A message from the Amazons to the Women of the Future

Dear Women of the Future,

We are Penthesilea and Hippolyta. We are Andromache and Antiope. You know us as queens and ruthless warriors. You know us wrongly. Those who control the present have rewritten the past to suit their wants and needs. We are the Mothers. We are a nation of women. We are leaders. We are healers. We are creators. We are weavers and potters. We farm and tend our herds. We are skilled in weapons and wisdom. We are as strong and resilient as need be. And we stand in combat as need be.

You know us as the daughters of Ares, the god of war. We are the daughters of Artemis, goddess of hunting, wild nature, and chastity. We are the daughters of Athena, goddess of wisdom, war and peace, and spinning and weaving. We are who we are, a tribe, a nation of self-sufficient women who stand with strength and pride, and care for our own.

We, the Amazons, are the wild women who inhabit the wild places. Freedom feeds our souls, death trembles before our deeds. We write our holy books, we shape our rules and rituals, we craft heaven from the holiness of our hearts, lives and love.

We the Amazons say to you Women of the Future, choose your battles with the wisdom of your heart, mind and soul. Never give up. Learn each day. Each day do your best to the betterment of your craft and hearth. Face your fears with trembling knees and courage; nature may taunt us with our weakness; our destiny may be poured by a measure beyond our understanding; and yet, goodness will triumph in the end.

Good Women of the Future, you are now the scribes! Take up your words, reclaim the vision of our wisdom, and let our dream and our deeds fade no more. Good Women of the Future, through your actions and voice, the songs of the Amazons, the creativity and courage of wild and willful women will echo ever more symphonically through the valleys of eternity.

(with thanks to Anne Fortier for the inspiration of her book, The Lost Sisterhood)

Why I Want to Grow a Beard

Back in 1993 or 1994 I was on sabbatical and was stressed out because I pretty much knew that no matter how much I wrote I was not going to get tenure at the university where I was working. I knew that they valued empirical research and I  was writing about theory.  As part of my most profound effort to deny and avoid thinking about all of that, I wrote a short essay called ‘why I want to grow a beard.’  The title of that has been popping up in my mind recently, for reasons unknown to me (unless it has something to do with those pesky post-menopausal facial hairs?), but anyway, I thought I would share the essay with you . . . hope you enjoy!


As I sit at my desk, staring out the window, avoiding work, there is a postcard tucked into the window ledge which says, “Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for healing and help, regardless of the form it takes.” The back of the card credits this quote to a course in miracles.

Today, as I sit and look and think, my mind drifts back to September and the beginning of my sabbatical. At that point I was feeling particularly anxious about productivity, my ability to write publishable material, and my ability to sustain a focus. So, there were days (lots of them) when I would get up, wash quickly (very quickly), have some coffee, and head down to the desk in the sweat suit that I had slept in the night before. After a few days of this, the sweats would walk down to the study by themselves and carry me along for the ride. Ultimately I would find my way to the bathtub and clean clothes; but do note the word ‘ultimately’ that opens the sentence. Well, a dear friend finally said to me, “Next you’ll be growing a beard!” and I got to thinking, could there be some truth in her proclamation? Or was it a plea for healing and help? For whom? Of what? Could it be that it was both true and a plea?

The short simple answer is, of course, it was a plea. The woman wanted me healed of that behavior pattern, and wanted help with improving my contribution to her view of the landscape. (The regular occurrence of a bath and of clean clothes beyond the same two pairs of sweats really is not all that unreasonable, I guess.)  But more interesting to me was the notion of growing a beard. Might I want to grow a beard?

What does it mean to grow a beard? Lots of things. Think about men on vacation. Some grow a beard as a sign they are stepping outside of their participation within the traditional institutions of the social structure. Within the dominant society, participants within the more powerful social institutions are expected/required to be straight forward (and straight), clean and clean-shaven. Growing a beard is a visible sign of momentarily stepping outside of one’s role within the social structure. For a man on vacation, it can be a sign of his appeal for personal rejuvenation (healing). For a man on a mission (as were the ancient prophets or contemporary social reformers or revolutionaries), it can be a sign of his appeal for social change or transformation (healing).

I want to be able to do that. I want a sign that ears witness to my stepping outside the social order to call for social change. So what is the parallel sign available to women? Well, truth be known, I don’t think there is one. At least I couldn’t think of one (other than becoming a lesbian and practicing witchcraft, but that is another set of reflections). So . . . but, why not? (Why not as in why is there not on, not why couldn’t I think of the parallel sign.)

