By Joe Byrne

Members of Jonah House were honored to participate in a couple of different commemorations of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima by the United States in 1945. On Saturday, August 6, 2016, which was the 71st anniversary of the bombing and the feast of the Transfiguration, Joe Byrne and Liz McAlister of Jonah House joined 30 peacemakers in a prayer service outside the White House to repent for the U.S. nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The peace witness was organized by the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, Pax Christi Metro-DC, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Isaiah Project and the Sisters of Mercy— Institute Justice Team.

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The prayer witness, which was held from 8-9am, began with an opening reflection, offered by Art Laffin. This was followed by a period of silence to remember the nuclear victims at 8:15am, the exact time in Japan that the bomb was dropped. Then Mr. Toshiyuki Mimaki, (pictured above speaking in front of the White house) Vice President of Hiroshima Prefectural Hibakusha Organization and a former Executive Board member of Nihon Hidankyo (The Japan Confederation of A & H Bomb Sufferers Organizations) was introduced by Kio Kanda, from the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Committee of the National Capital Area, the group responsible for bringing Mr. Mimaki to the D.C. area.

Speaking through a translator, Mr. Mimaki shared that he was born in Tokyo, experienced the Great Tokyo Air Raid and was then exposed to the atomic bombing at the age of three in his father’s hometown of Hiroshima, where he had moved. On August 8, 1945, he walked around the whole neighborhood of Hiroshima Station with his mother and younger brother in search of his father, who worked for the Japan National Railway. He also conveyed the horrific experience his family endured as a result of the bombing. In his concluding remarks, Mr. Mimaki stated that he appreciated President Obama’s recent historic visit to Hiroshima. He also made a plea to Mr. Obama to visit the Peace Museum in Hiroshima and do the right thing, together with other nuclear powers, and abolish all nuclear weapons.

Following Mr. Mimkai’s powerful remarks, Bob Cooke shared about the groups who were involved in sponsoring the “Apology Petition,” which offers to the people of Hiroshima the apology that President Obama refused to offer when he visited Hiroshima. To date 555 people have signed on to the petition.

Scott Wright and Jean Stokan then proceeded to lead a moving ritual of repentance atoning for the nuclear sin and distributed red and white roses to all gathered. The red roses symbolized the sacredness of all life as well as the grief and suffering caused by war and the Bomb. The white roses symbolized hope and our commitment to work for a nonviolent world, free of weapons, war and violence. Following a community reading of the Apology Petition, each person presented their rose to Mr. Mimaki, who graciously received them. The Apology Petition was then personally presented to Mr. Mimaki, who expressed his profound appreciation.

After the presentation of the Apology Petition, Paul Magno and Sr. Megan Rice led a Litany of Repentance. Following the Litany, Marie Dennis read a passage for the Gospel of Luke, marking the feast of the Transfiguration, as well as a short prayer. Liz McAlister then read a poem titled “Shadow on the Rock,” that was written by her brother-in-law, Daniel Berrigan, S.J. who died on April 30th. (Daniel Berrigan – Presente!) The witness concluded with everyone singing “I Come and Stand” and “Vine and Fig Tree.”

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Then, on Sunday August 7, Joe Byrne, Tucker Brown, Emily Parr, along with little Auggie and Evie (their first peace vigil!) were able to participate in the 32nd annual Hiroshima-Nagasaki Commemoration in Baltimore. This event, organized by the Baltimore Hiroshima-Nagasaki Commemoration Committee, remembers the atomic bombings of Japan on August 6 & 9, 1945, which killed more than 200,000 people. Other organizations involved in the commemoration were the Baltimore Quaker Peace and Justice Committee of Homewood and Stony Run Meetings, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, Crabshell Alliance, and Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore.

This event began at 5:30pm, at 33rd and Charles Streets, in front of the main entrance to Johns Hopkins University, with a demonstration against Hopkins’s weapons contracts, including research on killer drones, as well as a vigil to commemorate the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the nuclear accident at Fukushima, Japan.

At 6:30pm, the vigilers marched to the Homewood Friends Meetinghouse, at 3107 N. Charles Street. Joe Byrne performed some dulcimer music,and accompanied himself singing a few songs, and David Eberhardt, a member of the Baltimore Four, recited some poetry. Then Mr. Toshiyuki Mimaki, the Hiroshima Hibakusha (Atomic Bomb Survivor) who spoke at the White House on August 6, once again gave testimony of his experience of the bombing of Hiroshima, showing slides to illustrate his experience, and called upon the nations of the world to abolish nuclear weapons so that the crime of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is never repeated. The Hibakusha’s greatest fear is that when they are gone, the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will disappear and nuclear weapons will be used again, this time threatening life itself.

