Gathering Space for New Year’s Eve 2019
The waxing moon, not yet at her first quarter, offers us what light she has as we walk across the garden of the ruined nunnery towards our Gathering Tent. The air is mild on Iona in this last night of December: 8 degrees Celsius, 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Stars sprinkle the sky scarcely troubled by the few remnants of cloud. Midwinter it may be, but it is far from bleak.
Our usually hurried steps towards the shelter of our tent are slower tonight. We are walking carefully to protect the packages and bundles, the boxes and bottles, the cake tins and cookie trays for tonight’s gathering. It is the last night of the decade, New Year’s Eve.
Inside, we walk first towards the long cloth-covered table at the back of the tent.
We add our contributions to those already arranged on plates and trays for the feast.
Our companions are already seated in the circle around the fire pot. Instead of the usual chatter of many conversations, there is a stillness.
Each of our friends is holding a small booklet, gazing at the artwork, reading lines that appear to be poetry.
Curious, we move towards the remaining cushions where we find a booklet waiting for each of us. On its cover, a cartoon shepherd is rushing from the stable shouting appalling news at the newly-arrived Wise Men …
Kate stands to light the fire pot. Before returning to her place in our circle, she speaks to us:
“These days that follow Christmas hold a challenge for me each year. Perhaps you also feel that mix of exhaustion, a dimming of the lights, the post-Christmas dullness when what we have so long awaited is suddenly over.
“We are back to everyday life with a thud…
“But is that really how it is? This year, I wanted a deeper understanding, so I offered to lead our post-Christmas gathering. I collected reflections from great writers and poets who ponder this recurring let-down. I spent time with Mary in her own post-Christmas reality.
"I chose a cartoon to invite us to begin with a smile..."
Kate sits down on the silk cushion, and continues: ”I invite each of you to burrow deep into your own heart space, seeking that feeling of expectancy that we nourished together through the weeks of Advent.
"For what or for whom were you longing? When you thought of your own call to give birth to newness, what shape did it take for you?
"And now that Christmas has come, what does that desired newness look like? Perhaps you expected one thing, and like the cartoon shepherd, were shocked to receive something else…
"Perhaps something is coming to birth in you, is already born, and you have not yet recognized what or who it is….
"Take the time you need to ponder these questions. I invite you then to glance through the writings in the booklet. Choose something that resonates with your own heart. When you find it, read it aloud to all of us. If you wish, say something about how that piece speaks to you.”
After several minutes of silence as we each reflect, leafing through the writings, Mary Ellen speaks:
My deepest longing is for peace on our planet. This was the heart of my Advent prayer.
Yesterday, I learned of the bombings in Iraq, and I felt devastated…
What speaks to me most are the words of the American theologian Howard Thurman:
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.
This is comforting in its clear call to us to do the work of Christmas, rather than expect Christmas
to magically solve the sufferings on the planet.
Ellyn speaks: I have long appreciated the dark reality of WH Auden’s “Christmas Oratorio”. It begins on the flat note,
“Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes—“
But towards the end, when he writes of Simeon, who recognized the Child in the temple, Auden offers us the wellspring of our hope:
And because of His visitation, we may no longer desire God as if He were lacking:
our redemption is no longer a question of pursuit but of surrender to Him who is always and everywhere present.
Therefore at every moment we pray that, following Him, we may depart from our anxiety into His peace.
Ellyn pauses, adds, I like best that Auden says we may at every moment depart from our anxiety into God’s peace,
for it must be so, over and over, and always.
Jean speaks: The poet Rilke speaks words that never fail to lift my heart, to shed light on reality. I am moved by his Christmas words:
Is there anything that can take from you
the hope of being someday in the God
you are helping to create
in each attentive act of love?
Please celebrate this Christmas with the earnest faith
that He may need this very anguish of yours
in order to begin. These very days that are such a trial for you
may well be the time when everything in you
is working at Him,
as once you so earnestly did as a child.
Be patient and without resentment,
and know that the least we can do is to make His Becoming
no more difficult than Earth makes it for spring when it wants to arrive.
Be comforted and glad.
Peace-filled silence follows these readings.
After a time, Kate speaks: “ Over these past weeks of Advent, John O’donohue’s poetry revealed to us the heart of Mary.
"Yet, one brief line in the Christmas Gospels holds the power of a great poem:
As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2, 19)
"Remember also that Mary had more to do than to sit in rapture as she is so often shown in art.
"She had a helpless infant to bathe and wrap in clean cloth, again and again, to nourish with her own breast milk... and so with us.
"The newness that has been birthed within each of us at Christmas requires our loving nurturing care if it is to thrive.
"These post-Christmas days may be for us as they were for Mary a time to ponder as well as care for the miracle of newness that we gaze upon.
"Let us treasure all the things that formed part of our Christmas experience personally, with family and friends, and across our beautiful,
suffering planet. Let us ponder all of this in our hearts where we may, in Auden’s words, depart from our anxiety into God's peace.
“And now, let the celebrations begin.”
Gathering Space for Solstice 2019
The moon in her last quarter offers us what light she has as we make our way through the darkness of early night across
the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. We move quickly towards the opening of our Gathering Tent,
eager for the warmth and companionship that waits within.
Longest Night is nearly here. We have decided to hold our Solstice Ritual early as many of us will be travelling
away from this North Atlantic Island to celebrate the Christmas festivities.
The interior of the tent is as dark as the night sky. It is difficult to make our way to the circle of large cushions with no light to guide us.
There are a few stumbles, a few small collisions, more than a few stifled cries, but slowly our eyes adjust.
We each manage to sit down with the minimum of grace.
Yvette has offered to lead the ritual. Her voice rises in the darkness:
This ritual is taken from “Heartbeat of the Seasons” by Kathleen Glennon
Let us sit in darkness for a few moments as we attune ourselves to a world without fire, without light.
Colette comes forward to light the fire pot.
The silence gathers as we experience how wondrous
fire must have seemed to our ancient ancestors.
Yvette reads: In the beginning there was fire
And fire was with the divine and the fire was divine.
Fire flared forth its magnificent light
Through fire all things came to be.
The universe began with a spark of fire, an explosion of light.
In one splendid moment light streamed everywhere.
The spark of fire contained the potential for all life.
Yvette invites: Allow the flame of the fire pot to speak to you; allow it to connect with your inner light.
Let us remember places where war and conflict make use of fire to cause suffering to people:
May the fire of love replace the fire of vengeance.
May the passion of compassion replace the fire of hate.
May the warmth of love bring healing into every situation.
May the flame of divinity within us compel humans to work for justice for all. Amen.
We stand to sing the chant with its familiar gestures from Kathleen Glennon’s Ritual:
Fire of the sun
(reach up to draw in the light of 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)
(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
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)
(cross your arms at your wrists and make dancing movements with your fingers)
After a time of silence, Yvette continues: In this prayer by Kathleen Glennon, the Holy One speaks to us:
I am the light of your eye.
I am the glimmer of dusk.
I am the heat in your oven.
I am the warmth of your friendship.
I am the passion of your heart.
I am the glow of twilight.
I am the glory of the sunset.
I am the lingering light of the dying ember.
I am the reflection in your windowpane.
I am the kindle of brushwood.
I am the raging force of the forest fire.
I am the energy of the sun.
I am the radiance of your aura.
I am the transforming agent in your food.
I am the Light that shines through all that is.
I am who I am in light.
Yvette invites anyone who has brought reflections or poetry to share them with us:
Rosemary speaks: Someone asked a Celtic teacher recently how they can spiritually tie together their celebrations of solstice dawn and Christmas day. Her answer was, “The best way I know is this: Folklore, oral tradition says that the solstice (whether summer or winter solstice) is the day of the turning of the sun, from either its depths or its height. In the case of both solstices, four days later is said to be the first day when the new position on the horizon of the dawning sun is visible to the naked eye. I think that fits in so well with the ancient Celtic tradition… the light appears secretly… in our hearts first (Solstice)…then just a little later, it is born from out of the womb of our heart into the world for the whole of humankind to see, feel and touch forever."
Carol speaks: This reading is from Starhawk’s blog written a few years ago:
Winter Solstice—the longest night of the year. Today... the sun is reborn. Each year the Great Mother labours through the long night to give birth again to the new year, to hope and light.
This year the darkness has intensified. But the message of Solstice is this: hope does not come once into the world and fulfill itself. Hope and light must constantly be reborn, over and over again. They wax and wane, and must be renewed.
That renewal, that birthing, requires labour. Labour means work, commitment, perseverance through that time when it seems you just can’t push any more. The cervix dilates slowly, pang by pang. The child begins to emerge, is drawn back, pushed forward another increment.
We are the labouring Mother, we are the spark of light. New possibilities kick and squirm within us. No, it’s not easy to bring them forth, but we are strong, and we are made for this work. Bear down…breathe…push. This morning the sun rises; each day a new world is born.
Noreen speaks: I would like to read this “Blessing for Longest Night” from the poet Jan Richardson:
All throughout these months
as the shadows
this blessing has been
It has practiced
walking in the dark,
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.
So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
even if you
have not light enough to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.
You will know
the moment of its
by your release
of the breath
you have held
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
in the company
of a friend.
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.
This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you will be walking
toward the dawn.
© Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com
Jean Houston speaks: 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 interconnectedness with so many sources of ancient wisdom.
I invite you to touch into your own yearning. What is the new life you long for in yourself? What is ready to be seeded in the darkness of this longest night so that we each leave here pregnant with a new life?
Solstice evokes YEARNING for the light, for new birth within ourselves, with all whom we love, with life on the planet and the planet herself, with “the love that moves the sun and the other stars” L’amor che muove il sole e l’altre stele as Dante writes.
You may wish to write these longings, place them in a bowl on your home altar until next winter solstice.
Mary Ellen speaks: “Born of a Star” by Carolyn McDade is a song for Solstice:
Return, return to the darkness return,
this longest night of wonder
Return, return to the dream, return,
This holy night to ponder
Deep in the night, listen, listen
Turn to the light, waken, waken
Deep in the night, turn to the light
Waken to sun’s ancient summons
We who are born of star, who then are We?
We who are loved by star, who then love We?
Deep in the night, listen, listen
Turn to the light, waken, waken
Deep in the night, turn to the light
Waken to sun’s ancient summons
We who are born of star, who then are We?
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.
Gathering Space for December 10, 2019
The waxing moon, two days from her fullness, glows silver-gold.
She leans down to greet our arrival in the garden of the ruins of the medieval nunnery on the Island of Iona.
We make our careful way across the frozen grass towards our Gathering Tent.
Inside, the orange flame of the fire pot offers the only illumination.
Yet it is enough to guide us towards the circle of silk cushions where our companions await us.
"Shall I light the candles along the inner walls of the tent?" someone asks.
For answer, there is a chorus of voices, calling No… Oh not yet… the darkness is so lovely.
It seems we have grown in our appreciation of the night since our time with Dolores Whelan.
So for a time we sit in the stillness, drawing in the peace of no sound, allowing our breath to travel downwards, to quiet our hearts.....
The silence deepens. When at last the soft alto notes of a song arise, we are startled for a moment....
just one moment, before we recognize it is Carolyn McDade's song "Within All Things". We add our voices:
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.
Ellyn speaks into the stillness that follows the song:
“We have been invited to bring our reflections on Advent to read aloud this evening.
I see that several among us are holding journals or papers in readiness. Who would like to begin?"
Mary Ellen speaks: Advent, for me, is the time to go deep within and enter into wonder in a more intentional and conscious way, in a way of listening, and noticing what is stirring, and desiring to be born, to come into being more fully.
I loved the words of Bruce Sanguin: "To go deep into the Season of Advent is to trust that there are galaxies of love stirring within the womb of your being, supernovas of compassion ready to explode and seed this wondrous world with Christ-shaped possibilities. Are we willing with Mary to consent to the birth of the divine coming through us? Are we willing to actually be a reconfigured presence of the originating Fireball, prepared to be centre of creative emergence - to give birth to the sacred future that is the dream of God?"
While we can ponder this individually, the power of pondering it collectively is incredible. And we know that our Communion represents many others of similar heart and desire, of Humanity being called forth to its greater potential.
Bernadette speaks: I teach Grade 1 and recently I was reminded of the Advent calendar promoted by the Waldorf schools. I think they are promoting reflection on the beauty of this earth and universe.
Below is a poem that the schools use at Advent time:
Waldorf/Steiner Verses for Advent:
The first light of Advent is the light of stones.
Stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.
The second light of Advent is the light of plants.
Roots, stem, leaf, flower, and fruit by whom we live and grow.
The third light of Advent is the light of beasts.
Animals of farm, field, forest, air, and seas.
All await the birth in greatest and in least.
The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind.
The light of love, the light of thought, to give and to understand.
Noreen speaks: I have always loved the Advent Season but this evening I am even more in love, having a clearer understanding of what Advent is all about. A few verses from my Reflection stand out: “Advent is an affirmation of the dark mysteries of life. In these four weeks, we enter into a deepening darkness, a fecund womb where new life stirs.”
“Advent is a season of contemplation and meditation in which the soul, if allowed, falls willingly back into that primordial darkness out of which new worlds are birthed...”
“We are called to trust this descent into darkness, making ourselves available as the ones through whom a holy birth can happen.”
My desire is to walk into this world with the gospel in my heart… I want the words of our Advent practice to be part of my prayer, “to listen deeply to the guidance of our hearts and to have the courage to follow where we are being drawn by Wisdom/ Sophia.” I ask Mary, Blessed Mother, to pray for me that these desires be written clearly on the walls of my heart, where I may see them daily and thus make them part of my Advent journey.
Mary Cordiero speaks: I first want to thank all of you so very much for your welcome, love, acknowledgement, validation, encouragement and especially for sharing your beautiful and profound reflections and thoughts. You have no idea how much this helps me in my journey. I truly love you all.
I have always felt a strong, feminine presence that felt like it may be Mother Mary, at times of deep grief and turmoil. It was in those moments when I felt I couldn't take anymore and could feel myself going over the edge I could visualize her holding on to me, by my hair, as my body dangled over a cliff, and she.would.not.let.go.
I felt such love and concern from Her presence, whomever she is, and that kept me going over and over again.
I have always honoured and appreciated Mary, especially for her humanity and suffering. I feel that your invitation to join this group of pilgrims will help me to reunite with Her in a more intimate way.
Heather speaks: In the very "feminine womb time of darkness" lies the promise of an awakening of light that no longer should cast doubt but an excitement of the shifting moments towards transformation and redemption in a sacred release of love and compassion with roots that spread unconditionally and without barriers.
