Gathering Space for June 30, 2020
On this last evening of June, the halfway point of the year 2020, the sun touches our faces,
warming them as its light radiates around us.
We come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, our eyes opened to its rich greenness, what Hildegard would call
its viriditas or life force. We look with newly appreciative eyes at flowering bushes,
clusters of flowers in pink, yellow, white and violet.
Can we remember the icy emptiness of this place in January? Can we remember ourselves at that time,
unaware of the life-changing virus quietly making its way around the planet?
And yet now, in some vague way, impossible to fasten down in words, we know we are living through newness
more radical than the change from barren winter to full summer.
As the poet Yeats wrote, “All is changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born.”
Tonight we have come to share together through poetry, and through other readings we have found,
something of the “terrible beauty”, something of the indescribable newness, something that we dare to call transformation.
We each find a place to sit on one of our three quilts, careful to maintain the two metre/six foot
social distancing still in effect. Our quilts are arranged in a triangular shape, each separated from the other two
by a large space. In the centre of the triangle our fire pot sits. Beside it, we see a woven basket,
filled to the brim with paper scrolls, each tied with a green ribbon.
As Karen rises to light the fire pot, our eager greetings soften to stillness.
“This basket holds poetry and prose writings inspired by or related in theme
to our planet-wide experience of these past months, “ Karen says. “I invite you to come forward as you feel ready,
one at a time, to choose a scroll, to stand by the fire as you read aloud what you have chosen,
what has chosen you. If you wish, you may add a comment after your reading.”
We look about wondering who will begin.
Carol comes to the basket and withdraws a scroll. She opens it, saying with delight:
“Mary Oliver! This is her poem, Pink Moon – The Pond ”
You think it will never happen again.
Then, one night in April,
the tribes wake trilling.
You walk down to the shore.
Your coming stills them,
but little by little the silence lifts
until song is everywhere
and your soul rises from your bones
and strides out over the water.
It is a crazy thing to do -
for no one can live like that,
floating around in the darkness
over the gauzy water.
Left on the shore your bones
keep shouting come back!
But your soul won't listen;
in the distance it is unfolding
like a pair of wings, it is sparking
like hot wires. So,
like a good friend,
you decide to follow.
You step off the shore
and plummet to your knees -
you slog forward to your thighs
and sink to your cheekbones -
and now you are caught
by the cold chains of the water -
you are vanishing while around you
the frogs continue to sing, driving
their music upward through your own throat,
not even noticing
you are something else.
And that's when it happens -
you see everything
through their eyes,
their joy, their necessity;
you wear their webbed fingers;
your throat swells.
And that’s when you know
you will live whether you will or not,
one way or another,
because everything is everything else,
one long muscle.
It’s no more mysterious than that.
So you relax, you don’t fight it anymore,
the darkness coming down
called the green leaf, called
a woman's body
as it turns into mud and leaves,
as it beats in its cage of water,
as it turns like a lonely spindle
in the moonlight, as it says
“Everything is everything else,” Carol comments. “Mary Oliver has been teaching us that through her poetry for decades.
"Now that her work has been completed, we are just beginning to understand.”
Carol returns to her place on the quilt and Joy comes forward to take a scroll.
“The Poet David Whyte writes about Ground:
is what lies beneath our feet. It is the place where
we already stand; a state of recognition, the place or
the circumstances to which we belong whether we
wish to or not. It is what holds and supports us, but
also what we do not want to be true;
it is what challenges us, physically or psychologically,
irrespective of our hoped for needs.
It is the living, underlying foundation that tells us
what we are, where we are, what season we are in
and what, no matter what we wish in the abstract,
is about to happen in our body, in the
world or in the conversation between the two.
To come to ground is to find a home in circumstances
and in the very physical body we inhabit in the midst
of those circumstances and above all to face the truth,
no matter how difficult that truth may be; to come
to ground is to begin the courageous conversation,
to step into difficulty and by taking that first step, begin
the movement through all the difficulties, to find the sup-
port and foundation that has been beneath our feet all
along: a place to step onto, a place on which to stand
and a place from which to step.
