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Gathering Space for July 31, 2018

It is the last evening of July, eve of the Feast of Lughnasadh as we gather in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. 

Someone has been here before us. The fire pot is already lighted.

There is no sign of who may have done this for our group is the first to arrive.  As others of our friends follow, the usual excited greetings and questions rise in the evening air. Some of us have been travelling , visiting family and friends, enjoying the sweet abandon of holiday time, the welcome stillness of days of retreat, savouring the gifts of summer...

When the talk at last fades to a murmur, we look towards  the centre of the circle.

It is  Adriana who notices a small envelope placed under a stone near the fire pot. 
"It's addressed to our Communion. Shall I open it?"

A chorus of "yes" follows in a many-toned composition, worthy of Hildegard of Bingen herself.

Adriana reads: " I could not be with you this evening as I am celebrating Lughnasadh in Ireland. I have left you a poem by Miriam Dyak."

Adriana looks up, and smiles. " It's signed Dolores Whelan. Would someone like to read it aloud?"

Brenda, standing to accept the page that Adriana holds out, begins to read:  

     

CARE OF THE GROWING CROP : A POEM FOR LUGHNASADH

Since corn needs all the light it can get
you are growing yourself remember
you will want to avoid planting other tall plants nearby
you deserve your day in the sun
and you will want to make sure each plant
you deserve your own ripeness
has every opportunity to make good use of the rich soil you have provided
so that at last these dreams you’ve been holding will fill out
in precious clusters of milky pearls and silky yellow moons

Sweet corn is at its sweet juicy tender best for only a few days
and you have labored a whole season for this perfection

Trouble shooting: we hope none of the following problems will be yours
Insect infestations like a swarm of worries
take measures in your own soul before there is a full-scale invasion
The corn earworm lays about 1,000 eggs in her twelve days of life
We know how these hatch into hesitation, fear, doubt, self-deprecation, inertia how they eat tunnels into the mind
Cut them out and give them back to the earth for compost
You have grown too far to give up now
Diseases - wilt and smut and blight out there in the world
Don’t let these attack your own small patch
Develop a resistant strain go against the grain of expectations
be an original a treasure

Give yourself a new name:
Golden woman
Moon Maiden
She Who Stands Tall And Proud

Thieves - raccoons, woodchucks and deer are probably the worst four-footed
sweet corn thieves
they are the distractions that come just when you’re getting somewhere
when you almost have success in the pot
and steal you away from your own life

They have an uncanny way of knowing just when the ears
have reached their prime
They are other people’s needs you always put before your own
They are love affairs that want you to be somebody you aren’t
They are larger bigger better purposes/harvests than yours

You can try to spook them with rock music
You can plant pumpkins in their path
You can even cover your ears with paper bags...

But I am here to tell you
this night on the festival of Lughnasadh the time of ensuring the harvest
your personal harvest the village harvest
and the safety of the good we are all growing in the world
I am here to tell you what the ancients know
that if you give up your crop along the way out of carelessness or nobility
it doesn’t matter
your spirit will be a hollow husk and no one not you not others
will be fed

But if you tend your own patch to completion
(no matter how insignificant it seems)
if you let yourself swell with joy with the rich nourishing milk of fulfillment
you will have raised a miracle
Your small garden of life, of art, of love, of work, of mothering and building and
being a wise woman
whatever you have planted and tended and grown
will feed yourself your village
there will be corn for feasting for flour for popping over winter fires
and enough to plant next year

There will be seeds that open spontaneously in the hearts of other women
and wild possibilities will appear in dreams on the other side of the world


And of course when Brenda finished reading, we had to hear this poem again, and yet a third time.

Someone said, " I need to walk a while in the last light of evening.  I need to think about my own crops and how I want to care for them."

And this idea seemed to us wise so that soon we each were walking in the fading light, while stars burned inside us.  

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Gathering Space for July 24, 2018

The early evening is calm, comfortably warm with a whisper of a breeze, as we gather with our companions in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. Conversations among us are as soft as the evening, as we each speak of our plans for the remaining weeks of summer.

“Summer goes so quickly. Next week it will be August!" Colette says.

There is a moment of silence as we take this in, and then a soft voice with an unmistakable Irish lilt says, “In the Celtic Calendar, summer ends with the first day of August. That is Lughnasadh, the festival that welcomes Autumn. ”

The woman who is speaking is Dolores Whelan. Most of what we have learned about Celtic Festivals comes from her wonderful book, Ever Ancient, Ever New. Dolores has taught us about Brigid’s Festival, Imbolc, which ushers in Spring, and about the Winter and Summer Solstices, the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, and the fiery Festival of Bealtaine…. but Lughnasadh?

The faces that turn towards Dolores express blank incomprehension.

Dolores smiles. “Shall I tell you of Lugh and his festival?”

For answer, we settle ourselves comfortably, awaiting the tale with eagerness.

Celtic God Lugh

“The Celtic god Lugh is known as the samildanach, the many-gifted one. Lugh represents the skilled masculine energy, with its ability to hone, shape, bring to harvest the fruits of the seeds planted at Samhain and nurtured during the dark giamos time by the feminine energy. At Lughnasadh, as in many of the other festivals, the important dance of opposite energies and roles is beautifully expressed.

"Tailtiu, the foster mother of Lugh, is the goddess who cleared away the wilderness, making the plains and fields ready for crops to be grown. She died from her efforts and is also remembered at this time; Lugh is said to have inaugurated this festival in her honour.

“In the wheel of the Celtic Year, Lughnasadh stands directly opposite Imbolc,  where Brigid, embodying the primal creative energy, occupied the central role.

"Bron Trogain, an older name for this festival, may mean the sorrow of Trogain or the sorrow of the fertile earth. This may mean that the fertility of the harvest is linked with the death that follows its completion, again bringing together the polarities of life and death. The successful harvest requires that Lugh appease his adversary, Crom Dubh, who represents the aspect of the land that does not wish to be harvested or subjected to the rule and energy of Lugh.

“The two-week Lughnasadh festival was a very important meeting time for the tribe, bringing people together to test their skills in many different disciplines. They challenged each other in a variety of contests and games held during the annual fairs in Lugh’s honour. The rituals at this festival included the acknowledgement of the triumph of Lugh, the harvesting and enjoyment of the first fruits, and the acknowledgment of the end of summer. It was a time of great merriment, especially for young people, who wore garlands of flowers and went into the hills to pick bilberries or blueberries. Marriages were traditionally held at this time of year.

“High places in the land, where earth and sky met, were considered the appropriate place to honour Lugh. At the ritual site, many of the characteristics and gifts of Lugh were enacted by mummers. The first sheaf of wheat, barley or corn was ceremonially cut, milled, and baked into cakes. These were eaten along with the wild blueberries or bilberries. The young folks’ garlands of flowers were buried to signify the end of summer.”

Dolores pauses as we take this in.

Carol says, “It seems so sad. Burying the garlands, such a mournful ending to the beauty of summer.”

Feast of Lughnasadh

Dolores turns to her, and says gently, “In the wheel of the Celtic year there is no ending that is not also a new beginning. Remember that when the bright days of the masculine summer fade, diminish, we are getting ready to welcome Samhain, the season of the feminine winter. The days of womb-like preparation, the dark days of incubation that will themselves end with Brigid’s Festival of Imbolc on February 1st welcoming spring.”

Cynthia asks, “Is Lughnasadh still celebrated in Ireland?”

“Many of these ritual practices have died out,” Dolores tells her, “but an essential aspect of the Lughnasadh ritual is enacted each year with the annual pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick in County Mayo on the last Sunday of July. Puck Fair held in Kilorglin in County Kerry each August is another remnant of the Lughnasadh festival.”

Suddenly Mary Ellen calls out, “Look. Up there on the high ground. It must be the setting sun, but it looks like someone has lit a bonfire!”
We are all gazing westward up towards the hill. Something flames there.

When Dolores speaks, her voice is so soft that we almost miss her words:
“That is no fire, nor is it a sunset. That is Lugh, come to bless you, to promise to bring to fruition and harvest the seeds you yourselves planted in the dark engendering days of the long winter. Take his blessing with you until we meet here again.”

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Gathering Space for July 17, 2018

The light of long summer evenings continues to bless us on this Island of Iona in the North Atlantic. The heat of the day has diminished and a cool breeze accompanies us as we walk into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. It is too cool to sit on the grass, or on the low stones of the crumbled walls. In wordless agreement we gather in a standing circle, our feet rooted on the earth, steady as trees, our arms outstretched like branches to receive the light, the cool breeze, even the drops of moisture in the air.

Now, standing at ease, we become aware of the earth beneath our feet, the embrace of air and light on our bodies. We move our awareness inwards, to the deep centre of ourselves. Here is where the fire burns that ignites our passion for life. Let us hold our attention on this inner fire. Imagine it as a small flame. Now see if our inner gaze upon it makes it grow stronger, steadier, hotter.

This is the fire at the heart of our being, the source of the love we send forth to others, to people on the planet we have never seen, to places where there is a hunger for peace, for food, for shelter. This fire is the source of our impulse to reach out through our work, our service, our caring, our wisdom, our strivings to understand life and all it requires of us.

This fiery centre is also the dwelling place within us of the Holy One. Love awaits us here, awakens us to joy, to the knowing that we are worthy, and beautiful, and held in a love more tender and deep than we can imagine.

The Sufi poet Hafiz says it best: There is something holy deep inside of you that is so ardent and awake …

This inner fire of love, received and given, is the holy heart of our communion. It is present in the depths of each of us, and each of us is invited, called, to awaken this fire, to tend it, so that its flames become a burning that radiates forth to the Communion, to all those we love, and finally to all of life.

Some gentle movement will warm us, while reminding us of our task, our great work:

Stretch your arms upwards into the sky that hovers above. Feel the sun’s heat in your outstretched hands, on your palms.

Now lower your arms so that you draw the sun’s warmth in through the crown of your head.

Imagine it passing down into your body to the place of inner fire, adding warmth and light.

Slowly, gently, bend forward, and with your outstretched arms, scoop up from the earth the heat that is in the belly of the planet herself.

Draw it upwards as you slowly stand. Now draw it into your body, into the heart of your being

where it meets the light you have drawn in from the sun.

Stand at ease, your eyes closed, as you imagine the fire of the earth and the fire of the sun

meeting in the deep centre of your being, increasing the fire within you.

AHHHH. Breathe slowly in and out for a few moments as you feel this inner fire growing, filling you.

Then with a gesture of giving it away, send it forth as radiant light and love to the planet.

This is a simple practice we may do each day, as we remember our Companions in the Communion of Creative Fire,

and imagine them standing in a circle around us.

Gathering Space for July 10, 2018

It is a warm July evening as we come into the Garden of the former Augustinian Monastery on Iona. The air is fragrant with summer blossoms, alive with birdsong. We take time to greet one another before finding our own place to sit, either on the worn stones of the long-ago Chapter House walls, or on the soft welcoming grasses.

Inspired by Thomas Merton's prayer –poem "Hagia Sophia" (High Wisdom), we have been reflecting on the presence of Sophia within all that lives, the beating heart of the planet. In her book Praying with the Women Mystics, Mary Malone offers us a reworking of Hildegard of Bingen's poem, "God: The Wisdom-Woman".

Anne Fensom, a friend of Mary Malone, will read it aloud for us.  Now Anne’s voice rises through the evening air:

For this is the Wisdom-Woman of God.

She watches over all people and all things.

She is of such radiance and brightness

That you cannot gaze on her face or on the garments she wears.

For she is awesome in terror and gentle in goodness.

She has the radiance of divinity in her face.

She is with all and in all and of beauty so great

That no one can know how sweetly she bears with people,

And with what unfathomable mercy she treats them.

 

 

There is a time of quiet as these words settle within us, creating an inner space of peace and beauty.
 

Jean is with us this evening, and will lead us in her meditation from Godseed : “A Visit to the Sophia”.

We settle ourselves comfortably, preparing for this sacred journey.

Jean speaks:  After a long spiraling journey upwards, you find yourself at the very top of a high mountain. You go inside the mountain to a path that travels downward in a spiral.

Moving along the path down and around within the inner mountain spiral, you pass scenes of your own life, from your earliest infancy. You see or sense yourself being born. Continuing on the path down and around, to your earliest childhood, you see yourself taking your first steps, forming words, reaching out and grasping things, learning to feed yourself. Further down you see yourself learning to tie your own shoes and attending your first days at school. Continuing down, you see yourself learning games and reaching out to other children. As you continue, you see yourself growing up fast and learning many things. You see your adolescence. Further along you observe stages of your life until today………..

Suddenly you find yourself at the very bottom of the inside of the mountain. There you discover a door of baked mud. Going through it, you find that it leads to a hallway and to a door of water. You pass through the door of water, and it leads to a door of fire. You pass through the door of fire, and it leads to a door of winds. You lean against the winds and pass through. This door leads to a door of bronze, and you pass through. This door leads to a door of silver. You pass through the door of silver and find a door of gold.

At the door of gold there is a shining figure who says to you: “Through this door is the Sophia. Through this door is the Wise One herself, the incarnation of Wisdom. When you pass through this door, you will be in the presence of the Sophia. There you must ask your question. You may see her or you may sense her. But know that she is there. She who is Wisdom itself.” When you are in her ambience, whether you see her or hear her or sense her or feel her, ask your question. Her answers may come in words or in images or even in feelings.

You now have four minutes of clock time, equal to all the time you need, to be in the presence of the Sophia and ask your question and receive her answers.

******************** 

     Thanking the Sophia for her wisdom and kindness, and knowing that you can always return to visit her again, begin now to go back through the door of gold, the door of silver, the door of bronze, beyond the doors of winds, of fire, of water, of earth, beyond the spiral of the stages of your own life, reaching the top of the mountain. Now take the spiral path back down from the mountain. Find yourself here in this moment, in the Garden of Iona. Open your eyes, sit up and stretch, and if you wish, write your experiences in a journal or make a drawing or sketch of what you found with the Sophia...
 

We thank Jean for leading us in this meditation. We think of how we might share the experience with one another.

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Gathering Space for July 3, 2018

The early evening holds diffused light, reminding us of Merton's words about Sophia. What a joy for us to feel the warmth of high summer in the gentle breeze that caresses our skin, ruffles our hair, touches our face as we look up at the sky. Some of our companions are carrying books of poetry. We glimpse an author's name: Mary Oliver. There must be a poetry reading planned. Others are carrying what look like trays and containers of food and perhaps those are bottles of wine in an ice bucket.

Fine reasons to hurry towards our gathered circle, and find places to sit on the grass or low stone walls, still warm from the day's sun.
Once everyone has found a place and we have greeted one another, an expectant quiet arises as we wait to see who will open the circle.

Patty Ann comes to the circle's centre to light the fire pot. After she returns to her place on the grass, she speaks:

Some of us got together on Zoom to speak about The Hour of Terce in Merton's Hagia Sophia. We found that we were each drawn in a different way to the words that spoke of Sophia at the core of life, existing in all things and uniting them with each other. We had the idea of looking for readings that showed how this presence of love is found in the four elements of fire, earth, water and air.

Each of us took on the task of finding a poem or a piece of beautiful prose about one of the elements. To make it more interesting we thought a woman writer should speak for the feminine elements of water and earth and a man for the masculine ones of fire and wind.

Shirley speaks: I will read Teilhard's words about the element of Fire, but first I would like to read for us the words of Kathleen Duffy that show Teilhard's desire to be immersed in Matter, Mater, Mother Earth:
"Sophia was the source of Teilhard’s life. Her constant care for creation during so many billions of years gave him confidence she would continue to be faithful… Teilhard vowed to steep himself in the sea of matter, to bathe in its fiery water, to plunge into Earth where it is deepest and most violent, to struggle in its currents, and to drink of its waters. Filled with impassioned love for Sophia, he dedicated himself body and soul to the ongoing work needed to transform the cosmos to a new level of consciousness and to transformative love."

Now here is what Teilhard writes of FIRE:

FIRE
“This is what I have learnt from my contact with the earth ---

the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe,

the divine radiating from the depths of matter a-flame.”

Carol Zickell speaks:  My element is EARTH and I shall read from the writings of Susan Griffin.

EARTH

As I go into the Earth, she pierces my heart. As I penetrate further, she unveils me. When I have reached her center, I am weeping openly. I have known her all my life, yet she reveals stories to me, and these stories are revelations and I am transformed. Each time I go to her, I am born like this. Her renewal washes over me endlessly, her wounds caress me. I become aware of all that has come between us, the blindness, of something sleeping between us. Now my body reaches out to her. They speak effortlessly, and I learn that at no instant does she fail me in her presence. She is as delicate as I am, I know her sentience, I feel her pain and my own pain comes into me, and my own pain grows large and I grasp this pain with my hands, and I open my mouth to this pain, I taste, I know and I know why she goes on, under great weight, with this great thirst, in drought, in starvation, with intelligence in every act does she survive disaster. This earth is my sister, I love her daily grace, her silent daring, and how loved I am, how we admire this strength in each other, all that we have lost, all that we have suffered, all that we know: we are stunned by this beauty, and I do not forget what she is to me, what I am to her.

We hold these words in silence for a time.

Ellyn speaks: You know that Thomas Merton is important in my life. I searched through his poetry seeking something about the element of air. I found this: "Wind and a Bobwhite"

AIR

Wind and a bobwhite
And the afternoon sun.
By ceasing to question the sun
I have become light,
Bird and wind.

My leaves sing.
I am earth, earth
All these lighted things
Grow from my heart.

A tall, spare pine
Stands like the initial of my first
Name when I had one.

When I had a spirit,
When I was on fire
When this valley was
Made out of fresh air
You spoke my name
In naming Your silence:

O sweet, irrational worship!
I am earth, earth
My heart’s love
Bursts with hay and flowers.

I am a lake of blue air
In which my own appointed place
Field and valley
Stand reflected.

I am earth, earth
Out of my grass heart
Rises the bobwhite.

Out of my nameless weeds
His foolish worship.


Suzanne speaks: I asked if I might choose a piece of writing on water. I found there were many. Writers seem to be so inspired by this element. I finally settled on Mary Oliver's poem: "Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me"

WATER

Last night
the rain
spoke to me
slowly, saying,

what joy
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!

That’s what it said
as it dropped,
smelling of iron,
and vanished
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.

Then it was over.
The sky cleared.

I was standing
under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment,

at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain –

imagine! imagine!
the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.

We sit in stillness for a time, each of us absorbed in these beautiful stirring images, these poetic delvings into the elements of our Sophia-infused earth, our life where we are immersed in Sophia's love.

The moon, just days from her fullness, appears above the garden. We stand and begin to prepare for our feast to celebrate life.

Gathering Space for Summer Solstice

June 24, 2018

On this magnificent June evening, we walk slowlly towards the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, our senses alive to the colours thrown across the Western sky by the setting sun. Birds are singing as though they know of joys we have never imagined. The scent of June roses is intoxicating. The touch of the soft wind on our faces is a caress.

We gather on this evening of June 24th for the Summer Solstice Ritual, aware that for the ancient peoples, it might have been a few days before they noticed the longest days. It was this three day pause that led the early Christian Celts to celebrate the Coming of Christ, the Light of the World, on the night of December 24th following the Winter Solstice. The Feast day of John the Baptist was celebrated on June 24th, after the Summer Solstice, for John proclaimed, "He must increase. I must decrease." Already the days grow shorter as they will continue to do until longest night.

We join the circle of our gathered friends, glad to see Dolores Whelan who has arrived from Ireland for the Ritual. 

Dolores speaks: Tonight as we celebrate the Ritual of Summer Solstice, let us send the wonderful light from this place out into the world to transform the darkness. Just sit and hold the intention to send the light out....

************************


 We gather in a closer circle around our unlit fire pot.

When the fire has been lighted, we sing, with the suggested gestures:

Fire of the sun
- reach up to draw in the light from the sun
Fire of the stars
-reach up to draw the fire from the stars
Fire of the earth
-reach down to draw the fire from the earth
Burning

- cross your arms at your wrists and make dancing movements with your fingers


Fire of the rocks
-join hands and sway to the music for this verse
Fire of the clay
Fire of the hearth
Burning


Fire in the heart
-extend arms and place hands on your heart
Fire in the head
-extend arms and place hands on your head
Fire in our veins
-with your right hand gently rub the veins on your left arm
Burning

- cross your arms at your wrists and make dancing movements with your fingers.


Blessing of the Fire with Water from a Local Holy Well

We bless this fire with water from our holy well.
May the lighting of this fire inflame the hearts of all with love and passion.
May this fire bring blessings of peace and protection to all.
May this fire remind us of the first spark of light which flared forth
at the beginning of time.

Lighting of Candles

A large candle is lighted from the fire pot
and light is passed around the circle for each one’s tea-light.

Hymn of Praise
Response after each verse: How beautiful the light!
How glorious its splendour!

Sacred this fire of midsummer’s eve.
Sacred the light of our sun.
Sacred are you, the Most Holy One,
Who kindles light and fire.

Sacred the moment
When you sparkled
Forth a fireball of love and creativity.
Sacred that kindling nearly fourteen billion years ago.

Sacred the birthing of supernova,
The fiery activity of stars,
The formation of galaxies,
The formation of elements.

Sacred the calling forth
Of our Milky Way.
Sacred the seeding of our sun
Aflame with brilliant energy.

Sacred the blaze that whirled
The planets and shaped our earth.
Sacred the formation of earth’s crust
And atmosphere.

Sacred the trees, the plants, the flowers
All kissed into light, into life by sun.
Sacred the fish that swim, and birds that fly,
All creatures that breathe the fire of creativity.

Sacred the creation
Of humankind
With sun’s burning love
And passion.

Sacred the seed of fire in all that is.
Fire that reflects your eternal light.
Each heart aflame with a flame of fire,
Each eye reflecting your burning love.

Sacred this holy night
Aglow with star-light, moon light,
Love light, fire light,
Candle light, God light.

Blessing of the Food

Tonight, nature is full of blossom and promise.

In communion with the earth and its creatures

let us raise our hearts in thanksgiving

for the wonderful gift of food and drink.

May the blessing of the midsummer sun caress our food.

May the fragrance of summer flowers encircle this food.

May the sharing of this food bring peace and protection to the lives of all.

(Heartbeat of the Seasons Kathleen Glennon Columba Press Dublin 2005)

Dance of Joy

Before food is served, let us express our joy, our happiness on this Solstice night
in a dance. In Irish style we will dance around the fire three times to the right.

