Communing with the Creative Fire of the Universe: Part Two
by Jean Houston
As we harvest the wisdom of human experience in the deeper mystical traditions of the world’s great religions
we get almost exactly the same picture of a living universe which also lives inside of ourselves.
In fact, it is wonderful to discover that Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Confucians, Indigenous peoples,
and Western philosophers have all given remarkably similar descriptions of the universe
and the Life-force that pervades it. Christianity declares that God is not separate from this world
but continuously creates it anew so that we move and have our being in God.
Islam affirms that the entire universe is continually coming into being and that each moment is a new “occasion”
for Allah to create the whole universe. Hinduism proclaims that the entire universe is a single body
that is being continually danced into creation by a divine Life-force or Brahman. Buddhism asserts that the entire universe
arises freshly at every moment in an unceasing flow of co-dependent origination
where everything depends upon everything else. Taoism states that the Tao is the “Mother of the Universe”
and is the inexhaustible source from which all things rise and fall without ceasing.
Confucianism views our universe as a unified and interpenetrating whole that is sustained and nourished
by the vitality of the Life-force or chi. Indigenous peoples declare that an animating wind or Life-force
blows through all things in the world and there is aliveness and sacred power everywhere.
A major stream in Western thought portrays the universe as a single, living creature
that is being continually regenerated and is evolving toward higher levels of complexity and consciousness.
Despite our great diversity, when the world’s wisdom traditions have penetrated into the experiential depths,
a common reality is encountered that is utterly stunning:
We live within a living universe that arises, moment-by-moment, as a unified whole. The universe is a living entity
that is continuously sustained by the flow-through of phenomenal amounts of energy
in an unutterably vast and intensely alive process of awesome precision and power.
We are beings that the universe inhabits as much as we are beings that inhabit the universe.
The unity of existence is not an experience to be created; rather, it is an always-manifesting condition
waiting to be appreciated and welcomed into awareness.
We Are a Body of Love
The music of the spheres vibrates in every one of our cells. This is ultimately the music of love.
Can you tune into this music that is there for you 24 hours a day on super FM?
There is real feeling and rhythm to it if you attend. More, look into all of the great spiritual traditions
and you find words to the effect that there is a “physics of love.” Learn from those who experience deep meditation
or prayer or even levels of high creativity and you find a common theme, to wit,
“The resonance of the universe is not a mechanical hum devoid of feeling
but instead a subtle music of joy and love.“
We are created from a life energy whose essential nature is love.
Thus love is at the core, at the heart of all Reality—both finite and infinite.
The Encyclopedia of Religion states that “…many great figures have argued that love is the single most potent force in the universe,
a cosmic impulse that creates, maintains, directs, informs, and brings to its proper end every living thing.”
My old friend, Mr. Tayer, who turned out to be Teilhard de Chardin said it most trenchantly:
The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides and gravitation,
we shall harness for God the energies of love.
And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.
Sunset at Stella Maris
We Are a Body of Knowing
We only appear to be separate from the Infinite universe. The new physics shows that get beneath
this seeming separateness and there is a deeper unity, a non-local connectivity to our universe.
We live in a holographic universe where all is connected with all.
In fact in my years as a student of spiritual traditions and psychologies, we find in virtually every tradition,
especially the mystical forms of each, that when we enter into the deeps of our selves
we always find that we are connecting into the flow that sustains the entire universe
and therefore have access to the wisdom and knowing and skill and transformative powers that it contains.
“The wisdom of creation is directly accessible to us in our ordinary life experience
as the hum of knowing-resonance at the core of our being.” When we relax into the center of “ordinary” existence,
we penetrate into the depths, and the wisdom and profound intelligence out of which the universe arises as a continuous flow
is disclosed as direct experience.
Jesus declared, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”
Just know that you know, you really know almost everything it is good to know.
Being mindful makes you knowing. Your marvelous body with all its knowing systems gives you
the most complete of gifts, the vastness of all the particulars and marvels of the here and now
and the capacities should you choose to enter them to know God. Once grounded in our capacity for double wisdom,
we can be self-remembering in these subtle ecologies without fear of forgetting ourselves.
There is no more elevated task than to learn, of our own free will, the skills of living in eternity.
In consciously becoming intimate friends with ourselves, we are directly participating in the life-stream of the universe
and consciously cultivating the body of knowing that is our vehicle through the deep ecology
of the Mother Universe—through eternity. We are both cultivating and being cultivated in the communion of creative fire.
Communing with the Creative Fire of the Universe
Jean Houston’s Reflection for the Communion of Creative Fire
Our world is going through a time of fundamental change—transforming how we see ourselves, our universe, and the human journey.
When we learn to live at home in the universe, and begin to understand the true extent of that universe to the degree that we are able,
all manner of capacities become ignited, the creative fire burns deep and true in our souls.
I see this happening on two interwoven tracks: our relationship to the infinite and our relationship to the nature of loving.
Several years ago I helped my friend Duane Elgin is his preparing a book on The Living Universe in which he initially made the case for our stunning insights
that come from recent science. These insights are serving as the basis for what I see coming as an emerging new world spirituality.
The first has to do with size. We look at the sky and think how infinitesimal we are. And yet we are giants, existing in the middle range of all things.
The largest known distance of the known universe is 10 to the 28 meters. We are at 10 to the 0 meters while the smallest distance in physics is 10-33rd meters.
As Elgin says, “Thinking we are small represents profound misperception. Just as we are stunned by the vast immensity of our universe,
we should be equally amazed at our own immensity, and how far the universe reaches within us into unimaginably minute realms.”
And you know, it is perfect because if we were smaller we would not have sufficient atoms to maintain the complexity of our minds and beings,
and if we were significantly larger, our nervous system would be too slow to maintain the communications that keep us alive.
So we are perfect! As giants, however, what we are missing is the subtle, ebullient infusing aliveness that is going on in the smaller ranges.
Only meditation and different orders of consciousness can bring us there.
The second big insight is that we are almost totally invisible. Matter as we know it is only a tiny ripple on a vast sea of energy.
Dark matter of two kinds comprises 96% of the universe. (23% being dark matter which contains the gravitational field that holds the universe together
and 73% being dark energy which allows the universe to expand.) So the essential question is if we are only 4% visible,
how much of ourselves is part of that invisible or transparent domain? Because we are an integral part of the living universe
then we are deeply connected to and operating in the invisible realms as well.
Cosmologists are now assuming that there are many dimensions as well, and some of these dimensions are invitations to a larger existence for ourselves.
(What has been taken for granted in Buddhist and Sufi writings, among indigenous peoples,
and in the west has been the stuff of science fiction is now moving towards science fact.)
For example, take parallel universes.
We connect with the Universe through Direct Knowing. We are involved in a subtle ecology in the field of consciousness.
Our brain is only a part of our awareness of this infusing presence. In psychic, mystical or high creative states we enter these greater domains.
Combining these four insights we come to the understanding that “We are giants, living in a mostly invisible universe,
just getting underway in our evolutionary journey, and can reach with our consciousness into the larger universe.”
I would add that we can do so not just with our consciousness but with our bodies and creativity and souls as well.
I hope to offer you some suggestions for new ways of doing this in some of our conversations together.
Let me inform you of a few useful facts. You probably know that your body is being regenerated all the time.
The inner lining of your intestine is regenerated every five days, and the outer layer of your skin every two weeks.
You receive a liver replacement about every two months, and your bones are fully replaced every ten years.
However, the universe itself is being continually regenerated at the speed of light.
Given the nature of the simultaneity of time, the entire universe is being regenerated including the nature of space and time.