Why not indeed. The current organization of the social structure precludes it. In order to be able to step outside of one’s assigned role within the social structure, one needs to first have an assigned role within it. I found myself coming back, yet again, to the recognition that, by and large, women do not have significant roles within the more powerful social institutions. (Oh sure, there are some significant roles that we’ve captured access to, but we all know that if we slowed the struggle for even a minute, the availability of those roles would be gone all too soon. And assignment [as in designated, selected, a position of duty] is very different from captured [as in seized by force or craft]). Women’s assigned, acknowledged social roles stand outside institutions of power and the power of institutions (actually underneath them). Women’s socially defined roles remain primarily nurturers, caregivers. Our backs still too often buffer and cushion the impact of the road our male partners and colleagues walk.

But we mostly know this. Why revisit old wounds? “Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for healing and help, regardless of the form it takes.” The absence of significant roles for women within the social institutions of power is an appeal for healing and help, all-be-it in a rather contorted form. Until it is an option for women to stand outside the social structure, an option that will only come into being when we stand with significance within the social structure, the social structure and social roles are in need of healing and transformation.

These reflections are a call for these truths to be re-membered, and re-visioned. These reflections are a call for the radical transformation of our consciousness and of society. These reflections are a call for the personal exclusion of women from roles of significance within institutions of power to be understood as a form or appeal for the political healing of the social structure. (Oh sweet mother, yes I said it again, the personal IS political.) In the meantime, I’m growing a beard.


So, I wrote that over 20 years ago. Sadly, I think it is still pretty much relevant and true enough. So sisters, let’s all go grow us some beards!

Experiencing Justice with The Lady and the Tramp

The most basic principle of social work practice is to have a clear goal. After all (maybe before all!) if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?!? So, what is justice like? How does it look, feel, smell, sound, taste? What is human dignity like?

Well, on some level we all have a visceral, personal answer to that. Most of us can identify a moment or two in our lives when things just felt right. When all was right with the world, when we did something good for someone else, or maybe when someone did something for us. Now, I’m not talking about winning the lottery grand, but just those moments when things were nice and you found yourself hoping life could go on forever like that. So, go ahead, conjure up one of those moments and bask in it! Recollect how you were feeling, the smells associated with it, the taste it left in your mouth, the sounds around you, the setting and scenery. Bask in all of it for a few moments. Niceness, it is lovely. And that is how I would like everyone to experience fairness and dignity.

And then there is this guy Anthony deMello who offers us this story about a homeless man in London. The man, let’s call him Nigel, has been walking the streets of London all day. He is exhausted, and as night comes on, he finds himself on the bank of the River Thames. It has been a particularly difficult day for Nigel, panhandling has not gone well, he was continually rousted by the constabulary so that he was not even able to secure a bit of bread for himself. He is looking forward to a night’s sleep and a fresh start to the day tomorrow, hoping at least it won’t be raining. Just as he is settling in and about to fall asleep the lights of a car sweep over him, and a chauffeur driven Bentley pulls up near him. A very attractive woman steps out of the car and asks, “Sir, are you intending to spend the night here?” Nigel says, “yes.” And the woman, let’s call her Sofia, replies, “I will not conscience that. You will come with me to my home where you will have a decent meal and spend a comfortable night.” And Sofia insists that Nigel join her in the car, and they ride through London to her mansion. When they arrive at the mansion, Carson ushers them into the mansion. Sofia says, “Carson, please take Nigel to the servants quarters and help him settle in. Be sure that he is treated well and that he has everything he needs to be comfortable this evening.” After a time Sofia goes by to check on Nigel. She sees a bit of light from under his door, and so she knocks on it. Nigel invites her into the room, and Sofia asks, “Is everything alright, Nigel? Did you have a good meal?” Nigel responds, “My lady, I’ve never had a better meal in my life.” “Then are you warm enough?” “Yes, my Lady, the bed is comfortable and warm and lovely.” “Then maybe you need some company to help you to relax and sleep.” And as Nigel moves over just a bit to make some room for Sofia, he falls into the Thames.

Now, when I read DeMello’s version of this story I burst out laughing. I did not see that coming, not at all. But it makes sense. Harboring illusions will not get us justice or respect for dignity. Dreaming may help us to envision a better future, but putting our shoulders to the wheel is what will lay the foundation today for a better tomorrow. So, wake up, drink the coffee, and do some work! We are not required to finish the work, but neither are we free to desist from it!!

