Gathering Space for December 29, 2020
On Iona tonight, the temperature hovers just above freezing. The moon, just a day before her fullness, smiles down on us.
"It's a good night for listening to a story," Corinne says as we hurry through the light snow towards our Gathering Tent on the grounds of the ruined Nunnery.
Inside, there are candelabras set up on low tables around the inside canvas walls. Seven candles in each burn brightly.
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, there is a raven perched on her shoulder, the storyteller among the birds, and her cat Sofia is on her lap.
Elspeth looks around the circle, silently greeting each of us, then speaks:
"Tonight I have brought you a story from the Arthurian Cycle: Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady.
As I expect you know, Arthur and 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 was 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, one not to that warrior's liking…
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, the wife or a wealthy merchant each gave him a different answer.
He returned to the Castle and to Guinevere his Queen, and, careful to conceal the real danger he was in, told the ladies of the court
that he had accepted a wager from an unknown knight to 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 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 as 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 your 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.
After the story, Elspeth lets silence rise around our circle. She gazes at us until we’re ready to look back at her…
“And so dear friends, as we begin this New Year of 2021, what is it you most desire? Let that question guide your New Year’s Reflections.
"Remember that our deepest desires are the echo of what the Universe most wants for each of us!
“Now, let‘s celebrate! Bridie has been quietly setting out the feast we brought with us tonight.
"Come and rejoice with us!”
And so we did!
Gathering Space for Winter Solstice
December 22, 2020
Each of the Sacred Nights from now until the Feast of Christmas holds a darkness that arrives early, stays a long while, is scattered at last by a late dawn. We have decided to experience the darkness fully, to find its gifts. The garden of the ruined nunnery on Iona is inky black. We lift our eyes to the Southwest sky and there we see what is being called the “Christmas Star”, the coming together of the planets Jupiter and Saturn as their orbits bring them closer than they’ve been in 800 years, making their combined light appear as one shining star. How can we not feel this to be a blessing, a promise of new life, as this year of 2020 draws to a close?
(Griffith LA Observatory Image)
Far below, the blackness is pierced here and there with what might look to a passerby like stars fallen to earth,
but are actually tiny flashlights carried by the Communion members as we make our way towards the Gathering Tent.
Inside, there is no need of flashlights, for the large space is illumined with candles that shine from every flat surface.
At the centre of a circle, formed by careful placement of brightly coloured, intricately patterned silk cushions, there sits our fire pot, already burning a welcome.
We take time to exchange greetings, to look into the faces of our companions, to see reflected there the same suppressed excitement.
The long autumnal darkness is about to end. But tonight we celebrate its gifts.
The Celebration of Light and Love will follow in a few days’ time.
Quiet settles on us. We wait in expectation.
Heather rises, goes to stand beside the fire. She reads a poem by Pablo Neruda:
night of the whole earth,
you bear something
within you, something round
like a child
about to be born, like a
it’s a miracle,
Your beauty is all the greater
because you nourish this budding poppy
with the darkness that flows in your veins,
because you work with your eyes closed
so that other eyes may open
and the water may sing,
so that our lives
might be born again.
After Heather sits down, we take time to hold the words within us,
wondering how each of our lives might be born again.
Clara comes forward to speak: The poet, Rilke, writes often of darkness. This dark space for him resembles the hub of a wheel, a pitcher, the hold of a ship that carries us through “the wildest storm at the edge of all”, the grave earth under the tree, the lower branches of a pine, the darkness at the edge of a bonfire.
Rilke’s darkness is something out there and at the same instant it is far inside. Once a man or woman inhabits that dark space, he or she finds it hidden inside objects, in walnuts or tree roots, in places where people don’t ordinarily look for it. In one of his poems, he says, “…no matter how deeply I go down into myself, my God is dark, like a webbing made of a hundred roots that drink in silence.”
In another poem Rilke writes:
“You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than the fires that fence in the world
For the fire makes a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns from you.
But, the darkness pulls in everything:
Shapes and fires, animals and myself,
How easily it gathers them!
Powers and people—I have faith in nights”
Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Cardiff, Wales December 21, 2020
Now Rita approaches the fire to read from Judith Duerk’s book, Circle of Stones:
“I am so aware, at my age, of light and dark. Earlier in my life, I was all light, swift, clever, bright.
"I dressed in primary colors and abhorred anything that I considered slow, dull, muted.
“It was only when I lived through the summer solstice light, far above the Arctic Circle, the light of the longest day in our year,
the totality of white, ever-pervasive light, day after day, that I experienced our desperate need for darkness, for shadow,
for relief from the clarity, sharpness, and rationality that this present world demands….a need for soft lines, blendedness, greys….
to respect one’s need to be sometimes out of focus, unformed, blurred.
“Now, the winter returns, the darkness…the year, come full circle again…a chance, again, to sink into one’s own stillness…
a time to feel one’s fatigue, the aches of life, one’s own age, to reconnect, once again, with deep, dark earth-energy, hidden far below in our roots.
“The winter is for us to nurture ourselves in that same way—a long time of preparatory darkness and inchoateness
" a very long time to nurture and to begin to bring forth …. A time when it is in the natural order of things to be still, to rest in the quiet blackness.
"A time to trust that one will be refreshed and brought again to new creativity just as is all the rest of nature…
to trust once again in the cycles of light and darkness in nature herself and within one’s own nature.”
Yvette reads from Wendell Berry:
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark.
Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
Now Shirley comes forward with a poem by Jan Richardson:
Who know the darkness
and do not fear it,
Who carry the light
And are not consumed,
Who prepare the way
and will not abandon it,
Who bless with grace
That does not leave us.
Saturn and Jupiter Conjunction above a windmill in the UK
The readings are ended. A soft persistent drum beat is heard, accompanied by the sweet soaring notes of a flute.
People slowly begin to rise, to spread out through the tent, to dance to the rhythm.
After the music and dancing, there will be stories, our own stories of darkness and light.
There will be feasting, for a long table is already spread with food and wine.
We shall spend this longest night together and then we shall go outdoors to greet the dawn of Solstice.
Gathering Space for December 15, 2020
The new moon, just one day old, is hiding behind rain clouds on this mild December night on Iona. A grey veil encloses the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery.
“We’re in the womb of preparatory time,” someone says. It’s Jean Houston, who is with us as we hurry towards the welcome shelter of our Gathering Tent.
Inside, the fire pot is already lit. We latecomers settle onto our large patterned silk cushions in the circle around the flame.
There are several conversations happening all at once, and those of us who are the last to arrive hear words and phrases, some repeated: “A Christmas lockdown!” “No family gatherings beyond the household”, “Can you imagine what sort of Christmas it will be?’ “ Vaccines are arriving.” someone says hopefully. “Yes, but it might be a year before everyone on the planet is immunized.” “What a Christmas!!” “What a year!”
Seeing Jean joining the circle, Suzanne says, “Jean, will you speak with us about this pandemic? It seemS to hover over every conversation and hang like a dark cloud over preparations for Christmas. Will 2020 be the year the Grinch, disguised as COVID, really does steal Christmas!?
"What have you been seeing as all of this unfolds?”
“Yes, Suzanne, I’ll speak about the pandemic and what rises in me as I consider what’s happening. Let me begin by asking you what Christmas is really about? Isn’t it about bringing a new possibility into time, a new birth, a new way of living on our planet? Every year we send cards to those we love wishing for such a rebirth, for peace and joy and good will… What if this Christmas of 2020 is the year when those desires actually begin to take flesh among us?
“People in our time have been left orphaned. We have lost authentic desire, which is the Universe’s best desire for us. We have lost our imaginations, the depths of our souls, the muchness we contain. Our imagination has been devastated by the media. Yet we need imagination to dream. We are coded to give birth to a new world. We need the lure of becoming to incite and excite our souls. This grey cloud moves within us. We become rain, the energy of heaven…. We are pregnant with the future.
“We are in a time of re-mythologizing. Pathology’s opposite is mythology. The story has to become greater, deeper, truer, richer.
"You asked for my thoughts on the pandemic. As a student of history, I think of the Renaissance, the great rebirth of the 13th and 14th centuries.
"What emerged made the before and after times different in a myriad of ways. Did you know that the Renaissance was preceded by a pandemic?
"Almost half the population of Europe died of the Bubonic Plague. As it moved to the Middle East, millions more died.
“Out of the Black Death came the Renaissance….the Rebirth. Is that what’s happening now? We are having globally the worst plague that has ever been known.
"So many are dying, crippled by illness, so many more will become ill. There is also denial…
“What is brewing in the background? What I find is a new order, a taste of a new spiritual and psychological food that is rising in the human soul.
“There’s a prophecy: Be not afraid. You are made for these times. I think we’re not only made, we are being remade in the depths of our own human psyches,
in our genetic and meta-genetic structures, and in the spirit and the presencing that surrounds us. We are truly in the womb of a new becoming, I do believe.
