The Powers of the Universe: Synergy
Communion Reflection for June 2, 2020
As we continue our exploration of the Powers of the Universe, as described by Brian Swimme in his DVD series,
we come to the power of synergy. This power is magnificently illustrated in the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica.
They form a tight cluster with the outer circle exposed to the frigid cruelty of the weather
while the inner circle is held in warmth. Then in a shifting soundless dance, they change places.
This behaviour is their path to survival.
The power of synergy has brought forward some of the most wondrous and crucial developments
in the 13.8 billion year history of the universe.
Plants that need nitrogen to survive, but are unable to draw it in, form a synergistic relationship with nodules
whose bacteria can draw in nitrogen.
Flowers, plants and trees that need to be pollinated thrive through their synergistic relationship with bees.
Swimme describes some great moments in synergy throughout the life of our planet:
(a) single cells learn to trade aspects of genetic information, enabling the spread of ideas across the earth;
(b) photosynthesis occurs when, in a synergistic relationship between life and the sun,
cells learn to interact with sunlight to draw in energy;
(c) life learns to get hydrogen from water, releasing oxygen, but as oxygen is destructive to life,
those forms of life that learn to draw in oxygen, creating through synergy new structures, survive,
while the forms of life that do not learn how to do this, sink down into the swamp ;
(d) 1.5 billion years ago, organisms learn how to mate: the discovery of sexuality enables an explosion of possibilities
and new life forms as sexualized animals cover the planet.
Synergistic relationships enable survival and endurance. In order for life to endure two great challenges need to be met:
find energy and create offspring. Life rewards creativity in these two crucial areas with survival.
YOUNG OTTERS....an endangered species
Synergy flowers as life finds creative response to this dual challenge.
The quest, according to Swimme, is not to eliminate the challenge but to respond to it.
Seeking a synergistic response to life’s challenges leads to increasing complexity in the human.
Noting that the challenge of finding energy relates to finding food, Swimme cites an aboriginal tribe who depend upon rabbit for survival.
Regularly a group of fifty hunters come together to catch an abundance of rabbits for a steady food supply.
Their social cohesion results from this need to work together to catch their food.
In Inuit societies, the whole community comes together to capture a whale, something impossible for a lone hunter to achieve.
When humans learn to interact with seeds and plants, the nomadic way of life of the hunter/ gatherer societies is altered.
A settled way of life emerges with the development of agriculture, pushing to the margins those who remain with the old ways,
continuing to hunt and gather. The settled way of life intensifies through classical civilization and into industrial society
where productivity increases, again with a crowding out of the earlier forms.
In our time, we see contemporary industrial society around the planet crowding out earlier forms of life,
with the evaporation of indigenous groups everywhere. The factories and sweat shops of India and China lure workers into cities,
where in order to earn small wages, they sometimes have to live separated from their families in barrack-like conditions.
Understanding the process that has led to this moment in the earth’s history frees us to question
whether this intensity of production is what we really want.
Does the revelation of the appalling, life-threatening conditions in factories such as those in Bangladesh
lead us to question our societal thirst for more and cheaper goods? Is this really an enhancement of life on our planet?
Do we see the phenomenal rise in community gardens and farmers’ markets as a sign of hope
that we are shifting away from a production/transportation model that brings food to our table from across the planet?
A recent CBC story told of an organic garden created atop a high-rise building in downtown Montreal,
a prototype for a whole new way of imagining how to grow the food we need near where we live.
The challenge for our time, as Swimme sees it, is for synergy to operate through conscious self-awareness.
The movement now needs to be from an industrial to a planetary civilization, requiring the birth of the planetary human.
Once we accept our true identity as earth community, sharing genes with oak trees and oysters, this becomes much easier.
If we see our humanness from the perspective of biology
rather than from religion or politics or culture,
we can begin to imagine a planetary society.
If we open ourselves to what other species can teach us, our learnings are greatly enhanced.
What might fish be able to teach us about keeping the oceans healthy?
Finally, war, once a form of social cohesion, has to be replaced.
We take on instead the challenge of a synergistic relationship with others
in order to deal with a wilting planet and a failing ecosystem.
The death throes of Western civilization can be experienced as birth pangs
as a new era of humanity is about to emerge.