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Gathering Space for June 12, 2018

This early evening on the North Atlantic Island of Iona bears little resemblance to the romantic songs about "the moon in June". Though it is June, there is no moon, and the weather remains cool enough, at 13 degrees Celsius, 55 Fahrenheit, to make us grateful for the warmth of sweaters, jackets or shawls. Some of us have brought blankets to spread on the grass or on the worn ancient stones of the ruined walls of the nunnery.

Still it is not the cooling air that lends a quickness to our steps as we hurry into the Garden. The woman from a village in the Outer Hebrides who visited us last week, the one whose name is Sophia, promised to return. Will she come? And if so, how might she receive the poems several among us have brought, our response to her request that we write the first part of Thomas Merton's "Hagia Sophia" from our experience as women?

Our first question is answered as soon as we come near enough to the circle of women already gathered around the fire pot. For Sophia is there in the midst of our companions, engaged in conversation with them.

We newly-arrived ones greet her with a smile, a nod, a word of welcome before taking a few minutes to greet our Communion friends. Adriana comes to the centre to light the fire pot. "Today is the birthday of Anne Frank, " she says. "I bought some of her words to read as our opening prayer."

It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.

After Adriana sits down in the circle again, our eyes turn towards Sophia, who looks both eager and anxious as she asks,

"Were you able to… have you brought… the words I asked for?"

Noreen is the first to respond: "Sophia, I have written about DAWN from a woman’s perspective."

There is in all things a stimulating, creative hidden point, an inner soft, gentle energy, radiating and affirming fullness. This is Sophia/Wisdom, the Mother of All…There is in all things an ever-caressing presence and grace, a profound silence alive with eternal blessings. It springs forth from its inner abode and drenches, with wordless action, all in its path, leaving traces in me of serene love and tenderness as it stimulates the activity of truth and joy. This action of Sophia penetrates my being, makes sacred my human condition, blends with my True Inner Self, actively gifting me with beauty, light and love.
I am alive, made anew, called to awaken to the inner life of things, to intuitive knowing, aware that this unseen spirit within is my sister Sophia/Wisdom.

After her reading, Noreen stands to walk over to Sophia, offering her the poem about Dawn.

Sophia, seeming at a loss for words, stands to enfold Noreen in a warm hug.

Patty Ann is the next to speak: Sophia comes in the stillness of the night and wraps her mantle around me, whispering words of love. With her tender touch she awakens in me new life. The heaviness leaves my body and I am renewed in Sophia’s energy, enlivening my very being and readying me to live in the grace of this day!

When Patty offers her poem to Sophia, she too is warmly embraced.

Now Colette speaks: "Here is my personal experience in story form relating to the poem."

Regarding being little. I am the youngest of three, a brother four years older than I and a sister seven years older than I. Needless to say while growing up you can never measure up to them. About two years ago while ending a card game with my siblings and their spouses at a cottage while on vacation, as we were about to retire for the night, I looked at them and the felt sense of “I am no less and no more than they are” came over me unexpectedly as a gift. It felt so good and rang so true. Wholeness, groundedness, serenity, joy, peace came over me as I retired to my bedroom. I savoured this experience and then as I lay in bed, I fell into my essence experienced as unutterable sweetness and purity. It is now just occurring to me as I read this poem that I not only fell into myself but also found myself in Sophia at the same time in that sacred place where we are one. “There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity"…This is at once my own being and the indwelling presence of Sophia, source of all life at the root of my being. A revelation.

As Sophia stands to accept Colette's poem and to embrace her, we see that her eyes are filled with tears.

"This is all so beautiful," she whispers.

Mary Ellen speaks: "I will give some expression to the paragraph where Merton speaks of Sophia being present to the little one."

The experience of being “little”, vulnerable, helpless, anxious in a world which seems overwhelming to me, goes back to early childhood. A gentle, warm Presence close to my heart became a soothing balm, a compassionate caress. I was not totally alone, and my relationship with Her would be my source of hope, of life. She also moved in my soul and body in the midst of creation, carrying me at times into a wondrous experience of oneness, wholeness, sometimes lifting me out of depression into a world of wonder where all that might seem messy and disordered was shining with radiant beauty – tingling, singing energy rippling through me into joy and desire, deep, deep gratitude. What profound resonance then, in meeting women with stories of suffering and crushing loss, who stood strong and glowing with the strength of the sun, and the firmness of earth, sharing new stories of hope and courage, bringing life to all around them. I can now call her Sophia, and the name alone is an embrace of such tenderness that I sink into Her heart of Wisdom and great Vision.

Mary Ellen takes her poem to Sophia who thanks her warmly and holds her for a moment.

Now our circle fills with a sacred silence as these magnificent words, spoken by our companions, sing in our hearts.

We have just begun to think the readings are over when Cynthia speaks: "I have chosen to share with you a sacred moment of darkness that gives way to dawn."

Alone in the hostile environment
overwhelmed
afraid
broken
she gives birth to her son.
Powerless
lost
she observes her body, her Self
an empty grey shell
still
dead.
“He needs you,” the nurse whispers
- Sophia -
“Today it is raining. Rain is little drops of water that fall from the sky.”
The girl writes to her new baby brother
- Sophia –
The child suckles
- Sophia –
The woman sheds a tear.
Life begins anew.

Cynthia is sitting very still, eyes closed, hands joined in her lap, after her reading. Sophia stands and walks over to where Cynthia is seated. Sophia kneels before her, placing her hand gently on Cynthia's hands as she whispers, "Thank you. Your poem speaks to my own experience of childbirth." They hold each other in silence.

By this time, the darkness of a moonless night is complete. We do not know how long it is before Sophia stands to speak to us:

I do not have the words to thank you for what you have given me tonight. Look at the sky. If every star were a poem, it might begin to express what is in my heart. I will take all of your words home to my village. Know that the women of my own sacred circle will forever hold your circle of Creative Fire in love and gratitude."

Then she slips into the enfolding night and is gone.

One by one, without a word, we rise to go our separate ways into the starry starry night.

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Gathering  Space for June 5, 2018

This early June night on Iona is still cool under a partly shrouded sky. The Moon has gently eased her way past clouds to light our path as we come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. We sit down on the low walls of ancient stone, but not before covering the space we chose with a blanket or shawl. We greet our companions, listen to the news or concerns or particular joys of each one.

In the quiet that settles while Yvette lights the fire pot, we gaze around the circle. Sharp intakes of breath mark the moment when, one by one, we notice that there is a stranger among us. She is dressed simply in a long gown woven of grey wool. Sturdy walking shoes are visible under the hem of her dress. Around her shoulders she is clutching a brilliantly coloured shawl, whose hand-embroidered flowers look so real they might have just been plucked from a garden. Feeling our eyes upon her, she smiles shyly.

"I have been sent here to you, women of the Creative Fire, to ask for your assistance." Her slow musical speech tells us she is a woman of the Hebrides, perhaps born right here on Iona. But why has she come to us?

"I come from a village on another island in this North Atlantic sea. There we still speak the Gaelic tongue, though a few of us have some English.  I was chosen by the women in my village to come here to you. More than fifty years ago a visitor came to our island from Kentucky. He was wanting to live like a hermit, like a monk he had met named Thomas. He settled in an old abandoned stone house where he lived and prayed. He became a great friend to us even as the women and men of our village helped him to survive our harsh winters, to fish, to grow what food we can in this climate.

"Sometimes this man would come to our village Ceilidhs and tell us stories. The stories were about the monk named Thomas who had been his friend. This Thomas saw light in every person, and when we heard that our hearts filled with joy.

"This past winter was terrible in the North Atlantic. Many people became ill and some died. Our American friend was among those who did not live to see this spring. He left us a letter to say he wanted the village to have his books. One of the wise women has been looking through the books, most of them written by the monk Thomas. She does not read English very well, and many of the books made little sense to her. But she came upon a poem to Sophia, who seems to be a woman who is a companion to the Father God. This Sophia works in the earth and sea and sky and even inside all of us to bring forth life. A woman who is merciful and good and gentle in her ways.

"Of course we knew all this, though we called this woman by other names: Brigid or Macha or Maeve. To read of her in the book of a monk surprised us. Yet his poem is too, if I may say it, too manly for us. Thomas writes of a man awakening to Sophia. We want to know how it would sound if a woman were to write of waking up to this Sophia.

"Now it happened that a woman from Iona named Elspeth came to visit our island. We asked her about this Sophia. Elspeth said she knew of some women of Creative Fire who knew much about this Sophia. Elspeth brought me here to Iona. She said I would find you in the Nunnery Garden of a Tuesday evening. So I have come."

As we are trying to take this in, to grasp what we are being asked to do, our guest is reaching into a cloth bag and withdrawing some pages.

"So here it is, the Sophia Poem. Would one of you read it aloud? Just so you'll see what I mean about it being too manly for us."

Cynthia is the first to recover. She smiles at our guest and says, "I'll be happy to read it for you. But please, what is your name?"

There is something of delight, a bright twinkle in her eyes as she responds, "Well now, that's the thing. I was the one chosen to come because my name is Sophia. My mother fell in love with a sailor from Greece, and he, my father, chose my name as soon as he looked into my eyes."


Cynthia begins to read: "This first part is called Dawn."

 Dawn. The Hour of Lauds
There is in all things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all…. There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility. This is at once my own being, my own nature, and the Gift of my Creator's Thought and Art within me, speaking as Hagia Sophia, speaking as my sister, Wisdom.
I am awakened, I am born again at the voice of this my Sister, sent to me form the depths of divine fecundity.
Let us suppose I am a man lying asleep in a hospital. I am indeed this man lying asleep. It is July the second, the Feast of Our Lady's Visitation. A Feast of Wisdom.

At five-thirty in the morning, I am dreaming in a very quiet room when a soft voice awakens me from my dream. I am like all mankind awakening from all the dreams that ever were dreamed in all the nights of the world. It is like the One Christ awakening in all the separate selves that ever were separate and isolated and alone in all the lands of the earth. It is like all minds coming back together into awareness from all distractions, cross-purposes and confusions, into unity of love. It is like the first morning of the world (when Adam, at the sweet voice of Wisdom awoke from nonentity and knew her), and like the Last Morning of the world when all the fragments of Adam will return from death at the voice of Hagia Sophia, and will know where they stand.

Such is the awakening of one man, one morning, at the voice of a nurse in the hospital. Awakening out of languor and darkness, out of helplessness, out of sleep, newly confronting reality and finding it to be gentleness.
In the cool hand of the nurse, there is the touch of all life, the touch of Spirit.

Thus Wisdom cries out to all who will hear…and she cries out particularly to the little, to the ignorant and the helpless.
Who is more little, who is more poor than the helpless man who lies asleep in his bed without defense? Who is more trusting than he who must entrust himself each night to sleep? What is the reward of his trust? Gentleness comes to him when he is most helpless and awakens him, refreshed, beginning to be made whole. Love takes him by the hand, and opens to him the doors of another life, another day.

(But he who has defended himself, fought for himself in sickness, planned for himself, guarded himself, loved himself alone and watched over his own life all night, is killed at last by exhaustion. For him, there is no newness. Everything is staled and old.)
When the helpless one awakens strong at the voice of mercy, it is as if Life and Flesh, his Sister, as if the Blessed Virgin, (his own flesh, his own sister), as if Nature made wise by God's Art and Incarnation, were to stand over him and invite him with unutterable sweetness to be awake and to live. This is what it means to recognize Hagia Sophia.

 Sophia thanks Cynthia, and then gazes around the circle.  "Would you be so kind, each of you to work at this? If every one would choose one part of the poem, the part you like best, and write it as a woman would say it? I will return here next Tuesday evening, and you may give me what you each have written. The women on my island will be very grateful to you. And I especially will be happy to have a poem that honours the one who bears my name."

And with that, she is gone as quietly as she came. But she has left us exactly 28 copies of the Dawn poem to Sophia.

We each take one and promise to return next week with a part of the poem as a woman would write it. 

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Gathering Space for May 29, 2018

The air off the north Atlantic is milder this evening. The sky is clear but for a few clouds here and there. The moon when it rises will shine brightly in her full splendour. We come into the Garden of the Ruined Nummery on Iona, tingling with anticipation.

Our voices hold an energy that adds to the sense that something wonderful is about to happen, something more than the full moon. 

As we exchange greetings and questions about the past week, Colette looks around as though expecting someone..

"Who are you looking for?" someone asks. Colette does not seem to hear. More people notice, begin looking in the same direction. 


Suddenly aware of the silence, Colette looks at us. "I was remembeign something. Wasn't it two years ago in this month of May that Maureen was with us here for the last itme? Do you remember how she wanted Julian of Norwich to come to speak with us, how she truly believed that JUlian would come if we asked?

" Maureen said that night that as Julian was living in Norwich at the same that this place was a Women’s Monastery, perhaps whe would feel at home here.”

Those of us who were here on that night are beginniing to remember what happened. Th others are looking seriously alarmed.

Colette continiues: "I remember that Maureen said,  “I think if we invited her to come here, Julian would say yes,” and I also recall that Maureen saw our doubts so she added: “Look, we’ve learned about the way time past and present are one. We’ve learned about the continuation of life beyond death. We’ve learned that the Power of Allurement draws to us those whom we love. We should ask her.”

Mary Ellen says, “Yes, I am remembering that night also. I recall that I said to Maureen, that as she should be the one to ask.”

NOw Yvette is smiling. "Yes, and MaUreen surprised us bby saying,, “Well, actually, I already have. Julian asked if there was a window she might sit at, to speak with us…. Well, it’s what she’s used to. So I said that there was one left in the ruins.”

Violet says, "Do you remember what happened next? I do ! Like puppets on strings, we all turned to stare at the window that Maureen was showing us. For a few heartbeats, no one moved or spoke. There was the song of a blackbird in the garden. Then silence……. Then a sound so strange we do not at first identify it…… Laughter. From the other side of the window."

Though we have been listening to these memories with a mix of fondness, even nostalgia for Maureen and for a wonder long since past, what happens next astonishes us. Something pulls our gaze to that same window in the ruined stone wall.

window in the wall where Julian will appear

As though memory and longing were enough, JUlian is there, gazing back at us. Her face is partially hidden by the hood of her grey cloak, but we see her solemn gaze melt into merry laughter! 

“If you could look upon your faces now, you would laugh more merrily than I do,”  Julian says.

We are utterly speechless. 

“Well, have you nothing to say to me? To ask me?”

Ruth is the first to recover: “Julian, will you teach us how to pray?”

Julian turns toward her and smiles.

“Often our trust is not full. We are not certain that God hears us because we consider ourselves worthless and as nothing. This is ridiculous and the cause of our weakness. I know, because I have felt this way myself! But then Love told me this: I am the source of your prayers. First it is my will that you have what you desire. Later I cause you to want it. Later on, I cause you to pray for it and you do so. How then can you not have what you desire?

”Some of us believe that God is Almighty and may do all, and that God is All-Wisdom and can do all; but that God is All-Love and will do all, there we stop short. Dear Women of the Communion do not stop short, but trust that God is All-Love and will do all for our joy!”

Yvette asks the next question: Julian why do you call Jesus our Mother?

Julian pauses, then says, “I suppose it is what you now call an image or perhaps a metaphor. He who loves us so much, with such great tenderness, is not this the Mother’s part? I call the Christ our Mother because it is the Mother who best shows love, as the sea and the storm show power, as the flower shows colour. It seems to me that Christ gave birth to us through his great love as he died. Then having birthed us into life, he continues to feed us with himself through the Eucharist. That is how it is to my sight.”

Suzanne has a question. “Julian what must we do to be worthy of God’s Love?”

Julian leans into the window and looks straight at Suzanne. “Nothing.”

Suzanne is puzzled. “Julian, I wonder if you heard my question?”

Once again Julian is laughing. “Oh my dear, of course I heard your question. And my answer remains. 'Nothing.' In the one night of my visions, I understood that the love in which we are held is unchanging, and depends not at all on what we do. Jesus is our clothing. He wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us. It is we ourselves who hold Love away from us, believing we are not deserving.

"Oh, my dear friends, are you not now aware that you live within a universe that is continually alluring you with love, yearning for you, drawing others to you and you to all of life? Love holds the stars in place, and sets the earth on its spiral dance around the sun?

"Oh, Yes, you are deeply, surely loved. "

Shirley is ready with her question: “Julian, if we are held in love, then why do we suffer?”

Julian looks at her with tenderness: “We suffer because we love. There is no love without suffering. In another sort of universe, where one could exist without caring for another life, whether human or animal or tree or flower or river or sea, there might not be suffering. But once we allow ourselves to give and to receive love, we are saying yes to suffering. That is the price of love. Human love. Divine Love. Agony enters in. But so does ecstasy. Who would wish to live without Love?

"You, dear women of Creative Fire, are learning this. Be right glad and merry for God loves you, and wants you to be happy!”

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Gathering Space for May 22, 2018

It is a cloudy, cool May evening. The moon will rise soon in her first quarter. We draw sweaters or warm shawls closely around us as we come into the Garden of the former Augustinian Monastery on Iona. The air is fragrant with the scent of blossoms from fruit trees, alive with birdsong. We take time to greet one another before finding our own place to sit, either on the worn stones of the long-ago Chapter House walls, or on the soft welcoming grasses.

We have been reflecting on the presence of Sophia within all that lives, the beating heart of the planet. Mary Malone’s poetry offers us some lines about Sophia. Would someone read them aloud for us?

Joy’s voice rises through the evening air:

For Sophia is the splendour of eternal light
And immaculate mirror of God’s majesty,
And image of God’s goodness…
For she is more beautiful than the sun,
And above all the order of the stars.
Compared with the light, she is found before it…
Therefore she reaches from end to end mightily
And orders all things sweetly.

There is a time of quiet as these words settle within us creating an inner space of peace and beauty.

Jean is with us this evening, so we have asked her to lead us in a meditation on “A Visit to the Sophia” from her book, Godseed.

We settle ourselves comfortably, preparing for this sacred journey, as Jean begins to speak.

After a long spiraling journey upwards, you find yourself at the very top of a high mountain. You go inside the mountain to a path that travels downward in a spiral. Moving along the path down and around within the inner mountain spiral, you pass scenes of your own life, from your earliest infancy. You see or sense yourself being born. Continuing on the path down and around, to your earliest childhood, you see yourself taking your first steps, forming words, reaching out and grasping things, learning to feed yourself. Further down you see yourself learning to tie your own shoes and attending your first days at school. Continuing down, you see yourself learning games and reaching out to other children. As you continue, you see yourself growing up fast and learning many things. You see your adolescence. Further along you observe stages of your life until today………..

Suddenly you find yourself at the very bottom of the inside of the mountain. There you discover a door of baked mud. Going through it, you find that it leads to a hallway and to a door of water. You pass through the door of water, and it leads to a door of fire. You pass through the door of fire, and it leads to a door of winds. You lean against the winds and pass through. This door leads to a door of bronze, and you pass through. This door leads to a door of silver. You pass through the door of silver and find a door of gold.

At the door of gold there is a shining figure who says to you: “Through this door is the Sophia. Through this door is the Wise One herself, the incarnation of Wisdom. When you pass through this door, you will be in the presence of the Sophia. There you must ask your question. You may see her or you may sense her. But know that she is there. She who is Wisdom itself.” When you are in her ambience, whether you see her or hear her or sense her or feel her, ask your question. Her answers may come in words or in images or even in feelings.

You now have four minutes of clock time, equal to all the time you need, to be in the presence of the Sophia and ask your question and receive her answers.

*****************************************************

Thanking the Sophia for her wisdom and kindness, and knowing that you can always return to visit her again, begin now to go back through the door of gold, the door of silver, the door of bronze, beyond the doors of winds, of fire, of water, of earth, beyond the spiral of the stages of your own life, reaching the top of the mountain. Now take the spiral path back down from the mountain.

Find yourself here in this moment, in the Garden of Iona. Open your eyes, sit up and stretch, and if you wish, write your experiences in a journal or make a drawing or sketch of what you found with the Sophia...

We thank Jean for leading us in this meditation. We think of how we might share the experience with one another.

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Gathering  Space for May 15, 2018

We come this evening into the garden of Iona's thirteenth century nunnery, the worn grey stone walls all that remain of its Chapter House. Here the abbess and her sisters would have gathered to reflect together, to seek solutions to the challenges of their daily lives. They would have prayed, listened to one another, trusted in the guidance of the Spirit to show the way forward.

Ruins of the place where the Chapter House stood

We who gather in this virtual space in the twenty-first century come with questions, concerns and challenges from our lives and the lives of those we love. But we are aware also of planet-wide challenges, for we carry in our hearts the entire human family, and all that lives on this earth. We are aware, as the women who lived here eight centuries ago were not, of the sufferings of the earth herself, the loss of species in the animal world, of birds and fishese who will not return in our lifetime,  of the kchoking and poisoning of earth's waters, the depletion of her soil, the rape of her rain forests.

How much greater is our need for guidance, for knowing how each is called to be a presence of love and light in the midst of darkness. We need guidance as well for the future of our communion, knowing that our combined daily contemplative time, our deep listening to the Sacred Presence and to one another, our actions which flow from this, matter deeply to our time.

This evening we listen to Julian of Norwich's words about the deep presence of Love within all of life:

I know well that heaven and earth and all creation are great, generous and beautiful and good….he who created it created everything for love, and by the same love it is preserved, and always will be without end.…
God is everything which is good, as I see, and the goodness which everything has is God.

Let us settle now into a time of quiet, feeling our breath slow and deepen until peace fills us. Let us allow Julian's words to penetrate our concerns, our grief, our sense of loss. We recall we are not alone in the challenges we face, nor is the earth alone, for Love is present everywhere, transforming darkness into light, despair into hope, death into life.

We stay in this time of deep listening until our inner joy is stronger than our fears.

************************************************

May each of us go forward from this place into our daily lives, blessed with fresh hope,

blessed with the joy of our shared communion of love, prepared to carry light wherever we walk.

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Gathering Space for Bealtaine

In the pre-dawn darkness we make our way into the circle of grass embraced by the low stone walls of the ruined nunnery on Iona.

We have never before been here before the sun, never seen our companions like this: darker shadows against a grey sky.

It is utterly still, without even the movement of light wind that heralds the sun.

Each of us has brought dry sticks, bits of gathered grass and heather. These we pile on the wood that awaits the Bealtaine fire.

On the edge of a cliff across the island is a pool that has been known for its spiritual power.

