalty,

soon swept out on the waves of insignificance.

*

There is a holiness that hovers,

just beyond my holy fingertip.

The subjects of the Ineffable,

like mockingbirds, soar, swoop and dive.

Fleeting, hidden, but not foolish — 

Imago Dei in All of Life!

Our minds may mock

and fear tick-tock,

and yet… and yet… and yet…

There is a trued Eternity,

Perfection — 

just beyond us glistening…

And for each soul that’s carefully listening,

the sound of sanctity will rise,

Creation will unlock blind eyes;

And All Things Good and Beautiful,

of heart and endless soul,

will reach behind the veil,

will see beyond the pale,

and holiness will be our home.

© Jane Tawel 2021

** The idea of holiness explored in this poem I owe to my reading of Man is Not Alone by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Life-Lines — a poem

by Jane Tawel

https://unsplash.com/photos/se3tHNszbkM

Life-lines — a poem

By Jane Tawel

March 19, 2021

*

When I was young,

my mind and heart

were intertwined

like scribbled lines.

When one is young,

separating scrambled lines

is the monumental task

of growing-up.

I failed at much of it

but some lines straightened,

into the miracle of

Due North.

The dots and dashes,

the broken, mended bits of line

Still encompass and still

compass me forth.

*

When I became

Two, and then more;

and “my” became “our”

heart, mind and soul;

We formed a new me.

And I took the bow of us in hand, and

formed a straight arrow;

a line, shooting, aimed,

undeviating in communion,

unswerving in love;

propelling my life.

A streak of light — 

like the tail of a comet.

My love for you

became the trued lines of fortune

in the palms of my hands.

My love for you was

a life-line branching out,

like the shoots of roots

from an unbowed, unbending tree.

Like a line with no end,

I became

my love for you.

*

Now I grow old

and the lines of my life

form circles.

Circling, and circling, and circling;

back and around, back and around…

and sometimes I grow dizzy,

and sometimes I become whole.

The center holds

in the spiral of my life.

© Jane Tawel 2021

Sky and Earth in Rain- 4 Poems

by Jane Tawel

https://unsplash.com/photos/bWtd1ZyEy6w

Sky and Earth in Rain

Four Poems

By Jane Tawel

March 13, 2021

Poem One

*

Sky’s brow sweats with labor;

the earth is replenished

with heaven’s pleasing perspiration.

Earth, in her turn, turns.

Round and round and round

flinging ocean, sea, and pond

back into Sky’s opened-mouth face.

Sky as Heaven, Earth as Gaia,

powerful in servitude to each other;

delighting in shared toiling.

Earth dances, opening herself up

to Sky’s rain and — 

both, so in love!

Heaven and Gaia merge,

symbiotic in creation.

*

Poem Two

*

The blues of sky are borne-away

and seeming dead in grey hues,

mourning clouds as black as burial clothes,

the world looks up at the bereavement.

Only the old folks will watch the sky

and know — 

Surprising endings make the best stories.

*

Ah, the sky’s eyes are tearing-up!

Only the parents know

the welcome oxymoron of the heavens’ happy tears.

Light, though hidden, eyes though clouded,

Love’s light, like the sun, never leaves the heart.

*

Rain is heavens’ tears shed in joy.

The skies know that nothing ever really dies.

The casket opens around the keening clouds.

The heavens resurrect themselves

pouring the gift of life

into earth’s open-armed delight.

*

Poem Three

*

The canopy of sky folds,

and through the gaps of cover,

all heaven breaks loose;

the earth is bathed from head to toe.

And dirty roots and filthy feet and pining pinnacles,

are washed with grace of falling rain.

*

Poem Four

*

The sky husbands the earth,

his seed pours forth,

and earth open’s up to sky’s embrace.

*

Love, given and received;

the over-whelming mystery of earth and sky,

true soul- mates, wed forever,

bearing all.

The earth opens to

all sky’s love -spent pourings.

And at earth’s breast

all children are fed.

New life from married bliss.

© Jane Tawel 2021

Dr. Seuss Becomes the Protagonist

Because I just had to on this one, let me just say: About the hullabaloo on the six Seuss books, none of which are my favorites and probably aren’t anybody’s favorites anyway. It is the Dr. Seuss Enterprise itself removing a few of the books because of stereotypes in the drawings that were once accepted and now are hurtful and seen as prejudice-causing. This makes Dr. Seuss the protagonist in this story. Now about the antagonists.