To move towards an abundance of life for all children, for all planetary life, demands greater synergy,
deeper power, new technology and moral wisdom to guide us forward, Swimme believes.
As with other new developments, the older nationalistic forms of life will not disappear
but will hang around as they gradually make their way to the bottom of the swamp.
This movement towards newness and rebirth is beginning. When we align our personal energies with it
by creating mutually enhancing relationships, we are aligning our human energies with the cosmological power called synergy.
Powers of the Universe: Part Five
Communion Reflection for May 26, 2020
Our reflections continue on the Powers of the Universe as they are elucidated by Brian Swimme in his DVD series.
Cataclysm is as essential to reality as emergence. The destructions, degradations and disasters of the universe are part of the story of its life,
a movement from a complex to a simple state that allows for the emergence of newness.
Imagine a star twenty times the size of our sun. The force of gravity would reduce it to a cinder were it not for the opposing energy sent forth from its heart,
created by the fusing of hydrogen nuclei into helium nuclei. This activity allows it to maintain, in Swimme’s words, “a seething equilibrium” for some ten million years.
But when the hydrogen has all been transformed into helium that fusion process ends. Gravity causes the star to collapse into a smaller space
until its core heats up to the temperature required to fuse helium into carbon. The cycle repeats as carbon fuses into oxygen,
then oxygen into silicon and on and on until only iron remains. Iron releases no energy when it fuses; nothing is left to push out from the star’s centre to oppose the force of gravity.
The star can only implode upon itself and in seconds a multi-million year process is over; a massive star becomes a mere speck.
Cygnus Loop Nebula: a small portion of the nebula which is actually the expanding blastwave from a stellar cataclysm --
a supernova explosion -- which occurred about 15,000 years ago. The supernova remnant lies 2,500 light years away in the constellation Cygnus the Swan.
But the energy of the implosion has crushed the constituent electrons and protons together to form neutrons, releasing more elementary particles called neutrinos.
This reverses the imploding movement to blast the star apart in a firework display more brilliant than a galaxy of shining stars. As it expands a nucleosynthesis takes place,
creating the nuclei of all the elements of the universe. In this supernova explosion are birthed the elements that will form our planet and our bodies.
(For a fuller explication of this process, see Chapter 3: “The Emanating Brilliance of Stars” in Journey of the Universe co-authored by Brian Swimme & Mary Evelyn Tucker,
Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2011)
The life story of a star is an astounding example of cataclysm giving birth to new life. But the power of cataclysm is seen in many aspects of life in the universe.
Two hundred and fifty million years ago (when our earth was already ancient of days at age four billion and a bit…) a cataclysm occurred that eliminated
96% of marine species and 70% of land species. Swimme says that huge die-offs occur roughly every one hundred million years, and we are right in the middle of one now.
Whatever our capacities for conscious denial, Swimme believes our hearts and our bodies feel this awareness in a rising sense of frustration, of regret, of failure.
I would add to that a profound sense of grief. I recall watching a power-point that singer/songwriter Carolyn McDade prepared to illustrate the species in my own bio-region
under threat of extinction. As I watched the unique, startling beauty of each form of life, the soulful eyes of owls, reptiles, birds, otters, small mammals gazing back at me from the screen,
I was shaken by a grief so sudden and wrenching that I wept. All the while, Carolyn’s voice sang a prayer of pleading:
“ let them continue on….”
Later that summer I saw in the river near my home an otter with a mate and young, and felt a deep joy…
Concurrent with this extinction of species we have the desertification of land, the shrinking rain forests, the dying rivers and lakes as though engaged in a death dance
between nature and man-made structures. We see the waning into near-extinction of many of the religious, political, economic, education, health and societal systems
in which we had once placed our trust.
Is there a graced way to live into a period of cataclysm? Swimme suggests that we might identify with the power that is destroying us
by consciously surrendering aspects of ourselves, our society, our way of being in the world, that no longer serve us, thus enabling the universe to pulverize those aspects...
We can try to see the destruction of consumer culture as part of the earth’s work of cataclysm, seeking to free us, to free our lives.
When cataclysm strikes an area of the planet through flood or fire, earthquake, tornado or tsunami, haven’t we heard voices raised
that dared to bless the disaster for revealing what is really worth valuing in life?
Do we not experience this re-assessment of what really matters in our present COVID 19 crisis?
