Gathering Space for Bealtaine Eve
April 30, 2019
In the pre-dawn darkness we make our way into the circle of grass embraced by the low stone walls of the ruined nunnery
on Iona. We have never before been here before the sun, never seen our companions like this: darker shadows
against a grey sky. It is utterly still, without even the movement of light wind that heralds the sun.
Each of us has brought dry sticks, bits of gathered grass and heather and this we pile on the wood that awaits the Bealtaine fire.
On the edge of a cliff across the island is a pool that has been known for its spiritual power.
Two of our companions, Shirley and Suzanne, who have a deep affinity for water,
who work for its healing throughout the planet, went there yesterday to collect water for our ritual.
The large clay pitcher they carried back sits beside the readied fire.
When all of us have gathered, we stand in a circle facing towards the east. We chant: “Look to the East
where promise is born; look to the East where the sun brings the morn.” Slowly, slowly, as we repeat the chant,
the grey of the sky warms into shades of pale seashell pink, deepening into soft rose
then into deep rose madder. Slowly, slowly, the golden orb of the sun appears to be pushing itself up above the horizon.
In such a way, we who know it is in fact the earth on which we stand that is rolling towards the sun,
we still experience the moment as did our ancient ancestors. We still speak of a rising sun.
At the moment when the sun becomes visible, Mary Ellen lights the fire,
and as the sun’s light ripples on the water in the clay container, we come forward, one by one,
to splash the water over our faces. Wth the water still wet upon us, we stand in the rays of the rising sun.
The sun blesses us, blesses the water upon us. As we feel the warmth that come from sun and fire,
and the wetness from the water, we ask for a harmony within us
of the masculine/sun/fire energies and the feminine/water energies.
By the time all twenty-eight women have completed the ritual, the garden is glowing with the full golden light of morning.
Now that it is warm enough to sit down, we gather in a circle.
There is a lightness in our hearts that bubbles up in spontaneous laughter.
Someone begins to sing, “Morning has broken…” and we join in.
Kathleen has brought the Celtic Calendar that Dolores Whelan created, as well as Dolores’ book, Ever Ancient, Ever New,
and offers Reflection questions based on the rituals we have just done:
What negativity left over from winter do I now release into the Bealtaine fires
so that my heart is ready for the newness of life and work at this season?
What new fertility in my life, in my projects, do I welcome
in the form of the young mother of early summer?
What aspects of self, talents, gifts or projects
am I willing to bring into the world at this time?
How shall I honour the harmony of fire and water, the masculine and feminine energies
working within the land, within myself, within the work that I am called to birth?
Kathleen invites us to take these questions into our hearts
as we end our time here with the Bealtaine prayer from the Celtic Calendar:
May I/we embrace the support of the blossoming life force and growing light
as I/we step boldly into the world to express my/our creativity.
Gathering Space for April 23, 2019
We gather this evening in the light of the moon, four days from its Paschal fullness.
Slowly, slowly, warmth is returning to the island of Iona in the North Atlantic.
The afternoon temperatures climbed to 15 degrees Celsius/60 degrees Fahrenheit,
but now the evening air here in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery
is too cool for sitting on the grass. The stones of the crumbled walls still hold the chill of winter in their hearts.
Clara bends to light the fire pot
and offers a suggestion:
"Let's gather in a standing circle, our feet rooted on the earth, steady as trees,
our arms outstretched like branches to receive the moon's light, the cool air,
the hints of ocean moisture in the air.
"Now, standing at ease, we become aware of the earth beneath our feet, the embrace of air
and light on our bodies. We move our awareness inwards, to the deep centre of ourselves.
"Here is where the fire burns that ignites our passion for life.
"Let us hold our attention on this inner fire. Imagine it as a small flame.
"Now see if our inner gaze upon it makes it grow stronger, steadier, hotter.
"This is the fire at the heart of our being, the source of the love we send forth to others,
to people on the planet we have never seen, to places where there is a hunger
for peace, for food, for shelter.
"Send it to the grieving people of Sri Lanka whose hearts are breaking
after the Easter Sunday bombings.
"This fire is the source of our impulse to reach out through our work, our service,
our caring, our wisdom, our strivings to understand life and all it requires of us.
"But this fiery centre is also the dwelling place within us of the Holy One. Love awaits us here,
awakens us to joy, to the knowing that we are worthy, and beautiful,
and held in a love more tender and deep than we can imagine.
"The Sufi poet Hafiz says it best: There is something holy deep inside of you
that is so ardent and awake
that needs to lie down naked
next to God.
"This inner fire of love, received and given, is the holy heart of our communion.
"It is present in the depths of each of us, and each of us is invited, called,
to awaken this fire, to tend it, so that its flames become a burning that radiates forth to the Communion,
to all those we love, and finally to all of life.
"Some gentle movement will warm us, while reminding us of our task, our great work:
Stretch your arms upwards into the sky that hovers above. Feel the moon's caress
on your outstretched hands, on your palms. Now draw warmth in through the crown of your head.
Imagine it passing down into your body to the place of inner fire, adding warmth and light.
Now slowly, gently bend forward, and with your outstretched arms, scoop up from the earth
the heat that is in the belly of the planet herself. Draw it upwards as you slowly stand.
Now draw it into your body, into the heart of your being where it meets the light
you have drawn in from the moon. Stand at ease, your eyes closed, as you imagine
the fire of the earth and the fire of the sun meeting in the deep centre of your being,
increasing the fire within you. AHHHH. Breathe slowly in and out for a few moments
as you feel this inner fire growing, filling you. Then with a gesture of giving it away,
send it forth as radiant light and love to the planet.
"This is a simple practice we may do each day, as we remember
our Companions in the Communion of Creative Fire, and imagine them standing in a circle around us.
"I offer as a closing prayer for our circle, this Easter Hymn for Earth from the writings of Jan Phillips":
Easter Hymn for Earth
Hallelujah! They have risen!
Snowdrop, crocus, bearded iris.
Exult and throw your happy arms upward!
The trillium carpet the forest floor.
The tulips, triumphant in rainbow rows,
rise up singing "our cups overflow."
The creatures dress in their feast-day finest,
the loons and penguins in black tie and tux.
Hallelujah ushers forth from lips and beaks
as quacks, warbles, howls and hoots
fill the forests with hymns of joy.
Let the Earth be glad and the sky shower praise
for the riot of color in her cloak of glory:
Purple Martin, Scarlet Tanager,
Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher,
Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret,
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Indigo Bunting.
It is right to give thanks for the endangered,
relatives among us but not for long:
Bengal Tiger, Blue Whale, Leatherback Sea Turtle,
Asian Elephant, Javan Rhinoceros, Mountain Gorilla,
Snow Leopard, Red Wolf, California Condor.
It is fitting that we mourn our relations now extinct-
though the list is long, let us name a few:
Chinese River Dolphin, Japanese Sea Lion,
Caribbean Monk Seal, Cascade Mountain Wolf, Sardinian Lynx,
Bali Tiger, Mexican Grizzly, Eastern Cougar, Black Rhinoceros,
Koala Lemur, Barbary Lion, Laughing Owl.
For all that dies and rises, we bend our knee.
As creatures of the Cosmos, progeny of the Universe,
we give thanks and rejoice for the Flame within us.
With the bald eagles and hairy frogfish,
with the furry kittens and spiny hedgehogs,
with the runny-nosed bison and red-nosed reindeer
we stand in awe as Earth spins, tides change,
hearts beat, eyes see, hands comfort.
We who believe in Life give Life.
This feast marks the life of a prophet
who said more than once,
"What you see me do, you can do, and more."
What rises today and every dawn
are these words that remind us:
There is nothing in the world we cannot do.
Let us take this suffering world into our arms
and heal what we can.
Jan Phillips 2019
Gathering Space for April 16, 2019
The Paschal moon is waxing towards its fulness as the great feasts of Passover and Easter approach.
Winds off the North Atlantic do their best to disperse the cloud cover, allowing brief glimpses of her radiant light.
We come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, feeling the rising temperature (10 degrees Celsius, 50 degrees Fahrenheit)
as blessing even if it is only a little above freezing. We have dressed warmly for our gathering under the open skies
where our lovely embroidered cushions of winter must give way to the low stones and grass that still remember winter.
The fire pot is lighted at the centre of our circle.
As we take our places and greet our companions, thoughts of cold are forgotten.
Tonight we will celebrate Easter in poetry, in song and dance and later there will be a feast of food and wine. We see the covered trays of food, the wine glasses already set on the long table that rests against the wall of the monastery.
Cynthia stands to begin our celebration: "I have brought a poem by Jan Richardson that was written as a blessing for Mary Magdalene, the first person to whom Jesus showed himself after the Resurrection:
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” John 20:16
The Magdalene’s Blessing
You hardly imagined
everything you ever loved
suddenly returned to you,
looking you in the eye
and calling your name.
you do not know
how to abide this hole
in the center
of your chest,
where a door
and swings open
at the same time,
turning on the hinge
of your aching
and hopeful heart.
I tell you,
This is not a banishment
from the garden.
This is an invitation,
This is your life
calling to you
from a place
you could never
but now that you
have glimpsed its edge,
you cannot imagine
choosing any other way.
So let the tears come
let them go.
Let this blessing
gather itself around you.
Let it give you
what you will need
for this journey.
You will not remember
the words –
they do not matter.
All you need to remember
is how it sounded
when you stood
in the place of death
and heard the living
call your name.
(Jan Richardson in Circle of Grace)
While we are quietly taking in the wonder, the power of these words,
Cynthia passes around the circle copies for each of us of the painting by Sieger Koder of Mary Magdalene
inspired by that Easter Morning.
Mary Ellen stands now and says, "I too have a poem by Jan Richardson about Mary Magdalene's
experience of Easter Morning. Jan begins with the moment when someone whom she believes is the gardener speaks to her:
'Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?'(John 20: 15)
You had not imagined
that something so empty
could fill you
and now you carry
like an awful treasure
or like a child
that curls itself
within your heart:
how the emptiness
will bear forth
a new world
you cannot fathom
but on whose edge
So why do you linger?
You have seen,
and so you are
You have been seen,
and so you are
There is no other word
There is simply
There is simply
Mary Ellen has a photo for each of us to take home. It shows the statue that stands in the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral
in England: Mary Magdalene is striding forth to take the good news to the apostles.
Now the music begins, calling us to dance. What a great way to warm up after sitting still on stone.
Music, Dance… until the Easter Feast begins.
Gathering Space for April 3, 2018
A Celebration of Spring
We have been invited to bring spring flowers, essential oils and small clay pots with budding seedlings to our Gathering
on this early spring evening in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. A light rain, more like mist, touches our faces
as we walk towards the garden. But what miracle is this? Not our winter tent, but almost as welcome… a large canvas cover
carefully secured to four tall poles, offering shelter above an area large enough for all twenty-eight of us to gather.
Relieved laughter erupts as we find ourselves rain-free as though beneath an outstretched wing.
Patty Ann has offered to lead us in a Celtic Spring Ritual from Kathleen Glennon’s book Heartbeat of the Seasons.
Corinne has placed a table covered with a cloth in shades of rose, green and gold, along one side of the sheltered area,
inviting us to place our spring flowers, clay pots with seedlings and our containers of essential oils there.
We form one large circle around as Patty Ann reads the opening prayer:
Turner of the seasons,
Energy of the first flaring forth,
Source of newness and creativity,
Hidden activity in the darkness,
Align us to your budding presence
In this season of the spring.
Corinne reads from the Chinook Psalter:
Everywhere is the green of new growth,
The amazing sight of the renewal of the earth.
We watch the grass once again emerging from the ground.
We notice the bright green atop the dark green on the pine,
the fir, the hemlock, the spruce, the cedar.
The alder is already in leaf.
The old plum trees still blossom, leaf and give forth fruit.
The locust is late as always.
Everywhere and always the song of birds…
bees raiding the orchard, raccoon prowling at nightfall,
the earthworm tunnelling the garden, chickens and rabbits pecking and nibbling,
the goats tugging to reach new delights… all are the ubiquitous energies of life.
O God, May we today be touched by grace, fascinated and moved by this your creation,
energized by the power of new growth at work in your world.
May we move beyond viewing life only through a frame, but touch it and be touched by it,
know it and be known by it, love it and be loved by it.
May our bodies, our minds, our spirits, learn a new rhythm paced by the rhythmic pulse of the whole created order.
May spring come to us, be in us, and re-create life in us.
May we forge a new friendship with the natural world and discover a new affinity with beauty, with life.
In quiet, we allow this reflection to take root in our souls.
Now Patty Ann invites us to get in touch with the energy of spring:
Let us become aware of the energy of the earth at this time.
We, earthlings, are part of the earth and pulsate with its energy.
Our bodies have springtime energy at this time.
Let us be fascinated and moved by the wonder of spring, and the power of new growth at work in our world.
Let us touch the earth at this time and be touched by it.
Let us know the earth and be known by it.
Let us love the earth and be loved by it.
Let us discover our affinity with the beauty and mystery of springtime.
May spring come to us, be with us, and re-create life in us.
Each of us now takes a clay pot with seedlings from the ritual table.
We spread our jackets, shawls, sweaters and blankets on the soft spring grass
and sit down as Patty Ann leads a guided reflection:
Imagine that you are a seed that was planted in a pot of clay last winter.
At first you are afraid of the darkness.
But after some time you grow accustomed to the dark and settle into the clay.
All winter you are very quiet and still.
One day you notice that there are roots, long ropey fibres growing from your body down into the clay.
As the days go by, these fibres grow stronger and steadier.
You feel yourself rooted firmly in the clay.
You nestle into the clay.
Then one day you feel an irresistible urge to move upwards.
You try to ignore it but the feeling grows stronger.
Some hidden force seems to be luring you forward.
You push upwards.
A shoot emerges from the top of your body and pushes upwards.
It grows larger and larger until it reaches the top of the clay.
You are being lured forward by some unseen energy.
You know that you must make a final push to break through the clay
but you are afraid.
You have grown used to the darkness. You have grown used to
your home underground.
One part of you longs for the kiss of sunshine on your face.
Another part of you recoils in fear.
One part of you wants to follow the lure in your heart.
Another part of you wants to stay with the familiar, the comfortable.
Will you have the courage to move into the light?
All now is silence as we weigh these questions…
Apply this message to yourself, and to your situation.
Will you have the courage to follow this lure, this pull?
Into the silence, clear lovely notes of a flute rise
like the lark at break of day, lifting us into our response.
Litany of Thanksgiving
Chant: (response) Welcome to spring
with her lap full of flowers.
For the sap rising in all green things,
For the life force pulsating newness,
For the earth alive with freshness.
For the impulse of budding plants,
For the knowing that awakens flowers,
For the energy that dwells in hibernating animals.
For the yielding of winter to the call of spring,
For the sunshine that caresses the earth awake,
For the power that coaxes deep down things towards light.
For the lure that calls the catkins forth,
For the instinct that moves the birds to mate and nest,
For the playful energy of frolicking lambs.
For the creativity stirring in our bodies,
For the dynamism that prompts our growth,
For the allure that seduces us.
Patty Ann speaks: I invite you to think of the blessing you need
to help you to break through, to move forward, to grow.
When you know what that is, choose someone in the circle and ask that person
to anoint you with an oil of your choice, either on your forehead or your hands.
If you seek energy, jasmin is a good choice; if you need stimulation, choose lemon. For soothing ask for lavender.
When each woman has been anointed with oil for the blessing she most desires, Patty Ann offers the final blessing:
May the knowing that opens the snowdrop be ours.
May the energy of the waking squirrel be in our veins.
May the song of the nesting sparrow be in our hearts.
May the dance of the daffodils be in our feet.
May the joy of frolicking lambs be in our bones.
May the glow of celandine surround all.
May the kiss of catkins envelop all. May the morning dew rest lightly on all.
May the creativity of spring touch the hearts of all. Amen.
Gathering Space for April 2, 2019
We approach the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona, relieved that the rain is holding off, that the sky, though splattered with clouds, allows the evening sun to bathe the grass and early spring flowers in softened light. We’ve wrapped ourselves in shawls or sweaters, knowing the evening will cool quickly once the sun disappears. Some among us have brought large blankets which we spread over the grass. We sit down, trying to find a comfortable position, missing our large silk cushions from the Gathering Tent.
Earlier today, we each received an email, unsigned, with this intriguing message:
Poetry Reading in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery
Brigid was the patron of the ancient poets of Ireland whose intuitive knowing called the community to integrity.
Tonight in our Gathering Space, I invite you to read a poem, from any poet, of this time or the past,
whose words touch your own deep knowing, and call our Communion to integrity.
Write you own poem if you feel inspired, as they did, spontaneously, out of your own deep knowing.
Here is mine:
spun like spider’s web
from inner longings.
It stretches out among us,
criss-crossing in elaborate elegance
creating a fragile place to hold our dreams…
Somewhere a Beloved One might rest.
In the centre of the grassy space, beside the large stone where the fire pot waits patiently for its lighting,
an open basket holds sheets of vellum, inscribed with what look like poems.
A sign above the basket reads: “Take one if you haven’t brought one.”
The basket is soon empty.
While Mary Ellen lights the fire pot, we each silently read what we have somewhat randomly chosen.
Now the poetry readings are about to start….
Clara begins: "This poem is by Rainer Maria Rilke, written to a God of future times.
It is mysterious, yet strangely comforting."
"The God That is Coming"
"You too will find your strength.
We who must live in this time
cannot imagine how strong you will become –
how strange, how surprising,
yet familiar as yesterday.
We will sense you
like a fragrance from a nearby garden
and watch you move through our days
like a shaft of sunlight in a sickroom.
We are cradled close in your hands –
and lavishly flung forth."
Suzanne speaks: "The poem I chose is from the Terma Collective.
It presents a challenge to us to choose what matters most:
"What in your life is calling to you?
When all the meetings are adjourned
and the lists laid aside
and the wild iris blooms by itself in the dark forest.
What still pulls at your soul?"
Carol Zickell reads next: " In this poem the Sufi Hafiz invites us into wildness:
"Leave the familiar for awhile
Let your senses and bodies stretch out
Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadows and shores and hills.