“We began as tiny little dots, fertilized eggs. From that dot we emerged. We are dotted beings! Within our souls there is another dot,
as full of potential as when you were in your mother’s womb. Look at that dot, dialogue with it: your ‘higher dottedness’.
“You are now in the womb of the cosmos. Who is in this present dot of your unfoldingness? What is trying to emerge? What is the higher dream?
“The rise of women in our time is something far more interesting when we see it from the perspective of the nature of the cosmos. What is the possible human?
"What is the possible earth? What is the secret hiding in the great womb of becoming?
the great womb of becoming
"I think it’s there in the women’s psyche, gestating in the womb of preparatory time.
“Take these thoughts into your preparations for Christmas. As a living metaphor, a LURE of becoming, may you be surprised by the joy of Christmas 2020.”
There are expressions of gratitude, of wonder at Jean’s teachings. Something that was sitting heavily in our hearts lifts,
while our earlier thoughts of Christmas dissolve into the gladness of knowing we are part of a Rebirthing of our planet and all its beautiful life.
Gathering Space for December 8, 2020
The full moon that ushered in Advent and the month of December is waning, her failing light scarcely strong enough to guide our way across the frozen grass towards our Gathering Tent. We look up, tilt our heads back, and see the silver points of light from uncountable stars becoming braver as moonlight fades.
The starlight offers a gentle radiance across undreamable distances to touch us with hope.
Inside the Gathering Tent, the orange flame of the fire pot is 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 each grown in our appreciation of the Cailleach’s signature shadow through last week's visit from Dolores Whelan.
So for a time, we sit in the stillness, drawing in the peace of no sound, allowing our breath to deepen and quiet our hearts.....
A pinpoint of light appears as Yvette says, "I’ve brought a poem about Advent darkness and Mary. It was written almost seventy years ago by Jessica Powers."
I live my Advent in the womb of Mary.
And on one night when a great star swings free
from its high mooring and walks down the sky
to be the dot above the Christus i,
I shall be born of her by blessed grace.
I wait in Mary-darkness, faith's walled place,
with hope's expectance of nativity.
But only now, with inward jubilee,
I come upon earth's most amazing knowledge:
someone is hidden in this dark with me.
After the echoes of the poem have subsided, a voice asks if it might be read again.... and yet again...
Now Mary Teske speaks: "Today is the feast that honours Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother Anna, so it is also the Feast Day of my community, the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. I’ve brought a reflection written by Joan Chittister that brings Mary of Nazareth into the wider circle of women everywhere."
Artwork by Doris Klein
Mary of Nazareth knew very well what it meant to be strong.
She was strong enough to know that she had been favoured by God when the society said she couldn’t be so favoured, and the tradition said she wouldn’t be so favoured.
She was strong enough to realize the strength of another woman when she went to Elizabeth for support and affirmation rather than to the synagogue to try to persuade the priests of the legitimacy of their visions, or to the government for protection, or even to the men to whom they were espoused to explain or cajole or plead.
She was strong enough to bring the right concerns, the right questions, the right witness, the right insight into our world, even if it meant questioning the angels.
At Cana she was strong enough to insist on miracles and to get them.
She was strong enough never to give up, not to be afraid, to begin over again and again and again, after Bethlehem, and after Egypt, and after the crucifixion.
Mary is not simply “Mary, the Mother of God.” No, on the contrary. The Mother of God is the image of women everywhere. The Mother of God is Mary, independent woman; Mary, the unmarried mother; Mary, the homeless woman; Mary, the political refugee; Mary, the Third World woman; Mary, the mother of the condemned; Mary, the widow who outlives her child; Mary, the woman of our time who shares the divine plan of salvation; Mary, the bearer of Christ.
Mary of Nazareth made feminism an article of the faith, and power holy. Mary shows us the sanctifying power of a human being who has become fully human.
The silence deepens, and 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 singing "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.
Gathering Space for December 1, 2020
Samhain Ritual with Dolores Whelan
The full moon of November 30th illumines our path as we come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona and walk towards our Gathering Tent.
We step inside the flap, quickly resealing it against the cold strong 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, and to 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 tones 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 now a full month since you gathered here to celebrate Samhain,” Dolores says, “when you welcomed the season of darkness.
During that month, the shadows have deepened with the waning of the sun’s light in our Northern Hemisphere. Throughout the planet,
there is deepening gloom: the seemingly unstoppable spread of COVID across the earth, refugees fleeing war-ravaged countries,
the growing concern over climate change.
“I thought we might sit for a time in the darkness, to hold our inner light and overcome any fear we may have of the night.
I invite you to close your eyes, to block out the small flame of the fire pot, to focus on your breath.
As you breathe in, draw in courage. As you breathe out, release your fear. Continue this slow rhythmic breathing until your inner light expands,
like a full silver-white moon that dispels all the darkness within …..Take five minutes to do this.
“Now, open your eyes.”
The flame of the fire pot still offers its solitary light; yet, within there is now a luminous sea of light.
Dolores’s voice continues: “With the festival of Samhain, we were initiated into the mysteries of the dark goddess,
the Cailleach aspect of the feminine energies. The journey into the season of the dark mother requires a dying of what has been,
a letting go of all that has been harvested up till now and a willingness 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. This is the place where we bring those raw or unpalatable aspects of self,
the difficult events of our lives, to be slowly transformed during the winter season by the healing energies of the Divine Feminine in her Cailleach form.
In this place deep healing and transformation can take place allowing the emergence of a new possibility at springtime.
“This aspect of the Goddess can often seem ugly or harsh to us because it challenges us to relinquish much of what we are attached to
but which no longer serves our deepest self. Even as this tough mother love challenges us, it also holds us in a wise,
loving 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 this embrace of the dark time might change the way we experience the season.
“Dolores, may I ask a question?” We turn towards Shirley’s voice coming out of the blackness, wondering what it is she will ask,
wondering if she will ask the question rising in us… she does!
“What you describe is so peaceful and deep. Yet this year we look towards a Christmas unlike any other when many will be unable
to gather with loved ones, and fear of illness hangs over our celebrations. How can we find peace to reflect on the Cailleach and her Cauldron?”
Dolores responds: “That is the first question to bring to the Cailleach. Imagine the concerns that arise as you think of how you will honour
this strange Christmas as ingredients that you put into the Cauldron, especially the aspects that are most difficult and unpalatable, the most raw.
Do this quickly in your imagination each time you feel pressure or anxiety. Just toss it in. Invite the Cailleach, the sacred energy of the dark feminine,
to work with these elements and transform them. Wait and see what happens.
“I’ve brought a cauldron with me. I invite you now into a Samhain Ritual of releasing something, whether a fear or anxiety,
a resentment or obligation, a yearning or regret that is no longer serving you. Take a few moments now to think of something that you wish to release.
Then step forward and drop it into the Cauldron of the Cailleach as you say:
“I release …………. into this cauldron. May it be transformed and transmuted by the power of Fire and Water
and the dark feminine energy of the Cailleach into nourishment for my soul journey.”
When each of us has completed the Ritual of Release, Dolores invites us: “Let us pray these powerful lines from John O’Donohue’s poem
for ourselves our friends and families
“May all that is un-forgiven in me and in everyone be released
May all fears yield their deepest tranquilities
May all that is unlived in me and in everyone blossom into a future, graced with Love”
Here now is a poem by Richard Kearney that holds guidance for us in this dark time of Samhain, this time that calls us
to be “human beings” rather than “human doings”. It invites us into the depths of Brigid’s Well, into the depths of our own deepest selves,
to get into that deeper place of knowing who we are and why we are here:
I will rest now,
At the bottom of Brigit’s well.
I will follow the crow’s way
Footprint by footprint
In the mud down here.
I won’t come up
Until I am calmed down
And the earth dries beneath me.
And I have paced the caked ground
Until smooth all over
It can echo a deeper voice
Mirror a longer shadow
Then the fire may come again
Beneath me this time,
Rising beyond me.
No narcissus- flinted spark
Behind closed eyes but a burning bush
A fire that always burns away
But never is burnt out
There is a pause as we take this in.
Suddenly light blooms around the inner walls of the tent. Quietly, some of our companions have been lighting tall white candles.
Eagerly we look towards the place from where Dolores’ voice had seemed to be coming. There is no one there.
An image lights up on the inner wall of the tent.
What Celtic magic is this? Beside the fire pot, beside the golden cauldron, the carved image of the Cailleach gazes at us, enigmatically.
Gathering Space for November 24, 2020
The North Atlantic Island of Iona has been graced with unseasonal warmth, creating a late summer from the scraps of these short autumn days...Yet as evening rises, with the sun's disappearance, the air cools down suddenly. The waxing moon, six days from her fullness, watches as we hurry towards our Gathering Tent, eager for its sheltering canvas arms.
Already most of our companions are here and have already selected their personal favourites from among the brightly patterned silk cushions.The eager exchange of greetings, questions, rises like a susurration, peaks, then slowly quiets to stillness. Eyes turn towards the firepot, expectantly.