The twentieth century mystic Etty Hillesum, shortly before her death in Auschwitz in 1943, at the age of twenty nine, wrote words that may be a light for us in this time:
I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me:
that you cannot help us, that we must help you to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days, also all that really matters:
that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves. And in others as well.
Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible.
You cannot help us but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the end.
This is our moment, Brian Swimme believes: our star exploding, ready to create emeralds and giraffes, ready to release us into a new earth community.
For the next level of growth, of deepening, something has to wake us up, shake us up. It may take a tornado to blow us all the way to Oz where the greatest gifts await us.
Jean Houston says that the call of this time of Cataclysm is to “radical reinvention” in order to speciate, to become a deepening spirit of the earth for her new emergence.
Never before in history have so many devoted themselves to develop fully, to regard problems as opportunities in work clothes.
Encouraging us that we have just the right gifts on just the right planet to bring this new earth community to life, Jean adds,
“You are blessed to be alive at this time.”
The Powers of the Universe: Homeostasis
One of the major shifts in consciousness required for our time is that we belong to the evolutionary co-creative process,
and it is in discovering our mutual interdependence within the cosmos, and particularly with planet Earth,
that we will begin to reclaim our spiritual identity.
Diarmuid O’ Murchu Reclaiming Spirituality New York Crossroads 1998 p. 41
Homeostasis is the power by which the universe maintains what it values.
It is a delicate dance of holding onto what is most important through all the swirls and shifts of change.
In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme offers some stunning examples of the earth’s power of homeostasis:
the dynamics that maintain the form and function of a mammal’s body;
the human bloodstreams where the ph balance is the same as in the bloodstreams of most animals and fish; the temperature of the human body.
The earth herself remains in a state where life can flourish, even as the sun gets hotter; the earth has maintained its temperature over the four billion years,
just as a mammal’s body does. The earth cycles through times of cooling when the ice caps swell to reflect more of the sun’s heat away;
then it grows warmer so that the ice caps shrink. This cycle repeats every 100,000 years.
The Milky Way Galaxy cycles through its explosions of supernovas. In one million year cycle where there are 8000 supernovas
(a smaller number) the cloud becomes denser than usual, so the capacity to create stars is greater.
In the next million year cycle, 12000 supernovas explode. Homeostasis.
Then we humans enter the realm of life with our quality of conscious self-awareness.
When we understand what is valued, essential for life on this planet, our perspective shifts away from focus on the part to the whole.
The enormous ego-centricity of our lives in a nation like Canada or the United States shifts
to embrace the need to maintain human life in other parts of the planet,
then to look at what animal life/ tree life/ river life/ocean life /earth life requires for its continuance.
Though we understand ourselves to be the gathered-in-ness of 13.8 billion years of life in the universe (the power of centration),
though we honour the search for love and fullness of life that draws us forward (the power of allurement)
and though we rejoice in the restless creativity that is our personal invitation from the universe to be involved in emergence,
the power of homeostasis calls us to a care and vigilance, a keen awareness of the fragility of our existence, and a sensitivity to vulnerable areas.
When Brian Swimme’s DVD series was released fifteen years ago, he could already see that homeostasis was falling apart in major life systems:
the desertification of huge amounts of land, the poisoning of rivers and lakes, the loss of the rain forests, the very lungs of our planet… Why?
Swimme says it is because we humans are trying to use the power of homeostasis to maintain a subgroup of the whole
rather than the whole body. We think our fundamental responsibility is to a sub-unit rather than to the whole body.
The great search happening in 2005 for fossil fuel in tar sands or through fracking, poisoning the water to release gas,
Swimme describes as a desperate effort to maintain a standard of life enjoyed by a favoured few.
Swimme calls it an intellectual illusion that humanity is separate from the earth community.
There is no human community without the whole. The earth community is a form of guidance for us, crying out to us
that it is not inert material, not just stuff! It takes a major shift for us humans to see that we come out of the earth community,
we derive from it. The matrix itself is primary.
Such an understanding would alter the way we organize life on the planet, calling us to create laws and establish policing
to protect bio-regions as well as humans, to protect the right to existence of all life on the planet.
If we know that each being has a right to be we understand the need to restrict human activity so that the whole can flourish.
