Gathering Space for February 18, 2020

Brigid's breath has changed the air on Iona Island, lifting the temperature this evening to 48 degrees Fahrenheit, 9 degrees Celsius.

  As we enter the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, clouds conceal the waning moon. The brisk breeze off the sea carries rain.

The sheltering warmth of our Gathering Tent beckons. A sudden gust off the North Atlantic reminds us that Spring is still a month away…

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

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

Rita Kehoe has joined us this evening after a long absence. On the eve of her 92nd birthday, Rita has brought a poem to share with us, and introduces its theme:

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 that. I'd like to read it, and invite us to 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.



We take time in silence to allow lines of this poem to stir within us…..

 Rita asks:

How does this poem find an echo in our hearts?

How would you 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.

Now it is time to enjoy the birthday cake brought to celebrate Rita's new year of life. 


During your Sacred Hour, would you like to make a drawing, write a poem or a few sentences about “Woman God”, or about something else in Mary Malone’s words that stirs your heart?


Gathering Space for February 11, 2020

A sudden brisk wind off the North Atlantic sends the clouds scurrying. The moon, two days past her fullness, illumines

the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona just long enough to light our way towards the opening flap of our Gathering Tent.

Inside, our companions have already taken their places on the large colourfully patterned cushions.

No one seems to notice us as we choose the last four, joining the circle. An explosion of laughter erupts.

Seeking its source we follow the gaze of our friends, who are looking towards someone in the circle. It is Jean Houston.

Jean Houston

Ahhh, so that is the source of the laughter. Jean must have just told one of her favourite jokes.

Jean looks up to greet us, responding to the question she sees on our faces. “The one about ET in Australia. You’ve heard it before.”

As the laughter subsides, Anne Kathleen walks to the centre of our circle to light the fire pot: “As you see, and have heard,

we are blessed to have Jean Houston with us this evening.

"As you know, Jean is the one who imagined the Communion, inviting me to begin it. On this day, February 11th, seven years ago,

the responses arrived to the invitation I sent on Brigid’s Feast Day in 2013. Some of you here tonight were among the first to respond :

Jean herself was the very first, followed by Suzanne, Ellyn, Yvette, Mary-Ellen, Colette, Kate, Colleen, Adriana and Mary Teske.

"Others have come in the years since, some staying with us, as many of you here tonight have done.

“This year, on Brigid’s Feast Day, while I was attending Jean’s Salon at EarthRise, at the Institute for Noetic Sciences in Petaluma California,

Jean offered me her wisdom, her guidance, regarding our Communion. Jean suggested I write to you about our conversation.

Instead, I asked Jean to come here to Iona to speak with  you in person.

“Jean, will you speak to us now?”

Jean looks around the circle, silently greeting each of us before she speaks: You are here tonight in response to a call.

You may not have fully understood what you were saying “yes” to when you responded, but you said it and the universe heard you.

I do not need to tell you how the planet has darkened in these seven years. We have lived through the good times. The great times are now upon us.

I do not say this to burden you, to bring sadness or despair. This is not a time for either. This is our time, and we have and shall be given

all we need to live it magnificently.

I used to ask those who came to my Mystery School, “Why are you alive at this time in history?

"Did you put up your hand to go the bathroom  when the 21st century was asking for volunteers?”

Yet never doubt that you will be able to meet these challenges. And know too that you will, at times, be surprised by joy as we live into this new mystery.

Predictions are dire: unless the crisis on our planet is addressed and abated, there may be only some 150 million humans still alive by the end of this century.

Now I see you all looking at me like basset hounds so I want to offer you a poem of great hope written by Christopher Fry

who lived into the early years of the twenty-first century:  

The human heart can go the lengths of God… 
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.

Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul men ever took.

Affairs are now soul size.
The enterprise is exploration into God.
Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake…
But will you wake, for pity’s sake?


"The enterprise is exploration into God." This, dear friends, members of the Communion of Creative Fire, is your entrance cue.