“This could have been about the pandemic,” Joy says after her reading, "for we are learning
to step into difficulty and by taking that first step…to find the support and foundation
that has been beneath our feet all along… ”
As Joy returns to her place, Ruth rises, comes to the basket and takes the next scroll:
“This is a poem written by Michelle Massi for International Women's Day on March 8th of this year:
DIVINE FEMININE WISDOM AS EFFORTLESS ENERGY
Being in flow, Wu Wei Wisdom
River or a stream finding its way down
The mountain, being aligned with nature.
The life journey down the mountain,
We have every way we need......
Yin in action (XX)
Yang taking action (XY)
Wu Wei is the passage in between
the two energies, merging the two
together....the sacred space in confluence.
Hold the tension of opposites, in flow's perfection.
Be in harmony with all of creation.
Be inspired by the river, or be a tree in the wind,
Bend into authenticity.
Embody electricity, ignition's holy fire,
Unleash your blazing beacon.
Adversity invokes who you are,
Blessed holy wound, the good news.
Flow into everything with total acceptance,
In action, you can only control yourself,
Bow to your own incarnation.
Stay in Wu Wei, imbued with Chi..
Move out of Ego and listen to your gut, biome-a-dome.
Shape shifter, easy in/on/through and away.
Balance with and in all expression.
Breathe evenly and with exquisite Eros.
This is the empathetic embrace into compassion's heart,
Beloved Pilgrim, the responsibility is always available,
As yours, with the power of oscillation,
Every rewired moment, in timeless transcendence,
As synchronized Spirit.
Divine Design, feeling your Wu Wei.
Begin the new decade, be invested and radiate out,
Authenticity, that Electricity as ignition fueled,
Known and Unknown, BE invigorated.
Attach to the flood of light, pure GOLD.
Be perpetually curious in Wu Wei,
Evolutionary wisdom is always one breath away,
Peace in every moment,
You are not a verb......
You are a vibe
“I love the lines flow into everything with total acceptance and also the way the poet describes
the coming together of masculine and feminine energies: Yin in action and Yang taking action
and Wu Wei is the passage in between the two energies, merging the two together… the sacred space in confluence.”
After Ruth returns, Noreen rises to take her place by the basket, to choose the next scroll.
“This is a poem by the 20th century mystic Catherine de Vinck, called Walking in the Cosmos.
Not alien, yet too vast to imagine
this place we call home
This solitary jewel
sapphire on the throat of space.
Do we even have eyes for the patch of earth
in the backyard?
Do we feel the power of roots
pushing the single grass blade
to the light?
Not wrenched out of winter’s grasp:
quietly shooting forth
its slender green life.
Yet, sometimes an archaic memory
stirs us awake
We remember we are not alone
orphans lost in planetary storms.
We swim breast to breast
With other luminous bodies.
Within our blood
stars flash their signals
rivers circuit through our veins
the seas fluctuate rhythmically
in our brain
and the dust of dead constellations
mingles with our bones.
Turbulence, flux, chaos, a necessity
to translate the song of the oceans
to channel in to words the orbiting Sun
the tides of the moon.
We are the voices of plants
of animals, of stones;
we speak for invisible galaxies
as well as for the common violet
both sisterly near, both alive
wedded to our fleshy heart.
“’These are the words that speak to my heart: We are not alone, orphans lost in planetary storms….
We are the voices of plants of animals, of stones; we speak for invisible galaxies as well as for the common violet.
"I hope to remember this each morning and celebrate my oneness with all that is.”
Noreen returns to her place. Now it is Clara who comes forward to choose a scroll:
”This is an excerpt from the Russian novel, The Brothers Karamazov:
Love all of God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it.
Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals, love the
plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the
divine mystery in things. And once you have perceived it, you will begin
to comprehend it ceaselessly, more and more every day. And you will
come at last to love the whole world with an abiding universal love.
“These words touch my heart because I know that when we love, our eyes are opened
to see the divine mystery in everyone, in everything.”
After Clara sits down, no one moves for a moment. Karen invites, “Is there anyone else who would like to read this evening?”
Suzanne comes to the basket and pauses before selecting a scroll, reading it silently.
“This is what I hoped for: a poem that celebrates the gift of water.
"It was written by a beloved woman whom those of us who attended the Mystery School knew well: Betty Rothenberger."
Praise to you, Most Holy Water,
Source of life itself
Most intimately and importantly who I am
Thanks to you, Most Precious Water.
You support all life on Earth
From your rains, from your streams and rivers,
from your deep wells flourish all that live and grow
Deep gratitude to you, Most Abundant Water,
Your oceans teem with untold magnitudes
Your expansive and swelling surfaces beckon us and lead us forth
Salutations to you, Beloved Water in all your forms,
Your moods and myriad manifestations thrill and humble me.
“Thank you Betty,” Suzanne says, and returns to her place on the quilt.
There is still one more scroll in the basket. Colette comes forward to open it, to read:
“This poem was written in the midst of the pandemic by Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand:"
Rest now, e Papat??nuku (Mother Earth)
Breathe easy and settle
Right here where you are
We’ll not move upon you
We’ll stop, we’ll cease
We’ll slow down and stay home
Draw each other close and be kind
Kinder than we’ve ever been.
I wish we could say
we were doing it for you
as much as ourselves
But hei aha
We’re doing it anyway
It’s right. It’s time.
Time to return
Time to remember
Time to listen and forgive
Time to withhold judgment
Time to cry
Time to think
Remove our shoes
Press hands to soil
Sift grains between fingers
Time to plant
Time to wait
Time to notice
To whom we belong
For now it’s just you
And the wind
And the forests and the oceans
and the sky full of rain
Finally, it’s raining!
Ka turuturu te wai kamo o Rangi ki runga i a koe
(Maori phrase meaning “tears from the eyes of Ranginui drip down on you”)
Ranginui is our sky father,
it is common to refer to rain as
the tears of Rangi for his beloved,
from whom he was separated
at the beginning of time
in order that there could be light in the world).
This sacrifice of solitude we have carved out for you
He iti noaiho - a small offering which is a treasure
People always said it wasn’t possible
To ground flights and stay home
and stop our habits of consumption
But it was
It always was.
We were just afraid of how much it was going to hurt
- and it IS hurting and it will hurt and continue to hurt
But not as much as you have been hurt.
So be still now
Wrap your hills around our absence
Loosen the concrete belt
cinched tight at your waist
And we will do the same.”
Colette looks at us: “Who could add anything to that? May it be so!”
Karen speaks: “Thank you to everyone who risked opening a scroll, not knowing what you would receive.
"Hold these words in your hearts, especially the ones that make it sing,
until we gather here once more in our Sacred Garden in September.”
Gathering Space for June 23, 2020
The long evening, just past Summer Solstice, still lingers as we come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. Soon Venus the evening star will become visible. The others will follow, shining silvery magic in the darkness of the night sky. The new moon is too young to show her light.
Wrapped in sweaters or shawls in the evening’s coolness we settle onto one of our three Communion quilts. We look around at our companions. Next to Jean Houston, a tall African American man is seated, engaged with Jean in what seems to be a serious conversation. The energy of their voices draws our attention, until all but the two of them are silent.
Noticing this, Jean looks up to say: “Let me introduce an old friend and student of mine, Dr. Larry Ward, one of the wisest, deepest, most experienced persons that I know. He is a senior Dharma teacher in Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village tradition. Dr. Ward brings 25 years of international experience in organizational change and local community renewal to his work as director of the Lotus Institute. He holds a PhD in Religious Studies with an emphasis on Buddhism and research on the neuroscience of meditation. I invited him to come with me this evening to meet with you, to share his thoughts on the recent happenings in the US and Canada related to what we now recognize as systemic racism.