As we continue on our advent pilgrimage walking the Bethlehem road, the vision of a journey long ago becomes our story. The struggles, the joys, the pain and sorrows mirror the scenes of that original promise. We carry within us that divine presence bringing to birth the expression of a love that touches so many people’s lives.
In this advent of my life's journey, I am drawn to Mary's story and her visit with Elizabeth. From the moment the archangel Gabriel made his appearance to Mary, that sacred moment in time where the blessing was in the grace of her spoken word "yes".
Despite the fears, the unknown, in a future of mixed concerns, I recognized in these unknown spaces, the blessings of hope, the challenges of faith, and a journey of unconditional acceptance and trust. There was no hesitation but a moving forward propelled by a deep sense of knowing "the unknown" was being met by a greater purpose for her life and the life of the one she carried.
Karen speaks: Advent is still the time of the candles and the evergreen wreath for me, but it has been so many years since I experienced those symbols in a formal church-setting that they have now become a part of my own narrative.
I see the four weeks of Advent as the birthing-of-the-universe story.
The birth of the universe is also the birth of the human being. The old language, made all the more dualistic by translation into Greek, called this human being the Son of Man. We are still on the road to discovering who we are -- reclaiming/renaming/ rejoying the Sophia of us all.
So I see this season as an opportunity to affirm the blessedness of Life held in the womb of all-potential, and the wonder of the human being given the capacities to be bridge between Divine Mind and Mother Earth. I see this potential reclaimed in the story of the Christ, and of the Magdalene and of the Mother Mary. Its particulars speak much to me of these things. It is always my hope that I grow to understand them more fully.
Shirley speaks: The evening of my first (Advent) reflection and prayer hour there was a presence and wonder of God's love....I am still trying to comprehend the beautiful feeling of physical comfort, belonging and sacredness.
The next morning I was so energized with joy and peace!! It all was a grace-filed experience.
Perhaps what I am trying to articulate is in Bob Holmes' poem.
"So as we walk
into the mystery of unknowing,
we abide in the wonder of God's love,
immersed in presence,
dwelling in glory,
lost in bottomless grace,
and compassion of God.
Also in the words of Jessica Power's poem:
"Someone is hidden in this dark with me."
When silence once again rises among us, Ellyn invites us to thank one another for this sacred sharing
by bowing our heads towards each woman in the circle as we say, “Namaste” which means
“The Holy One in me greets the Holy One in you.”
Gathering Space for December 3, 2019
The skies above Iona are sprinkling wet blessings over us as we make our way across the grounds of the ruined nunnery.
Even if the night were clear, the moon, not yet at her first quarter, would have little light to offer.
“Why does it never snow here? Rain in December seems so… wet,” Suzanne mutters.
“There’s a legal limit to the snow here…” Kate softly sings.
“I don’t think we’re in Camelot,” Shirley says. “Maybe it should be called “Rainalot.”
"It's a good night for listening to a story," Corinne says as we hurry through the misty darkness towards the Gathering Tent.
The dark mood lightens as we come inside.
There are candelabras set up on low tables around the inside canvas wall.
One candle of each set of four burns bright, a reminder that we are now in the first week of Advent.
We are among the last to arrive. We each quickly choose a large cushion in the circle formed around the fire pot.
Our companions are already looking towards Elspeth, our Island Storyteller, eager for her to begin.
Tonight, Raven is perched on her shoulder, the storyteller among the birds.
Elspeth looks around the circle, silently greeting each of us before she speaks:
"Tonight I have brought you a story from the Arthurian Cycle: Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady.
As I expect you know, Arthur, Guinevere and the Knights of the Round Table were Celts, so the stories are dear to my own heart."
As the story begins, Arthur and his court are gathered at the castle of Carlisle for the Christmas holidays. Each evening there would be feasting and dancing, and during the day, Arthur and his knights rode out into the Tanglewood to hunt.
One morning, Arthur was chasing a stag and became separated from his companions. At the edge of a loathsome swamp he suddenly encountered the fierce Black Knight who had long sought to destroy Arthur.
Now, Arthur had ridden out that morning without Excalibur so it would have been an easy victory for the Black Knight.
But the knight wanted no easy victory. He offered Arthur an alternative:
"Meet me here in three days' time. If you can tell me then what women most desire, I shall spare your life.
"If you do not know the answer, I shall slay you."
As he rode homewards, Arthur asked each woman he met what she most desired.
But the goose girl, the Abbess on a grey mare, and the wife of a wealthy merchant each gave him a different answer.
He returned to the Castle and to Guinevere his Queen. Careful to conceal the real danger he was in,
Arthur told the ladies of the court that he had accepted a wager from an unknown knight.
He must find out within three days what women most desire.
Pretty as peacocks in their silks and velvets, the ladies of the court clustered round Arthur, eager to give the answer.
Some desired beauty, others wealth, or power or spiritual salvation. One older woman wished for a young husband.
None could agree.
And so the third morning came, and with heavy heart Arthur set out to meet the Black Knight.
Certain death awaited him for he had not found the answer…
As he cantered along a grassy ride on the outskirts of the forest, Arthur heard a woman's voice call his name.
Ahead of him, he saw a flash of red by the side of the road.
He rode nearer and dismounted. There in front of him, seated on a tree stump, was a woman in a scarlet dress.
She raised her bowed head and looked at him. Arthur gasped.
She was the ugliest living thing he had ever seen: a freak, a monster, a truly loathly lady.
Nose like a pig snout, misshapen mouth with two yellowing rows of horse's teeth, cheeks covered in sores,
one eye only and it was rheumy and red-rimmed, a naked scalp with a few lank strands of hair…
Her whole body was swollen and bent out of shape.
Her fingers, on which were several fine rings, were as gnarled and twisted as the roots of an old oak.
"My lord King," said the hag in a surprisingly sweet voice, "why do you look so dismayed?"
Arthur told her of his deep distress, of his quest, how he was honour-bound to accept the Black Knight's challenge,
and how, without the answer, he was sure to die. The Lady laughed.
"I can answer your question," she said. "There's no mystery to that!
"But if I do, you must promise to grant me one wish – whatever that wish may be."
"Madam, you have my word. Anything you ask shall be yours."
The Lady whispered a few words in his ear. And Arthur knew then with absolute certainty that he had nothing more to fear.
Joyfully he turned to go, but the Lady caught his sleeve.
"Now for your side of the bargain," she said, still holding him by the sleeve.
"My request is this: you must give me one of your knights to be my husband."
Arthur turned pale. One of his brave knights of the Round Table to take this hell-hag for a wife!
"Madam that I cannot do. You are asking the impossible!"
"A king never breaks his word," said the Lady. And still her hand was on his arm.
"Your pardon Madam," said Arthur. "I shall keep my promise. I will return here tomorrow
bringing with me your future husband." Arthur bowed and turned quickly away,
full of horror at the thought of what he must do, and ashamed, too, of his lack of courtesy towards the Loathly Lady.
He set out to complete his quest.
He rode through the forest to the pond where the Black Knight waited, sitting on his great black charger,
deep in the shadows of the trees. He watched Arthur approach, lifting his lance in a mock salute.
"Well, Arthur Pendragon, High King of Britain, have you come to surrender your kingdom?'"
"I have the answer to your question," Arthur quietly replied.
For a moment there was silence: no bird song, no rustle of movement on the forest floor….
"What all women most desire is to have their own way."
The Black Knight let out a great bellow of rage that rang throughout the Inglewood.
"You have tricked me of my prize!!! May you roast in Hell!" And with that he plunged off into the trees.
That night as he sat by the fire in the great hall of the castle, Arthur gazed miserably into the flames,
his heart questioning his choice to save his own life at the cost of the happiness of one of knights…
Guinevere felt his anguish and whispered, "What troubles you so deeply?"
So he told her the whole tale, and the terrible dilemma he now faced, for his very honour was at stake.
Nearby, playing chess, was young Sir Gawain, whose great courage was matched only by his great love for Arthur.
He overheard the whispered conversation between Arthur and Guinevere.
At once he leapt up, scattering the ivory chessmen. "Sire, I beg you. Allow me to be the one to save the honour of my King!"
And so it was agreed. Early the next morning, Arthur and Gawain set out for the forest, bringing a richly decorated litter.
They found the Loathly Lady, and Gawain at once jumped down from his horse.
He greeted the lady with immense courtesy, then knelt before her,
"Madam," he said, "Will you honour me with your hand in marriage?"
When she looked into the young knight's honest face, the Lady knew he had spoken sincerely,
so she gave him her hand and let him lead her to the litter which was waiting to carry her to the castle.
Preparations had begun at dawn for the wedding and the feast that would follow.
Guinevere welcomed the bride-to-be to the castle, and brought her to her own room
where she dressed her in a fine velvet robe and gave her beautiful jewels to wear for the wedding ceremony in the Chapel.
The feast that followed was rich in wondrous foods, and fabulous wines.
The music and dancing followed, but Gawain's heart was heavy as were his feet which had lost their delight in dancing.
Yet he would prefer to dance all night rather than face the moment when he and his new bride would be alone in the bridal chamber…
But that moment came. Gawain opened the door to allow his bride to enter.
Then he turned away to secure the door, and unable to turn to face her, he stood with his head bowed facing the closed door.
"Will you not come to our bed, my husband?" she asked him.
At that, he turned and… what miracle was this? Before him stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen!
She had long golden hair hanging to her waist; her figure was a slender as a fairy's, her pale skin as perfect as a piece of polished ivory.
Slowly placing her arms about his neck, she kissed him.
"I am you wife, Sir Gawain. By marrying me, you have half-released me from a spell which doomed me
to that disgusting shape in which King Arthur found me. But I need to ask you a question.
"Do you wish the spell's release to be only for the time when we are alone at night,
or would you prefer that I am in this true guise only during the day?"
Gawain looked at her at a loss to know what to choose.
For his own sake he would wish to have her beauty for himself when they were alone,
and yet for her sake would it not be more difficult to appear before others as the Loathly Lady?
Then he wondered which choice she herself would desire?
"My lady," he said finally, "how may I choose for you? You are mistress of your life, and must choose whichever you prefer."
At this the Lady laughed and clapped her hands with joy.
"That," she cried, flinging her arms about his neck, “is the right answer to my question.
"You have given me what every woman wants—her own way. And now the spell is broken.
"You will never see that hideous old hag again. I am my true self – and will be yours forever."
The next morning Arthur waited anxiously for the reluctant bridegroom to emerge from the chamber.
He waited… and waited… and waited… and wondered.
But when the newlyweds finally appeared in the hall, glowing with love and happiness, there was no more wondering.
Now Arthur knew that all was well – his kingdom safe, the Lady free of her enchantment,
and ahead of them a night of celebration such as the castle of Carlisle had never known before.
There is silence as we each wonder about this story, replaying in our imaginations the images,
listening to the echoes of the words and music, marvelling over the enchantment and its wondrous release into joy.
Elspeth allows the silence to gather longer and then she speaks:“This story is very old.
"So of course it is possible that since it was first told by some ancient fireside, women have changed…
"Perhaps women today want something very different… what do you think?”
There is no response for several moments. At last Clara takes courage to be the first to answer:
“Her own way… if that means the way that shown to her by her inner guidance,
the way that her heart knows and reveals to her, I would say women today do want this.”
This clarity releases words from many of us at once.
There is a mighty tumbling of responses, a waterfall of words, a chorus of concordance.
Elspeth laughs as she calls out, “please, one at a time! I want to hear every response.”
And so over the next several minutes each woman present expresses
in her own words, in her own way, the truth she recognizes:
the desire in her heart to be free to follow her inner truth, to become fully the one she is meant to be.
It is Colette who draws it together for all of us: “I think we have found our Advent practice: to listen deeply
to the guidance of our hearts and to have the courage to follow where we are being drawn by Wisdom /Sophia.”
Gathering Space for November 26, 2019
Though the air is above freezing, the wind coming from the North Atlantic is a ghostly breath of damp chill. In the absence of any light from the moon the early darkness enwraps us. Several of us rely on the flashlight app on our iphones to guide our steps as we hurry towards the open flap of our Gathering Tent.
Something is luring us onwards, something more than the desire for shelter from the chill of the night air.
Elspeth has promised to come back this week with another story.
As we enter the tent, and make our way towards the circle of large cushions, we see that most of our friends in the Communion are already gathered, as eager as we are to hear another story.
And so with the briefest pause to exchange greetings, the fire pot is lighted,
the listeners settle, breathe deeply, and turn towards our Storyteller, ready to listen.
Elspeth does not speak at once. She looks down, as though remembering a tale heard long ago, perhaps in a place far away.
Even when she lifts her eyes to gaze at each of us in turn, she does not speak.
Her gaze is intense, piercing the heart, silently asking: "Are you ready for this story?"
Then a soft smile lights her features. "I have brought you a story tonight from a place far away. Yet you would know the elements that make up this tale, for it holds a forest, a lake and a small village. There are three women who are central to the tale, and you know them as well from other tales, where they sometimes form the triple goddess. But that is moving too far ahead!”
The story opens when a young girl receives from her grandmother a heritage necklace. It is a gift of incomparable beauty and great worth. Her grandmother made the necklace for her out of silver stars and spirals, carvings from seashells, small twists of cloth and tiny brass bells. Each of the pieces that hang on the silver chain represents a gift the grandmother has gained in her life, all the gifts that she desires her granddaughter to grow into as she becomes a woman: joy and radiance, strength and the power to love.
Now in the village there are other young girls, but they are not kind to the one who now wears the beautiful heritage necklace. Are they jealous? Perhaps not so much of the necklace itself though it outshines all of their own, but they envy the young girl who is different, who seeks solitude, yet knows how to show kindness to those who are suffering…
The jealous girls have a plan. One day they seek out the girl they envy. Not one of them is wearing her own necklace that day. They tell the girl that a fierce monster lives under the lake and he is threatening to destroy their village unless they throw their necklaces into the lake to appease him. The innocent girl is moved by the tale and decides to follow their example. She removes her precious heritage necklace, twirls it around over her head three times, hurls it into the lake.
Now the others laugh at her, calling her a naïve fool to have believed them.
They dig up their own necklaces which they had simply hidden in the sand.
The young girl is devastated. She has thrown away a priceless treasure, made by her grandmother's own hands, carrying the symbols of all she herself might one day become. She has lost her heritage.
Bereft, blaming herself, the girl begins walking. The early December day darkens and she finds herself in a deep forest. She is hopelessly lost and afraid when she sees firelight ahead. She walks towards it. As she comes near, she sees a sight that makes her body tremble with fear: an old, old woman is tending the fire. On the woman's body are countless scars, and gaping wounds, some still bleeding.
But it is too late to run, for the woman calls to her: “How did you find your way here?”