You have been engaged in this exploration, some among you for several years, and have listened and shared with one another what you have discovered.


What I ask of you now is that you make a deeper commitment to this work of Spiritual Artistry,

not just for yourselves, not just for the members of the Communion, not just for those whom you love, but for the entire planet.

Do not doubt that your strengthening spirit, your fiery intention, will have, does have, powerful effects on the entire ecosystem.

Remember that we do not simply live in the Universe. The Universe lives in us.


I wrote the first Reflection for the Communion in 2013. I called it, “Communing with the Creative Fire of the Universe”.

Anne Kathleen will post it on your Reflection page tonight with part two following next Tuesday.


Please take this into your Sacred Hour along with what you have learned over these years.

Begin this new cycle of seven years in hope, with confidence. Live your commitment with a creative fire that moves you

from walking to dancing, from speaking to singing, from smiling to laughing. Let the joy of what you have created among you

rise in you to illumine your days with its growing radiance. 


Feel the wonder and enchantment of what you are creating together in four countries on three continents! You are what is needed now.

You have a place among the myriad enterprises arising around the planet. You are part of what I have seen in my travels,

the Rising of Feminine Power, the crucial need for women’s gifts and perceptions if there is to be hope for the planet.


The Communion will last. I am certain of this. Rejoice that you have been called, that you have answered, and let your creative fire ignite the planet.

I shall expect to look out of my window on the hillside in Ashland to see your light lifting from the horizon.


I offer you a blessing written by the poet Rilke, speaking on behalf of  "the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars,"

 as Dante wrote: “L’amor che muove il sole e l’altre stele” 

You, sent out beyond your recall,

Go to the limits of your longing.

Embody Me.

Flare up like flame

And make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose Me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give Me your hand.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)


In the stillness that follows upon Jean’s words, the music of a flute rises. Slow, almost uncertain notes soon become sure,

as a melody entices us to dance. It seems the only way to respond to the gift of Jean’s words, her contagious courage and joy.



Gathering Space for February 4, 2020


Since Brigid’s Day, we feel the breath of life in the mouth of dead winter. The evening sky holds light longer, the morning dawn comes sooner.

Yet it is fully dark as we make our way just before eight o’clock towards the Gathering Tent in the garden of Iona’s Ruined Nunnery.

Inside, the light of tall candles, placed around the outer edges of the room, softens the gloom.

At the centre of the open space the firepot burns, within a circle of large soft cushions.


Taking time first to greet our companions, we make our way into the circle, each choosing a cushion whose pattern or colour or fabric draws us.

Once everyone is seated, silence rises, bathing each of us in its calm, in quiet.  At our own pace, each in our own rhythm, we begin to breathe deeply.


This evening our Reflections are about longing.  Here is a 17th c. Welsh poem about that human desire that haunts our lives:   


What is longing made from?

What cloth is put into it

That it does not wear out with use?

Gold wears out, and silver wears out

Yet longing does not wear out.

The moon rises and the sun rises,

The sea rises in vast waves,

But longing never rises from the heart.


We take time to let the words and images of the poem echo and re-echo with us. We ask ourselves:


What is the deepest longing of my soul?


We think of the Beguines, those medieval European women who designed a new path of spiritual life for their time.

Their twofold longing was for the Beloved of the Soul and for ways to be a sign of love to the people around them.

These same desires are echoed in our own Communion of Creative Fire.


A famous beguine, Mechtild of Magdeburg, wrote “The Flowing Light of the Godhead” an account of her mystical experiences.

Mechtild’s prayer-poems, written in the style of the courtly love poetry of the troubadours, are expressions of longing:


Lord, you are my lover,

My longing,

My flowing stream,

My sun,

And I am your reflection.


Mechtild’s writings are in the form of dialogues where the soul (herself) speaks with God and hears a response.

In this exchange we hear both the longing and its source:


O Lord,

Love me intensely,

Love me often and long!

For the more often you love me, the purer I become.

The more intensely you love me, the more beautiful I become.