Violet stands, moves to light the flame.
Now Violet turns to speak to us: "One of David Whyte's poems speaks to me of this dark Season of Samhain.
"I've brought it to read to you tonight:
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb tonight.
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
(David Whyte from The House of Belonging ©1996 Many Rivers Press)
There is silence after reading, and then we ask that she read it again.
Following the second reading, Violet adds: “Sandra Ingerman, a Shamanic teacher, counsels her students to just give up the demands that fill our lives with unneeded anxiety, the tsunami of darkness that passes for news, the lure of goals and desires that cannot answer our true longings.
Some of her students try to move from worlds that are not, as David Whyte says, “the one to which you belong”. Sometimes they are drawn back by the lure, the familiar attractions of social media, only to realise they’ve lost their taste for illusion, and are ready to make a permanent choice of another way.
"Samhain’s quiet darkness helps us to choose the world to which we truly belong.”
Mary Ellen speaks: “As the skies darken, this whole reflection becomes real. I could feel a similarity between the preparation to meet Pythia, the goddess who would share her wisdom as I shared my questions, and the giamos time to which we are being invited, the womb time, the place of gestation.
“Since it remains very easy to continue hurried activity even in the time of winter, an intentional oneness with the wisdom of the seasons is needed to bring us into the possibilities of growth in the darkness. I love the idea and experience of the womb, and the resting in quietness there so that gestation can happen in its own way and time.
"I love the image of the darkness encouraging contemplation of the ground of being. And I love the thought of the darkness being so safe that our souls can come out to play. Recently, I began to participate in Mindful Movement sessions (Soul Motion) and it always feels like opening my door to let my soul go out to play.
“I pray that the feminine energy of the Spirit will move me to intentionally welcome the darkness, enter its womb space, let out my soul, and discover slowly and gently, without forcing, what is longing to be born. I can then be guided in how to nurture it.
“It is not totally easy to surrender the goodness of the light, but I do trust in the rich potential of the night.”
After a time of quiet, Colleen speaks: "I too have brought a poem that seems appropriate for the Season of Samhain when we gather again by our firesides. It was written by Anna Hines and it stirred me when I first read it back in the beginning months of our Communion.
Playing With Fire
It's a dangerous game
filled with risks
but what alternative other than
sitting out the dance
sitting immobile in the shadows.
A most dangerous game
that will certainly leave you
possibly even consumed with its enticing flames.
But how else can one hope to illuminate the shadows
how else is one tested, strengthened, enlightened
how else can one hope to be fully alive
how else can one create a life worth living
if one does not make that dangerous choice
to dance with the fire.
This poem too we want to hear read over and over, until its wisdom, its questions, singe our very hearts.
Gathering Space on Iona for November 17, 2020
The early evening air is cold, driven by an easterly wind from the sea. Though we are each warmly wrapped in wool shawls, sweaters, jackets, or cloaks, we’re shivering. This is the dark feminine time of the year, almost three weeks past Samhain, little more than a month before longest night. The new moon is no match for the enveloping blackness. As we come into the garden of the ruined nunnery on the Sacred Island of Iona, phones with a flashlight app move like fireflies towards our Gathering Tent.
Inside, we see our circle of friends, gathered around the lighted fire pot. We join them, each of us choosing a large silk cushion, settling in for a time of inner journeying.
Jean Houston is with us tonight, offering to lead us in a meditation on the Greek deities and their connection with the chakras of our bodies.
Jean invites us to 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 there, the 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.
"Your 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.
Hera by Susan Seddon Boulet
"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.
"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 by Susan Seddon Boulet
"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.
"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."
Jean moves into silence. We sit here with her, bathed in silence. In possibility. In new hope.
Stars illumine the garden on Iona, and we are still here, sitting in wonder, in joy.
Gathering Space for November 10, 2020
(from our Archives November 10, 2015)
The moon is waning, a sliver of silver, as we make our way towards our Gathering Tent on the island of Iona. In the Phrygian blackness the stars are white fire above the garden of the ruined nunnery. The air still holds a memory of summer nights, a faint suggestion of welcoming warmth, so that we are reluctant to go into the tent.
We spend a long time gazing upwards.
In these November days, when the veil between the worlds is thin, we have been remembering our ancestors, those of the mother line, the father line, who lived before us. What were their thoughts as they looked at the night sky flaunting its diamonds with careless grace? Was there more wonder in their hearts than in ours who know what the stars are made of, and how they were forged in the eons of time?
More wonder perhaps, yet we are the ones who gaze with the greater gratitude. We know that we are looking at the very components out of which our bodies, our beings have been birthed...
A sudden stiff wind off the North Atlantic awakens us to the reality of November. We go inside, grateful now for the shelter, the gentle light of candles around the circle where our friends are gathering around the fire pot, settling on large cushions, quietly speaking of what is in their hearts.
Rosemary speaks: I welcome the darkness and love to sit by the fire on those dark nights.
I am a member of the Ceile De (www.ceilede.co.uk), an ancient Celtic Christian tradition. I took the long drive upstate to join other members at a friend’s barn for our Samhain Festival, one of the major festivals of the Celtic Year. The Celts believe it is one of the times the veil is the thinnest between this world and the Otherworld, a time when we can more easily connect with those who have passed on. I know this to be true!
Two Samhains ago, after my cousin and best friend, Regina (three months older than me) had passed away on August 15th, I had been grieving the loss of the family I grew up with, the ones I have shared most of my history with. During the journey we do as part of the Samhain ritual, one by one I sensed the presence of my family and friends who had passed on. They told me I could let go of the grief for the loss of the family I grew up with because they were still here and would always be with me. We would always be connected. I felt just as happy as I did at those times when we were together in the past. They told me all I had to do was come back to this quiet place to know that they were with me. I have never felt that sense of loss of my family since that night.
After leaving the Barn in silence I began the long drive home. It had been dark, rainy, and foggy, as I drove over the mountain coming to the Barn but now the rain had stopped.
It seemed brighter and there was only a little fog as I drove down the mountain.
About a half hour from home a deer ran in front of my car. I jammed on my brakes and just barely grazed the back of it. It ran off and seemed OK. I checked my car and there wasn't any damage. Normally, I would feel fear or shock at a close call like that but instead I just felt calm.
The next morning I checked my Animal Cards and Animal Speak book and found that when a deer comes into your life it means "Be gentle with yourself and others.... there's a gentle luring of new adventure."
I realized the incident the night before wasn’t a “close call” but a “sighting”. I got the message and had a massage the next day to begin being gentle with myself.
Mary Ellen speaks: As the skies darken, this whole reflection becomes real in the giamos time into which we are being invited, the womb time, the place of gestation.
Since it remains very easy to continue hurried activity even in the time of winter, an intentional oneness with the wisdom of the seasons is needed to bring us into the possibilities of growth in the darkness. I love the idea and experience of the womb, and the resting in quietness there so that gestation can happen in its own way and time. I love the image of the darkness encouraging contemplation of the ground of being. And I love the thought of the darkness being so safe that our souls can come out to play. Recently, I began to participate in Mindful Movement sessions (Soul Motion) and it always feels like opening my door to let my soul go out to play.
I pray that the feminine energy of the Spirit will move me to intentionally welcome the darkness, enter its womb space, let out my soul, and discover slowly and gently, without forcing, what is longing to be born. I can then be guided in how to nurture it.
It is not totally easy to surrender the goodness of the light, but I do trust in the rich potential of the night.
Natacha speaks: What resonates with me is the question Jean Houston once asked: What part of your life do you need to make holy...
and then the words from David Whyte’s poem:
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
Noreen speaks: Praying on Holy Darkness and Expanding Light I came upon a reading by John of the Cross as explained by Judy Cannato. This writing deeply touched my heart and soul and I want to quote: "He trusts in the darkness, trusts in the presence of the Beloved to lead him in sheer grace." O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.
In the still of the night, we are united with the Mystery that lies in the cavern of our heart. The darkness is a place of possibility and power. I want to close with a portion of Judy’s prayer – offering it for each of us who desire to enter into Mystery fully.
Holy Darkness, God of Mystery, help us not to resist the darkness.
Help us to trust in you precisely in those moments
when we are confused or uncertain or do not understand.
Help us to surrender to the work in the inner darkness, in the unseen, secret places that only you know.
May your spirit expand our being so that we become more of who you desire us to be—
free, capable of loving and being loved. Amen.
Gathering Space for November 3, 2020
The three days of the Festival of Samhain have come and gone, leaving us in a darkness that will deepen with each passing day until the Winter Solstice. The October Blue Moon, now four days beyond her fullness, greets us as we come to the garden of Iona’s ruined nunnery.
In her light we note the ragged, dishevelled appearance of the garden, awaiting the facelift of the first snowfall.
Our Gathering Tent is a welcome sight. We hurry towards its open door eager to enter its shelter, eager for light, warmth, companionship. Yet what we see as we step inside causes each of us to catch our breath in pure wonder.