On a communal and on a personal level, the power of homeostasis will help us to maintain the achievements of our lives,
to raise up energy and increase commitment to our work, to our relationships. We can tell the story of what we’re about,
tell the story of our love relationships and maintain a zest for life! Millions of years, Swimme says, are involved in a single moment of zest.
Whenever and wherever we tell the story of our emergence out of the life of the planet,
honouring all the forms of life that share our right to be here, we are the power of homeostasis, enabling life to blossom.
But homeostasis, as with the other powers of the universe, has its down side.
Maintaining and sustaining what we value in life, what keeps us sane, is important, but, as Jean Houston warns,
holding onto anything for too long leads to stagnation, and “the universe gets bored with you”.
The opening scenes of the film, “the Wizard of Oz” show homeostasis as the absence of vitality.
Nothing is happening in a place blown dry, grey-brown, empty. No one has time for the young Dorothy who is in a state of immense longing.
The only being who still has any zest for life is the little dog Toto.
When homeostasis goes on for too long, when life no longer holds zest, the next power of the universe must come into play:
Julian of Norwich
Communion Reflection for May 12,2020
Icon of Julian by Anna Dimascio
May 13th is the Feast Day of Julian of Norwich, the 14th century English Mystic who is perhaps best known for her words: "All Shall Be Well."
Wondering which of her teachings, which of her many assurances that we are held in love, I might share with you,
I decide to tell the story of my first encounter with "Lady Julian."
It is the winter of 1992, and I am in England at the University of Sussex, pursuing studies in Post-Modernist Fiction.
I experience cold like nothing I have ever encountered in Canada, a piercing, bone-biting cold that hangs visibly in the air as "ice fog."
I am grateful for the British custom of heating milk before adding it to coffee. Yet my fellow students seem unaware of the cold
as they move about the campus, their long woolen scarves wrapped around their necks, the only addition to their all-weather uniforms
of jeans, sweaters, runners.
I am cold inside as well, enduring exile from a place, a work that I loved. As the story of what brought me here unfolds,
my writing tutor suggests: "You should visit the reconstructed cell of Julian in Norwich."
So on the first Friday in February I am travelling north by train, having left London's Liverpool Street Station at 11 am.
In the fields beside the train tracks, wild daffodils wave, not yet in full bloom. Two hours later, I emerge from the Norwich Station.
Following a map sent from the Julian Guest House, I find Thorpe Road, cross the Wensum River, follow Mountergate Street to King Street
I enter the narrow Julian Alley, and suddenly I am in front of a tiny flint stone church, a re-creation, I would discover later,
of the centuries-old church that was destroyed by a direct hit in the Second World War. On the outer wall of the church
a plaque declares that Dame Julian of Norwich, Mystic, became an anchoress living in a cell attached
to the south wall of this church soon after 1373, and here she wrote, "Revelations of Divine Love."
I push open the unlocked door, find myself in a small church with seating room for perhaps a hundred people.
I walk up the centre aisle, see a low wooden door to the right of the sanctuary, place my thumb on its iron latch, push inwards.
I enter a small room, perhaps only ten feet by fifteen; yet, its high ceiling offers a sense of spaciousness.
Through the mullioned windows, weak winter sunlight enters the room, muted by the coloured panes to pale violet and yellow.
Beneath the windows, a long wooden bench offers a place to sit.
I look towards the small altar to my right, then at the high window that looks into the sanctuary of the church.
Beneath this window I see an ancient boulder, a clump of stone that appears old enough to have been part of the original anchorhold.
Just above this stone there is a marble monument on which are carved these words:
"Thou art enough to me."
At once, I am no longer seeing but being seen. The Lady Julian is at home.
I am aware of a kindly, wise, loving presence, a presence so real that I am suddenly pouring forth to her the grief of my exile.
I feel heard. Then I sense words within me, words I know to be her response to me: "Let him hold you in the pain."
I know she speaks of Jesus, and this somehow frees me to acknowledge my need to be comforted.
I ask a question. "What of the friend I left, the relationship that I fear may not survive this separation?"
Again, her words are as clear as if she had spoken them aloud: "Be right glad and merry, for he loves you and wants you to be happy."
On that February day, I discover Julian as a friend, an enduring presence of wisdom, of kindness in my life.