Open up to the Roof
Make a new watermark
on your excitement
Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
Upon our intimate assembly.
Change rooms in your mind for a day.
All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire
While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of
Ruth speaks of her choice: "This poem by Mary Oliver reminds us that we are part of one another
and our lives are interwoven with all that lives. It is called Poem of the One World.
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water
and then into the sky of this
the one world
we all belong to
sooner or later
is a part of everything else
which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself."
Anne Fensom speaks: "This poem by Denise Levertov speaks to me about trusting
what we hear in the dark so that we might share it with others in the light."
"Writing in the Dark
It’s not difficult.
Anyway, it’s necessary.
Wait till morning, and you’ll forget.
And who knows if morning will come.
Fumble for the light, and you’ll be
stark awake, but the vision
will be fading, slipping
out of reach.
You must have paper at hand,
a felt-tip-pen—ballpoints don’t always flow,
pencil points tend to break. There’s nothing
shameful in that much prudence: those are your tools.
Never mind about crossing your t’s, dotting your i’s—
but take care not to cover
one word with the next. Practice will reveal
how one hand instinctively comes to the aid of the other
to keep each line
clear of the next.
Keep writing in the dark:
a record of the night, or
words that pulled you from the depths of unknowing,
words that flew through your mind, strange birds
crying their urgency with human voices,
as flowers of a tree that blooms
only once in a lifetime:
words that may have the power
to make the sun rise again."
Ellyn holds up her page to us: "This poem by John O’Donohue is called "For a New Beginning."
It speaks to me of the newness that we in the Communion seek:
"In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you."
We sense that we are filled to the brim with poetic thoughts.
We will need to spend time with them on our own in our Sacred Hour.
For now, we need to stand, to move, to dance.
Colleen has her ipad and finds us a song from Ireland: “I Hope You Dance”.
Soon our poetry reading has become a celebration of music and movement. Here are the lyrics:
I Hope You Dance
(Mark D. Sanders/Tia Sillers)
I hope you never lose your sense of wonder.
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed.
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance
Gathering Space for March 26, 2019
Today has been sunny, the air warming to a few degrees above freezing here on Iona.
Still, we look longingly at the empty grass within the worn low walls of the ancient nunnery,
wishing that our desire for it might cause our winter Gathering Tent to suddenly reappear, like Brigadoon.
The garden remains empty, and we gather closer to the fire pot, seeking the warmth of its dancing flame,
grateful for the shawls, the wool cloaks, the blankets being spread on the grass.
Someone calls for a dance, and amazingly the merry sounds of an Irish fiddle and a tin whistle
have us up and moving to “Mairi’s Wedding” as warmth and joy spread though our bodies.
“The Minstrel Boy” follows, “The Kerry Dancers” and “The Raggle Taggle Gypsies”.
This last piece sends us looking for a place to sit, and when the laughter subsides,
we welcome the quiet that rises from the earth around us.
We take some deep breaths, drawing in the peace of this holy place,
releasing any anxieties, tensions, worries that may have come here with us,
and were not fully dispersed by the dancing.
Breathing in peace,
breathing out darkness,
Breathing in peace,
breathing out darkness,
Breathing in peace,
breathing out darkness….
We become aware of an inner spaciousness
And within that space
a jewelled light,
the deep sacred centre
We take time to focus our energies on this place of inner light, knowing that we are deeply loved.
Now Shirley opens Mary T. Malone’s book of poetry Praying with the Women Mystics:
" I have brought a poem inspired by Mechtild of Magdeburg: The Singing Trinity. Let's read it in choir,
a verse read by the right side of the circle and then one by the left."
R. Have you heard the singing of the Trinity?
The full-throated robust music
that fills the universal air
with rhythmic trembling,
and ripples along spring-flowering branches
with the delicacy of cherry blossom.
L. One voice sings:
I am white water,
a restless surging stream
sparkling, casting light everywhere at once
gurgling with the pleasure
of life and movement
and plunging forward into mystery.
R. The second voice sings:
I am the running tide
flowing and ebbing,
always in motion, never at rest,
coming and going
divine and human, human and divine,
a tide that runs eternally
with the song of unending love.
L. The third voice sings:
I am the pulsing of energy
rising as sap,
bursting as leaf and flower
reddening as autumn glow,
fading as seasons change,
but always living, feeding, sheltering
and always showering with the truth of beauty,
the beauty of truth,
the hidden depths of earth.
R. And so in chorus
the triune voices mingle their songs
In one great chorus
unbroken, unbreakable, unending chorus.
and you will hear
the singing Trinity.
And somehow this evening, in this sacred garden on this holy island, that is what we hear all around us.
Gathering Space for Spring Equinox March 19, 2019
It is twilight when we gather in the garden where Iona’s Augustinian nunnery once stood.
The muted light gives the early grass, the delicate snowdrops, the daffodils,
the low stones that remain of the walls, a lack of clear definition.
There is a sense of presences, moving like soft shadows,
perhaps the spirits of the nuns who once dwelt here.
The tent of our winter meetings has vanished. As we gather in a circle under the early evening sky,
we know the moon, on the eve of her fulness, will soon rise to bless us.
In silence, we each form and hold our intention. As the Spring Equinox draws near,
we seek to experience the earth’s harmony and balance.
The fire pot is placed in the centre of the circle, reminding us of Brigid,
reminding us who we are as the Communion of Creative Fire.
We begin by facing south, inviting Cynthia, our southernmost member,
to call the direction from Perth, Australia:
Spirit of the South, place of the warm sun, of brilliant flowers,
exquisitely coloured birds, rainforests, sandy beaches,
let us know the joy, the playfulness, the celebration of summer.
We look to the west, inviting Jean, our westernmost member,
to call the direction from Oregon:
Spirit of the West, spirit of fulfillment and abundance,
of harvest, completion, and thanksgiving, bring us close
to the fruitfulness of our lives, the autumn days of our wisdom.
We look to the north, inviting Violet, our northernmost member,
to call the direction from Sudbury:
Spirit of the North, the place of courage and faithfulness,
the place of winter’s rest and inward strength,
draw us to the richness of winter’s gift of journeying within.
We look to the east, inviting Adriana
to call the direction from New York:
Spirit of the East, place of the rising sun, of newness and creativity,
of starting fresh, align our hearts with spring’s gift of renewal.
Now we seek to get in touch with the energy of the Earth,
as we each in turn read a section from the "Ritual for Spring Equinox"
from Kathleen Glennon's Heartbeat of the Seasons:
At this time the earth in the northern hemisphere experiences a sense of balance.
The pendulum of the seasons rests for a brief moment.
The ebb and flow of life pauses for a moment,
A moment of harmony,
A moment of rest,
A moment when the fulcrum of the seasons is in balance.
Let us get in touch with the earth and feel her pulse at this time.
Let us attune ourselves to the twilight, to the magic of the in-between time.
Let us become aware of the struggle between light and darkness and the subtle
blending of both.
Let us become aware of the shapes of things in the twilight – the mystique that envelops everything.
Let us become aware of the last rays of the dying sun.
Let us be in touch with a sense of loss.
Let us also be aware of another emotion – the feeling of anticipation for the first rays of moonlight.
At equinox time, we have equal sunlight and nightlight.
Each of us is influenced by the rhythms of both the sun and the moon.
Sun energy influences our logical thought process, our analytical capacities, our decision-making skills.
Moon energy influences our intuitive capacities, and our aesthetic abilities.
We need both energies to be in balance—to be integrated, whole persons.
Candles are now passed to everyone in the circle.
We each move forward in turn to light our candles from the flame of the fire pot.
When each person’s candle is lighted, we begin walking clockwise around the circle,
balancing our lighted candle on our right hand,
becoming aware of our body, our sense of balance, as we walk.
Now we move the candle to balance on the palm of our left hand,
aware of our body and of sense of balance as we walk clockwise around the circle.
We next extend our left palm upward and place the right hand,
with the candle on it, on top of the left, palm upward.
Again, we walk clockwise around the circle and
experience our sense of balance as we walk.
We take time to reflect on balance in our life: is there balance between
Work and play,
Activity and rest,
Logic and intuition,
Busyness and relationships,
Joy and sorrow?
We pause for a while to think about this.
We call now on the energy of the universe to support us in our efforts at balance and integration.
We call on the energy of the earth at this time – the energy of integration and harmony.
We call on the energy of the moon to re-align us to our intuitive, creative side.
We call on the energy of the sun to align us to our logical, analytical side.
We call on the energy of twilight to attune us to the balance of polarities.
May the blessing of twilight integrate the light and darkness of all.
May the blessing of equinox balance and anchor all.
May the angel of balance support and strengthen all.
May all of creation be truly blessed with harmony and stability.
Gathering Space for March 12, 2019
The sky is grey, drizzling rain over us as we walk through the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. The clouds hide the young moon, waxing towards her first quarter. Despite the rise in temperatures to the mid-forties Fahrenheit and 8 degrees above zero Celsius, our Gathering tent is a welcoming shelter. Elspeth promised she would return this evening to talk about Etain and Brigid, about dreams, snakes and archetypes. We hurry inside.
The circle is nearly complete. We must be the last to arrive for our companions are already engaged in a spirited conversation with Elspeth. We three find the last available cushions and settle in, not wanting to interrupt, eager to hear what's being said.
"She's far too compliant," Shirley says. "She lets her father sell her to Angus so he might bring her to marry Midir
whom she has never even met. Then later, she won't leave the King without his say-so to return to her first love …
I really don't see her as strong enough to be an archetype of the Sacred Feminine."
Elspeth is smiling at these words. "You are right, Shirley. I was waiting to see who would pick up on those aspects of Etain's story.
Even though she is considered one of the great archetypal figures of ancient Irish lore, her name spoken even with that of Danu,
the great Mother Goddess of the Celts, Etain, like so many of the ancient goddess figures, needs to be grown for these times.
And how will that happen?"
There is silence as the question is pondered, and in that stillness, Elspeth sends a quiet nod of welcome to us.
She gestures towards the unlit fire pot. Clara rises to light the flame, even as Jean begins to speak.
"What you are saying is so important, Elspeth. This growing of the gods is one of the great tasks of our time.
As Nikos Kazantzakis wrote, we must become the saviors of the gods
for 'by believing passionately in something which still does not exist, we create it.'
We are already growing the gods by calling on them to be partners with us
in the work we are each engaged in. When we live our own 21st century lives,
finding new paths in spirituality, in the way we relate to one another, to the earth, to every aspect of life,
when we discover that the universe is living in us, we are growing, and the archetypes are changing."
Colleen speaks: "What of Brigid? Many women today look to her as an archetype, and yet she was a 5th century woman
living in a monastery. Has Brigid changed or has the way we see her changed?"
image of Brigid by Jo Jayson
Elspeth responds: "Brigid is a powerful woman, arriving much later in Ireland's story than Etain
whose tale happens in the time of the Children of Danu, the fairy gods, long before the arrival of the Celts.
Yet remember Brigid was a power in the early Celtic Christian Church.
As Abbess of the double monastery in Kildare, Brigid served both women and men in her role as Bishop.
There is more to her than even that, for as daughter of a pagan chieftain
she may have been an embodiment of the earlier goddess whose name she shared.
Did the goddess Brigid infuse with her power this amazing threshold woman
who stood between the old and new religions of Ireland?"
Elspeth's question dances in the air around us.
"Tell me now of your own experiences with archetypes," Elspeth invites.
Violet speaks: "In the past I have felt that archetypes sought me out and poured their passion into me.
Through them my ‘station’ in life, my poverty, and poor pedigree meant nothing.
I felt courageous and strong and the bigger the odds against me the more stimulating the challenge.
Today I feel more like a hound dog sniffing around at the foot of that gossamer bridge,
looking for signs of an archetype who might have me.
Perhaps some time on retreat in April will help me sniff out and awaken
the archetypal force that will accompany me back onto the bridge.
"I have never seen the serpent and archetypes brought together so compatibly before.
The image of the head and neck of a snake with a braided body really captured my imagination.
I have had my own encounters with spirit serpents and the one thing that has stood out for me
as I read the reflections about the banished snake as banished Goddess is that
just when a person gets comfortable on the path the snake/Goddess can appear suddenly and startle.
In my own life when I get too complacent, too comfortable, that startling has been what I need to wake up
to find my own path. It's happened time and again when my dependency on others has become unhealthy.
With gratitude and respect I look forward to the next step with all of you on this sacred journey."
After a puase Carol speaks: "What is beautiful in Etain's story is the faithful love of Midir
who waits for her for a thousand years, and spends his wealth on his losses at chess
as he seeks to win her from Eochaid. I like to think that by the time the story ends,
they have come to a partnership as equals as they fly off over Tara together in the form of two white swans.
I have brought a poem by Mary Oliver sent to me by Shirley. It's a celebration of the joy of human love:
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
Don't hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that's often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don't be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb."
"Thank you Violet and Carol," Elspeth says. "That's a beautiful way to end our circle time together. I have brought
freshly-baked scones and some honey wine so we might celebrate the gifts we have given one another this evening."
Gathering Space for March 5, 2019
Though the days are growing longer as the Equinox draws near, on this moonless night a cloak of darkness
covers the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. Peering out from the drifting clouds, the distant stars gaze at the clusters of women,
warmly wrapped against temperatures not much above freezing, as they hurry towards the Gathering Tent.
"You'd think they'd look up now and then," a young star mutters. "I'm giving them my most radiant shimmer."
Inside, the circle of women forms around Elspeth who has returned as she promised
to reflect on the story of Etain. Once everyone is settled, Violet lights the fire pot, and speaks:
"Remember the caught-breath silence in our Gathering Tent last week as Elspeth ended her tale of Etain?
Then our storyteller added that Etain's tale is seen by some as a metaphor for our time,
telling how the feminine aspect of God, the goddess, has been transformed by treachery into something else,
blown by sea winds, drowned, swallowed and finally rebirthed.
"I invite you now to speak of any signs you see within your own heart and spirit,
among your friends, family members, and across the planet
that suggest a transformation, a new birth in spirituality about to begin."
Colette speaks: "I had a dream. In this dream I was in a learning situation within a small group.
We are receiving a teaching about the amygdala which is part of the brain
(related to memories, emotional reactions, trauma and fear I later found in my research).
In the dream the question I pose is “what does it look like?”
In response to my question I am shown a serpent head and neck
and the rest of its body is a braid (like Brigid’s braid).
Then in the dream I ask, “but where is this situated in the body?”
The answer I am given is that it is not situated anywhere in particular in the body
but that it is an energetic reality (that courses through one’s whole being I conclude).
I am in total wonder at this response.
"This dream came associated with another dream that pointed to woundedness of the feminine
immediately followed by symbols of transformation and healing, alchemy.
After such rich readings on the Divine Feminine, the Sacred Feminine
relating to the symbol of the serpent and the beautiful drawing of Brigid and her braids
what a delightful revelation, gift.
I remember: the Sacred Feminine wants to be embodied, come through me, us. And so She is."
Elspeth speaks: "Ah, Colette. Thank you for this beautiful sharing of your dreams and your further reflections on them.
I have found that it is in our dreams that the Sacred Feminine, the Goddess, makes herself known to us."
Anne Kathleen speaks: "After hearing Etain's story, I remembered reading a book called
Women of the Celts by the Breton French writer Jean Markale.
He writes of the buffeting and banishment of the feminine, and her amazing rebirth.
I brought his book here tonight to read a section from page 86:
“'Within the patriarchal framework (goddesses) were often obscured, tarnished and deformed,
and submerged into the depth of the unconscious. But they do still exist, if only in dormant state,
and sometimes rise triumphantly to rock the supposedly immovable foundations
of masculine society. The triumph of Yahweh and Christ was believed sanctified forever,
but from behind them reappears the disturbing and desirable figure of the Virgin Mary
with her unexpected names: Our Lady of the Waterr, Our Lady of the Nettles,
Our Lady of the Bria rs, Our Lady of the Mounds, Our Lady of the Pines.
"'But in spite of the veneration accorded her over the centuries
and the public declaration of successive dogmas related to Mary,
the authorities of the Christian Church have always made her a secondary character,
overshadowed and retiring, a model of what women ought to be.
Now the pure and virginal servant of man, the wonderful mother who suffers all heroically,
she is no longer the Great Goddess before whom the common herd of men would tremble,
but Our Lady of the Night.' ”
Yvette speaks: "I was very touched by Kate Fitzpatrick's writings on the snake
emerging from her old skin as a symbol of new life, and of transformation.
I read it at a time when I saw my own new skin emerging under an injury.
I have a piece by Thealogian Carol Christ on this theme:
'St. Brigid’s male counterpart, St. Patrick, was said to have driven all of the snakes out of Ireland.
This legend reiterates the Biblical association of snakes with evil and temptation.
In Old Europe snakes were symbols of life and regeneration….
In driving snakes out of Ireland, St. Patrick… was re-enacting the myth of slaying of the Goddess.' "
"Kate Fitzpatrick tells of a workshop she led called ‘The Power of Serpent Rising’", Yvette adds. "She writes:
'I felt the first resistance to the work on St Patrick’s day as the old saint’s spirit
lashed out against the possibility of snakes being awakened again in Ireland.
This work with Serpent was very powerful. In preparation for the workshop
I found I had to sit in silence for long periods of time and hold
absolute stillness and breathe very consciously.
In this practice I felt the power of Serpent energy in my body as a vital force.
She brought her gifts of healing, transformation and a sense of balance of all opposites…
I trusted the ancient priestess spirits who came to guide the work with Serpent.
Their connection to Brigid as an archetypal feminine energy started to show itself.'"
Elspeth speaks: "Thank you for these powerful words and insights.
May I suggest we speak of this again next week? Pay attention to your dreams as Colette did,
and to your life experiences as Yvette did, as well as to what you come across in books or poems.
I'll close our time together tonight with a poem by Nicola Slee:
You think she has left
But she has not. She is resting.
You think she has gone underground
But she has not. She has veiled herself.
You think she is powerless
But she is gathering her power,
Drawing it back to herself from where
It has been dispersed, scattered.
You think she is not speaking
Only because you do not
Hear the language of her silence.
You think she is alone
But she has never been.