Two of our companions, Shirley and Suzanne, who have a deep affinity for water, who work for its healing throughout the planet,

went there yesterday to collect water for our ritual. The large clay pitcher they carried back sits beside the readied fire.

When all of us have gathered, we stand in a circle facing towards the east.

We chant: Look to the East where promise is born; look to the East where the sun brings the morn.

 Slowly, slowly, as we repeat the chant, the grey of the sky warms into shades of pale seashell pink,

deepening into soft rose then into deep rose madder.

Slowly, slowly, the golden orb of the sun appears to be pushing itself up above the horizon.

In such a way, we, who know it is in fact the earth on which we stand that is rolling towards the sun,

 still experience the moment as did our ancient ancestors. We still speak of a rising sun.

At the moment when the sun becomes visible, Mary Ellen lights the fire, and as the sun’s light ripples

on the water in the clay container, we come forward, one by one,

to splash the water over our faces. Then with the water still wet upon us, we stand in the rays of the rising sun.

The sun blesses us, blesses the water upon us. As we feel the warmth that come from sun and fire, and the wetness from the water,

we ask for a harmony within us of the masculine/sun/fire energies and the feminine/water energies.

By the time all twenty-eight women have completed the ritual, the garden is glowing with the full golden light of morning.

Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona

Now that it is warm enough to sit down, we gather in a circle.

There is a lightness in our hearts that bubbles up in spontaneous laughter.

Someone begins to sing, “Morning has broken…” and we join in.

Mary Teske has brought the Celtic Calendar that Dolores Whelan created, as well as Dolores’ book, Ever Ancient, Ever New.

 Mary offers Reflection questions based on the rituals we have just done:

What negativity left over from winter do I now release into the Bealtaine fires

so that my heart is ready for the newness of life and work at this season?

What new fertility in my life, in my projects, do I welcome in the form of the young mother of early summer?

How shall I honour the harmony of fire and water, the masculine and feminine energies working

within the land, within myself, within the work that I am called to birth?

Mary invites us to take these questions into our hearts as we end our time here with the Bealtaine prayer from the Celtic Calendar:

May I/we embrace the support of the blossoming life force and growing light

as I/we step boldly into the world to express my/our creativity.

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Gathering Space for April 10, 2018

The Paschal moon is waning towards darkness. Winds off the North Atlantic do their best to disperse the cloud cover, allowing brief glimpses of her remaining light. We come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, feeling the rising temperature as blessing even if it is only a few degrees above freezing. We have dressed warmly for our gathering under the open skies where our lovely embroidered cushions of winter have been replaced by grass and low stones that still remember winter.

The fire pot is lighted at the centre of our circle. As we take our places and greet our companions, thoughts of cold are forgotten.

Tonight we will celebrate Easter in poetry, in song, in dance. Afterwards in the lengthening evening there will be a feast of food and wine already waiting on the long table that rests against the remaining wall of the monastery.

Cynthia stands to begin our celebration: "I have brought a poem by Jan Richardson that was written as a blessing for Mary Magdalene, the first person to whom Jesus showed himself after the Resurrection:

                                                                                                                                       

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” John 20:16

The Magdalene’s Blessing

You hardly imagined
standing here,
everything you ever loved
suddenly returned to you,
looking you in the eye
and calling your name.

And now
you do not know
how to abide this hole
in the center
of your chest,
where a door
slams shut
and swings open
at the same time,
turning on the hinge
of your aching
and hopeful heart.

I tell you,
This is not a banishment
from the garden.

This is an invitation,
a choice,
a threshold,
a gate.

This is your life
calling to you
from a place
you could never
have dreamed,
but now that you
have glimpsed its edge,
you cannot imagine
choosing any other way.

So let the tears come
as anointing,
as consecration,
and then
let them go.

Let this blessing
gather itself around you.

Let it give you
what you will need
for this journey.

You will not remember
the words –
they do not matter.

All you need to remember
is how it sounded
when you stood
in the place of death
and heard the living
call your name.

(Jan Richardson in Circle of Grace)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    While we are quietly taking in the wonder, the power of these words, Cynthia passes around the circle copies

 for each of us of the painting by Sieger Koder inspired by that first Easter Morning:


Mary Ellen stands now and says, "I too have a poem by Jan Richardson about Mary Magdalene's experience of Easter Morning. Jan begins with the moment when someone whom she believes is the gardener speaks to her:

Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?   (John 20: 15)

You had not imagined
that something so empty
could fill you
to overflowing.

and now you carry
the knowledge
like an awful treasure
or like a child
that curls itself
within your heart:

how the emptiness
will bear forth
a new wold
you cannot fathom
but on whose edge
you stand.

So why do you linger?
You have seen,
and so you are
already blessed.
You have been seen,
and so you are
the blessing.

There is no other word
you need.
There is simply
to go
and tell.
There is simply
to begin.

Mary Ellen has a photo for each of us to take home. It shows the statue that stands in the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral in England:

Mary Magdalene is striding forth to take the good news to the apostles.

Now the music begins, calling us to dance. What a great way to warm up after sitting still on stone.

Music Dance… until the Easter Feast begins.

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Gathering Space for April 3, 2018
 

A Celebration of Spring

We have been invited to bring spring flowers, essential oils and small clay pots with budding seedlings to our gathering on this early spring evening in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. A light rain, more like mist, touches our faces as we walk towards the garden. But what miracle is this? Not our winter tent, but almost as welcome… a large canvas cover carefully secured to four tall poles, offering shelter above an area large enough for all twenty-eight of us to gather.

Relieved laughter erupts as we find ourselves rain-free as though beneath an outstretched wing.

Carol of Lightspring Glen has offered to lead us in a Celtic Spring Ritual from Kathleen Glennon’s book Heartbeat of the Seasons. Carol has placed a table covered with a cloth in shades of rose, green and gold, along one side of the sheltered area, inviting us to place our spring flowers, clay pots with seedlings and our containers of essential oils there.

We form one large circle around Carol as she reads the opening prayer:

Turner of the seasons,
Energy of the first flaring forth,
Source of newness and creativity,
Hidden activity in the darkness,
Align us to your budding presence
In this season of the spring.

Violet reads from the Chinook Psalter:

Everywhere is the green of new growth,
The amazing sight of the renewal of the earth.
We watch the grass once again emerging from the ground.
We notice the bright green atop the dark green on the pine,
the fir, the hemlock, the spruce, the cedar.
The alder is already in leaf.
The old plum trees still blossom, leaf and give forth fruit.
The locust is late as always.

Everywhere and always the song of birds…bees raiding the orchard,

raccoon prowling at nightfall, the earthworm tunnelling the garden,

chickens and rabbits pecking and nibbling, the goats tugging to reach new delights…

all are the ubiquitous energies of life.

O God,
May we today be touched by grace, fascinated and moved by this your creation,

energized by the power of new growth at work in your world.

May we move beyond viewing life only through a frame,

but touch it and be touched by it, know it and be known by it,

love it and be loved by it.

May our bodies, our minds, our spirits, learn a new rhythm

paced by the rhythmic pulse of the whole created order.

May spring come to us, be in us, and re-create life in us.

May we forge a new friendship with the natural world

and discover a new affinity with beauty, with life.

In quiet, we allow this reflection to take root in our souls.


Now Carol invites us to get in touch with the energy of spring:

Let us become aware of the energy of the earth at this time.
We, earthlings, are part of the earth and pulsate with its energy.
Our bodies have springtime energy at this time.
Let us be fascinated and moved by the wonder of spring, and the power of new growth at work in our world.
Let us touch the earth at this time and be touched by it.
Let us know the earth and be known by it.
Let us love the earth and be loved by it.
Let us discover our affinity with the beauty and mystery of springtime.
May spring come to us, be with us, and re-create life in us.


Each of us now takes a clay pot with seedlings from the ritual table.

We spread our jackets, shawls, sweaters and blankets on the soft spring grass and sit down as Carol leads a guided reflection:

Imagine that you are a seed that was planted in a pot of clay last winter.
At first you are afraid of the darkness.
But after some time you grow accustomed to the dark and settle into the clay.
All winter you are very quiet and still.
One day you notice that there are roots, long ropey fibres growing from your body down into the clay.
As the days go by, these fibres grow stronger and steadier.
You feel yourself rooted firmly in the clay.
You nestle into the clay.
Then one day you feel an irresistible urge to move upwards.
You try to ignore it but the feeling grows stronger.
Some hidden force seems to be luring you forward.
You push upwards.
A shoot emerges from the top of your body and pushes upwards.
It grows larger and larger until it reaches the top of the clay.
You are being lured forward by some unseen energy.
You know that you must make a final push to break through the clay
but you are afraid.
You have grown used to the darkness. You have grown used to
your home underground.
One part of you longs for the kiss of sunshine on your face.
Another part of you recoils in fear.
One part of you wants to follow the lure in your heart.
Another part of you wants to stay with the familiar, the comfortable.
Will you have the courage to move into the light?

All now is silence as we weigh these questions…

Apply this message to yourself, and to your situation.
Will you have the courage to follow this lure, this pull?

Into the silence, clear lovely notes of a flute rise
like the lark at break of day, lifting us into our response.

Litany of Thanksgiving
Chant: (response) Welcome to spring
with her lap full of flowers.

For the sap rising in all green things,
For the life force pulsating newness,
For the earth alive with freshness.
(response)

For the impulse of budding plants,
For the knowing that awakens flowers,
For the energy that dwells in hibernating animals.
(response)

For the yielding of winter to the call of spring,
For the sunshine that caresses the earth awake,
For the power that coaxes deep down things towards light.
(response)

For the lure that calls the catkins forth,
For the instinct that moves the birds to mate and nest,
For the playful energy of frolicking lambs.
(response)

For the creativity stirring in our bodies,
For the dynamism that prompts our growth,
For the allure that seduces us.
(response)
Blessings

Carol speaks: I invite you to think of the blessing you need
to help you to break through, to move forward, to grow.

When you know what that is, choose someone in the circle and ask that person to anoint you with an oil of your choice, either on your forehead or your hands. If you seek energy, Jasmin is a good choice; if you need stimulation, choose lemon. For soothing ask for lavender.

When each woman has been anointed with oil for the blessing she most desires, Carol offers the final blessing:

May the knowing that opens the snowdrop be ours.
May the energy of the waking squirrel be in our veins.
May the song of the nesting sparrow be in our hearts.
May the dance of the daffodils be in our feet.
May the joy of frolicking lambs be in our bones.
May the glow of celandine surround all.
May the kiss of catkins envelop all. May the morning dew rest lightly on all.
May the creativity of spring touch the hearts of all. Amen.

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Gathering Space for Holy Week, 2018

The early evening light is muted as we enter the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. Though the air is mild, comfortably above freezing, we have dressed warmly in coats or thick jackets. Our winter tent is gone. We shall hold our gathering outdoors. We greet one another, find  places to sit on the worn stone wall, all that remains of the Chapter House. Some of us find the grass warm enough to make a soft perch.


We gather this evening in a quieter mood, aware of the solemnity of this time when the earth waits in stillness on the edge of new life, when the moon, waxing towards its Paschal fullness, hovers hidden by clouds. The Jewish world prepares to celebrate Passover while the Christian world relives the mystery of life/death/life that we now understand to be the mystery at the heart of the universe.


Each of us has come this evening bearing two loosely wrapped bundles:  one for sorrow, one for joy.

We begin by coming to awareness of our breath, softly drawing in the breath of life, holding it, releasing it, repeating this to a count of three... drawing in, letting go, drawing in, letting go..... until we notice a place of calmness and peace opening within.

When we have fully arrived at this present moment, when we know ourselves to be here in this sacred space, encircled within our Communion of Creative Fire, when we notice the relaxed posture of our companions, it is time to begin.

It is good to begin with joy. First we open the bundle that holds whatever on our beloved planet delights our eyes, our heart.

We name aloud the gifts as we bring them forth to show to our companions.
In reverence, in awe, in surprise we listen:

the paschal moon that creates a river of gold upon the shimmering darkness of the river ...

the trees that stand naked, worn by winter storms, lifting their arms to receive the breath of spring...

the birdsong that pierces the silence of winter...

the sun that arrives early, stays into evening, drawing new life from the earth ...

the sprigs of green that shoot upwards out of the earth...

......the voices continue, each adding her own joy

It is time to open the second bundle. Our hearts listen with compassion, with reverence, with empathy

to the sorrows that each person has brought:

the wars and conflicts that rage like wildfire around the planet ...

the families and individuals made homeless by war, by flooding, by drought, by famine...

the tragedy of lives destroyed by senseless acts of violence, accidents in the air, at sea; the bottomless grief of those who loved the lost ones...

the destruction of rain forests, pollution of waterways, poisoning of groundwater and desertification of vast areas of the planet ...

.... the voices continue, each speaking her own deep sadness

There is a solemn stillness after the sorrows have been spoken.

Now one more voice speaks: I have my joys here, saved for this moment.

... the sprigs of green across the planet where individuals and small groups of hope-filled people are making a difference.

...the "March for Life" rallies held across the US and Canada and in other places on the planet calling for an end to gun violence;  the young people  who planned and conducted local rallies and spoke with passion and power about the need for change, calling on us to find which political leaders were complicit in gun violence and "Vote them out"

... a man who returned to his childhood home in an Eastern European city, where water had been cut off drying out a place once verdant. He found a way to create a flow of water, turning the area once more into a life-supporting wetland.

... a young Indigenous Canadian man who returned to his Reserve to start a new entertainment centre, to build hope, calling on his people to start creating their own solutions instead of waiting for Governments and Politicians to solve their challenges.... 

...a community of people in Heart's Delight, Newfoundland,  who came together to find a way to release a group of Dolphins locked into ice in a small bay. The wife of a construction worker suggested he use his equipment to create a channel through the ice so the Dolphins might swim free. When he opened the path, the people rejoiced to see the Dolphins swim to safety.

With renewed hope, each of us recalls another joy to share....

We close our time with a poem. Emily Dickinson speaks of Transformation and Radiance (two of the Powers of the Universe),

using the image of the blacksmith and the forge (symbols associated with Brigid as Soulsmith).

Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?
Then crouch within the door—
Red—is the Fire's common tint—
But when the vivid Ore
Has vanquished Flame's conditions,
It quivers from the Forge
Without a color, but the light
Of unanointed Blaze.
Least Village has its Blacksmith
Whose Anvil's even ring
Stands symbol for the finer Forge
That soundless tugs—within—
Refining these impatient Ores
With Hammer, and with Blaze
Until the Designated Light
Repudiate the Forge—

As we prepare to celebrate Easter, we may wish to wonder.... 

What is the "designated light" I most need in my own life?

What is the "finer forge", the power within me, that will refine the Ore so my Soul with burn with "White Heat"?

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Gathering Space for Spring Equinox

March 20, 2018

It is twilight when we gather in the garden where Iona’s Augustinian nunnery once stood. The muted light gives the early grass, the delicate snowdrops, the daffodils, the low stones that remain of the walls, a lack of clear definition. There is a sense of presences, moving like soft shadows, perhaps the spirits of the nuns who once dwelt here.

snow drops

The tent of our winter meetings has vanished.

As we gather in a circle under the early evening sky, we each form and hold our intention.

At this time of the Spring Equinox, we seek to experience the earth’s harmony and balance.

The fire pot is placed in the centre of the circle, reminding us of Brigid, reminding us who we are as the Communion of Creative Fire.

We begin by facing south, inviting Cynthia and Joy, our southernmost members, to call the direction from Australia:

Spirit of the South, place of the warm sun, of brilliant flowers, exquisitely coloured birds, rainforests, sandy beaches,

let us know the joy, the playfulness, the celebration of summer.

We look to the west, inviting Jean, our westernmost member, to call the direction from Oregon:

Spirit of the West, spirit of fulfillment and abundance, of harvest, completion, and thanksgiving,

bring us close to the fruitfulness of our lives, the autumn days of our wisdom.

We look to the north, inviting Shirley, Anne and Violet our northernmost members, to call the direction from Sudbury:

Spirit of the North, the place of courage and faithfulness, the place of winter’s rest and inward strength,

draw us to the richness of winter’s gift of journeying within.

We look to the east, inviting Carol Zickell to call the direction:

Spirit of the East, place of the rising sun, of newness and creativity, of starting fresh, align our hearts with spring’s gift of renewal.

Now we seek to get in touch with the energy of the Earth, as we each in turn read a section from the "Ritual for Spring Equinox" from Heartbeat of the Seasons by Kathleen Glennon:

At this time the earth in the northern hemisphere experiences a sense of balance.
The pendulum of the seasons rests for a brief moment.
The ebb and flow of life pauses for a moment,
A moment of harmony,
A moment of rest,
A moment when the fulcrum of the seasons is in balance.

Let us get in touch with the earth and feel her pulse at this time.
Let us attune ourselves to the twilight, to the magic of the in-between time.
Let us become aware of the struggle between light and darkness and the subtle
blending of both.

Let us become aware of the shapes of things in the twilight – the mystique that envelops everything.
Let us become aware of the last rays of the dying sun.
Let us be in touch with a sense of loss.

Let us also be aware of another emotion – the feeling of anticipation for the first rays of moonlight.
At equinox time, we have equal sunlight and nightlight.
Each of us is influenced by the rhythms of both the sun and the moon.

Sun energy influences our logical thought process, our analytical capacities, our decision-making skills.
Moon energy influences our intuitive capacities, and our aesthetic abilities.
We need both energies to be in balance—to be integrated, whole persons.


Candles are now passed to everyone in the circle. We each move forward in turn to light our candles from the flame of the fire pot.

When each person’s candle is lighted, we begin walking clockwise around the circle, balancing our lighted candle on our right hand, becoming aware of our body, our sense of balance, as we walk.

Now we move the candle to balance on the palm of our left hand, aware of our body and of sense of balance as we walk clockwise around the circle.

We next extend our left palm upward and place the right hand, with the candle on it, on top of the left, palm upward. Again, we walk clockwise around the circle and experience our sense of balance as we walk.

We take time to reflect on balance in our life:

Is there balance between
Work and play,
Activity and rest,
Logic and intuition,
Busyness and relationships,
Joy and sorrow?

We pause for a while to think about this.


We call now on the energy of the universe to support us in our efforts at balance and integration.
We call on the energy of the earth at this time – the energy of integration and harmony.
We call on the energy of the moon to re-align us to our intuitive, creative side.
We call on the energy of the sun to align us to our logical, analytical side.
We call on the energy of twilight to attune us to the balance of polarities.

Closing Blessing:

May the blessing of twilight integrate the light and darkness of all.
May the blessing of equinox balance and anchor all.
May the angel of balance support and strengthen all.
May all of creation be truly blessed with harmony and stability.
Amen.

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Gathering Space for March 13, 2018


The light breeze, wet with rain, comes from the north east. It carries a whiff of sea-air. The early evening is milder, no longer freezing.

We cannot see the moon through the cloud haze as we make our way across the grass to our Gathering Tent.

One of our companions speaks with the heavy tones of a tragic poet: “Look thy last on all things lovely.”

We turn to her in surprise. With the Spring Equinox only a week away, surely things are on their way to being more lovely!

But it is our Gathering Tent that holds her gaze. “It won’t be here much longer. Didn’t it disappear last year on the Equinox?”

We go inside, already feeling the coming change. Tonight we will enjoy the silken softness of the cushions, the way the flame in the fire pot dances, the delicious sense of being sheltered from the elements, circling in a warmth that comes from friendship as well as fire.

Once we are seated in the circle, we look around at the faces of friends who have been gathering here with us from the beginning, more than five years ago. Others have come more recently, delighting us with their wisdom, their insights, their questions, their questing. Twenty-eight women we now number from Canada, the United States, Ireland and Australia. There are also remembered friends, former members, still somehow part of our circle of love.

Jean Houston is with us, the planet her homeplace these days. As we notice her glancing around the circle, waiting for the conversations, greetings and questions to slowly subside, we realize that Jean will be leading the gathering this evening.

“As many of you know,” Jean begins, “I have been engaged in the formation of a group called Rising Women, Rising World made up of women who are leaders in many disciplines around the globe. Over the decades, my work has taken me to more than a hundred countries. Everywhere I see the rise of women, moving towards full partnership with men. One of the most exciting features of life today is the proliferation of women’s groups, engaged in so many areas of human development from micro-economics to education to issues of justice to politics.

“What I see is that the groups that do best are often the smaller ones with intensive perspective, sharing deeply, with a spiritual focus. You, in the Communion of Creative Fire, a group with depth, engaged in further deepening, have touched into the soul of what is happening, into something that is a necessity for the world. You have touched into a cycle of turning, where women’s spirituality is being activated. You have become a fold within a fold of the human/ spiritual quantum field of wisdom, serving both the local and the larger story.

“You are part of a radical new paradigm. You do not know how these ripples you are creating will go out to reach others in a society, in a world, in transition. For right now, we are all in God School, on the outer wings of the galaxy… we are part of an experimental process, 13.8 billion years old, that could end in catharsis. That’s why you see the old stuff rising everywhere…

“What is needed now is a new understanding of cosmology which creates a profound opening for a new spirituality. The two together will bring about the emergence of what is needed for our time, just as two parts hydrogen combine with one part oxygen to create wetness.”

The silence that follows Jean’s words is suddenly riven by laughter – Jean’s !
“You are all looking at me like basset hounds,” Jean says through her laughter. “What wrong?”

Suzanne responds, “I think we’re all overwhelmed by the hugeness of the task. Like we’re the ones who have to save the world.”

“Well, you are the ones,” Jean answers. “We all are. What’s more, we have been given everything we need for this time and for our task. We just have to learn how to use the time, the gifts, the potential that we have.”

“I’ll give you something now that will be of immense help to you. Wherever you are now within this circle, just stand up.

"Now hold up your hands patty-cake style. I want you to believe for the next few minutes that right there opposite you is your entelechy, your great friend, your essential self, your guide. It is as if this being is you if you had spent a thousand years developing your full potential. It is the part of yourself that is encoded with your higher destiny, your purpose for being.

“This essential self, this entelechy, has a radiance that our local self often does not. The entelechy is in touch with both your life and the life of the universe. It is in touch with the wisdom of the earth and the wisdom of the heart. It can put you in touch with the unexplored continents that lie within your mind and your body, for it knows the maps of the soul and the treasures that can be found there.