Larry looks at us with a smile that is both wise and kind. “May I begin with a poem?
"Mr. George Floyd began his last breath with these words, ringing in the air: 'It’s my face, man.'
I tell you, somebody stole my face.
I can’t seem to stop this river of tears.
Black face on the ground, black face in the cages.
I tell you, somebody stole my face.
When I found it, it was dark like the night in its elegant beauty.
When I found it, it was in a dreadful theater called the White Man’s Burden.
When I found it, it was already condemned to live in a basket of lies.
But when I found my hidden face, the window of eternity swung open.
I tell you, somebody stole my face, my precious face.
I hold it in my hands catching tears of sorrow and joy.
I hold it with the kind hands of my ancestors.
I hold it turning into many faces,
appearing across time and space.
I hold it dancing with the cosmos itself.
I tell you, somebody stole my face.
But I have a secret for you, my friend.
Somebody stole your face, too.
I know you’ve been searching for it.
Find your face.
Find the ground of no coming and no going.
Lift yourself up so you can lift all the rest of us to higher ground.
And remember, when you touch your face,
George Floyd can no longer have that joy.
“I share this poem,” Larry Wade says to us. “And I bow to you, not simply out of politeness. I bow to you, as I learned when I was living and working in the villages of India. I bow to you in recognition of your mystery, depth and greatness.
"I bow to you in recognition of the awakening heart and mind that flows through your veins.
“It’s been quite a two weeks for me. I said to my dear wife, Peggy,
"‘I never knew I had so many tears. I feel like a cloud.’
“I’ve felt like this for a long time, but especially in the last two weeks. In my reflections I saw that it took a global pandemic to slow us down enough from the modern ‘grind’ of business and disassociation from our own lives and the lives of others to recognize the value of human life. So many people are passing away from the virus, so many of us—either by choice, by accident, or by luck—have had time to reflect. Most people in the world do not have that luxury, but those of us who do should not waste our energy.
“There are so many questions arising now.
“Is it possible for America to have a just society?
“Can we really overcome the utopian flaw at our foundation based on separation, cruelty, profitability, and ignorance?
“Can we create together a society that does not have sustainable, profitable injustice?
“Can we create a society that can live beyond our heritage of the colonial mind and its systems, which have permeated our very bodies?
“Can we together create a society guided by the truth of justice, by respect for humaneness, with wisdom from the spiritual depths of all traditions, and the imagination to create a very new harmony?
“We can, if enough of us work together to make it so. Yes, it’s about Black Lives Matter. Yes, it’s about needless brutality. Yes, it’s about systemic inequity. Yes, and it’s about much, much more. It’s about reckoning, restoring and revisioning the very fabric of our lives in this land and this planet.
“Over the last two weeks, I witnessed something I never thought I’d see, and I’m old. I always prayed for it. I saw non-black lives standing up for black lives. Here in America, and around this planet.
“I found myself moved to another kind of tears. Refreshment, gratitude, quiet joy, and deep inspiration woke up in me and was nourished. What did I see and what did I realize? I realized that the murderous death of George Floyd pierced the curtain of illusion that we are separate and that we are disconnected. The illusion that we are not all fully human. It pierced this veil that is our fundamental flaw and obstacle to having a meaningful and joyful future together. These responses I saw gave me a glimpse of something that’s emerging. As the poet W. B. Yeats wrote, 'Surely the Second Coming is at hand.'
“I was thinking about that poem, ‘The Second Coming’, and the rough beast heading toward Bethlehem. I was thinking that something is emerging. Many people have been commenting, ‘Yes, there have been many, many protests, but this is different.’ I have asked, ‘How is this different for me?’ The murder of George Floyd and all it represents awakened in many of us our own human empathy. It awakened our human capacity to feel, to recognize the innocent suffering of others, and to recognize it need not continue in our hearts and minds, and therefore it cannot continue in the social fabric of our lives.