You think she has lost all her names and seasons
But there have always been those who have kept her ways.
You think that the pattern is broken
But see, she spins the chaos into waves and whorls
You can’t yet decipher. Keep looking.
She has never left, though you couldn’t find her.
It is we who are returning.
Gathering Space for February 26, 2019
It is early evening on Iona, as we walk towards our Gathering Tent in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery.
In the very nick of time, just before February ends, Brigid is breathing life into the mouth of dead winter.
Those of us who have made the imaginal journey from Canada and the United States are enchanted.
The warm spring air, 51 degrees Fahrenheit, 11 Celsius is a gift from the goddess.
Joy and Cynthia find it refreshingly cool as their Australian summer months wane.
An added gift is that the skies are clear, giving promise that the moon
in her last quarter will be rising to bless our gathering.
As we approach the tent, we see a woman just ahead of us, about to go inside.
It is Ellyn who recognizes her first. "That's Elspeth! I hope she has a story for us."
Inside, as we gather around the fire pot on our large silk patterned cushions,
we see that Elspeth is already seated, smiling at the familiar faces around her.
Mary Teske lights fire pot, while Clara welcomes Elspeth:
"We are so happy you have come to join us this evening, Elspeth. Have you brought another tale of Brigid?"
Elspeth speaks: "I know you have been reflecting on Brigid in her Cosmic Presence
through the luminous writings of Kate Fitzpatrick. You know by now that Brigid has many facets,
as both saint and goddess. The story I have for you tonight is an ancient tale,
believed to be perhaps the earliest story of a sacred feminine presence in Ireland. It is a love story: "the Wooing of Etain".
It is a very long tale. We would be here past midnight were I to tell it fully.
So I shall just give the beginning in the ancient way, as it was translated from the Irish
by the writer Ann Moray in her book A Fair Stream of Silver. Then I'll tell the rest of the tale as briefly as may be.
The story begins at the time when the Tuatha de Danan, whom Kate Fitzpatrick mentions in "Cosmic Brigid",
were driven into hiding by the Milesians who conquered Ireland.
Here is the tale: In the early days when the children of the Goddess Danu, the Fairy gods, were defeated by the Sons of Mil,
they agreed to make their vast and beautiful dwelling places inside the mountains
and under the rivers and lakes of Ireland. The High King of the Fairy gods was the Dagda.
He played upon his wooden harp to make the seasons to follow one another.
He commanded the winds and the rains and the crops. His people called him “the good god”.
According to ancient custom, the Dagda sent his son Angus mac Og to be fostered by Midir (MEE’ deer),
the proud Fairy King of Bri Leith (bree lay). Angus’ companions were thrice-fifty of the noblest youths in Ireland
and thrice-fifty of the loveliest maidens, and for all their great number, they all lived in one House.
Their beds had columns and posts adorned with wrought gold that gleamed in the light of a precious stone of great size,
brilliant in the roof at the centre of the House.
Angus was leader of them all, for the beauty of his form and face and for his gentleness.
His days were spent in the Playing field, in feasting and tale-telling, in harping and minstrelsy,
and the reciting of poetry, and every youth was a chess player in the House of Midir of Bri Leith.
Angus stayed with his foster father for nine years, and then he returned to his own sid, Brugh on the Boyne.
"So we have met some of the main characters in the tale," Elspeth says.
A year after Angus had returned to his home on the River Boyne, Midir paid him a visit.
It was the Celtic Festival of Samhain and Angus had invited many friends to a great celebration.
There was riotous, joyous, battle play and Midir, watching from the sidelines, was hit in the eye.
The Dagda's physician healed him but Midir was angry and demanded compensation as was the law in ancient Ireland.
Angus agreed. “If it is in my power,” he said, “it is yours. What is your desire?”
“The hand of Etain (EE’TANE) who is the gentlest and loveliest in all Ireland.”
“And where is she to be found?” Angus asked.
“In Mag Inish, in the North East. She is daughter of the Fairy King Aylill (el’yill).”
“Then it shall be so,” the Mac Og said, and at the end of the feasting he set out over the soft,
cloud-bright fields of our many-hued Land, and came to Mag Inish, in the North East.
Aylill demanded a high bride-price for his daughter as well as commanding that Angus clear twelve fields in his land
and cause twelve rivers to run through them, all before the next dawn.
With the help of the Dagda his father, Angus accomplished all this,
and giving Aylill coins in gold and silver for her bride price,
took Etain by the hand and brought her to his home on the River Boyne.
And the ancient manuscript says, “Midir made that company welcome.”
Etain looked into Midir’s eyes, and that night she became his bride.
For a year and a day, Etain and Midir stayed with Angus celebrating their wedding,
enjoying the harp music, the feasting, the fine wines and the chess games played for precious stones.
When it came time for Midir to return with Etain to Bri Leith, Angus drew his friend aside.
He warned him to take great care of Etain for, he said, "Your wife Fuamnach awaits you and she is a treacherous woman."
The warning was timely for that very night after their arrival,
Fuamnach came to Etain's chamber, struck her with a rod of scarlet quicken tree,
and left her as a pool of water on the floor.
But Etain was so lovely, so filled with joy that the water dried, curled into a brown worm,
and from it Etain rose as a purple fly of wondrous size.
The manuscript says, “(S)weeter than pipes and horns was the sound of her voice, and the hum of her wings.
Her eyes would shine like precious stones in the darkness, and the fragrance and bloom of her would turn away hunger and thirst
from anyone around whom she would go, and the spray that fell from her wings would cure all sickness.”
Etain longed for Midir. As soon as her wings dried and became strong enough, she flew to find him.
He knew her at once, and she accompanied him everywhere. He would fall asleep to the humming of her wings.
Soon Fuamnach discovered the joy of the lovers. With a powerful spell she banished Etain from Ireland
putting on her a curse that she must fly over the sea without respite, for seven years.
If she touched on any bush or tree or blade of grass she would be blown more fiercely out over the sea.
At the end of the seven years, exhausted, blinded by her weakness she flew back to land
and by chance came to the home of Angus on the River Boyne.
Angus knew her at once and built for her a glass bower which he filled with healing herbs and fragrant flowers.
But Fuamnach had been searching for Etain and when she found the bower
and saw the kindness Angus was showing to Etain she was furious.
She went to Midir and deceitfully urged him to invite Angus to visit him at Bri Leith.
As soon as Angus had set out, Fuamnach upended the bower,
and put a second curse upon Etain of seven years of flight over the sea without rest.
When the seven years ended, Etain almost paralyzed with exhaustion, flew into Ulster
and landed on the open roof of the house of Etar.
As she gazed down at a great feast below her, she lost her footing
and fell into the wine goblet of Etar's wife, who unknowingly swallowed the purple fly with her wine.
Etain was implanted in the womb of the wife of Etar and born nine months later.
The child was so astonishingly lovely that the besotted parents named her after a Fairy princess: Etain.
She had no memory at all of her former life.
In time Etain, the daughter of Etar, grew into a lovely young woman.
Word of her beauty and goodness reached Eochaid, High King of Ireland.
He was seeking a wife, for his people had refused to pay taxes to a King who had no Queen.
Eochaid wooed and won Etain, and she brought great joy to Ireland when she came to live with the King at Tara.
One evening as Etain was walking on the hill of Tara, a strange warrior approached her.
He shone with the radiance of the setting sun, and told Etain
he was her husband and her lover,
that he had been seeking her for a thousand years.
Etain turned away and would not look at him.
Midir pleaded that she come with him to a wondrous land where
“Warm sweet streams flow though the land,
the choice of mead and wine,
stately folk, without blemish…
We see everyone on every side,
And no one seeth us…”
But she would not lift her eyes to him.
"Etain, would you come with me if your husband the King allows it?"
At this she looked into his eyes. "Willingly," she said.
A year passed and on midsummer morning, as Eochaid stood on the terrace of Tara,
a strange warrior appeared, his shield catching the sunlight so that it dazzled the king's eyes.
"I have come to play chess with you," he said, and immediately
a chess board appeared, all of silver with jewels glowing at each corner.
The chess pieces were made of gold by the finest artificers in all of Ireland.
On the first two mornings, the King defeated the warrior at chess, and each time received the winnings,
amassing fifty horses, fifty red- eared cows and fifty young boars as well as swords with hilts of ivory, silver and gold.
The King's foster father saw these riches and learned of the strange warrior who could enter locked gates,
but could not win at chess. "Take care you lay heavy burden on him next time,"
his foster father cautioned, "for this is a man of great power."
In the third game Eochaid said the loser must clear the rocks and stones
from the hillocks of Great Meath, and the rushes from the land of Tethba.
"You must cut down the forest of Breg, and lay a causeway over the Great Bog of Tavrach,
and all this you must accomplish in a single night.”
Midir asked only that no one be out of doors until dawn when the work would be completed.
Secretly the king sent his steward to spy on the work,
returning at dawn to report that he had seen magic done, that all the fairy folk
of all the mounds in Ireland had come with great blue fairy oxen to assist Midir.
Suddenly Midir appeared. He was filled with wrath that he had been spied upon.
The King, not wanting to show he was afraid, agreed to another game of chess.
This time he asked Midir what the stake would be.
"That the loser give the winner what he desires," Midir said.
Eochaid agreed. Midir won, to the King's great surprise.
"I could have defeated you long before this had I chosen," Midir said.
"What is it you desire?" Eochaid asked.
"My arms about Etain and one kiss from her lips."
The King thought quickly, and then said: "Return in one month's time
and you shall have what you desire."
As soon as Midir left him, the King summoned his greatest warriors from across Ireland
and set them in two rings around the outer and inner courts of Tara.
One month late the King and his household were feasting,
guarded by the men of strength and hearing against the man of magic who was to come.
Midir suddenly appeared in their midst, radiant in his splendour.
The whole court caught its breath, and in the pause, Eochaid welcomed him.
Here is how Ann Moray writes of what happened next:
“What is pledged to me, let it be given to me,” Midir said.
“I have given the matter little thought,” said the King.
“What is promised is due,” Midir said.
Etain was silent, and her cheeks were red as the scarlet rowanberry,
and then, by turn, white as snow.
"Do not blush, Etain,” Midir said to her.
“I have been a year seeking you with gifts and treasures, the richest and most beautiful in Ireland.
It is not by the dark magic that I have won you.”
“I will not go with you, Midir, unless the King releases me to you,” Etain replied.
“I will never release you,” Eochaid said. “But as for this stake, I willingly allow this warrior
to put his arms about you, and to kiss you, here in the middle of the Royal House, while the hosts of Tara look on.”
“It shall be done,” said Midir, and he took his weapons in his left hand,
and with his right arm he held Etain round the waist, and as he kissed her, and kissed her again,
he bore her away in his embrace, through the skylight of the House.
The men of Ireland rose in shame about their King, and he led them out in hot pursuit.
But Eochaid, High King of Ireland, and his hosts, saw only two snow-white swans in full flight over Tara.
There is a caught-breath silence in the Gathering Tent as Elspeth ends her tale.
"This is a tale of great wisdom and some see it as a metaphor for our time," Elspeth says,
"for it tells of the way the goddess has been transformed by treachery into something else,
buffeted by sea winds, drowned, swallowed and finally rebirthed.
"Some even see that the time predicted for her to be reborn from the womb of this present darkness is coming near.
"I invite you to think about these things."
"I shall return next week to hear your thoughts, your imaginings, your desires, dreams and hopes about this rebirth."
"But now, as the moon has risen on this almost- spring night, let us go outdoors to enjoy the beauty."
And so we do that, promising to have a response to the story's themes by next week.
Gathering Space for February 19, 2019
As we come into the Garden beside the ruins of the 13th c. Augustinian Nunnery on Iona,
we stop outside our Gathering Tent to gaze upwards.
The full moon looks down upon us with an intensity that makes the breath catch in our throats.
“Mother Moon,” Clara says. “I wonder if she’d like to join us this evening.”
“The moon is an image of the Sacred Feminine,” comments Kate.
“She is light in our darkness. Sometimes she is herself wholly dark. The dark feminine.”
The ruffling wind rises, stirring the chill air, barely above freezing. If it were summer, even late spring,
we could stay outdoors and hold our gathering here under the Moon’s benevolent gaze.
Reluctantly, we go inside.
We join our companions who are already seated around the fire pot.
When the excited chatter subsides, and silence rises like a healing zephyr, Kate stands to speak.
“Just now, outdoors, we were looking at the full moon. Tonight her radiance brings us joy but we know her light is not always with us.
"Like the Sacred Feminine, the moon too has her dark side. I have brought some writings to share with you on the Dark Feminine.
"The first is from the Jungian writer Sylvia Senensky. This passage is from her book, Healing and Empowering the Feminine:
"We have come to a time when we can no longer remain silent. We are being called upon
by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine to know our own darkness
and the profound richness of all dark places, even when they are laden with pain.
Through her we know the mystery of existence and the sacredness of the cycles of life.
We learn how important the destruction of the old ways is to the rebirth of the new.
When she steps into our lives and awakens us, we can be shattered to our core,
and we know, as we see the tears streaming down her face,
that she too is holding us in her compassionate and loving embrace.
We need to know her as the source of life in the material realm,
and to know her sorrow at how we have so unconsciously
set out to destroy her...our Mother Earth.
She is calling upon us, each in our way to do our inner work,
to become her allies,
to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity,
our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet.
This is the lesson of the Feminine we all need to remember.
We need to honour our earth and all creatures, human and other, that she supports.
We need to nourish ourselves, each other, all children,
and the unbelievable creative potential
within each human being....
As we come to a place of love and compassion for ourselves, our struggles,
and our own vulnerable humanity,
we will at the same time begin to kindle a similar compassion for others.
Love attracts love.
If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy,
our actions will begin to mirror our feelings. We will come home to ourselves. "
There is a time of quiet as we allow these words to resonate within our hearts. After a time, Kate continues:
"I invite you now to join with me in a contemplative practice that I engage in each morning, sitting in quiet stillness.
"I invite you to become aware of your breath, gently breathing in the healing sacred Breath
of the cosmic Spirit of Love, sending it forth as a transformative healing for the whole world.
"Let us together hold this intention as we stay focused on the Spirit's Breath
-- in and down through the chakras -- and out to wherever the Spirit desires to move
with her healing presence and benediction."
In the stillness, we spend time allowing the Breath of the Spirit to move in us,
through us and out to the world. We continue this practice for fifteen minutes.
Now Kate speaks once more: "A prayer arose from within me as we engaged in this breathing together. I would like to share it with you:"
I sit in this gathering space
in silence and thanksgiving
aware of Wisdom's sacred Presence.
She wraps me gently in her cloak of knowing
assuring me again
that Love holds this pregnant universe
in compassionate, creative embrace,
that Hope awaits with outstretched arms
expectant hands cupped to receive
the promised new birth.
In silence she offers me her cloak of knowing
inviting me to remember
her constant Presence and her gifting
of Creative Love and Expectant Hope.
Who else would like to share with us a prayer, an image, a poem,
a thought that arose for you during this time?
Gathering Space for February 12, 2019
Under umbrellas and rain hoods, our bodies bent like trees in the stiff wind, we make our way across the open space of the garden of the ruined 13th c.
Women’s Monastery on Iona. Though the temperature has climbed above freezing, our Gathering Tent is a welcome promise of warmth and shelter.
With a quick shake to remove rain from umbrellas and raingear, we open the tent flap and go inside.
Blinking to remove drops of moisture from our eyes, we gaze with gratitude upon the tall white candles that stand in silent greeting around the periphery.
They suggest a medieval castle, rather than a canvas tent. Many of our companions are already seated on the large embroidered cushions
that surround the flaming fire pot. We join them, greeting our friends, exchanging small bits of news,
asking about loved ones who are ill, expressing our joy at being here once more.
When the murmur of voices, like the poet Yeats’ “bee-loud glade”, finally stills, Anne Kathleen speaks:
“One of the first commitments we made when we joined the Communion was to a daily contemplative practice of our own choosing.
A practice can sometimes become routine, even stale and lifeless. Yet it is such an important daily time of clearing space,
allowing us to focus, to prepare our hearts to be a "cup to catch the sacred rain" as poet Christine Lore Webber describes it.
So tonight Jean Houston will lead us in a contemplative practice of finding a lake of light within us.”
We turn to look towards Jean who, seated among us within our circle, begins to speak:
"Please begin by breathing slowly and deeply; slowly and deeply; slowly and deeply. Continue doing so…
In the quiet of the breath, I invite you now to begin to imagine that within the center of your mind
there is a quiet, calm lake, and it is a lake of light – serene, peaceful, placid, in the center of your consciousness.
This quiet lake of light . . .
… and as you breathe in, the light grows. And as you breathe out, it contracts.
"But now you find that you’re able to be with the light in a playful way so that as you breathe in, the light expands,
it grows brighter. As you breathe out, it moves through your entire mind-brain system
and illumines that mind-brain system – that whole beingness.
So, inhale and the light becomes more intense, expands, becomes brighter;
exhale, it is dispersed to all parts of you, all parts – atoms, molecules, cells, neurons,
the structures of your brain, mind, even now the whole body,
the brain that hangs down through every part of the body, receiving that light.
"Inhale, the pool becomes intense, expansive. Exhale, the light particles, the photons, move out throughout your brain and body,
filling your heart. Inhale, it becomes brighter, more expansive, richer, lovelier. It is a loving light filling your heart.
Exhale, these particles, these parts of loving, living light, move through your whole body, your entire being.
"You find yourself in a vast sea of light. You are there in the fathomless depths of that oneness which is light.
And the light that is embedded in you burns deeper and brighter because you are in that field of light.
You are in the field – the quantum field – that banishes all the negative, all the old things that you no longer need.
You are also in that quantum field where all new possibilities exist.
"And from this moment forth, if you choose, it is never, ever going away.
If you choose, you will always have access to your beingness of light.
And it may even be that an emotion so sweet, so lovely, so beautiful –
pure love and compassion or just sure delight of beingness – fills you now.
"You are also the light that moves the sun and all the stars.
And, being filled with light, you can say in your heart’s mind, in your mind’s heart, I am a being of light. I love the light.
I serve the light. I am illumined, sustained, supported by the light, and I support and sustain the light.