“So I want you now to receive this friend, this magnificent being who loves you so much – total, complete loving – and as your hands are up you feel this friend’s loving presence just moving through you, in you, above, within, around you. You feel yourself so loved by this great friend, this entelechy; so deeply loved, so empowered, affirmed, accepted, for this great friend is loving you now so much.

“You may feel a warmth suffusing your mind, your body, a great sense of affirmation. And, yes, the friend knows your follies but also knows your glories, makes no judgment, is looking upon you with so much love, so much feeling. And you feel yourself so deeply nourished, nourished by this loving friend, nourished and nurtured. And in this nourishment and in this nurturing, the things–the great things within you that may have been put aside or shadowed– these great things come forward again. They are being loved into being. And with this love, this nurturing, you sense that you are not alone in the tasks, the great call that is coming to you for your life. Whatever is required of you, this great friend is with you to empower, support and cherish you through it all.

“And this great friend, the entelechy, is here now with you for the rest of your life if you choose, the great companion of your way, to love you, to be with you, to open you now to the mystery of transformation. As your great friend, the entelechy, supports, guides, sustains you.

“As you stand with this great friend, the entelechy, this great, great, loving friend, so many potentials are being grown in you. A sufficiency of intellectual and moral passion to explore new ways of being for your body, your mind, your soul, and with it the ability to present the availability of an unobstructed universe, both within and without. You are so loved, so received, so called forth by this great friend, this one who loves you absolutely.

“So many new potentials are being activated–potentials for imagination and for creation, potentials to choose the best paths, potentials to enhance your senses. Your touching hands become more vivid. You may actually begin to feel something of the friend’s hands on yours, a winged gift, perhaps a slight electrical impulse. And now feeling, being utterly with The Friend, utterly with The Friend, so deeply loved, so richly called forth in the presence of the very wonderful friend.

“And now taking a very deep breath. As you’re taking your deep breath, thank The Friend. You’re going to find these potentials will be emerging more and more.

“I invite you now to lower your hands, and sit down again.

“This practice of communing with the entelechy is one you may do often, even every day. Gradually you will come to trust that you are not alone in the great work life calls you to, in the work you have committed to by joining the Communion of Creative Fire. Joy will grow in you and spill over into other aspects of your life, your work, your relationships.

“You have taken on a great task. It will require courage of you, as well as trust. You are called to be a container for the new spirituality that is rising around the planet. A clay container, as you know, is fired in a kiln. Don’t fear the fire, the creative fire that sears you, for it creates a new capacity within you to hold the sacred rain.”

Silence fills the inner spaces of the tent.

After a time, Jean speaks. “I think we need to move. To dance. I have Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto on my ipad.”

And so we dance, and fears fly off into oblivion as power rises within us,

the joy of being invited to co-create something for the universe for our time.

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Gathering Space for March 8, 2018

International Women’s Day

It is the dark of the moon as we come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. The stars have come out to dance.

A ruffling breeze through air warmer than winter stirs a memory, a hope of spring,  though it is still too cold to gather outdoors.

We enter the Communion tent.

At once we see a change. Our circle has been widened, the large embroidered cushions arranged at the room’s outer edges. In the centre of the room sits our fire pot, already lighted. Around it, four of our Communion members have placed themselves in a circle, each facing outward in a different direction. There is a whispered discussion going on among them, a rearranging of positions, some questions about who is to begin…. Ahhhh! A ritual!

Eagerly we take our places on the cushions, wondering aloud what the theme will be. It is not yet Equinox. It isn’t Earth Day or Water Day… Two of our companions get it in the same moment, speaking as one: “Women’s Day!”

Mary Ellen steps into the centre of the circle and speaks: Those of us who gathered in Guelph for the “Fires of September” in 2015 experienced a ritual created by Rosemary to honour the four godmothers of our Communion. We have adapted this ritual as a way for us to celebrate International Women’s Day. I invite you to stand and join hands around the outer circle. Let all disturbing thoughts be laid aside.

Let us take three breaths….

Together with Earth beneath us….

Together with Sky above us….

Together with the Sea around us….

With the blessings of Earth, Sea and Sky may our ritual begin!

We now release our hands and face the East: O Beloved, we greet you and honour you, and ask for your blessings!

We now look into the faces that surround us in this circle:

O Holy One of this place, O Sacred One of this circle, we ask for your blessings, your guidance, and your inspiration for this evening’s ritual.

May there be Peace in the North.

May there be Peace in the South.

May there be Peace in the West.

May there be Peace in the East.

May there be peace throughout the whole world.

BRENDA will hold the energies of the East, JOY for the South, SUZANNE the West, and SHIRLEY the North.

BRENDA: "With the blessing of BRIGID, Goddess and Saint, Wise Woman of healing and compassion, who saw no separation between the inner and outer worlds, who became the muse of poets and the patroness of smithcraft, we call upon the powers of the EAST."

JOY: With the blessing of JULIAN of NORWICH who intuitively understood that the universe is woven together in love, that the goodness of God is always complete and as close to us as our clothing, wrapping and enfolding us for love, we call upon the powers of the SOUTH.

SUZANNE : With the blessing of HILDEGARD of BINGEN who listened deeply to a voice that came from within, pondered the meaning of mysteries she saw around her, then spoke of what she had come to know, we call upon the powers of the WEST.

SHIRLEY: With the blessing of RABIA of BASRA, who when God said, “My hands are yours,” saw that she could heal any creature in this world and that divine beauty in each heart is the root of all time and space, we call upon the powers of the NORTH.


(All four then turn to face into the circle.)

ALL: May the harmony of our circle be complete.


Mary Ellen now passes around papers holding the words of women who have been inspirations to us in our Communion:

Ellyn reads from Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th c. Benedictine Abbess, musician, artist, herbalist, and theologian:

“From my infancy until now, in the 70th year of my age, my soul has always beheld this Light, and in it my soul soars to the summit of the firmament and into a different air....The brightness which I see is not limited by space and is more brilliant than the radiance around the sun .... I cannot measure its height, length, breadth. Its name, which has been given me, is “Shade of the Living Light”....Within that brightness I sometimes see another light, for which the name “Lux Vivens” (Living Light) has been given me. When and how I see this, I cannot tell; but sometimes when I see it, all sadness and pain is lifted from me, and I seem a simple girl again, and an old woman no more!”

Clara reads from Angela of Foligno, a third order Franciscan in 13th c. Italy:

“There was a time… when my soul was exalted to behold God with so much clearness that never before had I beheld him so distinctly. But love did I not see here so fully; rather did I lose that which before I had and was left without love. Afterwards did I see him darkly, and this darkness was the greatest blessing that could be imagined and no thought could conceive aught that would equal this. Then was there given unto the soul an assured faith, a firm and certain hope, wherein I felt so sure of God that all fear left me. For by that blessing which came with the darkness I did collect my thoughts and was made so sure of God that I can never again doubt but that I do of a certainty possess him.”

Violet reads from Julian of Norwich a 14th Century English writer, teacher and anchoress:

"I saw that God is to us everything which is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us. And so in this sight I saw that God is everything which is good...."

Ruth reads from Evelyn Underhill, an English mystic who lived from 1875-1941:

“Come in! Enter my small life! Lay your sacred hands on all the common things and small interests of that life and bless and change them. Transfigure my small resources, make them sacred. And in them give me your very self. When out of the heart of my own homely circumstances, you feed me --- then my eyes are open to the presence I long for and can never understand."

Anne Fensom reads from Etty Hillesum, a Dutch mystic who died in Auschwitz in 1943:

“I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us, that we must help you to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days, also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves. And in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the end.”

As we have been listening to these words, the women who led the ritual have been quietly preparing a table with a brightly woven cloth. They have set out dips, raw vegetables, bowls of chips, plates, glasses, napkins and bottles of white Rhineland wine in honour of Hildegard.
As the readings end, Mary Ellen calls out:

“Come to the Feast! Let us celebrate the great women whose lives were cups that caught the sacred rain as well as the holy wine!”

And so with joy we celebrate.

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Gathering Space for February 27, 2018

The wind off the North Atlantic is raw tonight. We approach our Gathering Tent in the Garden of Iona’s 13th c. Nunnery, grateful that it is still here, knowing that, like the birds, it will soon rise up and fly away, leaving us to gather under the starry, starry sky. But not yet.

Inside the tent flap, we pause, breathe in the stillness, gaze at the soft light created around the inside walls by tall candles in silver stands, at the dancing vermilion flame in the fire pot,

at the vibrant woven scenes on the large cushions that await us, at the faces of our friends who are already gathered here.

We move to join them in the circle.

Following a time of greetings, questions, welcoming one another, a quieter mood takes over. We look around the circle, wondering who may have brought a poem, a prayer, a stirring question to begin our time together…

Colette stands, holding a small book. “I’ve brought a book of poems by Mary Oliver, called Dream Work.

There is one that really speaks to me and I’d like to read it for us tonight:

The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,
shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches
in the morning
in the blue branches
of the world.

It could float, of course,
but would rather
plumb rough matter.

Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,
lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body’s world,
instinct
and imagination
and the dark hug of time
sweetness
and tangibility
to be understood,
to be more than pure light
that burns
where no one is --

so it enters us --
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.


There is silence as Colette stops reading. We each sit with the words we heard, that one phrase or image that enters within us, startling, delighting, awakening…. Someone asks Colette to read the poem again…. And she does.

“Why not say aloud what most stirred us in this poem?” Colette suggests.
These are the responses that we hear:

“I love that the spirit is dressed up as US! I can’t help remembering the years when I truly thought that to live in the Spirit meant to ignore, to try to fly away from my body, from my own earth, into some imagined sky place above human desire.”

“Yes, I thought so too!” comes another voice. “I liked where the poet says that the Spirit could float but prefers matter, rough matter.”

“Doesn’t the poem say too that the Spirit needs us, needs our bodies, our imagination, our instinct…?”

“I heard the part about the Spirit entering us… in the morning and at night. It makes me think of sudden joy noticing a sunrise, and of the way sometimes a dream comes with comfort.”

“What was that line about the night?” someone asks.

Colette reads it once more:
at night (the Spirit)
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.

There is deeper quiet as we draw in these thoughts.

After a time, a clear voice rises, singing a song we know from Carolyn McDade, “Within All Things”.

Soon other voices join, some creating a spontaneous harmony.

The music reverberates around the tent, dancing in the air, entering our hearts, filling us with joy:

As Earth bows in evening and opens to the night
we wander in the swing of stars beyond the bend of time.
O Ardent One, O Yield of Dreams who call Earth’s people home
to make of love a greater love and pass the living flame.

You are the love within all things, a widening embrace.
A flame that weeps and launches joy to leap through realms of grace.
Are we not born to love this life,
to make the wounded whole,
to plunge the chasms of despair
and lift the singing bird.

O Ardent One, Be with us now
Go with us as we dare,
to make of love a greater love and pass the living flame.

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Gathering Space for February 20, 2018

Brigid's breath of spring has changed the air on Iona Island, lifting the temperature to 44 degrees Fahrenheit, 7 degrees Celsius. The brisk breeze off the sea is almost friendly. Above us, the waxing moon shines in a clear sky as we enter the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. No need to rush towards the warmth of our Gathering Tent. We linger, trying to discern the shapes of the constellations, until a sudden gust off the North Atlantic reminds us that spring is officially still a month away…

Inside, the fire pot is lighted. Our companions are already seated within the circle, exchanging news, commenting on the Olympics, wondering aloud about the theme of tonight's gathering.

Has someone brought a poem? a song? a reflection?

We have invited Rita Kehoe to join us this evening for an early celebration of her 90th birthday. Rita has brought a poem to share with us:

I have been reading reports that the number of people who left the Catholic Church in recent years is more than 29 million. I expect the numbers in the other established churches reflect the same trend. Mary Malone has a poem that speaks to this.

I'd like to read it, and afterwrds we may take time to think about what we heard.

Her poem is called, "Jumping Sideways."

The numbers of lapsed, I read, are leaping ahead;
Year by year, “those who have fallen away” grow in numbers.
Churchmen – always the men—bewail the faithless ones.
Crisis time has come:
“If only,” they say, “they knew what they are missing.”

Perhaps, I think, they didn’t lapse.
Perhaps, like me, they just jumped sideways.
Perhaps the cornered, much-defined God of celibate men
no longer suffices for opening hearts and minds,
for questioning spirits and love-drained souls.

Suppose we asked the women:
“What think you of God?
What God breaks and heals your woman’s heart?
What woman-faced God
peers into depths of woman-being
and awakens echoes of integrity,
echoes of prayer that ring with truth?”

What if, I wondered,
what if women trod the forgotten paths?
What if the old, old voices
were raised again,
voices raised to a new face of God
by an old race of women?
What if the Woman-God of Woman-Christians mattered?

What if we proclaimed again:

The Woman-Spirit God of Hildegarde
and her Lady-Wisdom God,
who breathed God-knowledge into the sisters at Bingen?

The Mother God of Julian,
who is courteous and homely and knows no anger?

The God who is Lady-Love,
beloved of Marguerite (Porete)
who led her on beyond the human-divine divide?

The laughing God of Hadewijch,
whose laughter makes no appearance
in all the tomes of learned men?

The dancing God of Mechtilde,
who laughed and leapt
and invited all to follow?

The sweet-smelling God of Gertrude,
whose perfume penetrated every corner of life?

The friendly God of Catherine,
who made friendship the core of a well—lived life?

The poor God of Clare,
who wished for nothing but to share this poverty?

The heartbroken God of Christina,
who healed the scars of cruelty?

The strong-voiced woman God of Hrotsvit,
who urged her to move
beyond the ancient silencing of women?

And the fierce God of Perpetua,
who looked into the face of violent death
and recognized a life beyond life?

And the human-divine face of Catherine’s God,
who mirrored her Self to herself
in the mystery of shared human-divine life?

This is not falling away.
This is leaping for joy.

How does this poem find an echo in our hearts?
How would each of us answer Mary Malone's questions: “What think you of God ? What God breaks and heals your woman’s heart? "

We spend time reflecting, then speaking with one another about how we each respond to these questions.

The animation of our conversation warms the tent until the glow from the candles on Rita's cake raises the temperature higher.


Which of the faces of God described by the mystics most stirs your soul?
Would you like to write a prayer? a poem? to express how Woman-God is for you?

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Gathering Space for February 13, 2018

The waning moon is barely visible in the sky above Iona as we enter the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. Brigid's Day has brought needed warmth to the air, lifting the temperature to a few degrees above freezing. Still it is too cold to linger outside. We hurry into the warmth of our Gathering Tent. 

Inside,  we see that some of our companions have created a beautiful Ritual Centrepiece. We take our places on the large silk cushions, eager to know what is planned for this evening. Two figures of women catch our attention. We recognize the Crone/Cailleach that Dolores Whelan  brought to our Samhain celebration. The Cailleach's season has ended.  Is the other the Spring Maiden with flowers in her hair?

We see  Brigid  Crosses of reeds, and several small candles. Just behind the Spring Maiden is the Crios of Brigid, the braided belt that was used to assist in childbirth. Curiouser and curiouser! This will be a Ritual to remember!

Once we are settled, we look about, wondering who will lead us in the Ritual. The tent flap opens, and Dolores comes inside. We welcome her warmly, grateful that she has made the journey from Brigid's birthplace in Faughart, Ireland where the Brigid Festival was held last week. Someone brings a cushion for Dolores, beautifully decorated with large Spirals and we welcome her among us. 

Dolores has brought a candle from the Closing Ritual of the Faughart Festival. She now lights this candle from the Communion fire pot and invites Brenda to use it to light the candles and lanterns in the circle. When all are glowing, Dolores speaks:

Imbolc is synonymous with Brigid, Celtic Goddess and saint,
who embodies the energy of new life and of new beginnings.
She is the fertile aspect of the divine feminine energy,
which emerges from the hag or cailleach,
that dark barren aspect of the feminine energy.

"This transformation of the cailleach into the maiden
reflects the same mysteries which are happening
in the natural world as winter yields to spring.

"Brigid is the energy which at this time breathes life
into the mouth of dead winter.

"She is the fertility goddess
who embodies the neart or life force,
that raw primal feminine energy
which gives rise to all living beings.

"Tonight our ritual begins with a thank you and farewell to the cailleach who brought us into and through the darkness of winter where new life was being planted deep within each of us. As we prepare to thank the cailleach, we may reflect on what new seeds the darkness has quickened within us. Who would like to carry the statue of the cailleach around our circle so that we may offer our thanks and our farewell?"

Mary Teske offers to be the bearer of the cailleach energy. She lifts the statue from the centrepiece and carries it to each woman in our circle, allowing time for each of us to quietly express our gratitude and say goodbye.


"Imbolc welcomes the maiden into our lives," Dolores says. "Will someone now carry the image of the spring maiden around the circle so that we may welcome her into our lives? As we wait for our turn, we may become aware of the way the neart, the life force, is rising in us, breathing life into our being. How will our lives be different now?"

Ellyn stands to lift the image of the maiden, to take her around our circle, as we welcome the life force of spring.

After we have each greeted the maiden of spring, Dolores speaks:

“Brigid has the ability to stand in the gap and remain centred within the uncertainty present in the outer world.
This quality of being centred and aligned with one's deep inner knowing
is a quality that each of us can and must develop at this time.

"In a few moments, I will take the crios and place it in the open space beside the centrepiece. I will invite you, each one of you as you feel ready, to come to the crios and imagine it as a womb of new life. Step into the crios womb and speak aloud your intention for this new springtime, the way you wish to stay centred. As each one speaks, we will respond: We support you in this. Then move forward to step out of the circle on the far side to symbolize your emergence from the womb."

Dolores arranges the crios in a womb shape and asks,

"Who would like to begin?"

It is Violet who has the courage to be the first one, stepping into the womb-shaped crios where she speaks:

I went with a friend to see the “Walking With Our Sisters” sacred art and ceremony…. an exhibit of almost 2000 sets of moccasin tops/vamps, made by the loved ones of the many many missing and murdered Indigenous women and children. Each vamp artfully told a story of love and loss. They were presented to the public, laid out in a Sacred pattern and presented in Sacred Ceremony…. Indigenous women around the world are suffering similar violence. Then I thought .... it's not over either! There are many more who will be harmed because the brutal context they live in still exists. That’s when my flickering inner fire ignited and I became angry! On I went looking at hundreds more and the love represented in each art piece settled my volcanic heart flame to burn even and true .... I resolved to be a better ally. I tell you those Elders sure know their way around broken hearts. I feel that experience is as honest an experience of Brighid’s flame as I have encountered and the words of her song come to mind:  She changes everything she touches and everything she touches changes. I have been called and I will answer. I will be attending gatherings to learn Indigenous Women Teachings starting next week."

There is a moment of utter stillness as we each take in the power of Violet's words.

Then our voices lift together as we say, "We support you in this."

One by one we follow, enter the crios, state our intention for this new springtime, receive the affirming support of our companions.

 When everyone has completed the Crios Ritual, Dolores speaks once more:

“Brigid’s followers were charged with holding the seed of the fire on behalf of the community, that is holding the seeds of a life-enhancing energy on behalf of the people. This fire would not burn or be destructive so long as they remained focused, aligned with their own inner truth and undistracted by flattery, or by popular opinions.

"So for us people, in this time, who are charged with embodying the energy of Brigid, it is essential that we stay focused on our task which is to act, like Brigid, as midwives to a new era, a new day, a new way of being.”

Now it is truly time to celebrate.

The music of Abba fills the Gathering Tent, as we move into the open space to each become a "Dancing Queen",

transformed for this time into spring maidens …

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Gathering Space for January 23, 2018

The young moon is waxing towards her first quarter, her light just enough to guide our steps in the mist. The air is cool, a few degrees above freezing, as we make our way across the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery to the shelter of our Gathering Tent.

Inside we greet our companions, taking a moment to speak with Patty who opened her heart to us in an email yesterday. Now there are several conversations happening all at the same time for we are thanking Joy for the wisdom and light she shared with us on the mystery of death, and thanking one another for the richness of the responses that followed from so many among us.

Anne Kathleen has lighted the fire pot and when the talk has softened to murmurs, invites us to gather in our circle.

Anne Kathleen speaks: On Brigid’s Day, February 1, 2013, I sent out the first invitation to what would become this Communion of Creative Fire. It seems good tonight to remember our beginnings so I shall read to you that first letter. Those who received it almost five years ago may wish to recall your thoughts and feelings as you first read the email. For those of you who have come to our circle in the years since, this will add to your understanding of how the Communion began.

Here is the letter:    You who are opening this email on Brigid’s Day are one of a small group of women friends whom I am inviting into a new venture, a journey into sacred mystery, a holy waiting, a deep listening.

I am seeking companions to form with me a “communion of creative fire”. Each one of us would be committed to creating space and focus in our lives for a new birth of the Sacred among us, in whatever way the Holy Presence reveals itself in our open receptive hearts. From our shared knowing of that Sacred Presence will come new ways of being, creating, ritual-making, releasing energy and joy.

For a long while now l, and you also I expect, have been aware that the old forms of religious expression are dying, the old rituals no longer nourish our souls, no longer make sense in a universe that is achingly alive and radiant. Something new is being birthed. It is new and also ancient, intuited in the writings of Hildegard of Bingen in her 12th century abbey, in the writings of Meister Eckhart and Julian of Norwich. In the early twentieth century, the Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin wrote of “the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe radiating from the depths of matter aflame”. Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme have offered us glimpses of the holy in the heart of the universe.

Like many of you, I have explored the richness of the early Celtic way of Christianity, an indigenous faith that honoured the earth, the feminine, the body, the rhythm of the seasons… I have experienced the earth-honouring spirituality of the First Nations people of our countries; I have been moved by the mystic poetry of the medieval Sufis. Everywhere there is rising a call to a new way of co-creating with the Sacred. With all my heart I want to follow that call, to open my life to be, in the words of the poet Christine Lore Webber, “a cup to catch the sacred rain”.

I seek now companions who share that passion, who are courageous enough to commit to a journey to a place we cannot yet imagine.

Does this resonates with you, cause a stir of longing, awaken a memory of beauty and joy long sought?

Do you sense a willingness to spend a few minutes each day in Holy Waiting, willing to share the fruits of that time with trusted companions via online communication with a few gathered sessions? If so, I invite you to consider becoming part of the “communion of creative fire”, as one of a small group of fire-tenders.


Included at the end of the letter was this magnificent poem to Brigid written by Anne F. O'Reilly.

May I ask Carol Ohmart-Behan to read it aloud for us tonight?