A splendour of golden light dominates the entire inner wall, facing the doorway.
Someone has been at work here offering us this shining gift.
“What IS that? “ Corinne asks.
Shirley, one of the earlier arrivals this evening, who has been standing close to the image, reading the note beneath it, answers: “This is a new photo from NASA of Laniakea. A galactic supercluster.” We are all inside now, crowding close around the picture, listening eargerly to Shirley, in our excitement forgetting about social distancing for the moment. “It’s made up of about 100,000 galaxies“, Shirley continues. “The red dot you see is the Milky Way. It includes 200 to 400 billion stars including our Sun.”
Whoever has done this must know we have been living in times of darkness and challenge on Planet Earth with the inundation of COVID’s second wave, with unrest and violence in several countries headlining each day’s news and an election in the US whose results may remain in doubt for weeks.
Someone knew it would be a time to recall the immensity, the power, the undiminished splendour of the wider universe. Throughout our Gathering Tent, once we look beyond the wonder of Laniakea, we notice that from floor to roof, jewelled light shimmers. Slowly, slowly, we begin to recognize what it is we see. The canvas walls hold photographs from NASA, some taken by the Hubble Telescope. Stars, galaxies, huge swathes of our own Milky Way, glimmer in turquoise, rose, gold and vermilion, magically backlit to create a space of indescribable beauty.
As we slowly take our places on the colourful silk cushions, we feel ourselves to be within a Radiant Darkness.
A solitary sound arises. A flute sends a pure cascade of notes to swirl among the stars which surround us.
A single voice reads a poem by Mary Oliver:
”Sleeping in the Forest”
I thought the earth
remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.
We are wrapped in loveliness: sight, sound, and inner images awakening within.
We each see ourselves at rest with Mary Oliver “on a stone in the river bed” under the “white fire of the stars”.
We take this deeply within for a time of contemplation.
Listen. What arises from our hearts?
We listen for a time in the silence, in the silence, in the deep and holy silence……
The next marker on the Celtic calendar will be the Winter Solstice. As we move towards the rebirth of the sun, we embrace a journey of deep surrender. Dolores describes this time: “The days shorten, the nights get longer, the earth draws its energy deep within, death and darkness are all around us.... we reside in the womb or cauldron of the Goddess where gestation and transformation happen. We are deep within the giamos period, where the experience of linear time is minimized, willpower is muted and contemplation of the ever-present form or ground of being is encouraged. Here the mode of being that is required is rest, passive attentiveness to the unconscious influences of the other world, together with openness to growth that is slow and unforced. This is the dream time where the seeds of new life, new ideas, new projects are nurtured.”
John O’donohue, in his book Anam Cara, speaks of this season of darkness as “the ancient womb”. He reminds us that “Night-time is womb time. Our souls come out to play. The darkness absolves everything; the struggle for identity and impression falls away. We rest in the night.”
Let us welcome ourselves into the dark season of Samhain allowing this poem by Brid McDonnell to weave a cloak of protection around us: (image of Cailleach)
Stinging gales, trees denuded of foliage, and the damned
Look for a cave to live in. Winter ways
Over and over telling us to slow down, to hibernate
Homeward. With a passion and a letting go
Of youth and the careless days of brilliant dreams
And gentle caresses. Now, expectations spent
on a road so long explored nearly reaching Eden
Never touched. Time to take stock of our lives
That very nearly touched the stars in the heavens
Full of mysteries ah, my dear old woman
I feel the wrinkles on the face of your wooden effigy.
Tell me your stories, Wise Brigid and I will tell you mine.
Full of many things we did this year,
Of action and reaction and the savage times
Behind us and ahead. I follow you into friendly darkness,
The deepest darkness of surrender.
The chink of light appears, the light that
Shines then slowly expands. Our liberation
Unleashed at that moment. My dear ones,
The beginning of that long journey called hope
And the cries of a Baby are heard again.
Gathering Space for October 27, 2020
Preparing for Samhain
Our heads bent under umbrellas, we make our way to our soggy Gathering Place,
the garden of Iona’s Ruined Nunnery.
Something is different today. We sense, even before we lift our gaze to see, a canvas tent whose bulk now fills the whole of the grassy area within the low stones of the former Chapter House. Its open doorway is flapping in the light winds, but plastic sheeting keeps the rain from entering. Our Seasonal Gathering Tent has been raised, offering shelter from the autumn rains, from the coming cold and snow of winter. Memories of its sheltering warmth and inner beauty fill us with eager delight as we enter.
Many of our companions are already here, have settled on the large cushions patterned in squares of beautifully toned fabrics. Some of the cushions have been embroidered with scenes inspired by Iona’s history: the arrival of the boat that brought Columba and his companions to this island in the sixth century; designs that recall the Book of Kells which was created here; depictions of the wild goose, a Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit.
The inner walls of the tent hold our three beautiful coloured quilts, whose many shades represent different aspects the spirituality lived by our companions in the Communion of Creative Fire.
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. Shirley stands and walks towards it.
In a moment the oil receives the lighted match, a bright orange flame leaps into view.
Shirley speaks: "As we gather today, we prepare to welcome the Feast of Samhain. For our Celtic ancestors, 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, to welcome the quieter days of winter.
"Samhain opens the time that Celtic teacher Dolores Whelan calls 'the time of darkness, the realm of the goddess where the feminine energy principle is experienced and the season of non-doing is initiated.'
"The early Christian Missionaries to Ireland had the wisdom to incorporate many of the Druidic feasts and rituals into the new religion. Celtic Christianity was closely bound up with the earth, the seasons, the daily swing from darkness to light to darkness, the balance and power of both masculine and feminine energies.
"The dark time of the year was meant to be a time of renewal when earth and humans rested so that energy was gathered inwards to support what was happening deep within the earth and deep within the human psyche; the energy gathered in this season would be used when the winter had passed and spring brought new life to the land and the people.
"This poem by Richard Kearney expresses longing for rest and renewal:
I will rest now,
At the bottom of Brigit’s well.
I will follow the crow’s way
Footprint by footprint
In the mud down here.
I won’t come up
Until I am calmed down
And the earth dries beneath me.
And I have paced the caked ground
Until smooth all over
It can echo a deeper voice
Mirror a longer shadow
Then the fire may come again
Beneath me this time,
Rising beyond me.
No narcissus- flinted spark
Behind closed eyes but a burning bush
A fire that always burns away
But never is burnt out.
"Samhain invites us to release whatever is not completed at this time; the early light of morning, the lingering light of evening must be released, along with the samos energy of activity and doing. As Dolores teaches, 'What is required in this season is for humans to surrender into the giamos mode of being, into darkness, active waiting, and non-doing that characterizes this time.' "
After Shirley finishes speaking and returns to her place, we sit in stillness for a time,
allowing her words to take root within, preparing our hearts for this shift
from active engagement in masculine activity to passive gestation, the feminine time of waiting.
We ask questions in the silence of our hearts:
What do I need to let go of?
What unfinished work may I peacefully set aside?
What in my life needs to die so that I may prepare an inner emptiness where the new may find a place to gestate?
What are the longings whose time has come?
A voice rises from the quiet. We turn towards the sound and are glad to see that Dolores Whelan has come from her home in Ireland, near Faughart, the birthplace of Brigid.
Shirley welcomes her: “Dolores, I have been speaking of your teachings about Samhain. Is there anything you wish to add for us now for Samhain 2020?”
Dolores speaks: “The festival of Samhain, as you know, takes place over 3 nights and 3 days between the end of one year and the beginning of a new year. The duration of the Festival represents the in-between space, which is neither this year or next year, it is Time out of Time and a time when the veil between this world and the other worlds is very thin.
“Samhain is the most important festival within the Celtic year calendar, it links the beginning of the new year and ending of the current year and everything in between.
“Three of my friends in Ireland, Stephanie, May and Maura, worked with me to prepare some materials that you might like to use to create your own celebration over the 3 nights and days of the Samhain festival. We’ve sent these to you in an email which will arrive tonight.
“Please feel free to share these resources with others who might be interested in celebrating Samhain 2020.
“May I read you now the introduction we wrote?
“This is Samhain......winter time, a time of reflection, a time of sinking, of surrendering into what is. It is not a submissive act but a decision to align oneself with the actual reality of what is in this moment. We open up to the spiritual world and ask for their support. We especially connect with our personal ancestors allowing them to direct us in our lives. We claim those gifts which are a part of our heritage, of our DNA, but which may have become dormant over the past centuries. We acknowledge the woundedness that caused us to abandon those gifts, and we reclaim them now to be used in the creation of a new and healthier society.
"It is the season which is overseen by the Cailleach energy, that aspect of the Feminine/Goddess energy that is related to death leading to rebirth that demands a surrender into the darkness of wintertime with its restrictions and yet it is also the energy that brings us down into the depths of ourselves where we can look at aspects of self that may not be pleasant but which will be transformed by our willingness to engage with the Cailleach energy as it supports us to transform these aspects into nourishment for our soul journey. In this Samhain season it is the deep, dark, feminine energy of the Cailleach that supports our inner growth.