The girl tells her the truth: “By sorrow.”
The old woman invites her to sit by the fire and tell all that has befallen her.
When she has ended her story, the old one says, "I can help you. But first, will you help me?"
"Of course," the girl says, thinking perhaps she will be asked to collect firewood or go to seek water.
“Will you kiss my scars and my wounds, one at a time?”
It was a terrifying request and yet the young girl had agreed.
Each time her soft lips touched a scar or an open wound, the old woman cried out in agony, and then sighed with relief.
At last each scar, each wound, was healed.
The old one smiled at the girl. Then she asked: “Can you swim?”
“No, I cannot swim.”
"Good,” said the ancient one. She opened her arms as if to offer an embrace, but instead she took hold of the young one in a fierce grip.
With wild speed she carried the young girl to the edge of the lake, twirled her around above her head three times
and hurled her into the deepest part of the lake.
The girl sank swiftly down, down, down to the depths of the lake and she found that she was breathing freely…
when at last her feel touched the sandy bottom, she was standing near a shimmering grotto made of sea shells.
Inside she saw a woman seated, as ancient as the woman in the forest, yet beautiful and whole,
with no wound or scar upon her naked body. The woman wore only a shining necklace of stones that glowed with an inner light.
"Because you threw away your necklace in a mistaken belief that you would help others, I have kept it here, safe for you.
"I have kissed it with great tenderness as you have kissed the wounds of my sister in the forest.
"Now this necklace will be yours forever. Bend your head and I shall place it upon you.”
As soon as the necklace rested against her heart, the young girl's body began to lift and rise until she broke through the surface of the lake,
rising like a goddess, for each of the one hundred beads caught the fire of the morning solstice sun and burned with a golden radiance.
The other girls saw her return from the lakeshore, naked but for the necklace of fire.
They demanded to hear what had happened and how she had found her necklace.
Scarcely had she finished her tale when they had run off to the forest to seek the old woman who waited by the fire.
But each in turn refused to kiss the old one's wounds and scars.
“Can you swim?” she asked each in turn. They could not, but demanded that she hurl them one by one into the lake
so they too might find a glimmering necklace.
However, they were not able to breathe underwater, and became instead
a pleasant snack for the fierce monster who actually did live under the lake.
Once more Elspeth invites us to sit in silence, to receive the gifts of the story.
After a time, our Storyteller asks if we have understood who the three women are in the story. When no one responds, Elspeth says:
"This is another form of the triple goddess, the one who dwells within each of us.
"The woman beneath the sea is whole, has never been and never can be wounded, for she is our soul.
"The woman in the forest is the part of the self that has lived and suffered wounding in the upper world;
yet she can be healed by love when we have the wisdom she had to ask for love;
the young girl is the young self who has so much to learn.
"Above all she must learn to guard her heritage, her deep gifts, her true self.
"She has to learn discernment in love, so that she recognizes that true love never asks us to throw away our true self, our heritage.
"You may wish to think about this story in the days ahead.”
What is your heritage?
Have you ever been asked to hurl it away?
What are you wounds?
Have you asked for what you need to heal them?
Gathering Space November 19, 2019
In the early darkness, the moon offers the light of her last quarter through clouds that hover around her like acolytes. We feel the chill of late autumn in the winds though winter is still a month away. There is no reason to dawdle, nothing to keep us from entering our Gathering Tent.
The first of our group to reach the door flap holds it aloft to allow us to enter. Inside, we feel the energy before we see its source.
Elspeth has returned! Perhaps she has another story of a Cailleach to tell us tonight.
When the last woman of our Communion has come through the door flap and secured it,
when we are all comfortably settled on the large cushions, it is Elspeth who rises to light the fire pot.
I have brought you another tale of a Cailleach, one who is known as “The Old Woman of the World”.
Far to the north and west of Iona, close to the edge of the world, there is an island. Perhaps you have seen it in a dream.
There is a narrow sand–covered beach where for short while in summer people enjoy a swim, though not a long swim, because the sea is cold even on the warmest days. In winter, the sea is wild and treacherously cold. Near the northernmost tip of the island there are high cliffs.
And at the top of the tallest there is an opening to a cave. This is where the Woman of the World dwells. Do not even think of going there to find her. Many have done so and died in the attempt, tumbling down into the sea from icy cliffs, or dashed against the rocks by powerful winds, or simply becoming lost, never to be heard from again.
The Woman of the World herself has no memory of how she came to the cave. She believes she has always been there, just as the fire she tends has always been there, and her weaving has always been there waiting for her hands to work at it.
Around, below and above the fire sits an ancient iron tripod. Inside it hangs a great black cauldron where the woman cooks a nourishing soup. This soup contains all the seeds and all the herbs and the essence of all that grows and lives on the planet.
Each day, the woman works on her enormous tapestry, for she intends to create the most magnificent weaving ever seen on the planet. She works with many threads, some thick and woolly, some fine and silky, some smooth, some nubby, in colours that grace the rainbow, and in shades no other eyes but hers have ever seen or imagined.
Today her tapestry is almost complete and she has decided that it needs a fringe of sea urchin spines to balance its beauty. She is biting the spines with her ancient worn teeth to make them smooth enough to weave into her masterpiece.
But, as happens when she is engrossed in her work, the woman forgets to stir the soup! She hears the sizzle, the crackle. She rises quickly from her loom, and hurries to stir the soup, which is beginning to stick to the bottom of the cauldron.
Whoosh! On swift wings, Raven, her companion in the cave since forever, sees his chance.
He flies down from his high perch, sticks his sharp beak into the heart of the tapestry.
He begins to rip, to tear, to pull apart this work of immense beauty.
By the time the old woman returns to her loom, there is only a pile of torn threads in a heap on the floor of the cave.
Does she wail in despair? Throw herself down on the floor in tears? No, she does not.
She stands gazing at the ruin of her work. Her eye catches the glint of a bright green thread.
Before she can think about it, her fingers have lifted it up. She begins to work it in and out of the fragments of warp left on the loom.
Slowly, but sooner than you would imagine, a new pattern is beginning to take shape,
and in her heart there rises an image of a tapestry that will be the most beautiful ever seen on the planet.
The woman takes no time bemoaning what she lost, or being angry at Trickster Raven who destroyed her work.
She is a weaver and weaving is what she does, in and out, warp and weft, thread after beautiful thread,
until the next time the soup needs stirring and Raven flies down from his perch.
Trickster Raven understands this: that if the weaving is ever complete in all its perfection, the world will come to an end.
So Raven keeps disrupting the process, and the Old Woman keeps weaving through all the ages of the world,
so that new patterns are always emerging, and the end of the world is held at bay for a few ages longer.
Elspeth stops speaking and in the silence we each ponder the story, trying to work out whether this is a happy ending.
“So, Elspeth, is this story meant to show us that all our efforts to create beauty and peace in the world are futile?” Mary Ellen sounds puzzled.
“Not at all. Quite the opposite. It’s meant to show that there is always something we can save from the rubble of our dreams,
and there is always a wondrous new tapestry that is waiting to be woven on the planet.
"We just need eyes to see that one shining thread and fingers to reach out to begin a new weaving.”
Gathering Space for November 12, 2019
The full moon is already in her place in the evening sky as we approach the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. In the beauty of her rich silvery light we can almost forget the bite of the wind that sweeps over us from the North Atlantic. Almost.
Shivering, we pause to gaze at her loveliness for a few moments before we move towards the open flap our Gathering Tent.
Inside, we welcome the warmth from dozens of tall white candles placed at a safe distance from the inner canvas walls.
They form a ring of light that embraces the area where large beautifully embroidered cushions await us.
In the centre of the circle, the carving of the Cailleach awaits us next to the unlit fire pot.
Already seated in the circle there is a woman. Our newer members look at her in wonder, but most of us know her at once.
Elspeth, our Iona Storyteller!
We move quickly to greet her, to introduce Elspeth to those who have not yet met her.
Soon we have all taken our places within the circle, eager for the story she will have brought to us.
Colleen rises to light the fire pot.
As Elspeth gazes at the flame, her glance takes in the carving. “I see you have brought an image of the Cailleach.
She is the one whose tale I have brought tonight. Or, I should say, I have brought you one of the tales of the Cailleach,
for there are many, many ancient stories in which she appears. Surely you must know some of them already?”
Elspeth looks around the circle expectantly.
After the silence stretches for a few moments longer, Colette speaks, “We know about the Baba Yaga in the Russian tale of Vasalisa the Wise.”
Then Ellyn recalls another: “There is the old woman who makes Niall of the Nine Hostages King of Ireland.”
“Oh and of course there is the Loathly Lady in the Arthurian Story, the one who marries Sir Gawain,” Yvette adds.
“Wasn’t there also a Cailleach in the Musical, Beauty and the Beast? Wasn’t she the one who turned the Prince into a Beast?” Merredith asks.
“Yes,” Elspeth agrees. I have heard most of those tales, though not the one of Beauty and the Beast.
"Perhaps you would like to tell it to us, Merredith?”
“I may be able to find the story on my ipad if you give me a moment,” Merredith offers.
It takes only a few seconds, and then a swirl of music fills the tent, introducing the opening prologue from the film, Beauty and the Beast:
Once upon a time, in the hidden heart of France, a handsome young prince lived in a beautiful castle.?
Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was selfish and unkind.?
He taxed the village to fill his castle with the most beautiful objects—
—and his parties with the most beautiful people.?
Then one night, an unexpected intruder arrived at the castle, seeking shelter from the bitter storm.
As a gift, she offered the prince a single rose.?
Repulsed by her haggard appearance, the prince turned the woman away...
But she warned him not to be deceived by appearances... For beauty is found within.
When he dismissed her again, the old woman's outer appearance melted away to reveal a beautiful enchantress.?
The prince begged for forgiveness, but it was too late. For she had seen that there was no love in his heart.?
As punishment, she transformed him into a hideous beast and placed a powerful spell on the castle and all who lived there.?
As days bled into years, the prince and his servants were forgotten by the world,
for the enchantress had erased all memory of them from the minds of the people they loved.
But the rose she had offered was truly an enchanted rose.
If he could learn to love another and earn their love in return by the time the last petal fell,
the spell would be broken. If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast for all time.?
As the years passed, he fell into despair and lost all hope, for who could ever learn to love a beast?
There is silence as the Prologue ends. We are enchanted.
Yet, Clara looks uncomfortable. “Why is the Cailleach always presented as hideous, old, ugly? “
At this, Elspeth smiles with delight. “Oh Clara, you have given me the perfect opening for the tale I brought you tonight.
"Why, indeed, must the Cailleach be old and ugly in our stories? And does she herself mind about that?
"I once thought she was too wise to care, but this tale sheds a different light. It is called, The Old Lady in the Cave. Shall I begin it now?”
There was once a woman who was successful in all things.
She had a fine partner, a loving family, and a craft for which she was justly famous. But still she was not happy.
“I want to know the Truth,” she said to her partner.
“Then you should seek her,” he replied.
So the woman put her house and all her worldly goods in her partner’s name (she being adamant on that point)
and went out on the road a beggar after Truth.
She searched up the hills and down in the valleys for her. She went into small villages and large towns; into the forests and along the coasts of the great wide sea; into dark, grim wastes and lush meadows pied with flowers. She looked for days and for weeks and for months.
And then one day, atop a high mountain, in small cave, she found her.
The Old Lady in the Cave
Truth was a wizened old woman with but a single tooth left in her head.
Her hair hung down onto her shoulders in lank, greasy strands.
The skin on her face was the brown of old parchment and as dry, stretched over prominent bones.
But when she signalled to the younger woman with a hand crabbed with age, her voice was low and lyrical and pure
and it was then that the young woman knew she had found Truth.
She stayed a year and a day with her and she learned all that Truth had to teach.
And when the year and the day was up, she stood at the mouth of the cave ready to leave for home.
“My Lady Truth,” she said, “you have taught me so much and I would do something for you before I leave. Is there anything you wish?”
Truth put her head to one side and considered. Then she raised an ancient finger.
“When you speak of me,” she said, “tell them I am young and beautiful.”
The stillness that follows Elspeth’s tale is breathlee. We each ponder this tale and the request of the old woman.
The glances we begin to send towards the carving of the Cailleach are softer, gentler,
our feelings towards this ancient wise one, though still ringed with awe, now hold something like love.
How do you picture the Cailleach, the old wise Crone of this Season of Samhain?
Which of her qualities draw you to her?
If you had found her in that cave atop the mountain, what questions would you ask her?
What qualities of the Cailleach are rising now in your own being?
Gathering Space for November 05, 2019
The nine-day-old moon does her best 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 the others 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 cadence 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 a full week since you gathered here to celebrate Samhain." Dolores says.
"You welcomed the season of darkness. During the past week, the shadows have deepened with the waning of the sun’s light
in our Northern Hemisphere. Throughout the planet, there is deepening gloom: political unrest, refugees fleeing for their lives,
the growing concern over climate change highlighted by today’s report signed by 11,000 scientists declaring a planetary climate emergency.
"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, guided by the words of American poet 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.”
---five minutes pause---
“Now, open your eyes," Dolores says.
The flame of the fire pot offers its solitary flame; yet, within each of us there is now a luminous sea of light.
Dolores’ 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.
Dolores continues, "The journey into the season of Samhain requires a dying of what has been.
"The Cailleach calls on us to let go of all that has been harvested up till now.
"She asks us to be willing to embrace the resultant void created by its absence.
"We are offered an opportunity to return to the Cailleach’s 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,
and the sufferings of our planet and of all of life for whom she is Mother Earth.
"These harsh elements will 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 and 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.
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? Dolores greets us in an image beamed across the sea from Ireland.
Beside the fire pot, beside the golden cauldron, the carved image of the Cailleach gazes at us, enigmatically.
Gathering Space for October 29, 2019
The night is wet with rain as we approach our soggy Gathering Place, the garden of Iona’s Ruined Nunnery.
Something is different this evening.
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 snows 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 are our quilts of many colours, hung with care against the bare inner walls of the tent, offering 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 begin to look with expectation towards the fire pot which sits 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 days 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 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.
But 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 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.
After this time of sacred movement, the joy of being restored to our Gathering Tent spills over
into excited conversation and laughter. And yes, some of our Communion members have come
prepared to celebrate Samhain with home-baked pumpkin pies, chocolate witches, and light honey wine.
Let the feast begin!
Gathering Space for October 22, 2019
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 quilts…
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," Adriana asks. "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, cakes, 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 carpets 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 we all 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 this Nunnery? Are there any stories of its founding, or of the nuns who lived here so long ago?"
