The Final Roll Call

by aaron_anderer on flickr2As a little girl, I remember watching the grownups in my hometown Episcopal church cross themselves, and feeling like there was a secret I was not yet privy to but wanted to know. Sometime in high school, I started crossing myself at will, at the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” mentions, but also before and after communion, and whenever I thought it might fit.

The first time I felt silly. After that—though I didn’t understand why—I liked this small movement, this physical manifestation of something that must be outside, but seemed also inside, something I wanted to be a part of. [Read more…]

Seeking Refuge

By Shannon Huffman Polson

KK_Boat_Drop-OffI’d just put my two young sons to bed when I opened the computer to see the picture of Aylan. My sons are two and five, and the youngest has round soft legs, like Aylan, and little shoes, like Aylan. I saw the picture of Aylan and felt my blood go cold.

That day I had been humming through hymns in some music planning for our small startup Episcopal community in rural Washington. “We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord,” came to mind, an old camp song. Good energy for coming back together at the end of a summer. Now the music stopped.

One in the spirit and one in the Lord? I couldn’t get the picture out of my mind. How blind I was to God’s people struggling each day just to live? Aylan must have tussled and played with his older brother just like my little one, but his brother drowned too. Aylan’s mother must have tucked them both in the same way I tuck in my sons, until she drowned that same day. I started to feel desperate. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” the hymn goes. How was I showing Christ’s love?

My feeling of discomfort grew. I emailed a friend who does overseas mission work, but she didn’t know a way to plug in directly. What if my family flew somewhere, worked in a camp? There were places to give, but that didn’t seem enough. We could take a family into our home, but the US has only permitted immigration to 1,500 Syrian refugees. [Read more…]

Voices in the Methow Valley

Spring in the Methow Valley of Northeastern Washington comes quietly, a gradual warming, winter grass rustling with the breezes carrying promise of new life. I am here for my first spring, though I’ve been here often winters, occasional summers and falls. I’ve never seen the opening here, the uncovering of so much asleep, the pale yellow winter grass so thick it seems nothing green will come again, that all is lost.

I head out for a hike along Virginia Ridge toward Mt. Gardner. Amidst the dead grass and dry pine needles, the cones of the Ponderosa along the trail, flash improbable patches of color: tiny pink blossoms, other small yellow and blue flowers, and yellow daisy-shaped blooms. They come out of nowhere, these glimpses into spring and the life that is growing under the surface. I’m new to this valley in the spring; I do not know their names.

How important it is to know names—is it enough to simply notice, to take the time to pay attention? There are birds here I don’t yet know, though I looked up the mountain bluebird the other day. He is common in areas of forest opening to meadow, where we are staying. Hanging up a hummingbird feeder, we’ve had several visitors with backs shining orange and green. I know they are hummingbirds, but not which kind.

So much is happening around me. I am not equipped to understand. It is not enough to notice. I need to meet and learn this world, to know it, to be saturated in beauty.

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When the Matches Go Out

When Marie-Henri Beyle visited Florence, that city named for its place among waters, he thought the art he came across might kill him. Visiting the Basilica Santa Croce in 1817, he wrote that he “was seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart…the wellspring of life was dried up within me. I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground.”

When I first heard of what is now called Stendhal’s syndrome (Beyle’s penname was Stendhal), I was overcome myself, with envy. I was studying English literature and art history in college, but I had never been so undone by my subjects.

The summer after learning about Stendhal’s syndrome, I bought a collegiate Eurail pass, starting my travels in Italy. I went to Rome and Florence. I saw the Sistine Chapel, and I thought it was beautiful, but other than slight nausea from the summer heat and dehydration, I had no physical reaction. I considered my failure to experience this ecstasy a deficiency; a true art lover, surely, could have brought herself to such a place with the appropriate knowledge and awe.

I left my art history on the sun-soaked campus in North Carolina when I joined the Army. The art I carried with me was music, from one choir to the next in North Carolina, Bosnia, Korea, Texas, and finally Seattle.

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Blaze: David Wilcox Opens the Heart, Part 2

This interview with singer-writer David Wilcox, whose new album blaze released this week, is continued from yesterday.

Shannon Huffman Polson: So many people are writing—and reading—dystopia right now, at least in the world of literature. “Oil Talkin’ To Ya” has a more positive vision of the world. How have you been able to transcend what seems to be in vogue of the hopelessness relating to the current challenges of the world?

David Wilcox: The idea I tried with “Oil” is from someone who lives off the grid and charges his car from solar panels—he feels different because he lives in possibility, the possibility that if we make a lot of really good decisions things could be different, we could get along with the energy economy we see in the natural world. Being around him I saw that he has access to a hope I don’t because he switches on a light pulling energy from a grid he is both giving to as well as taking from.

I do love a song that has done something with the information, that’s not just watched the news and reacted in fear, but has made some emotional alchemy with the material. Songs need to do the work and get to a place beyond a fear response. It’s still my job to consider how I’ll react to this. It’s entertaining or at least distracting to look at life as a series of terrible things, but I don’t like the experience of being in that space as much as the space where I’ve taken the time to think it through.

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