This means that your past, present and future can be regenerated if you would take the innate and extended uses of consciousness to do this.
You add your intention into the equation of regeneration. But more of that later. The point as Elgin says is that:
‘Given the dynamism of both matter and space, the universe is, in the words of David Bohm, “an undivided wholeness in flowing movement”.’
In this view, the entire cosmos is being regenerated at each instant in a single symphony of expression that unfolds from the most microscopic aspects
of the subatomic realm to the vast reaches of billions of galactic systems. The whole cosmos all at once is the basic unit of creation.
It utterly overwhelms the imagination to consider the size and complexity of our cosmos with its billions of galaxies and trillions of planetary systems,
all partaking in the continuous flow of creation. How can it be so vast, so subtle, so precise, and so powerful?
Metaphorically, we inhabit a cosmos whose visible body is billions of light years across, whose organs include billions
perhaps by latest estimate a trillion galaxies, whose cells include trillions of suns and planetary systems,
and whose molecules include an unutterably vast number and diversity of life-forms.
The entirety of this great body of being, including the fabric of space-time itself, is being continuously regenerated each instant.
Please know that our being does not stop at the edge of our skin but extends into and is inseparable from the universe.
We are all connected with the deep ecology of the universe and each of us has the ability to extend our consciousness
far beyond the range of our physical senses. We go into these great natural, sacred settings because they give us potent affirmations of this livingness.
You enter the larger field of aliveness and even discover as George Washington Carver said, that if you love it enough, anything will talk to you.
( Next week: Part Two)
Women Rising Rooted
Brigid of Faughart 2018 Festival, Ireland
If we surrendered to Earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
(Rainer Maria Rilke)
At the end of a frigid Canadian January in 2018, I have come to Ireland for Brigid's Festival of Imbolc, the day that welcomes Spring.
Brigid is the one who "breathes life into the mouth of dead winter". In the front garden of my friend, Dolores Whelan,
the first thing I see are snowdrops….then one purple crocus, two golden ones.
From a window on the upper floor, Dolores shows me where the Hill of Faughart can be seen, aligned with her home.
Birthplace of Saint Brigid, 5th c. Abbess of the Monastery in Kildare, Faughart is ancient in memory, a place where
the goddess Brigid was honoured in pre-Christian Ireland. Snow drop and crocus, saint and goddess, growing from this earth.
The Oratory Dedicated to Brigid in Faughart
Brigid's Festival honours both, and in the days that follow they merge in my awareness, become intertwined,
embodied in the fiery women whom I meet: the volunteers who planned the events of the festival
as well as the presenters, attendees, poets, artists, dancers, singers, writers… each aflame.
It is especially Dolores who embodies for me the spirit-energy of Brigid, who has taught me the rhythm of the seasons,
their spiritual meaning, and shown me in her life what it means to live the qualities of Brigid:
her focus, her alignment with earth and heaven.
In my days here I listen to the stories of women's lives, told either as a formal part of the festival's program
or casually in conversation over coffee or a meal, or in a pause between sessions.
I listen as Sharon Blackie tells the story recounted in her book If Women Rose Rooted (September Publishing 2016).
With a PhD in Neuro-science, Sharon found herself in a corporate job where her inner self was dying.
Through a labyrinthine journey, one she describes as the feminine form of Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey",
Sharon followed the lure to the west of Scotland and Ireland, living on land near the sea where her soul finds a home.
I walk through Una Curley's art installation of her own "Camino Walk", her story of walking away
from a life of successfully functioning in a corporate position that left her empty inside.
Una chose instead the uncertainty and bliss of life as an artist. Una says the way to begin is to tie a piece of thread
to a rusty nail and let the life you have designed, the life that no longer serves your soul, unravel…
Part of her work traces the early flax industry of Ireland, rooted in the land, uniting the communities
around the flax fields in a common endeavour.
Una the artist (centre), Barbara the Beguine from Germany (right)
Kate Fitzpatrick picks up her violin to express more profoundly than words her journey with women
who sought in the land and soul of Ireland the Healed Feminine. Kate's quest was to bring peace and forgiveness
to her people in Northern Ireland. The story of her spiritual journey with the Celtic Horse Goddess Macha
is told in her book Macha's Twins (Immram Publishing, Donegal, Ireland 2017)
Ann McDonald leads us in sacred movement, in breathing exercises, finding the power in our solar plexus.
Deeply grounded, we release a voice that is resonant. Ann creates songs, receiving those that come to her
while walking in pilgrimage or while holding sacred space. Her songs at the Ritual for Brigid's Feast at Faughart
come from deep within, inviting grace to embrace those present in the Oratory.
Dolores, Una, Kate, Ann and Sharon are women whose lives differ on the outside. Yet I saw in each a life
that is rooted in an inner passion, a deeply feminine connection with the land
and a quiet walking away from cultural values that are out of harmony with and therefore destructive of the feminine soul.
I understand now that life can be found by returning to the ancient stories,
and to the ancient spirituality that grew out of the land itself, a spirituality that honours women,
that cares for the things of earth, that recognizes, as Rilke says, that we are of the same substance …here is his full poem:
How surely gravity’s law
strong as an ocean current
takes hold of even
the smallest thing
and pulls it toward
the heart of the world.
Each thing -
each stone, blossom, child -
is held in place
Only we in our arrogance
push out beyond what
we each belong to -
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to Earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted,
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely
So, like children
we begin again
to learn from the things
because they are in
they have never left him.
Communion Reflection for January 28, 2020
Who is Brigid ?
In late winter of 2018 I was in Ireland for the festivities surrounding Brigid’s Feast. I was staying with Dolores Whelan,
organizer of the Festival, who had invited me to take part as a storyteller. My first event was at a Theatre Arts venue
with a group of school children. As fifty little boys in school uniforms filed in to take their seats,
I smiled to myself thinking “Fifty little Harry Potters…” I had brought them a Scots Celtic tale of courage, “The Young Tamlin”.
However, the man who welcomed the boys and their teachers told them I would be speaking of Brigid!
To gain time, I asked them, “What is your favourite story of Brigid?” Eager hands shot into the air,
one boy looking ready to burst if I did not let him speak. With glee he proclaimed “She popped her eye out!”
Ouch. Well. Yes. Not wishing to disillusion him, I said carefully, “Well she didn’t wish to marry, so she made herself ugly,
but I do believe the eye was later healed….”
So there it is. Brigid’s story has been magnified into legends wondrous and terrible,
the seeds of truth growing into a gigantic beanstalk much as Jack’s few beans did in the fairy tale.
Legend says that Brigid’s mother gave birth to her on the doorstep of their home, one foot within, one foot outside the door.
This would seem to be a prophecy for a life that would become a threshold, bridging pagan and Christian,
woman and man, rich and poor….Goddess and Saint. For the story of Brigid, founder of the Christian Monastery of Kildare,
is interwoven with the ancient Irish goddess who shares her name. As goddess, Brigid is known as maiden, mother and crone.
And the Feast of Saint Brigid, February 1st, coincides with the ancient Celtic Festival of Imbolc, the beginning of spring.
It is Brigid who “breathes life into the mouth of dead winter”.
It was still dead winter on that February day, more than twenty-five years ago, the air a raw biting cold,
as I set out to explore Edinburgh. The National Gallery of Scotland lured me within, down a narrow staircase to an explosion of beauty,
wildly out of proportion to the size of its modest rooms, its small wall space. I hold vague memories of standing in awe
before landscapes, clusters of children in a garden, beautiful women, solemn men whose painted faces gazed back at me.