Brigid

These words will never carve
your image out of bog oak
but that is what they want to do
to dig down into the moist wetness
to touch the layers of centuries
that have made you
woman, goddess, saint
to see your shape emerge intact
from the dark earth.

My instruments are crude for such a work
the bog resistant to intruders
as an ancient tribal memory
in its dark and secret places.

But I must search out these roots
this memory as vital as breath.
I must drag this ancient oak
from the centre of the bog.

I will wait as I must
for the time of dryness where I can see
the shape of what you were and what you are.

The fine coat of resin will preserve your beautiful shape intact
and I will call on you great woman
to grace me with a golden branch and tinkling bells.

And I will polish you then with images of
sun and moon, cows, sheep, serpents, vultures,
bags, bells, baths and sacred fires
so that you become a fiery arrow
and breathe life into the mouth of dead winter
as it is these days in the lives of women
whose spirits have ceased to quicken.

O beautiful vessel still intact
where we have unearthed you,
remind us of your many manifestations
and let us smile again in memory
of when doddering Mel pronounced you bishop
or your cloak spread over the green fields of Kildare.
You who turned back the streams of war
whose name invoked stilled monsters in the seas
whose cross remains a resplendent, golden sparkling flame
come again from the dark bog and forge us anew.

Anne Kathleen continues: Over these five years, it has become our practice to renew our commitment to the Communion on the Feast of Brigid, so that will form part of our Ritual here in the Gathering Tent next week. I shall give you each a copy of a commitment we've used earlier, but I have been thinking that now that we are each growing into a clearer understanding of the star that shines within us, we may wish to personalize the commitment in our own words and bring that wording to the Gathering Tent next week.


Here is the earlier form:

My Commitment to the Communion of Creative Fire

I commit to belonging to the Communion of Creative Fire with the intent of growing spiritually

while supporting the growth of my sisters in this Communion.

I agree to unite with them in our shared call to be a receptive vessel, “a cup to catch the sacred rain”

of the new spirituality required for our time.

To do this, I commit to our threefold promise:

Openness to the Sacred: a personal daily contemplative practice of my own choosing, as well as one hour each week devoted to reflection and prayer based on the kreative fire website Reflections and Gathering Space postings.

Willingness to Share Insights and experiences: When thoughts, insights, or spiritual inspirations that i believe will be of value to our communion in its weaving of the new spirituality arise in my Sacred Hour, I agree to share these through our group emails.

Taking Creative Fire into my daily life, ministry and relationships: I commit to taking the joy, mutual support and inspiration that I receive through the Communion out into the relationships, ministry and areas of service in my life as a way of spreading our holy fire.

Signed __________________________________________ Date ______________

Gathering Space for January 31, 2018

It is the eve of Brigid’s Day as we cross the frozen grass, passing beyond the snow- covered ruins of the nunnery on Iona. Though we look with longing at our Gathering Tent, already imagining the warmth inside, we have a ritual to perform first. Each of us has brought a brightly-coloured shawl, or scarf or ribbon or cloth. Each of us is seeking just the right place to leave our treasure so that the dew of Brigid’s dawn may bless it. Some dry rosebushes are a possibility if we take care to avoid the thorns. There are places along the low ruined walls for some of our cloths. Just beyond the ruins, a few small trees hold out their arms invitingly.

Once all of our cloths have been carefully placed, we draw our coats, jackets, cloaks or wool shawls more tightly around our shoulders, aware that the Feast of Imbolc, Brigid's Day, which we are about to celebrate, is meant to welcome Spring.
"Spring? On which planet?" someone mutters through chattering teeth...

But once inside our Gathering Tent, its inner walls hung with medieval tapestries that proclaim spring in flowers, birds, trees in full blossom, all woven in exuberant coloured threads, once we begin to feel the warmth spreading from a hundred lighted candles, something of spring awakens in our winter hearts.

Tonight we have come ready to celebrate a ritual to mark the beginning of a new year for our Communion of Creative Fire. Those who have brought the elements of ritual have placed bowls of bread, honey and milk on the white cloths that cover long tables on the far side of the tent. We begin gathering in the large circle choosing one of the silk cushions placed around the fire pot.

Each of us has remembered to bring our form for re-commitment, either the original wording or our own revision, many of us secretly longing to have one of the patterned silk gowns worn by the women in the painting (which would you choose?)

-lighting of the fire pot-

Ellyn steps into the centre of the circle, holding a braided loop, long enough to serve as loose belt.  “This is called the Crios of Brigid. At the Brigid workshop that Dolores Whelan led for us at Galilee in February 2014, we each braided one. This evening it will be used in our Ritual of Imbolc. Our Ritual will begin with our re-commitment. I invite you to take out the form you have brought, read it silently, and give your Yes within your heart. Take the time you need to do this heartfully. Place your commitment form in the basket beside the fire pot.

“Two of our companions, Patty and Violet, will hold the braided crios of Brigid. They will hold it high enough for each of us in turn to walk through it. As you are ready, move towards the braided crios for the next part of the ritual.

"The first entry is a time to choose to let go of something in our life that no longer serves us and our commitment to the communion.

"A second time we walk through the crios thinking of what we are grateful for.

"On the third and final entry, we think of what we must now do in our lives: what call do we hear?

“When all but the two holding the Crios have passed through, two more women will hold it for Patty and Violet to make their crossings.

“Suzanne and Mary Teske will begin the threefold crossing, as they have another role in the ritual.

"As each woman completes her third crossing, she is invited to move towards the table at the back where bowls of milk, honey and bread have been placed. There is a soft cushion where she is invited to kneel, then raise her hands to receive the water being poured over them by Suzanne. Mary will offer her a towel.

Then the woman will rise and walk to the table where she chooses a piece of bread from the bowl, dips it into a second bowl of honey and into a bowl of milk. Then she consumes it, as a way of communing with her companions on this sacred night when our commitments to the Communion have been received.

As Patty and Violet stand in place, holding the crios, the ritual begins.

Softly, as each woman makes her threefold crossing, the others sing Starhawk’s song:

We will never, never lose our way
to the well of her memory
and the power of her living flame
it will rise, it will rise again.

After we have each completed the ritual, there is a flurry of preparations for the celebratory feast that follows.

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Gathering Space for Tuesday January 16, 2018

It is the dark of the moon on the Island of Iona. Though the temperature is just below freezing, a 50 km per hour wind is blowing off the North Atlantic. As we walk across the snow-covered Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, we struggle to stay upright in the buffeting winds.

We almost miss the joyous cry that startles us in such a setting. "Look! Just to the west where the wind has blown the clouds away to create a clear view of the sky. You can see a few stars and their light is brilliant!"

We pause, stand still as stones, look westwards, upwards. A handful of stars, diamonds on the black velvet of the moonless sky, shine radiantly, alluring in their loveliness.

"Which one are you following?" someone asks… and for a moment, we each hear the answer that rises in our hearts.

Then clouds are blown back, obliterating the stars. We hurry on towards the opening in our Gathering Tent.

Inside, we are soon warm, sheltered, seated on large colourful silk-patterned cushions, gathered in our circle around the fire pot.

"What is the star that burns within us?"

The question, inspired by Jan Richardson's Epiphany poetry, is our theme this evening.

We wait, wondering who will speak first.

Brenda begins:  I just came upon a poem by Anne Hillman, an author whose book "Harnessing the Energies of Love" reflecting on the work of Teilhard de Chardin both opened my soul and nourished it for many months when it came out about 15 years ago. 

I keep (this poem) close for my own soul-nourishment and inspiration:

We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices
for clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.

We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes...
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to Love.


After a moment of quiet, Shirley speaks: Thank you Brenda! What a lovely poem. I loved Teilhard de Chardin's comment when asked if he was afraid of being killed in his role as stretcher bearer in WW1. He said something like, "Then, I shall fall into the arms of Earth that I love." He was trained as a geologist and paleontologist as well as a priest. He touched the soil in a way that is different from people who refer to it as dirt. We must learn to be aware of just what we are "doing" and "being" together with Our Creator today as we go about even the most menial of tasks. I haven't arrived yet.

Brenda responds: Shirley, I so appreciate this story of Teilhard...how he is coming into his own now in wisdom for the world.

Suzanne speaks: As I navigate a new path in my journey since my husband transitioned, I thank you and feel your circle of love, while focusing on the (Thomas) Berry quote that Shirley brought to me: "May you know that you are guided by the same Divine Power that spun the galaxies into space, lit the sun and brought the moon into orbit..."

Mary Ellen speaks:  About four years ago at New Year I read an article which pierced my heart. In it, I read of a “vocation to be loved”. This opened my heart as never before to the immense Love of God, and the call to receive that Love, trust in it totally, and be transformed by it.

Receiving this Love can come through silent contemplation, and it can also come through a growing recognition and openness to the Radiance of the Love in all of creation both human and non-human.

I also experience it in allowing myself to be a receptacle of the Love for the ministry of healing and listening. Allured by, and recognizing that Love in all, I see everything in a new way. I am more aware of the Love of Christ drawing all of creation towards a Union in Love. This sustains me and gives me hope amidst the darkness, chaos and violence of this world. That Love is living and active and I can be part of it. And so, I feel called to work for non-violent peace, to a non-violent way of being and living. This will include an elimination of weapons, especially of weapons of mass destruction like nuclear weapons.

However possible, I feel called to grow with others into a contemplative experience of Love which shines forth in the beauty of creation, to fall in love with creation, and to desire its fullness of life. I feel called to be open to the Wisdom of Creation ever desiring to guide me and others, to learn from the interconnected relationships which never cease to astound. I feel called, in the relationships with family, friends and communities, to grow in a sense of what is means to be and build community and communion.

Now, I had better stop as this is certainly enough calling to keep me going for the rest of my life and beyond. And that is the Way of Love, never-ending.

Colette responds: What a joy to hear this precious sharing of your personal call Mary-Ellen. “A vocation to be loved!” and all the places it takes you in service of Oneness. Thank you! A beautiful “startling call” so inspiringly expressed. It stirs up in me a desire to verbalize the call in my life at this time which I am recognizing as having to do with responding to an invitation to more openness of the heart (allowing myself to be loved) that I may receive and in turn be a manifestation of this Love streaming through me, “as me!" (as I dare quote Richard Rohr’s expression). So amazing. This implies showing up as who I truly am and like Samuel saying “here I am” in the ministry of spiritual direction (being a soul friend ) and in life in general, just being present to the moment in relationships and situations wherever I find myself to be that Love may stream through me as it will - radiance. Kindred spirits aren’t we.  Part of a lovely quilt shouldered by other magnificent rich presences on all sides. A joy and a privilege to walk together in this Communion.

Joy speaks: Like the Sufi mystics, I follow the religion of love.

Yvette speaks: My own deep calling, my spiritual allurement, is to love, to know Love - to meet the other (person, event, nature, all that presents itself to me in my daily lived experience) in seeing, hearing, considering, touching as if for the first time. It is to know the beauty, the joy, the pain, the sadness, the expectation, the mystery ... of each encounter and to embrace it.
Sometimes, the recognition of godliness in what is before me, what is at hand, will be instantaneous. More often than not, the recognition comes as I review my day before falling off to sleep, or early in the stillness of the morning as I sit in the silent wonder of a new day.
I edge forward, like the turtle, slowly taking in aspects of a more feminine, contemplative spirituality. On some days, I hop forward, like the rabbit, playfully enjoying what is developing within me and all around me.
I know this Love for which I seek is real, alive, transforming how I live. The weekly reflections of our Communion and the responses that we share are widening my spiritual horizons and empowering the graced love that I pray to echo in my daily life. Words are inadequate to express life's meaning and the expansive understandings our virtual community is offering me.

Brenda speaks: I sense that we are each bringing light into the world by our responses and considerations of where each of our own paths is dwelling right now in the differing circumstances of our lives. And to be able to share it - what gift.

The state of the world brings me to seeking out those flames and sparks, both in myself and wherever they appear. And even where I cannot seem to find them. Sometimes they surprise me in those places where I would not expect.

But less and less do I have faith in any significant restoration of peace in the world in my lifetime. It is the faithfulness to the flames and the sparks of presence and grace, both group and individual, and first of all in myself, that hold the power to keep the world together, to contribute to a sustenance unseen and unfathomable. But there, there...

A beautiful silence arises among us,
inviting us to hold sacred what we have heard.

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Gathering Space for January 9, 2018


“The Deep Homeplace”

The moon of wintertime on Iona is waning, though still bright enough to guide us into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, into the warmth of our Gathering Tent. Once inside we sense there is something different. Our companions who arrived before us are already seated on the large embroidered cushions, but there is a tentativeness about the usually effervescent conversation. The voices are quieter, hesitant, and we soon see why. There is a stranger among us, or at least that must be the explanation for the peculiar bundle of coloured skirts, shawls and headscarves that sits on one of the cushions. The woman is either asleep or in deep thought, for her eyes are closed and she is very still.

Quickly, Addriana comes to where we later arrivals stand staring just inside the doorway. “We don’t know yet who she is, but Kate has met her. She visited her today on the other side of the island and invited her to join us this evening. Before she came, Kate had time to tell us she is a renowned storyteller, a woman of great wisdom. Some of the islanders even refer to her as a mystic for at times she seems to be speaking in the voice of…” Adriana pauses, uncertain, “of another.”

Adriana’s message raises more questions than it answers. We decide we’d best join our companions and find out for ourselves.
Two more women arrive after we sit down, their faces mirroring our earlier puzzlement.

When everyone is settled, Kate rises to light the fire pot, then speaks to us. “We have a guest this evening.” At these words, the stranger sits up and opens her eyes, nodding towards Kate. “Elspeth is a storyteller,” Kate continues. “She has been away from Iona for several months travelling across Europe, returning here just after Christmas. I had heard of her, and read some of her books and articles on ancient Celtic tales. I have been eager to meet her and today, I went to her home. She welcomed me to her fireside, where we spoke for several hours of stories. As we spoke, I told her of our Communion of Creative Fire. When I mentioned that the story of the Sealwoman was one of my favourites, Elspeth told me it is a tale she has traced through many cultures in countries that border on the icy sea, from Ireland and Scotland to Iceland and Canada and Siberia. When I asked if she might be willing to come here tonight, to speak with us of the tale, she agreed. Please welcome our guest, Elspeth.”
After acknowledging our words of welcome, our smiles and nods, Elspeth sits very tall on her cushion, revealing a more vibrant woman than her layers of clothing suggested.

The gaze she fixes upon us, as she slowly turns her head to look at each of us in turn, might be called fierce. It is certainly intense.

“This tale of the Sealwoman and her son, and their journey to the deep homeplace can be understood on many levels. If you stay on the surface you may see only treachery, broken promises, unfaithfulness, abandonment. Go deeper and you touch the mystery of call. Deeper still, you touch the Love at the heart of your life, at the heart of the Universe itself. Are you willing to go deeper?”

No one answers. We are struck dumb, less by her words, than by the intensity of her presence.

To our amazement, Elspeth begins to emit a strange sound. After a shocked moment, we realize it is laughter. When she speaks again, Elspeth’s voice is gentle. “Of course. You are wise not to agree at once. I am a stranger to you, and an odd one at that… Oh, don’t try to soften it! I know my appearance hardly inspires confidence. So let’s take it more slowly.

"Let’s begin by recalling your first feelings and reactions when you read or heard the story for the first time. What surprised you? Delighted you? Upset you? Take a few moments to remember that, and then we will go deeper.….."

After a few moments, Elspeth says: Think about the Seal Woman, about her longing for her sealskin. She needed it for her return to the homeplace. She knew that if she did not return there, she would die. It is so with you as well. There is a deep homeplace hidden in the depths of your own soul where every part of yourself is held in love by the Beloved. You need to return there often, but most of all when your sight darkens, when you limp rather than dance. Recognize these signs as calls to home. Then go. At whatever cost, leave, for you must leave, even when others insist that you stay. Find your own true centre and allow yourself to rest in the embrace of love. Know that this is a matter of life or death to you.

Her words surprise us. It is Colette who gives voice to our questions: “Since I’ve been a small child, I’ve been taught that I must care for others. When people need me, call out to me, rage at me because of their need, how am I to leave them?”

Elspeth looks at her with kindness before responding: That is above all when you must leave. Love and need are irreconcilable. The husband raged, broke his promise. He showed himself to be one who did not love. But the boy, who loved his mother truly, returned her sealskin to her, even though he knew what must follow.

More silence follows. Now Brenda asks: “The Seal Woman never returned from the deep homeplace.  Could I go to the homeplace for rest, for the healing of love, then return to those who need me?”

Elspeth speaks to her: Understand the mystery of story. The child whom the woman returned to the shore was her own spirit. Did you not hear her say, “I will breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs”? A woman’s spirit is the part of herself she sends to the outer world as drummer, as dancer, as storyteller, as poet, as singer, as healer, as soul friend. But to do this, she must keep her own soul nourished by love in the inner homeplace. It requires of her a balance, a sacred dance, between the topside and underside worlds of her life.

She smiles at us, asks us a strange question…. Where in the story is the Sacred Presence whom each of you knows in her heart, in her deepest moments of prayer and union? Not in the fisherman who, within a woman’s psyche, always lurks, waiting for a chance to steal her Soulskin, driving her to overwork, demanding that she give until her soul and spirit are raw. But in the Old One who calls her home when it is time. In the Child within her who hears that call and answers, giving her what she needs to return home, if she will listen and receive. In the Woman who cries out inside you, “I must have what belongs to me.” The Holy is there in the story in another way also. Can you guess where?

This is difficult, for she has already named each character.

Then suddenly Kate responds: “The homeplace. The Holy One waits to receive us, body, soul, mind and spirit, into the heart of love when we feel the call to return home.”

Elspeth smiles, then says, “May I leave you with a few further questions for your Sacred Hour?”


Where is the deep homeplace where you go when your soul cries out for nurturing? When have you known the call to the homeplace?

Do you recognise the child within you who is often the first to notice your need to return home? The child within hears the call of the Old Wise One, for a child’s ears are quick to hear the Holy. Do you follow the child’s promptings or do you tell that child to go away because you are too busy to listen?

After you have been restored and nourished there, what is the gift your spirit brings to the shore? The Seal Woman is instructing her son in wisdom. His work, which is really the work of her deep spirit, will require the firesticks of passionate engagement, the wisdom of knowing when it is time to cut away excess, to cut free of entanglements. The carvings hold the memory of the deep sea, true homeplace of his mother, of his own soul.

Remember the Seal Mother’s words. Write them on your heart:

"I am always with you. Only touch what I have touched… and I shall breathe into lungs a wind for the singing of your songs."

Elspeth’s voice as she speaks these words is altered. As though under a spell, we close our eyes and believe it is the Sacred One who speaks to us. We remain very still for some time.

When we open our eyes, the storyteller is gone.

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Gathering Space for Epiphany,  2018

This January night on Iona in the North Atlantic is crisply cold, a few degrees above freezing. The full super moon has parted the clouds as she would pull aside curtains, offering us her light as we come to the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. Tonight we will celebrate Epiphany together, so some of us are carrying trays of Christmas baking, thermoses of hot cranberry punch, and small wrapped gifts that are meant to be symbols of light. The tent flap is held wide, making room for us and our many bundles to enter.

Once inside, we find places for the food, beverages and gifts on a long covered table on the far side of the tent. When we come to take our places in the circle, we see that the planning committee has already placed beautifully illustrated booklets on each cushion. We gaze at the painting that adorns the cover page: “Home Another Way”, and read the artist’s name: Jan Richardson.


Home Another Way by Jan Richardson

When we are settled and still, Mary Ellen stands to introduce the prayer:

January 6, Epiphany, the final feast of Christmas, has long been celebrated as the day the Three Wise Ones from the East found their way, through the guidance of a star, to the Holy Child born in Bethlehem’s Stable.

A dark journey into the unknown, lured by promise of new life, guided by a shining star… rich metaphors with mythic power for our 21st century lives.

Beginning in Ireland, and spreading to other countries, Epiphany has become known as Women's Christmas, a day when women took the occasion to enjoy a bit of respite and celebrate together at the end of the holidays.

Jan Richardson, poet, artist, spiritual writer, has been offering a yearly “Women’s Christmas Retreat”, a feast in images, poetry and reflections. Tonight we shall hear three of her poems and take quiet time to look at our lives in their light.

Noreen stands to read the first poem in our booklet:

The Map You Make Yourself
A Blessing for Women’s Christmas

You have looked
at so many doors
with longing,
wondering if your life
lay on the other side.
For today,
choose the door
that opens
to the inside.
Travel the most ancient way
of all:
the path that leads you
to the center
of your life.
No map
but the one
you make yourself.
No provision
but what you already carry
and the grace that comes
to those who walk
the pilgrim’s way.
Speak this blessing
as you set out
and watch how
your rhythm slows,
the cadence of the road
drawing you into the pace
that is your own.
Eat when hungry.
Rest when tired.
Listen to your dreaming.
Welcome detours
as doors deeper in.
Pray for protection.
Ask for guidance.
Offer gladness
for the gifts that come,
and then
let them go.
Do not expect
to return
by the same road.
Home is always
by another way,
and you will know it
not by the light
that waits for you
but by the star
that blazes inside you,
telling you
where you are
is holy
and you are welcome
here.
—Jan Richardson

Noreen invites us to take five minutes now to ask these questions or others:

What is the longing that keeps leading you to so many doors?
What is the map you carry? What are the provisions you already have?
How will you know when you are “home”?

After five minutes, the singing bowl calls us back to awareness of the present moment.

Now it is Shirley who stands to offer the second poem:


The Shimmering Hours
A Blessing for Women’s Christmas

There is so much
I want to say,
as if the saying
could prepare you
for this path,
as if there were anything
I could offer
that would make your way
less circuitous,
more smooth.


Once you step out
you will see for yourself
how nothing could have
made you ready for this road
that will take you
from what you know now
to what you cannot perceive
except, perhaps,
in your dreaming
or as it gives a glimpse
in prayer.


But I can tell you
this journey is not
about miles.
It is not about how far
you can walk
or how fast.
It is about what you will do
with this moment, this star
that blazes in your sky
though no one else
might see.


So open your heart
to these shimmering hours
by which your path
is made.


Open your eyes
to the light that shines
on what you will need
to see.


Open your hands
to those who go with you,
those seen
and those known only
by their blessing, their benediction
of the road that is
your own.

