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One of the great pleasures in being a Unitarian Universalist lay minister is that I am called on to select and do readings as part of services. This past Sunday which happened to be a Poetry Sunday, focused on social justice, I chose to read Joy Harjo’s poem, “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet.”

The poem—which was passed along to me from my partner—was perfect for the service.  I have long been familiar with Joy’s poetry.  Her work is frequently used in Unitarian services, and long before I was a Unitarian, I was a fan of her work.

Then I heard that she was the first Native American U.S. poet laureate (it’s about time!).

 

You can watch me read the poem on YouTube or read the poem below the video.

 

Janet Mason reading Joy Harjo — a UU reading
Unitarian Universalist (UU) lay minister Janet Mason reads, as part of the annual Poetry Sunday, a poem written by Joy Harjo, the first Native American poet laureate of the United States. Poetry Sunday is a UU annual event. Janet is reading at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia.
http://www.youtube.com

 

For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet

By Joy Harjo
Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

8BBC3AB4-D8D5-4AB4-9748-7A437D9CA9EFBe respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.

Reprinted from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright 2015 by Joy Harjo.

(I also found the poem at poets.org)

 

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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Janet Mason drivers license photo 2011

(photos: Here I am in 2011 in a Driver’s License Photo post layoff (left) and here’s me (right)  last week in a 2015 Driver’s License Photo — reinvented and being the writer and woman that I wanted to be in my fifties!)

Janet Mason Drivers License Photo 2015

This morning, I presented this novel excerpt at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia where I am a lay minister.  The segment is also on You Tube. Click here  to see the video.

Unitarian Universalism is a faith that encompasses all religious/spiritual backgrounds (including atheism, agnosticism and Buddhism) in a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.

Belief.  Recently, shopping in a chain drug store with my partner, I came across a plastic rock with that sentiment carved into it.  It gave me pause — this piece of plastic that could easily be categorized as “junk,” in the overcrowded aisles of American life.

I stopped to think what the word means to me.  I was raised secular — but, in fact, I did have  belief.  All my life I have worshipped literature and art.  I revel in nature. For the most part, I have always been my own person. But I have also, at critical junctures in my life, descended into the many faces of self destruction.  So, I understand that wisdom is gained through making mistakes. There is even a scientific theory about this, based on the fact that mistakes are how discoveries are made.

I have a sign on my desk that says “Never Give Up.”  It was given to me after a chanting session at a Buddhist party — Nam Myoho Renge Kyo — which translates to “Devotion to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra” or “Glory to the Sutra of the Lotus of the Supreme Law.”

As a creative writer — as well as a human being — I have to believe in myself.  Honoring the voice inside of me feels like an act of survival.

The fourth Unitarian Universalist principle is “A Free and Responsible Search for Truth and Meaning.”  When I read the principles, this one in particular, it has occurred to me that I have found a faith that fits my beliefs.

Creative writing is a way of making sense of my world.  I turned my last crisis into a novel — with the working title of Flying.  I was laid off from a high stress marketing job working for a major nonprofit headquartered on Rittenhouse Square — a good setting for novels and movies.

At first I thought the crisis was solely in being laid off and deciding what I was going to do next.  But in hindsight, I realized that I had to recover from five and half years of stress and make sense of why I had moved so far away from myself.  I also had to make some sense of the losses in my life during that time.  These included the death of my elderly aunt (my mother’s only sister); two weeks later the death (at the age of 55) of my close friend Toni Brown, also a lesbian writer; and some months later the death of a friend and co-worker, a gay man in his early 50s, who went home from a meeting and hung himself.

In this section of the novel, I read from the passage that I begin by quoting Reverend Kathy Ellis (referred to in the novel as “the minister”) in a sermon that, in fact, drew me to this Beloved Community:

“Dr. King wrote about his own suffering, ‘My personal trials have also taught me the value of unmerited suffering.’  Notice that he said – unmerited. He is not blaming himself, not blaming God, and he wrote that he learned from this suffering:

“Dr. King was able to use his suffering to strengthen his sense of the power of love, to strengthen himself. But notice what he did not say. He did not say that suffering was good. He did not say that he deserved it or that he sought it. He did not say that God punished

him. He said he found strength and comfort. And he used that creative transformation, that strength to challenge evil and to work to stop others’ suffering.”

….

I felt my eyes welling up with tears that sprang from my own compassion about the violence and the hatred that was perpetrated against Dr. King, especially in light of the fact that he lived by the philosophy of nonviolence. But as the tears spilled down my face, I realized that I was also feeling compassion for myself, for never having been a believer in anything — including in myself.  I felt a long channel of light open up inside of me and I was filled with divine presence. Maybe it was God.  Maybe it was the divine Lotus Flower Sutra.  Maybe it was the essence of everything.  But as I sat in my pew, feeling the minister’s words enter my body, I knew that the pillar of light was me. I was all that was good and holy.

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