The light, which is also love, and I, are of the same essence.
"And it seems to you that within this great sea of light, which is you, which is the quantum field of all possibilities,
which is the light, which is love, this essential nature dwells in you, calm, serene, centered, illumined,
sustained and sustaining the universe, always there -- although it may be that before this moment
you never knew it was there, sitting perhaps like a Buddha in the center of your very being.
Full of light and yet no one thing and now discovering in the light
the pattern of your own possibilities emerging from the light.
"You may see or feel what is emerging of these possibilities, these new ways of being,
but also placing there some intention you have for your life; some dream or desire,
placing it in this field in which your dream, your desire, your intention,
is taken up in the interdependent co-arising so that your intention is made clearer.
It may grow or change as you feel and observe it in this vast sea of creative, fertile light.
"Observe it now as it begins to take on the qualities, the very form that you intend.
It is partnership in creation – your desire, your intention, and the cosmic response. Watch now.
Feel now as it grows in clarity, in manifestation, as it is remade, improved,
deepened in the quantum field of all-becoming.
And do that now. I will be quiet a few moments as you do that now.
"But always remember that you are made of light. You are of the same essence
as the quantum field of light, wherein all thoughts, all dreams, become reality.
"On each of the days to come, practise being the light as a joyous experience that you look forward to engaging in.
You’ll begin to find yourself filled with luminous joy, and you will also discover
how radiant will become your intentions as they move to manifestation."
Following these words, Jean remains within our circle, and for a further time of quiet, we continue the meditation.
Now weaving through the stillness, there is a steadily growing drumbeat, joined by the high songbird-like notes of a flute.
One by one, we rise, seek a clear space somewhere in the tent. Joy is rising within and around us.
Sitting still is no longer an option! We dance.
(Music: "Dance with Me" by Carmel Boyle)
Gathering Space for February 5, 2019
It is the dark of the moon tonight. No clouds obscure the brilliance of the stars, their number beyond counting.
Many of us are walking towards the Gathering Tent in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona
with our faces turned towards the sky, risking some close encounters with other Communion members,
or worse with the low stone walls of the ruins.
Without mishap we reach the open flap of the tent, and enter into a transformed setting.
The silk cushions have been pulled back to create a larger centre in our circle.
In the place of the fire pot there is a cloth holding
a colourful display of candles, flowers, images, statues and a long braided cloth.
We each settle onto a cushion and wonder what ritual has been prepared for us.
Anne Kathleen speaks: "In February 2018, I had the joy of being present at the Brigid of Faughart Festival in Ireland.
During the Closing Ritual, Dolores Whelan invited each of us to enter the crios, the braided belt associated with childbirth,
to express our desires for this new springtime.
"When it was my turn, I walked inside the open womb-like circle formed by the crios as it lay on the floor.
I was suddenly certain what I longed for most in the year ahead:
"I asked that I might nurture the fire within and among us in the Communion of Creative Fire,
aided by Brigid's gift of FOCUS. Then I stepped out on the other side, symbolizing a new birth.
" Tonight, each of us is invited to experience that same Ritual of New Life.
Dolores has come to our Gathering Tent to lead us."
Dolores speaks: "Imbolc is synonymous with Brigid, Celtic Goddess and saint,
who embodies the energy of new life and of new beginnings.
She is the fertile aspect of the divine feminine energy,
which emerges from the hag or cailleach,
that dark barren aspect of the feminine energy.
"This transformation of the cailleach into the maiden
reflects the same mysteries which are happening
in the natural world as winter yields to spring.
"Brigid is the energy which at this time breathes life
into the mouth of dead winter.
"She is the fertility goddess
who embodies the neart or life force,
that raw primal feminine energy
which gives rise to all living beings.”
"Tonight our ritual begins with a thank you and farewell to the cailleach
who brought us into and through the darkness of winter
where new life was being planted deep within each of us.
As we prepare to thank the cailleach, we may reflect on what new seeds
the darkness has quickened within us. Who would like to carry the statue of the Cailleach
around our circle so that each of us may offer our thanks and our farewell?"
Mary Ellen offers to be the bearer of the cailleach energy.
She lifts the statue from the centrepiece and carries it to each woman in our circle,
allowing time for each of us to quietly express our gratitude and say goodbye.
"Imbolc welcomes the maiden into our lives," Dolores says. "Will someone now
carry the image of the maiden around the circle so that we may welcome her into our lives?
As we wait for our turn, we may become aware of the way the neart,
the life force is rising in us, breathing life into our being. How will our lives be different now?"
Carol stands to lift the image of the maiden, to take her around our circle, as we
welcome the life force of spring.
After we have each greeted the maiden of spring, Dolores speaks:
“Brigid has the ability to stand in the gap and remain centred within the uncertainty present in the outer world.
"This quality of being centred and aligned with one's deep inner knowing
is a quality that each of us can and must develop at this time.
"In a few moments, I will take the crios and place it in the open space beside the ritual centrepiece.
I will invite you, each one of you as you feel ready, to come to the crios
and imagine it as a womb of new life. Step into the crios womb and speak aloud
your intention for this new springtime, the way you wish to stay centred.
After each one speaks, we will respond: We support you in this.
Then move forward to step out of the circle on the far side to symbolize your emergence from the womb."
Dolores arranges the crios in a womb shape and asks, "Who would like to begin?"
It is Violet who has the courage to be the first one, stepping into the womb- shaped crios where she speaks:
A few years ago, I went with a friend to see the “Walking With Our Sisters” sacred art and ceremony….
an exhibit of almost 2000 sets of moccasin tops/vamps, made by the loved ones
of the many many missing and murdered Indigenous women and children.
Each vamp artfully told a story of love and loss. They were presented to the public,
laid out in a Sacred pattern and presented in Sacred Ceremony….
Indigenous women around the world are suffering similar violence.
Then I thought, "It's not over either! There are many more
who will be harmed because the brutal context they live in still exists."
That’s when my flickering inner fire ignited and I became angry!
On I went looking at hundreds more and the love represented in each art piece
settled my volcanic heart flame to burn even and true .... I resolved to be a better ally.
I tell you those Elders sure know their way around broken hearts.
I feel that experience is as honest an experience of Brigid’s flame
as I have encountered and the words of her song come to mind:
“She changes everything she touches and everything she touches changes.”
I have been called and I will answer. I will be attending gatherings to learn Indigenous Women Teachings."
There is a moment of utter stillness as we each take in the power of Violet's words.
Then our voices lift together as we say, "We support you in this."
As Corinne stands in the centre of the crios, she speaks of her longing
to develop her work around a fire ignited during her time in Damanhur:
"I learned that plants can hear us speak to them and will respond to us
when they know we respect them, and are listening deeply to them.
I want to develop the skill to listen to plants and to assist others
to learn this also." We respond, "We support you in this."
Now Shirley enters the Crios: "In Dec 2017 the Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph
became a Blue Community: working towards making clean water a human right.
This is now a global movement of people from many faiths and walks of life
that are advocating for priority to be given to water as a human right
for the common good rather than a commodity for earning profits.
I am working with others towards having the City of Greater Sudbury, Ontario,
becoming part of the global Blue Communities movement with three goals:
to recognize water and sanitation as human rights,
to ban or phase out the sale of bottled water
in municipal facilities and at municipal events
and to promote publicly financed, owned, and operated
water and waste water services."
We respond, "We support you in this."
When everyone has completed the crios Ritual, Dolores speaks once more:
“Brigid’s followers were charged with holding the seed of the fire on behalf of the community,
that is holding the seeds of a life-enhancing energy on behalf of the people.
This fire would not burn or be destructive so long as they remained focused,
aligned with their own inner truth and undistracted by flattery, or by popular opinions.
"So for us people, in this time, who are charged with embodying the energy of Brigid,
it is essential that we stay focused on our task which is to act, like Brigid,
as midwives to a new era, a new day, a new way of being.”
Now it is truly time to celebrate. The music of Abba fills the Gathering Tent,
as we move into the open space to each become a "Dancing Queen",
transformed for this time into spring maidens …
Gathering Space for January 29, 2019
It is late January, almost the eve of Brigid’s Day, as we cross the frozen grass, passing beyond the snow-covered ruins of the nunnery on Iona.
Though we look with longing at our Gathering Tent, already imagining the warmth inside, we have a ritual to perform first.
Each of us has brought a brightly-coloured shawl, or scarf or ribbon or cloth. Each of us is seeking just the right place to leave our treasure
so that the dew of Brigid’s dawn may bless it. Some dry rosebushes are a possibility if we take care to avoid the thorns.
There are places along the low ruined walls for some of our cloths. Just beyond the ruins, a few small trees hold out their arms invitingly.
Once all of our cloths have been carefully placed, we draw our coats, jackets, cloaks or wool shawls more tightly around our shoulders,
aware that on the Feast of Imbolc, Brigid "breathes life into the mouth of dead winter".
Once inside our Gathering Tent, its inner walls hung with medieval tapestries that proclaim spring in flowers, birds, trees in full blossom,
all woven in exuberant coloured threads, once we begin to feel the warmth spreading from a hundred lighted candles,
something of spring awakens in our winter hearts.
Tonight we have come ready to celebrate a ritual to mark the beginning of a new year for our Communion of Creative Fire.
Those who have brought the elements of ritual have placed bowls of bread, honey and milk on the white cloths
that cover long tables on the far left side of the tent.
We begin gathering in the large circle, each of us choosing one of the silk cushions placed around the fire pot.
On each cushion we see pages with brightly coloured images. One we recognize as our re- commitment form from recent years,
the one with the image of women walking in a forest with birds in flight. But who has brought these other radiant images?
Even as we wonder, we notice Corinne moving to light the fire pot, and Yvette coming to stand beside her.
Corinne holds an enlarged version of the first image we each now hold.
Corinne speaks: "As I was thinking of our communion, and of the commitment each of us will renew tonight, I created this picture.
"The circle holds each of us: individuals, and yet one within the encircling light. We are like the jewels at each crossing of Indra's net:
when one of us sings, the whole net vibrates.
"Our Communion holds the secret to colouring our life: a pinch of creativity, lots of laughter, a smiling dance with beautiful Souls. "
We gaze in wonder and joy at the image Corinne has created for us.
Now Yvette speaks: "I too have an image that speaks of our Communion and it led me to rewrite
the words of our Commitment in a fresh way
that echoes my experience and desires."
Now we turn our attention to the page with Yvette's image and words:
In this image I see a many-colored cloak spreading through our Communion in the same way that
Brigid spread a cloak across her land. Belonging to the Communion of Creative Fire broadens and deepens my spiritual horizons.
The weekly reflections and online sharing support my desire to be in touch with my heart’s longings.
My sisters in this Communion encourage and support a creative, alive, feminine spirituality needed for our times.
I know evermore the treasure of walking the path of our Communion of Creative Fire.
To continue this journey with other women, I commit to:
Live Openness to Sacred Mystery through a daily rhythm of contemplative practice including one hour each week
devoted to reflection and prayer based on the kreativefire website Reflections and Gathering Space postings.
Share insights and understanding through group emails and on our private facebook page that favor
not only my self-articulation of spiritual meaning, but also affirm and encourage the inspirations, desires, and lived experiences of group members.
Take Creative Fire into my daily life, ministry, and relationships by mirroring the joy, courage, and compassion I receive through the Communion.
Signed __________________________________ Date _____________________
We take time to enter the beauty of this image Yvette has brought to us and to reflect on the wording of the commitment.
If this resonates with us, we have a choice to sign this form or the earlier one with the image of the women walking in the forest.
We make our choice, silently reading and signing our commitment, then placing our form in the basket beside the fire pot.
After Yvette and Corinne have signed their commitments and placed them in the basket,
they move to the far right side of the tent to prepare for their role in a Ritual.
Each holds one end of a braided loop, long enough to serve as a loose belt.
Corinne speaks: “This is called the Crios of Brigid. This evening it will be used in our ritual of Imbolc. Yvette and I will hold the braided crios
high enough for each of you in turn to walk through it. As you have completed your own recommitment, move towards us in a line and prepare to enter the crios.
"Each of us will enter the crios three times.
"The first entry is a time to choose to let go of something in our life that no longer serves us and our commitment to the communion.
"A second time we walk through the crios thinking of what we are grateful for.
"On the third and final entry, we think of what we must now do in our lives: what call do we hear?
“When all but we two holding the Crios have passed through, two more women will hold it for Yvette and I to make our three crossings.
“Suzanne and Mary Teske will begin the threefold crossing, as they have another role in the ritual.
"As each woman completes her third crossing, she is invited to move towards the table at the back where bowls of milk, honey and bread have
been placed. There is a soft cushion where she is invited to kneel, then raise her hands to receive the water being poured over them by Suzanne.
Mary will offer her a towel. Then the woman will rise, walk to the table where she chooses a piece of bread from the bowl,
dips it into a second bowl of honey and into a bowl of milk. Then she consumes it, as a way of communing with her companions
on this sacred night when our commitments to the Communion have been received."
As Yvette and Corinne stand in place, holding the crios, the ritual begins.
Softly, as each woman makes her threefold crossing, the others sing Starhawk’s song:
We will never, never lose our way
to the well of her memory
and the power of her living flame
it will rise, it will rise again.
After we have all completed the ritual, there is a flurry of preparations for the celebratory feast that follows.
Gathering Space for January 22, 2019
We are making our way along the road that crosses the island of Iona, moving in small clusters or twos or alone towards our Gathering Tent in the garden of the ruined nunnery. The moon is still full after her dramatic eclipse on Sunday night. The air is frigid, the wind off the North Atlantic blows into our very bones. We draw our coats, jackets, cloaks or wool shawls more tightly around our shoulders, aware that the Feast of Imbolc, Brigid's Day, which is less than two weeks away,is meant to welcome Spring.
"Spring? That's a good example of Irish Blarney!" someone mutters through chattering teeth...
But once inside our great tent, its inner walls hung with medieval tapestries that proclaim spring in flowers, birds, trees in full blossom, all woven in exuberant coloured threads, once we begin to feel the warmth spreading from a hundred lighted candles, something of spring awakens in our winter hearts.
We greet one another with a few words, a nod, a smile, then find our way to the large cushions that form a circle around the already burning firepot.
Rosemary is seated beside her harp. As stillness settles, soft chords of Celtic music fill the air, drawing our hearts into calm, into quiet joy.
"Let us tell stories of Brigid," someone calls out. And so the stories begin, the stories we each know by heart:
The endangered whale who called to Brigid for aid rather than Brendan because Brigid's focus never wavered;
Bishop Mel who accidentally consecrated Brigid as Bishop then let it stand, recognizing a call of the Spirit;
Brigid's own birth as her mother stood in the doorway, symbolizing her new daughter's call to bridge two worlds;
the milk pail that the child Brigid emptied out into the cups of the poor, only to have it refill itself as she reached home...
In the pause between stories, Natacha stands and moves to the centre of the circle.
She holds a large piece of cloth and many smaller, brightly coloured cloths.
Natacha speaks: "You know that my work and my passion for the planet is the development of 3d printing as a way to simplify production of what we need, hopefully moving away from the inhuman working conditions in factories where some of our clothing is now made. This large cloth and each of the smaller ones are samples of what 3d printing can produce."
Natacha spreads the large cloth so that it creates a circle around the firepot,
then invites each of us to choose one of the smaller cloths.
Natacha continues: "We know the story of how Brigid asked a wealthy landowner to give her one of his fields where she could grow food for the poor. He told her to spread out her cloak and he would give her all the land it covered. When Brigid lay down her cloak, it spread and spread until it covered many acres of land, all that she required. Amazed, maybe a bit embarrassed, the owner gave the land to Brigid.
"Each of you also has a dream that will nourish the bodies, hearts and spirits of people on the planet. Think about your dream, your passion. Then come and place your coloured cloth on the large cloth. It will become the Cloak of Dreams of our Communion of Creative Fire."
As one by one we step forward to place our small cloths on the large one,
a magnificent multi-hued cloak begins to fill the open centre of our circle.
Someone begins a chant and other voices join in, singing over and over:
From our dreams
we will weave
a cloak of many colours.
Gathering Space for January 15, 2019
The moon is waxing. Just a little more than half her radiant circle guides our way into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona tonight. The air is heavy with threat of rain. Its cool dampness brushes our faces and hands, the only uncovered parts of our body on this winter night. We are eager to be inside the shelter of our tent, eager for the warmth of the fire pot, the lighted candles that will illumine the inner walls. Once within, we glance eagerly around the circle of women already seated on large silk cushions, glad to see our friends, hoping perhaps... but no, Jan Richardson is not with us tonight.
When everyone is settled and the greetings have softened to a quiet murmur, Ruth stands to light the fire pot.
"Last week we were blessed with a visit from Jan Richardson who brought us poetry and stories from her 2019 Women's Christmas Retreat. Who would like to speak of insights, thoughts, experiences that arose in your Sacred Hour as you reflected further on Jan's writings?
I spent some time with “recognizing and honouring the pieces of our lives and then putting them back together in a different way”. I've been revisiting some bumpy experiences of the past and doing just that. Telling myself the story in a different way – a whole new perspective - which in the end was all gift, and needed, and very good. I have berated myself very strongly over these events and here I am looking at them in a whole different way. I can still be shaky about it, but choose over and over again the new vision of it all. I like the expression “a God loving us in our human particularity”. I can’t be other than who I am and that is just fine. And then the quote from Julian... Only Love. Hard stuff turning into gift in the end.
Mary Ellen speaks:
I do wish to share with you what has been moving in my heart. My sacred journey since moving to Toronto has been to discern where the Holy is calling me to be, to serve, to grow... to know how much initiative to take, and how much to simply rest in trust and waiting. It has truly been an "Advent time". This has aroused some anxiety in me. In prayer, I have heard the message that in this time of the unknown and waiting, there is a purpose, a deep teaching.
The poem of Jan Richardson, "Beloved is Where We Begin" touched into that message. Yes, receiving that identity " Beloved" which I have not always been able to receive in the past. Receiving now in deep gratitude, trusting and resting there.