I believe she longs to be that also for any who turn to her seeking counsel and loving support. Her book, Revelations of Divine Love,
written over the course of twenty years of reflection to guide us, her kindred spirits, is available in over a dozen editions,
translated in recent decades from the Middle English of Chaucer's time.
Here is a sample of Julian's homely advice, garnered from her intimacy with Jesus: He did not say you would not be tempest-tossed;
he did not say you would not be work-weary; he did not say you would not be discomfitted. But he said, "You will not be overcome."
So that is how this friendship with Julian began. Before I left, I asked her for something I needed: a new ministry for when I returned to Canada.
That same evening, after supper with the Anglican Sisters in the Guest House beside the Church, I was took my coffee into the sitting room.
Drawn to the book shelves, I withdrew a small paperback book that proved to be the script for a one-woman play on Julian
written by an American Jesuit priest. I quickly copied the information about ordering the script and performing the play…
When I returned to Ottawa, the small convent where I lived gave me a room to set up as a rehearsal space.
By the following summer I offered the first performance of “Julian” to my community in Pembroke.
By then one of our Sisters had created on canvas a painting of a medieval tapestry which became the back drop for the play.
Another sewed me a cloak. Julian was loved into life.
"Julian" at King's College Chapel in London Ontario
After seven years of taking Julian on the road wherever groups invited me to come, I wrote to the Sisters at Norwich,
offering to perform the play there. They said "Yes."
And so, in 1999, I returned to Norwich.
The tiny flintstone Church was as I remembered it , except for the flyer affixed to the wooden doors,
announcing ”Julian”, a play, would be performed here for the next two weekends.
The interior of the church had been adapted for the event. The altar, with its reredos (which had survived the bombing)
stood just behind a built - up stage area, adding some three feet to the height of the floor,
to allow the audience seated in the church pews a clearer view.
Felicity Maton, secretary to the Friends of Julian, who had made the arrangements for the event, explained the plans for lighting.
Together we examined the props: the bed, a trunk, the stool and writing desk.
"Excuse me for a moment," I said to Felicity. "I need to greet someone."
I walked to the arched doorway at the right of the sanctuary, pushed my thumb down on the iron latch.
The door to Julian's reconstructed cell swung inwards. Inside, all was as I had remembered it,
as I had seen it in memory many times over the past years. I sat down on the bench that was built against the far wall,
under the windows that in Julian's time would have opened onto the street, but now looked out
to the green grass and trees of the Church yard, edged with a gigantic bush of red roses.
I let my eyes rest on the marble slab that contained an image of the crucified Jesus.
It bore the words that on my first visit had transfixed me, "Thou art enough to me."
This time, my eyes lighted on the other words carved into the marble, "Lo, how I loved thee."
Yes. How you loved me, I repeated silently to the One who had brought me here, who had brought me on a far longer journey
from emptiness to fullness over the past years, from the state of being without a ministry or a place to live,
to the eruption in my life of a ministry so full, so satisfying that I can still hardly take it in.
I returned to Felicity with a question, "What do you suggest I do about changing into costume?"
"Why don't you dress in Mother Julian's cell and emerge from there to begin the play?"
And so that is how it was, for the four performances over the two weekends. At first I had to catch myself in the midst of my lines,
distracted by the thought, "It is happening here, in the very place where Julian lived".
On the night of the third performance there was a difference. The wonder had not ceased, but the lack of reality was replaced
by an intense awareness that was joyous. I felt the role with every aspect of my being.
In the midst of the first act, I was so conscious of elation, that I tried to touch its source. It came to me soon enough.
That afternoon I had been invited to tea in the small apartment of Father Robert Llewelyn, an Anglican priest
whose name I had seen liberally sprinkled through many of the bibliographic works on Julian.
As we shared the last pieces of his ninetieth birthday cake, Father Robert told me of his assignment in 1976,
to be a "presence" to the Julian Cell.
"For the first month, I spoke with no one," he recalled. "I just went morning and afternoon and sat in her cell, and prayed."
After a month someone approached with a question, and gradually his work of listening and directing,
mostly in aspects of prayer, began to grow. Through Father Robert's efforts a bookstore/study room and counselling room
were created in a hall belonging to the Anglican convent next door. Now this "Julian Centre" attracts scholars and pilgrims
who come to read about Julian, to ask about her teachings, to purchase books and souvenirs.