"Well now, I'm 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. Through his wife, Ragnhild, daughter of Olafr Godredsson, King of the Isles, Somerled 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.
Ruins of the 13th c. Augustinian Nunnery on Iona
"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 woolen 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."
Gathering Space on Iona for October 15, 2019
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 which we place on the stones of the low walls, or on top of our coloured quilts where they are spread on the grass, offering both ourselves and our companions a warm place to sit. With sounds like the low buzz of honeybees we greet one another, take time to catch up on the small and greater news of our lives since we last gathered here last week.
Jean Houston is with us this evening. Jean likes to remind us that when we wax poetic about “the earth” we need to recall that our bodies are made from the earth, and deserve our love and respect as truly as does our planet.
Jean offers to lead us in a meditation on the Greek deities and their connection with the chakras of our bodies.
We take deep settling breaths, clearing mind and heart of invasive thoughts or concerns, preparing an inner space to receive her words.
Think of a great pole that stretches from the center of the heavens down through to the center of the earth. You are at its center. Now connect with the fiery regions of magma at the center of the earth. Wiggle your feet, feeling them connect with this realm of fire, the realm of Hades, the world beneath the world.
Now look within to find what is deeply hidden within you, what truly matters to you. Acknowledge the home of Hades, a vast treasure house of latent potential. The realm of Hades/ Pluto is a place of wealth, the wealth you contain within you, rising from yourself….being human, this magnificent state of being, knowing, this Hades/Plutonic knowing. Persephone is here, ever young, ever beautiful, bringing hope and new light to the deepest realms in times of darkness. Light flashes, comes as gift from Persephone who flashes light and possibility through the darkness. Hades and Persephone together, Lord and Lady of the Underworld.
Move up the great pole of life to the great underground course of water: seas, oceans, rivers, springs: the flow of the River of Time.
Let your body begin to shift and sway, moving through the water, taking on the power of Poseidon, god of oceans, avenger and protector of those at sea. When you are emotionally at sea, when your instinct is to wander through endless adventures, only to return where you started, ”to see it again for the first time”, Poseidon is god of the unconscious, of beauty and terror. You are in the community of the sea, in the roaring, bubbling up of Poseidon, under your feet, pouring new waters on this time. He pricks you with his trident to wake you up. Around you wild creatures splash, invigorate you. Feel that ocean within. Sway, sink into the ocean, knowing you will be guided and protected by all the beings of the waters of the world.
Now your feet rest on earth, place of Demeter who embodies alternating cycles of plenty and fallowness, cycles of gain and loss. Demeter is the goddess of change, changes of season, the ebb and flow of life. Her power is inseparable from her daughter Persephone, provider and celebrator of the mysteries of earth, giver of oats, trees, corn, agriculture. Feel her in the plowed earth under your feet, the harvest that is her gift. Pray that others have enough to eat.
Let the sense of Mother Earth move from your feet up through your body so that your body is earthed in her embrace. You knees are a center. Hermes is in your right knee, the god of motion and becoming, the trickster. Hermes embodies the desire to move with ever extended reality. He is the embodiment of dream, the clever one there in your right knee, Hermes of the winged sandals. Rub your right knee and feel his presence. In what direction are you going? Straight? Right? Left? Backwards? Hermes follows you, your escort beyond doors that close behind you. Let Hermes guard your household and being.
Your knees are centers of spiritual gifts. The right gives. The left receives.
In your left knee is Artemis, the dancer, the one who loves nature and wildness, the virgin who belongs to no one. She is twin sister to Apollo, born first, then assisting her mother as she gave birth to Apollo, honoured as a support in birthing. Artemis helps with the soul’s solitude.
The runner, dancer, keeper of wild things, of the beasts, is there in your left knee. Artemis is obedient to the powers of the moon. Let your left knee reflect when you are out there under the spiritual light of the moon.
Feel the power of Artemis as she kneels on the earth, finding the herbs that purify and heal.
Bring your awareness to the root chakra where you sit. Breathe energy up from this chakra from the center of the earth, the part of yourself blessed by the earth, combining earth and fire. Here is the keeper of the life flame, Hestia, Lady of the Hearth, center of the house and the earth. Hestia holds the fire that lights the energy of our body and soul. Turn to her for energy, the Kundalini Goddess. Without her, we are adrift and lost. Hestia clears the energies of the root chakra, to send them up to spin energy as it rises through the other chakras. Hestia is purity and flame. She lets fires of light move through your body. Hestia will keep you protected and secure.
In the root chakra also is Hephaestus, god of fire, who shows you how to make beauty. He is master craftsman, the Olympian who works, forges links between nature and craft. Hephaestus is symbol of resourcefulness and creativity. He is a crippled god, whose feet are backwards, showing the dark side of those who depend upon machinery.
As you breathe into the root chakra, remember that you have everything and everyone within you. Think about something that you wish to create from the deepest part of your being. You have this god Hephaestus to take it from the fire of imagination to craft it in your life, to create and recreate your world.
Hera is the goddess of the pelvic chakra, of primary relationships, of marriage and all the stages of woman’s life with man. Her emblem is the peacock. Her breast milk created the Milky Way. Hera is the protector of connections, of family and relationships. She is a guide to sacred and beautiful speech with those you love. Hera will help you with relationships with the children of your body and spirit. Breathe out love for the children of the world, and for your own dear friends.
IMAGE OF HERA BY SUSAN SEDDON BOULET
In your solar plexus is the god Ares who has the ability to make things happen. He is the doer, the one who never procrastinates, willing to be wounded for those he loves. Enlist him in the fight for what is right in your life story, as an ally. Enlist him to be energized and filled with the need to do and move where we need to serve.
Ares is red hot powerful energy.
In the heart chakra is Aphrodite, goddess of connection, of love and beauty, goddess of our more visceral yearnings, of the erotic and evocative in women and men. Aphrodite is a child of foam, of the sea, mother of Eros. She is from the place of endless sea foam, creativity, songs, the whisper of allurement. Feel your heart opening to the force of life, the archetype of love and loving.
When have you been in love? Pour this into your heart, being seized by joy. Think of all the friends you love. Pour them into your heart.
The chakra of the high heart is the thymus, the butterfly-shaped gland, belonging to the immune system. The high heart is the place of Psyche (soul) whose name is Greek for butterfly, and Eros (desire), her lover. Soul and desire. Let your thymus be embraced by soul and desire. Psyche has the capacity to fall so deeply in love with her Beloved that she could endure all manner of trials to be with him. Allow Psyche and Eros to be gods of your immune system for you know the power of desire to fuel your immune system.
The throat holds the chakra of communication. Here is the place of the god Dionysius and of Apollo, god of music, archery and healing, the god whose longing is for beauty, order, light and harmony. He is the god of clarity who invites, “know thyself”. God of sun and light and singing and verbal expression, it was Apollo who breathed into the throat of the Pythias when she spoke as Oracle of Delphi. Feel the energy of the god Apollo who told those who came to Delphi the truth of things. Breathe their gifts of expression from Apollo (clarity) and Dionysius (the full rich “go for it” expression).
In the chakra of the third eye, the place of wisdom, is the goddess Athena, goddess of wisdom, of civilization, weaver of all patterns, goddess of artisans, of trades people. Athena of the “bright eyes, so shrewd”, grey-eyed goddess who is “ever near”, whispering her counsel so that you grow in wisdom. Athena is persuader of peace, reconciler, weaver of body, mind and culture. The third eye sees beyond appearances, sees all problems as challenges in work clothes. Ask Athena for a path that is true to your spirit in wisdom and clarity.
IMAGE OF ATHENA BY SUSAN SEDDON BOULET
Breathe upwards towards the element of ether, the fifth element for the ancient Greeks. Rub your hands together, then bring them together in the shape of a crown. Hold this crown shape above your head. All that is above is pouring down through you: Zeus, the all-seeing high Lord of air and sky, the consciousness that illuminates all, the light that impregnates law, wisdom, beauty. Zeus guards the home, minds the storehouse, is the guardian of the polis, its moral power. The Greek playwrights speak of the “city of Zeus”, the brotherhood and sisterhood of all. This is the transpersonal chakra, the place of your own entelechy, related to the purpose of the cosmos, to the One who enters into your time, to redream, to recreate. The lover of humans, the giver of justice and hope, pours energy into your crown, the place of the universal chakra.
Above this chakra is your own personal guiding star through which you are connected to the great pole, guiding star above and fire below to the center of the earth. You ride between those places, your own way of redreaming the gods. Here is the new dream, reality, possibility for your life for the world. Be filled. Accepting. Undoubting. And so it is.
As Jean’s words cease, a silence rises to bathe us all in stillness while a light that feels like joy and hope spreads through our bodies.
We watch as the Hunter moon lifts over the garden on Iona, and we are still here, sitting in wonder.
Gathering Space for October 8, 2019
This cloudy October evening on Iona still holds the remnants of summer’s warmth with a temperature of 50F /12C.
When the clouds drift apart we see the moon is nearly full. The winds off the North Atlantic are light, blessing rather than buffeting.
As we gather in the grassy space, circled by the worn stone walls of the 13th century nunnery, we take time to greet
the companions we know well, to welcome the women who have recently joined our weekly gatherings.
Many of us have brought a blanket, a cushion, a wool shawl to spread on the quilts for added warmth before we sit.
Others find their favourite perch on the low ruins of the Chapter House walls.
The mood of the gathering is like the weather, warm, welcoming, with the winds of adventure stirring.
Yvette comes forward to light the fire pot.
We notice that somehow just being together in this place of beauty is enough to calm our spirits.
Still, we take time to allow our breath to settle, to draw in the peace around us, to release on the outward breath
any anxieties or concerns that we have carried here with us.
We draw in peace….. we release tension…. draw in… release… draw in… release…
Now Noreen speaks into the silence: I read some words of Thomas Berry that I would like to share with you:
“We bear the universe in our being as the universe bears us in its being”. When I went looking for the source, I found that the words
come from Thomas Berry’s book, The Dream of the Earth. I copied out some sections about our need for a New Story.
I’ll pass this page around the circle and invite each of you to read a section:
We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story,
the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effective.
We need a story that will educate us, a story that will heal, guide, and discipline us…
The story of the universe is the story of the emergence of a galactic system in which each new level of expression
emerges through the urgency of self-transcendence. Hydrogen in the presence of some millions of degrees of heat emerges into helium.
After the stars take shape as oceans of fire in the heavens, they go through a sequence of transformations.
Some eventually explode into the stardust out of which the solar system and the planet Earth take shape.
Earth gives unique expression of itself in its rock and crystalline structures and in the variety and splendor of living forms,
until humans appear as the moment in which the unfolding universe becomes conscious of itself.
The human emerges not only as an Earthling, but also as a worldling.
We bear the universe in our beings as the universe bears us in its being. The two have a total presence to each other
and to that deeper mystery out of which both the universe and ourselves have emerged.
If this integral vision is something new both to the scientist and to the believer,
both are gradually becoming aware of this view of the real and its human meaning.
It might be considered a new revelatory experience.
Because we are moving into a new mythic age, it is little wonder that a kind of mutation is taking place
in the entire Earth-human order. A new paradigm of what it is to be human emerges.
This is what is so exciting, yet so painful and so disrupting. One aspect of this change involves the shift
in Earth-human relations, for we now in large measure determine the Earth process that once determined us. ….
It is of utmost importance that succeeding generations become aware of the larger story outlined here
and the numinous, sacred values that have been present in an expanding sequence over this entire time of the world's existence. ….
There is no way of guiding the course of human affairs through the perilous course of the future
except by discovering our role in this larger evolutionary process.
If the way of Western civilization and Western religion was once the way of election and differentiation from others
and from Earth, the way now is the way of intimate communion with the larger human community and with the universe itself.
Here we might observe that the basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation
that takes place in and through Earth.
If the dynamics of the universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed Earth,
if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and seas and atmosphere,
if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings,
and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries,
there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us
our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process.
Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the universe,
we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture.
(Source: Mary Evelyn Tucker: Thomas Berry: Selected Writings on the Earth Community
(Modern Spiritual Masters) (pp. 12-17). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.)
After the sections of the readings have all been heard, we ask Noreen to repeat that phrase with which she began:
We bear the universe in our being
as the universe bears us in its being
Slowly, a few of us, then a few more, repeat the words, until they become a sacred chant…
We bear the universe in our being
as the universe bears us in its being
The energy of the chant pulls us to our feet, and we find we are walking in a joyous circle as we chant,
our arms circling our bodies where the universe dwells,
then gesturing outwards in a wide circle to embrace the universe.
The sound of a flute rises into the air, its merry notes drawing our feet from a walk to a dance as we continue the chant.
The words are weaving themselves within our hearts, within our bodies, where they effecting a subtle, deep change.
How will this change begin to reveal itself in the days ahead?
Gathering Space for October 3, 2017
This early October evening is cool on the Island of Iona, as temperatures slip towards 10 degrees Celsius, 50 Fahrenheit.
When the moon breaks through clouds, we see her waxing towards her fullness.
We make our way in clusters, or in pairs, or alone towards the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery where our companions await us.
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 or questions to ask, or plans to share….
but as our colourful quilts come 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 Quilts,
looking as though he were invited, looking like 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 quilts, taking 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 by your yearning, 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. Can that be so?
"Well, my longing is like yours, and Love has shown me much over the years of my life. So I have brought you some 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.
Cynthia 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, Hafiz withdraws from a pocket in his robe some rolls of paper.
He opens one and begins to read:
The true nature of your Beloved.
In His loving eyes your every thought,
Word and movement is always –
Hafiz finishes reading, lifts his eyes, looks at us.
"I see worry, concern on many faces, and I do not think this is only because you are wondering about 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 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."
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
You have actually waltzed with tremendous style,
my sweet, O my sweet, crushed angel.
We sit wrapt in wonder at these lovely words until Hafiz clears his throat, then coughs, and asks,
"Is there anything we might eat? Any wine? Poetry is hungry work, and time travel makes me ravenous!"
Surprisingly, or perhaps not, several women in our Communion of Creative Fire have brought food and wine,
wanting to celebrate this first October 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 September 24, 2019
This September evening, just past 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 this evening is one of joy, a celebration of this lovely weather as long as it wishes to stay, the joy of settling on our quilts 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:
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.
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. Two years ago the Solar Eclipse 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.
Yet I am always longing for a deeper communion with the universe, people and the world. Hurricane Dorian that brought devastation to the Bahamas, the fires and floods becoming ever more destructive with each season, the typhoons and earthquakes across the planet… these 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 by Wendell Berry helps us to remember and honour the wild things who share their peace with us:
The Peace of Wild Things
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 of the cooler season in Australia that is ending with the approach of their spring days….