Shirley invites us into reflection:   Here are a few questions you may wish to wonder about during these five minutes of silence. You may have other questions, or you may simply wish to stay with an image or line in the poem. The time is for you:

What will you do with this moment in your life? this star that blazes in your sky?
What is it that you need to see?
Who are the ones who go with you? Who blesses the road that is your own?

A small ping on a singing bowl tells us that the time is up. Carol Ohmart-Behan steps forward to read the third poem:  The Wise Ones

FOR THOSE WHO HAVE FAR TO TRAVEL


An Epiphany Blessing

If you could see
the journey whole
you might never
undertake it;
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.

Call it
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping
step by
single step.
_

There is nothing
for it
but to go
and by our going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:


to be faithful to
the next step;
to rely on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
will recognize;


to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond distractions
beyond fatigue
beyond what would
tempt you
from the way.
_

There are vows
that only you
will know;
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
is revealed
by turns
you could not
have foreseen.


Keep them, break them,
make them again:
each promise becomes
part of the path;
each choice creates
the road
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel


to offer the gift
most needed—
the gift that only you
can give—
before turning to go
home by
another way.

Carol invites us into silence for five minutes to ponder these or other questions the poem awakens in our hearts:

What feelings arise in you as you read this invitation to the journey?
What are the vows, the secret promises that only you know?
What is the gift that only you can give?

The singing bowl tells us our reflection time is over, and yet for some minutes all is stillness as we breathe in what we have heard, felt, seen and understood.

Now it is time to celebrate with food and drink and gifts.

Happy Epiphany!

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Gathering Space for December 26, 2017

The light snow falls in scattered feathers as we enter the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. Lifting our faces, feeling the soft cool kiss from the sky, we see the moon in its first quarter, tipped on its side, releasing the snowy blessing.

We hurry inside through the open flap of our Gathering Tent. From brass stands that line the inner walls, the light of tall white candles illumines the space. In the centre of the circle where our companions have gathered, the fire pot breathes forth its red-orange flame.

We are the last to arrive.

Silent Night. Whether it is post-Christmas exhaustion or the sense of being enfolded in peace, silence fills the tent as we take our places.

Suddenly, silver notes from a flute lift into the silence like graceful birds. The melody is familiar, though it takes us a few heartbeats to name it to ourselves. It is the musical setting of Christina Rossetti's poem: "The Bleak Mid-Winter" ... phrases come to memory:

earth stood hard as iron...water like a stone...

the aching tenderness of a newborn for whom a stable and a mangerful of hay suffice...

because he is welcomed into love with a breastful of milk.

As the last notes of the flute dissolve into the stillness, Violet speaks: When I held my grand-daughter for the first time, I felt a surge of tenderness. I remembered the births of my children, the fierce love that wanted to hold them safe forever. Before coming here tonight, I looked for a poem about Mary giving birth that might capture the pain, the passionate joy, the love she must have felt. I found "Nativity" by John O'donohue and I would like to read it for us tonight:

No man reaches where the moon touches a woman.
Even the moon leaves her when she opens
Deeper into the ripple in her womb
That encircles dark to become flesh and bone.

Someone is coming ashore inside her.
A face deciphers itself from water
And she curves around the gathering wave,
Opening to offer the life it craves.

In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers,
She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears.
A red wire of pain feeds through every vein
Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn.

Outside each other now, she sees him first.
Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.

Into the silence that follows the reading, Colleen speaks: Like Violet, and others among us here, I too have children and grand-children who have taught me about love. Yet each of us knows the call, has listened to Jean Houston's teaching, that we are to birth newness for out time out of the desires and longings of our being, out of the protective love for our planet and all life it bears in the face of terrifying dangers. I brought Jean's words to read tonight:

Christmas is about yearning for something to come into the world. It’s the story of the birth of love, of hope, of a Holy Child in huge danger of being destroyed, bringing a new order of possibility into the world, needing to be protected and nurtured so it may grow into a free and luminous, numinous being. What is new in our time is the birthing of a whole new order of thought through the discoveries of the new cosmology creating a new mind with inter- connectedness with so many sources of ancient wisdom.

Colleen adds: I invite you to touch into your own yearning.

What is the new life you long for in yourself?

Know that the newness that you bring forth will hold the Power of Transformation for the planet.

After Colleen's reading, we return to the silence. It is truly a pregnant silence, heavy with hope and anticipatory joy

as we each imagine the new life we are called to engender.

Music begins softly, then swells as someone plays an MP3 of Carolyn McDade's song:

Within All Things

As Earth bows in evening and opens to the night
we wander in the swing of stars beyond the bend of time.
O Ardent One, O Yield of Dreams who call Earth’s people home
to make of love a greater love and pass the living flame.
You are the love within all things, a widening embrace.
A flame that weeps and launches joy to leap through realms of grace.
Are we not born to love this life,
to make the wounded whole,
to plunge the chasms of despair
and lift the singing bird.
O Ardent One, Be with us now
Go with us as we dare,
to make of love a greater love and pass the living flame.


After the song, the silence returns.

For some time, our companions sit, breathing in the silence.

Each one, as she feels ready, rises and silently leaves the tent.

Each of us will walk home for a night’s sleep, to welcome dreams of new life.

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Gathering Space on Winter Solstice 2017

Each of the Sacred Nights from now until the Feast of Christmas holds a darkness that arrives early, stays a long while, is scattered at last by a late dawn. We have decided to experience the darkness fully, to find its gifts.

The Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona is inky black, a blackness pierced here and there with what might look to a passerby like stars fallen to earth, but are actually tiny flashlights carried by each of the Communion members as we make our way towards the Gathering Tent.

Inside, there is no need of flashlights, for the large space is illumined with candles that shine from every flat surface. At the centre of a circle, formed by careful placement of brightly coloured, intricately patterned silk cushions, there sits our fire pot, already burning a welcome.

We take time to exchange greetings, to look into the faces of our companions, to see reflected there the same suppressed excitement.

The long autumnal darkness is about to end. But tonight we celebrate its gifts. The Celebration of Light and Love will follow soon.

Quiet settles on us. We wait in expectation.

Corinne rises, goes to stand beside the fire to read a poem by Pablo Neruda:

Nighttime,
my nighttime,
night of the whole earth,
you bear something
within you, something round
like a child
about to be born, like a
bursting seed:
it’s a miracle,
it’s daylight.
Your beauty is all the greater
because you nourish this budding poppy
with the darkness that flows in your veins,
because you work with your eyes closed
so that other eyes may open
and the water may sing,
so that our lives
might be born again.

After Corinne sits down, we take time to hold the words within us, wondering how each of our lives might be born again.

Clara comes forward to speak: The poet, Rilke, writes often of darkness. This dark space for him resembles the hub of a wheel, a pitcher, the hold of a ship that carries us through “the wildest storm at the edge of all”, the grave earth under the tree, the lower branches of a pine, the darkness at the edge of a bonfire. Rilke’s darkness is something out there and at the same instant it is far inside.

Once a man or woman inhabits that dark space, he or she finds it hidden inside objects, in walnuts or tree roots, in places where people don’t ordinarily look for it. In one of his poems, he says, “…no matter how deeply I go down into myself my God is dark,  like a webbing made of a hundred roots that drink in silence.”  

In his poem, “You Darkness” Rilke writes:

You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than the fires that fence in the world
For the fire makes a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns from you.
But, the darkness pulls in everything:
Shapes and fires, animals and myself,
How easily it gathers them! Powers and people—I have faith in nights.

Now Rita approaches the fire to read from Judith Duerk’s book, Circle of Stones:  "I am so aware, at my age, of light and dark. Earlier in my life, I was all light, swift, clever, bright. I dressed in primary colors and abhorred anything that I considered slow, dull, muted.

“It was only when I lived through the summer solstice light, far above the Arctic Circle, the light of the longest day in our year, the totality of white, ever-pervasive light, day after day, that I experienced our desperate need for darkness, for shadow, for relief from the clarity, sharpness, and rationality that this present world demands….a need for soft lines, blendedness, greys….to respect one’s need to be sometimes out of focus, unformed, blurred.

“Now, the winter returns, the darkness…the year, come full circle again…a chance, again, to sink into one’s own stillness…a time to feel one’s fatigue, the aches of life, one’s own age, to reconnect, once again, with deep, dark earth-energy, hidden far below in our roots.

“The winter is for us to nurture ourselves in that same way—a long time of preparatory darkness and inchoateness a very long to nurture and to begin to bring forth …. A time when it is in the natural order of things to be still, to rest in the quiet blackness. A time to trust that one will be refreshed and brought again to new creativity just as is all the rest of nature…to trust once again in the cycles of light and darkness in nature herself and within one’s own nature.”

Kate reads from Wendell Berry:

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark.
Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

Now Adriana comes forward with another poem, one by Jan Richardson:

Bless those
Who know the darkness
and do not fear it,
Who carry the light
And are not consumed,
Who prepare the way
and will not abandon it,
Who bless with grace
That does not leave us.

The readings are ended. Now a soft persistent drumbeat is heard, accompanied by the sweet soaring notes of a flute. People slowly begin to rise, to spread out through the tent, to dance to the rhythm. After the music and dancing, there will be stories, our own stories of darkness and light. There will be feasting, for a long table is spread with food and wine.

We shall spend this longest night together and then we shall go outdoors to greet the dawn of Solstice.

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Gathering Space for December 12, 2017

December has brought winter to the Isle of Iona in the North Atlantic. A brisk wind lifts yesterday's snow so that it moves through the air like ghostly presences. Friendly presences, we trust, as we enter the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. It is the dark of the moon on a night of clear skies. Above us the stars are brilliant, appearing so much closer as the earth in the Northern Hemisphere noses away from the sun.

For a time we pause just to gaze into the depths, trying to grasp the incredible distances starlight travels to bless us.

A sudden gust of wind shakes us from enchantment, sends us hurrying into the shelter of our Gathering Tent.When we come inside, we see we are the last group to arrive. Our companions are already seated on the large silk patterned cushions. The fire pot is already lighted, and there is singing. We hurry to take our places in the circle, and recognize the song. Soon we join in, for the lyrics are familiar and repeat like a round :

 Within our darkest night

You kindle the fire

That never dies away

Never dies away .... 

 

After several rounds, silence rises among us. In a few moments, Colette speaks:

"Since Samhain, we have been travelling deeper into the dark feminine time of the year. I brought a reading from the book : Healing and Empowering the Feminine : a labyrinth journey  by Sylvia Shaindel Senensky:

We have come to a time when we can no longer remain silent. We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine to know our own darkness and the profound richness of all dark places, even when they are laden with pain. Through her we know the mystery of existence and the sacredness of the cycles of life. We learn how important the destruction of the old ways is to the rebirth of the new. When she steps into our lives and awakens us, we can be shattered to our core, and we know, as we see the tears streaming down her face, that she too is holding us in her compassionate and loving embrace.

We need to know her as the source of life in the material realm, and to know her sorrow at how we have so unconsciously set out to destroy her...our Mother Earth. She is calling upon us, each in our way to do our inner work, to become her allies, to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet. This is the lesson of the Feminine we all need to remember. We need to honour our earth and all creatures, human and other, that she supports. We need to nourish ourselves, each other, all children, and the unbelievable creative potential within each human being....

As we come to a place of love and compassion for ourselves, our struggles, and our own vulnerable humanity, we will at the same time begin to kindle a similar compassion for others. Love attracts love. If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy, our actions will begin to mirror our feelings. We will come home to ourselves. 

Colette adds: "I thought we might wish to sit in silence for a few minutes tonight, to reflect on these words. We may want to ask ourselves how these words resonate in us."

How have we known the profound riches of dark places on our planet, in ourselves?

How have we allowed our compassion, our love, to flow to ourselves as well as to all life forms?

As Christmas approaches, how strong is our desire to come home to ourselves?

What do we most need to bring this about?

After we have had time for quiet reflection, a voice begins to sing again the song of the fire, and our voices join with hers:

Within our darkest night

You kindle the fire

That never dies away

Never dies away....

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Gathering Space for December 5, 2017

The full moon, so near-seeming, so large in its appearance, that it is called a "supermoon", is waning now, hidden somewhere beyond the thick clouds in Iona's night skies. Rain is drizzling, falling through air that is not yet winter-cold, still several degrees above freezing. It is not a night for lingering in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. We hurry towards the door-flap of our Gathering Tent.

We each choose a cushion, settle into our circle around the fire pot. When all of us have gathered, Violet comes to light the flame.

"Does someone have a poem or a story for us this evening?" Violet asks. "Perhaps something about Advent?"

Anne Kathleen speaks: This year I was planning to ignore Advent. I decided it no longer fit with my understanding of Love in the Universe. The First Sunday of Advent dawned in mist, a cold damp day where I live in the woods. No snow softened the grim greyness of earth, river, sky. Geese, ducks had all flown. Birdsong no longer blessed the air. I decided to stay away from ritual celebrations that opened the four weeks of Advent. Inside my cottage, no Advent Wreath of green boughs, planted with purple candles, stood ready to light the darkness that would descend with early evening.

Living in a Universe whose beginning is still visible in deep space, knowing that what Teilhard de Chardin calls the Christic Presence, the Love at the heart of the Universe, has been here from the first moment in time, made Advent seem to me superfluous. Why imagine a world awaiting the birth of Love?
At mid-day, I opened my computer, tuned into the live streaming of a panel led by Jean Houston at the United Palace House of Inspiration in New York City. The theme was "Living in Cosmic Consciousness".

"We are the microcosm of the macrocosm of consciousness," Jean said. "We are called to implant the new codings for an emerging spirituality. We are encoded with the Universe Herself…"

Something new, yet old and very familiar was rising in me. A sense of call, an eagerness, an excitement, a knowing that something wonderful was about to happen, that I /we /all of us are called to bring it to birth…

The day moved on. I sat by the fire, writing in my journal, as the windows of my cottage slowly filled with darkness. Is that when it happened?

A remembering, a knowing that was as old as my first memory of Christmas, and yet suddenly new. The story of a young pregnant woman making an uncomfortable journey to a strange town. She does not know where, how, when she will give birth.

I knew at once who I was in the story. We, you and I are that woman, called to be Mary for our time, called to give birth to "an emerging spirituality".

Not knowing the where or how or when of it. But eager, as she must have been, to see the new life.

What was the moment in time when we agreed to this? I found the poem where John O'donohue imagines Mary's moment in time:


Cast from afar before the stones were born
And rain had rinsed the darkness for colour,
The words have waited for the hunger in her
To become the silence where they could form.

The day’s last light frames her by the window,
A young woman with distance in her gaze,
She could never imagine the surprise
That is hovering over her life now.

The sentence awakens like a raven,
Fluttering and dark, opening her heart
To nest the voice that first whispered the earth
From dream into wind, stone, sky and ocean.

She offers to mother the shadow’s child;
Her untouched life becoming wild inside.

So I am wondering now: Where does our story touch Mary’s? Where are the meeting points? What are the words waiting for the hunger in us “to become the silence where they could form”? When our hearts open, will they also become a nest for a new birthing of the Holy?
From Jean Houston, we have learned that the urgent needs of our time require a “yes” to the conception, followed by the birthing, of newness.

Reflecting upon the call of Mary, the call that is like our own, Jean writes: 

"Just think of the promise, the potential, the divinity in you, which you have probably disowned over and over again because it wasn’t logical, because it didn’t jibe, because it was terribly inconvenient (it always is), because it didn’t fit conventional reality, because... because… because….
"What could be more embarrassing than finding yourself pregnant with the Holy Spirit? It’s a very eccentric, inconvenient thing to have happen."   (Jean Houston in Godseed p. 38)

Eccentric. Inconvenient. Perhaps. But nonetheless it is our call. Mary’s story gives me, gives us, the courage to say “yes” without knowing where that “yes” may lead. It is enough to know with certainty that our own life will become, like Mary’s, “wild inside”.

Violet invites us into a time of silence to reflect upon our own call, our own life, as it becomes "wild inside."

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Gathering Space for November 28, 2017

In the light of the first quarter moon, the garden of the ruined nunnery on Iona is awash in silver. A soft sifting of snow creates white blossoms on the haggard brown stalks of summer's long-vanished flowers. Having prepared ourselves for the darkness of late November, we feel a warmth, a gratitude for this small miracle of light.  Several of us stand in stillness, bathing in the moon's glow.

A sudden gust of icy wind from the North Atlantic shakes us from reverie, sends us hurrying towards the warmth of our gathering tent.
Once inside, we each choose a favourite from among the large silk cushions, then sit down in the circle of our companions. We greet the others, speak about the small happenings in our lives since we last gathered, wait while others arrive and settle.

Ellyn stands to light the fire pot, looks around the circle of friends. "Has someone brought a poem or a reading for us this evening?"

When no one responds, Ellyn says: "I have been thinking of Advent as a time when we come home to what is truest and deepest in ourselves, as Dorothy did in The Wizard of Oz. I found some words in a book called Secrets of the Yellow Brick Road by Jesse Stewart. He says that at the end of the quest we discover the greatest treasure is what we become in the process....What Dorothy sought for is what she has become. What she has become is now her home.

What Dorothy sought for is what she has become. What she has become is now her home.

"It seems to me that Advent invites us to journey home to the inner place where our true self is held in love, where we are deeply at home within ourselves. That is the manger where we invite the Holy Child to be born anew."

We sit in the silence, the expectant joy, evoked by Ellyn's words.

We hear another voice. Jean Houston is here in our circle, and now speaks to us:

We have been expanding our minds, our imaginations, over these past weeks as we reflected on the Powers of the Universe.

There is a great paradox here for we are beings who long for home,

while at the same time we know ourselves to be intimately part of a vast universe, even many universes.

You see, we are both infinite and finite beings; as finite beings, we are God stuff incorporated in space and time. We are local fractals of the Infinite Self.

We yearn for our greater self, and yet when we make the excursion into our great being, like Dorothy,

we yearn to return home to Kansas where we confront our limitations in body, mind, time et al.

Why is this?

To live in a state of both/and is to become who and what we are patterned to be, because we are too complex for our finite self.

We cannot contract the Infinite to fit into the finite, (or else we end up with a really dumb fundamentalist God)

BUT we can extend through conscious work on ourselves the capacity to expand and thus to enter into partnership with the infinite.

We discover we are an infinite self, creating and sustaining our individual human self.

The mystical heart of many different faith traditions, and contemporary science both speak of a continuum between the finite and the infinite.

If we can know our infinite self as eternal being, we can more easily accept the reality of our flow into the Holy.

How does the infinite self show up in your life? Unexpected coincidences...being loved...synchronicities...immersion in vitality....

being surprised by joy....powerful sense of presence... and ?

Awareness of the infinite within turns our lives around and prepares us for the healing of the universe;

we know now what we can do because we are opened up to so much wisdom, ancient and new. We enter an intense maturation process.

Compassionate understanding of the planet can lead to the evolution of planet and society and to masses of joy!

We take quiet time to absorb Jean's words.

 Yvette speaks: "I brought a poem by a fifteenth century mystic from India. Kabir speaks of the same paradox that Jean described:

I have been thinking of the difference between water
and the waves on it. Rising,
water’s still water, falling back,
it is water, will you give me a hint
how to tell them apart?
Because someone has made up the word
“wave”, do I have to distinguish it
from water?

There is a Secret One inside us;
the planets in all the galaxies
pass through his hands like beads.
That is a string of beads one should look at with luminous eyes.

Yvette adds: "We have some joyful tasks for the weeks until Solstice and Christmas. We are preparing a home space within for Love,

through whose hands the planets in all the galaxies pass like beads, the Secret One who holds us in love both as finite and infinite beings."

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Gathering Space for November 21, 2017

The three-day old moon is too young to light our way as we come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. Those of us with small flashlights or with light apps on our phones or iPods guide those who are without towards the opening of our Gathering Tent. We step inside the flap, quickly resealing it against the sea wind off the North Atlantic.

Then, we look about in dismay. The inside of the tent is even darker than the outdoors. Impossible to see the faces of our companions, to see where we might find a place to sit.

A match is struck and in its brief flare we see a woman bending over the fire pot. Now its orange flame gives enough light for us to make our way to the circle of cushions, where we sit with our companions.

“Why aren’t the candles lit?” The whisper seems loud in the stillness. “Why is it so dark?”

But neither question is answered. There is mystery here. Silence engulfs us as we focus on the one small flame that holds the darkness at bay.

Several minutes pass slowly, gradually transforming questions and uncertainty into a gentle breathing stillness.

Into this peace-filled hush, a voice arises. We recognize the lilt of Ireland seconds before we know the voice. For here among us is Dolores Whelan, the teacher of Celtic Spirituality whom some of us met at Galilee at a Brigid Retreat in February of 2014.

"It is three weeks since you gathered here to celebrate Samhain," Dolores says. "You welcomed the season of darkness. During the past month, the shadows have deepened with the waning of the sun’s light in our Northern Hemisphere. Throughout the planet, there is deepening gloom: acts of terrorism, refugees fleeing for their lives, the growing concern over climate change.

"I thought we might sit for a time in the darkness, to hold our inner light and overcome any fear we may have of the night. I invite you to close your eyes, to block out the small flame of the fire pot, to focus on your breath. As you breathe in, draw in courage. As you breathe out, release your fear. Continue this slow rhythmic breathing until your inner light expands, like a waxing silver-white moon that dispels all the darkness within …..

Take five minutes to do this.    (SET A TIMER)

************

"Now, open your eyes."

The flame of the fire pot offers its solitary light; yet, within each of us there is now a luminous sea of light.

Dolores’s voice continues: "With the festival of Samhain, we were initiated into the mysteries of the dark goddess,

the Cailleach aspect of the feminine energies."

In the flickering light we see the carved image of an ancient one, the Cailleach.

image of the Cailleach

"The journey into the season of Samhain requires a dying of what has been," Dolores continues, "to let go of all that has been harvested up till now, a willingness to embrace the resultant void created by its absence. We are offered an opportunity to return to her transformative cauldron and to allow ourselves to sink into the being-ness of that place of our potential rebirth and re-emergence.

"The cauldron is a central metaphor for the void in Celtic Mythology."

The gold of the cauldron gleams in the flame.

"This is the place where we bring those raw or unpalatable aspects of self, the difficult events of our lives, to be slowly transformed during the winter season by the healing energies of the Divine Feminine in her Cailleach form. In this place deep healing and transformation can take place allowing the emergence of a new possibility at springtime."