At the end of our visit, Father Robert asked if we might have fifteen minutes of silent prayer together.
There were people he'd promised to pray for, and he suggested we pray that the performance scheduled for that evening
would reach people who would need Julian's message.
The lightness and joy I felt were the fruit of that silent prayer with Father Robert.
After the first act, Father Robert pressed my hand to his heart, and said, "Thank you. You have given us a gentle Julian.
"You have made her homely." With a smile he added, "I know in America that is not a good word, but it is here."
Since then, my life has been even more closely intertwined with the wisdom and homely trust of this woman
whose teaching is meant for the ordinary days of our lives. Julian is a model for us, one who keeps the fire of love alight
in her own heart so that when someone steps in from a frigid February day, she has warmth to offer.
Powers of the Universe Part Three
Emergence and the Spirituality of the Sacred Feminine
Emergence: the universe flares forth out of darkness, creating, over billions of years, through trial and error and trying again, astounding newness:
carbon for life in the middle of a star…. the birth of planets, our earth holding what is required for life to emerge….
the creation of water from hydrogen and oxygen….the emergence of a cell with a nucleus.
Each of these seemingly impossible happenings did happen, offering us humans the hope that the impossible tasks confronting us in our time
can be creatively addressed, showing us, as Brian Swimme expressed it, a domain of the possible beyond imagination.
Our human endeavour has been powered by non-renewable energy resources. Our task now is to reinvent the major forms of human presence on the planet
in agriculture, architecture, education, economics…. We need to align ourselves with the powers of the universe,
consciously assisting, amplifying, accelerating the process of creative endeavour.
In her teaching on the powers of the universe, Jean Houston speaks about how we can work with the universe in what it is trying to emerge within us.
We set up a schedule. We show up at the page, or in the listening or prayer place, regularly to signal our intent to be open.
We create internal structures that are ready to receive what wants to emerge in us. We drop in an idea that puts us in touch with essence, creates in us a cosmic womb
so the universal power can work in us. Thus, like Hildegard of Bingen, we become a flowering for the possible, attracting the people and resources that we need.
Among the aspects of human life that require creative imagination for a new birth, I would like to focus on religion/spirituality/our way of relating with the Sacred.
More than thirty years ago the eco-theologian Thomas Berry wrote that:
…the existing religious traditions are too distant from our new sense of the universe to be adequate to the task that is before us.
We need a new type of religious orientation….a new revelatory experience that can be understood as soon as we recognise
that the evolutionary process is from the beginning a spiritual as well as a physical process. (Dream of the Earth Sierra Club, San Francisco, 1988)
What new revelatory experience, what new type of religious orientation is emerging today?
As I am neither a theologian nor a sociologist, I invite you to experience with me a fragment, a fractal, of the newness in spirituality, that is emerging
among women with roots in Christianity, with branches that now extend to embrace a relationship of partnership with a sacred feminine presence whom some would call the Goddess.
Take a chair at the table in a room in a small Catholic college in western Canada. As part of a focus group of thirteen women, drawn from some one hundred interviewees,
you’ve been asked to reflect upon the way you blend your Christian faith with a relationship to the feminine holy.
For several hours of concentrated conversation on this topic, facilitated by the research co-ordinator, you listen to your new companions.
What do you see? Hear? Experience? On this sunny late spring morning, one of the women leads an opening prayer in the four directions,
calling on the presence of the Sacred Feminine to guide us in wisdom, in newness, nurtured by the gifts symbolized by earth, air, water and fire.
As each woman speaks, you notice the different pathways that have brought them here, that have awakened their awareness
of a Holy Presence that is feminine. For some it is the writings of the feminist theologians, uncovering the deep but largely neglected tradition of Sophia /Wisdom,
the feminine principle of God. For others it is through earth–based spiritualities such as indigenous beliefs and practices, or involvement in ritual, or Wiccan studies.
For the several Catholics present, Mary has been the pathway. As one woman recalls, “I was taught as a child that God was too busy to hear my prayers
so I should pray to Mary instead.” Listen as other women tell of travels to places where the Sacred was known and honoured as woman in ancient times,
especially sites in France and elsewhere in Europe sacred to the Black Madonna.