And then, because it’s me, I started to think a bit more about the story. And I started to wonder, what if the genders were reversed. What if Nigel were Nancy? What if Sofia were Samuel? How would the fantasy play out? I suppose if it were a gothic romance version Nancy would still be dreaming of her hero Samuel coming to save her. But would even she be dreaming of him crawling into her bed? What if Nancy were a feminist, how would her fantasy play out? If you were homeless, what would make you want to scrunch over in bed? If it were me, I would be dreaming of a warm bed, a decent light, and a good book. But then that’s me.

Ah, and the point of the story was, after all, to wake up, drink the coffee and do the work!

A Different Kind of Resolution from the Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women’s perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.



A Different Kind of Resolution


 Posted by Layli Maparyan on Monday, 06 January 2014 in Women Change Worlds


 A Different Kind of Resolution


This time of year, many people are thinking about their New Year’s resolutions. More often than not, these resolutions revolve around things we’d like to change in ourselves or our lives. But what about the things we’d like to change about our world–the things that are bigger than ourselves and our own individual lives? This year, I’m advocating for a different kind of resolution–a resolution to connect ourselves to “the change we’d like to see in the world” through direct action in areas we have the power to influence. I’m convinced that, if enough of us did this, we would turbo-charge not only efforts towards social justice but also human well-being on a vast scale. Are you ready to see where you can plug in??


Those of us who work at social change organizations, like us here at the Wellesley Centers for Women, perhaps have it easiest because our very livelihood depends on doing work that makes a difference in the world. Yet, even those of us who work in this arena need to recommit periodically–to our ideals and principles, to our social change goals, to the targets for change that we have set and to which we hold ourselves accountable. At WCW, we are using a strategic planning process to help us do this, which requires us both organizationally and individually to look at our work–which includes research, theory, and action programs–and its social change impact. Even those of us who have chosen social justice or human wellbeing as our lifework must periodically review, refresh, and reinvigorate.


Just because we don’t all work for social change organizations, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t major ways we can make each a difference. What do you care about? What change would you like to see in the world? As great and necessary as organizations are in the social change equation, they are not the end-all and be-all. Individuals and small groups, even when they are working for change outside formal organizations, can make a monumental difference in outcomes for many through partnering, advocacy, endorsement, and financial support. As Margaret Mead once famously quipped, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”


Yet, the “power of one” is something to be reckoned with, too. We can look to history for inspiration. I would tell my students, for example, about an African-American “house slave” named Milla Granson who held a “midnight school” in her cabin each night to teach 12 fellow slaves how to read; once they learned, she took in 12 more–and did so for decades, until scores “forged their passes to freedom.” Can we imagine this kind of educational activism today? Just last week, I learned the story of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who, during the Holocaust, without orders, wrote and distributed transit visas, sometimes working in collaboration with his wife for 18 hours per day, even overnight, to produce them. Today, scholars estimated that he saved about 6,000 Jews and that anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 people are alive today because of the action he took. Both Milla Granson’s and Chiune Sugihara’s actions show us that there’s always something we can do, right from where we happen to be standing. So what are we waiting for?


All of us have some kind of expertise, passion, or resources that we can contribute to increasing social justice and human well-being in the world. It just takes a different kind of resolution. What will you resolve to do in 2014??


Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.


Cathy Heying and the Lift Garage

Social workers are a hard working lot, often working long hours for little pay, with their hearts proudly and humbly worn on their sleeves. Social workers encounter more than their fair share of impossible situations, often impossible situations that are miles outside the range of their agency, (both personal skill range and institutional scope of mandate). It can be enough to leave you feeling helpless and hopeless. And for some it is. But not for Cathy Heying!

Cathy Heying is a social worker in Minnesota. Minnesota, the land of Lake Woebegon where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. Cathy Heying is both strong and above average for sure. While she worked as a member of the pastoral staff at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church she noticed that many of those who passed through her office were financially struggling because they had lost their jobs. And being a keen observer of the interconnectedness of life events she noticed that many of those folks lost their jobs because their cars broke down and so they were unable to get to work on time. Single mom’s had it particularly bad because they had work schedules, childcare schedules and bus schedules to coordinate. Car repairs were simply out of the question, there was no money in the budget for such luxuries. But no car repairs meant no car, which came to mean a collapse of schedule coordination, a loss of job and a near complete deterioration of the budget, and too often homelessness for the family. Far too often a family’s war on poverty was lost for the lack of a bolt!