“There’s a word for this, this glimpse I had, this embryo, this emergent reality. It can be called an anima mundi. I have a glimpse of a new world soul that’s never been created before, never been possible before, and never been needed before. By world soul, I mean a vibration, I don’t mean an organization. I mean a feeling of being connected. I mean a vibration of empathy, compassion, understanding and embodiment of our own humanity.
“It is emerging, both individually and collectively. The question is how we don’t lose this moment by getting distracted into colonial tricks of politics and non-tricks of politics that we have to watch and be on guard for. Please understand, we cannot fix this with the tools of what we’re trying to change. We have to create new tools, new spaces in ourselves, new healing, new courage, new bravery. First in ourselves, so that we can imagine what it would mean to live in a society and the world with gentleness and respect at its center. What would it mean to live in a world with caring at its center, with purpose at its center, with joy at its center? This means creating a social ethic we don’t yet have, though we’ve imagined it. Philosophers and religious leaders for years in their own ways have imagined it and talked about it.
“We have to ask ourselves, what should we do now, after the fire, after the funeral?
"What we must do now is create.
“At first I thought that the word for what we must do now is work. But then I decided I didn’t want to use commercial language to describe what the task is. Commercial enterprise is at the heart of our dilemma, at the heart of my comment about the utopian flaw of America:
"We are a business that tried to become a country!
“A social, ethical life for me—and I would invite you to meditate on this—is four things:
“First, when you recognize there is innocent suffering going on in society, stand up and call it out. However you are able to do that—in word, in deed, in music, in sound, in poetry, in dance, call it out. Hold the mirror up so we can see ourselves. Because unless we deal with our shadows, we cannot be whole persons and therefore cannot have a whole society.
“Next, take a look at the injustice you see and ask yourself, how are your lifestyle and your daily choices participating in feeding that system, sustaining that way of thinking, and encouraging that way of treating other human beings?
“Third, withdraw the legitimacy, withdraw your energy, whether that’s economic, political or cultural, from those systems and ways of thinking that will kill us all.
“And last, lead. Now your leadership may be small, which is wonderful. Your leadership may be tiny, maybe moment by moment, student by student, friend by friend, neighbour by neighbour, business associate by business associate, but lead. Stand up. And maybe leadership is not the right word and I’m ok with having a different word. Probably it is the wrong word, because what we’re talking about has to be cooperative and collaborative. It has to be a dramatic move away from the hierarchical, top-down, white supremacy model of leadership.
“I’ve been thinking that part of our dilemma here in the United States is that we have a constitution, but we don’t have a covenant. We do not have an agreement of caring for one another. We do not have an agreement to stand up for each other. I’ve been working on a little note for myself to practice with. It’s my covenant with you, wherever you may be and whoever you may be at this moment:
I stand up for you.
You stand up for me.
We stand up together.
And this is how we do it.
I care for you.
You care for me.
We care together.
This is how we do it.”
When Larry Ward stops speaking, a silence rises like a mist, a sacred container of quiet where we sit cocooned as we allow his words to find a home within our hearts.
After the silence, Jean asks, “Would anyone like to make a comment or ask Larry a question?"
Venus is shining in a sky of inky black when the last comment, the final question has been heard and a response given…
Now a different sound rises: the welcome sound of glasses, plates, bowls of fruit, trays of baking, bottles of wine being arranged on a long table just beyond our quilts.
We look towards the sounds to see Elspeth, our Storyteller from Iona and her friends the quilt makers. Elspeth speaks to us: “We wanted to bring you a celebration to mark the arrival of Summer Solstice. We got here just as Jean was introducing your guest. We stayed very still so we could hear his every word. Now we welcome Larry and all of you to a Solstice Feast.
“Let the merriment begin.”
And so it does. And so it is. And so may this new beginning be for all of us.