The event concluded with dinner at Niwana Restaurant, 3 E. 33rd Street, with Mr. Mimaki.

See also an article on the August 6 vigil at the White House, written by James Martone for the Catholic News Service:

https://www.ncronline.org/news/world/hiroshima-survivor-shares-memories-atomic-blast-peace-activists

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By Megan Mundi

The following is a reflection offered by Megan Mundi, a regular participant in the Jonah House Sunday prayer service, on August 7, 2016.

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Book of Wisdom 18:6-9
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
Luke 12:32-48

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Today’s readings lead us into a discussion about faith; the merits of faith, the actions of the faithful, the consequences of faithlessness and most importantly the essence of faith. The measure of a person’s faith, how sincerely one chooses to believe and how often/extremely they act or react from a place of faith are often subject to judgment from others, allowing the believers to be viewed as “good” Christians, or otherwise. This quickly becomes problematic. For instance, politicians stand in front of large crowds and claim their “belief in the Lord Jesus Christ” as their motivating factor for any wide range of things they say. Or on the other hand, many “people of faith” allow unjust systems to remain unquestioned because “God always has a plan”.

This view of suggested that faith is a thing to be measured, gained, or believed in – this is not true faith. It allows action to be inserted or left out with almost equal disregard. Understanding faith as something that is optional overlooks it’s fundamental essence. Rather than something we choose to believe, faith is an intrinsic part of our human experience. In his book Dynamics of Faith Paul Tillich suggests “Man is driven toward faith by his awareness of the infinite to which he belongs, but which he does not own like a possession.” Faith should not be understood as belief in our connection to something greater than ourselves, but rather the recognition of that already present connection, and the drive to strengthen it. Having faith is having the willingness to learn and practice the things that deepen our connection with the Divine.

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Paul Tillich

Because of its truthfulness, faith has always been an essential part of the human experience. Karen Armstrong talks about this as “our search for meaning” and documents the acts throughout history that intended to honor that search. In the earliest human societies, toward the end of the Paleolithic age, cave drawings were found and determined to denote places of ritual and honor. These drawings were not connected to any specific “God” that we would understand today, but were signs of faith. They were expressions of awe in the grander order of the world that people were experiencing. These might be the earliest documented expressions of faith, but countless other examples throughout the development of societies make it clear that faith has always shaped how we interact with our world. Armstrong claims that there has always been an awareness of the “the fundamental reality” which eventually came to be called God. She goes onto say that this fundamental reality transcends human concepts and thoughts, and can only be known through devoted religious practice.

The problem is: faith by this definition is exhibited solely through human action and human action is often misguided by ego – even when our intentions are otherwise. Tillich explains faith as an act of the personality as a whole. (Or imagine personality when it’s whole.) He proposes that “we must deny that man’s essential nature is identical with the rational character of his mind”. Therefore we must conclude that faith emerges from the struggle between the true nature of one’s whole self and the rational acts of the mind. True faith based actions are those that bridge our human experience with our divine nature.

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But, how can we know what are truly acts of faith? We must start with listening. Listening not with our ears, but with our inner most selves, listening again for that “fundamental reality” from which we have become disconnected. This listening must come from a place of humility and openness. We must sharpen the skill of distinction between acts of faith and acts of ego. This proves time and time again to be extremely difficult for humans. We live a time where countless systems have been developed to distort that skill (possibly it has always been a time when systems were in place to distort that skill). Tillich reminds us that “Many distortions of the meaning of faith are rooted in the attempt to subsume faith to the cognitive function of personal life and emotion and will.” These are distortions that could be avoided through a well developed practice of humbled listening.

The idea that those with the deepest faith are those who have made the choice to believe denotes a deterioration. This idea presumes that we can no longer simply recognize our connection to something greater and search for and practice ways to honor that connection. It implies that we have been conditioned so thoroughly in the rational and ego that we have to take a “leap of faith”, we have chosen to believe in something we cannot see, something we once knew, and felt. A truth we have been conditioned to overlook and suppress in favor of appeasing our ego.

Tillich makes the argument that “Faith is freedom.” The consequences of ill practiced faith are ones we are all familiar with. We have experienced them. They are as often internal consequences and external ones. Tillich explains his sentiment, “In the ecstasy of faith there is an awareness of truth and of ethical value there are also past loves and hates, conflicts and reunions, individual and collective influences. Ecstasy means standing outside of oneself – without ceasing to be oneself – with all the elements which are united in the personal center. Ecstasy means standing outside of oneself – without ceasing to be oneself – with all the elements which are united in the personal center.
Matters of faith are not a choice, rather our natural state. How do we ensure that we are not engaging in things that distract ourselves from this natural state? How do we strengthen our connection to the Divine and come fully back into our whole selves?