We have been, in recent years, honouring the Seasons in the Celtic Way. With the Autumn Equinox now here,
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!
“A Feather on the Breath of God”
Gathering Space for Hildegard's Feast Day: September 17, 2019
The early evening dusk of mid-September softens the sky as we come into the Garden of Iona's 13th Century Nunnery. Perhaps later we shall glimpse the enormous pumpkin-coloured Harvest Moon when she rises.
We are happy to see our two Communal Quilts spread out on the grass. We shall have a layer of warmth over the earth. The fire pot is already lighted in the centre of our circle. We wonder who has made these preparations, and what the plans might be for this evening's ritual.
Holding what looks like a scroll in her hands, Carol Zickell stands to speak:
"Today is the Feast of Hildegard von Bingen, one of the three godmothers of our Communion. It is also my birthday.
"This scroll was sent to me today with the request that I bring it to you this evening. It comes to us from Adriana,
and offers us a Meditation to help us to celebrate Hildegard.
"Please make yourselves comfortable as you find a space on our quilts, and then I shall read it for us."
Now Carol opens the scroll and begins to read: Dear Friends in our Communion:
Although she has been unofficially recognized as a saint throughout the centuries, Hildegard von Bingen is now formally known as a Doctor of the Church. This is not only for the extraordinary influence she had had upon the theological teachings of her own day, but for the transformative quality of her everlasting wisdom….
In order to honor this woman of all time and as today is her feast day, September 17th, I offer you this meditation/visualization in which our Communion of Creative Fire visits with Hildegard in her lovely, ethereal medieval garden filled with the delights of the heart and soul….
Please close your eyes and, with each inhalation and exhalation, begin to breathe more deeply until you come into a place of peace…. Envision yourself traveling gently and gradually into the far distant past upon the grand winged steed Pegasus…. Feel the healing warmth of the Sun and the slight spray of the morning dew on your face as the wind greets you on your voyage….
After alighting and thanking Pegasus for guiding you safely to your chosen destination, you are met by none other than St. Hildegard, a woman you have long admired and whose renown has extended for centuries…. You exchange pleasantries and she gestures for you to join her in what appears to be a sacred place in the center of her very own Garden of Eden, a Paradise of sorts, perhaps not unlike the Elysian Fields…. You are met there with a feast for the senses…. The colors rival those found in the most glorious rainbow you have ever seen…, the scent of lavender, wafting in the breeze, delights your olfactory system…, the “music of the spheres” is evident in every sound you hear in the melodious serenity that surrounds you—and is always a part of you—and the heartfelt love that exists at your very core—your own sacre coeur, as it were….
It is just then that you emerge from your moment of reverie, and when you look up, Hildegard smiles and asks you to meet, some for the very first time, the women of our circle, our “Communion of Creative Fire,” each of whom is seated upon a stone bench that encircles a large labyrinth, or dromenon, fashioned out of Hildegard’s own field of lavender that she has created especially for her feast day—and for this ceremonial gathering….
She suggests that we honor and bless where we are, both individually and collectively, as we walk the spiral path that stands before us on this day—and for the rest of our lives…. When we reach our center—and that within the labyrinth, as well, we are met with the sacred and ceremonial fire of purification…. It is not a fire that burns, but a Divine Spark that illuminates—it glows with a warmth and clarity that does not exist anywhere else…. Please remember, she says, “Whenever you wish to find your Spark, all you need do is close your eyes and look within….”
After each member of the group takes her turn along the personal inner passage before her and returns to her place at the invisible “Table of the Round,” she is presented with a scrumptious and savory dessert, lovingly and unerringly prepared just for her….
It is now that Hildegard inquires if we are fully aware of our reason for being here—and together…. Almost immediately, it dawns on us that we do indeed know why we are here, both at this gathering—and on Planet Earth at this crucial time in human history. "As you may know by my own words," Hildegard continues, “I [am] a feather on the breath of God, as are each of you…. “Like billowing clouds, Like the incessant gurgle of the brook, The longing of the spirit can never be stilled,” and it pleases God to know that you are here, are a seeker and wish to be what Jean Houston calls a “midwife of souls,” always evoking the potential in those with whom you come into contact….
“Before we depart, at least for now,” Hildegard reminds us, “Always remember to reflect upon the stillness of water and grace as that is who and what you are—a timeless being whose birthright resides in the very Oneness of the Universe…. Until next time, fare thee well….”
You turn to wish the members of your “Communion of Creative Fire” a safe journey back to their respective homes, and say a “Special Thank You” to Hildegard before you wait for Pegasus to fly you home once again….
As you continue along your excursion through space and time as you return to the present, accompanied by that famed creature of myth, you are able to communicate (without words) your gratitude for his willingness to grant you the gift of flight…. This time, you feel the coolness of the Moon’s iridescent rays upon your face….
Upon your arrival, you comprehend to a greater extent where your true purpose lies, and how you may be of greater service to the world….
From this place of peace, once again become aware of your surroundings—whether in your room, or wherever you may have been when you first started this inward journey…, and with each inhalation and exhalation, more fully return to your awakened state….
You may wish to journal anything that had called to you during your voyage inward at this time….
After Carol concludes the meditation, there is some quiet movement as Shirley, Noreen, Patty and Violet rise to set out the food and drinks they have brought to celebrate Hildegard's Feast and Carol's birthday.
Suddenly, just above the tallest of the Nunnery's remaining walls, the Harvest Moon lifts her burnished gold face to smile at us.
Gathering Space for September 10, 2019
It is a clear September evening on Iona as we make our way to our Gathering Space in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery.
The southwest wind off the Atlantic is blowing with strength, carrying vestiges of Dorian’s energy.
Those of us who have worn sweaters or shawls wrap them more tightly around our shoulders.
Later, perhaps while we are still here, the moon, waxing towards her fulness, will rise to bless us.
We find our favourite spots to sit, either on the grass or atop the low stone remnants of the Chapter House walls. The greetings, the conversations, create a low murmur, not unlike the sound of the North Atlantic on a windless night as it brushes the shores of the island.
An invitation went forth through the noosphere inviting those who wish to bring a poem or a reflection on Hildegard of Bingen.
Hildegard, along with Julian of Norwich and Brigid of Kildare, is one of a Trinity of Goddess Mothers for our Communion.
Violet has brought a poem written by Christine Valters Paintner: "The title of this poem is St. Hildegard Strolls Through the Garden.
"I wish she truly would stroll through this garden for it would be amazing to meet her:
Luminous morning, Hildegard gazes at
the array of blooms, holding in her heart
the young boy with a mysterious rash, the woman
reaching menopause, the newly minted widower,
and the black Abbey cat with digestive issues who wandered
in one night and stayed. New complaints arrive each day.
She gathers bunches of dandelions, their yellow
profusion a welcome sight in the monastery garden,
red clover, nettle, fennel, sprigs of parsley to boil later in wine.
She glances to make sure none of her sisters are
peering around pillars, slips off her worn leather shoes
to relish the freshness between her toes,
face upturned to the rising sun, she sings lucida materia,
matrix of light, words to the Virgin, makes a mental
note to return to the scriptorium to write that image down.
When the church bells ring for Lauds, she hesitates just a
moment, knowing her morning praise has already begun,
wanting to linger in this space where the dew still clings.
At the end of her life, she met with a terrible obstinacy,
from the hierarchy came a ban on receiving
bread and wine and her cherished singing.
She now clips a single rose, medicine for a broken heart,
which she will sip slowly in tea, along with her favorite spelt
biscuits, and offer some to the widower
grieving for his own lost beloved,
they smile together softly at this act of holy communion
and the music rising among blades of grass.
After the reading, Violet invites us into a moment of quiet to absorb the poem’s lovely images, words, thoughts…
Now Noreen Speaks: During the late eighties I was involved in a training program in Mid-Life and part of the work was for each participant to prepare a presentation on some aspect of Jungian Psychology. Since I had recently read ILLUMINATIONS OF HILDEGARD with Commentary by Matthew Fox, I chose for my topic The Mandala. The mandala represented the “inner self,” “true self,” “wholeness,” or simply “the infinite divine center” within each one. Displaying the Mandela’s illuminations by Hildegard was the perfect way to include the participants in the presentation. The illuminations gave me a sense of the Divine Spark or the Living Light which Hildegard experienced in her life.
Her explanation on ‘Radiance’ has changed my perception of everything that comes before my eyes. She tells us that radiance is the way we participate in feeling the energy of the universe and the way the universe communicates its beauty to us. Radiance makes it possible for us to feel intimacy and communion with the other. The light therefore generated by another’s presence, whether it is a flower, rock, water or another person, is Radiance. At the heart of the Power of Radiance is our acceptance of the authentic beauty we receive by opening to the depth of another’s light. In EnlightenNext Magazine I recently read a beautiful summary of Radiance. I quote: “In my view, the power of Radiance is an expression of the mysterious way in which the universe cannot contain the magnificence it houses. Instead it is compelled to express itself in ten million different ways.” (p. 41)
The light ... generated by another’s presence, whether it is a flower, rock, water or another person, is Radiance.
After we take quiet time to receive Noreen words,
Clara speaks: I resonate with Hildegard’s referral to radiant light.
I see it mostly in people’s eyes. I have the privilege of offering seated massage to marginalized persons.
It’s really stunning to notice the difference in a person’s eyes before and after the seated massage.
I am conscious of the life-giving energy that manifests this radiant light in myself and each one.
I bless each person with the words “May God’s radiant light shine in you and through you”.
I like the way Hildegard’s Poetry, so full of images of nature and intimacy, touches my soul and my experience.…..
the breeze, helping the homeless, marginalized person, the dew comforting the depressed, downtrodden,
the cool misty air refreshing the exhausted.
God hugs you. And you are encircled by the arms of the mystery of God.
These images come alive and speak to what I experience.
There are times when I don’t see the radiant light in the other although I know it is there.
I pray through the seated massage that the tenderness, compassion and love of Christ
will flow through my hands and trust that is something is happening even if it is not easy to see.
How close I come to the suffering God among us and how awed I am that I can offer comfort to an aching body that is filled with stress.
It is so rewarding to actually see the hunger in a person’s soul being filled even if it is only momentarily.
I experience being guided by Wisdom in my prayer for each one during this sacred encounter.
I become aware of a deep communion occurring between Christ, Sophia, the person and myself.
Without a doubt the positive changes that I see make a difference at a personal level
and impact our world with a hope that care and kindness is a reality.
Again we want to pause in the stillness evoked by Clara’s words.
After moments of quiet, someone looks up, draws our attention to the waxing moon now rising above our circle of friends.
Yvette speaks: Hildegard says: I will tell you a secret about that divine light, about creative fire.
The more you nourish it in your heart, the more it radiates out from you.
The more you release it through your words, your deeds, of wisdom, of loving compassion, the brighter the flame burns.
You will be a great burning, my beloved people, and in that fiery dance, you will find that you are,
as I myself discovered, no longer aware of your years, but rather that you feel once more as young as a spring maiden. Shine on!
I hear her and say: Yes, shine on, Yvette!
Next Kate speaks to us: Hildegard has had and continues to have impact on and in my life.
She calls me to authenticity and courageous support of and for church reform especially in regard to justice for women in our church -
for an acceptance of their gifts, their intelligence and their desire to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit
in regard to ministry in our church. Hildegard's fearless outspoken call for the mutuality of masculine and feminine
in our personal lives and in that of the institutional governance in our church is mirrored
in my own convictions and desire for the same.
I am deeply touched by her description of a universe filled with the melody of God's Love.
I find myself listening for that melody in the trees and the breezes, in the rain drops and even in the thunder and lightning of a fierce storm.
And sometimes I catch a dissonance, a cacophony of sound when I become more aware of the plight of persons
dispersed by the horrors of war, the people starving in refugee camps, the homeless and persons who have lost
purpose and meaning for their lives. I pray to bring all into harmonic wholeness
and that the collective fires of our Communion of Creative Fire will contribute to the
"Unbearable Wholeness of Being" that Ilia Delio and Hildegard von Bingen have written about.
Silence rises within and around us after Kate’s words. After a time, a few of our companions rise, join hands,
gesture to us to join in a circle dance. Someone begins to sing. Those who recognise the song join in as the circle dance goes on:
We will never, ever lose our way to the well of her memory
And the power of her living flame it will rise, it will rise again.
Someone whispers, “I thought that song was about Brigid.”
Another voice whispers, “They are interrelated. All those fiery women.”
And a third voice adds, “So are we. With them. With one another.”
The dance goes on.
Gathering Space for September 3, 2019
The light on this early evening is more subtle, a silvery grey rather than the burnished gold of high summer. As we come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona, we feel the difference. Each new arrival glances around this familiar beloved place as though trying to decide what is different. The shadows cast by the remaining walls are heavier… some of us are gazing upwards at the sky, where later the young moon may allow us to enjoy starlight. Others are glancing towards the few flowering bushes that still hold colour.
Ruins of the 13th century Augustinian Nunnery on Iona
As we each find a place to sit on the grass or on the low worn stones of the walls, our usual animated chatter is subdued.
“The summer light is withdrawing,” Colette says. “Already I can sense autumn approaching.”
“Before we know it, Samhain will be here, bringing with it the dark feminine time of the year,” says Violet.
“I prefer the light,” Clara says. “I wish it were always like this. Even dimmed, the evenings are still lovely.”
“We need to learn to draw the light inside us,” Jean says. ‘I have a process from the Western Kabalistic Tradition that invites light to move into our being. I’ll lead it for us this evening if you like.”
There is enthusiastic response to Jean’s offer. Rosemary sets up her harp to offer quiet music for the process.
Now Jean invites us to stand as she speaks:
Begin by swaying, swaying /just be very swaying/let your eyes and face be soft… be aware of the feelings around the top of your head, the crown where the brain is; with eyes closed, being aware of the crown, where the openness to the limitless is, imagine a great light, limitless, huge; a huge potentiation of light pouring into you.
You breathe, and as you breathe, you inhale and you have a sense of limitless light, pure potential, just pouring into you, pouring into the top of your head; breathe it in, breathing it in, bathe in it, like a kind of divine fire, pouring into the top of your head, potentials of every kind, potentials of understanding, intelligence.
Feel the region around your eyes and your senses, your face, the place of sensory knowings, being activated, being stimulated, light pouring in, igniting the eyes, igniting the tongue, the taste, igniting the ears, igniting the hearing, the sense of smell, igniting the skin. The skills are growing, growing, rich skills, rich light... breathing very deeply, breathing, breathing and it’s being pulled into the top of your skull, pulling it in, and the whole area of Wisdom, the Chochma, intelligence, the sensory knowing being activated. Let yourself move with it.