But one image remains etched in rich detail in my mind. I stopped, breathless, before John Duncan’s 1913 painting called, “St. Bride”.
Two angels in gloriously patterned robes, whose miniature tapestries held scenes from Celtic mythology,
were carrying a white-robed maiden, her hands joined in prayer. One angel supported her back with his hands,
as her golden hair fell in great waves towards the sea. The other angel held her ankles while her knees rested on his shoulders.
The angels’ wings were a symphony of colour from scarlet to rose to pale pink, shaded with greens, golds, midnight blues.
The angels’ toes just brushed the surface of the sea where a seal swam ahead of them.
SAINT BRIDE BY JOHN DUNCAN
I had no idea what I was seeing.
That evening, in the home of the priest friend with whom I was staying, I learned the story of Brigid.
Legend tells that she was carried by angels across the seas from Ireland to Bethlehem in Judea,
to be present at the birth of Jesus, and that she became his foster mother. Other tales add that Brigid served Mary as mid-wife,
and that when Herod was seeking the Child to destroy him, Brigid distracted the soldiers by running through the streets,
allowing Mary and Joseph to escape with Jesus.
As I am sure you recognize we are back in the realm of story. But as I hope you realize, it is the story that matters,
lures us, inspires us, teaches us what we need to understand about the life of Brigid.
Brigid was born in Ireland in 457 AD and founded a double monastery in Kildare sometime before her death in 524 AD.
A wealth of stories about her were carried in oral tradition until Cogitosus, a monk of Kildare, wrote his “Life of Brigid”
around 650 AD. At the time of his writing, Cogitosus noted that in the Kildare monastery, the nuns still guarded Brigid’s sacred fire.
According to Cogitosus, Brigid was the daughter of Dubhthach, a pagan noble of Leinster,
while her mother, Brocseach, was a Christian. Baptized at an early age, Brigid was fostered by a Druid.
The stories of Brigid reveal her spirit of compassion for the poor: one day when she was a child, after she had milked the cows,
she gave away the milk to some poor persons who were passing. She feared her mother’s reproof,
but when she arrived home, her milk pail was found to be even fuller that that of the other maidens.
The adult Brigid approached a rich landowner (some stories say it was the King of Leinster) asking for land
where she might grow food for the poor. The landowner agreed to give her as much land as she could cover with her cloak.
Brigid lay down her cloak and it expanded until it covered many, many acres.
Another story tells of Brigid’s father preparing for her marriage to a nobleman while Brigid herself wanted to become a nun.
Through the intervention of the Christian King of Leinster, Brigid’s desire was granted.
With seven other young women Brigid was consecrated to Christ.
During the Ceremony for Consecration of a Virgin to Christ, the very old Bishop Mel of Ardagh mistakenly read for Brigid
the words for Consecration of a Bishop. When his mistake was pointed out to him by co-presider Bishop MacCaille of Longford,
Mel insisted that the Consecration would stand, as it must have been the work of the Holy Spirit.
Brigid would be the only woman to hold the episcopal office in Ireland.
During my time in Ireland in 2018, I travelled to Kildare, to the new Retreat Centre Solas Bhride.
Outside the Centre in an open field stands a towering statue of Brigid, robed as a Bishop holding a crozier in her left hand.
I stood still before the image, my heart seeking her guidance for my journey,
for our shared journey as the Communion of Creative Fire. Did I really expect a response?
Yet, I was suddenly aware of her right hand raised, two fingers joined in what I recognized as a Bishop’s blessing,
gesturing towards her right. Deep within, I heard her words clearly:
“Keep on your journey. Go on with your work. Don’t look back.”
“Keep on your journey. Go on with your work. Don’t look back.”
Communion of Creative Fire Reflection for January 21, 2020
Last week we looked back to the beginnings of our Communion on a frigid January day in 2013. This week, we focus on Brigid, inspiration for our Communion's name, first of our three godmothers. Unlike Julian and Hildegard, Brigid has left us no written word. Her earliest biography was written a hundred years after her death by Cogitos, one of the monks of Kildare, the double monastery where Brigid was Abbess of both men and women in fifth century Ireland.
Ireland is a land of story. The stories woven through and around Brigid's life are interlaced with the stories of the Ancient Goddess Brigid so that the two have come to be one sacred archetypal presence. This is best illustrated in words overheard a few years ago at a ceremony at Brigid's Well in Kildare: "Sure and wasn't she a goddess before ever she was a saint."
In the winter of 2018, I was in Ireland for Imbolc, the Feast Day of Brigid, whose day heralds the coming of spring. Staying in the home of Dolores Whelan, I found in her garden small snowdrops blooming and one purple crocus. For a Canadian, such flowers in late January appeared miraculous.
snowdrops in Dolores' front garden
Dolores, who is my primary teacher in the ways of Brigid, showed me the hill of Faughart, clearly visible from her upper story window…Faughart is known in legend as the birthplace of Brigid. I had the joy of being present at the Oratory in Faughart on February 1st, Brigid's Day, for a Ritual of Music and Readings.
In her article, “Brigid of Faughart – Wise Guide for Modern Soul Seekers", Dolores writes of coming to know Brigid:
Faughart near Dundalk ,Co Louth, Ireland is an ancient place filled with a history that is both gentle and fierce. It is a place associated with battles, boundaries and travel. The Sli Midhluachra, one of the 5 ancient roads of Ireland, runs through the hill of Faughart on its way from the Hill of Tara to Armagh and then to the north coast of Ireland, making it a strategically important place.
However, Faughart is also a place of deep peace, tranquility, beauty and healing, being associated from ancient times with Brigid, Pre-Christian Goddess and Christian Saint. Brigid holds the energy of the Divine Feminine within the Celtic Spiritual tradition. Faughart is the place associated with Brigid, the compassionate woman who heals, advises and nurtures all who come to her in times of need.
People are drawn to her shrine at Faughart because of the deep peace they experience there. Brigid's peaceful presence can be experienced in this landscape where the ancient beech trees radiate old knowledge and hold a compassionate space for us all.
grounds of Brigid's Shrine at Faughart
On La feile Bhride (Feb 1st) people come in their multitudes! On this special day the shrine at Faughart is thronged with pilgrims who come to invoke Brigid’s blessing on their emerging lives. Brigid is associated with springtime and new life emerging. She is the one who “breathes life into the mouth of dead winter.”
I first went to Faughart in 1992 and was amazed by the beautiful energy present there. At that time, I had begun to study the Celtic spiritual tradition, something from which I and so many other people had been disconnected over many centuries. My quest at that time and since then has been to recover some of the riches and wisdom of that ancient tradition. And to ask the question: “How could this wisdom be integrated into the lives of us modern humans in ways which would create a more balanced and peaceful life for all of the beings on planet Earth”?
While at Faughart in 1992 something deep and ancient stirred in my heart and I have been on a journey with Brigid ever since. In 1993 I went to The Brigid Festival in Kildare, organised by Mary Minehan, Phil O'Shea, and Rita Minehan (Solas Bhride). At this festival these women, in a daring Brigid-like action, re-kindled the flame of Brigid in Kildare. The flame of Brigid had been quenched at the time of the suppressions of the monasteries around the 12th century.
As this took place an ancient part of my soul understood the significance of this prophetic act. My journey into the Celtic spiritual tradition changed and evolved over time, becoming a deeply significant part of my life’s purpose.