Although there has not been a sudden clarity of where I am called, I have come to feel that I am moving in flow and energy of the Holy. The Star Energy is carrying me on. Not in perfect trust, but in a great desire to trust, some amazing things have happened. Re-connections with significant others, healing of a difficult relationship, Spirit-filled openings and gifts in parish unfolding, tender, intimate moments with Community members. It is bringing me to a state of wonder. At the same time, I have been reading the last novel written by Richard Wagamese, an indigenous man here in Canada, a mystic. As I became lost in the contemplative unfolding of the story last evening, where he describes the shared contemplation of two characters reaching a sense of oneness with all, I looked out my window, and saw the moon at its present stage. For me, it looked like a cradle in which I could lie, be held, be rocked in love, by Love. The wonder of all I am experiencing washed over me, and I felt an overflowing awe and wonder and gratitude.
I still do not clearly know where I am being called, but the light of the Star (and the moon) is shining within and around me.I feel immense gratitude to be able to share this with all of you, and sense your attentive listening, and "being with" me.Thank you!!!
Shirley speaks: Thank you for sharing your deep and beautiful insights, Mary Ellen. In my sacred hour the star light on my journey blessed me with a deep stance of listening and clarity that will indeed assist me with new beginnings. Truth became so clear and very accepting. I felt like it was a rebirthing of a deep connection with the sacred star of wisdom. The deep sense of the sacred in me, in us and of Earth. May we all grow in awareness and commitment as it will unfold a rebirthing.
We take time in respectful silence to receive these heart sharings from our three companions.
Ruth speaks: "Before Jan left us last week, she gave me something to share with each of you, a Reflection and a poem Jan wrote as she continues to grieve the loss of her beloved husband Gary." Ruth passes around a copy for each of us and we take time first to gaze at the image of a woman, her hands on her heart:
IN THE HOUSE OF THE HEART
If you know the Harry Potter stories, you might have been enchanted, as I was, by the tent that first appears in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Borrowed by the Weasley family as they head to the Quidditch World Cup, this tent, which appears small and humble from the outside, proves to be spacious and well-appointed on the inside. (I want this tent.) The house of the heart is like that. We think we know the size of it and what it is capable of holding. Then we step inside and start looking around. Even when we think we have learned its layout, have located every room and each nook and cranny, a new chamber will suddenly open to us, and then another one, and we find ourselves drawn into rooms we never anticipated were there.
On the eve of Epiphany one year, just weeks after Gary died, I drove to see Peg and Chuck, who have been our closest friends. It felt like only a moment had passed since the vigil with Gary had come to an end, and, at the same time, an aching forever since the nurse had said to me, "His heart beats in you now." As I drove, I became increasingly aware of the strangest sensation. It felt like something was carving out my chest, that I was being hollowed out. A little farther down the road, the words came: "This is the space you will need to hold him now."
Even as the physical sensation of being actively hollowed has subsided, the spaciousness has remained, and grown. I am still learning what it means to hold Gary as I move into the new rooms that God is making from the shattering. The house of the heart is more spacious than we can imagine. It is capable of holding more than we can dream. Sometimes it grows larger because our hearts break. God, who does not will the breaking, nonetheless knows what to do when the shattering happens, knows how to work with the fragments to create new passageways, new doors, new chambers in our heart—provided we are willing, that is; provided we choose not to close our hearts in response to the pain.
Sometimes, thankfully, it is not brokenness but beauty that causes the house of the heart to grow more spacious. We experience a moment of connection and mystery so stunning that we cannot contain it, and our heart has to open still wider in welcome.
The astounding ability of our heart to grow more spacious depends on something stranger and more wondrous than magic. It depends on the endless grace that flows through each chamber and every room, already preparing us for what we cannot see or know from here. It depends on the love that continually keeps vigil for us in our gladness as well as in our pain. It depends on the mystery that encompasses us even as it dwells within us.
The House of the Heart
If you could see
how this blessing
shimmers inside you,
you would never wonder
whether there will be
room enough for you.
If you could see
the way this blessing
has inscribed itself
on every wall of your heart,
writing its shining line
across every doorway,
tracing the edge
of every window
if you could see this,
you would never question
where home is,
or whether it has
a welcome for you.
This blessing wishes
to give you
It will not tell you
It has been waiting.
It will not tell you
It has been keeping watch.
It would not
want you to know
just how long
it has been holding
this quiet vigil for you.
It simply wants you
to see what it sees,
wants you to know what it knows –
how this blessing
already blazes in you,
shining in every corner
of your broken
and beautiful heart.
(Jan Richardson in 2019 Women's Christmas Retreat)
And now thank you for your very meaningful sharing. "Deep connection with the sacred star of wisdom" - that sound like a very great blessing!
Dear Star Being, Synchronicity abounds, about the end of December, I was stargazing with my family, identifying Orion and searching for that North Star. (Florida view) we marveled at the early sailors, charting a course among all those constellations.
So, thank you for charting the journey. Of course, when I saw the illustration, I was immediately back in Egypt wrapped in your coat.
Blessings on the journey as I give gratitude for the "strange graces."
Gathering Space for Epiphany, 2019
This January night on Iona in the North Atlantic is crisply cold, a few degrees above freezing. The young maiden moon, slender as a willow wand, has parted the clouds as she would pull aside curtains, offering us her light as we come to the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. Tonight we will celebrate Epiphany together, so some of us are carrying trays of Christmas baking, thermoses of hot cranberry punch, and small wrapped gifts that are meant to be symbols of light. The tent flap is held wide, making room for us and our many bundles to enter.
Once inside, we find places for the food, beverages and gifts on a long covered table on the far side of the tent. When we come to take our places in the circle, we see that the planning committee has already placed beautifully illustrated booklets on each cushion. We gaze at the artwork that adorns the cover page, and at the title below:
By Way of the Heart
We look around our gathered circle of beloved friends, emitting tiny pops of surprise as one by one we notice a woman seated among us whom we have not met. Noreen stands to introduce our guest: "Tonight we are blessed with the presence of someone who has come to Iona, to our Gathering Tent, for the first time. Yet this woman is not a stranger to us, for her poetry has been inspiring our hearts and nourishing our souls for years, most recently at the time of the Winter Solstice when we read her "Blessing for Longest Night." For several years now, our guest, who is a poet, artist, and spiritual writer, has been offering a yearly Retreat for Women's Christmas. Tonight she brings us selections from her 2019 Collection. Let us welcome our guest: Jan Richardson."
Noreen bows to light the fire pot, and returns to her place as Jan begins to speak:
There is a custom, rooted in Ireland, of celebrating Epiphany (January 6, which brings the Christmas season to a close) as Women’s Christmas. Called Nollaig na mBan in Irish, Women’s Christmas originated as a day when the women, who often carried the domestic responsibilities all year, took Epiphany as an occasion to celebrate together at the end of the holidays, leaving hearth and home to the men for a few hours. Celebrated particularly in County Cork and County Kerry, the tradition is enjoying a revival... As the Christmas season ends, this is an occasion both to celebrate with friends and also to spend time in reflection before diving into the responsibilities of this new year.
I am happy to be here with you women, friends drawn together in Communion around the Creative Fire of your lives, to offer you this time to rest, to reflect, and to contemplate where you are in your unfolding path. Mindful of those who travelled to welcome the Christ child and who returned home by another way, we will turn our attention toward questions about our own journey.
To begin our time together, I offer you a Blessing poem:
A Blessing for Women’s Christmas
Consider that the heart
holds its own constellation.
Consider that it has
a secret chamber
radiant with unspent light.
Consider this when you cannot find
that one star, that dream
that compels you to the road.
When every last thing seems
to have disappeared into dark,
consider that you cannot always know
how you bear this brightness
but that it holds you
and is not wasted
See how we share this sky,
how it stretches above us
beyond every border,
how every day
turns each of us
in steady revolution
through morning, night,
Or think of it like this:
that every heart is its own voyage,
sending its vessels out,
drawing them back again,
never by the same way they went
but still somehow making for
home, that place
that shimmers now in welcome
with all the gathered light
you had thought
you could not see.
There is a sacred silence as we ponder these words. Then Jan invites us to read the four stanzas aloud, as a choir, with first the left side of our circle reading a verse, then the right, as was the way with the ancient nuns who once lived here on Iona.
Following this reading in choir, Jan invites:
Consider what helps you put the pieces of your life together: the experiences you carry, the scraps of your story, the fragments that seem jagged and painful as well as those that you think of as beautiful. What response—in words, in images, in prayer, in movement, in stillness, in conversation, in solitude—helps you recognize and honor the pieces and put them together in a new way, making your path as you go?
I bring you tonight a story of a woman who is well known to you through her writings, a woman who had the courage to tell us what she learned of Divine Love on her own life-path.
"Love and Revelation"
On a day more than six hundred years ago, in the English town of Norwich, a woman walked into a cell attached to the parish church. She intended to remain there for the rest of her life. Her original name is unknown, and the cell where she would live as an anchoress—a woman devoted to a life of contemplation and solitude—no longer remains. It is likely that she took her name from the church in whose cell she lived: the Church of St. Julian.
Nearly everything we know about Julian of Norwich comes from a manuscript she composed in her cell. In it she tells of how, at the age of thirty and a half, she became desperately ill. Just when she seemed at the point of death, her pain suddenly departed. As Julian continued to pray, she received a series of sixteen visions, which she called “showings.” These visions primarily are of Christ on the cross, who reveals the face of joy and love to her.
Julian recorded her visions in a short text. Nearly two decades later, she wrote a longer text that incorporates the insights she gained through years of reflecting on and praying with the visions. Together Julian’s texts became the book known as Showings, or Revelations of Divine Love.
In the final chapter of Showings, as she comes to the end of the remarkable work in which she reveals to us a God of endless mystery who knows and loves us in all our human particularity, Julian writes,
And from the time that it was revealed, I desired to know in what was our Lord’s meaning. And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning.Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never know different, without end.
Once more Jan invites us into silence to receive these words. Then she asks this:
As you stretch yourself into loving others, what becomes revealed to you—of them, of yourself, of God?
How has love challenged or changed what you know?
How are you opening yourself to its presence in your life?
After we have time to consider these questions, Jan says, "I have one more poem to offer you before we begin our feast":
Beloved Is Where We Begin
If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.
Do not leave
who you are:
named by the one
who has traveled this path
Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.
I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from danger, from fear,
from hunger or thirst,
from the scorching of sun
or the fall of the night.
But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.
I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.
I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
whisper our name:
The singing bowl tells us our reflection time is over, and yet for some minutes all is stillness as we breathe in what we have heard, felt, seen and understood.
Now it is time to celebrate with food and drink and gifts. We express our deep gratitude to Jan whose life is offered to others as a pathway to their own wisdom, as they recognize and learn to follow their own star.
Gathering Space for December 18, 2018
Each of the Sacred Nights from now until the Feast of Christmas holds a darkness that arrives early, stays a long while, is scattered at last by a late dawn. We have decided to experience the darkness fully, to find its gifts. The garden of the ruined nunnery on Iona is inky black, a blackness pierced here and there with what might look to a passerby like stars fallen to earth, but are actually tiny flashlights carried by 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.
Corinne rises, goes to stand beside the fire to read 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 Corinne sits down, we take time to hold the words within us, wondering how each of our lives might be born again.
Clara comes forward to speak: The poet, Rilke, writes often of darkness. This dark space for him resembles the hub of a wheel, a pitcher, the hold of a ship that carries us through “the wildest storm at the edge of all”, the grave earth under the tree, the lower branches of a pine, the darkness at the edge of a bonfire. Rilke’s darkness is something out there and at the same instant it is far inside. Once a man or woman inhabits that dark space, he or she finds it hidden inside objects, in walnuts or tree roots, in places where people don’t ordinarily look for it. In one of his poems, he says, “…no matter how deeply I go down into myself my God is dark, like a webbing made of a hundred roots that drink in silence.”
In his poem, “You Darkness” Rilke writes:
“You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than the fires that fence in the world
For the fire makes a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns from you.
But, the darkness pulls in everything:
Shapes and fires, animals and myself,
How easily it gathers them! Powers and people—I have faith in nights”
Now Rita approaches the fire to read from Judith Duerk’s book, Circle of Stones:
“I am so aware, at my age, of light and dark. Earlier in my life, I was all light, swift, clever, bright. I dressed in primary colors and abhorred anything that I considered slow, dull, muted.
“It was only when I lived through the summer solstice light, far above the Arctic Circle, the light of the longest day in our year, the totality of white, ever-pervasive light, day after day, that I experienced our desperate need for darkness, for shadow, for relief from the clarity, sharpness, and rationality that this present world demands….a need for soft lines, blendedness, greys….to respect one’s need to be sometimes out of focus, unformed, blurred.
“Now, the winter returns, the darkness…the year, come full circle again…a chance, again, to sink into one’s own stillness…a time to feel one’s fatigue, the aches of life, one’s own age, to reconnect, once again, with deep, dark earth-energy, hidden far below in our roots.
“The winter is for us to nurture ourselves in that same way—a long time of preparatory darkness and inchoateness a very long 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.”
Kate reads from Wendell Berry:
“To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark.
Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”
Adriana comes forward with another poem, one 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.
The readings are ended. Now 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 spread with food and wine. We shall spend this longest night together and then we shall go outdoors to greet the Solstice dawn.
photo by Brenda Peddigrew
Gathering Space for December 11, 2018
"It's a good night for listening to a story," Corinne says as we hurry through the misty darkness towards our Gathering Tent on the grounds of the ruined Nunnery on the Island of Iona. The clouds hide the moon but even if the skies were clear, her pencil-thin light would offer little radiance.
Inside, there are candelabras set up on low tables around the inside canvas walls. Two candles of each set of four burn brightly, a reminder that we are more than half-way to the Solstice…
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 raven perched on her shoulder, the storyteller among the birds.
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 is feasting and dancing, and during the day, Arthur and his knights ride 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 him in order to usurp his kingdom. 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 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 of 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, 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. She had one eye only and it was rheumy and red-rimmed, a naked scalp with a few lank strands of hair… Her whole body was swollen and bent out of shape. Her fingers, on which were several fine rings, were as gnarled and twisted as the roots of an old oak.
"My lord King," said the hag in a surprisingly sweet voice, "why do you look so dismayed?"
Arthur told her of his deep distress, of his quest, how he was honour-bound to accept the Black Knight's challenge, and how, without the answer, he was sure to die. The Lady laughed.
"I can answer your question," she said. "There's no mystery to that! But if I do, you must promise to grant me one wish – whatever that wish may be."
"Madam, you have my word. Anything you ask shall be yours."
The Lady whispered a few words in his ear. And Arthur knew 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 swamp 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, giving her beautiful jewels to wear for the wedding ceremony in the Chapel.
The feast that followed was rich in wondrous foods, and fabulous wines. Music and dancing followed, but Gawain's heart was heavy as were his feet which had lost their delight in dancing. Yet he would have preferred to dance all night rather than face the moment when he and his bride would be alone in the bridal chamber…
That moment came. Gawain opened the door to allow his bride to enter. Then he turned back to secure the door, and unable to turn to face her, he stood with his head bowed against the closed door.
"Will you not come to our bed, my husband?" she asked him. At that, he turned ...
...and what miracle was this? Before him stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen! She had long golden hair hanging to her waist; her figure was a slender as a fairy's, her pale skin as perfect as a piece of polished ivory.
Slowly placing her arms about his neck, she kissed him. "I am you wife, Sir Gawain. By marrying me, you have half-released me from a spell which doomed me to that disgusting shape in which King Arthur found me. But I need to ask you a question. Do you wish the spell's release to be only for the time when we are alone at night, or would you prefer that I am in this true guise only during the day?"
Gawain looked at her, at a loss to know what to choose. For his own sake he would wish to have her beauty for himself when they were alone, and yet for her sake would it not be more difficult to appear before others as the Loathly Lady?
Then he wondered which choice she herself would desire?
"My lady," he said finally, "How may I choose for you? You are mistress of your life, and must choose whichever you prefer."
At this the Lady laughed and clapped her hands with joy. "That," she cried, flinging her arms about his neck, "is the right answer to my question. You have given me what every woman wants—her own way. And now the spell is broken. You will never see that hideous old hag again. I am my true self – and will be yours forever."
The next morning Arthur waited anxiously for the reluctant bridegroom to emerge from the chamber.
He waited… and waited… and waited… and wondered.
But when the newlyweds finally appeared in the hall, glowing with love and happiness, there was no more wondering. Now Arthur knew that all was well – his kingdom safe, the Lady free of her enchantment, and ahead of them a night of celebration such as the castle of Carlisle had never known before.
We are silent for a long, long moment, pondering this tale which upends what we may have been taught about setting our desires aside. Elspeth too is silent, watching us. At last, she asks: " Do you wonder at this tale's wisdom? In these dark days before the Solstice it is good to open our hearts to know the lure of the light. What do we truly most desire? For it is the deep longings of our heart, not the surface desires that glitter and disappoint, but the deep true longings that will lead us to know the longing of Love for us. Do you think the One who holds us in immense love is less chivalrous than Gawain? The One who loves you longs for your deep joy, longs for you to be truly yourself. It is your longing that will lead you, through winding ways at times, to the longing of the Universe itself for you. "
And with that, both Elspeth and the Raven are gone!
Gathering Space for December 4, 2018
Though the air is above freezing, the wind coming from the North Atlantic is a ghostly breath of damp chill. We shiver as we hurry towards the open flap of our Gathering Tent beneath the waning moon, her narrow arc visible as clouds drift past her light…
Something is luring us onwards, something more than the desire for shelter from the chill of the night air. It sets our feet racing towards the tent. Elspeth has promised to come back this week with another story.
As we enter the tent, and make our way towards the circle of large cushions, we see that most of our friends in the Communion are already gathered, as eager as we are to hear another story. And so with the briefest pause to exchange greetings, the fire pot is lighted, the listeners settle, breathe deeply, and turn towards our Storyteller, ready to listen.
Elspeth does not speak at once. She looks down, as though remembering a tale heard long ago, perhaps in a place far away. When she lifts her eyes to gaze at each of us in turn, her gaze is intense, piercing the heart, silently asking: "Are you ready for this story?"