The sense here is that there is pouring into you the great blooming branches of a tree coming from the limitless light, the light without end. The light has chosen you as part of its receptacle, its through-which, and it’s willing to pour itself into you. Let yourself feel the life that is light, that is love, as it illumines your crown, it illumines your face and head, those organs of the senses where Wisdom can reside, and let yourself breathe, let your body move as it’s appropriate, as you feel like it needs to.
Let the greening power of this light come now to your shoulders, pour down, pour in and through the shoulders. Feel the capacity to do things, to understand things, to make things happen, to express things. Feel a kind of cosmic connection with pure expression, understanding, so that ... you are a vehicle of complete understanding, benacht in the Hebrew, total understanding. You understand and move those shoulders, just move them, feel they’re moving as powers of yes, powers of YES!! Yes, I can do it, I understand it, I can do it, I can do it.
Let the light pour all around, all around your whole body, creating its energy field all around you, pure limitless light all around you, your body is held in it, and it is absorbed in your body. Yes. Just feeling that light, feel it moving down the right arm, feel the right arm now ignited with power, ignited with the power of love, of giving, of luring, with kindness, of loving kindness, and just let it bestow, give to the world genuine compassion, giving. Think even in your mind, the things that you’re giving. What do you wish to give to particular individuals, perhaps to the world, out of your love? What is there that you wish to give from this place of absolute light and love? What do you know that you have to give? Bestow, bestow, bestow and feel yourself that the right arm offers kindness.
And feel in the left arm, a great power, a great strength, the ability to judge, to discern, to make true decisions, power, power, make that kind of movement with that left arm, that right arm giving love, compassion, grace, caring, mercy, bestowing gifts of loving compassion, the left arm empowering, discriminating, using the will to accomplish.
Feel the light now pouring down into the center of your body, your high heart, your heart in the solar plexus. Just pour it in, letting the hand of loving kindness, and the hand of power and strength and judgement and discernment mediate between them, bring in the power of light to a beautiful vessel there in the center of your body. Feel your beauty of that, the beauty which is within you, feel beauty and balance and creative expression and from your center feel the light pouring, creating, creating friendship, creating that project, creating whatever is your intention to create, but in beauty, in balance, in sheer wonderful effulgence of possibility made manifest. You are that which eternally creates in beauty: beauty before you, beauty behind you, beauty above you, beauty beneath you, beauty to the right of you, beauty to the left of you. Beauty within you. You walk in beauty from that center, the way of creation, beauty that art thou....
Light all around you, light all within you, let the light now spill down to your root, into the root chakras, into the part of you that is your foundation, letting the light spill there and also work down the right side of the leg, the right leg. There it slips into a sense of eternity, everlasting beauty, everlasting light. Become aware of that right leg taking you forward, yes taking you forward, forward to eternity and victory and consummation, and you can do it, and you will do it, all of it seeding the foundation, all of it feeding the deep center, filled with light, light going down, light coming up, so much limitless light.
The left now, filled with splendour, with the beauty and power of expression, with celebration, light going all the way through, deep into the legs and up into the foundation and back up to the legs, light playing in many different patterns through these parts of the body, the great cosmic body, radiance, feel it playing up and down your spine, up and down your spine, up and down your spine, so that at the root of the spine, the lower chakras and the pelvic girdle, you can say “ahhh, it is light; it is the foundation of being. I am it in the world. I am the cosmic principle. This cosmic human in the world. It’s me. Whether you like it or not, God, here I am. I am the local. Here it is; it’s me.”
And then begin to dance. Dance, carrying all these things through the place which is the kingdom. You live the kingdom with your feet, the expression of life, the creation of life in all its forms, you live with your feet and the energy in your body. All of it, all of it: energy, light, beauty, all of it playing up back to the crown and pouring it back out and giving it back up to the body, to the crown and pouring out. Back to the ein sof, back to the life, back to the life and all source. And then you dance.
As Jean invites us to dance, the flutist among us lifts notes into the air of such vibrant seduction that our feet are dancing before we have time to think of it! The dancing goes on in such joy that no one notices when silently, one by one, the stars appear above us, blessing us with their ancient far-off light.
Gathering Space for August 27, 2019
Summer has saved us a vibrant evening for our final August gathering. Warmth pervades the air on a light ruffling breeze. Here in the Garden of Iona’s 13th Century Nunnery, it seems that even the grass and worn stones are still hoarding the afternoon’s sunlight within them.
The Ruins of the Nunnery on Iona
Radiance. It recalls our thoughts on Sophia whose radiance never ceases…
Joyce Rupp has written a book of Prayers to Sophia. Tonight Noreen offers to read for us the prayer called, “Light –Bearer”:
We take time to greet one another, to speak about our days, our encounters, our experiences of beauty in these last days of summer.
We welcome with joy five new guests to our Communion, women who were part of the experience of “Teilhard’s Mysticism” led by Kathleen Duffy in July. They introduce themselves to us: Bernadette, Janet, Mary, Agnes and Kathy.
When we are settled and still, Noreen begins to read:
Eternal Lamp of Love,
remind me often of how much radiance comes
from the glow of one small candle flame.
When my spiritual window is heavily clouded,
and your abiding love seems far from me,
restore my belief in your vibrant presence.
When I doubt my ability to be a bearer of your light,
shine your truth and wisdom into my faltering spirit.
Radiant Star in my heart,
in every generation you pass into holy souls.
Thank you for the illuminated beings
who have touched my life with their goodness.
Your light shining through them
has inspired me and filled me with spiritual energy.
Assure me that I can also be a Light-bearer for others,
a clear window of your eternal starlight.
Stir and whirl your dynamic presence in my being.
Stream your loving kindness through me.
I will open my mind and heart to your presence
as you greet me in the unexpected and the challenging.
I, too, can make a difference in my world
because of your radiant light shining through me.
I am ready to pay the price for transparency.
May my desire for deeper union with you be realized.
We take time to be with this prayer, noticing which parts speak most surely and truly to our hearts.
Joyce Rupp also offers questions that we may wish to take into our Sacred Hour:
What part of you easily shines forth?
What part of you remains hidden?
Who are some of the people in your life
who have been Light-bearers for you?
Gathering Space One with Galadriel
Part One: August 13, 2019
There is a stillness to this early evening. It wraps itself like a magic cloak around us, as singly or in two’s or in clusters of friends, we come into the Garden of the Ruins of Iona’s 13th century Nunnery. The usual energetic twitter and chatter of greetings is a low murmur, more a quiet stream than a babbling brook… until it quiets further into a sacred expectant hush.
It is Noreen who finds words for the moment. “It’s as if something awaits us. Something wonderful.”
By now we are all seated on the grass or on the low stone walls. Maureen asks, “Might it be the Sophia? We have been reflecting on her presence in our lives. Perhaps she is here with us.”
Mary Ellen suggests, “Maybe we should invite her to come to us, as Solomon did? Didn’t he write, I asked and the spirit of Wisdom came to me?
Shirley is looking puzzled. “It doesn’t feel like Sophia, who is always with us and within us. It feels more like an imaginal presence, an archetype, someone who represents Wisdom.”
Joy speaks, “Whoever it is, we need to welcome her. Just ask her name, and why she has come.”
Hesitantly, Ellyn speaks now: “This might sound impossible, but what about Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlorien in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? Galadriel shows wisdom reflected in her water mirror.”
Rosemary adds, “That’s an ancient Celtic practice called scrying. I wish we had Tolkien’s book to know how to do it.”
Anne Kathleen says, “I have my copy. I never go anywhere without it. Let me find the page and I’ll read it aloud:”
They saw, as if she came in answer to their words, the Lady Galadriel approaching.
Tall and white and fair she walked beneath the trees. She spoke no word, but beckoned to them.
Her eyes on the page, Anne Kathleen cannot see what the others do. As the words are read aloud, the Lady Galadriel comes,
enacting her own movements just as in the story. Magically, the Garden of Iona is transformed into the place described.
The Communion members, as though under an enchantment, follow Galadriel.
Turning aside, she led them toward the southern slopes of the hill… and passing through a high green hedge they came into an enclosed
garden. No trees grew there, and it lay open to the sky. The evening star had risen and was shining with white fire above the western woods.
Down a long flight of steps the Lady went into a deep green hollow, through which ran murmuring the silver stream that issued from the
fountain on the hill. At the bottom, upon a low pedestal carved like a branching tree, stood a basin of silver, wide and shallow,
and beside it stood a silver ewer.
With water from the stream Galadriel filled the basin to the brim, and breathed on it, and when the water was still again she spoke.
“Here is the Mirror of Galadriel,” she said. “I have brought you here so that you may look in it, if you will.”
Galadriel Image beside her mirror (from the Lord of the Rings)
The air was very still, and the dell was dark, and the Elf-lady beside (them) was tall and pale.
“What shall we look for and what shall we see?” (they) asked, filled with awe.
"Many things I can command the Mirror to reveal,” she answered, “and to some I can show what they desire to see.
"But the Mirror will also show things unbidden, and those are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold.
"What you will see, if you leave the Mirror free to work, I cannot tell. For it shows things that were, and things that are,
and things that may yet be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell. Do you wish to look?”
Looking up from the book, seeing the Communion members have disappeared, Anne Kathleen goes in search of them,
arriving just in time to hear Galadriel’s question, and the response from each woman: “Yes.”
And so begins the most magical of all our rituals on Iona.
One by one, each woman steps forward to stand beside Galadriel.
In the clarity and strength of her presence, each one looks without fear into the mirror.
Now it is your turn. Come forward. Do not fear. Look into the water. Wait while the clouds on the surface clear.
What do you seek?
What do you see?
Take the time you need. Afterwards, you may wish to move a little apart to make notes on your experience
or to draw or dance what you have seen/felt/ glimpsed/ understood.
Gathering Space for August 20, 2019
Scrying with Galadriel: Part Two
This evening, as the women of our communion start coming into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona, each looks about the grassy enclosure, then beyond to where trees obscure a pathway. Some of the looks are hopeful, expectant; others are cautious, a few even fearful. No one has yet spoken.
Finally, someone asks, “Is she here? Or do you think she is coming?” A chorus of questions follows. Everyone seems to be wondering about Galadriel. Will she return? Will we have another opportunity to gaze into her Mirror?
Kate is looking thoughtful. “If I understand Galadriel, her coming will depend on whether or not we want her to return.” Kate pauses while we take this in, then asks, “Well do we want her to come?”
“I’m not sure I want to know anything more than what I saw last time,” Carol says. “It will take me a while to really understand it.”
Maureen agrees. “Once is enough for me, too.”
“I’m wondering…” Clara begins, and everyone looks her way. “Well, I just wonder how it would be if we asked Galadriel to show us something about our whole communion, since we’ve each had our chance to see a personal vision.”
This suggestion is greeted with relief, even enthusiasm. The mood of the group quickly shifts to a subdued excitement.
“How shall we invite her to return?”
Yet no answer is needed. Galadriel is already standing among us, gesturing for us to follow her along the path that leads to her mirror.
In moments, we are gathered around the tree-shaped pedestal, watching as Galadriel fills her silver ewer with water
from the nearby stream, pours it into her shallow silver bowl.
“Do not stand too near, and be careful not to touch the water,” Galadriel advises.
“Make a circle so that everyone can see the surface of the mirror.”
Although we seem to have only arrived minutes before, the sky is now fully dark.
There is no moon. We gaze upwards towards more stars than any of us have seen or even imagined.
There are so many that it is impossible to make out the shapes of the familiar constellations, riddled as they are
with flickering lights within and around them.
“Now look carefully at the surface of the water, and wait,” Galadriel says.
And so we gaze, and wait. And wait. And wait.
Galadriel Returns to our Garden
Someone whispers, “There is nothing to see.” Another voice says, just as softly, “I don’t think anything is going to happen.”
“Quiet,” Galadriel speaks in a voice of command. “You must wait or the vision will not come to you.”
We see a bowl. It holds dark water. The surface begins to fold as though someone were blowing a breath of air across it.
The folds grow larger until they look like waves. We are gazing into a dark sea whose waves rise and fall and rise again.
At the edge of the bowl a tiny radiant star is rising until it stands above the waves. A guiding light.
“Star of the sea”, someone whispers. But no one hears, for now on the surface of the sea, a little boat has appeared.
It is enclosed, made of wood, looking like an ark from a child’s picture book.
It moves over the waves, rising and falling with them. The tiny star is leading it forward.
Suddenly the vision fades. We are looking at a bowl of water that holds starlight in its clear unruffled surface.
“What did you see?” Galadriel asks.
“A sea.” “A ship”. “A star.” The responses carry disappointment.
Now the white lady smiles, and seems on the edge of laughter. “But what did you desire to see?”
It takes us a moment to put the expectation with the result.
Rita speaks: “We hoped to see a vision for our Communion. Who we are. Where we are going….
"Might it be all of us inside that ark, floating on a sea, not certain where we are going, but guided by the Star of the Sea? ”
Galadriel’s smile is warm. “What is the meaning of that title, “Star of the Sea” ?
Colette responds: “Isn’t that a title of the Sacred Feminine?”
Suzanne is excited. “Yes. It is one of the ancient titles of Isis in Egypt. And it is also a title of Mary. Stella Maris in Latin. Star of the Sea.”
The mood is shifting from mild disappointment to wonder. To awe.
Galadriel looks at each one of us. “Do not be afraid. You are on a journey together across the sea of faith to an unknown destination.
"You are being guided by the presence of love, the ancient feminine form of the Sacred: Wisdom Sophia. Be joyful, for you are greatly loved.”
Suddenly she is gone. We make our way back to the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, guided by the light of uncountable stars.
Gathering Space for Lughnasadh 2019
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.
“It will be over so soon, all this warmth and colour and flowering of nature…” Carol muses.
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 is already at an end. Do you know of Lughnasadh, the festival that welcomes Autumn? We celebrate it as August begins."
The woman who is speaking is Dolores Whelan. Most of what we have learned in our time together 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.
“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, then 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 acknowledgement 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.
Shirley says, “It seems so sad. Burying the garlands, an ending to the beauty of summer.”
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. Lughnasadh is a time to rejoice, to give thanks for the abundant harvest created through our conscious engagement with life during this year’s journey. It is a time when we ask, “What am I harvesting? What skills have I perfected?” And 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.”
Ellyn 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 Colette 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.”
IMAGE OF LUGH
Gathering Space for the Summer Solstice June 18, 2019
The soft light of evening welcomes us to the Garden on Iona. It is the time of summer solstice, the time when sunlight wakens us early and accompanies our evening activities. These are the days born from our winter dreams when the longest nights of December Solstice were followed by days whose dawns came earlier. This is the time when seeds planted in our hearts in winter’s darkness emerge into new life.