Dolores brought with her tonight a carved representation of the Cailleach.
“We suggest some practises that can be done at different times over the 3 nights and 3 days. You might like to create the sacred space in which your ritual will take place by calling in the 7 Directions when you begin each practise and release the directions at the end of each practise session.”
Here is a blessing from John O’donohue for this time, for ourselves, our friends and families:
“May all that is un-forgiven in me/ and everyone be released
May all fears yield their deepest tranquilities
May all that is unlived in me and in everyone
blossom into a future, graced with Love”
After this time of preparing for Samhain with the guidance of Dolores Whelan,
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 20, 2020 Ritual to Honour Mary
The October evening sky spills light of molten gold over our garden on Iona.
It is pleasantly warm, an invitation to be out of doors.
Each woman who arrives is carrying a gift: flowers, scented oils fragrant with exotic perfumes:
lotus, rose and jasmine, musical instruments small enough to carry: fifes, flutes, even an Irish penny whistle.
Some bring wine and plates of desserts…. It looks like a party.
In fact, it is! Tonight we celebrate Mary, Mother of Jesus who now holds the titles and honours once given
to the Mother Goddesses of the Ancient World: Queen of Heaven and Earth
and the poetic images that were once the titles of Isis: Star of the Sea, Mystical Rose, Morning Star…
artwork by Jan Richardson
A large cloth, woven of fine wool the colour of the sea at dawn, is spread out over the grass
at the centre of the garden. The food and wine are placed on the low stones of the ruined walls for later.
First, we prepare the Ritual.
Tonight we will have music, song and dance to honour Mary, in a Ritual of declaring
our Belonging to the Sacred Feminine.
This is a ritual meant for outdoors, close to earth, sky, water, trees… To enhance the nearness to nature,
we place in the centre of the cloth symbols of the four elements; air (the feather of a bird),
water (in a clear glass bowl), fire (our small fire pot) and earth (loosely placed in a pottery bowl).
Moving away from the cloth, we begin a gentle movement, barefoot on the grass,
a dance to the music of Saint Saens, “the Swan” from the Carnival of the Animals.
Now we each in our hearts address the One in whose honour we are creating this ritual:
we use the name we each choose for this Holy One, or we may simply address her as “Friend”.
We each speak or create our own prayer of dedication and intent for what we are about to do.
Here is one you may use with places in brackets where you may insert your own words:
(… entered into my life, my being
Awakening me to joy, to deep purpose, to love).
Now, today, I am ready to respond by …
(….consecrating to you all that I am)
From this day forward, I pledge to you…
(my life, my love, my body, mind and spirit.)
I promise to cultivate the freedom, joy and gratitude
that honour this way of living
and your acceptance of my gift by a daily practice of…
(written dialogue with you, and a time of deep listening)
And I ask …
(for your companionship that as partners we may reach out together,
as Hafiz suggests, “to comfort this world with (our) cup of solace”,
and I ask for friends, companions who will walk with me on this journey)
May it be so!
Following the prayer of dedication we take scented oil on our fingers and with it we anoint our heart,
hands, forehead, to symbolize our readiness to place our whole being at the service of the Holy One.
We each choose or create a poem or prayer in which we imagine the voice of the Holy One
receiving our dedication, welcoming us into a life of sacred partnership with Her.
Perhaps you would choose the words of the Seal Woman in C.P.Estes' Women Who Run with the Wolves :
I am always with you.
Only touch what I have touched
and I will breathe into your lungs
a wind for the singing of your songs.
Or maybe you are drawn by these words from the twentieth century poet, Rainer Maria Rilke:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose Me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
You may also wish to write a prayer or a poem of gratitude for this gift of Love and Partnership
that has come into your life. Here is a sample:
Like Sarah, like Elizabeth
So long barren I thought myself a wasteland…
Like Sarah, like Elizabeth
I feel the leap of joy within me.
For out of all non-expectancy, out of time, out of place
I am suddenly alive
Bursting with sprouts of new life
Burgeoning with plants
Nourished by wells I did not know were there.
My desert blooms, hardly know itself,
Surprised by exultant joy
Singing songs in the wilderness,
Now a garden,
With gratitude that must forswear words
And only, only, only dance.
We close our ritual with a celebratory dance, choosing music that expresses the joy of deep union,
celebrating the Partnership newly-formed between each of us and the Holy One: “The Flower Duet” from Lakme (attached to the email).
Following the ritual, it is time to pour the wine and uncover the sweet desserts. Enjoy!!!
Celebrate the Presence of Love on this night when the moon is but a sliver of silver, and the stars are radiant.
Gathering Space for October 14, 2020 Galadriel’s Mirror: Part Two
This evening, as the women of our communion come 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 she 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.”
Corinne 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 large circle allowing two metres between each of you, 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.
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.
Yvette 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 asks: “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 One with Galadriel
October 6, 2020
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. We find spaces to sit on our Communion quilts at respectful distances from one another. COVID continues to hover about our planet, requiring us to respond to this miniscule powerful opponent with wisdom and care for ourselves and for others.
The usual energetic twitter and chatter of greetings is softened by our cotton masks, lovingly sewn by Elspeth and her friends here on Iona, with a design stitched on each showing a scarlet flame. The sound of our voices creates 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.”
Corinne asks, “Might it be the Shekinah? the Sophia as she is sometimes called? We've been reflecting on her presence in our lives. Perhaps she’s 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 is an archetype of Wisdom. She reveals wisdom to those brave enough to gaze into her water mirror.”
Carol 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.”
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 she 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 September 29, 2020
The Harvest Moon, almost at her fulness, is already visible in the twilight as we approach the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. The weather has been unusually mild in recent days, almost summery.
The Michaelmas daisies greet us in merry clusters as we come closer.
This is the feastday of Archangel Michael, in whose honour they blossom in late September. The garden is bright with other seasonal blooms, those who flourish with autumn's cooler days. We pause to breathe in the crisp air, welcoming the season of "mists and mellow fruitfulness" as the poet Keats describes it.
Our quilts are spread out on the grass, and we move to take our places, honouring the two metres/six feet social distancing still required as COVID continues its efforts to find human cells where it can replicate. This autumn is a season of caution and careful consideration for the safety and health of others.
As we seat oursleves on the quilts, we notice photos at each place. In the centre of each quilt there is a large basket with paper and art supplies... this will be an interesting evening!
Suzanne steps forward to light the fire pot at the intersection of the three colourful quilts.
As our greetings quiet down to murmurs, then to silence, Suzanne speaks: "In recent weeks, we've been reflecting on the Shekinah with Anne Baring's teachings from the online course, 'Madonna Rising.' You will recall that Anne Baring spoke about the First Temple image of the Tree of Life.
Following Anne's talk, Peg Rubin invited those of us on the course to make a drawing or painting of the Tree of Life. In the centre of each quilt is a basket with paper, coloured pencils and crayons so that you may each create your own Tree of Life.
"Here are the instructions as Peg Rubin gave them to us."
Draw a Tree of Life. Focus on the roots of that tree—the roots take us back to the mothers
who've gone before us. Consider who are the mothers of your spiritual path.
Who are the ones who are containing you in their love?
And those who honour you as the great embodiment of the great story.
You are this tree. You are wisdom.
We want to honour the dark mother to get through these times.
Vast energy is available. We are being held.
Suzanne continues: " On the roots of your tree you may wish to write the names of those who are the mothers of your spiritual path. Show your tree blossoming with flowers or bearing fruit that has been nourished by the love your roots have drawn in.
When the drawings are complete and final touches of colour are being added, Suzanne suggests that we may wish to turn the image of our tree upside down so that its roots are in the Heavens, drawing in spiritual nourishment. "The Tree of Life was imagined in this way. The nourishment travels into the earth, into other lives with love. We are all contributing to the growth and the development of the Tree of Life through our own lives."
Now Carol speaks: "The photos you found at your place on the quilt are from an online post sent by Celia Fenn.
"Here is the message Celia sent with the photo."
Some intense Space Weather happening right now as we head towards the Full Moon on the 1st of October.
These Auroras, pictures taken near Tromso in Norway, are the most beautiful Divine Feminine Pink. The Sacred energy of the Sophia/Shekinah is flooding our Earth as we prepare for the shifts and changes....
It is time for us to Shine.
It is time for us to embrace our Divine Feminine.
This energy may feel strange to us as it floods in.
For so long we have been without her Grace.
But now....she returns in her gentle power!
So...time to open our Hearts and embrace the Love.
The moon is rising above the trees, an almost full circle of golden light, as we leave the Garden.
Each of us holds a photo of the Aurora Borealis and our personal artwork depicting the Tree of Life.
What is it that we each carry now within us?
A rising hope, a dawning joy, and a strengthened resolve to open our lives to the Sacred Feminine Presence,
to assist her as co-creative partners in her task of rebirthing life on our planet.