It is said that from the moment Brigid learned to know God that her mind remained ever focused on God/Divine. This allowed her to remain connected to God and the heavens while living on the earthly plane. Her great power of manifestation was a result of this ability to be aligned heaven to earth. The strong connection between her inner and outer worlds allowed her to focus her energy onto a particular intention so clearly as to ensure its manifestation in the physical world.
Brigid had the capacity to bring forth new life, to nourish, to create plenty in the crops or an abundance of the milk from cows, and to manifest or create ex nihilo. This gift reflected the true abundance and prosperity that was present in the society she created, a society living in right relationship with the land. Her life and work thrived due to her deep trust in life and because there was a total absence of fear within her.
Slowly, I began to understand that Brigid, the Pre-Christian Goddess and Celtic Christian saint who lived in the 5thCentury in Faughart and Kildare, who embodied wonderful qualities of compassion, courage, independence and spiritual strength was not only a historical figure! I realised that those energies and qualities exemplified by her in her lifetime are still alive in the world and available to me and to all humanity. What a gift it was to realise this! And so the task became how could I access those qualities in myself, embrace them and use them to challenge the dominant thinking of our culture and become like Brigid, a catalyst for change in society.
Brigid challenges each of us to have that same courage; to live our lives with the passion and commitment that comes from trusting our own inner truth and living the integrity of our unique soul journey. She invites us, like her, to breathe life into the mouth of dead winter everywhere we find it in ourselves and in our society. She represents for me the spiritual warrior energy reflected in this ancient triad “The eye to see what is, the heart to feel what is, and the courage that dares to follow.” Dolores T Whelan
Deep thanks to Dolores for this article, for her fidelity to her call to embody for our time the qualities of Brigid.
Communion of Creative Fire Reflection for January 14, 2020
On a January day seven years ago, the seed of our Communion was planted in a winter garden. The frozen earth where it fell was not at first open to receive the gift. Yet somehow it found its way into the deep soil, took root, began to grow.
Many of you who are now reading this were present in the beginning days of our Communion; others who came later have heard the story, and still others who have recently come to sit in the circle around our sacred fire may wish to hear it for the first time. As the seventh anniversary of our Communion of Creative Fire draws close, I shall tell the tale once more for each of us.
As with many stories, it begins before the beginning. That is, several events prepared for it even before it was clear that a new story was in the making.
There was a dream in early December 2013 where I saw an opening in the weaving of my life which I knew was a “kairos” moment of sacred time. During a Retreat led by Jean Houston that same month, “The Holographic Butterfly”, I spoke to her of my discouragement with seven years of effort to ignite in my Community the spiritual fire I had found in Jean’s teachings.
“I’ve been thinking about something“, Jean told me. “It’s time.”
We scheduled a phone conversation in January. On the night before that call, I had a dream:
I am looking up into a tree where I see a huge curved wing, a single broad rounded wing in the colours of a monarch butterfly. As I gaze, the wing slowly turns, revealing a full-sized owl within the wing. I feel graced to see such a sight. It feels holy, like a vision. Far to my right, below the tree, pegged to a clothes line, “hung out to dry”, I see a diaphanous (later I would think “emptied out”) intact but colourless, whitish-grey skin of a butterfly.
That January morning, as I waited for our phone call, I thought of Athena, Jean’s archetypal friend, whose companion is the OWL The dream opened my heart to listen, preparing me to hear something I had not imagined.
Jean suggested that I bring forward the legacy of religious communities into a new order of creative souls, with music, literature, creative solutions, universal constructs… like Hildegard of Bingen who engendered a different knowing from the depths of her reflections… Create a meta-group drawn from one or two creative souls in my own community and in other communities, invite other women to join us… Gather mostly on the internet with a few face-to-face meetings each year.
Jean offered to help us get started….
“It keeps coming back to me,” Jean said. “So I know it’s right.”
After the call, I was like one at sea, feeling as Emily Dickinson once wrote,
As if the Sea should part
And show a further Sea –
Then from Sacred Space arrived an email speaking of Brigid and her “Community of the Creative Fire”, and the flame that was kept lighted in Kildare for a thousand years. Faces arose in my heart’s memory of beloved friends who might be part of this newness with me. I emailed Jean and at once came her response:
“The community or communion of the Creative Fire seems just right to me. I would join!”
On Brigid’s Feast Day, February 1st, I sent this letter to some forty women whom I knew who might wish to assist in the creation of this new adventure:
“Holy Waiting” by Mary Southard
Brigid’s Day February 1, 2013
Dear Friends: You who are opening this email on Brigid’s Day are one of a small group of women friends whom I am inviting into a new venture, a journey into sacred mystery, a holy waiting, a deep listening.
I am seeking companions to form with me a “communion of creative fire”. Each one of us would be committed to creating space and focus in our lives for a new birth of the Sacred among us, in whatever way the Holy Presence reveals itself in our open receptive hearts. From our shared knowing of that sacred presence will come new ways of being, creating, ritual-making, releasing energy and joy.
For a long while now l, and you also I expect, have been aware that the old forms of religious expression are dying, the old rituals no longer nourish our souls, no longer make sense in a universe that is achingly alive and radiant. Something new is being birthed. It is new and also ancient, intuited in the writings of Hildegard of Bingen in her 12th century abbey, in the 14th century writings of Meister Eckhart and Julian of Norwich. In the early twentieth century, the Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin wrote of “the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe radiating from the depths of matter aflame”. Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme have offered us glimpses of the holy in the heart of the universe.
Like many of you, I have explored the richness of the early Celtic way of Christianity, an indigenous faith that honoured the earth, the feminine, the body, the rhythm of the seasons… I have experienced the earth-honouring spirituality of the First Nations people of our countries; have been moved by the mystic poetry of the medieval Sufis. Everywhere there is rising a call to a new way of co-creating with the Sacred. With all my heart I want to follow that call, to open my life to be, in the words of the poet Christine Webber, “a cup to catch the sacred rain”.
I seek now companions who share that passion, who are courageous enough to commit to a journey to place we cannot yet imagine.
Does this resonate with you, cause a stir of longing, awaken a memory of beauty and joy long sought? Do you see yourself as the woman in Mary Southard’s artwork, open to spend time each day in Holy Waiting, willing to share the fruits of that time with trusted companions (via online communication with a few gathered sessions)? If so, I invite you to consider becoming part of the “Communion of Creative Fire”, as one of a small group of fire-tenders.
If you cannot say yes at this time, I ask for your prayerful support. But if you do desire to be part of this, please respond to me at email@example.com by February 11th, and I shall send you further information.
In the beginning days of our Communion, I sought guidance imaginally from wise women who have since continued to light the way for us: Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Brigid of Kildare, Ireland. On the “Blessings” page on our website, you may read what I imagined I heard each say to us.
In the days that immediately followed Jean’s invitation, I wrote this imagined description of the women in the Communion:
“I see a scattering of women each bathed in light that flows from an inner source…. I see a circle of women telling one another what each has heard her own heart say, strengthening and deepening one another’s insight.”
The contemporary Irish priest-writer Diarmuid O’Murchu describes the original communal, prophetic inspiration at the heart of religious communities as this: a mystical fascination with and allegiance to the divine mystery at the heart of all existence.
(in Religious Life in the 21st Century Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2016)
This is the legacy that we are invited to rebirth!
Over the next three weeks we shall look together at how the Communion has developed and at our dreams for its future.
“Weaving a Spirituality for our Time on the Loom of our Lives”
Communion of Creative Fire: Epiphany, January 7,2020
Wise women also came.
The fire burned
in their wombs
long before they saw
the flaming star
in the sky.
They walked in shadows,
trusting the path
under the light of the moon.