The longer you love me, the holier I become.


And Love responds:

It is my nature that makes me love you often,

For I am love itself.

It is my longing that makes me love you intensely,

For I yearn to be loved from the heart.

It is my eternity that makes me love you long,

For I have no end.


This evening, Noreen reads to us an expression of her own deep longing:


Within our darkest night

You kindle a fire

That never dies away…

You kindle the fire…



Noreen speaks to us of THIS INNER FIRE: 

There is a deep, powerful, and attractive energy that pervades all of life, matter, space and time. 

There is also a fire that never dies and this fire comes always bearing gifts. 


My inner work is to savour and to discern where this fire is leading and what gifts are being offered.

This allurement shapes me by the daily beauty which calls and beckons me onward.

Frequently, I give abundant thanks for being in the company of other like-minded seekers who recognize

the need for support and enlightenment as well as for their own inner longing.


I have received much help in the form of intellectual insight, clarity, prayer, and encouragement

from the various reflections and readings.  I go with joy daily to join my companions on the holy grounds and chapel at Iona. 

Together we pray, as many have done before us, for our world, for our planet’s healing,

and for our own ever-unfolding sacred narrative or feel the grace, or dream which fashions us. 


I walk in gratitude for the gift of being a member of the Creative Fire Communion. 

My prayers, reflections and ministry have been enriched and enlightened. 

I feel deeply the desire to be the cup that holds the rain, or the bowl,

which Christine Lore Weber speaks about, in her beautiful poem. 

I desire to look at the universe with the eyes of a lover,

and to be alive with the Holy Presence at the heart of all that is. 


Someday I hope to echo Rumi’s wonder-filled exclamation:  “Is the one I love everywhere?” 

I long to put my heart at the service of love, which is the call of the universe and my personal call. 

Belonging to the Communion has supported and assisted my desires.


May the Holy Fire, creating anew, find me open, present, faithful and engaged in this sacred calling

as a member of the Creative Fire Communion.  Thank you to each of you who have assisted me

to feel my life with wholeness and for deepening my love and reverence for the universe’s story,

the planet’s well-being, and my growth in evolutionary consciousness. 

May we always see anew and with gratitude the landscape of our life.


And what of you, dear Companions in our Communion?

How would you speak of your yearning, of the longing in your heart and soul?

Would you write your response in a few words or sentences or a poem to share with us?


Gathering Space for January 28, 2020

Dolores leads the Crios Ritual


On this night, so near to Brigid’s Feast, we are seated in our circle within the Gathering Tent, anticipating the Ritual in which Dolores Whelan will lead us. Some of us have assisted Dolores is preparing an altar for Imbolc at the centre of our circle. Dolores now bends towards the Communion fire pot to light the candle she has brought from Brigid's Festival in Faughart.


                                          THE BRAIDED CRIOS SURROUND THE ALTAR                         

Dolores then invites Shirley to light the candles and lanterns that have been placed within 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 each of us 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,

 carries it to each woman in our circle, allowing time for each of us to quietly express our gratitude and say goodbye. 


What new seeds have been quickened within us by this winter’s darkness?

Let us say thank you to the Cailleach.


"Imbolc welcomes the maiden into our lives," Dolores says. "Will someone now carry the image of the 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?"


Corinne 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.


"This braided length of cloth is a crios, also known as Brigid’s belt. It was used in ancient times by midwives

to assist women in childbirth. In a few moments, I shall place the crios in the open space beside our ritual altar.

I will invite you, each 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?"


What is my intention for this new springtime?

How shall I stay focused, with my life centred on this intention?  


Each of us now takes our turn, stepping into the centre of the crios, the womb of news life,

speaking aloud our intention, hearing the heartfelt response from our companions:

We support you in this.


Dolores invites us to take a few moments to record in our journals the words that came to us within the crios.

This will help to remind us of our intention for this new springtime

so that our energies may stay focused on what we most desire in our lives.