Gathering Space for Autumn Equinox
September 22, 2020
The Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona glows with a warm golden light that washes over trees, shrubs and ancient stones as we arrive. It is the evening of the Autumn Equinox, and the sun is completing its day after twelve hours, a day of delicate balance: light and dark, dawn and dusk, rising, setting. All in harmony.
The Harvest Moon, so appreciated by the farmers who will need her light for haying, will appear soon, shortly after sunset. She is still days away from her fullness, a young moon, a silver suggestion, a promise.
Her light will illumine our Autumn Equinox Ritual, from Heartbeat of the Seasons by Kathleen Glennon.
Carol, who will lead this evening’s ritual, invites us to form one large circle.
We each take a place, honouring the two metres/six feet distance between us.
Carol opens the ritual: “Let us come to stillness in our restless bodies, our spirits, as sing our chant:
Gently, gently into the silence
Gently, gently into the silence
“We gather this night to be in touch and in tune with this time of equinox,
this time when day and night are of equal length.
“This is a time of equilibrium and balance—of harmony and stillness."
Let us become aware of the moon, and attune ourselves to her energy.
Let us feel the softness of her touch on our skin.
Let us hear her music.
Let us become aware of her smile.
Let us feel her influence on our minds.
Let us becomes aware of her effect on our mood.
Let us feel her softness on our hearts.
Let us feel her lure on our body fluids.
Let us feel her pull on our tides.
Let us see her golden rays on the corn.
“Noreen will now read for us the words of Mircea Eliade.”
The rhythms of the moon weave together harmonies,
Symmetries, analogies and participations
Which make up an endless fabric,
A net of invisible threads
Which binds together at once human kind
Rain, vegetation, fertility, health, animals,
Death, regeneration, after life, and more.
Carol invites us to walk in silence around this garden for five minutes,
aware of the pale silver light of the moon, touching all that she sees.
When we return to our circle, Carol leads us in a litany of praise to the moon.
Response: Sister Moon, we thank you.
Holy this sacred night
Of harvest equinox.
Holy the pause that balances
Our earth, our souls.
Sacred this time of alignment and harmony.
Response: Sister Moon, we thank you.
Sacred our sister, the moon,
Holy her golden, gentle light.
Sacred her ever-changing patterns.
Holy her waxing, waning, weaving.
Response: Sister Moon, we thank you.
Sacred her mysterious connection
With the cycles of life, with seasons.
Mysterious her pull on weather,
Powerful her pull on tides.
Response: Sister Moon, we thank you.
Mysterious her effect on our moods
Holy is she
Whose cycles run in our blood.
Response: Sister Moon, we thank you.
Sacred her wisdom,
Wondrous her power.
Awesome her light.
All things that flow,
Flow in rhythm with you, O, Sister Moon.
Response: Sister Moon, we thank you.
Carol passes copies of the Reflection around the circle,
inviting us to each read one line aloud, slowly, reverently, beginning with the woman on her right:
“And the Sacred One says:"
I am the inspiration of artists and poets.
I am the magnet of oceans,
The force that tugs the tides.
I am the regulator of the seasons,
The changing face of weather.
I am the lure of reproductive cycles,
The force that moves the flow of all that is.
I am the music of dreamers, of lovers.
I am glorious light to charm your souls,
Romantic light to fire your hearts,
Gentle light to soothe your minds.
I am the Dance of the Milky Way.
I am Moon, the daughter to the sun,
The granddaughter of the stars,
The sister of the planets,
I am who I am in moonlight.
We give thanks to you.
We give thanks to you.
Carol speaks: “There is a Cherokee Nation Prophecy from a past century that is about this time, our time on the planet. I invite Mary Ellen to read it to us and to introduce our Dance Movement.”
Cherokee Nation Prophecy:
“The bird of humanity has two great wings - a masculine wing and a feminine wing. The masculine wing has been fully extended for centuries, fully expressed while the feminine wing in all of us has been truncated, not yet fully expressed - half extended. ?So the masculine wing in all of us has become over muscular and over-developed and in fact violent and the bird of humanity has been flying in circles for hundreds and hundreds of years, held up only fully by the masculine wing that became over muscular and violent.
“In the 21st century, however, something remarkable will happen. The feminine wing in all of us will fully extend and find its way to express and the masculine wing will relax in all of us and the bird of humanity will soar.”
Mary Ellen introduces the dance movement:
”Our dance tonight will be one of creative movement to allow each of us to express in our bodies the joy of life, of moonlight, of freedom to dance as we feel drawn by the music.
In honour of Mother Moon I chose ABBA’s “Mamma Mia” for our dancing music.
“You may wish to experiment while you dance with the images described in the Cherokee Nation Prophecy.
Dance for a while with your right (masculine) arm fully extended and your left (feminine) arm just slightly raised.
When you feel in your body how that is, dance with both arms extended equally and fully. Notice any differences.”
(“Mamma Mia” is attached to the Communion email.)?
Following the dance, Carol invites us to form again our large circle. To bless one another, we extend our arms, each in turn, to offer to our companions a moon blessing of our own invention, something such as:
“I bless you with softness of touch” or “I bless you with golden rays of love”.
After each one has blessed the group, Carol reads the final blessing:
May the blessing of moonlight rest gently on our shoulders.
May her smile charm the patterns of our days.
May her golden rays romance the lives of all.
May her energy tug all into tidal, cyclic flow.
May her energy inspire earth’s poetry and song.
May her lure lead all into the sacred spiral of life.
Gathering Space for September 15, 2020
It is a pleasantly cool September evening under a dark sky on the island of Iona. The new moon will not appear until September 17th, the Feast of Hildegard of Bingen. We walk towards our circle of friends already seated on our Communion quilts, noticing with delight that the hardier flowers, a few deep red roses among them, are still blooming in the gardens around the ruined nunnery.
We find a place on one of the quilts, still conscious of the need for social distancing. Our greetings, our conversations, create a low murmur, like the sound of the North Atlantic on a windless night brushing Iona’s shores.
An invitation went forth through the noosphere inviting those who wish to bring a poem or a reflection on Hildegard of Bingen. Along with Julian of Norwich and Brigid of Kildare, Hildegard completes the Trintiy of Goddess Mothers for our Communion. Tonight we celebrate her feast day.
Violet stands to light the fire pot at the centrepoint where our three quilts touch. Moving to just beyond the quilts where she can see all of us, Violet speaks: “I’ve brought a poem written by Christine Valters Paintner that I’d like to read this evening.The title is “St. Hildegard Strolls Through the Garden”. I wish she would stroll through this garden. It would be such a joy 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)
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 radiance now emanating from the stars. Each month before the new moon appears, the stars have their moment to shine most powerfully.
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,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, gesture to us to join in a circle dance still with two metres of space between us. 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 Lughnasadh September 8, 2020
The early evening air is cool, mid-teens Celsius, mid-fifties Fahrenheit. The day’s elusive sunlight is already draining from the sky. The moon, one week past her full, has not yet risen, but she will soon appear. The days are shortening at an alarming rate. September. The autumn equinox is just two weeks away…
Yet there is buoyancy in our step, light in our eyes as we enter the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery.
Tonight we have come to celebrate the Harvest Festival. Each of us carries a symbol or an image or a few words that represent the Harvest Gift we offer from our lives to all that lives on the Planet, and to the Love that sustains and nurtures all of that life. We come to the Celebration with delight carrying gifts.
Our quilts of many colours are spread out on the grass awaiting us. At the centre of each quilt there is a basket of wild flowers: white daisies, yellow brown-eyed susans, blue cornflowers , foxglove with pink-purple bells, stalks of purple heather. We choose a place to sit, mindful of social distancing. We draw our sweaters, jackets, shawls more snugly around our shoulders, look hopefully towards the fire pot.
This evening it is Dolores Whelan who stands to light the fire, and to introduce the Ritual.
“Shall I tell you about Lugh?”
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, 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.
Corinne says, “It seems so sad. Burying the garlands. A sad 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. 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.”
Now Dolores explains tonight's ritual: "There are two parts to our Lughnasadh Ritual: the farewell to summer and the placing of the harvest gifts on the altar. For the first, I invite you to pass around the basket you find in the centre of each quilt. Choose five or six long-stemmed flowers, and braid the stems so that they form a crown, with the blossoms on the outside. Place the crown snugly on your head.
"Weave your crown with gratitude for the joys of summer, with a thankful heart knowing that what follows is the beauty of autumn, and then the sacred snow-wrapped season of Samhain. Once your crown is ready to wear, you may want to move to a space on the grass to dance to a song of gratitude by ABBA. It's called, 'Thanks for the music' and tonight we might change the words to 'Thanks for the summer'. "
(music on the email link)
"Now look towards the far edge of the grass to the table that you see there. If two or three of you whose crowns are in place would come with me, we’ll decorate the altar to prepare for the second part of the ritual."