Wise women also came,
seeking no directions,
from any king.
by their own authority,
their own desire,
their own longing.
They came in quiet,
spreading no rumors,
sparking no fears
to lead to innocents’ slaughter,
to their sister Rachel’s
Wise women also came,
and they brought
water for labor’s washing,
fire for warm illumination,
a blanket for swaddling.
Wise women also came,
at least three of them,
holding Mary in the labor,
crying out with her
in the birth pangs,
breathing ancient blessings
into her ear.
Wise women also came,
and they went,
as wise women always do,
home a different way.
Jan L. Richardson
We have just celebrated the Feast of Epiphany, when the Light of Love was revealed to the Wise Ones who followed a Star to Bethlehem.
Today my thoughts are filled with you, my sister travellers in the Communion of Creative Fire.
The words of Jan L. Richardson’s poem hold so much resonance for us on our journey as we seek a new revelation of Light and Love for our time.
There are times when I wonder at the audacity of what we have set out to do. So it is heartening to read that Wise Women
seek “no directions, no permission”; rather they come “by their own authority, their own desire, their own longing.”
It is important for us to remember this, to encourage one another as we follow a star that may not always be clear in the night sky.
It is important that we keep the fire burning in our wombs, continuing to trust that the way will open “under the light of the moon”.
Even so, we take up our task once more, dear friends. We sit down at our looms and choose the coloured yarns for the weaving of a spirituality for our time.
We know what we are about, our hands strong, supple, as we select the shades, the textures, the combinations that harmonize best.
We include the dark threads as well as the golden, the soft fibres as well as the tough.
We know this weaving requires it all...
the warm rose madder of love,
the luminous colours that create a butterfly shape stretching across the universe in this photograph…
the gold of wisdom, polished to glowing through times of suffering and loss…
the deep purple threads that remind us that 96% of the universe , including ourselves, dwells in darkness…
invisible threads of beauty wind themselves into the spaces between the weaving: music, song, dance, poetry, stories,
the threads of the relationships that give meaning to our lives…
and our weavers’ shuttle moves with ease between ancient wisdom, and the edges of mystic knowings of today’s physicists.
The ancient weavers were women. As they wove, they created and shared stories that wove meaning through their lives.
The fragments of these tales that still remain reveal their ways of knowing… their understandings of love, of wisdom, of darkness, of suffering.
Listening to these tales while we do our own weaving lends enchantment, as well as clarity.
Here is an old Scottish tale: “The Stolen Bairn and the Sidh”
By the fireside of an ancient gypsy woman, there sits a young woman, barely twenty.
Exhaustion and grief have bowed her, stolen light from her lovely sea-green eyes.
For weeks, she has been wandering the moors, knocking on every croft door, walking through towns, seeking everywhere for her small son.
His father is dead. The little boy is all she has left in the world and she loves him desperately. This gypsy woman, known for her deep wisdom, is her last hope.
The old woman stands, takes a handful of dried herbs from a cauldron at her side, throws them on the fire.
After studying the dim patterns of smoke, she reaches for the young woman’s hand, and holding it between her two gnarled ones,
she speaks gently: “Prepare yourself for great sorrow. Your child has been taken by the Sidh, the fairy folk of Ireland, into their Sidhean.
"What goes into the Sidhean seldom emerges.”
The young woman begins to weep. “I may as well die, for without my child, I have nothing to live for.”
“Do not despair. I see one hope. The Sidh have a great love of beautiful things; yet, for all their cleverness, they are unable to create anything,
so must either steal or bargain for what they desire. If you could find an object of immense beauty, you might be able to bargain with them to regain your son.”
“But how shall I get inside their Sidhean?” the woman asked.
“Ah,” said the gypsy. “You shall need a second thing of great beauty to bargain your way inside.”
Then the gypsy woman gave her directions to find the Sidhean, blessing her with a protection against harm by fire, air, water and earth.
The young woman slept deeply that night. When she wakened, the old Gypsy woman and all her people were gone.
The place of encampment was an empty field.
The young woman drank water from a sweet stream, ate some bread given her by the gypsies. Then she lay in the grass and wept.
How could she do this impossible thing that was asked of her? After a time, the flow of tears dried, and a light wakened within her.
She thought: “ I shall need not one but two things of incomparable beauty.” She set her mind to remembering all the lovely things she had heard about.
Of all, she chose two: the white cloak of Nechtan, and the golden harp of Wrad.
With sudden clarity, she knew what she must do. She stood, began walking towards the sea.
She clambered among the rocks at the shore, gathering the down left by the ducks.
And the blessing of the gypsy protected her from harm by the waves, the wind, the sun’s fire and the sharp rocks.
She sat on a large stone to weave the down into a cloak. She cut a strand of her own hair with a sharp rock.
With it she wove a pattern of fruits, flowers and vines through the hem.
The cloak was so beautiful it might have been a white cloud fallen from the sky. She hid the cloak behind a gorse bush,
then walked the shoreline until she found a frame for her harp, a fish bone just the right size and and shape.
With strands of her hair, she made the strings fast to the frame, then tightened and tuned them.
The sound of the melody she played was so lovely that the birds of the air paused in mid-flight to listen.
She placed the cloak around her, and carrying her harp, set out for the Sidhean.
A Sidh woman, arriving late, rushing towards the opening in the hill, saw her.
Mouth agape, eyes burning with greed the fairy gazed at the cloak. A bargain was struck. The fairy woman allowed her to enter in exchange for the cloak.
The other Sidh folk were so enthralled by the cloak the fairy woman wore that they did not notice the young woman.
She walked into the throne room and began to play her harp before the King. The king’s eyes grew wide in amazement, then narrow in greed.
“I have many harps ,” said the King, pretending disinterest, “ but I have a mind to add that to my collectiotn. What will you take in exchange for it? ”
The young woman said “Give me the human child you have here.”
The King whispered to his servants who brought a great cauldron of jewels, which they poured at her feet.
But she would not look. “Only the the child,” she said.
The servants came a second time with a cauldron of gold pieces. Again she did not look.
She played on her harp a tune of such love and longing that the King was overcome.
The servants were sent out and returned carrying the child. When he saw his mother, he gurgled with delight, and stretched out his arms to her.
Letting the harp be taken from her, teh young mother lifted her arms to receive him. Then she walked with him out of the Sidhean.
Like this young woman we hold the power to weave what we need from what we gather by the sea, from the land,
from our very substance, from the deepest desires of our hearts.
May we companion one another in the joy of this great work.
Communion of Creative Fire Post-Christmas Reflection
December 31, 2019
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Christina Rossetti’s poem rises in me as I sit here at my computer, facing the window where “snow (has) fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow”. On this bleak mid-winter, post-Christmas day, I am wondering what words to send out to you, dear friends in the Communion of Creative Fire, words that might bring hope, awaken joy, remind us all of the work that awaits us now that Christmas has come.
One Christmas morning a few years ago, my family’s pastor and friend Father Michael recalled words of Pope Francis. Speaking of Christmas celebrations, Francis called them a “sham” when we live in the midst of a world so riddled with wars. “Grinch” was Michael’s first response to the Pope’s words, he admitted…but he went on to accept the challenge that Francis issued. Michael ended his Christmas homily with a poem by American theologian Howard Thurman:
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.
Now the work of Christmas begins…that awareness sends me to seek guidance from other writers whose words illumine our lives. I turn first to Jean Houston, to a Christmas message posted a few years back on her Facebook page:
Throughout history and all over the world, people have felt a yearning to be more, a longing to push the membrane of the possible. Never so much more as those living today. People feel called to a life of new being. Much of the urgency that you may have felt these last years moving between stress and distress, the sense of living in an outmoded condition, the exhilaration before what is not yet, the dread of leaving the womb of the old era - comes from the birth pangs of a human and social evolution that is upon us.