Some social workers would have seen this as overwhelming. Some social workers would have seen this as a system failure in the community’s public transportation system and would have launched into a campaign for better bus schedules. Some social workers would have seen this as a lack of compassion on the part of employers, and would have advocated with particular employers for individual clients. And maybe Cathy tried those things too. But, what we know Cathy did was that she recognized the need for client access to affordable car repairs. So, Cathy took the bull by the horns, enrolled herself in the Dunwoody Institute, as one of a few women amidst the 18-year-old young men, and she earned her auto technology degree.

Cathy Heying didn’t just stop there. Working with others, she has created The Lift Garage which has state non-profit status, so that it can now operates as an independent 501-c3. Currently the garage is open on Saturdays to individuals and families who have been referred by a social worker or who demonstrate financial need. Services offered range from basic maintenance, such as belts and batteries, to full service repairs such as suspension and steering. The Lift charges a flat fee of $15/hour plus parts, for anyone who has recently taken a car to a garage, you know this is way below market price.

After I heard Cathy’s story, my first reaction was, “this is GREAT!!” And then I thought, well, but what does this change? And then I remembered the story of the starfish thrower, and then I remembered the community building practice of ‘each one reach one’ from the civil rights movement. And I thought, well, this is something. And that’s a good thing.

So, go check it out at http://theliftgarage.org/. It is a struggling new venture; maybe you have a few dollars to send their way? http://theliftgarage.org

Eva: three years, three months, three weeks and three days towards enlightenment

When she was a young woman, Eva was able to arrange her life circumstances so that she was able to travel to a remote area in California to study Zen with Shunryu Suzuki for a three year period. At the end of the three years, feeling no sense of accomplishment, Eva presented herself to Master Suzuki and announced her departure. Shunryu Suzuki said, “Eva, you have been here for three years. Why don’t you stay three moths more?”

Eva agreed, but at the end of the three months she still felt that she had made no progress toward enlightenment. Once again she told Master Suzuki that she was leaving, and he said, “Eva, listen, you’ve been here three years and three months. Stay three weeks longer.”

Eva did, but still with no success or even any progress. So, once more she told Shunryu Suzuki that absolutely nothing had happened, he said, “Eva, you have been here three years, three months, and three weeks. Stay three more days, and if, at the end of that time, you have not attained enlightenment, then commit suicide.”

Towards the end of the second day, Eva found enlightenment.


When I first read this story, I laughed. I loved it. How wonderful I thought. What a great example/illustration of the importance of deadlines. But then I realized that Eva blew through three deadlines with no effect. Then I thought OK, so deadlines with consequences. And I kind of stopped laughing, and started really thinking about the deeper meaning and implications of the story. I started to search out any misogynist undertones. I looked for feminist highlights. I really teased the story apart in my head until I grew a new furrow line between my eyebrows and got a nasty headache. And I realized that I wasn’t laughing anymore.

So, I reread the story once more with feeling. I let the delight of the aha touch me again with a new freshness. It was there all the time, the laughter, the enlightenment, the love. It is all always already there. We just need to let go of all the other crap, open our hearts and let it in, let it out! It’s there in the silence, in the space between, if only we will pause long enough and listen – really listen to what is, not demand to hear what we expect, what we believe should be. Just listen to what is.

What does all of this have to do with justice and human rights? Well, I’m thinking that if we are going to change our world to be one of fairness and respect for dignity, we first need to be able to envision what that world will be like. We need to become enlightened to the possibility, the real, practical, pragmatic, awareness that it can become so. Then we need to act on that vision, that believe.  

And many of you will say, but I tried, we tried. And many of you will be able to list off lots of efforts, and then you only need to point to the world we live in to demonstrate that we are not there yet.

And I will say to you, remember Eva. You have tried for so long, try a bit longer, try three more months, three more week, try until three minute before you die. Maybe even during those last three minutes, you might could change the world.  But, I will also offer this to us all. Don’t ask the world to change – it will likely say no, or fail to hear your request. Change yourself. Be the peace, the fairness, the respect, the love that you want in the world. Be unconditional peace, fairness, respect and love. Yes, I do mean that, unconditional. No matter what the conditions around you, be peace, fairness, respect and love. And of course it will not be easy. But if we all, each of us could be the peace, fairness, respect and love for 5 or 10 minutes a day, and then for 10 or 15 minutes a day. And if each day a few more folks joined in the practice, well, that would be something. Imagine.

