Julia Alvarez has written novels, collections of poems, nonfiction, and numerous books for young readers. She has just published a new novel, Afterlife, and a new picture book for young readers, Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story will be published in June. The recipient of a 2013 National Medal of Arts, Alvarez is one of the founders of Border of Lights, a movement to promote peace and collaboration between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. She lives in Vermont.
Posts By This Author
‘We're All Here to Learn How to Die’
I WAS GOING through a period of grieving when a friend in my St. Stephens’ family told me about a centering prayer/meditation group that met Thursday afternoons at the church. I had never heard the term “centering prayer,” but I had tried meditation a number of times. “I’m no good at that,” I explained, but her quiet kindness was persuasive. Hey, maybe there was something in it for me, too. I thought I’d give it a try.
As I attended more sessions and read more and more about centering prayer, I realized that my initial reaction revealed what was impeding growth. Being good at something, succeeding at it, was how the hardworking, achievement-oriented me had (mis)understood this spiritual practice. That hardy, eager little self—going also by the name of ego—had served me well to get to where I had gotten, but it was often a handicap in the territory I was beginning (cautiously) to enter with my Thursday afternoon group.
I recall at one point complaining, as little selves are wont to do, that I felt like a too-large Alice crammed into a small box when I meditated. I was right. My robust ego, with whom I was overly identified, would never make it through the narrow meditation door and into the beautiful garden. No wonder I had been baffled by phrases such as “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Really? Wouldn’t Jesus want us to be rich in spirit? Poverty empties us for the hugeness of God. I had to let go.
Poetry: Not a Thief
They steal more than our cash who steal our money, dropped bills
slipped in a finder’s pocket, a wallet emptied of its fill;
they steal a kinder world where we look out for each other,
call to know: How did your date, or, surgery go?
'Unless Somebody Steps in to Help...'
TO ENTER la fortaleza where Jhonny Rivas was being held prisoner, I had to hand over my passport and undergo a thorough search, which included squatting naked on top of a mirror laid on the floor. I wanted to turn around indignantly and go home. Instead I faced the two female guards, girls really, one with braces, the other with the acne of a teenager. Por favor, I appealed. They exchanged an unsure glance, no doubt worried about el capitán strutting outside, then gestured for me to put my clothes back on. At the door, I embraced them.
Blessed are those who don’t follow unrighteous rules, for they shall be hugged.
I confess that I often practice my own beatitudes lite. It’s where I often want to stop, at the easier, feel-good variety of activism. But the beatitudes are as morally rigorous as those daunting Ten Commandments, albeit working through positive reinforcement—blessings rather than “thou shalt nots.” If you truly embrace them, they keep pulling you further and further out of the comfort zone of the self that always wants to stop at having done its part.