Birth is a journey. Second birth is as great a journey. In the womb of new becoming it means laying down new pathways in the body and in the senses to take in the news of this remarkable world. It means extending the field of your psychology so that there is more of you to do so much of this. It demands that you choose a richer, juicier story, even a new myth, by which to comprehend your life and that you begin to live out of it. And, most important of all, it asks that you be sourced and re-sourced in God, spirit, the cosmic mind, the quantum field, - the love that moves the sun and all of the stars.
In the same spirit the poet Rilke urges:
Please celebrate this Christmas with the earnest faith that (God) may need this very anguish of yours in order to begin….Be patient and without resentment, and know that the least we can do is to make His Becoming no more difficult than Earth makes it for spring when it wants to arrive. Be comforted and glad. (Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke)
You and I hold within us such immense promise, such impossible possibility, in the “womb of new becoming” that Jean describes. Already we have experienced moments of knowing the “richer juicier story”, the “new myth” that we are invited to choose, to live. Already we have experienced moments of knowing ourselves sourced in “the love that moves the sun and all of the stars”. So let us “be comforted and glad” as we open to the newness descending into our heart’s womb, falling like “snow on snow” until all the space is filled with new life.
I offer to you a blessing for your new life, in these words
that poet Jan L. Richardson imagines Elizabeth speaking to Mary:
be thou blessed.
be thou blessed.
In all you choose
in all you hold
in all you gather to you
be thou blessed.
In all you release
in all you return
in all you cast from you
be thou blessed.
In all that takes form in you
in all that comes forth from you
in all thy paths
be thou forever blessed.
Advent Four: Nativity
Communion Reflection for December 24, 2019
Poet, mystic, John O'donohue offers to our imagination a glimpse of Mary's experience on this sacred night:
No man reaches where the moon touches a woman.
Even the moon leaves her when she opens
Deeper into the ripple in her womb
That encircles dark to become flesh and bone.
Someone is coming ashore inside her.
A face deciphers itself from water
And she curves around the gathering wave,
Opening to offer the life it craves.
In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers,
She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears.
A red wire of pain feeds through every vein
Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn.
Outside each other now, she sees him first.
Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.
John O’Donohue, Connemara Blues Doubleday, Great Britain, 2000
Gazing into the mind, heart, and mystical, poetic soul of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I wonder
how would he mark the celebration of Christmas? As a brilliant scientist, creative thinker, man of faith,
Teilhard brings into harmony recent discoveries about an evolving universe. His faith in the Christic presence is at the heart of it all.
Christmas for Teilhard is a celebration of the eruption of divine love into space-time.
But how would Teilhard himself speak about the mystery of Incarnation? Let’s bend space-time imaginally to place ourselves in a small Jesuit Chapel somewhere in France, just after the Second World War. Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin walks to the pulpit to give the Christmas homily. At first, his words sound like an overture to the symphony we have come to hear.
I shall allow … (a) picture to emerge — at first in apparent opposition to the dreams of the Earth, but in reality to complete and correct them — that of the inexpressible Cosmos of matter and of the new life, the Body of Christ, real and mystical, unity and multiplicity, monad and Pleiad. And, like a man who surrenders himself to a succession of different melodies, I shall let the song of my life drift now here, now there — sink down to the depths, rise to the heights above us, turn back to the ether from which all things came, reach out to the more-than-man, and culminate in the incarnate God-man.” (1)
The Incarnation is a making new, a restoration, of all the universe’s forces and powers; Christ is the Instrument, the Centre, the End, of the whole of animate and material creation; through Him, everything is created, sanctified and vivified. This is the constant and general teaching of St. John and St. Paul (that most “cosmic” of sacred writers), and it has passed into the most solemn formulas of the Liturgy: and yet we repeat it, and generations to come will go on repeating it, without ever being able to grasp or appreciate its profound and mysterious significance, bound up as it is with understanding of the universe.
With the origin of all things, there began an advent of recollection and work in the course of which the forces of determinism, obediently and lovingly, lent themselves and directed themselves in the preparation of a Fruit that exceeded all hope and yet was awaited. The world’s energies and substances – so harmoniously adapted and controlled that the supreme Transcendent would seem to germinate entirely from their immanence—concentrated and were purified in the stock of Jesse; from their accumulated and distilled treasures, they produced the glittering gem of matter, the Pearl of the Cosmos, and the link with the incarnate personal Absolute—the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother of all things, the true Demeter… and when the day of the Virgin came to pass, then the final purpose of the universe, deep-rooted and gratuitous, was suddenly made clear: since the days when the first breath of individualization passed over the expanse of the Supreme Centre here below so that in it could be seen the ripple of the smile of the original monads, all things were moving towards the Child born of Woman.
And since Christ was born and ceased to grow, and died, everything has continued in motion because he has not yet attained the fullness of his form. He has not gathered about him the last folds of the garment of flesh and love woven for him by his faithful.
The Mystical Christ has not reached the peak of his growth…and it is in the continuation of this engendering that there lies the ultimate driving force behind all created activity…Christ is the term of even the natural evolution of living beings. (2)
We leave the little chapel, our hearts ablaze. Now we truly have something to celebrate at Christmas. Now too we have a task: co-creating, and through our own embodied lives bringing divine love more fully into every aspect of life on our planet. This could take some time. At the very least, it could take the rest of our lives!
(1)– Teilhard de Chardin, Writings in Time of War, pp. 15-16
(2)Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Future of Man translated from “L’Avenir de l’Homme (1959) by Norman Denny p.; William Collins Pub. London and Harper & Row Pub. New York, 1964
Advent Three: Becoming Wild Inside
Communion Reflection for December 17, 2019
As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Jesus, the One whose coming brings Light at the darkest time of the year,
Mary is a companion, a guide, a friend who walks with us in the darkness.
Mary has left us no written word. The little we know of her from the Gospels is sketchy at best, her appearances brief,
her words cryptic. Yet her influence on Christian spirituality is staggering in its power.
Who is this woman, and how has she risen from a quiet life in the outposts of the Roman Empire to become,
as the Church proclaims her, “Queen of Heaven and Earth”?
If you grew up Catholic in the years before the Second Vatican Council, chances are Mary was at the very heart of your faith.
You prayed the “Hail Mary” many times daily; you sang hymns to Mary as you walked in May processions
carrying flowers to decorate her statue; in every trouble and doubt, in every dark moment of your own life,
you turned to her as to a mother whose love for you was unconditional.
You probably knew by heart the “Memorare”, a prayer to Mary that says, in part, “Remember…Mary, that never was it known
that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided…”
At the call of Pope John 23rd, 2600 Roman Catholic Bishops gathered in Rome for the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960’s.
Seeking to restore a balance, they invited Mary to step from her throne, guided her gently to a place among the faithful,
the followers of her son, Jesus. The “excesses” of Marian devotion were curbed… and then what happened?
Over the past fifty years since the closing of the Vatican Council, we have seen a burgeoning of interest in the “Sacred Feminine”;
a recovery of ancient stories of the Goddess; archaeological finds that create renewed interest in the time
when the Sacred One was honoured as a woman; an explosion of writing among theologians, historians, cultural storytellers,
seeking to understand the power and presence of “Mary” in the Christian story.