Then a soft smile lights her features. "I have brought you a story tonight from a place far away. Yet you would know the elements that make up this tale, for it holds a forest, a lake and a small village. There are three women who are central to the tale, and you know them as well from other tales, where they sometimes form the triple goddess. But that is moving too far ahead!
"The story opens when a young girl receives from her grandmother a gift of incomparable beauty and great worth. It is a heritage necklace, a necklace that her grandmother has created for her out of silver stars and spirals, carvings from seashells, small twists of cloth and tiny brass bells. Each of the pieces hanging on the silver chain represent a gift the grandmother has gained in her life, something that she desires her granddaughter to grow into as she becomes a woman: joy, radiance, strength and the power to love.
"Now in the village there are other young girls. They are not kind to the one who now wears the beautiful heritage necklace. Are they jealous? Perhaps not so much of the necklace itself though it outshines all of their own. Perhaps they envy the young girl who is different, who seeks solitude, yet knows how to show kindness to those who are suffering…
"The jealous girls have a plan. One day they seek out the girl they envy. Not one of them is wearing her own necklace that day. They tell the girl that a fierce monster who lives under the lake is threatening to destroy their village unless they throw their necklaces into the lake to appease him. The innocent girl is moved by the tale and decides to follow their example.
"She removes her precious heritage necklace, twirls it around over her head three times, hurls it into the lake.
"And at once the others laugh at her, calling her a naive fool to have believed them. They dig up their own necklaces which they had simply hidden in the sand.
"The young girl is devastated. She has thrown away a priceless treasure, made by her grandmother's own hands, carrying the symbols of all she herself might one day become. She has lost her heritage.
"Bereft, blaming herself, the girl begins walking. The late December day darkens and she finds herself in a deep forest. She is hopelessly lost and afraid when she sees firelight ahead. She walks towards it. As she comes nearer, she sees a sight that makes her body tremble with fear: an old, old woman is tending the fire. On the woman's body are countless scars, and gaping wounds, some still bleeding.
"But it is too late to run, for the woman calls to her: 'How did you did you find your way here?'
"The girl tells her the truth: 'By sorrow.'
"The old woman invites her to sit by the fire and tell all that has befallen her. When she has ended her story, the old one says, "I can help you. But first, will you help me?"
" 'Of course,' the girl says, thinking perhaps she will be asked to collect firewood or go to seek water.
"'Will you kiss my scars and my wounds, one at a time?'
"It was a terrifying request and yet the young girl had agreed. Each time her soft lips touched a scar or an open wound, the old woman cried out in agony, and then sighed with relief. At last each scar, each wound, was healed.
"The old one smiled at the girl. Then she asked: 'Can you swim?'
"'No, I cannot swim.'
"'Good,' said the ancient one. She opened her arms as if to offer an embrace, but instead she took hold of the young one in a fierce grip. With wild speed she carried the young girl to the edge of the lake, twirled her around above her head three times and hurled her into the deepest part of the lake.
"The girl sank swiftly down, down, down to the depths of the lake and she found that she was breathing freely… when at last her feet touched the sandy bottom, she was standing near a shimmering grotto made of sea shells. Inside she saw a woman seated, as ancient as the woman in the forest, yet beautiful and whole, with no wound or scar upon her naked body. The woman wore only a shining necklace of stones that glowed with an inner light.
"'Because you threw away your necklace in a mistaken belief that you would help others, I have kept it here, safe for you. I have kissed it with great tenderness as you have kissed the wounds of my sister in the forest. Now this necklace will be yours forever. Bend your head and I shall place it upon you.'
"As soon as the necklace rested against her heart, the young girl's body began to lift and rise until she broke through the surface of the lake, rising like a goddess, for each of the one hundred beads caught the fire of the morning solstice sun and burned with a golden radiance.
"The other girls saw her return from the lake shore, naked but for the necklace of fire. They demanded to hear what had happened,how she had found her necklace. Scarcely had she finished her tale when they ran off to the forest to seek the old woman who waited by the fire.
"But each in turn refused to kiss the old one's wounds and scars. 'Can you swim?' she asked each in turn. They could not, but demanded that she hurl them one by one into the lake so they too might find a glimmering necklace.
"However, they were not able to breathe underwater. They became instead a pleasant snack for the fierce monster who actually did live under the lake."
Once more Elspeth invites us to sit in silence, to receive the gifts of the story.
After a time, our Storyteller asks if we have understood who the three women are in the story.
When no one responds, Elspeth says: "This is another form of the triple goddess, the one who dwells within each of us. The woman beneath the sea is whole, has never been and never can be wounded, for she is our soul. The woman in the forest is the part of the self that has lived and suffered wounding in the upper world; yet she can be healed by love when we have the wisdom to ask, as she did, for love. The girl is the young self who has so much to learn. Above all she must learn to guard her heritage, her deep gifts, her true self. She has to learn discernment in love, so that she recognizes that true love never asks us to throw away our true self, our heritage.
"You may wish to think about this story in the days ahead:
What is your heritage? Have you ever been asked to hurl it away?
What are your wounds? Have you asked for what you need to heal them?"
"Next Tuesday I shall return with one last story of the Cailleach."
Gathering Space for November 27th 2018
Last Friday's full moon is still bright enough to pierce the cloud cover as we walk towards our Gathering Tent in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. The air is mild at 10 degrees Celsius, 50 degrees Fahrenheit, blessing this November night. Yet no one is lured into staying outdoors. We know that Elspeth has promised to return tonight with another story….
Some of our companions must have come early. The interior of the tent is alive with candle light. We each choose one of our favourites from among the thirty large silk-covered cushions arranged in a circle around the fire pot.
Elspeth is already seated, engaged in what sounds like a lively conversation with the women sitting near her. "But the Cailleach is honoured among the Celts for her wisdom and her no-nonsense approach to life," Elspeth is saying, as though in response to a comment.
"Wise maybe, but old and ugly! Who would want to live so long?"
The speaker is one of our younger members, and she has supporters among much older women.
"I agree with you," says another. "If I could choose, I would prefer youth and beauty to all the wisdom in the world."
At this Elspeth laughs merrily. "Of course you would. Perhaps the wisest cailleach would prefer that as well, but life does not offer us such clear choices. We shall all grow old but growing wise is not assured… it takes determination, dedication and sometimes a long journey.
"If everyone is comfortably seated, shall we light the fire pot and begin? I have a story for you tonight about a woman younger than most of you who longed to become wise."
Elspeth begins her story and stillness holds us all. We are enchanted.
There was once a woman who was successful in all things. She had a kind partner, a loving family,
and a craft for which she was justly famous. But still she was not happy.
“I want to know the Truth,” she said to her partner.
“Then you should seek her,” he replied.
So the woman put her house and all her worldly goods in her partner’s name (she being adamant on that point)
and went out on the road, a beggar after Truth.
She searched up the hills and down in the valleys for her. She went into small villages and large towns; into the forests and along the coasts of the great wide sea; into dark, grim wastes and lush meadows woven with flowers.
She looked for days and for weeks and for months.
And then one day, atop a high mountain, in small cave, she found her.
Truth was a wizened old woman with but a single tooth left in her head. Her hair hung down onto her shoulders in lank, greasy strands.
The skin on her face was the brown of old parchment and as dry, stretched over prominent bones. But when she signaled to the younger woman with a hand crabbed with age, her voice was low and lyrical and pure and it was then that the young woman knew she had found Truth.
She stayed a year and a day with the older woman and she learned all that Truth had to teach.
And when the year and the day was up, the younger woman stood at the mouth of the cave ready to leave for home.
“My Lady Truth,” she said, “you have taught me so much and I would do something for you before I leave. Is there anything you wish?”
Truth put her head to one side and considered. Then she raised an ancient finger.
“When you speak of me,” she said, “tell them I am young and beautiful.”
When the story ends, we sit in silence, each one of us pondering its meaning for our lives.
After a time, Elspeth asks, "Would someone like to comment on this story?"
The young woman who had argued for the value of beauty and youth over wisdom speaks:
"As I thought about this story, it came to me that if the woman who is Truth had spent her days with proper skin creams and hair moisturizers, with exercise to enhance her body and every treatment to preserve her youth, she would still one day inevitably grow old, and no one would have travelled for weeks and months to seek her.
"Yet, because she grew into Truth and Wisdom, she had a gift to offer to others."
Another woman speaks: "I notice that even though she had become Truth and was sought out by others for her wisdom, the old woman still longed to be young and beautiful. So I guess it's not the longing which is an obstacle to wisdom, but rather where we put our energy."
Elspeth speaks: Let the story settle in your heart over the next few days.
See if it has other insights and gifts for you.
"I shall return again next week with another story."
Gathering Space for November 20, 2018
Tir na mBan
The moon is waxing towards her fulness, her light pushing through clouds to paint a silver pathway guiding us into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. Here on the island of Iona in the North Atlantic, winter is still far off. Neither snow nor icy winds assail us as we make our way towards our Gathering Tent.
Inside, we greet our companions with joy, catching up with each other's news, sharing the joys and challenges that weave their gifts through our lives, sharing our plans for the days and weeks to come…
Someone enters alone, quietly slips into the circle with a shy smile. It is Elspeth, the storyteller who lives in a stone cottage here on Iona between her journeys to bring stories to other islands nearby.
Cynthia rises to light the fire pot, and to welcome Elspeth.
"When I learned that our storytelling friend was now back on Iona, and would be staying here for the colder months, I asked her to come to spend this Tuesday evening with us," Cynthia explains. "This early darkness as the nights grow longer calls out for stories."
We express our agreement with sighs of happiness around the circle. Who doesn’t love a tale told by firelight?
"I've brought you a story," Elspeth begins. "With winter coming close, I chose a tale about an island far to the northwest of Iona where winters are long and summers tantalizingly brief. The island is called Tir na mBan which means the Island of Women. Close to the sea's edge, high above the waves there is a large cave. Inside this cave lives a woman of great age. No one knows how old she is. It seems she has lived here since the dawn of time.
"She never grows tired of her life, for her days are filled with creative work which she loves. She is a weaver, and each day she chooses bright and beautiful threads from the many-coloured skeins that hang from a ledge in her cave. On clear days in summer, she often ventures forth to seek berries and plants and flowers. These she boils to use to dye her threads rich shades of yellow, scarlet, deep purple and grass green…
"Weaving, as you may know, is slow work, requiring close attention, patience and great skill. It may take a very long time to create the perfect pattern, to reproduce with her weft threads intricately woven through the warp threads a design of incomparable beauty.
Now you may wonder how the old woman feeds herself especially through the long winter. At the far side of cave, a safe distance from her precious, the woman has built a fire that never goes out. Above this fire, suspended from a hook, hangs a huge iron pot. Inside that pot she keeps a hearty soup bubbling, adding vegetables to it that she gathers in summer and dries for use during winter.
"A quick stir every little while keeps the soup at just the right consistency and heat. But now and then it happens that old women becomes so enchanted with a glorious new pattern in her weaving that she forgets the soup. Entirely.
"At last a smell of burning, a sizzle of drying up, alerts her. She hurries over to the fire and must work for a long time to stir the soup, scrape the burned bits on the bottom and add more vegetables, more water and herbs. She must stand for some time stirring the soup to restore its wholesomeness and flavour.
"And when this happen the other inhabitant of the cave, Raven the Trickster, who has been watching the woman with his black beads of eyes, swiftly flies down from his perch high above near the roof of the cave. With his sharp beak he tears apart the carefully woven threads of the tapestry until the pattern is destroyed. Entirely.
"When at last the old woman returns to her loom, there are only a few warp threads hanging loosely from the loom. The weft threads are torn apart to lie in a jumbled heap on the floor of the cave.
"What does the woman do when she sees her ruined tapestry? Well, she cries of course. But not for long. For as she stands there looking at the pile of torn threads, one catches her eye. Perhaps it is the emerald green thread that somehow recalls the grass on the hillside in a long-ago summer…this she picks up and her fingers, then her hands, almost without her conscious attention, begin to place it within the remaining warp threads on her loom…
"She sets to work, adding a yellow thread, a scarlet one, then the deep purple, and before long with no design in mind, she has begun to weave a new pattern of incomparable beauty.
"Meanwhile the raven has been watching from a distance. As the new pattern revels itself, his cackle of delight affirms that this is how it was all meant to be….Satisfied, he returns to his high perch. Trickster knows what the old woman perhaps intuits: that if the weaving is ever fully complete, the world must come to an end.
"As long as the old woman keeps weaving and the Raven keeps interfering, the ages will go on and the end will not yet come."
A silence greets the end of Elspeth's tale. In truth, we are stuck dumb by this story, working each in the silence of our own hearts to understand its meaning, not just in the story itself but in our lives on this planet….
After a time, we say goodnight to Elspeth and to one another.
We promise to send our thoughts about this tale to each other before next Tuesday.
And Elspeth promises to return with another story.
Gathering Space for November 13, 2018
The six- day-old moon offers her young light to guide our way as we come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. Those of us with small flashlights or with light apps on our phones or iPods guide those who are without towards the opening of our Gathering Tent.
We step inside the flap, quickly resealing it against the sea wind off the North Atlantic. Then, we look about in dismay. The inside of the tent is even darker than the outdoors. Impossible to see the faces of our companions, to see where we might find a place to sit.
A match is struck and in its brief flare we see a woman bending over the fire pot. Now its orange flame gives enough light for us to make our way to the circle of cushions, where we sit with our companions.
“Why aren’t the candles lit?” The whisper seems loud in the stillness. “Why is it so dark?”
But neither question is answered. There is mystery here. Silence engulfs us as we focus on the one small flame that holds the darkness at bay. It gently illumines the face of the woman who has lit the fire pot.
Ellyn straightens to look at us, and speaks: "On this day ten years ago, I was in Egypt, taking part in a ritual to greet the goddess Isis in her sanctuary on Philae Island. Earlier today, I listened to a recording made within the sanctuary. I thought we would enjoy sitting here in the darkness, listening as Jean and Peg lead us in the ritual.
"You will notice that the goddess Isis calls us into new life, into a day that will be born from this present darkness on the planet. After the recording ends, we may wish to sit for a time in silence, to ask ourselves how we each experience this call to give birth to newness both within our lives and outwardly for the life that surrounds us."
(Note: The recording is attached to the November 13, 2018 email to the Communion.)
Gathering Space for November 6, 2018
The days of Samhain have come and gone, leaving us who live in the Northern Hemisphere in a darkness that will deepen with each passing day until the Winter Solstice.
We come to the garden of Iona’s ruined nunnery, noting its ragged, dishevelled appearance in the muted light.
The garden awaits the facelift of the first snowfall.
Our Gathering Tent is a welcome sight, offering shelter from the stiff winds, the cold damp air. We step inside.
And stop, our breaths caught in wonder.
The interior of the tent, from floor to roof, is shimmering with jewelled light. Slowly, slowly, we begin to recognize what it is we see.
The canvas walls hold photographs taken by the Hubble Telescope. Stars, galaxies, huge swathes of our own Milky Way, glimmer in turquoise, rose, gold and vermillion, magically backlit to create a space of indescribable beauty.
Someone has been at work here offering this shining gift. Whoever has done this must know how a longing for light and beauty emerges in the darkness of November. The reminder of Teilhard de Chardin’s vision of an evolving universe, guided by Love, moving us forward towards an Omega point is sorely needed on this night in this time in the story of our planet.
We are approaching the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, a war that was meant to end all wars…..
As we slowly take our places on the colourful silk cushions, we feel ourselves to be within a Radiant Darkness.
A solitary sound arises. A flute sends a pure cascade of notes to swirl among the stars which surround us.
In the midst of this beauty, a single voice reads a poem by Mary Oliver:
Sleeping in the Forest
I thought the earth
remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.
We are wrapped in beauty: sight, sound, and inner images awakening within. We each see ourselves at rest with Mary Oliver “on a stone in the river bed” under the “white fire of the stars”. We take this deeply within for a time of contemplation.
Listen. What arises from our hearts?
We listen for a time in the silence, in the silence, in the deep and holy silence……
Following our quiet time, there is an invitation to speak. Who would like to offer a reflection ?
I would like to welcome into our circle here at Iona, Blanche Gallagher, in her ethereal starry consciousness.
Blanche was a friend of mine and of Jean Houston. At Jean’s prompting, Blanche wrote a book of meditations on the writings of Teilhard, which, she said,
"startled me into a new awareness of the universe." She ponders his definition of the noosphere, the thinking envelope of the planet made of the fused creative and intellectual process of each individual.
"Noosphere...the living membrane which is stretched like a film over the lustrous surface of the star which holds us, an ultimate envelope taking on its own individuality and gradually detaching itself like a luminous aura, this envelope was not only conscious but thinking, the very Soul of the Earth".
Blanche Gallagher further ponders the notion that all this energy unites into constellations of energy
by which the universe is brought to its Ultimate fulfillment.
We thank Suzanne for bringing this rich reflection from her friend Blanche.
For the rest of our time here in the luminous tent, we ponder how our own thoughts, our creative processes
are intermingling in a “living membrane” stretched “like a film over the lustrous surface of the star which holds us”.
Gathering Space for October 30, 2018
Ritual to Welcome Winter/Samhain
The fleeting warmth of the day has dissolved. The chill air in the garden of Iona’s ruined nunnery holds a hint of winter. Blowing off the North Atlantic, the wind whispers what must follow…. Yet we do not rush to enter the shelter of the Gathering Tent. The moon in her last quarter allows the silver starlight space to shine. The beauty of this night deserves our attention, our gratitude.
When we do finally pull back the tent flap to make our way inside, we find a group of our companions preparing the space for a ritual. Someone carries a broom to the back door of the tent while others arrange symbols of the autumn season at the centre of the circle, on our quilt of many colous, beside the fire pot. Two women are handing out colourful booklets to everyone, placing them on the empty cushions for those who have not yet arrived.
Once everyone is seated within the circle, Patti Ann comes forward to light the fire pot.
Now Noreen stands to welcome us: "Tonight we have a Ritual to welcome Samhain, adapted from Kathleen Glennon’s book, Heartbeat of the Seasons. In her introduction, Kathleen quotes Thomas Berry’s words: The entire universe is the great religious community. Its seasonal sequence is the primordial liturgy of all creation.