 As the sound of scratching pens and pencil fades, music from Abba fills our Gathering Tent. We set aside our journals,

move into the open space, as each of us becomes a "Dancing Queen", transformed for this time into spring maidens …


Awakening Fire

Gathering Space for January 21, 2020



        The Garden of the Ruined Nunnery is dark, the January wind a chilling breath, a fingernail of moon remains to light our steps.

On a night like this, the moon's light almost hidden, the stars become jewels of white fire.

We cross the frozen earth, eager for the light, the welcoming warmth of our Gathering Tent.

Once we have joined our companions and exchanged greetings around our circle, Clara stands to light the fire pot:

"Let's gather in a standing circle," Clara invites us, "our feet rooted on the earth, steady as trees, our arms outstretched like branches to receive the moon's remaining light, the cold air, the hints of ocean moisture. Tonight seems a good time for the sacred movement we call Awakening Fire. It feels like a way we may each prepare for the seventh anniversary of our Communion and our own discernment about this year’s commitment, how we wish to be present within this sacred companionship of Creative Fire.

"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. Send it to the grieving people of Australia whose hearts are breaking, where fire has leapt its bounds, killing plant life, trees, billions of wild creatures as well as humans, destroying habitats, homes.


“Yet inner 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 waning moon's caress on your outstretched hands, on your palms. Now draw 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 moon. Stand at ease, your eyes closed, as you imagine the fire of the earth and the fire of the moon and stars 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, remembering our Companions in the Communion of Creative Fire, imagining them standing in a circle around us.

"Let us offer as a Blessing to one another this poem from Jan Richardson, prepared for Women’s Christmas 2020."

Singing to the Night

A Blessing for Women’s Christmas by Jan Richardson

Who would have thought

The sky could be so pierced

Or that it could  pour forth such

light through the breach

whose shape matched

so precisely

the hole in the heart

that had ached

for long ages,

weary from all its emptying?


And what had once been

a wound

opened now

like a door

or a dream,

radiant in its welcome,

singing to the night

that would prove itself

at last

not endless.


Call the piercing a star.

Call it the place the light begins.

Call it the point that tethers us

to this sheltering sky.


Call it the hope

that keeps holding us

to this broken,

blessed earth,

that keeps turning us

toward this world

luminous beneath

its shadows.


Call it the vigil fire

kept in that place

where every last thing

will be mended

and we will see one another

finally whole,

shining like the

noonday sun.



Gathering Space for January 14, 2020

 Revisiting our First Imaginal Gathering on Iona on February 17, 2013

Chapter House Stones at the Ruined Nunnery on Iona Island 

Imagine yourself here in this Gathering Space for the Communion of Creative Fire amidst soft grasses, ancient stones, early spring flowers, beneath the wide blue skies over Iona. Find a place to sit on one of the stones or on the grass, leaning against the ruined walls of what would have been the Chapter House or Meeting Place for the Augustinian Nuns who lived here in medieval times.

Close your eyes, listen carefully. Hear the sea washing against the shore behind you. Feel the sun touch your face with tentative fingers. Be still, silent, letting the peace in this place fill you. Breathe deeply, in and out for several moments, feeling yourself relax, letting anxieties, concerns, any shadow of darkness, go. Here among your companions in this Communion of Creative Fire, you are home.


When you feel ready, open your eyes and look around you at the companions gathered here. Imagine their features, expressions. What would you like to say to them on this our first gathering? What are your hopes and desires for this communion? How have you experienced a sacred presence in your life?


Here are the responses received over the following days from some of the earliest members of our Communion:


Kate speaks:

I sit in this gathering space
in silence and thanksgiving
aware of Wisdom's sacred Presence.

She wraps me gently in her cloak of knowing
assuring me again
that Love holds this pregnant universe
in compassionate, creative embrace,
that Hope awaits with outstretched arms
expectant hands cupped to receive
the promised new birth.

In silence she offers me her cloak of knowing
inviting me to remember
her constant Presence and her gifting
of Creative Love and Expectant Hope.