Rosa Parks: sit, walk, run and fly for freedom, dignity and justice

Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, AL. She died on October 24, 2005, in Detroit, MI.  Looking at her life from the outside, I want to say that she lived a rich and full life during her 92 years. But what do I know about her and her life, really? What can anyone know about another person’s life? Probably not all that much. But there are stories worth telling and retelling about her life. …

Rosa Parks came into national public awareness in December 1955 when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus.  Her refusal is credited with sparking the Montgomery bus boycott – a 13 month struggle to desegregate the city buses that ultimately led to a U. S. Supreme Court ruling that public bus segregation is unconstitutional.

And so many stories are nested within that one story.

One story says that Mrs. Parks refused to move because she was feeling too old and too tired.

But, in her biography she said of that day: People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

Another story portrays Mrs. Parks as an individual pioneer, the first to conceive of the notion of planting herself in a seat reserved for whites, acting on her own whim of frustration.

But historical records show that in March of 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin had in October 1955, 18-year-old Mary Louise Smith were each arrested for refusing to give up their seats to white passengers. But Rosa Parks was not a teenager. Rosa Parks was also not an isolationist. She had been a member of the NAACP since 1943.  By 1949 she was the NAACP Youth Council Advisor.  In 1954 Mrs. Parks participated in the Highlander Research and Education Center’s social justice leadership training school where Septima Clark became her friend and mentor.  By the time of her arrest in 1955, Rosa Parks was well known within her community. She was not only well connected with key community organizations, she was an active member of the Voters League and the secretary of the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP.

On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks boarded a city bus in Montgomery Alabama. She sat in the section designated for “colored.” As the bus continued along its route, the white section filled.  While Montgomery law indicated that no passenger would be required to move or give up a seat and stand if the bus was crowded and no seat were available, the custom and practice was that bus driver would move the sign indicating the white only section requiring black individuals to move when there were no white-only seats.  This was not Mrs. Parks first encounter with discrimination in the face of this law. On other days she had seen buses pass her by. On one day she boarded the bus, paid her fare and the driver told her to enter the bus again from the back door. She exited the bus, but before she could gain access to the rear door the driver drove off, leaving her to walk home in the rain. On December 1, Mrs. Parks boarded the bus, paid her fare, and sat in the colored section. The bus filled, the driver moved the sign. Three other Black passengers got up and moved. Mrs. Parks sat, refused to move or to give up her seat. 

When she was interviewed about  the incident for Eyes on the Prize, a 1987 public television series on the Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. Parks said, “When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.’ She was arrested.  The next evening she was bailed out of jail. Friends from the NAACP and the Women’s Political Council consulted and began to distribute handbills announcing a bus boycott. On Sunday December 4, 1955 plans for the Montgomery Bus Boycott were announced in Black churches in the area and in an article in the Montgomery Advertiser.

On December 5 Mrs. Parks was convicted of disorderly conduct, fined $10 plus $4 in court costs. She appealed her conviction and formally challenged the legality of racial segregation. That day the Women’s Political Council distributed 35,000 copies of the handbill calling for a Bus Boycott. In part the handbill read, “We are…asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial … You can afford to stay out of school for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off the buses Monday.”

It rained that Monday. And the Black community pressed on with the boycott. Some carpooled, some took cabs, most of the 40,000 black commuters walked, some as far as 20 miles. After the success of the one day boycott a group met to discuss further strategies. The Montgomery Improvement Association was formed. At the same time other leaders gathered together with Mrs. Parks to plan their strategies for appealing her case.

The boycott continued for 381 days. The US Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional. Montgomery repealed it law after the Supreme Court decision.

In 1958 in his book Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. described Rosa Park’s action as the catalyst rather than the cause of the protest. He said: “The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices . . . Actually, no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, ‘I can take it no longer.'”

After the boycott was ended and the segregation law was repealed, Mrs. Parks continued to be harassed within her home town. She ultimately moved to Detroit to find better work opportunities. Even when victory is won, the struggle is not over. Mrs. Parks continued to work for civil rights until her death in October 2005.

“Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama ran so our children could fly.”