"At the festival of Samhain," Noreen says, "we are initiated into the mysteries of the dark goddess, the Cailleach aspect of the feminine energies. The journey into the season of Samhain 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. As Dolores Whelan has taught us, we are offered an opportunity to return to the transformative cauldron of the Cailleach, 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.
"In your booklet there are a few questions to think about before the Ritual begins.
What were the blessings of Lughnasadh/ Autumn?
What were some of the things that weren’t so good?
What blessings do we wish to welcome into our Gathering Tent our tent and into our lives with Samhain/Winter?
After a few minutes of reflection, Noreen invites us to gather at the back door of the tent.
As the door is opened, some of us step back from the chill.
Noreen reads from Heartbeat of the Seasons:
Spinner of the universe,
Rotator of the planets,
Turner of the seasons,
Align us to the rhythm
Of your heartbeat
At this threshold moment
When Lughnasdh bids us farewell.
After a brief pause, Noreen continues:
"Lughnasadh/Autumn has been a time of abundance, of colour, of blessing. Let us recall some of the blessings of Lughnasadh."
We each call out a blessing of this season, and following each, we chant:
We give thanks to you
We give thanks to you
Noreen now invites: "Let us acknowledge moments of pain, of difficulty, of negativity during the season of autumn."
We each call out a remembered challenge or difficulty, sorrow or pain….
After each person speaks, she is invited to take the broom to sweep the negativity or difficulty over the threshold out into the night.
We rid our Tent
Of negative thoughts and feeling,
Of sickness and ill health,
Of consumer attitudes,
Of behaviours that disrespect humans, other species, or the earth.
We ask the earth to absorb and transform what we send into the night. Amen.
Now the back door of the tent is zipped closed.
Our Communion is invited to move to the front entrance of the tent where Noreen reads the Welcome to Samhain:
"Let us become aware of the energy of the new season of Samhain standing on our threshold.
Let us hear its heartbeat and bid it welcome with its blessings."
We are invited to call out the blessings we associate with Samhain/ Winter.
After each blessing is spoken, we chant:
Fullness of life! Fullness of life! Fullness of life!
Noreen reads the Closing Prayer:
O Still One of Samhain.
Come into our home and into our hearts.
May the blessing of inwardness nestle within these walls.
Let our hearts beat in rhythm with the hibernating animals during this season.
May we find time to enjoy one another‘s company, to watch the night sky,
to relax by the fire, to tells stories, to share food and drink.
May the blessings of health and happiness be with all. Amen.
The ritual ends as we move to the chant: "Blessings of the Seasons"
Blessings from the Seasons (hands towards heart)
Blessings from the Night (hands to the sky)
Blessings from the Universe (lift arms and turn slowly)
To fill our home with Light (join hands around the circle)
Gathering Space for October 23, 2018
The night is wet with rain as we approach our soggy Gathering Place, the garden of Iona’s Ruined Nunnery.
Something is different. We first sense, then lift our gaze to see, a canvas tent whose bulk fills the whole of the grassy area within the low stones of the former Chapter House of the Augustinian Nuns. 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.
We hear the rain as it dances on the roof 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 at the centre of our circle.
Kathleen O’Daniel stands and walks towards it. In a moment the oil receives the lighted match, and a bright orange flame leaps into view.
Kathleen speaks: "As we gather tonight, 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 end of the bright masculine season with its intense activity of planting, growing, harvesting. They welcomed the quieter feminine days of winter.
"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.
"Samhain opens the time that Celtic teacher Dolores Whelan calls the realm of the goddess where the feminine energy principle is experienced and the season of non-doing is initiated. It is a time that has meant a lot to me, as my birthday falls on November 1st right in the midst of Samhain. In past years when we gathered here before the festival of Samhain, I read to you from Dolores Whelan's writings and her Celtic calendar. But tonight Dolores is here with us to speak about the deeper meaning of the approaching season of Samhain."
Dolores now speaks: The Celtic year begins at Samhain because the people who created the ancient calendar believed, as all primal people do, that all new life emerges from the darkness… Samhain is also the most important festival in the calendar and yet it evokes deep fear in us modern human beings. The entrance into the dark time of the year is extremely challenging to us 21st century humans addicted as we are to light and outward activity. As we cross the Samhain gate the invitation is into Stillness, Inner Activity, Being and Surrender. Samhain is a time to reflect on our lives and to evaluate the different aspects of our lives during the past year, a time to give thanks for what has been achieved and to accept those things that were not completed and which must be left unfinished until the dark time of the year is over.
It is a time to look deep into the well of our own selves and see what must be seen, maybe shadow aspects of ourselves that we have avoided, and perhaps devote time and energy to healing what needs to be healed. At Samhain the veils between the worlds are thinner and we may have a greater connection with those who have passed over into the non-physical /spiritual realms.
It is a wonderful time for us to connect in whatever way is appropriate for us with our Ancestors, those people (especially our family members) who lived on earth and who passed on to us the Gift of Life, We remember them with gratitude for their lives and their gifts including the gift of life and an acceptance and forgiveness of their fragility and weaknesses, We remember that we are the ancestors of the future generations and so we seek to heal our own wounds and weaknesses while on earth and consider what gifts and legacy we will leave for those who follow us.
It is in the dark season of Samhain that we dream our visions for the year ahead and plant the seeds for the future dreams we hold for our planet. In this dark season we commit to nurturing these seeds by deep reflection and commitment to the inner practices that will ensure their growth and the ability to emerge into right action when spring returns. Samhain is a season that demands we have faith, patience and endurance. Remember in this season we are held in the strong and wise embrace of the Cailleach aspect of the feminine energy which guides us through apparent death and dissolution and into a powerful rebirth when the dark season is over. This Cailleach power is reflected in this powerful poem by Brid McDonnell:
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.
At this time on the planet we can become overwhelmed by the amount of dark news that greets us every day. Yet with this we are also offered opportunities to respond in ways where we become agents of transformation.
Darkness is always transformed by light and love so let us choose to share our light and our healing in both simple and profound ways as we go about our daily life. May your inner light guide you this Samhain season.
After Dolores speaks, 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 in me whose time has come?
Gathering Space on Iona for October 16, 2018
The cool air of early evening brushes our skin, ripples our clothing, as we come into the garden of the ruined nunnery on the Sacred Island of Iona. "How much longer before our tent will rise?" Ellyn asks.
"Samhain is a little more than two weeks away," Mary answers.
"The dark quiet of the feminine time of the year will soon be here," Yvette adds. "A time for dreaming and nurturing the seeds of new life."
Our quilt of many colours offers us a warm area where we may form our circle. The fire pot in the centre brings memories of the wood stove at Stella Maris. There is no rain tonight, and our wool shawls, sweaters or cloaks will be warm enough to allow us to sit under the open sky. With sounds like the low buzz of honeybees we greet one another, take time to catch up on the small and greater news of our lives since we last gathered here.
Jean Houston has come to lead us in a meditation on the Greek deities and their connection with the chakras of our bodies.
We take deep settling breaths, clearing mind and heart of invasive thoughts or concerns, preparing an inner space to receive her words.
Jean begins: " 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.
Persephone by Susan Seddon Boulet
"Move up the great pole of life to the great underground course of water: seas, oceans, rivers, springs: the flow of the River of Time. Let your body begin to shift and sway, moving through the water, taking on the power of Poseidon, god of oceans, avenger and protector of those at sea. When you are emotionally at sea, when your instinct is to wander through endless adventures, only to return where you started, to see it again for the first time, Poseidon is god of the unconscious, of beauty and terror. You are in the community of the sea, in the roaring, bubbling up of Poseidon, under your feet, pouring new waters on this time. He pricks you with his trident to wake you up. Around you wild creatures splash, invigorate you. Feel that ocean within. Sway, sink into the ocean, knowing you will be guided and protected by all the beings of the waters of the world.
"Now your feet rest on earth, place of Demeter who embodies alternating cycles of plenty and fallowness, cycles of gain and loss. Demeter is the goddess of change, changes of season, the ebb and flow of life. Her power is inseparable from her daughter Persephone, provider and celebrator of the mysteries of earth, giver of oats, trees, corn, agriculture. Feel her in the plowed earth under your feet, the harvest that is her gift. Pray that others have enough to eat.
"Let the sense of Mother Earth move from your feet up through your body so that your body is earthed in her embrace. You knees are a center. Hermes is in your right knee, the god of motion and becoming, the trickster. Hermes embodies the desire to move with ever extended reality. He is the embodiment of dream, the clever one there in your right knee, Hermes of the winged sandals. Rub your right knee and feel his presence. In what direction are you going? Straight? Right? Left? Backwards? Hermes follows you, your escort beyond doors that close behind you. Let Hermes guard your household and being.
"Your knees are centers of spiritual gifts. The right gives. The left receives. In your left knee is Artemis, the dancer, the one who loves nature and wildness, the virgin who belongs to no one. She is twin sister to Apollo, born first, then assisting her mother as she gave birth to Apollo, honoured as a support in birthing. Artemis helps with the soul’s solitude. The runner, dancer, keeper of wild things, of the beasts, is there in your left knee. Artemis is obedient to the powers of the moon. Let your left knee reflect when you are out there under the spiritual light of the moon. Feel the power of Artemis as she kneels on the earth, finding the herbs that purify and heal.
"Bring your awareness to the root chakra where you sit. Breathe energy up from this chakra from the center of the earth, the part of yourself blessed by the earth, combining earth and fire. Here is the keeper of the life flame, Hestia, Lady of the Hearth, center of the house and the earth. Hestia holds the fire that lights the energy of our body and soul. Turn to her for energy, the Kundalini Goddess. Without her, we are adrift and lost. Hestia clears the energies of the root chakra, to send them up to spin energy as it rises through the other chakras. Hestia is purity and flame. She lets fires of light move through your body. Hestia will keep you protected and secure.
"In the root chakra also is Hephaestus, god of fire, who shows you how to make beauty. He is master craftsman, the Olympian who works, forges links between nature and craft. Hephaestus is symbol of resourcefulness and creativity. He is a crippled god, whose feet are backwards, showing the dark side of those who depend upon machinery.
"As you breathe into the root chakra, remember that you have everything and everyone within you. Think about something that you wish to create from the deepest part of your being. You have this god Hephaestus to take it from the fire of imagination to craft it in your life, to create and recreate your world.
"Hera is the goddess of the pelvic chakra, of primary relationships, of marriage and all the stages of woman’s life with man. Her emblem is the peacock. Her breast milk created the Milky Way. Hera is the protector of connections, of family and relationships. She is a guide to sacred and beautiful speech with those you love. Hera will help you with relationships with the children of your body and spirit. Breathe out love for the children of the world, and for your own dear friends.
Hera by Susan Seddon Boulet
"In your solar plexus is the god Ares who has the ability to make things happen. He is the doer, the one who never procrastinates, willing to be wounded for those he loves. Enlist him in the fight for what is right in your life story, as an ally. Enlist him to be energized and filled with the need to do and move where we need to serve.
Ares is red hot powerful energy.
In the heart chakra is Aphrodite, goddess of connection, of love and beauty, goddess of our more visceral yearnings, of the erotic and evocative in women and men. Aphrodite is a child of foam, of the sea, mother of Eros. She is from the place of endless sea foam, creativity, songs, the whisper of allurement. Feel your heart opening to the force of life, the archetype of love and loving.
When have you been in love? Pour this into your heart, being seized by joy. Think of all the friends you love. Pour them into your heart.
Aphrodite by Susan Seddon Boulet
"The chakra of the high heart is the thymus, the butterfly-shaped gland, belonging to the immune system. The high heart is the place of Psyche (soul) whose name is Greek for butterfly, and Eros (desire), her lover. Soul and desire. Let your thymus be embraced by soul and desire. Psyche has the capacity to fall so deeply in love with her Beloved that she could endure all manner of trials to be with him. Allow Psyche and Eros to be gods of your immune system for you know the power of desire to fuel your immune system.
"The throat holds the chakra of communication. Here is the place of the god Dionysius and of Apollo, god of music, archery and healing, the god whose longing is for beauty, order, light and harmony. He is the god of clarity who invites, “know thyself”. God of sun and light and singing and verbal expression, it was Apollo who breathed into the throat of the Pythias when she spoke as Oracle of Delphi. Feel the energy of the god Apollo who told those who came to Delphi the truth of things. Breathe their gifts of expression from Apollo (clarity) and Dionysius (the full rich go for it expression).
"In the chakra of the third eye, the place of wisdom, is the goddess Athena, goddess of wisdom, of civilization, weaver of all patterns, goddess of artisans, of trades people. Athena of the bright eyes, so shrewd, grey-eyed goddess who is ever near, whispering her counsel so that you grow in wisdom. Athena is persuader of peace, reconciler, weaver of body, mind and culture. The third eye sees beyond appearances, sees all problems as challenges in work clothes. Ask Athena for a path that is true to your spirit in wisdom and clarity.
Athena by Susan Seddon Boulet
"Breathe upwards towards the element of ether, the fifth element for the ancient Greeks. Rub your hands together, and 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. The moon in her first quarter breaks free of clouds as she rises over the garden on Iona, and we are still here, sitting in wonder, in joy.
Gathering Space for October 9, 2018
The cool air of early evening brushes our skin, ripples our clothing, as we come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on the Sacred Island of Iona.
The sun has not yet set, though its patina of gold offers little warmth. October is moving swiftly towards the Celtic Festival of Samhain. The dark quiet of the feminine time of the year will soon be here. Later tonight the dark will be intense as we await the coming of the new moon in a few days.
Many of us have brought wool shawls, sweaters or cloaks, thinking to curl up within their warmth on our quilt… but once we are within the stones of the low walls, we stop. We gaze in wonder at the sight before us. The grassy area is crowded with long tables, each covered in the an enticing array of baked goods, woven scarves, shawls , small paintings, handmade pottery, clay cups and plates,, jewelry… have we fallen through a worm hole in time? It looks like a Medieval Faire!
Suddenly someone is coming near to where we huddle at the edges of this vision.
It is our friend Elspeth, smiling, greeting us. Now we know we are in the present time.
"What's happening?" Carol asks. "What is all of this?"
Elspeth's smile broadens. Her grey eyes are warm with delight:
"This, my dear ones, is our Harvest Fair! We've brought the goods not already purchased last week by the tourists who are drawn here to Iona. Since you began making this your "Gathering Space" some mysterious energy has increased the flow of tourists. Come. Move around the displays. Enjoy all that we have brought for you. There is hot apple cider, mulled wine, scones and cakes and pies. If you are drawn to something lovely, a necklace or bracelet, a shawl or scarf, it is yours for the asking. The village of Iona offers this as a thank you for all you have brought to our small island."
What joy to mingle, greet the other women, many of whom we have met on past visits. Some are the quilters who created the magic carpet of colour for our Gathering Space. By the time full darkness has risen through the Garden, we are replete with good food and drink.
Many of us now wear a beautiful piece of jewelry, a colourful scarf, a warm hand-woven shawl….
The women from Iona have created a fire pit where a welcoming blaze invites us to stay a little longer. We gather around it, seated on the grass, wrapping ourselves in warmth, sipping hot drinks from pottery mugs. Once everyone in our Communion and the Iona women have formed a circle around the fire, Clara asks Elspeth a question that many of us have wondered about.
"Elspeth, what do you know of the beginnings of this Nunnery? Are there any stories of its founding, or of the nuns who lived here so long ago?"
"Well now, I am glad you asked, Clara" Elspeth says, her face already lighting up with a storyteller's eager joy.
"You may have heard of the great Celtic Scots leader Somerled, known as Lord of the Isles? He had a dream of uniting the Irish and Scots Celts, at the time when Viking raiders were attacking the isles. He is honoured for creating a Celtic Renaissance and through his wife, Ragnhild, daughter of Olaf Godredsson, King of the Isles, claimed for himself and his descendants the Kingdom of the Isles.
"One of his unfulfilled dreams had been to bring Irish Monasticism to Iona. In the last year of his life he attempted to persuade the Columban monastic community in Derry to relocate from Ireland to Iona, for this sacred island was within Somerled's sphere of influence.
"Unfortunately for Somerled, his death denied him this hope. Somerled was slain in 1164 at the Battle of Renfrew, amidst an invasion of mainland Scotland, while he was commanding forces drawn from all over his kingdom. We believe that Somerled was buried here on Iona.
"Somerled's son Reginald, founded the nunnery in 1200 and installed his sister, Beatrice, as its first prioress. It was one of only two Augustinian Orders in Scotland.
The nunnery earned itself the name 'An Eaglais Dhubh' - the black church - after the colour of nuns' robes.
"Unlike the rest of the Abbey buildings, as you know well, the nunnery has not been restored since being made derelict during the Reformation.
"The pink granite walls that remain, despite being ruinous, are amongst the best examples of a medieval nunnery left in Britain.
Ruins of Iona's Augustinian Nunnery from 1200 CE
"Little is known of the nuns who lived here. Like the Benedictine monks, they followed a strict life of prayer and contemplation. A few clues have been left which shed some light on aspects of the nuns' lives. For instance, the tomb of Prioress Anna Maclean is so detailed in its carving as to give a clear depiction of her dress.
"Some of the nuns were thought to have fled to the nearby Island of Mull where they lived in a cave during the Reformation. This cave is called the 'Nuns' Cave' and is to be found on the coast at Carsaig on Mull. It has crosses carved into its inner walls."
Elspeth ends her story. Deep silence enwraps us like a cloak. It is fully dark now on this moonless night. Each of us is lost in our own imaginings of those long ago times here, of the mysterious life that went on for more than three centuries, of the terror of the nuns' escape to the Island of Mull.
"What a sad story!" Corinne says.
Elspeth stirs as if waking from a dream. "Sad? I have never thought so. Does this Garden feel sad to you? You know there have been a few times over the years when I have come here to walk in the evening when I seemed to hear music, ethereal, lovely, though faint and far away. There was one eve of Samhain….
"But no, that story is too strange for such a night as this. Come, the wind is wuthering.
"We should all be thinking of getting back to our homes before this night grows colder."
Gathering Space for October 2, 2018
This early October evening is wet and windy, though Autumn's chill has not come.