"This aspect of the Goddess can often seem ugly or harsh to us because it challenges us to relinquish much of what we are attached to but which no longer serves our deepest self. Even as this tough mother love challenges us, it also holds us in a wise, loving, compassionate embrace."

"This is the opportunity and challenge offered to us by the season and the energy of Samhain. In order to travel successfully and safely into and out of this dark season, we must learn and embrace the qualities that will support us in that journey. So may you embrace this Samhain season in such a way that you become the seed of your rebirth."

We receive these words from Dolores in silence, each of us wondering how an embrace of the dark time might change the way we experience the season.

“Dolores, may I ask a question?” We turn towards Shirley’s voice coming out of the blackness, wondering what it is she will ask, wondering if she will ask the question rising in us… And she does!

"What you describe is so peaceful and important. Yet I find that this season, these weeks leading to the Winter Solstice and Christmas, are the busiest, the most demanding of the whole year. How can we find time to reflect on the Cailleach and her Cauldron?"

Dolores responds: "That is the first question to bring to the Cailleach. Imagine the tasks that arise as you prepare for Christmas, especially those that are most difficult and unpalatable, the most raw. See these as ingredients that you put into the Cauldron.

"Do this quickly in your imagination each time you feel pressure or anxiety. Just toss it in.

"Invite the Cailleach, the sacred energy of the dark feminine, to work with these elements and transform them. Wait and see what happens."

There is a pause as we take this in. Suddenly light blooms around the inner walls of the tent. Quietly, some of our companions have been lighting tall white candles. Eagerly, we look towards the place from where Dolores’ voice had seemed to be coming.

There is no one there. An image lights up on the inner wall of the tent. What Celtic magic is this?

Beside the fire pot, beside the golden cauldron, the carved image of the Cailleach gazes at us, enigmatically.

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Gathering Space for November 14, 2017

The last sliver of the moon has almost disappeared into the darkness of this November evening. As we walk through the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, our flashlights and torches illumine pale brown stalks, wilted stems, bare grey-black branches of trees. They speak of the death of the bright autumn festival, the long-gone days of effulgent summer-life.

We do not linger. The sharp wind off the North Atlantic carries a piercing dampness.
"I hope the fire pot is already lit," Clara says. "It doesn't give much heat but it warms my heart to see it."

Inside our Gathering Tent, the fire pot is already lighted and our companions are gathered around it.

We are gladdened to see that the photos from the Hubble Telescope still illumine the canvas walls.

Someone had added a new photo, along with what looks like a poem beneath it.

But  perhaps God needs the longing, wherever else shall it dwell,
Which with kisses and tears and sighs fills mysterious spaces of air -
And perhaps is invisible soil from which roots of stars grow and swell -
And the radiant voice across fields of parting which calls to reunion there?
O my beloved, perhaps in the sky of longing worlds have been born of our love -
Just as our breathing, in and out, builds a cradle for life and death?
We are grains of sand, dark with farewell, lost in births' secret treasure trove,
Around us already perhaps future moons, suns, and stars blaze in a fiery wreath.

~ Nelly Sachs ~

(Translated by Ruth and Matthew Mead,

in A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now

edited by Aliki and Willis Barnstone)

When we are seated on our large colourful cushions, Anne Fensom brings to each of us a copy of the poem that we saw from a distance on the tent wall, along with two more: one by James Bertolino and one from Mary Oliver.

To survive
our minds must taste
redwood and agate,
octopi,
bat, and in the bat’s mouth,
insect.
It’s hard to think like a planet.
We’ve got to try.
–James Bertolino

The Spirit Likes to Dress Up  

by Mary Oliver

The spirit

likes to dress up like this:

ten fingers,

ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest

at night

in the black branches,

in the morning


in the blue branches

of the world.

It could float, of course,

but would rather

plumb rough matter.

Airy and shapeless thing,

it needs

the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,

the oceanic fluids;

it needs the body’s world,

instinct

and imagination

and the dark hug of time,

sweetness

and tangibility,

to be understood,

to be more than pure light

that burns

where no one is —

so it enters us —

in the morning

shines from brute comfort

like a stitch of lightning;


and at night

lights up the deep and wondrous

drownings of the body

like a star.

Anne invites us to read through the three poems silently.

******************************

After we have had time for this, Anne speaks:   

Three of us live close by one another in Sudbury in Northern Ontario. Shirley, Violet and I got together last week to speak about the Powers of the Universe. We were especially interested in Brian Swimme's words in the Reflection on Homeostasis:
"There is no human community without the whole. The earth community is a form of guidance for us, crying out to us that it is not inert material, not just stuff! It takes a major shift for us humans to see that we come out of the earth community, we derive from it. The matrix itself is primary."

We spent time just looking at how interwoven we are with the earth, our home planet, and with all that lives on her. So we brought this photo and these poems to share with you. We wondered if they would also speak to your experience.

For the next ten minutes tonight, we invite you to talk about these ideas, these poems, with one other person here, in whatever way you feel drawn to do so.

After your conversation, you might wish to write your thoughts in a few sentences or in a poem. Or those of you who are artists might make a sketch. 

We invite you to bring what you create to our Gathering Space next week.

So we begin our conversations, while Anne, Shirley and Violet remove a white cloth from the long table at the back of the tent. The sounds of liquid being poured, of plates and cutlery being placed, encourage us that refreshments will follow our time of sharing.

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Gathering Space for November 7, 2017

The days of Samhain have come and gone, leaving us in a darkness that will deepen with each passing day until the Winter Solstice. We come to the garden of Iona’s ruined nunnery noting its ragged, dishevelled appearance in the muted light.

The garden awaits the facelift of the first snowfall.

Our Gathering Tent is a welcome sight, offering shelter from the stiff winds, the cold damp air. We step inside. And stop, our breaths caught in wonder. The interior of the tent, from floor to roof, is shimmering with jewelled light. Slowly, slowly, we begin to recognize what it is we see. The canvas walls hold photographs taken by the Hubble Telescope. Stars, galaxies, huge swathes of our own Milky Way, glimmer in turquoise, rose, gold and vermillion, magically backlit to create a space of indescribable beauty.

Someone has been at work here offering us this shining gift. Whoever has done this must know we have been reflecting on the Powers of the Universe, Brian Swimme's teachings drawn from Teilhard de Chardin’s vision of an evolving universe, guided by Love, moving us forward towards an Omega point.

As we slowly take our places on the colourful silk cushions, we feel ourselves to be within a Radiant Darkness.

A solitary sound arises. A flute sends a pure cascade of notes to swirl among the stars which surround us.

In the midst of this beauty, a single voice reads a poem by Mary Oliver:

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth
remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

We are wrapped in beauty: sight, sound, and inner images awakening within. We each see ourselves at rest with Mary Oliver “on a stone in the river bed” under the “white fire of the stars”. We take this deeply within for a time of contemplation.

Listen. What arises from our hearts?


We listen for a time in the silence, in the silence, in the deep and holy silence……

***********************

Following our quiet time, there is an invitation to speak. Would anyone like to reflect on Teilhard and his vision?

Suzanne speaks: I would like to welcome into our circle here at Iona, Blanche Gallagher, in her ethereal starry consciousness. Blanche was a friend of mine and of Jean Houston. At Jean’s prompting, Blanche wrote a book of meditations on the writings of Teilhard, which, she said,
"startled me into a new awareness of the universe." She ponders his definition of the noosphere, the thinking envelope of the planet made of the fused creative and intellectual process of each individual. "Noosphere...the living membrane which is stretched like a film over the lustrous surface of the star which holds us, an ultimate envelope taking on its own individuality and gradually detaching itself like a luminous aura, this envelope was not only conscious but thinking, the very Soul of the Earth". Blanche Gallagher further ponders the notion that all this energy unites into constellations of energy by which the universe is brought to its Ultimate fulfillment.

We thank Suzanne for bringing this rich reflection from her friend Blanche.

For the rest of our time here in the luminous tent, we ponder how our own thoughts, our creative processes are intermingling in a “living membrane” stretched “like a film over the lustrous surface of the star which holds us”.

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Gathering Space for October 31, 2017
Ritual to Welcome Winter/Samhain

The fleeting warmth of the day has dissolved. The chill air in the garden of Iona’s ruined nunnery holds a hint of winter. Blowing off the North Atlantic, the wind whispers what must follow…. Yet we do not rush to enter the shelter of the Gathering Tent. Though the moon is just four days before her fullness, we see a sky alive with stars. The beauty of this night deserves our attention, our gratitude.

When we do finally pull back the tent flap to make our way inside, we find a group of our companions preparing the space for a ritual.

Ruth carries a broom to the back door of the tent while others arrange symbols of the autumn season at the centre of the circle,

beside the fire pot. Colette and Clara are handing out colourful booklets to everyone, placing them on the empty cushions

for those who have not yet arrived.

Colleen will speak to us this evening about the Festival of Samhain: Samhain opens the time that Celtic teacher Dolores Whelan calls “the time of darkness, the realm of the goddess where the feminine energy principle is experienced and the season of non-doing is initiated.”

The dark time of the year was meant to be a time of renewal when earth and humans rested so that energy was gathered inwards to support what was happening deep within the earth and deep within the human psyche; the energy gathered in this season would be used when the winter had passed and spring brought new life to the land and the people.

Samhain invites us to release whatever is not completed at this time; the early light of morning, the lingering light of evening must be released, along with the samos energy of activity and doing. 

As Dolores teaches, “What is required in this season is for humans to surrender into the giamos mode of being, into darkness, active waiting, and non-doing that characterizes this time”.

The next marker on the Celric calendar will be the Winter Equinox. As we move towards the rebirth of the sun, we embrace a journey of deep surrender.

Dolores describes this time: “The days shorten, the nights get longer, the earth draws its energy deep within, death and darkness are all around us.... we reside in the womb or cauldron of the Goddess where gestation and transformation happen.

"We are deep within the giamos period, where the experience of linear time is minimized, willpower is muted and contemplation of the ever-present form or ground of being is encouraged. Here the mode of being that is required is rest, passive attentiveness to the unconscious influences of the other world, together with openness to growth that is slow and unforced. This is the dream time where the seeds of new life, new ideas, new projects are nurtured.”

John O’Donohue, in his book Anam Cara, speaks of this season of darkness as “the ancient womb”. He reminds us that "Nighttime is womb-time. Our souls come out to play. The darkness absolves everything; the struggle for identity and impression falls away. We rest in the night."

 

After Colleen finishes speaking and returns to her place, we sit in stillness for a time, allowing her words to take root within, preparing our hearts for this shift from active engagement in masculine activity to passive gestation, the feminine time of waiting.

We ask questions in the silence of our hearts:

What do I need to let go of? What unfinished work may I peacefully set aside?

What in my life needs to die so that I may prepare an inner emptiness where the new may find a place to gestate?

Once everyone is seated within the circle, Ruth comes forward to light the fire pot to begin our ritual.

"Tonight we have a Ritual to welcome Samhain, adapted from Heartbeat of the Seasons. In her introduction, Kathleen Glennon quotes Thomas Berry’s words: The entire universe is the great religious community. Its seasonal sequence is the primordial liturgy of all creation.

In your booklet there are a few questions to think about before the Ritual begins.

What were the blessings of Lughnasa/ Autumn?

What were some of the things that weren’t so good?

What blessings do we wish to welcome into our Gathering Tent and into our lives with Samhain/Winter?

After a few minutes of reflection, Ruth invites us to gather at the back door of the tent.

As the door is opened, some of us step back from the chill.

Anne Fensom reads from Heartbeat of the Seasons:

Spinner of the universe,
Rotator of the planets,
Turner of the seasons,
Align us to the rhythm
Of your heartbeat
At this threshold moment
When Lughnasa bids us farewell.

After a brief pause, Ruth continues:

Lughnasa/Autumn has been a time of abundance, of colour, of blessing. Let us recall some of the blessings of Lughnasa.
We each call out a blessing of this season, and following each, we chant:
We give thanks to you
We give thanks to you

Ruth now invites: Let us acknowledge moments of pain, of difficulty, of negativity during the season of autumn.
We each call out a remembered challenge or difficulty, sorrow or pain….

After each person speaks, she is invited to take the broom to sweep the negativity or difficulty over the threshold out into the night.

Ruth speaks:

We rid our Tent
Of negative thoughts and feeling,
Of sickness and ill health,
Of consumer attitudes,
Of behaviours that disrespect humans, other species, or the earth.
We ask the earth to absorb and transform what we send into the night. Amen.

Now the back door of the tent is zipped closed.

Our Communion is invited to move to the front entrance of the tent where Yvette reads the Welcome to Samhain:

Let us become aware of the energy of the new season of Samhain
standing on our threshold.
Let us hear its heartbeat and bid it welcome with its blessings.
We are invited to call out the blessings we associate with Samhain/Winter.
After each blessing is spoken, we chant:
Fullness of life! Fullness of life! Fullness of life!

Ruth reads the Closing Prayer:

O Still One of Samhain.
Come into our home and into our hearts.
May the blessing of inwardness nestle within these walls.
Let our hearts beat in rhythm with the hibernating animals during this season.
May we find time to enjoy one another‘s company, to watch the night sky,
to relax by the fire, to tell stories, to share food and drink.
May the blessings of health and happiness be with all. Amen.

The ritual ends as we move to the chant: "Blessings of the Seasons"

Blessings from the Seasons (hands towards heart)
Blessings from the Night (hands to the sky)
Blessings from the Universe (lift arms and turn slowly)
To fill our home with Light (join hands around the circle)

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Gathering Space for October 24, 2017

The night is wet with rain as we enter the soggy Garden of Iona’s Ruined Nunnery.

Something is different.

We sense, then lift our gaze to see, a canvas tent whose bulk now fills the whole of the grassy area within the low stones of the former Chapter House.

 

Its open doorway is flapping in the light winds, but plastic sheeting keeps the rain from entering. Our Seasonal Gathering Tent has been raised, offering shelter from the autumn rains, from the coming cold and snow of winter.

Memories of its sheltering warmth and inner beauty fill us with eager delight as we enter.

 

Many of our companions are already here, have settled on the large cushions patterned in squares of beautifully-toned fabrics. Some of the cushions have been embroidered with scenes inspired by Iona’s history: the arrival of the boat that brought Columba and his companions to this island in the sixth century; designs that recall the Book of Kells which was created here; depictions of the wild goose, a Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit.

And look! Here is our quilt of many colours, hung with care against the bare inner wall of the tent, offering its layers of warmth, additional protection against the outer cold that will come with winter.

 

Dimly, we hear the rain as it dances on the top of the tent. The sound only adds to the feeling of being enclosed in warmth, sheltered.

Though the air outside is still mild, the chill of the rain invites fire. We look with expectation towards the fire pot at the centre of our circle.

Suzanne stands and walks towards it. In a moment the oil receives the lighted match, and a bright orange flame leaps into view.

Suzanne speaks: Tonight we celebrate our yearly return to our Gathering Tent. We are just one week away from the Feast of Samhain, the doorway to winter in the Northern Hemisphere, to summer for our companions in Australia in the Southern Hemisphere. For the ancient Celts, the three days that we now call Hallowe’en, All Saints’ and All Souls’ were one feast, marking the year’s end with a three-day festival. It was for them the time when the year turned from the bright masculine season with its intense activity of planting, growing, harvesting. They welcomed the quieter days of winter.

It seems good tonight that we have a ritual that awakens inner fire, reminding us of who we are: the Communion of Creative Fire.

Ellyn has offered to lead us in this sacred movement, so let us stand to be ready to begin:

 

Ellyn comes to stand beside the fire pot and speaks: Standing at ease, we become aware of the earth beneath our feet, the embrace of air and firelight on our bodies. We move our awareness inwards, to the deep centre of ourselves. Here is where the fire burns that ignites our passion for life. Let us hold our attention on this inner fire. Imagine it as a small flame. Now see if our inner gaze upon it makes it grow stronger, steadier, hotter.

This is the fire at the heart of our being, the source of allurement and of the love we send forth to others, to people on the planet we have never seen, to places where there is a hunger for peace, for food, for shelter. This fire is the source of our impulse to reach out through our work, our service, our caring, our wisdom, our strivings to understand life and all it requires of us.

This fiery centre is also the dwelling place within us of the Holy One. Love awaits us here, awakens us to joy, to the knowing that we are worthy, and beautiful, and held in a love more tender and deep than we can imagine. The Sufi poet Hafiz says it best:

There is something holy deep inside of you that is so ardent and awake …

This inner fire of love, received and given, is the holy heart of our communion. It is present in the depths of each of us, and each of us is invited, called, to awaken this fire, to tend it, so that its flames become a burning that radiates forth to the Communion, to all those we love, to all of life.

Some gentle movement will warm us, while reminding us of our task, our great work:

Stretch your arms upwards and imagine the sky above our tent. Imagine the heat of the sun on a summer day so that you feel it in your outstretched hands, on your palms. Now lower your arms to just above your head and draw the sun’s warmth in through the crown of your head. Imagine it passing down into your body to the place of inner fire, adding warmth and light.

Now slowly, gently, bend forward, and with your outstretched arms, scoop up from the earth the heat that is in the belly of the planet herself. Draw it upwards as you slowly stand. Now draw it into your body, into the heart of your being where it meets the light you have drawn in from the sun. Stand at ease, your eyes closed, as you imagine the fire of the earth and the fire of the sun meeting in the deep centre of your being, increasing the fire within you.

AHHHH. Breathe slowly in and out for a few moments as you feel this inner fire growing, filling you. Then with a gesture of giving it away, send it forth as radiant light and love to the planet. This is a simple practice we may do each day, as we remember our Companions in the Communion of Creative Fire, and imagine them standing in a circle around us.

We thank Suzanne and Ellyn for leading us. We look around the tent... Dare we hope that someone has thought to bring food? mulled wine? hot cider? AHHHHHH! Yes. There is a long table at the very back of the tent, laden with food and drink.... let the feast begin!    

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Gathering Space for October 17, 2017

The cool air of early evening brushes our skin, ripples our clothing, as we come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on the Sacred Island of Iona. The sun has not yet set, though its patina of gold offers little warmth. October is moving swiftly towards the Celtic Festival of Samhain. The dark quiet of the feminine time of the year will soon be here.

Many of us have brought wool shawls, sweaters or cloaks, thinking to curl up within their warmth on our quilt… but once we are within the stones of the low walls, we stop. We gaze in wonder at the sight before us. The grassy area is crowded with long tables, each covered in an enticing array of baked goods, woven scarves, shawls , small paintings, handmade pottery, clay cups and plates, jewelry… have we fallen through a worm hole in time? It looks like a Medieval Faire!
Suddenly someone is coming near to where we huddle at the edges of this vision. It is our friend Elspeth, smiling, greeting us.

Now we know we are in the present time.

"What's happening," Natacha asks her. "What is all of this?"

Elspeth's smile broadens. Her grey eyes are warm with delight: "This, my dear ones, is our Harvest Fair! We've brought the goods not already purchased last week by the tourists who are drawn here to Iona. Since you began making this your Gathering Space some mysterious energy has increased the flow of tourists. Come. Move around the displays. Enjoy all that we have brought for you.

"There is hot apple cider, mulled wine, scones and cakes and pies. If you are drawn to something lovely, a necklace or bracelet, a shawl or scarf, it is yours for the asking. The village of Iona offers this as a thank you for all you have brought to our small island."

What joy to mingle, greet the other women, many of whom we have met on past visits.

Some are the quilters who created the magic carpet of colour for our Gathering Space.

By the time full darkness has risen through the Garden, we are replete with good food and drink.

Many of us now wear a beautiful piece of jewelry, a colourful scarf, a warm hand-woven shawl….

The women from Iona have created a fire pit where a welcoming blaze invites us to stay a little longer. We gather around it, seated on the grass, wrapping ourselves in warmth, sipping hot drinks from pottery mugs. Once everyone in our Communion and the Iona women have formed a circle around the fire, Clara asks Elspeth a question that many of us have wondered about.

"Elspeth, what do you know of the beginnings of this Nunnery?

"Are there any stories of its founding, or of the nuns who lived here long ago?"

"Well now, I am glad you asked, Clara," Elspeth says, her face already lighting up with a storyteller's eager joy.

"You may have heard of the great Celtic Scots leader Somerled, known as Lord of the Isles? He had a dream of uniting the Irish and Scots Celts, at the time when Viking raiders were attacking the isles. He is honoured for creating a Celtic Renaissance and through his wife, Ragnhild, daughter of Olafr Godredsson, King of the Isles, claimed for himself and his descendants the Kingdom of the Isles.

"One of his unfulfilled dreams had been to bring Irish Monasticism to Iona. In the last year of his life he attempted to persuade the Columban Monastic Community in Derry to relocate from Ireland to Iona, for this sacred island was within Somerled's sphere of influence.

"Unfortunately for Somerled, his death denied him this hope. Somerled was slain in 1164 at the Battle of Renfrew, amidst an invasion of mainland Scotland, while he was commanding forces drawn from all over his kingdom. We believe that Somerled was buried here on Iona.

"Somerled's son Reginald founded the nunnery in 1200 and installed his sister, Beatrice, as its first prioress. It was one of only two Augustinian Orders in Scotland. The nunnery earned itself the name 'An Eaglais Dhubh' - the black church - after the colour of nuns' robes.

"Unlike the rest of the Abbey buildings, as you know well, the nunnery has not been restored since being made derelict during the Reformation. The pink granite walls that remain, despite being ruinous, are amongst the best examples of a medieval nunnery left in Britain. 


"Little is known of the nuns who lived here. Like the Benedictine monks, they followed a strict life of prayer and contemplation. A few clues have been left which shed some light on aspects of the nuns' lives. For instance, the tomb of Prioress Anna Maclean is so detailed in its carving as to give a clear depiction of her dress.

"Some of the nuns were thought to have fled to the nearby Island of Mull where they lived in a cave during the Reformation. This cave is called the 'Nuns' Cave' and is to be found on the coast at Carsaig on Mull. It has crosses carved into its inner walls."

Elspeth ends her story. Deep silence enwraps us like a cloak. It is fully dark now as the moon, pared down to her final sliver of light, touches us gently. Each of us is lost in our own imaginings of those long ago times here, of the mysterious life that went on for more than three centuries, of the terror of the nuns' escape to the Island of Mull.

"What a sad story!" Corinne says.

Elspeth stirs as if waking from a dream. "Sad? I have never thought so. Does this Garden feel sad to you? You know there have been a few times over the years when I have come here to walk in the evening when I seemed to hear music, ethereal, lovely, though faint and far away.