And now it remains to us to sit, walk, run and to fly in the footsteps and on the shoulders of the giants who walked together in community before us. Together we too must sit, walk, run and fly in communities for freedom, dignity and justice.

The War Prayer by Mark Twain


Mark Twain surely was one of America’s great authors. He may be best known for his books “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry  Finn.” Both are fine books, not without their flaws or controversy, but quite fine. However, my favorite piece of his writing is the War Prayer. It too is not without its flaws or controversy. All the more reason then to give it a read. …

So, here it is, please have a read – all the way to the end if you would, please? Then, do let me know what you think? it is after all a think piece…

 The War Prayer   by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory with stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!

Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation:

God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest,
Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord and God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think. “God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, and the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon your neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain on your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse on some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard the words ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it —

For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits.”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Chop Wood, Carry Water; Lay down your burden, then pick it up again

 Each moment is part of an era. Each era is part of a time. I like to think of myself as a child of the ‘60’s. In my mind, the ‘60’s were dramatic and romantic. The ‘60’s were the era of hippies, they were the time of free love. They were the time of deep social unrest and protest, of fighting for civil rights and to end the Viet Nam war. The ‘60’s culminated in Woodstock, “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” at at Max Yasgur’s farm in of Bethel, New York.  Woodstock happened in 1969 and brought the ‘60’s to their fulfillment.  I wanted to be a child of the ‘60’s. I wanted to be at Woodstock. I found out about it after it was over. I was a child of the ‘70’s.

In college I discovered Asia. I took a course in world religions, and discovered Taoism, Buddhism, and Zen. I fell into deep infatuation with Zen Buddhism, and began to aspire to enlightenment. Some of that occasionally seeps into this blog, I think.

Today I am remembering a book I read a while back: Chop wood and carry water. The essence of the book is that before enlightenment we must chop wood and carry water, after enlightenment we continue to chop wood and carry water.  In my youth I used to play with this and say that we should chop water and carry wood. Then it was funny because it was clear that I was playing with the words. Now that I am older, when I play like that people are inclined to think about early onset Alzheimer’s. I am a bit more aware of who and where I play now. It is important to remember and respect the era within which you walk as you play. If you would be with me, it is also important to be aware of the depth and luminosity of the twinkle in my eye. Sometimes playing is just playing.

There is a Zen story that I’m fond of (there are many actually, but here is one of them). It reminds me of “Chop wood and carry water.” The story is called “Lay down your burden then pick it up again”

A troubled woman named Tan could not figure out how to live. So she began meditating to find some answers. After many months she felt no progress, so she asked the temple priest for help. 

The priest said, “Go see old Jah.” 

So she hiked to old Jah’s village and came upon the happy-looking old man coming from the forest under a heavy load of firewood. 

“Excuse me, honored Jah,” she said. “But can you teach me the secret of life?” 

Jah raised his eyebrows and gazed at Tan. Then with some effort he twisted out from beneath his great bundle of firewood and let it crash to the ground. 

“There, that is enlightenment,” he said, straightening up with relief and smiling. 

The troubled woman looked on in shock at the prickly firewood scattered over the ground. “Is that all there is to it?” she said. 

“Oh, no,” said Jah. Then he bent down, collected all the scattered sticks, hoisted them carefully up on his back and made ready to walk on. “This is enlightenment, too. Come. Let’s go together for tea.” 

So Tan walked along with Jah. “What is old Jah showing me?” she asked. 

Jah replied, “this is life, this is enlightenment. First, yes, you suffer a heavy burden. Many do. But, as the Buddha taught and many have realized, much of your burden and much of your joylessness is your craving for what you can’t have and your clinging to what you can’t keep. 

“Then you can see that the nature of your burden and of the chafing you experience as you try to cling to it are useless, unnecessary, damaging, and then you can let it go. 

“In doing so, in awakening to this awareness you find relief, and you are freer to see the blessings of life and to choose wisely to receive them.” 

“Thank you, old Jah,” said Tan. “And why did you call picking up the burden of firewood again enlightenment as well?” 

“One understanding is that some burden in life is unavoidable — and even beneficial, like firewood. With occasional rest it can be managed, and with freedom from undue anxiety about it, it will not cause chafe. 

“Once the undue burden is dropped, we straighten up and see and feel the wonder and power of being. Seeing others suffering without that freedom and blissful experience, we willingly and knowingly pick up their burdens out of compassion joining and aiding others in their various struggles for liberation, enlightenment and fulfillment.” 