Ritual of Our Harvest Gifts
"Come now and stand in a half circle facing the altar. As you feel ready, step towards the altar and speak of your symbol. After each woman speaks of her symbol and moves to place it in the centre of the altar between the baskets, weSpeak together this response to her gift:
We honour you (name her). We honour your art. What you give with love, in freedom and joy, we accept with love and gratitude. May the Holy One receive your gift.
"After you hear the response, remove your crown and place it in one of the baskets to signify your readiness to say farewell to summer and to greet the season of autumn. The return to your place as the next woman steps forward."
Noreen is the first to step forward, holding a book in her hands. Noreen turns to speak to us:
"The gift I am called to bring to the Universe in this sacred, luminous, threshold time on our planet is my Book of Blessings, better known to me as MY JOURNAL. The JOURNAL represents my sacred pilgrimage where I glimpse God’s sacred image within me, the threads of inner glory, that are deeply and gently woven into the fabric of my being. It is within these threads of light, those moments of the Spirit, that I awaken to my personal weakness, my mistakes and my struggles, as well as awakening to the glory and wonder of who I really am. It is within the light and darkness of my inner life that I sense God’s flow of merciful love and healing. This gift of mercy makes me fully aware of the gift freely given by my Beloved which transforms the dry, parched places of my being into a luxurious garden as well as restores life to brittle, dry bones. It is within the words of journaling that I become aware of the mystery of God’s presence and nearness.
"As I reflect, write and contemplate I am extremely aware that my thoughts, words and actions have a salutary effect upon our world and brings its own kind of healing to all who are struggling, weary and confused at this time of pandemic. May The Healer of our many ills and Guide of our tomorrows, be near us as a Communion, bless our whole world, and pray for us."
Noreen places her journal on the altar.
Response: “We honour you Noreen. We honour your art. What you give with love, in freedom and joy, we accept with love and gratitude. May the Holy One receive your gift.”
Noreen removes her crown of flowers and places it in the basket, then return to her place.
Corinne comes forward, standing to face us, holding a rose. “This rose comes from the garden in Damanhur outside the house where I am living now. The gift I am called to bring in this sacred, luminous, threshold time on our Planet is deep respect for all living beings.“
Corinne places her rose on the altar.
“We honour you Corinne. We honour your art. What you give with love, in freedom and joy, we accept with love and gratitude. May the Holy One receive your gift.”
Corinne removes her crown of flowers and places it in the basket. As she returns to her place, Shirley comes forward.
Shirley turns to look at us, and speaks:
“The gift that I am called to bring to the Universe is the word ‘HOPE’. Reflecting back on these challenging past months I now realize that there were still many great grace-filled moments in this process and the need for HOPE. I share the word Hope with all of you for the transformation in humanity as we are part of the evolution process. The symbol I wish to share is the sacred light. May it be upon us and within us to empower us as we undergo what we have to.
Shirley places a card on the altar with the word, HOPE.
“We honour you Shirley. We honour your art. What you give with love, in freedom and joy, we accept with love and gratitude. May the Holy One receive your gift.”
Shirley places her crown of flowers in the basket and returns to her place as Mary Ellen comes forward.
Turning to face us, Mary Ellen speaks: "I was not sure what my gift to the Universe might be, but suddenly I thought of the shell I have had for many years. I have always treasured it, and have carried it with me through all my moves. It was given to me as a gift, and I no longer remember from whom. On the outside, the earthy brown, beige design moves in a spiral from a cone-like centre out to the opening where the little sea creature would emerge. Underneath, where my spirit is most drawn, the lines and whole structure spiral down and down deeper and deeper to that centre point. I know that is where I am drawn. And perhaps that is where we are all drawn - to the centre, the core, the Heart."
Mary Ellen places her gift on the altar, and we respond:
“We honour you Mary Ellen. We honour your art. What you give with love, in freedom and joy, we accept with love and gratitude. May the Holy One receive your gift.”
Mary Ellen removes her flowered crown and places it in the basket, returning afterwards to her place.
Clara comes forward and turns to us: “This hibiscus flower is a symbol of my gift to be open and attentive to the evolving life process.”
Clara places her flower on the altar and we respond:
“We honour you Clara. We honour your art. What you give with love, in freedom and joy, we accept with love and gratitude. May the Holy One receive your gift.”
Clara removes her crown of flowers and places it in the basket. As she returns to her place, Bernadette comes forward:
Bernadette turns to us and speaks:
"I’m preparing to go back to the classroom , so much of my time this past week and weekend has been trying to get ready, as best I can. My symbol is praying hands as I ask for prayers (and am constantly praying) as we welcome students back to schools this week, despite the system not being quite ready."
Bernadette places her picture of praying hands on the altar:
“We honour you Bernadette. We honour your art. What you give with love, in freedom and joy, we accept with love and gratitude. May the Holy One receive your gift.”
Bernadette removes her crown of flowers and places it in a basket.
As she returns to her place, Karen comes forward.
Karen turns to us to say: "The gift I bring is expressing the dance between opposites; the weaving which brings about a new and renewed creation. These drawings, based on the planetary seals of Rudolf Steiner, represent the planets Mars and Venus. The dance between them is expressed in crystals and in rock.
We respond: “We honour you Karen. We honour your art. What you give with love, in freedom and joy, we accept with love and gratitude. May the Holy One receive your gift.”
Karen places her crown of flowers in the basket and returns to her place as Colette comes forward.
Colette turns to us and speaks: “I offer the word beloved. Believing that I am beloved, taking that in a little more every day, living out of it is what I bring to the Universe (a forever work in progress). I feel that taking it to heart is welcoming Divine Love, welcoming a most precious Gift that so wants to be recognized. It is a radiance recognized within myself that I wish to help awaken in the people I walk with in Spiritual Direction. Perhaps can I also help awaken it in my every day encounters with people by osmosis or radiance and by recognition, seeing it in them as well. Could just living it out myself somehow touch the people I encounter in my life and like the butterfly effect have an influence on all of creation, on the Cosmos? These words from Understanding the Enneagram express my desire. ‘In Holy Love we know ourselves as arising from the brilliant light of Divine Love that creates and sustains the universe’.”
Colette places on the altar a card with the word beloved written on it.
We respond: “We honour you Colette. We honour your art. What you give with love, in freedom and joy, we accept with love and gratitude. May the Holy One receive your gift.”
Colette removes her crown of flowers and places it on the altar. Colette returns to her place and Suzanne comes forward.
Suzanne turns to us and speaks: “I was swimming in Lake Michigan near my home in Chicago when I found this rock.
It is a symbol of my love for the lake and the gift I offer of caring deeply for the water on our planet and its need
for protection. Suzanne places her heart-shaped rock on the altar.
“We honour you Suzanne. We honour your art. What you give with love, in freedom and joy, we accept with love and gratitude. May the Holy One receive your gift.”
Suzanne removes her crown of flowers and places it in the basket. As Suzanne returns to her place, Heather comes forward.
Heather turns to speak to us: This was a second harvest in my rose garden. When I made the arrangement and observed it, I thought this is what I will share. The different colours so closely united in the unfolding, the opening of many facets to the rose. Symbolic of humanity and a new harvesting taking place amidst the chaos. An inclusivity despite colour or race, a collective touching of each other’s lives as the significance of the opening of the petals suggests newness, aliveness, a promise of continued growth and solidarity. A beauty that only roses can model generation after generation. A promise returns season after season.
Heather places her bowl of roses on the altar, and we respond:
“We honour you Heather. We honour your art. What you give with love, in freedom and joy, we accept with love and gratitude. May the Holy One receive your gift.”
Heather removes her crown of flowers and places it in the basket, returning to her place.
Dolores speaks: “Thanks to each one of you for this beautiful ritual. Your words, and images of your gifts, the depth of your offerings to the planet at this time is a Harvest of Love and Dedication.
"Because it is too cool to celebrate here tonight, Elspeth has offered to take us to her home on the shore of the Atlantic for a Harvest feast.There will be music and song, stories and dancing as well as food and wine prepared by Elspeth and her friends, most of whom you know.
"Just follow Elspeth who is waiting here to guide us. And if three people will kindly each carry one of the baskets of flower crowns, we shall send them off over the Atlantic when we pass by the shore on our way.
"Elspeth will bring us back here after the celebration so you may reclaim your symbols for your own home altars."
And so under the bright moon we set off following Elspeth for an unexpected Lughnasadh Party.
Gathering Space: September 1, 2020
Mother Moon, on the eve of her fullness, greets us from the darkening sky as we enter the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery.
The air on the Island of Iona still holds the gentle warmth of summer on this first day of September.
Someone, or perhaps a few women from our group, have retrieved our colourful quilts from Elspeth’s home on Iona
where they have been safely stored during the two months of our absence. .
We each take care to choose a place on one of the quilts, mindful of the social distancing that keeps us safe.
Once we are settled we talk easily with those nearest us, sharing the news of how we spent the time
since we last gathered here on June 30th. A few among us are gazing at the moon, or glancing around the garden,
revelling in our return to this beloved place.