"There was one eve of Samhain…. but no, that story is too strange for such a night as this.

"Come, the wind is wuthering. We should all be thinking of getting back to our homes before this night grows colder."

ARCHIVES

Gathering Space for October 10, 2017

Wet, Windy, Wild. The weather on Iona this evening would shake the stoutest heart. Yet here we are, making our way once again towards the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, hoping our kind neighbours have put up the rain sheet, attached to four tall poles. May it shelter us from the worst of the weather, keeping our lovely quilt of many colours and ourselves dry.

Yet the air is not yet cold, the temperature in the mid 50's Fahrenheit, 13 degrees Celsius. And we have wisely (after past experience) worn rain–proof clothing: long capes and coats and rain hats.

The rain sheet is in place. We gather in a circle on our quilt. Already we miss Hafiz, our new friend from 14th c. Persia.

Once we have greeted one another and settled comfortably, we notice a scroll in the centre of the quilt. It looks like the scrolls Hafiz carried…

"Shall I open it?" Carol Zickell asks, already moving to take the scroll and unfurling it to read: Dear Friends: I miss you already. I know you are studying to understand the Powers of the Universe. I shall copy for you one of my poems that celebrates that you hold the universe within you. Never forget how great you are and the power that lives within you. Your friend, Hafiz 

You must have seen yourself by now—I mean
the real Self. It must have at least passed close
by one day, maybe even stepped on your toes,
Or dragged you somewhere.

That Self, upon your seeing it, gave you the idea
of how eternity could be endured, because of a

tremendous enchantment you felt for a grace
emanating from all things, and your soul now
the epicenter. Your own presence, upon every
throne.

Such an incandescence you emanated, and so
magnificently sovereign you felt, that rightfully,

rightfully, all your ideas of God would look very
pale if they had the audacity to stand next to
you, when your sight was clear… and all your
power revealed.

"All our power?" echoed Ruth. "With so many challenges on our planet today, I sometimes feel we do not have enough power to make change for the good of all."

"And yet," Shirley says, "just last week I spoke with Hafiz about our concerns for our planet, her waters, her soil, her forests, her fish and animals and birds. I said that we humans have not been wise in our actions, yet we are unsure how our small deeds can effect change.

"It was only a few days later that we in Canada learned that the Energy East Pipeline Proposal had been withdrawn. It would have carried oil from the tar sands in Alberta across Canada to the East Coast over environmentally sensitive land and even under rivers. I, with many others, including our indigenous peoples, rejoiced at this decision. I find this news a symbol of what we can create together with courage, engagement and hope."

"What would it be like if we claimed that power that Hafiz reminds us is ours?" Yvette asks.

What would it be like to claim our power for the enhancement of the Universe?

We decide to take this question into our hearts for the rest of our time together this evening and for the week until we gather here again.

 Gathering Space for October 3, 2017


This October evening is wet and windy, though Autumn's chill has not come. When the moon breaks through clouds, we see her waxing towards her fullness. As we make our way in clusters, or in pairs, or alone towards the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona, our thoughts, our imaginations are filled with last week's encounter with Hafiz.


He said he would return. Will he read us more of his poems?

He is here before us, seated again at the centre of our quilt, and look! Friends have come early and raised a makeshift canvas roof, supported by four tent poles, above our quilt. We will be dry for our gathering.


We take our accustomed places on the quilt, greeting Hafiz shyly, though many of us look away quickly, and someone whispers,

"I do hope he doesn’t ask about the poem he read to us last week."

And yet as soon as all of us are gathered on the quilt, Hafiz asks,

"So, tell me, what are your thoughts on the longer poem I read to you last week?"

If silence is golden, we are a gathering of immense wealth…


Then to our great relief, Brenda speaks: "Hafiz, I have been in Ireland where I was steeped and stretched and dipped and lightened by my two weeks of immersion in the ruins and the presences of that vibrantly spiritual island.

"Your words echoed for me there, small flames of resonance, especially with the writings of Patrick Kavanagh and Seamus Heaney, poets with whom I spent two days in their home places.

"The fire that you invite us to embrace is the same fire that is in them, the same fire of all poets of soul and spirit. Is it the one Spirit? the one Soul? I no longer only believe that it is; I FEEL its presence not only in myself but among us all, offering our experience to one another around our fire.

"These words of Seamus Heaney echo to me your inspiration, Hafiz:

I learned what inspiration feels like but not how to summon it...I learned that waiting is part of the work.


Hafiz looks steadily at Brenda. Then he gives her a brilliant smile of warmth and appreciation. "You give me joy, Brenda. Now I know there will be poets who will live and write long after my time, in many places, and they will carry the fire forward."

Hafiz lets his eyes roam all around our circle. Then he speaks to us, " I see worry, concern on many faces, and I do not think this is only because you are puzzled by my poetry. What burdens you so?"

It is Shirley who answers for us: "Hafiz, we hold many concerns for our planet. Since your time, the earth has become ill. Her waters, her soil, her forests, her fish and animals and birds are wounded. We humans have not been wise in our actions. We know this. We want to help, but we are unsure how our small deeds can effect change."


Hafiz is silent, thinking deeply. Then he speaks: "Oh my dears, it is your need that has brought me to you. I understand that now. What can I say? You are not alone. The light of the Beloved is in in you. You must live in that knowing, confidently, even as you do all you can to preserve life on earth. "

He riffles through his rolls of paper, seeking.  "Ah! This is the poem I knew I had to bring to you. … Listen, and be of good heart! "

My Beloved said, "My name is not complete without yours."
And I thought: How could a human's worth ever be such?
And God, knowing all our thoughts, and all
our thoughts are just innocent steps on the
path, then addressed my heart,
God revealed a sublime truth to the world
when He sang,
"I am made whole by your life. Each soul, each
soul completes Me."

"So you see, dear friends, you in your life complete God! Knowing that will make you joyful and confident that great things can happen even on a wounded earth."

After we have time to take this in, he unrolls one more scroll: "This one is to remind you that what you do is pleasing to the Beloved. This is a poem to write upon your heart! One to remember me by in the time to come, for soon I must return to Persia. My own people need me for they too believe all may be lost… it is a human failing, I think."

You have
not danced so badly, my dear,
trying to hold hands with the Beautiful One.
You have waltzed with great style, my sweet, crushed angel,
to have ever neared God’s heart at all.

Our Partner is notoriously difficult to follow, and even His best musicians are not always easy to hear.

So what if the music has stopped for a while.
So what if the price of admission to the Divine is out of reach tonight.
So what, my sweetheart, if you lack the ante to gamble for real love.

The mind and the body are famous for holding the heart ransom,
but Hafiz knows the Beloved’s eternal habits. Have patience,
for He will not be able to resist your longings
and charms for long.

You have not danced so badly, my dear,
trying to kiss the Magnificent One.
You have actually waltzed with tremendous style,
my sweet, O my sweet, crushed angel.


We stay longer with Hafiz, our conversation rich and deep. At last, with reluctance, he says farewell, promising to return one day. 

Gathering Space for September 26, 2017

We make our way from various places where we have been staying on the island of Iona, converging with other groups of our companions as we near the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. The air is pleasantly cool at 60 degrees Fahrenheit, 15 degrees Celsius. Light sweaters, shawls, jackets offer a welcome warmth. Already we notice the earlier darkness. The young moon, waxing towards her first quarter, offers her light.

What is in our hearts as we approach the centre of the grassy space between the ruined walls? Perhaps some of us have stories to tell of our recent weeks, or questions to ask, or plans to share….but as our colourful quilt comes into view, all these thoughts vanish like mist.

There is someone here. A stranger! And he has taken up residence at the very centre of our Sacred Quilt, looking as though he were invited.

No,  more than that, looking as though he were an honoured guest… But who is he? And who among us invited him? And why?

No one dares to speak, though we keep walking towards the quilt, our quilt!

We take up our favourite places, near to the colour we each have chosen.

In the silence we steal glances at this guest… disheveled is too mild a term for his wild appearance, long greying hair, full bushy beard,

and a robe that looks as though it has travelled across a desert, perhaps astride a camel…

Questions rise in us that no one dares to ask: Who are you? Why have you come?

The man raises his head, revealing eyes full of light and laughter. He slowly turns in his place at the centre of our quilt,

looking at each of us closely. As though he has heard our unvoiced questions, he speaks.

Yes, I know I am not much to look at. Never was, as far as that goes, but it's been a long journey from Persia…

and time travel really takes the wind out of one's sails, to say nothing of the way it wrinkles the robe…

Why have I come, you ask? Well, you drew me here, lured me from my quiet life as a poet in the backwaters of fourteenth century Persia.

I felt your anguish for the earth, your desire to offer love and healing, to be a source of light….

Some new texture of consciousness rose in me where I was camped by a fire.

Perhaps it was sitting near a fire that brought me close to you who gather here each week as a Communion of Creative Fire.

This place called to me as a place of pilgrimage. I felt drawn to your seeking. It was like a call, so I asked directions, and here I am!

My name? Hafiz is what I am called. I am a Sufi, a poet and mystic. 

You are wondering what I might know, what I might say to you whose time is so long after my own, seven centuries, I believe. 

Well, my longing is like yours, and Love has shown me much over the years of my life. So I have brought you some of my poems.

I shall read a little, if I may, and then perhaps you may wish to ask me questions?

While Hafiz has been speaking, a visible change has been happening among us.

Uncertainty and doubt are giving way to interest, openness and expectation.

Natacha is the first to find her voice, and speaks for us all: "Please do read us your poems, Hafiz."

As we each settle more comfortably into our quilt, Hafiz withdraws from a pocket in his robe some rolls of paper.

He opens one and begins to read:

I will tell you of an experience I just had a minute ago. My right eye felt blurred and its vision became impaired in an odd, curious way, and I thought  O maybe I am dying. Wonderful.

I brought myself before a mirror and looked in to see if I might someway help the situation, but instead saw another me.

How to describe that? Well, I will try.

I was a primal, luminous being in perfect harmony with anything I could conceive. And anything I could conceive I could control, as I was its very creator, its very source. Nothing could ever be in opposition to the truth of myself. All was like a table God set Himself, with a profound care for His court, that produced an effulgent synergy. I felt like a deity, helping to host a royal event: Existence.

Anything to do with any name or any conventional life was of gigantic insignificance – a colossal fantasy, a child's imaginary innocent game that could somehow have the strength to veil one from the Sun we are.

Though a Sun, now for me, that I can still see and touch whenever I want. It has really been this way for years for me,

and this experience can so easily deepen, change, as it never wants to bore. It can't.

Hafiz finishes his reading, lifts his eyes, looks at us. Suddenly he laughs.  I see I have befuddled you. Or you have decided that I am the one befuddled!

Dear Friends, take this poem home with you in your heart and let it speak to you.

I shall return here next week and we shall talk some more about how we are all luminous beings, living in harmony with all that exists.

For now, let me give you one of my poems that is not so complicated. This you will take to your heart at once, I trust:

Know
The true nature of your Beloved.
In His loving eyes your every thought,
Word and movement is always –
Always Beautiful.

We sit wrapt in wonder at these lovely words until Hafiz clears his throat, then coughs, then asks,

"Is there anything we might eat? Any wine? Poetry is hungry work, and time travel makes me ravenous!"

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, several of our communion women have brought food and wine, wanting to celebrate this last September evening under the open sky…. Soon in the feast that follows, barriers disappear and Hafiz begins to seem like an old friend. Well, centuries old!

.

Gathering Space for Autumn Equinox
September 21, 2017


This summer evening on the edge of the autumn equinox greets us with surprising warmth as we arrive at our gathering space.

The garden of the Ruined Nunnery still holds bright flowers: black-eyed susans, tall golden sunflowers, asters, anemone, the purple flowering spikes of vervain, the small blue michaelmas daisies, and the brilliant, if unkind, goldenrod.

Are they, like us, finding it hard to let go?

Yet the mood as we gather is one of joy, a celebration of this lovely weather as long as it wishes to stay, the joy of settling on our quilt of many colours between the low stone walls that hold lingering warmth from the day’s sunlight.

Once we are each seated, and have greeted one another, we look about to see who might begin the evening’s sharing.

Anne Kathleen speaks: I have a poem about the Autumn Equinox to read for you this evening:

Balance
precise, precarious,
between day and night.

Earth readies herself to tip into autumn
leaning into loveliness of rare, golden September light
explosion of vermilion, scarlet sumac, rich madder maple,
orange, sienna, yellow amid everlasting greens...

Earth in autumn is at her most alluring,
Her womanly last hurrah of intense beauty
before she freezes into Ice Queen.

I try to summon up sadness for summer’s passing
for warm nights when I lay on sand under meteor showers
the embrace of lake water cooling sunbaked skin
the morning watch for deer, for heron, for wild duck,
the evening wait for wild sweet calls: whippoorwill, loon, wolf.

I love these things the way I love exotic places,
thrilling to visit, leaving me hungry for home.

Who else has memories of summer to share?

Yvette speaks: Nature as seen in the changing seasons has always fascinated me. Walking in woods, visiting a local botanical garden, strolling on sandy beaches, gazing at the stars, hearing early morning birds warbling, laughing at scurrying squirrels and rabbits nibbling clover ~ these and many other moments in nature nurture my soul and speak to me about who I am. I shudder and sometimes weep when I see scenes of destructive fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, or the careless use of land to build yet another village of condominiums. Global warming is one of my concerns.

Mary Ellen speaks: The wide vista visible from my apartment has contributed to my summer reflection. I feel part of the greater whole, and my spirit is one with the ever-changing scene of the sky, and the relationship of the Earth to the Sun and the Moon. The Solar Eclipse, (even partial as it was here) brought alive the wondrous relationship between Earth, Moon and Sun. We participated in this sacred drama unfolding. Millions of people, in North America and further, joined in this sacred ritual. We experienced at a visceral level our dependence on the Sun for life and warmth. And for a few moments, we had a sense of Oneness.

Clara speaks: To have immersed myself in nature this summer has been restorative  and renewing. To listen to the waves, to feel the breeze from the trees, to listen to the birds, to walk the country roads, to swim……all this was like being bathed in the embrace of Sophia’s love. I sensed I was given much and I received these gifts with a heart full of gratitude at the extravagance and lavishness of the Divine.

I am always longing for a deeper communion with the universe, people and the world. This summer's forest fires in British Columbia, Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Irma and Maria in the Caribbean and Florida, the typhoons in India, the earthquakes in Mexico, the floods in the north are a constant reminder of how climate change is creating chaos and havoc in people's lives. So many have lost their homes, their possessions, and are experiencing feelings of grief, frustration, fear.

Anne Kathleen speaks: In the midst of our compassion and suffering for/with so many who share our home planet,

this poem helps us to remember and honour the wild things who share their peace with us:

The Peace of Wild Things
Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Let's reflect for a few moments now on the gifts of this summer for which we are grateful.

Cynthia and Joy may wish to hold in their hearts the gifts they found in the cooler season in Australia as they now experience their Spring Equinox.


We have been, in recent years, honouring the Seasons in the Celtic Way.

Let us reflect during our Sacred Hour this week on the question that Dolores Whelan suggests in her Celtic Calendar:

What is it that is now complete in my life?

Dolores offers us this “Prayer at Autumn Equinox”

As this cycle draw to a close,
May I have the discernment to harvest what I need
and release what is no longer useful for me.

May it be so!
And so it is!

Sounds are stirring in the garden just beyond where we are seated. Is that a tinkling of crystal?

Yes! Some of our companions are arranging bowls of autumn fruit and berries on a long table,

beside plates of chocolate chip cookies and the last of the summer wine. It is time to celebrate!

Gathering Space for September 12, 2017

It is a cool evening on the island of Iona in the North Atlantic, west of the mainland of Scotland. The moon is waning further from her last quarter, offering a serene radiance, if not warmth. As we, members of our Communion, make our separate ways into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, we clutch our sweaters, shawls, or jackets more closely around us. We each hold a memory of that comforting quilt, but will we find it still spread out on the grass among the stones? It has been a long while, six full weeks, since we last gathered here…

What wonder is this? Surely our memories were of something less… lavish? The quilt has expanded, a cotton river of multi-coloured warmth, filling the entire grassy space, hemmed by the remnants of ancient stone walls.

There is laughter as we greet one another, settle on the quilt. We become a chorus of birds, each singing a song of our six weeks past.
Another sound arises, slowly becoming the one sound we hear as our voices quiet down. It is our flautist, and for a time we are content just to listen to her silver-clear notes, to let our breath still into a gentler rhythm.

Strange how music stirs memory and feeling. The flute notes reach inside us, drawing forth deeper remembrances than those we so eagerly shared with our companions. Are these the kind of questions that rise in our hearts as we listen?

In these six weeks since Lughnasadh, when we last gathered here….

Where did I discover joy?

What caused me a moment of deep gratitude?

What sufferings across the planet drew my heart into compassion?

What new insights came to me about my life-call? the work that I most desire to do in the universe?

What new insights came to me about our shared call in the Communion to be “a cup to catch the sacred rain”?

to embrace the new call of love for all of life ?

How has the colour I chose for our quilt become a metaphor for my desire to live more fully,

to deepen my presence of love within the universe, my trust in the Love that holds us all?

The music ends, signaling the end of our time of reflection.  Now Colette speaks:

One of my summer delights was to think about the colour of Joy, the yellow shade I chose for our quilt.  Here are the words that came to me:

I love this quote from Rumi and keep it close: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

These words of Wisdom take on deeper meaning for me as I journey to my heart of hearts deep within in pursuit of the Beloved. In the recent past I have bumped up against an old and solid barrier erected very early in my life. At the time I set it in place it seemed a most important protective barrier of the heart and it has been all this time.

Now, revisiting it again feels special and more important than ever since what I long for the most is to be as clear a channel of Source’s love as is possible. There is nothing more important to me than to allow Love to manifest through me, in me. It is my deepest desire.

The colour I chose for our quilt is yellow in its many hues. I am particularly entranced and have been for the longest time by transparency, like the leaves of a tree becoming transparent in the sunlight. I revel in this magnificence whenever I come upon it. It is a significant image that has always spoken to my heart which I better understand now.

Returning to Rumi’s wisdom words I realize that basking in Love’s light in prayer every day is slowly building enough self-love to begin considering softening this barrier of the heart. It is sometimes given through sheer grace, ever so gently. There is a back and forth movement but I am confident and hopeful that it will evolve even more.

The most amazing realisation for me at this time is that all my most profound desires are already given, there already for me to receive, whenever I can cooperate with grace and surrender in trust going through and beyond barrier after barrier of the heart I have built. This is my new understanding of the magnificent energy of resurrection active in my life now which knows no limits and which nothing can resist.

Joy, awe and gratitude ensue. There is hope.

After Colette speaks, we hold her words in our hearts, each pondering the joy of such a journey, each seeing in our mind’s eye the transparent yellow leaves of autumn which will soon appear on the trees of Iona.


(recent Gathering Space Archives)

Gathering Space for September 6, 2016

The new moon is just a few days old, her thin first quarter scarcely discernible in the pale sky as we arrive at the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona.

When we last gathered here on July 26th, we were anticipating the Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh, ushering in the harvest time of autumn. Yet this evening still holds the embracing warmth of summer. The garden is bright with flowers, but the Michaelmas daisies, the Queen Anne’s lace, the yellow and rust clusters of chrysanthemums, are September’s parting gifts.

We have not come for endings this evening, but rather for new beginnings. It is time to take a further journey into our shared adventure: our commitment to be a vessel for the new spirituality so needed in our time, to be, as the poet Christina Lore Weber describes it, “a cup to catch the sacred rain”.

Jean Houston is with us this evening. We have asked her to lead us in one of the processes from her new book, What is Consciousness? 

Once the excited greetings, the sharing of news with one another, subside into a quiet expectancy, Jean, who is seated in the circle among us, begins to speak:

For more than three years you have been exploring the strands of the new spirituality rising in our time. Tonight I’ll show you a process that you may use to begin the weaving of these strands into a whole, a tapestry that tells the story of new ways to live within the unfolding mystery of the universe. 

As you do this weaving, know that you are not alone in this intention. Rather, you are co-creating with the universe, drawing into your lives, into our Communion of Creative Fire, the gifts, understandings, deep knowings already present in the Consciousness which is the Quantum Field of the Cosmos.

As I have written in the Consciousness book:

“You do this by inviting the quantum field of all potentials to join you in the creation of your intention. Invite it in. Call it in. Reach out, even. And bring its tides and powers into your own local field. Swim in it. Enjoy the paradox of being local but also nonlocal, human and god-stuff incarnate in space and time.

“You are the local imagination immersed in the great field of imaginal creation. By your invitation, the universe, with its infinite ideas and treasures, is able to help you now, to fill in the gaps, as well as expand your intention. The quantum field in its dramatizing power arises in you with special effects and soul-crafting images and ideas.

"Receive these and play them out! Play them out and enact them until you get the feeling tone that it is happening. Feeling tone is a special kind of click in your consciousness that says, ‘OK, it is so. It is happening.’

"Put your hands out and have the sense of calling in, winding it, being entangled with and thus receiving the appropriate people, opportunities, resources that are coming together now to make your intention a reality in your space - time zone, as it has already been confirmed in the zone of the quantum holofield. There really is no distinction between the two and once you know that, your intended reality can move right in.

“Do all this and put it to music and dance if you are so inclined. I have found out that rhythm and dance have a wondrous salutary effect on the art of manifestation. So, if you wish, imagine (this new spirituality, this way of being present and aware in the universe) vividly, feel it, sense its happening, play it out and then, dramatize and dance it, sing it, know it to be and to be happening.

"Movement is really important as movement produces endorphins – those joyous, positive, top-of-the-world hormones that raise your happiness quotient and let the universe partner you in promising and extraordinary ways.

“The point is you have caused your body and mind, your very consciousness, to slip out of the same-old-same-old thoughts and expectations. You have moved from the imagination to the imaginal, which is part of the universal consciousness field of all potentials.”

Jean has just finished speaking, and we are still absorbing the wonder of her teaching about co-creating the new spirituality with the universe when the music begins. It is the Theme from Spartacus, music by Khachaturian, and within a few bars of its beginning, we are already standing, beginning to move to the music, lifting our arms to the sliver of moon in the summer sky, drawing, winding, inviting, calling towards us the newness we have so longed to receive......


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Gathering Space
Jean Houston
Reflections September 2016 thru April 2018