We have planned a ritual to celebrate Solstice. Once all thirty of us have arrived and have each found a comfortable place to sit either on the low stone wall, or on our new quilts spread out on the grass, we begin with a poem by Mary Oliver:
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself
out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar
out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth
instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous
and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and
thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed,
how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last,
and too soon ?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver’s question echoes around our circle, finds its way inside us….
After a time of reflection, another question is asked, this one from Dolores Whelan’s Celtic Calendar:
What seeds sown in the darkness of winter
have now blossomed and opened in my life?
Our mysterious flute player (might she be one of the thirteenth century Augustinian nuns?) is somewhere nearby within the crumbled remains of the Chapel. Her notes rise to flow across the air, to clear our thoughts, focus our hearts, allowing memories of winter plantings to rise in us, showing us how those hopes have emerged, what they have become in our lives…..
(time for sharing)
After each woman speaks, the group prays together:
May you see and celebrate the triumph of light as it is expressed in all that flowers in you at this time.
While each of us remembers, recognizes, shares our blossoming, and receives the group’s blessing, the last light of longest day is slowly ebbing from the sky. As the sky dims, then darkens the full moon is rising, her light illuminating our familiar garden with magic.
When the last person has spoken, it is time to stand, to move about, to begin the ritual we have adapted from Kathleen Glennon’s book: Heartbeat of the Seasons.
Opening: We gather in a circle around our unlit fire pot.
When the fire has been lighted, we sing, with these 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
- 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
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
- 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
Each woman is given a small unlit tea-light. 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
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
With sun’s burning love
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, fullness of moon light,
Love light, fire light,
Candle light, God light.
Dancing around the fire
Finally, we 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.
In our hearts we bless the numinous presence from an earlier century
as she plays a lively dance tune for us on her flute.
Gathering Space for June 11, 2019
The early evening sun pours white-gold light over the grass, the abundant greenery of low bushes, the kaleidoscope of colour
created by June roses, lady slippers, iris, foxgloves, primroses. As each of us arrives, the beauty of the garden stops us in our tracks.
For a while the only sound is that of caught breath, low murmurs of delight and wonder.
Only when eyes and hearts have taken their fill of this loveliness do we turn our awareness to our companions. We each choose a spot
on the inner edges of our two new quilts. We create a circle within their double rectangle, ready to begin
our weekly greetings and exchange of news.
When the conversations quiet, there comes that weekly moment of wondering: What will be our theme this evening?
Has someone prepared a poem or song? a question for our reflection?
It is Noreen who speaks first: In these past weeks as we have been reflecting on what we are longing for in the new Spirituality
that is coming to birth among us.
I notice that several of us have gained insight into our own lives and relationships, our way of being on this planet.
So I wondered if this evening we might look at how our Communion reflects those longings and experiences in important ways.
We are weaving together a spirituality strong enough, supple enough to offer us guidance for these times
in which we have been blessed and called to live.
I had this idea that could be fun: As so much of what we share here and on our Communion page is in words,
why not use gestures, body language, like a game of Charades?
Each of us in turn would stand in the centre of the Garden and show by gestures, by body language one thread in that weaving.
We are all silent, looking at Noreen, at once both shy and uncertain.
All right. I'll go first.
Standing in the centre of the circle between the two quilts, Noreen lifts her arms to gesture widely,
an embrace that draws in trees, and flowers, the sky, the earth, one fluttering robin.
Then her arms are lowered, creating a circle around her heart.
Noreen takes her place among us in the circle and asks,
What thread in our tapestry was that?
The first responses are single words: earth, sky, grass, trees, flowers....
Noreen gestures that it is something more.
Then Mary speaks:
Our Spirituality rests on knowing that we are part of the earth and all that lives upon, within and around it.
Noreen gestures for Mary to do the next Charade. Mary stands very still for a moment, then creates a circling movement with her hands
as they hover above her solar plexus, then lifts both hands up to the sky and down to the earth in an act of honouring.
After some of us make a few guesses that make Mary smile, Anne Fensom says,
There is a sacred presence within us that honours the sacredness of earth and sky.
Now it is Anne’s turn to offer a charade.
After a pause, Anne wraps her arms around herself, then opens her arms to gesture around the circle.
This one takes longer, with many more guesses until Clara speaks: We know we are held in love and that love is what we offer to one another…..
Anne gestures for something more…and Clara adds... and to everyone, to all of life.
The light on this long evening is beginning to fade. It is too dark to continue the charades.
Noreen invites each of us to think of the other threads in the spirituality we are creating together,
and to write about them on our private Communion page.
Suddenly a small bright light from a cellphone lightens the growing darkness and Carol Zickell speaks:
I’ve brought a poem by WS Merwin that weaves us together with the stars. It’s called Nocturne:
The stars emerge one
by one into the names
that were last found for them
far back in other
darkness no one remembers
by watchers whose own
names were forgotten
later in the dark
and as the night deepens
other lumens begin
to appear around them
as though they were shining
through the same instant
from a single depth of age
though the time between
each one of them
and its nearest neighbor
contains in its span
the whole moment of the earth
turning in a light
that is not its own
with the complete course
of life upon it
born to brief reflection
recognition and anguish
from one cell evolving
to remember daylight
laughter and distant music
After Carol reads Merwin's poem, and at our request, reads it a second and a third time, we sit in silence,
watching the sky as it slowly darkens, as the stars gradually become brighter. Though its distance from us is unimaginable,
Jupiter is nearer to us than usual this week, a closeness that occurs every thirteen months. With careful gaze we discern its brightest moons.
Jupiter with its brightest moons: Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede. (Getty image)
When we gather here next week, it will be time to celebrate Summer Solstice.
Gathering Space for June 5, 2019
The Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona is comfortable this evening, the temperature slowly climbing towards the mid-fifties Fahrenheit, twelve degrees Celsius. Though the sky will remain light for a few more hours, the stars will be amazing as they always are on a clear night in the dark of the moon.
We stand for a few moments to gaze at the colours of our two new quilts,
before choosing a place to sit, creating a circle around the inside edges.
Once the murmur of greetings softens to a few whispers, Cynthia stands to light the fire pot.
"Though I did not contribute colour for the quilt, I was immersed in colour last week," Cynthia says. "This is what was happening at my home at the time. I have just had my house in Perth Australia painted in my favourite house colours!
"I brought a photo to share with you.
"The turquoise would go well in the blue/green quilt and the salmon-pink shade would blend in with the warm red tones.
"How about if we each express our thoughts and feelings as we gaze on our two new quilts with the colours they hold, each symbolizing our desires, our experiences of a spirituality emerging in our time," Cynthia suggests. "Who would like to start?"
Suzanne speaks: "Awesome colors, heartfelt intentions. Bridie was definitely inspired to blend the blues and greens together and the red, oranges, creating the mythic symbol of fire in water."
Noreen speaks: "My life is so enriched by all the messages given and the way all is woven…. I am a better person because of your shared inspiration."
Mary Ellen speaks: "The reflections in the essay by Kathleen Duffy about Teilhard and Sophia resonate with our choice of colours for the quilt. From the recognition of Divine Presence in the various aspects of creation which lure us into wonder to a sense of the fiery heart-tones of Love at the Heart of all matter, and all of the Cosmos. The colours and subtle designs of the quilts inspire me to …evolution in myself. My choice of colour was very different this time from my choice for the last quilt. I have evolved! And yet my first colour choice is contained in the second. Where is Sophia taking me? I know that each of you, and our shared reflections and experiences are very much part of my evolution."
Yvette speaks: "As I was reflecting on our two new beautiful quilts, I was thinking about the spectacular tones of color. I remembered playing with a kaleidoscope as a child and praying with one as an adult. Thank you for the many colors you shared, colors that image our inspired, creative, and, yes, wild selves."
Joy speaks: "I was also fascinated by the kaleidoscope as a child. Maybe because geometry is part of the Universal Mind? Blessings to all of you as we seek to become more conscious of what underpins our soul’s journey."
Corinne speaks: "My colour choice was lost on its way to Iona last week so I shall tell you now that I chose Yellow:
… because it brings
Joy to All
Powerful key filled with new Possibilities
Wholeness that brings creativity to flow into a fulfilling New Life…
"When I thought further of my colour, I remembered the yellow brick road from the Wizard of Oz.
"We are walking that road together into mystery and new life."
Jean speaks: "As I listened to each of you as you spoke last week of your choices of colour,
I remembered a spiritual experience I had that was alive with colour, opening my heart to newness.
"When I was just a child, I wanted to connect to the Divine Mother with all my heart.
I prayed, promised to give up candy, and waited in expectation for this visitation.
"When I had all but given up hope, I looked out my bedroom window and was shocked by what I saw.
"EVERYTHING was alive and pulsing with energy. Even as I observed it, I was swept up
into the dynamic heartbeat of existence as it was constantly unfolding and renewing itself.
"The flowers pulsed with an ecstatic energy that filled me with joy.
"The colors became electric and somehow I was interwoven into the great tapestry of life
that I was both witnessing and enmeshed within. For I don't know how long,
the boundaries of plant, animal, human, inside, outside, and good, bad simply dissolved
and I experienced the miracle of simultaneously creating and being created.
"As a six year old, I couldn't share this amazing vision because I had no words to explain it,
and I doubt if anyone would have understood its significance for me.
"Instead, the memory became a part of my soul and I knew my life had been changed forever."
After Jean speaks, Cynthia invites us into a few moments of silence to absorb the wonder of all we have heard from one another, our companions on this yellow brick road that we imagine now surrounded by vibrant colours.
Gathering Space for May 28, 2019
As we come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona, the sun is still pouring its yellow-gold light over new life rising everywhere around us. The Summer Solstice is little more than three weeks away. These longer evenings are a delight. We take time to appreciate the giddy green of the new grass, the paler yellow-green of newly-opened leaves on trees and bushes, the brilliant variegated palette of blooming flowers. The blue of the cloud-free sky is a comfort after the rains of recent weeks, though the air is still cool at 50 degrees Fahrenheit, 10 degrees Celsius.
The moon has not yet risen. When she does, we will see a narrow white-gold crescent, waning towards darkness.
There is a quilt spread out over the grass where our circle forms around the fire pot. A glance shows us the familiar colours and pattern of the quilt that Bridie and her friends on Iona sewed for us two years ago.
Our quilt from 2017
No one wants to question this but perhaps our expressions speak, for Elspeth responds: "Yes, this is the quilt that was sewn from the colours you chose in 2017. But something new has happened on Iona. We now have the Internet.
"Bridie and her merry band of quilters have been reading the emails you've sent about your colour choices for this year's quilt. They decided to do something different this year, something more creative, for you have challenged us with your variations of shades: your yellow-greens and red-golds, tree-leaf greens and translucent greens, your turquoise and magentas, your blue-sea-green-lavenders, and deep sky blues, your fiery red, radiant red and golden red…They hunted through their fabrics to try to come up with each of these as you described them.
"It was Bridie herself who had the inspiration. Some of the women in her group are still at work on the results. They will arrive with this year's completed quilts within the hour. So I suggest we begin now with the ritual I spoke about last week.
"Gather as comfortably as you can on our 2017 quilt. You may recognize the colour you chose for this first quilt, and see how your choice has changed or deepened for this year's quilt.
"Will someone light the firepot?"
Ruth rises to do this for us.
Elspeth continues: "I would like to invite each of you who sent an email to tell us about the colour you chose, and how for you it is a way of expressing your deepest desire for an aspect of a new spirituality.
"Whoever wishes to begin may do so. After each woman speaks, we will honour her words with a moment of silence. I shall lead you in this chant, adapted from Kathleen Glennon's book Heartbeat of the Seasons:
From our dreams
A quilt of many colours.
Suzanne speaks: "The universe lures me to the blue green lavender of the ocean as my shimmering grey skin dives meeting salty starfish, pink medusas, brown tiger striped crabs wrapped in the luminescent green of sea grass."
From our dreams
A quilt of many colours.
Noreen speaks: "My deepest desire, in the evolution of a new spirituality, is best described by a fiery red colour. I am both drawn to a flame in the inner well-spring of my being, and drawn also by Teilhard’s vision of the divine flame at the heart of the universe. Both flames are vibrant and alive.
"Over several months the words, O breathe on me O breath of God, until this earthly part of me, glows with your love divine, has been a constant longing in my prayer. This petition puts me in touch ‘with the fire of love within all things,’ drawing me forward as the universe expands.
"This love divine is a call for me to put my heart at the service of the evolution of love. This call asks of me to be the eyes of wonder, its heart of love, and its allurement towards union. Everything is blessed and holy. The flame of fiery red is a beautiful and heart-reaching grace calling me, us, to action in this new spirituality, the evolution of love. Love indeed is the energy that sustains the universe moving us forward into a future of resurrection."
From our dreams
A quilt of many colours.
Mary-Ellen speaks: "As I prayed with the colour of the new spirituality based in Love, my soul saw and experienced a golden red at the heart of it all. I experience it in so many moments and places from the now lush green of spring which has evolved outside my window to the energy of gatherings of persons to reflect on a just, compassionate vision for Canada in a Green New Deal, to the mutual exchange of a silent loving gaze between myself and a loved one, to the Sun breaking through the clouds bringing life and joy, to solidarity with the indigenous people of the world."
From our dreams
A quilt of many colours.
Yvette speaks: "The color I am choosing is turquoise. Turquoise connects to our lungs, especially to the higher vibration of the lungs which is spirituality, creativity, intuition, imagination and the quality of being in-tune with nature, with oneself, and with the flow of life. Turquoise inspires calmness, clarity of thought and communication associated with recharging the spirit, replenishing energy levels, and calling forth positive thought. Turquoise can help us to share our understandings with others as it encourages us to share from the heart. It can spur us on to believe that our personal contributions of knowledge and understanding are essential to the collective sense of communion."
From our dreams
A quilt of many colours.
Shirley speaks: "During my sacred hour this past week I was absorbed in the beauty around me and the word precious often arose in me, as well as the symbol of a vibrating and radiating red heart. This for me represents the love and preciousness at the heart of the universe and the Divine presence in everything. I choose a vibrant and radiant red for the colour of my cloth for our quilt. For me it is a symbol of the heart longing for deeper connection with the Divine and a burning longing to bring new consciousness of our role to love and act.
"There is a quotation by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin that I find relevant to our conversation: There is an almost sensual longing for communion with others who have a larger vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality almost impossible to describe.”
From our dreams
A quilt of many colours.