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By Liz McAlister

Dissatisfaction. A vague hunger. Subtle, nagging, demanding to be filled – seldom strong enough to be the central focus of attention. A vague hunger both blind and lost, that is seduced, distorted, manipulated to define itself in terms of greed, consumption, and wealth addiction. So we seek to fill it – with an excess of food, activity, information, possessions. We want more because what we are getting is not what we need. Now is never enough. Too much is never enough.

The great seducer is the culture. The average North American is bombarded 10,000 times a day with sensory bites. Their thrust:

– to breed dissatisfaction – we aren’t beautiful enough, clean enough, cool enough, smart enough, young enough

– to sell products that will make us beautiful, clean, cool, smart, young.

– to create among us  rivalry, competitiveness,
– to sabotage every effort to build the kind of community that can enable us to withstand the
pressures of greed.
– to expect fulfillment in the future, and that future is for sale –  if you have enough money, you can buy!

The preaching of the culture is fear: “There isn’t enough to go around.”

Pascal named the awareness of vague hunger the “god-shaped vacuum” within us. We  triumph over it when we learn to trust the very hunger and fear we’ve been taught to avoid. Face it! Embrace it! Recognition of it is the juncture at which we choose: either to seek our grounding in materialism; or to move beyond it – and move from the cultural imperative to the spiritual alternative which invites us to enter fully into all that has been given to us.

Gratitude is our response. Gratitude is the antidote to the poison – it is the hidden art, the unrecognized answer. Gratitude has nothing to do with counting our blessings (and being thankful only if the good outweighs the bad). It has to do with walking headlong into the wholeness of life. And with the realization that, hidden in my gratitude for the life within me and before me is the nourishment I seek in vain through acquisitiveness . It is a practice of living fully the miracle of this moment.

What is it that gratitude achieves? If we can understand that our capacity to praise and be grateful for something in this world and nature hinges on our capacity to involve ourselves in that which we extol , then we can understand that the spirit of gratitude draws us out of ourselves and into involvement. It enables us to open ourselves to be able to forget ourselves in unity with others… If expressing gratitude for what is is an act of being alive, then we are dead people most of the time.


I want to  dig a little into the hold that greed and property have on us. Let anyone say: “Property is sacred,” and critical thinking is stifled. Because this sacrosanct nature of property in the hands of a few is confirmed by law and sanctioned by state power, even the dispossessed majority tends to accept it. While deefinitions vary, exclusiveness and unlimited disposition are the chief elements of ownership as the term is commonly used. It demands analysis. The thing is – none of its foundations are true.

It was the Ancient Romans who developed the concept of ownership. It was Roman law that legitimized the accumulation of wealth by the few at the expense and impoverishment of the many. From there, private ownership of the land formed the basis of the slave-owning, the feudal, the capitalist, and the state-capitalist economic systems successively. This ownership concept is

  1. a) the root of the present global crisis, in which the rich become richer because the poor become poorer.
    b)  the root of impoverishment of the land and of society and the ecological crisis we now face.
  2. c)  the root of most of our warring.
    “But what is the meaning of “mine” and “not mine? …chilly words which introduce innumerable wars into the world.”  (John Chrysostom)

(These are the effects of greed that I would have us delve into)

(1) The Roman Law ownership is the root of the present global crisis, in which the rich become richer because the poor become poorer.

What is rarely considered is a philosophical and moral view of ownership: “What is ownership-as-it-ought-to-be?”  It’s a question searching for response, especially today among Third World peasants – what is legal does not reflect what is just. They ask:

– Why can we not own the land we till, which our ancestors tilled?

– Whose is the land really? It was there before you and I were born. When landlords and we shall die, the land will still be there.

– What is just with regard to the land?

They look to history for answers. In all primitive societies people exercised collective authority over land. Not until the coming of the Spaniards in this country, was the notion of legal title to land introduced and Roman law of individual ownership propagated. Thus ownership by Spaniards of large tracts of land seized from the natives was recognized as legal.

The urgent question of ownership coming right into the 21st century is essentially the same as the question faced by Christian philosophers in the late Roman Empire. Clement of Alexandria, Basil the Great, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Augustine – critique private ownership of the means of subsistence and its effect on both rich and poor. While the Roman law has been passed down, and while all are considered great thinkers and saints, their critique has been silenced. The principles they outlined toward a philosophical and moral view of ownership are 2

  1. Self sufficiency as a purpose of property… One who lacks the necessities of life cannot be other than broken in spirit . Property is for our use – to give people moral self-assurance regarding externals and hence free them for service to others… so people can lead a life consonant with human dignity. It is a means! The greedy are “foolish” they treat it as an end.