Rita speaks: At our birth, love and gratitude are some of the gifts given freely to us.

Our call through prayer is to develop these into life-giving gifts for ourselves and others. 

As I reflect on our “Communion of Creative Fire”, I am searching to know what is at the heart of what we are about together.

When I read what mystics have written about their experiences of life, of light, of love, I glimpse what I desire.

Gertrude of Helfta longed to “pour back like water” the gifts she had received, to live in continual gratitude “like a tree greening”,

covered with leaves and blossoms of good works.

Gertrude wanted to offer her heart to God as a dwelling place where “no joy would be lacking”.

I think of Paul writing to Timothy: “stir into flame the gifts God has bestowed onto you. The Spirit God has given us is no cowardly Spirit, but rather one that makes us strong, loving and wise.”

And Matthew Fox reminds us in his new book Hildegard of Bingen of her call to us to “rise up from our sleep”

and “live with passion and blood” in order that we might contribute to “making the cosmic wheel go around”,

for the Holy is found in the heart of the Universe.


Clara speaks: While on retreat one year, I was sitting in my room, facing the river. It was morning

and I noticed a cloud of steam rising from the river. Gently and ever so slowly it circled the tree that was close to the river

and touched her branches and leaves from bottom to top. Each part of the tree was reverenced, kissed, loved, embraced.

I was deeply touched and I felt “Love” deep within me communicating “I love you.”


Mary-Ellen speaks: I have such a strong sense of the women gathered. I see their eyes, radiant, wise, open to all.

I experience them as strong and filled with compassion. Strength and power as well as goodness are the energies

I am most aware of, and I feel very strengthened by them. I cannot believe how meaningful it has felt

to be amongst these women, as I longed to be amongst kindred spirits.

Of the three original women you invited into the circle, Brigid has been speaking most to me –

her focus on God which never left her. I am inspired by her and this focus, and am drawn to focus in a similar way.

These women have reminded me of some experiences which have stood out for me recently.

In each case a person – Teilhard de Chardin, Allana Obamsawin, and Douglas Roche – spoke to a similar necessity

to remain hopeful in the long journey of change and growth. Each of their expressions shook me at a deep level

and I felt I was being called to such patience and hope. So important in our world just now, and so important for me.

The women in the Communion also seem to have this strong capacity for hope and waiting in trust. 


Mary speaks: The image of our paved roads comes to mind. We humans pave over Mother Earth,

but she tries her best to break through, with a crack here, a pot hole there, a green shoot somewhere else.

As I sit and look at the other twenty-five women, they are like that energy, that green shoot

poking through the hard pavement of the old ways, the old guard, to bring new life.


Yvette speaks: A dream image awakened me on the morning after sitting in our sacred, creative space. I awaken to a coiled snake staring at me from the middle of the circle where we all were gathered. I cannot remember ever having such a snake in a dream before. I remember no other dream segment but this beautiful, seemingly smiling coiled creature just smiling at me. I awoke smiling so the image was obviously evoking a positive response. I dialogued a bit with this snake and we shared that this is a time of transformation for me, a new time in my life, a shedding of “official community leadership skin” for new life. I see the primal quality of the snake just as I see the primal quality of the space to which you have invited us. The snake, whom I have not named yet, may guide us/me to deep places, to contemplative experiences I/we do not yet know but for which I/we yearn…  


And on this day, in the winter of 2020, as you join the circle on Iona’s grass,

how do you experience this gathering of the Communion?

What words rise in your heart to share with them?

Please send your response to me: for inclusion in our next Gathering Space.


      Gathering Space for Epiphany, 2020

This January night on Iona in the North Atlantic is cloudy at 10 degrees Celsius and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The moon will be full in three days: wolf moon, snow moon, ice moon, after-yule moon as she has been named, her fullness this year partially eclipsed. She parts 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, Yvette 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

—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”?

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.

The Wise Ones

Artwork by Jan Richardson

Carol Ohmart-Behan steps forward to read the third poem:



 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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