Mary speaks: "Spring is full of many colours. As I watch the trees from my window with their many shades of green, they speak to me of hope that all will be well. Therefore I choose the many shades of green."
From our dreams
A quilt of many colours.
Ruth speaks: "Having just spent the time in England with Carol, part of it under the gorgeous brilliance of the Cornwall sky, and now spending two weeks in Colorado, where the same brilliant blue shines over dryer air and land, I can choose no other color than that same beautiful deep sky blue. "
From our dreams
A quilt of many colours.
Ellyn speaks: "Magenta is my colour.
"The Korean textile artist Kimsooja writes: When I was putting a needle into a silky fabric…I felt the whole energy of the universe pass through my body and to this needle point.
"I learned how to embroider as a girl with my grandmother, Pearl. Did I feel the whole energy of the universe pass through my body and to my needle point?
"Pondering those embroidery lessons and precious times of being guided...
I did feel the joy of being together, just the two of us."
From our dreams
A quilt of many colours.
Colette speaks: "I have always been mesmerized by the light of the sun shining through the leaves of the trees making them translucent. This is way back and always even before I knew anything about Teilhard’s insights. Something in me knew somehow, intuited that the Divine was shining through creation through this splendor. It always just turns on the contemplative gaze in me and fills my heart with gladness. So I will choose a tender translucent green for the quilt."
From our dreams
A quilt of many colours.
Carol speaks: "My own is much like yours, Colette, the dazzling greens of this season of the sun shimmering in the leaves. Yes, enchanted by this all my life, I choose for the quilt the pale gold-greens of new spring growth in their luminescence."
From our dreams
A quilt of many colours.
Just as we sing the chant for the final time, we see Bridie and three other women hurrying towards us. They are carrying two long wrapped bundles among them. They stop at the edge of our circle, as Bridie gestures to Elspeth to speak.
Elspeth is smiling like one ready to burst with her secret. "It was Bridie who noticed as she read your emails that this year the colours you chose are more closely related to one another than last year's choices. In fact the colours fell into two families of related shades. So Bridie and her friends decided to create two quilts for you this year. They will spread them now on the grass so you can examine them more closely.
"Do you see how your desires for spirituality blend the cool shades of water/sky/ tree/leaf for the first quilt?
"The second holds warm tones of fiery, vibrant red/ gold-red and magenta."
Bridie is clearly delighted with the results of their efforts and says something unintelligible which Elspeth translates: "Bridie especially asks you to notice the butterflies that represent new life in shades of magenta and golden red."
We take time to marvel at the beauty of what our friends on Iona have created for us, to gaze in wonder at the colours that express a new spiritual vision arising from our hearts, within our Communion.
Gathering Space for May 21, 2019
The evening sky is clear as we make our way into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona, under a moon just now waning from its fulness of Friday.
On this late May evening, the air is still cool, the temperature hovering around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, 11 degrees Celsius.
In the open space of grass, we see a surprising sight ... a large canvas sheet, a reclining sail, is spread atop eight sturdy poles
implanted in the grass, creating a protective ceiling. As we come closer, we see under this fragile roof,
several women who are strangers to us, busily arranging baskets of many-coloured cloths on a long trestle table.
We pause, suddenly shy, each of us wondering if, by some mix-up, a different group has asked to meet in the Garden this evening.
One of the women looks fully at us, and smiles. It takes only a heartbeat until we recognize her.
"Elspeth!" several of us cry out at once. It is the Iona storyteller who has come to us before, bringing magical tales.
Elspeth invites us to come under the canvas roof. When all thirty of us have gathered,
she calls the women away from their work to introduce them.
"These women are friends of mine who are part of Iona's Quilting Circle. When I visited with them last week,
I spoke of my time with you a few months back. They were very interested in your Communion of Creative Fire
and asked many questions. When they learned that you meet outdoors from the Spring Equinox to Samhain,
they came up with a splendid idea. They would like to create a quilt for your gatherings here,
a softer place to sit than on the bare ground. They asked me what the theme of your gatherings might be,
and I said you were drawing together strands to weave a new spirituality for our time.
So this is their idea. I shall invite Bridie to tell you of it."
The next moments are a blur, a burr of sound, as Bridie's heavy Scots accent tumbles over us like a river
pouring down the mountain. Elspeth listens, looks at us and laughs merrily. "Perhaps I could translate.
"Bridie invites each of you to think about, to allow to rise in your heart, the most powerful and lovely desire you have
for this new spirituality, this new way of relating to the love at the heart of the universe.
She invites you to then come to look into the baskets of coloured cloths and choose one or perhaps two to reflect that desire."
There is another roll of Scots thunder from Bridie and then Elspeth speaks once more: "Bridie suggests that the colours relate to your desire.
"For those of you whose love for Mother Earth is at the heart of your spirituality, blue for her waters
or green for her plants and trees might be what you choose, or violet or blush pink or daffodil yellow to honour her flowers.
"If the universe itself lures you, perhaps silver for the stars in the night sky or colours of dawn or sunset
would be your choice. If your lure is towards a sacred presence, you might choose a colour that in your heart
honours the Sophia or Brigid or Mary... Maybe you are drawn by Teilhard's vision of the divine flame at the heart
of the universe so you would choose a fiery red.
"Take a few moments to let your deep gladness rise. Think of a colour that represents your desire,
then come to choose your cloth or cloths.
"Take a piece of blank paper and a pencil from the box on the table, find a place to sit where you might write a few words
about why you chose that cloth. Meanwhile, the women will clear the table and lay on it the large under-piece for our quilt.
When they have it ready, you may come and choose a place for your cloth. The women will assist you to pin it there.
"When you gather here next week, the quilt will be assembled, if not entirely sewn, and we shall have a ritual.
For the ritual, bring words about your choice of colour: a sentence, a song, a poem that expresses
your deepest desire for an aspect of a new spirituality. Your words and the colour you chose will form
the heart of the ritual, along with this chant, adapted from Kathleen Glennon (Heartbeat of the Seasons):
From our dreams
A quilt of many colours.
When each of us has completed the task of choosing, reflecting upon and pinning our cloths,
Bridie speaks once more. This time we understand her words: “Time for treats.”
The pinned fabric carefully rolled up in tissue, the table begins to blossom with plates of scones and cookies,
pottery mugs and a great cauldron of hot chocolate, magically steaming hot.
What colour do you choose? Two years ago some of us chose a colour to represent our deep gladness in this time of the birthing of a new spirituality, inspired by Teilhard, the mystics, our insights into the universe, and our own life experience. You may now make a different choice, or have new reasons for an earlier colour you chose. Those who were not here two years ago are invited to choose a colour and add a few words about your choice. Please email your colours and as Bridie suggests, "a sentence, a song, a poem" to Anne Kathleen before Monday night May 27th.
Gathering Space for May 14, 2019
It is a cloudy, cool May evening, though there is no wind coming off the North Atlantic.
The moon will rise soon, waxing towards her fulness by week's end. 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 form
a rather uneven circle where we can see and hear one another clearly.
Kate bends to light the fire pot, straightens to speak to us. "Teilhard de Chardin has been in our thoughts lately,
and so this evening I'd like to speak with you about a retreat I attended in Cleveland Ohio a few years ago.
The presenter was Ilia Delio who, as you know, was offered Teilhard's notes, which were given
after his death to the University where Ilia was teaching. She has devoted years of reflection
to this treasure trove, has published articles, books, and now offers conferences and
on-line seminars to share Teilhard's insights and wisdom.
"Ilia Delio’s retreat, Love, Universe and the Emergence of God, was held at River’s Edge,
the main residence of Cleveland Sisters of St. Joseph.
The grounds are spacious and conducive to quiet walks and contemplation.
"Ilia reminded us that we live in a God-centered universe filled with
the love energy of a mysterious God.
This love-filled universe, from the moment of its beginning, is continually evolving
and we are evolving with it. This evolution requires freedom – an ebb and flow
in union with the free uncontainable love energy of God. We are being called
into a new consciousness that recognizes that in this evolving universe
nothing is fixed and immovable.
"We are continually being oriented toward newness – to a deeper and wider level of relationality
and interconnectedness within the love energy of the Christ who permeates the Cosmos.
As our consciousness of this reality grows we notice a shift taking place in the world around us.
We begin to experience ourselves being caught up in the personal overflowing love of the Trinity
eternally pouring forth New Life – the Spirit. We begin to allow ourselves
to be drawn and enriched by this Spirit of Love and to yearn for it.
"Ilia reminded us that humanity, cosmos and God are united
in a single personal centre, the Risen Christ.
The power of the Risen Christ is continually being released in the cosmos
as an energizing, dynamic movement of compassionate, creative love.
Christianity is a religion of evolution and we are invited to live it in joyful hope.
In doing so we will be like an arrow pointing the way to a new religious consciousness
that binds all together – God, cosmos, humanity – in a union of love.
"A new future is breaking in on us, rising up over the horizon of consciousness.
We are being called to be Christic evolvers, God-filled presences radiating
love and compassion, contributing to the ongoing Christification of the universe.
"Following her presentation, Ilia offered us questions which I offer you now for your own reflection:
Where is the Spirit inviting you to grow
- in an expanding image of God?
- in an expanding heart that includes all of God’s creation?
- in an expanding creativity that empowers you to participate in active inclusive love?
What aspects of your life have evolved?
What aspects of your life have resisted change?
What is the difference between “life evolved” and “life resisted”?
Bring your desire to evolve to the Holy One. Hold it there and listen.
Let go. Surrender to Love.
"I invite you to bring these questions, the ones that allure you most, to your Sacred Hour.
Next week we may hear some of your own thoughts on these themes."
Kate rejoins the circle as we thank her for sharing with us her experience
of the retreat and the questions posed by Ilia.
A delicious scent is rising in the spring air. Colleen has begun to pass pottery cups around the circle
and has opened a large thermos. "Mulled wine," she says."The perfect beverage
for a cool evening in May. I have the thermos balanced here on the Chapter House stones.
Come, bring your cup and fill it with warmth."
Gathering Space for May 7, 2019
On this evening in early May, we gather in the garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona.
There is a brisk wind off the sea so we are clutching shawls, sweaters or jackets around us
as we settle onto the worn grey stones that once formed the foundation of the Chapter House.
There is a murmur like the low hum of bees as we greet one another.
A sudden hush, a silence rises like a soft cloud, as one by one our heads turn towards a corner of the garden,
where, once more, miraculously it seems, a woman sits on the other side of the window
that once opened out from the 13th century nunnery.
We know who she is. Though her fourteenth century cloak and headpiece are clues,
it is the settled kindly wisdom in her gaze that gives her away.
Beyond hope, beyond expectation, yet perhaps allured to us by our unspoken desires,
Julian of Norwich has joined us once again.
the window "that once opened out from the thirteenth century nunnery"
Those among us who are not dumbstruck begin to murmur greetings, words of welcome.
Julian smiles at our shyness, our wonder, our surprise.
“I am here because you drew me with your longing. You desire to understand so much about God,
or... whatever name you use in your time for the Holy Presence of Love.
I have no degrees in theology, and certainly never claimed to be a teacher,
but I have known that Love in my life. What do you wish to ask me?”
Yvette is the first to recover enough from surprise to respond:
“Julian, you said you came here because our desire drew you here. Will you speak more about desire?”
“It is through our desires, Yvette, our deepest longings, that God, the Holy One, draws us.
Allurement. Is that not what your physicists now find to be at the heart of the universe?
The galaxies are held in place by it, spinning in a dance of desire and longing.
The earth is drawn to the sun, held in orbit by its attraction,
just as the moon is allured to the earth, the tides of the seas to the moon,
even the very blood of our womanly bodies is lured into rhythm by the moon.
So with us. Our deepest desires draw us into the Presence of Love.”
There is silence as we take this in.
Colette looks uncomfortable: “But our desires sometimes lure us away from God, don’t they?”
“Now you are coming to the heart of the question,” Julian answers her.
“It takes a wise heart, Colette, and considerable practice to recognize deep desire.
But if you trust in the Love that holds you in tenderness, you will learn
to take your desires to their source by asking, What is it that I really want?
“When we are young, life sparkles like a sea of jewels and everything draws us.
Slowly, often through painful errors, we learn to recognize the deeper joys and truest gifts.”
Julian seems to sense our confusion. She adds, “I didn’t say it was easy, only that it is the way
towards Love, for it is Love’s way of drawing us. To close ourselves off from longing,
to settle for a life without desire, may appear safer, may help us to avoid some suffering,
but it will not lead us into Love.”
Ruth has a question: “But Julian, didn’t you yourself choose a way of life as an anchoress
in order not to be distracted by other desires? You couldn’t even leave your anchorhold,
smell a rose, see the stars, walk among people, go to the market!”
At this Julian laughs merrily. “Remember, Ruth, that I didn’t go into the anchorhold
until after I was thirty. In my time that was a goodly age for a woman to reach,
her girlhood and youth long past. And truly I was lured into that way of life
by a powerful experience of love. One night as I lay near death, I had conversations
with the Love of my life: in my mind’s eye I saw the suffering Jesus.
He taught me through that night all I ever learned of Love. The desire to become an anchoress
followed, for I wished to be only in the Presence of that Love.
But I wished also to have the solitude I needed to reflect on what I had learned,
and to write it so that you in your time might know that Love is at the heart of our lives,
at the heart of the Universe. I spent the next twenty years writing, Revelations of Divine Love.
I wrote it, though I did not know it then, for your time,
for people like you, Ruth, who seek to live the way of Love.”
There is a silence as we each absorb her words. Then Adriana asks, “But weren’t you lonely?”
Julian looks at her. “Lonely? O my dear Adriana, how could I be lonely when half of Norwich
passed by my open window each day! My anchorhold was beside the busiest road in the city.
People began coming to my window to speak of their lives, their sorrows, their struggles.
"Like you, they asked questions. There were hours each day when I listened,
then told them what they had just told me. I often smiled secretly
as they called me wise for simply repeating their own wisdom.
"For I believe God‘s Spirit is in all of us, giving light, wisdom and understanding,
showing us gently what we cannot see, what we are afraid to see,
that we may show mercy, wisdom and kindness to ourselves.
“From that same window came the scent of the red roses in the garden below.
From that window, on many a night, I looked out at the stars.
I was happy there in my anchorhold. Wondrously happy.
“And so shall you be happy, dear friends. For I pray God grant you all your good desires and longings.
It is all in the choosing. It is all in the asking.”
Suddenly she is gone, leaving us without words.
Rosemary has brought her harp. Now she lifts it, begins to play some soft notes.
The music draws us within ourselves. We remain in silence,
allowing the deepest desires and longings of our hearts to rise.