Statue of the Black Madonna in Holy Wisdom Benedictine Monastery in Wisconsin
But mostly you are struck by the way that for each one, imaging the Holy as feminine has given a voice, a new power, a sense of her own value
that were lacking to her in the time when God was imaged as male. Imaging God as woman gives an honouring to women’s bodies,
especially needed in a culture where the standard for feminine beauty (young, slim, nubile) is set by men.
You hear women share without bitterness, but with a sense of having come to a place of grace, childhood and adult experiences of feeling devalued
in Church – related settings because of being female. You smile with recognition as one woman recalls that when her teacher said, “God is in everyone,”
she had asked, “Is God in me?” and was assured that was so. “Then is God a woman?” she asked. Her teacher, a nun, responded,
“There are some mysteries we are not meant to understand.”
Listen now to the responses when the facilitator asks, “How do you express your relationship with the Feminine Divine? Would you call it worship?”
No one feels that word fits. “She is a mother…” “At first she was mother, but now is more of a friend”… “A partner, inviting me to co-create with her.”
“Devotion is the word I choose, because it holds a sense of love,” and to this many agree with nods and smiles.
What stirs in you as you listen? Do you begin to sense that there is more to this emerging relationship to the sacred feminine than our need for her, our longing for her?
Is this emergence initiated perhaps by the Holy One herself who comes to us in our time of great need?
Brigid of Ireland has been called "the acceptable face of the Feminine Divine"
Honoured as Ancient Goddess and Christian Saint, Brigid is the threshold woman for our time.
Look around the table at your companions: these are power houses. The submissive woman, so beloved of patriarchal religions, has no place in a life devoted to the Goddess.
There is a rage for justice, for the transformation of life on the planet. One woman here has taken on the task of building and maintaining natural hives for bees;
one is a film-maker who wants to tell stories of women that will change the way we see ourselves in the images of most films and television;
one is a Baptist minister who writes of the way Jesus is himself an embodiment of the Sophia-Wisdom principle;
one is a theologian who identifies the Spirit as the life force found everywhere in each land and culture and tradition, linking all of life;
one fiercely joins the struggle to defeat those who would modify and monopolize the seeds of the earth, or put poison in ground water to release its gas…
As you look at these devotees of the sacred feminine at this table, you see that they are living the new revelatory experience that Berry wrote about.
They are themselves the beautiful reflection of the Sophia, the Sacred Feminine, the Goddess of many names, emerging in the lives of the women and men of today
who are opening themselves to her. They are, we are, the ones ready with her creative power at work in us to take on the great tasks that our times require.
Gloria Steinem has written: God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there is no turning back.
How will we in the Communion of Creative Fire assist in this Emergence?
Communion Reflection for April 28, 2020
Your allurements draw you into the activity of evoking the life about you.
(Brian Swimme The Universe is a Green Dragon, Bear &Company 1984)
This is the second of a series of reflections on the process through which the universe unfolds into radiance.
It is our process as well, our story, and our most urgent call in this time. For as Jean Houston reminds us:
All the powers of the universe are seamlessly one, trying to bring forth radiance. These powers can be understood mystically
as within ourselves waiting to assist us to bring forth a world that works for everyone.
Brian Swimme, in his DVD series Powers of the Universe, describes ten interwoven powers:
Centration is the coming together in one life of the entire 13.8 billion year process of evolutionary development.
What is the power of Allurement? How is it at work in the universe? in us?
Allurement is what holds everything together. Allurement is at the heart of the universe.
It is the power that holds the earth in thrall to the sun, the moon to the earth, the tides to the moon,
our very blood to the surges of the sea. The planets are lured by the sun to orbit ceaselessly around it,
while our galaxy spins, in harmony with other galaxies, in one great dance of desire and longing.
The universe is bound together in communion, each thing with all the rest.
The gravitational bond unites all the galaxies;
the electromagnetic interaction binds all the molecules; the genetic information connects
all the generations of the ancestral tree of life. (Brian Swimme)
4.5 million years ago, the earth and the sun discovered one another, coming forth in a powerful field of allurement and attraction.
Swimme notes that the action of chlorophyll, the green pigment found in most plants, responsible for absorbing light to provide the energy
needed for photosynthesis, only works on our planet. It is an inter-creation with our sun, the earth being shaped by that which it loves.