I will cite a few here: The Virgin by Geoffrey Ashe; Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak;
Untie the Strong Woman by Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Truly Our Sister by Elizabeth Johnson.
Though I am no theologian, I have a consuming interest in the many aspects of this mystery.
What I glimpse is this: the human heart longs for a divine mothering presence.
Ancient cultures honoured a feminine divine who over millennia was called by many names:
Isis in Egypt; Inanna in Sumeria; Ishtar in Babylon; Athena, Hera and Demeter in Greece, Anu or Danu among the ancient Celts; Durga, Kali and Lakshmi in India; for the Kabbalists, Shekinah; for the gnostics, Sophia or Divine Wisdom.
Christianity had no “Mother God” to put in the place of the Goddesses whose worship it was determined to eradicate.
Geoffrey Ashe’s theory is that Mary’s gradual ascension in Christianity was not an initiative of Church Leadership,
but rather a response to the hunger of the early Christians for a sacred feminine presence.
How it came about is less interesting to me than the reality that Mary became for us an opening to a loving feminine sacred presence.
Or, put another way, a loving sacred feminine presence responded to the cries of her people when they called her “Mary”,
just as that presence had responded over the millennia to other names cried out in love or sorrow or desperate need.
Over these darkening days as we descend to the longest night of the year at the Winter Solstice,
Mary will be our companion. We reflect on her pregnancy, her waiting, her uncertainty,
the doubts of those who love her, the trust that sustains her.
This is profound mystery. For Mary. For each one of us who carries the Holy within us, seeking a place of birth.
We walk the dark road, with Mary, in trust.
We walk companioned by one who knows our struggles to maintain our trust in the face of inner doubts and outer calamity.
We walk with one who loves us and encourages us until we are ready to welcome
“the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.”
Where does our story touch Mary’s? Where are the meeting points?
In his poem, “Annunciation”, John O’donohue offers some hints:
Cast from afar before the stones were born
And rain had rinsed the darkness for colour,
The words have waited for the hunger in her
To become the silence where they could form.
Artwork: Jan B. Richardson
The day’s last light frames her by the window,
A young woman with distance in her gaze,
She could never imagine the surprise
That is hovering over her life now.
The sentence awakens like a raven,
Fluttering and dark, opening her heart
To nest the voice that first whispered the earth
From dream into wind, stone, sky and ocean.
She offers to mother the shadow’s child;
Her untouched life becoming wild inside.
Shall we make the offer that is asked of us? Will our hunger “become the silence” where the words of invitation take form?
When our hearts open, will they also become a nest for a new birthing of the Holy?
These are questions to ask in our daily contemplative time…
From Jean Houston, we have learned that now there is no time for us to modestly refuse any call that smacks of greatness.
The urgent needs of our time require a “yes” to the conception, followed by the birthing, of newness.
Here are Jean’s words, reflecting upon the call of Mary, the call of each of us:
Just think of the promise, the potential, the divinity in you, which you have probably disowned over and over again
because it wasn’t logical, because it didn’t jibe, because it was terribly inconvenient (it always is),
because it didn’t fit conventional reality, because... because… because….
What could be more embarrassing than finding yourself pregnant with the Holy Spirit?
It’s a very eccentric, inconvenient thing to have happen.
(Jean Houston in Godseed, 38)
Eccentric. Inconvenient. Perhaps. But nonetheless it is our call.
Mary’s story gives us the courage to say “yes” without knowing where that “yes” may lead.
It is enough to know that certainly our own life will become, like Mary’s, “wild inside”.
Advent Two: Mirroring Each Other’s Secret
Communion Reflection for December 10, 2019
Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Gospel of Luke: 1: 39-45)
This moment in Mary’s story is so familiar that we may miss its deeper meaning. As a child, I was taught that it was about Mary being so unselfish that her first act following the angel’s visit was to rush over to assist Elizabeth who was six months pregnant.
I see it differently now. Now I know that when annunciation happens, when life is upturned with an unexpected invitation to gestate, nurture, birth newness, our hearts, like Mary’s, long for the presence of someone with whom to share the joy. Each of us experiences in those moments the absolute requirement of being with someone who knows mystery in the depths of her own being, as Elizabeth does.
Would not each one of us set out at that time and (go) as quickly as (we) could to the embrace of a friend whose gaze mirrors our wonder and delight?
Poet, mystic John O’Donohue puts words to Mary’s longing:
In the morning it takes the mind a while
To find the world again, lost after dream
Has taken the heart to the underworld
To play with the shades of lives not chosen.
She awakens a stranger to her own life,
Her breath loud in the room full of listening.
Taken without touch, her flesh feels the grief
Of belonging to what cannot be seen.
Soon she can no longer bear to be alone.
At dusk she takes the road into the hills.
An anxious moon doubles her among the stone.
A door opens, the older one’s eyes fill.
Two women locked in a story of birth.
Each mirrors the secret the other heard.
(John O’Donohue Conamara Blues)
As we take this fragment of Mary’s story, holding it in the firelight of our communion, seeking for a likeness between her story and ours, what do we glimpse? How does her song resonate with ours? When have we known what it is to awaken as “a stranger to (our) own life”?
Is there not in each one of us the fragility of something so utterly unimagined, yet wholly real, appearing in a morning’s glimpse, disappearing in evening’s shadow…. that we require a mirroring presence to affirm its existence?
In this experience we are at the heart of our call to the Communion of Creative Fire. Each of us has been invited, and has agreed to provide, the inner space for newness to gestate in preparation for birth. Each of us knows the need to nurture this newness in times of solitude.
Communion Members Suzanne Belz and Anne Kathleen sharing a retreat experience at Holy Wisdom Montastery in Wisconsin
Yet we know also the absolute requirement of being companioned by one another if our hearts are to remain open, nourished, and (as Hildegard says) juicy!
For now, we find companionship in an imaginal way on this website. When we meet weekly in the Gathering Space of Iona’s ruined nunnery, we engage with one another in words, in silence, in prayer, in awareness of a shared dream, a shared call, a shared desire to respond. We listen to words written for us by our companions. We add our own words when we feel moved to do so. We know ourselves as valued and loved members of this Communion of Creative Fire.
Each of us, like Mary, is walking a wholly new path, one whose gifts, ecstatic joys, shuddering griefs, are as unknown to us as Mary’s were to her.
Elizabeth would bless each one of us as she did Mary:
Yes, blessed is she who believed
that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.
Advent One: Enchantment, Disenchantment, Re-enchantment
Reflection for the Communion of Creative Fire
December 3, 2019
Advent was once my favourite Liturgical season. The weaving of a wreath that smelled of fir trees in winter forests. The candles whose shared light grew steadily with each week. The mysterious darkness of earth and heart, as both awaited the radiance, the wonder of Christmas. Enchantment.
There came a dark November day when I knew I would not gather the evergreen boughs that fell to the earth from generous trees near my home. I would not purchase four candles (three purple and one rose-coloured). I would not spend four weeks awaiting Christmas. These symbols no longer held meaning: the four weeks of Advent were meant to represent the four thousand years that humans awaited the birth of Christ.
It was the Irish priest-writer Diarmuid O'Murchu who pointed out that paleontologists estimate human life on this planet was conscious at least six million years ago, and that timeline keeps getting pushed back…. Cosmologists, most notably the luminous Teilhard de Chardin, acknowledge that there is a form of spirit/light/consciousness in all that exists on the planet, including rocks. That takes us back to the beginnings of our universe, more than thirteen billion years…
Further, as O'Murchu suggests, the earliest conscious humans expressed in artwork and ritual an awareness of a power in the universe that held them in love and light in all earth's ages before the coming of Christ…
So what place can the four weeks of Advent have in this new Universe Story? The allurement of the Universe as the expression, the visible Presence of Love in our lives, was/is so powerful that I gladly relinquished the lure of those dark weeks of Advent. Disenchantment.