“Thank you, Old Jah,” said the exhilarated Tan. “You have enlightened me.” 

“Ah-so,” said Jah. “Your understanding is enlightened. Now to make it part of your living and your spirit, you must go follow the eight practices and meditate. Then you will learn to detach yourself from your useless burden of cravings and to attach yourself to the profound source of being out of which life, creativity, joy and compassion form and flow.” 

And so Tan went and did. And understanding the truths gave her comfort. And practicing the good behaviors kept her from harming herself or others anymore. And concentrating on the deep blissful potential of life gave her a continuing sense of companionship and joyful awe and of well-being in his spirit, no matter what else of pain she had to deal with. 

So it is as well with our work for social justice and human rights. It is a process, a path we choose to walk. Some days we feel like Sisyphus  continually pushing the rock of fairness up the hill only to have it roll back down on us. But, as we let go of our attachments to what should be and open our hearts and minds to what is and what can be, we can begin to notice and celebrate the progress that together we are achieving. We are each of us a drop in the ocean, and together we are the waves that wash ever more powerfully on the beach of fairness and dignity. Let no one doubt the power of the ocean and the tides.

We may lay down our burdens, and we will take them up again. We will chop wood and carry water. The times they are a-changing. Peace, justice and dignity will reign across our land.

Please call me by my true names by Thich Nhat Hanh with comments from Ivan M. Granger

I have been in love with this poem by Thich Nhat Hanh for years. Every time I read it I am touched more deeply by the implications of the poem, by its call for compassion and justice. By its demonstration of the inherent unity of all that is, of all of us. And then recently I cam across a discussion of the poem by Ivan Granger. Beautifully said, Ivan (who I don’t know — yet). so, I thought I would share both with you all … think deeply, please.  … Mary

Please Call Me by My True Names

by Thich Nhat Hanh (1929 – )

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.


— from Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This is a lovely, unflinching meditation on how all of being and all of human experience weaves together into a single tapestry of the whole. It can even draw comparisons with Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” where everything, terrible and beautiful, is one, is witnessed, and is found within oneself. 

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow — 
even today I am still arriving.

Most of us have learned to anticipate what will happen next, and we end up mentally dwelling in our fantasies and fears about the future. But the future is merely an idea; it never has reality. The present moment is all that is ever real. And that is where we must dwell if we want to truly be alive and know what is real.

The present is a state of “still arriving.” Because the present moment is not a fixed space in time, you can’t say that anything encountered in the present is fixed and settled either. The present is a gossamer thin and moving point of light where all things are just barely stepping into the visibility of being… as the moment keeps moving. Everything, everyone, in every second is always just arriving. The present is a continuous becoming. 

Look deeply: every second I am arriving 
to be a bud on a Spring branch, 
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings, 
learning to sing in my new nest…

Another fascinating thing is discovered when we truly, deeply perceive the present moment: Not only are we and all things “still arriving,” but the illusion of boundaries and separate being falls away. The notion of identity expands and recognizes itself just as naturally in all things witnessed. We find we are not just the person watching the bud on the Spring branch, but in our arriving we are equally the Spring bud, the young bird, the caterpillar in the flower, the jewel waiting in the stone. This is not some poetic game of words; it is what we actually perceive.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death 
of all that is alive.

When we finally see this truth then, for the first time, we can truly witness the world as it is. And that is what this poem is most about: witnessing. Thich Nhat Hanh invites to courageously witness the panorama of life, wonders and horrors alike. Through this form of true witnessing, we are not spectators watching others from a distance; no, it all unfolds upon us and in us. We are witnessing ourselves in many forms. We recognize that anything that happens anywhere in the world, is truly happening to ourselves and no other. And everything done, is done by ourselves and no other.

Please call me by my true names, 
so I can wake up, 
and so the door of my heart 
can be left open, 
the door of compassion.

This is why compassion is not altruistic and service is no effort. When we finally see things as they are, it is all oneself. When we offer our heart, when we offer our hand, we are simply helping ourselves. Who among us, when he touches a hot iron, doesn’t immediately pull back and then soothe the burn under cool water? That’s not altruism, it is the natural response to pain in one’s body. When we see clearly, we see we are all of one body, and the joys and pains of any other is yours as well. 

Compassion and an open heart are the natural result of being awake to this truth, and no effort at all.