2.Koinonia as a purpose of property… Goods are called goods because they do good, and they have been provided by God for the good of humanity. Ownership of wealth should not mean the right to do with property as one wills but rather as God wills. And God’s will is manifest in the creation of people as social, as moving toward unity, as community, or koinonia. The purpose of wealth is to foster koinonia – fellowship that abolishes the differentiation between the few rich who wallow in luxury and the all too many in poverty. This aspect of property is reflected in the comment of John Woolman: “The Quakers came to this country to do good; and they have done very well!”

It is not human to regard property as something with which one may do as one likes simply because it is one’s “own.” To be properly human, one must act in a spirit of community – cast aside the prevailing, absolutist, indiviualistic Roman law legitimation of property and embrace a new rationale of ownership, holding things in such a way that they may be common. The basic difference is in fixing the right of ownership in the static order of keeping or holding instead of recognizing it as a dynamic reality: a duty of sharing.

Backing these principles is the observation”
– just as the foot is the measure of the sandal, so the physical needs of each are the measure of what one should possess. Whatever is excessive is a burden for the body.

– just as air, water, fire, the sun, land – are causes of life, they and all the wealth of earth belong to the human family and not to the few.
– the most basic title to property is the title of need. To this need all others are subordinate and by this need the right of ownership is limited. For the rich to share their wealth constitutes an act of restitution because they have accumulated so much that the poor have been deprived of their birthright.

The patristics denounced the status quo because it granting moral legitimation to what is immoral. They tried to reason with exploiting classes that their wealth was the result of theft, with a view to moving them to restore it by redistribution. They taught a philosophy of ownership based on the view that God is parent and giver and provider for all and that the few must cease stealing the food-producing resources that God destined for the use of all. Then everyone could celebrate their effective participation in the same common nature – in the one human family to which all belonged.

Legal arrangements of property rights are of human origin and should be changed as an expression of a faith-informed ethic based on the true meaning of ownership. Justice cannot be realized until humanity has effectively rejected the idolatry of property.

(2) – The Roman Law dealing with ownership is the root of the impoverishment of the land and of the society and the ecological crisis we now face. The possession of large tracts of land by the few not only destroys the many, pushing them into destitution, dependence, crime, it also destroys the land. It has blinded us to our integral relationship with the natural world. We pride ourselves on outwitting nature. We develop technology to transcend the basic biological law – a law of limits. We look to live beyond the limits that are normal and natural to us as human beings. We keep inventing; we keep trying to get beyond the human condition into some kind of wonderworld. But the more we try, the more we waste-the-world, and destroy our whole situation. Greed!

Other societies might be limited by their lack of technological development. Our society  burns the energies of the planet, trying to get beyond the planet. We invent things that have immediate advantages; we cling to a short-term view that a moment of security or well-being can be had today without enormous charges against tomorrow.

The earth is what we have in common; we cannot damage it without damaging ourselves and all with whom we share it. When we disturb the outer world, we are destroying living forms – animal, trees, etc. And disturb the land we have! (Wendel Berry) The woods and streams inherit all the harms of human enterprise. We burn the world to live; our living blights the trees  . Great machines, herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, de-forestation, desertification.  We are losing probably ten thousand species a year – the greatest set-back to the abundance and diversity of life on earth since the first flickerings of life almost four billion years ago. And when we destroy the living forms of this planet, we destroy modes of God’s presence. If we have a wonderful sense of the divine, if we have refinement of emotion and sensitivity, it is because we live amid such awesome magnificence, it is because of the diversity, the beauty,  the rhythmic movements of the world about us. If we grow in our life vigor, it is because the earthly community challenges us, forces us to struggle to survive, but, in the end, reveals itself as benign providence.

(3) –  The Roman Law ownership concept is the root of most of our warring. “But what is the meaning of “mine” and “not mine?” …chilly words which introduce innumerable wars into the world.” (Chrysostom). “If we have property, we’ll need walls and weapons to protect it.” ((Francis of Assisi) ) “On account of the things which each one of us possesses singly, wars exist, hatreds, discords, strifes among human beings, tumults, dissensions, scandals, sins, injustices, and murders.” (Augustine)  Preparation for nuclear war has turned the whole of North America into a weapons factory in peace time. Mining, milling, and processing; enrichment and nuclear reactors; reprocessing plants that separate out the plutonium; bomb factories for triggers and bomb assembly plants; testing sites for nuclear weapons and nuclear waste repositories. And through all, there is no safe level of radiation.