And then I began to fall in love with the Winter Solstice. I discovered that this amazing yearly time (which for our ancestors only became evident in earlier dawns and later sunsets after a few days) was the reason why the early Christians chose December 25th to celebrate the Birth of Christ. Celtic scholar Dara Molloy, author of The Globalization of God told me when I visited him in Ireland that it was the Celtic Christians who also suggested June 24th, a few days after the Summer Solstice, the time of the waning of the light, for the Feast of John the Baptist. Hadn’t John said of the Christ, "He must increase and I must decrease"?
Slowly, over recent years, the beauty, passion and power of the Christ-story are being rewoven by many among us on the loom of our new knowledge of the Universe. Bruce Sanguin has done this with clarity and poetic elegance in his article, "Evolutionary Cosmology":
The season of Advent is an affirmation of the dark mysteries of life. In these four weeks, we enter into a deepening darkness, a fecund womb where new life stirs. Before the great Flaring Forth 13.8 billion years ago, there was only the empty dark womb of the Holy One. We have a bias against darkness, privileging the light in our tradition. But most of the universe is comprised of what scientists call dark matter....for the universe to exist in its present form, and not fly off in all directions, the gravitational pull of the dark matter is necessary. Creation needs the dark in order to gestate.
Advent is a season of contemplation and meditation in which the soul, if allowed, falls willingly back into that primordial darkness out of which new worlds are birthed....
When Mary uttered those five words, “Let it be to me”, she was assenting to the descent into the sacred mystery that angels announce in the seasons of Advent and Christmas. We are called to trust this descent into darkness, making ourselves available as the ones through whom a holy birth can happen.
To go deep into the Season of Advent is to trust that there are galaxies of love stirring within the womb of your being, supernovas of compassion ready to explode and seed this wondrous world with Christ-shaped possibilities.
Are we willing with Mary to consent to the birth of the divine coming through us? Are we willing to actually be a reconfigured presence of the originating Fireball, prepared to be centre of creative emergence - to give birth to the sacred future that is the dream of God? Are we willing both personally and in the context of our faith communities to birth the Christ?
So bring on the Christmas pageants....and when that cardboard star-on-a-stick glitters above the baby Jesus, think of it as your cosmological kin winking at you and settling over you as well, lighting you up as a sacred centre through whom the Christ waits to be born. (Bruce Sanguin)
We wait in darkness, and we do not wait alone, as poet Jessica Powers writes:
I live my Advent in the womb of Mary
And on one night when a great star swings free
From its high mooring and walks down the sky
To be the dot above the Christus i,
I shall be born of her by blessed grace.
I wait in Mary-darkness, faith’s walled place,
With hope’s expectation of nativity.
I knew for long she carried me and fed me,
Guarded and loved me, though I could not see,
But only now, with inward jubilee,
I came upon earth’s most amazing knowledge:
Someone is hidden in this dark with me.
Artwork by Mary Southard
Waiting to be Found
Communion Reflection for November 26, 2019
Veiled in Mystery, and yet nearer to us than we are to ourselves, the Presence of Love that we are coming to know as the Sacred Feminine wants to be found. As we read a few weeks ago, “Wild Woman” leaves a trail for us to follow:
Perhaps we found her tracks across fresh snow in a dream. Or psychically, we noticed a bent twig here and there, pebbles overturned so that their wet sides faced upwards …we knew that something blessed had passed our way. We sensed within our psyches the sound of a familiar breath from afar, we felt tremors in the ground…we innately knew that something powerful, someone important, some wild freedom within us was on the move. (C.P. Estes Women Who Run with the Wolves, Random House, New York, 1992, p.457)
Pursuing this presence, lured by her tracks, we come upon not great thick books, but rather small hints: the story of a brief encounter, the way that someone’s life has been upturned into joy by her, powerful clues put together by the wise about the way She manifests.
One such small clue has been a beacon in my own search. Jean Shinoda Bolen, Jungian analyst, author of Goddesses in Every Woman, wrote of a moment in her own life. One of her patients had unexpectedly died, filling her with grief that had to be kept under wraps:
No one supposed that I needed any comforting, including me, until this woman who was my analysand sensed something and reached out with compassion to ask if I was all right. And when my eyes moistened with sudden tears, she broke out of role, got out of the patient’s chair to come over to mine, and held me. At that moment, I felt a much larger presence was there with the two of us. When this woman put her arms around me, I felt as if we were both being cradled in the arms of an invisible, divine presence. I was profoundly comforted and felt a deep ache in the center of my chest. This was before I had ever heard of a heart chakra, which I know now opened widely then.
I now also know that this is a way that the Goddess (of whom I had no inkling) may manifest. It differed from the mystical experience I had had of God. Then, no other human presence was necessary...
Here, in contrast, the compassion and arms of a woman were the means through which a numinous maternal presence was felt…. (Jean Shinoda Bolen, Crossing to Avalon, Harper Collins, New York 1994, p.73)
I now think of this profound moment as a Grail experience in which the Goddess was the Grail that held us. This, and what others have told me about their experiences of the Goddess in their lives, has made me think of the Goddess as a nurturer and comforter whose presence is evoked through human touch. (Bolen, 74)
Recounting experiences of other women during rituals and meditation, Bolen concludes:
In these moments, when each of us felt held in the arms of the Mother Goddess, a compassionate woman mediated the experience, leading me to understand that this feminine divinity comes through the body and heart of a human woman, created in Her image. (Bolen, 77)
Almost 20 years after Women Who Run with the Wolves was published, Clarissa Pinkola Estes brought forth a new book: Untie the Strong Woman (Sounds True, Boulder Colorado, 2011).
The powerful mysterious feminine presence is seen by Estes as aligned with titles and qualities given in the Christian story to Mary; yet they are part of a much longer heritage. In her opening paragraphs, Estes traces the lineage of THE GREAT MOTHER:
She is known by many names and many images, and has appeared in different epochs of time to people across the world, in exactly the shapes and images the soul would most readily understand her, apprehend her, be able to embrace her and be embraced by her.
She wears a thousand names, thousands of skin tones, thousands of costumes to represent her being patroness of deserts, mountains, stars, streams and oceans. If there are more than six billion people on earth, then thereby she comes to us in literally billions of images. Yet at her center is only one great Immaculate Heart.
Since we staggered out of the Mist eons ago, we have had irrevocable claim to Great Mother. Since time out of mind, nowhere is there a feminine force of more compassion and understanding about the oddities and lovability of the wild and wondrous variations to be found in human beings.
Nowhere is there found a greater exemplar, teacher, mentor than she who is called amongst many other true names, Seat of Wisdom.(C.P. Estes, Untie the Strong Woman, 2)
The Memorare, an ancient prayer that calls on Mary in time of need, was learned by many of us as children. It takes on richness and depth in this adaptation by Estes:
“Have you forgotten? I am Your Mother. You are under my protection.”
There is a promise Holy Mother makes to us, that any soul needing comfort, vision, guidance, or strength can cry out to her, flee to her protection, and Blessed Mother will immediately arrive with veils flying. She will place us under her mantle for refuge, and give us the warmth of her most compassionate touch, and strong guidance about how to go by the soul’s lights. (Untie the Strong Woman, inside cover)
How might our lives be different if we remembered, if we then trusted in this promise?