Shirley stands to light the fire pot.
As the conversations ebb, Shirley speaks to the group that forms a circle around the flame:
“We are now in the Season of Lughnasadh in the Celtic Calendar. This is a sacred time to harvest the insights
that came during these silent weeks of COVID isolation, as well as to ponder the way we now find ourselves,
soul and spirit, heart, mind, body in these unprecedented times.
"We may ask ourselves: What am I harvesting in my life as we enter the sixth month of COVID?
“Last week we each received an email inviting us to reflect on a few questions related to our life
since we last gathered here: its transmutations, its desires, and how the Communion might assist us with these.
Tonight I’ll read each of the questions and invite you to respond as you feel drawn.
“The first question is this: What is changing, transmuting, transforming in my life? Who am I becoming?
What do I most desire to grow towards?"
Yvette speaks: I am moving toward a more deeply lived spirituality encompassing daily life. Is it my age?
Is it the tenor of our times? Is it my return to leadership in my community? I believe it is all of the above
that moves me to be gentle with where I am in life now. I am not the leader I was at 45! I am a matured, yes ripened, leader.
I see life as opportunity and challenge. I understand the underpinnings of our aging and diminishing community in North America.
And, I recognize the effervescent growth of our community in Haiti.
I have been interviewing the Sisters for whom I am the contact leader here in New England. The experience is grace-filled.
The sisters older than I give me courage. Those younger than I give me energy.
Colette speaks: I am becoming freer to focus on the Beloved ever so gently. Grace is at work on this journey
of more freedom from fears and self-preoccupation.
I read words that describe really well what is going on with me:
“Surrender is being done to us by the action of the Beloved. And in the pull, the aspects of the ego
that no longer serve us (patterns, defense mechanisms etc.) are being transmuted, transformed, in preparation for union.”
Who am I becoming? The beloved. The invitation for me is to allow myself to be loved (a challenge for me)
and in so doing welcome the Beloved. I most desire to grow towards Union.
Noreen speaks: What I have noticed is that my prayer has taken a beautiful shift.
I am drawn to pay deep attention to my Sacred Breath. It is the Golden Flame of God’s Abundance and Eternal Peace
which flows into my Divine Heart space. It is a call to deeper solitude and prayer for the world.
On August 1st, I heard that my grandnephew in Sudbury, 27 years of age, was involved in a work accident
and had third degree burns to his chest, hands and arms. My heart grieved, and I was unprepared
for the pain I felt for him and his loved ones. The Breath Prayer became a doorway to enter into my painful wound
and be supportive to family. The breath prayer forms the background to all my other works and prayers.
What I desire and long for is not only to listen ‘to the still small voice within’ but with the ‘Divine indwelling’
to act and respond in such a way, that I fully trust my inner Knowing and Intuitive guide.
With such rich, inner knowledge I pray that I will feel the discomfort of my thoughts,
feelings, words and actions that do not move me to act with love.
Clara speaks: My ministry of offering light chair massage is uncertain at this time.
I am learning to live with uncertainty regarding ministry. The focus on “doing” has shifted to “being”
.I have to admit I enjoyed the slower pace that Covid has offered me. I am not bored but rather content at this stage.
I feel I should be more involved but where and how? I desire to grow towards attentiveness to’ what is’
and cherish the moment - trusting in the silence I am being led.
Heather speaks: During Covid I was led into stillness and lived it for the stillness was the blessing I was craving
but never would have achieved if the world hadn't paused. I am on a journey of healing, a cleansing of the past
and the healing of a broken heart by telling my story and truly acknowledging that I was shielded from a young age
by something greater than me. I am who I am today as a result of circumstances
that gave me compassion, love, acceptance and a greater understanding of human frailty.
Mary Ellen speaks: At both the macro level of the world, and the level of my own personal life, I must face more and more
that I am not in control. How I live each moment and unfolding event is what is most essential
to my sense of peace and wholeness. The deep need to be grounded in and held in the Immense Love at the heart of all,
and in the unfolding of all, is profoundly important to me. While as present as I can be to the more immediate realities
of my life and the world, I need to keep before me the larger, cosmic vision of movement and purpose
in and through that Love. I wish to respond passionately to the call to be a co-creator,
while being ready to abandon the efforts and results to the God of Love.
Contemplation leading to action and then to letting go in trust.
Shirley speaks: "Here is another question: How might the Communion assist/companion me in this growth?"
Carol speaks: As to how the Communion can assist, simply continuing to witness one another's journeys
through e-mail responses and especially opportunities for Zoom gatherings. In other words, continuing these practices.
Colette speaks: Perhaps in our sharing allow myself to love and be loved.
Mary Teske speaks: In one of my readings this past week there was reference to the culture/ spirituality
that was prevalent around the time of Jesus. Here we are two thousand years since that time and we seem to be
in a great time of change or being called to change spiritually, culturally and socially.
So this has left me with the question of where are going globally,
what is the communion's role and more particularly my role in birthing this new way of life?
Noreen speaks: How can we harness the energies of LOVE in our global world as a Communion?
We are in an evolutionary moment and God is creating us in this moment. We help God by our words and action
to bring God forth in our world. A new story is taking hold in our world and we must learn to live into this story.
We, the Communion, want to be part of this unfolding newness.
One name comes to mind that we might study. It is Thomas Merton.
The Communion supports and assists us by offering new insight for reflection and prayer –
moving us always to be faithful to the unfolding new story and being faithful to our part in bringing this about.
The Communion encourages our personal effort, so we do not grow weary with the challenging task before us
knowing we have each other as we are held in love and hope. The Communion offers each of us prayer on our pilgrimage together.
Shirley asks us the third question: "What aspects of spirituality for our times would I most appreciate focusing on
when we return to our weekly Reflections?"
Suzanne speaks: John O'Donohue has a poem “In Praise of Water” in his book To Bless the Space Between Us:
Let us bless the humility of water,
Always willing to take shape
Of whatever otherness holds it,
The buoyancy of water
Stronger than the deadening,
Downward drag of gravity,
The innocence of water,
Flowing forth, without thought
Of what awaits it,
The refreshment of water,
Dissolving the crystals of thirst.
Water: voice of grief,
Cry of love,
In the flowing tear.
Water: vehicle and idiom
Of all the inner voyaging
That keeps us alive.
Blessed be water,
Our first mother.
I would like us to consider our rebirth in water, reflecting on the bodies of water, the lakes or rivers or oceans
near where we were born, and the bodies of water that were near us when we had moments of transformation.
“Blessed be water where I was born/reborn.”
We might also reflect on the Celtic understanding that we are each related to particular aspects of the elements
of earth, fire, air and water. Which element best describes our way of living and relating? What is your element, what balances you?
Colette speaks: One area that is of interest to me might be expressed by the following:
In the motion of surrender allow the flow of Presence to live through us, in us, as us.
Hence becoming a greater manifestation of who we are, our authentic self / essence, a manifestation of the Presence.
Perhaps this is one aspect of union with the Beloved.
Carol speaks: I would really enjoy those who took part in the recent Ubiquity seminar sharing around
the Magdalene and the Dark Mother. Wondering too about tapping into them / these resources
to help us build and maintain our resilience. With the rigors of the US elections dead ahead,
the waters are going to be very rough.
Clara speaks: I would like to reflect on the ministry of ‘being’.
Living a more contemplative life.
Yvette speaks; I am understanding the dimensions of the title of a book I just purchased:
Coming of Age by Diarmuid O’Murchu. That being said, I am looking now for input and reflective material on “coming of age.”
Shirley asks the final question: "What I am harvesting in my life as we enter the 6th month of Covid 19?"
Clara speaks: What I am harvesting in my life in this time is Trust that “I shall not want.” Psalm 23
Heather speaks: What I am harvesting through these past months is a healing of the heart and a release
of the blockages that held me back so I can answer the calling to somehow be a calming presence,
making a difference and touching people’s lives for a purpose. Using my own experiences as a road map
that will direct me along the way, to be open to where life will bring me.
Hence, being part of the communion of creative fire, I believe is part of that calling.
Shirley speaks: "Thank you to each of you for your reflections and your willingness to open your hearts to us,
to speak of the growth and changes, the desires and longings you have experienced over this time.
"May each of us hold within us what we have heard this evening. We’ll close this time now with a Blessing from John O’Donohue.
"Let’s read it aloud together as an offering to one another:"
Blessed be the longing that brought you here
and that quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to befriend your eternal longing.
May you enjoy the critical and creative companionship of the
question, “Who am I?” and may it brighten your longing.
May a secret Providence guide your thought and shelter your feeling.
May your mind inhabit your life with the same sureness
with which your body belongs to the world.
May the sense of something absent enlarge your life.
May your soul be as free as the ever-new waves of the sea.
May you succumb to the danger of growth.
May you live in the neighbourhood of wonder.
May you belong to love with the wildness of Dance.
May you know that you are ever embraced
in the kind circle of God.
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.