We’ve set off thousands of nuclear bombs on the planet, over half of them American. We’ve done severe damage to the biosphere and to human health. Subtle and not so subtle damage has happened both to the biosphere and the gene pool. As we produce more radioactive material, we enlarge the susceptible population, we increase the number of children with asthsma and allergies, juvenile diabetes, heart disease, arthritic conditions at age 8 or 9. These children are more vulnerable to a hazardous environment. And we keep enlarging this vulnerable category, even as we increase the toxicity of the environment! That’s a species death process.

We have toxic waste dumps, nuclear power plants, pesticides, herbicides, and defoliants created during the Vietnam War, now used on farms and in cities, plus the radioactive garbage sifting down from the stratosphere (a UN study claims 150 megatons from testing) – and no one keeps track of what is happening.

Luke 12:15   Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

As faith is the antithesis (antidote) to fear, gratitude is the antithesis of greed. Over 100 verses in the Scriptures mandate Thanksgiving. We see it * Ps. 107, 118, and 136. Phil. 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

The central vision of world history in the Bible is that creation is one, every creature in community with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every other creature. All are children of one family, heirs of one hope, bearers of one destiny – the care and management of God’s creation. This is the root of gratitude –  this destiny, this dream of God for us that resists all our tendencies to division, hostility, fear, drivenness, and misery.

Without gratitude our future is complusive drivenness. Without gratitude there is no grounding from which to defy all that must be confronted in this estranged world of ours. Gratitude is a response to two specific life-style decisions: simplicity and service (neither of which is possible without community). These decisions are essential because gratitude is not something we can acquire and then use as if it were a new possession. Gratitude grows from a context of health created by “right attitude” and “right livelihood.”

“Right attitude” and “right livelihood” contradict all those cultural living habits that have to do with maintaining what we have and coveting what we don’t. “The greatest wealth of all is having so little that one must notice how much one has in having life itself.” With little to protect and acquire, life is simple. The answer we seek isn’t in saturation but simple thanksgiving. We become what we think: therefore a mindfulness of/gratefulness for our world family!

When wealth is reckoned in commodities, stashed away for some to have and some not to have; when “know-how” is spohisticated, mystifying, technical – possessed by some and not by others; when a sense of solidarity among persons yields to a kind of individuality; when a sense of belonging with others is diminished and a sense of being apart from others takes its place, when $, access, and knowledge are no longer shared among us but are controlled by some, the natural network of caring community collapses. Let us pray for clarity to see all that lives not as raw materials, symbols, but as sister-presences, independent, called out of nothing by no word of ours, bless`ed, here with us. May we live to breathe air worthy of breath – may we become breathers worth their air, makers worth their hire!

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We woke up Saturday morning overcome with grief from the week’s violence in Minnesota, New Orleans and Dallas. After checking in with one another, and trying to find out if any actions had been planned in Baltimore, we chose to host a vigil at McKeldin Square, just off the Inner Harbor. Street zazen: meditating for racial justice and an end to violence.

We sent out word to some friends, got our posters ready and began our public witness around 6:30 pm. Our signs read:

All lives will matter WHEN Black Lives Matter

Awaken from the illusion of separation

Nothing was ever healed with a gun

The choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It’s either nonviolence or nonexistence. (MLK)

Peace between people of all colors and creeds

Tourists, families, groups of kids, O’s fans and attendees leaving Bronycon (billed as the world’s largest My Little Pony convention) passed by and, for the most part, offered their support in one form or another. Some people gave us thumbs up or nodded their heads. Others said, “Thank You.” A few approached us to express their affirmation in more heartfelt words and comment on Evie’s cuteness.

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Not long into our vigil we heard chanting up Pratt Street. A march had formed. Michael, Auggie and I (Tucker) got ready to join. Just as we were about to step into the crowd one of the march’s leaders approached us. He took my sign (i.e., “Awaken from the illusion of separation”), read it, then faced me squarely, with tears in his eyes, and said, “You are my brother and I love you.” He gave me and Auggie a hug, took my free arm — I was holding Auggie with my other — and welcomed us into the march.

I have been re-visiting his act of love, welcome and solidarity since Saturday. It continues to teach me.

It reminds me that people with privilege — like myself, based on the color of my skin, my cultural capital, my material wealth, my education, my family’s resources and ties in community, to name just a few — must risk that privilege in the struggle to realize racial equality. What does risking mean? Perhaps it’s different for each person, given their social locations and present moment circumstances. But in that moment, during that march, it meant putting my body — as well as Auggie’s — in the street.

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The march was peaceful. We walked. We chanted. The collective presence was emotional, fierce, focused and wholeheartedly invitational. The leaders called out to people on the sidewalks to join us. Some did. Some took pictures. Some walked away with their heads down. Others stood to face us and gesture their show of support.

The police remained calm and, at least while I was there, didn’t obstruct our right to assemble and protest peacefully.

Auggie was enthralled with the gathering and singing and rhythmic movement of our bodies marching down Pratt Street.

We will continue to hold a vigil, hopefully each week, to witness for racial justice and nonviolence. We welcome you to join us.

 

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As I reflect on the six weeks over which I was blessed with the opportunity to live, work, and play at Jonah House the word “transition” comes to mind over and over again. When I first arrived at the house I had two weeks left in the job where I had been for the past two years and I was in the midst of ending the lease at an apartment where I had been for the same amount of time. I was filled with questions about myself and the future and was uncertain even of how the rest of the summer would pan out. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and times of transition, no matter how small, have always been a major trigger. Coming to Jonah House during this time, I was certainly anxious, but welcomed the opportunity to be consumed fully by community life. I suppose I had somewhat of a fantasy about what this would look like. I envisioned becoming so wrapped up in the day to day that I wouldn’t have time to dwell much on anxiety or transition. What I didn’t realize was that life in the community over the next six weeks would be marked by a constant series of intensely beautiful and rich transitions and through intentional practices my soul would be fed by the changes themselves. I became present in new ways to the changing of the seasons via outdoors work, to cycles of birth and death via the proximity of the birth of baby Evie and the death of Dan Berrigan, and to the sacred passing of wisdom from one generation to the next as I watched the elders (Liz, Carol, and Ardeth) mentor and hand over care of the community to the young folks (Emily, Tucker, and Joe). Amidst all of these transitions I saw that pain and anxiety were inevitable, arguably essential, parts of transition, but that the community had developed a number of practices and rituals surrounding the care and nurturance of one another that laid a beautiful foundation for fostering transformation amidst periods of transition.

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Some of these daily practices were formalized, meaning there was an intentional structure behind which they would happen. Every Sunday the community met as a whole to discuss priorities for the week and to divvy up who would be responsible for various tasks. These meetings created a space in which individuals were held accountable to the care and keeping of the community AND the community as a whole could rally around the care and keeping of an individual as life events took place. When I was entrusted to a specific task, such as the planting of the garden, my relationship to that task was defined in many ways by the accountability I had to the rest of the community to carry forth my responsibilities. Planting the garden became an act of love because I found that truly the accountability I felt stemmed from the deep love and respect I have for the community members. By acting in love, my relationship to the plants transformed, and as I hurried to complete the planting in line with the growing season, I experienced the changing of seasons not as a force outside of me, but as a rhythm that I could become a part of.

When Evie was born the community rallied around the event and we restructured our week and responsibilities to give Emily and Tucker the space to focus on her care and not have to worry about other essential tasks such as cooking, cleaning, mowing, etc. This type of space given to a new family is rare in a society where parents are given minimal family leave and expected to function immediately following a birth with a motto of “business as usual.” It was indescribably beautiful to be present to the transformation of their family and to participate in the process via the act of caregiving. Evie’s arrival in the community shaped my experience in so many ways. Holding her became a daily ritual and an act of meditation, as she taught me to bring myself down to her rhythm and stay present as we rocked back and forth or bounced up and down.

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Another regular community practice was that of “check-ins.” Typically check-ins followed Zazen (seated meditation) practice and were an opportunity for each of us to share freely about whatever seemed important to us in ourselves and from our day. In these we fostered a different kind of accountability to one another that was more based in spiritual practice and growth than in day to day tasks. In addition to these check-ins the community set aside space to support one another even more deeply by choosing a common activity or reading to do together. When I was there we spent an evening teaching ourselves about the Enneagram and discussing our individual personality types. I continued to read and reflect on my Enneagram type beyond that meeting and it became one of the most powerful tools that I’ve encountered towards grappling with some of the big questions that have arisen during my own time of transition.

Outside of routine meetings and check-ins I saw constant examples of community members caring and being attentive to one another in meaningful ways. Many of the more profound spiritual inspirations that I experienced came in casual conversation rather than in Zazen or morning prayer. Tucker frequently asked questions such as “So, how was your experience with the mow tractor today?” borrowing the vocabulary of his son Auggie. These were seemingly simple questions but they gave me the opportunity to reflect on those hours that I spent alone with my thoughts, or the inspiration I drew from the playlists I listened to, or to simply celebrate the joy that I experienced from operating the mow tractor.

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I think that often times we overlook these types of personal reflections because others are not there to wonder about them but they can have a real impact on our spirits, especially during times when transitions give us a unique perspective on ourselves or our circumstances. Throughout my time at the house I appreciated the care and consideration that members had for one another and I saw clearly that the habits that reinforced this level of attentiveness took real work and practice. While many of the moments that impacted me the most seemed to happen spontaneously, they very much sprung from the commitment of the members to the art of intentional living.

Intentional living is in and of itself an act of resistance. To me, it means refusing to live in line with harmful narratives that tell us to consume more, compete more, and separate more. It also means embracing transition or perhaps change in deeper and more engaged ways. As an activist I am always “fighting for change” but I’m not always prepared for the pain, loneliness, or hopelessness that comes with even the most positive of movements. I think community that creates intentional spaces for being with change, as it happens, is an essential ingredient that many change makers overlook.

By Maia Gibbons

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Santa Fe First Two Days 021

My dad once told me that being a father is like no longer having your own heartbeat. You share a pulse with your children.

This made little sense to me until I held Auggie for the first time. And of course my dad’s wisdom has been reaffirmed with Evie. I know of no greater pain than seeing my children suffer. I know of no greater fear than when I consider the infinite ways they might be broken by the world’s violence. But I also experience boundless joy when they smile and laugh, when they look at me and the world around them with wonder: Evie’s expression when our eyes meet, the way her whole face turns into a grin; and with Auggie, it’s all about mow tractor, noodles, and “Up with Daddy” — or Up with Mommy, Joe and anyone willing to take him for a ride on the Scag.

The Buddha likened the practice of awakening to the love a parent has for their child — manifested outward to inlcude all beings. If only my actions in body, speech and mind were half as generous and spacious as the love Auggie and Evie have initiated me into!

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Being a parent has a way of transforming any moment, disrupting my grasp on the way things “should” be, how I’d like life to go. A somber example.

The other day while driving to visit my sister I was listening to the radio. The host of the news program was reporting about the assault on an off-duty Parisian police officer and his family. The only survivor of the attack was a 3 year old child. When I heard this, my entire body stiffened. I pulled over, too overwhelmed by fear and sadness to drive. Parked on the side of the road, it struck me that somehow I’d be deceiving myself not to imagine the incomprhensible grief of that child and wonder what the day after losing both his mother and father must have been like. And how would Auggie and Evie cope if Emily and me were gruesomely murdered?

I have learned that being a father, along with the bliss, also means accepting that — as the depth psychologist James Hillman once put it — as soon as you’re born you’re ready to die.

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Though they’re young now, I wonder all the time: How do I help my children prepare to face suffering and death, protecting them from experiences that might cause horrific injury, while also teaching them resilience and the skills needed to embrace and heal a world increasingly replete with violence and injustice? How do I also teach my children to receive joy, in the very midst of hardship, and live wholeheartedly, expressing their gifts in abundance and for the sake of others?

As these questions come to me I consider some wisdom shared by men I interviewed for my dissertation. Fatherhood was a core theme in their lives, and their struggles to make sense of it centered around these three questions: (1) How do I face, and can I accept, my father’s failings and vulnerabilities; (2) Does my father affirm me as I am; and (3) Do I feel capable of being a father myself? Not necessarily by having a child, but rather by awakening a sense of inseparable connectedness to an other, whether person, community, project, or cause, and sustaining that relationship for the course of its life.

Reflecting on this day and calling to heart and mind my father ancestors, living and dead, I was struck most by the first question. I’ve been considering how a father’s open, honest and loving relationship with his vulnerabilities can prepare a child to be in right relationship to his own fragility and brokenness. This has been one of my dad’s greatest gifts to me. He’s taught me, as he once put it, how to lie belly up — courageously naked and vulnerable. Not to get rid or cure myself of my injuries, but to hold a space for the suffering, to let it be a branch into someone else’s life and recovery.

While my meditations have taken me to my father and his father and some inheritance of suffering between the three of us and beyond, there’s something I carry with me into my own fathering of Auggie and Evie, something from the soul of my dad, which I like to think is his genius, Buddha Nature, spark.

I felt it as a child on our trips to the same beach in North Carolina he used to visit as a kid, not far from the tobacco farm where he grew up. At the beach we’d wade in the ocean in the late afternoon and my dad would sing rugby songs — changing all the words inappropriate for us to hear (essentially re-writing the songs entirely) — singing loudly and with a silly British accent — because he’d learned how to play rugby in England where he was stationed during the Vietnam War; because he’d learned how to replace his Carolina drawl with just a touch of a Londoner’s lilt. My sisters and I would splash him with water, he’d help us launch off his shoulders and dive into waves. He’d act goofy. He’d play like a kid, just like us.