When the moon breaks through clouds, we see her waning into her last quarter.
As we make our way in clusters, or in pairs, or alone, towards the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona,
our thoughts are still on this past weekend's gathering at Stella Maris,
on those who were with us, Those who were not, though they wished to be.
Look! Some of our friends have come early and raised a makeshift canvas roof, supported by four tent poles, above our quilt.
We will be dry for our gathering.
With delight we see that Noreen and Patty from North Bay have made it all the way to Iona.
They have brought copies of Noreen's Prayer: Create in me a space for Wisdom/Sophia
When we have greeted one another and found places on our colourful quilt, Noreen opens her ipad to play a song
recorded by the Iona Community.
The harmonic voices of men and women who meet to pray in the restored Benedictine Monastery
down the road from where we gather, rise into the air: Be Still and Know…
the restored Benedictine Abbey on Iona
Noreen invites Patty to read the Opening Prayer, adapted from Meditations and Mandalas by Nan Merrill:
"I turn to You, O WISDOM of all ages, for counsel and guidance.
All my good works have little meaning without your love and light to empower them.
May I learn the wisdom of silence… the renewal of solitude, so I can be a partner in healing planet earth,
blue-green jewel afloat in the universal sea."
We take time to silently read Quotes and Sayings on "Holy Wisdom/Sophia" that Noreen has gathered for us.
Afterwards, we are invited to read aloud the ones that speak most clearly to our hearts.
Voices rise clearly through the wind that ruffles the leaves of the trees nearby:
Sophia seeks to capture our attention as she peers out from behind the stars,
overwhelms us with the glorious radiance of a sunset, and caresses us with a gentle breeze. (Kathleen Duffy)
When you trust the wisdom of your soul's longing
you become aware of the miracle of presence within and around you. (John O'Donohue)
Sophia is the incarnation of Wisdom. In her presence ask your question. She is Wisdom herself. (Jean Houston)
Viriditas, moistness and greenness of soul, the all-powerful presence of the Spirit, signs of God's grace. (Hildegard of Bingen)
Grace is given to make us alive to the wisdom that was born with us in our mother's womb. (Teilhard de Chardin)
And all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. (Julian of Norwich)
After the readings are shared, we take time in silence to allow the words to nourish our souls.
We end our prayer by reading together words adapted from John Philip Newell:
Thanks be to you, O God, that truth has been inscribed into my heart and into the heart of every human being,
there to be read and reverenced.
Open my senses to WISDOM's inner promptings that I may give voice to what I hear in my soul
and be changed for the healing of the world.
May I be inwardly expanded to be able to listen more deeply for the truth in every living soul
and be transformed for the well-being of the world. Amen
After the prayer Mary and Shirley walk away from us towards the highest section of the Ruined Nunnery.
We watch as they reach for something sheltered by the walls. They return carrying between them a large wicker basket
which they place at the centre of our quilt.
Mary says: "We've brought the left-over fruit, the muffins and pumpkin pies from Stella Maris.
There are also the large maple leaf napkins that Shirley brought,
as well as wine glasses and two casks of wine: red and white.
The Iona Community brought the wine for us this afternoon to help us celebrate Wisdom."
And so we did!
Gathering Space for September 25, 2018
As we come into the Garden beside the ruins of the 13th c. Augustinian Nunnery on Iona, we stop to gaze upwards.
The full burnished-gold moon looks down upon us with an intensity that makes the breath catch in our throats.
“Mother Moon,” Clara says. “I wonder if she’d like to join us this evening.”
“The moon is an image of the Sacred Feminine,” comments Kate. “She is light in our darkness.
Sometimes she is herself wholly dark. The dark feminine.”
The ruffling wind rises, stirring the cool air of this September night. We have grown to know Iona's fickle charms so have come here warmly covered in long sweaters or cozy jackets, carrying blankets to sit on, or to wrap ourselves in.
We want to stay outdoors, gathered here under the Moon’s benevolent gaze.
We join our companions who are already seated in a circle on the grass around the fire pot.
Several conversations are occurring at once as greetings and news are shared.
When the excited chatter subsides, and silence rises like a healing zephyr, Kate stands to speak.
“Just above us the full moon is rising. Tonight her radiance brings us joy but we know her light is not always with us.
"Like the Sacred Feminine, the moon too has her dark side. I have brought some writings to share with you on the Dark Feminine.
"The first is from the Jungian writer Sylvia Senensky. This passage is from her book, Healing and Empowering the Feminine:
We have come to a time when we can no longer remain silent. We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine to know our own darkness and the profound richness of all dark places, even when they are laden with pain. Through her we know the mystery of existence and the sacredness of the cycles of life. We learn how important the destruction of the old ways is to the rebirth of the new.
When she steps into our lives and awakens us, we can be shattered to our core, and we know, as we see the tears streaming down her face, that she too is holding us in her compassionate and loving embrace.
We need to know her as the source of life in the material realm, and to know her sorrow at how we have so unconsciously set out to destroy her...our Mother Earth. She is calling upon us, each in our way to do our inner work, to become her allies, to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet.
This is the lesson of the Feminine we all need to remember. We need to honour our earth and all creatures, human and other, that she supports. We need to nourish ourselves, each other, all children, and the unbelievable creative potential within each human being....
As we come to a place of love and compassion for ourselves, our struggles, and our own vulnerable humanity, we will at the same time begin to kindle a similar compassion for others. Love attracts love. If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy, our actions will begin to mirror our feelings. We will come home to ourselves.
There is a time of quiet as we allow these words to resonate within our hearts. After a time, Kate continues:
"I invite you now to join with me in a contemplative practice that I engage in each morning, sitting in quiet stillness.
"I invite you to become aware of your breath, gently breathing in the healing sacred Breath of the cosmic Spirit of Love,
sending it forth as a transformative healing for the whole world.
"Let us together hold this intention as we stay focused on the Spirit's Breath -- in and down through the chakras --
and out to wherever the Spirit desires to move with her healing presence and benediction."
In the stillness, we spend time allowing the Breath of the Spirit to move in us, through us and out to the world.
We continue this practice for fifteen minutes.
Now Kate speaks once more: "A prayer arose from within me as we engaged in this breathing together. I would like to share it with you:
I sit in this gathering space
in silence and thanksgiving
aware of Wisdom's sacred Presence.
She wraps me gently in her cloak of knowing
assuring me again
that Love holds this pregnant universe
in compassionate, creative embrace,
that Hope awaits with outstretched arms
expectant hands cupped to receive
the promised new birth.
In silence she offers me her cloak of knowing
inviting me to remember
her constant Presence and her gifting
of Creative Love and Expectant Hope.
"Who else would like to share with us a prayer, an image, a poem, a thought that arose for you during this time?"
Gathering Space for Autumn Equinox
September 18, 2018
This summer evening, on the edge of the autumn equinox, greets us with surprising warmth as we arrive at our gathering space. The garden of the Ruined Nunnery still holds bright flowers: black-eyed susans, tall golden sunflowers, asters, anemone, the purple flowering spikes of vervain, the small blue michaelmas daisies, and the brilliant, if unkind, goldenrod.
Are they, like us, finding it hard to let go?
Yet the mood as we gather this evening is one of joy, a celebration of this lovely weather as long as it wishes to stay, the joy of settling on our quilt of many colours between the low stone walls that hold lingering warmth from the day’s sunlight.
Once we are each seated, and have greeted one another, we look about to see who might begin the evening’s sharing.
Anne Kathleen speaks: I have a poem about the Autumn Equinox to read for you this evening:
between day and night.
Earth readies herself to tip into autumn
leaning into loveliness of rare, golden September light
explosion of vermilion, scarlet sumac, rich madder maple,
orange, sienna, yellow amid everlasting greens...
Earth in autumn is at her most alluring,
Her womanly last hurrah of intense beauty
before she freezes into Ice Queen.
I try to summon up sadness for summer’s passing
for warm nights when I lay on sand under meteor showers
the embrace of lake water cooling sunbaked skin
the morning watch for deer, for heron, for wild duck,
the evening wait for wild sweet calls: whippoorwill, loon, wolf.
I love these things the way I love exotic places,
thrilling to visit, leaving me hungry for home.
Who else has memories of summer to share?
Yvette speaks: Nature as seen in the changing seasons has always fascinated me. Walking in woods, visiting a local botanical garden, strolling on sandy beaches, gazing at the stars, hearing early morning birds warbling, laughing at scurrying squirrels and rabbits nibbling clover ~ these and many other moments in nature nurture my soul and speak to me about who I am.
Mary Ellen speaks: The wide vista visible from my apartment has contributed to my summer reflection. I feel part of the greater whole, and my spirit is one with the ever-changing scene of the sky, and the relationship of the Earth to the Sun and the Moon.
Clara speaks: To have immersed myself in nature this summer has been restorative and renewing. To listen to the waves, to feel the breeze from the trees, to listen to the birds,to walk the country roads, to swim……all this was like being bathed in the embrace of Sophia’s love. I sensed I was given much and I received these gifts with a heart full of gratitude at the extravagance and lavishness of the Divine.
I am always longing for a deeper communion with the universe, people and the world. This summer's forest fires in British Columbia, Hurricane Florence in the Atlantic, the typhoon lashing the Philippines and China. These are a constant reminder of how climate change is creating chaos and havoc in people's lives. So many have lost their homes, their possessions, and are experiencing feelings of grief, frustration, fear.
Anne Kathleen speaks: In the midst of our compassion and suffering for/with so many who share our home planet, this poem helps us to remember and honour the wild things who share their peace with us:
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Let's reflect for a few moments now on the gifts of this summer for which we are grateful. Cynthia and Joy may wish to hold in their hearts the gifts of the cooler season in Australia that is ending with the approach of spring days….
We have been, in recent years, honouring the Seasons in the Celtic Way. At this time of the Autumn Equinox, let us reflect during our Sacred Hour this week on the question Dolores Whelan suggests in her Celtic Calendar:
What is it that is now complete in my life?
Dolores offers us this “Prayer at Autumn Equinox”
As this cycle draw to a close,
May I have the discernment to harvest what I need
and release what is no longer useful for me.
May it be so!
And so it is!
Sounds are stirring in the garden just beyond where we are seated. Is that a tinkling of crystal?
Yes! Some of our companions are arranging bowls of autumn fruit and berries on a long table, beside plates of chocolate chip cookies and the last of the summer wine. It is time to celebrate!
Gathering Space for September 11, 2018
The new moon is just a few days old, her thin first quarter scarcely discernible in the still-light sky as we arrive at the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. When we last gathered here on July 31st, we were anticipating the Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh, ushering in the harvest time of autumn. Yet this evening still holds the embracing warmth of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The garden is bright with flowers, the Michaelmas daisies, the Queen Anne’s lace, the yellow and rust clusters of chrysanthemums. September’s parting gifts.
We have not come for endings this evening, but rather for new beginnings.
It is time to take a further journey into our shared adventure: our commitment to be a vessel for the new spirituality so needed in our time.
We know ourselves called to be what the poet Christina Lore Weber describes: “a cup to catch the sacred rain”.
"a cup to catch the sacred rain"
Jean Houston is with us this evening. We have asked her to lead us in one of the processes from her book on Consciousness. Once the excited greetings and sharing of news with one another subsides into a quiet expectancy, Colette rises to light the flame in our fire pot.
Now Jean, seated in the circle among us, begins to speak:
“For more than five years you have been exploring the strands of the new spirituality rising in our time. Tonight I’ll show you a process that you may use to begin the weaving of these strands into a whole, a tapestry that tells the story of new ways to live within the unfolding mystery of the universe.
“As you do this weaving, know that you are not alone, but rather are co-creating with the universe, drawing into your lives, into our Communion of Creative Fire, the gifts, understandings, deep knowings already present in the Consciousness which is the Quantum Field of the cosmos. As I have written in the Consciousness book: “You do this by inviting the quantum field of all potentials to join you in the creation of your intention. Invite it in. Call it in. Reach out, even. And bring its tides and powers into your own local field. Swim in it. Enjoy the paradox of being local but also nonlocal, human and god-stuff incarnate in space and time.
“You are the local imagination immersed in the great field of imaginal creation. By your invitation, the universe, with its infinite ideas and treasures, is able to help you now, to fill in the gaps, as well as expand your intention. The quantum field in its dramatizing power arises in you with special effects and soul-crafting images and ideas. Receive these and play them out! Play them out and enact them until you get the feeling tone that it is happening. Feeling tone is a special kind of click in your consciousness that says, ‘OK, it is so. It is happening.’
"Put your hands out and have the sense of calling in, winding it, being entangled with and thus receiving the appropriate people, opportunities, resources that are coming together now to make your intention a reality in your space - time zone, as it has already been confirmed in the zone of the quantum holofield. There really is no distinction between the two and once you know that, your intended reality can move right in.
“Do all this and put it to music and dance if you are so inclined. I have found out that rhythm and dance have a wondrous salutary effect on the art of manifestation. So, if you wish, imagine (this new spirituality, this way of being present and aware in the universe) vividly, feel it, sense its happening, play it out and then, dramatize and dance it, sing it, know it to be and to be happening. Movement is really important as movement produces endorphins – those joyous, positive, top-of-the-world hormones that raise your happiness quotient and let the universe partner you in promising and extraordinary ways.
“The point is you have caused your body and mind, your very consciousness, to slip out of the same-old-same-old thoughts and expectations. You have moved from the imagination to the imaginal, which is part of the universal consciousness field of all potentials.”
Jean has just finished speaking, and we are still absorbing the wonder of her teaching about co-creating the new spirituality with the universe when the music begins. It is the "Theme from Spartacus", music by Khachaturian. Within a few bars of its beginning, we are already standing, beginning to move to the music, lifting our arms to the sliver of moon in the summer sky, drawing, winding, inviting, calling towards us the newness we have so longed to receive......
As the music ends, we gather once more around our fire pot, taking time to settle from the dance, to gather our insights, hopes for the future, our awareness of what matters most to us.
Jean invites us to share our experience within the dance:
What desires for newness, for exploration of spirituality, arose in you just now?
What themes or longings are drawing you on now towards the future?
How in the work of these five years has your soul been nourished?
Voices begin to rise into the fading light of evening, speaking of desires and longings, of treasures sought and found, of hopes for further exploration as a Communion of Friends on a shared journey:
While exploring facets of a feminine spirituality - feminine aspects of God, the Divine, and Creation, I need others for affirmation and confirmation - a sense that I am not alone, that others not only share in my searching but also open wide new horizons and alternative, or different, or complementary understandings of spiritual living.
The Communion offers me avenues for life, hope, contemplation, intellectual and psychospiritual stretching, and so much more. The kinship I am experiencing is heartfelt, deep, and growing.
Signs of devastation of our earth are everywhere/ I am hoping to explore more deeply environmental-ecological spirituality, delving into what poets and mystics say about the conservation and enchantment of life in Creation.
Feminine spirituality is so connected to Mother Earth. There is more to be mined by delving into the poetry of Mary Oliver, Jan Richardson, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Annie Dillard, Joyce Rupp, Macrina Wiederkher and in the writings of the mystics from several traditions such as Quakers and Indigenous Groups.
We need to keep the mystics before us. They are used to crossroads.
Mary Ellen speaks:
In our world today, with the powerful forces of allurement around us, we can be distracted from our deepest Source of Wisdom. Those who desire to remain faithful to listening, intuiting, "seeing with the heart", can feel very alone if they do not find companions. We, in the Communion, have found each other, and our relationship of sharing is very precious.
I hope that, in the coming months, we can grow stronger in a sense of what we share as seekers of Wisdom, of what our maturing process may look like, of what we can particularly nurture in our lives to be more fully open to Wisdom. I have been reading Cynthia Bourgeault's book, "The Wisdom Way of Knowing". Rabbi Shapiro may have something to offer along these lines.
I am also intrigued by Rabbi Shapiro, as well as our connections to universal energy.
I am still pondering Sophia. This is all I need for now.
What engages my passionate interest is a new way of being in the world that arises from integrating the Sacred Feminine into our psyches and our bodies.
The Hibernian Spirituality offered a pathway for me. I realize that this Hibernian way was actually very much connected to the First Temple way of the ancient Semites.
The wisdom of my soul says there has been “a Rebirthing of God” in my life. The rebirthing has been a fresh stirring of the Spirit within and a new sacred birth to holy living. This holy living simply means I am more alive to the Light that is at the heart of my life and of all living things, animate and inanimate.
The wisdom shared in the readings and reflections include an invitation to see Love as the seed-force of the new birth in our world. This knowledge has helped me to look intimately at the world, not of our making, but as our heaven on earth.
So many times we have been invited to touch into our inner longing. This call was to touch into our sacred restlessness and to never settle for less than total union with our Creator, the Universe and with all things. This longing was a call to a holy birth of sacred living, keeping me in a contemplative presence, spurring me on to see the world and our planet as a sacred relationship, calling me to transformative love in the evolutionary paths we are treading.
Our Communion is called, as each of us is, to be a dynamic, holy presence and to believe the truth that our lives are not for ourselves but for the life of the world. We must keep this truth in front of us as we move into the future.
I was thinking of what would be helpful for the coming weeks. I surely would like to see more reflective articles on Mary Magdalene. Another theme, although we have done some work on it, is Celtic Spirituality by John O’Donohue as well as Philip Newell. Philip has a new book called NEW HARMONY – the Spirit, the Earth and the Human Soul.
I also am drawn to Mary Magdalene. I would like to explore the meaning of love…
I really resonate with these beautiful words of Bryan Smith:
"Support people into the joy of their lives so they can find and awaken the angels of beauty within."
Joy is such a deep feeling that awakens the angels of beauty within.
I truly believe it is a marvelous purpose for our Communion. I say yes to this powerful inspiration.
"Joy" and "beauty": no greater gifts, no greater goals to share. I agree this is a worthy statement of purpose for our lives and Communion.
I also agree. The quote is beautiful, and the new book by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, "Embracing the Divine Feminine" sounds great.
There is silence as we absorb this feast of one another's desires and wisdom.
Now it is time to enjoy a feast of summer fruits as the last light of this September evening fades.
Tall candles are lighted along a table of food and wine.
The celebration of joy and beauty begins!