Whatever the heck do people think they mean by “cancel culture” of which term is just another labeling devise I have no desire to understand. Children should be protected by parents as they see fit, no matter the genre anyway. And we should all want to help children be better equipped for the future of living and loving and growing together than their parents were. That’s called “love culture” and “progressive culture”. 

When children grow up, they will hopefully have been educated to make their own better and best decisions, apart from whatever “culture” is prevalent in their home or their neighborhood. Children will still enjoy all the classic Seuss books for many years to come, I have no doubt, and learn the important lessons many of those books teach besides how to read. I hope children also learn from the Dr. Seuss Enterprise’s decision to do the right thing at the right time. I don’t really understand this whole labeling of things — if something in any one’s, nation’s, religion’s history is now no longer, as Phil. 4:8 says, “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy” then we should as moral, ethical caring- for -other -human beings let it go into the past and be honorably or dishonorably buried there. That’s not censuring, that’s not banning, that is not taking down important monuments. That is simply doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.

I think some people need to stop letting their hearts be three sizes too small as if Seuss’ Grinch were autobiographical and imitate the protagonist in my own favorite Seuss book, “Horton Hears a Who”. Because folks, “a person’s a person no matter how small” and sacrificing as Horton does for the smallest, weakest, and most vulnerable in our midst is what makes true heroes and heroines, no matter who is writing the stories.

©Jane Tawel 2021

We Hold These Truths

from Jane Tawel

If only they had listened to Jefferson: “The idea of amending constitutions at regular intervals dates back to Thomas Jefferson. In a famous letter, he wrote that we should “provide in our constitution for its revision at stated periods.” “Each generation” should have the “solemn opportunity” to update the constitution “every nineteen or twenty years,” thus allowing it to “be handed on, with periodical repairs, from generation to generation, to the end of time.”(The New Republic)

Lately I have realized how little I know about how things “should” work in my own nation and how they “do or don’t” work comparatively. I completely agree it is time every citizen was more educated in civics and through that education that the people are heard in terms of changes that need to be made yesterday. We must ask ourselves — when does a document like a government charter (which is what our Constitution is) become an idol to worship and not a tool to use for the good of the people? There are a couple other idolized documents I can think of that we should be better educated in and asking these questions about as well, but that’s a whole other can of manna.

As Jesus, the brilliant student of Torah law and the expert in the government charters of Israel said, we are meant to fulfill and live out these truths as guides, not worship or desecrate our written guides by our inability to change and be changed by “these truths that God and humans hold self-evident”…. We will be thinking about the story of that great statesman Pilate soon and his sad, sarcastic, narcissistic and oh so telling question that he asked of Jesus: “What is Truth?” We should not put up with our officials today asking the same thing — we should be the answer — We are the Truth of which you are merely the temporary guardians of.

To riff on an oldie — instead of “following the money”, we must start to “Follow the Truth”. And the questions are always the same for individual, community, and nation: Who do we want to be? What are we called to do? What changes do we need to make to be and do that which is our highest calling?

~~ Let’s do this, folks. Let’s help each other. I know I could use it. ~~Jane

Homily #4: Building Character

I wrote on this very idea not long ago, but the quote below refreshed my memory. Building a virtuous character takes time, commitment, and conviction. It means that for some of us, we have glimpses at times that it means something to work at building a better soul, and that changing, yes! changing one’s character is not only possible but is an important and worthy thing to do. It is the Narrow Way, not the cheap grace way; it is the “treasure hidden in a field”, not the “house made of sand”; and it is about changing me, not changing someone else.

From James Davison Hunter:

“We say we want a renewal of character in our day but don’t really know what we ask for. To have a renewal of character is to have a renewal of a creedal order that constrains, limits, binds, obligates, and compels. This price is too high for us to pay. We want character but without unyielding conviction; we want strong morality but without the emotional burden of guilt or shame; we want virtue but without particular moral justifications that invariably offend; we want good without having to name evil; we want decency without the authority to insist upon it; we want more community without any limitations to personal freedom. In short we want what we cannot possibly have on the terms that we want it”.

From: “The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil”