In the past few months, I have become smitten with the PBS series, Call the Midwife, based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, a midwife in 1950’s London. I have heard of the show for years, but, late to the game, I just started Season 1 in September 2021. (I will likely be through Season 6 by year’s end, so I am unstoppable now.) In Season 3, Nurse Jenny Lee, one of the midwives of Nonnatus House, was grieving the sudden death of her boyfriend. Sister Julienne, recognizing Jenny Lee’s need to acknowledge her grief, suggests that she “take compassionate leave.”

Take compassionate leave.

Such powerful words.

How compassionate that Sr. Julienne understands that going through the motions of “normal” will not be helpful or healing. One must honor the soul’s need for being still with our grief and our many other emotions or experiences. We heal only when we take time to “stand still, to be here”, as May Sarton (1912-1995), American poet, novelist, and memoirist, pens in her poem, “Now I Become Myself.”

As we journey through the many deaths we experience throughout our life, even the little ones where we must let go of our expectations, we must “take compassionate leave” to listen to our soul speak. It is self-compassionate to take time to listen deeply to the soul, to process through, to understand, and make meaning of the experiences of our lives—both the grief and the joy, the transitions from one life stage to another—to just be with our emotions and the response in our body. Sometimes that can be done in our ordinary lives, but other times we may literally need to take leave by going away or on retreat.

The poem, “Now I Become Myself” was the foundation of a back-to-basics SoulCollage® retreat I recently led. In this and future blog posts, I will share insights from the retreat that explore the four suits of SoulCollage® (Companions, Committee, Council, Community) through the lens of compassion. Whether you are new to SoulCollage® or an old-timer, I believe there is something to be learned by seeing the creative practice through the eyes of the heart, by cultivating a compassionate loving-kindness and standing witness to the suffering of self and others.

Don’t be frightened by the word “suffering”—we all experience it in big and small ways. It is what we BECOME because we have been “dissolved and shaken” and how we grow in compassion, that matters. Joyce Rupp writes,

Over and over you are asked to meet change, loss, injustice, and over and over you are asked to find the strength to open when you are more inclined to shut down…Living compassionately is rarely convenient and often downright challenging. It requires a willingness to pay the price for being aware of suffering and doing what is possible to diminish it.

Joyce Rupp, Boundless Compassion, Creating a Way of Life

After reading Boundless Compassion by Joyce Rupp, I was inspired to participate in a four-day Boundless Compassion Facilitator’s Training Conference (Summer 2021.)

Practicing SoulCollage® is an act of self-compassion. We take time to be creative, to listen to our inner truth, to “stand still, to be here.” It is an act of compassion to discover what is conscious, less conscious, lovable, and irritating, beautiful, and shadowy in ourselves, our community, and our world. We become “an explorer of our soul” (SoulCollage Evolving: An Intuitive Collage Process for Self-Discovery and Community, 2010) when we spend time with images, intuitively creating a collage.

Read “Now I Become Myself” in the spirit of Lectio Divina, reading it through a few times, both out loud and in silence. Then rest, or “stand still” with the poem. What words or phrases resonate with you? Consider journaling with or creating a SoulCollage® card that honors a question that speaks to you.

Now I Become Myself

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before—”
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

-May Sarton

Questions for Reflection

  • Whose faces (identities) have I “worn” at times when I was unsure what my own “face” looked like? What were the consequences of wearing this face or that?
  • What has “dissolved and shaken” my false sense of self in a way that helped me reclaim true self? Maybe it’s something I once regretted for which I can now give thanks…
  • What do I fear so much that it causes me to “run madly,” driven by the illusion that I can achieve absolute certainty before I die?
  • Am I giving away that which truly grows in me, so that what I share is a renewable resource? Or am I feeling the kind of “burnout” that comes from trying to give that which I don’t possess?
  • When was the last time I stopped running long enough to “live all of myself?” How can I have that experience again—the experience of coming home to myself, of feeling at home in my own skin?

Many thanks to Parker Palmer, one of my favorite authors (heck, one of my favorite people…remembering my essay “Parker Palmer for President“), for sharing these questions on his Facebook page. I was honored to attend a Growing Edge retreat with Parker and Carrie Newcomer, October 2019, where this poem was used as a springboard for exploring our personal and community challenges and how to find meaning and purpose in the “growing edge.”

The first card I created on retreat is called “Just Be With It: Stand Still.” Using the practice of journaling with I am one who, I reflect:

I am one who watches and waits while feelings and emotions pass. I am one who rests and plays despite the intense feelings. I rest into the feelings, the experience. I listen inwardly, especially to dreams. I am one who trusts my intuition and gently sits with whatever is. I am one who has self-compassion. I am one who gives my “consent to the seasons of experience that will happen anyway, whether I consent or not (The Exquisite Risk, Mark Nepo).”

Card Title: Just Be With It: Stand Still

More to come…

Part 2–Now I Become Myself: A New Kind of Hospitality HERE.

© Jodi Gehr