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This poem reminds me of him in those moments and embodies the love I try to realize with Auggie and Evie.

 

First we braid grasses and play tug of war,

then we take turns singing and keeping a kick-ball in the air.

I kick the ball and they sing, they kick and I sing.

Time is forgotten, the hours fly.

People passing by point at me and laugh:

“Why are you acting like a such a fool?”

I nod my head and don’t answer.

I could say something, but why?

Do you want to know what’s in my heart?

From the beginning of time: just this! just this!

— Ryokan

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On June 18th Baltimore Green Space and Baltimore Bird Club will be hosting a bird walk through our woods.  Please come join us to experience these marvelous creatures.

BirdWalkBash_FinalAll are welcome!

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Emily’s parents, Therese and Terry, recently visited. They were a huge help and wonderful presence in our community! Therese spent a lot of time with Evie and Auggie, which freed us up to do some outdoor work. Terry mowed and weed whacked, hung our hammock and installed a ceiling fan in the living room. Therese volunteered in the food pantry, sewed curtains for Evie’s room, and planted flower boxes. Terry inspired us all with his guitar playing: One evening we invited the sisters over to join him in singing Irish folk songs. Therese inspired us too with her culinary talents: fresh baked bread, scrumptious meals, and lots of sweets! We will miss them and look forward to their next visit!

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Above, Terry holding Auggie on his shoulders at the Maryland Zoo.

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Above, Therese rocking Evie to sleep.

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Above, Therese helping Auggie brush a goat.

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Here are some photos of the cemetery and forest patch after our most recent mowing. It’s quite a bit of work to maintain the grounds, but we love it. Maia, who just finished her month-long stay with us, and Terry, Emily’s father, have been a huge help. Mowing, weeding, gardening, chainsaw work and bush whacking!

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Above, our pasture area where we formerly kept goats, lamas, and donkeys. We hope to have animals again, once the kids are a bit older.

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Above, a space we’ve cleared out in the forest patch. We hope to connect it with another clearing (below) and cover the ground with wood chips. It’s a great place for contemplation, a kind of forest refuge among the trees and wildlife.

IMG_3152Above, a space we’d like to clear out. It’ll be tough going considering the area is overgrown with vines and thick bushes. Poison ivy, too. The open canopy offers lots of sunlight and, once cleared, will provide another beautiful area to sit, rest, meditate and wonder at all the life in the forest patch.

IMG_3138Above, a section of the walking path that runs through the forest patch. In the early part of spring we spent several weeks collecting and chipping fallen trees and branches.

IMG_3137Above, the grounds along the south fence. While mowing this section, I (Tucker) came across what looked to be a rat snake sun bathing.

IMG_3134Above, the middle stretch of the cemetery that extends from the east gate all the way to the forest patch.

IMG_3133 (1)Above, Maia bouncing Evie.

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Above, Terry, Emily’s father, helping dig a hole in which we set a large tire that became a sand box. Auggie loves it!

IMG_3093Above, Auggie sitting in his “mow tractor.” He prefers the Toro, but he’ll ride the Scag if it’s out. The Yazoo Kees doesn’t impress him much.

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In light rain this past Saturday evening we planted two pecan trees to mark the arrivals of our children, Auggie and Evie. Beneath the saplings we buried the placentas we’d saved from their births.

The ritual invited me to think about the meaning of home.

Home isn’t always a physical place, though it can be that, but it’s always, in my experience, something I return to. A dwelling space. A relationship. A state of heart, mind and being. Even an image and the feeling tone that image inspires.

Home, for me, is vulnerable, authentic, all-embracing, and intimate the way climbing vines twine together. As intimate as air is to breath.

By planting these trees here at Jonah House, along with the once living tissue that helped sustain Auggie and Evie in the womb, their first home, I feel I’m vowing to return to these trees, to both care for and be nourished by them.

IMG_3106All this makes me consider how birds home to a particular place. Habitats in physical space that orient their lives and journeys. Places of return and the innate sense to find them.

Emily and I have returned to Baltimore. We also home to other places — like New Mexico, South Dakota, and North Carolina — where we have family and where we’ve experienced transformations of the sort that sculpt soul and body, of the kind where I feel I’ve been folded into the landscape, worked into its soil.

And so it is, now with our family, tilled into the earth here, our lives and bodies knit with the growth of this soil.

Tucker Brown

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