Atoms respond to allurement, becoming stars, becoming part of a gravitational field, becoming themselves a source of allurement
even though, Swimme adds, “they have no idea why they are responding.” After they were birthed, the Magellanic Clouds,
nearest neighbour to our Milky Way Galaxy, stopped making stars for eight billion years.
Four billion years ago, this luminous mass was drawn into an encounter with the Milky Way
that ignited its star-making capacities…it’s been making stars ever since!
On our planet, sexuality began some 300 million years ago and allurement has been developing ever since in life forms.
Life wants to deepen the journey that begins with allurement, Swimme says. We can think of ourselves as the place where the universe
houses its power of allurement, wanting it to burst into conscious self-awareness. The power of allurement is at work within us.
Swimme suggests that if we are attracted, we have already been acted upon; and we are molded by what we love.
As with the earth and the sun, through the work of adoration we allow the Beloved to begin to shape who we are.
We need to be aware of the tenderness of the human, remembering that what we’re attracted to is also wounded;
it is true of bio-regions as well as of communities and individuals that membranes guard our sensitivities.
The intensity of attraction, the power of allurement, can, over time, dissolve these protective membranes,
allowing for mutual enhancement and mutual healing.
Our capacity for self-reflection enhances our desire to merge, to be a presence of joy and pleasure,
to evoke a depth of feeling and well-being in the other. This desire is so deep that we learn to feel what the beloved is feeling;
we desire to be a cause of joy.
back row ( l-r) Ellyn, Carol, Corinne, Clara, Colette, Mary Teske
front row ( l-r) Mary Ellen, Anne Kathleen
Communion Gathering at Stella Maris 2018
And for us humans these powers of love go beyond the partnership of human lovers, expanding into a partnership with the Divine,
allowing us to become a presence of love wherever we are: with persons, with other life forms, with the planet herself,
through our awareness of the interconnectedness of all of life.
In the process of loving, the Mystics become our friends, our teachers, our guides.
They lived in the power of allurement through their love relationship with the Sacred Presence at the heart of the Universe.
Writing in the thirteenth century, Mechtild of Magdeburg exults in a passionate love with and for the Holy One:
I cannot dance, O lord, unless Thou lead me.
If Thou wilt that I leap joyfully, then must Thou Thyself first dance and sing!
Then will I leap for love, from love to knowledge, from knowledge to fruition,
from fruition to beyond all human sense. There will I remain and circle evermore.
Hafiz, the Sufi mystic poet of fourteenth century Persia, teaches us:
Know the true nature of your Beloved. In His loving eyes, your every thought,
Word and movement is always, Always beautiful.
As the mystics did, we draw unto ourselves, and are lured towards, the love that holds the universe together.
We allure all we require to grow in that love, within the calling, the shape of destiny that is uniquely ours.
And we ourselves can be principles of allurement. Again, Hafiz says it well:
There is only one reason we have followed God into this world: To encourage laughter, freedom, dance and love.
By allowing allurement to unfurl in our consciousness, Swimme says we can develop:
*passionate absorption in the world of others with a capacity to enter deeply into its reality
* a wide spectrum of feelings and moods because of the ability to absorb the needs and feelings of persons and places
*an amazing capacity to become completely overwhelmed in situations that seem trivial, such as sitting by a pond
* a sensitivity to beauty in all its forms.
The challenge for someone deeply drawn by allurement is to maintain a sense of identity.
(Am I a cloud or a raven?) Allurement is balanced by the opposite pull of centration.
Yet if we allow ourselves to be drawn by beauty, releasing ourselves into the field of our allurements,
we’ll create a mutually-enhancing lure to beauty.
Swimme tells how he was lured by the wonder of the stars to study physics.
One day a student of his changed his major from music to physics. This is how the universe works, Swimme believes.
We are captivated by the beauty of the universe. We pursue this beauty. Others are captivated through us.
Jean Houston advises us to have leaky margins, to be able to fall in love with everything.
We live then with delight in the other, experiencing the energy and generativity that come with loving.
Our Journey towards Radiance
Communion Reflection for April 21, 2020
Almost every day since the COVID-19 pandemic began, leading to radical shifts in our daily lives, fresh perceptions, epiphanies arise about life on our planet.
It’s as if we are part of a global learning experience, a mandatory home schooling. One of the effects of our self-isolation is that we are learning
how much we need to be connected with animals, with nature, with natural settings, for our own wholeness and well-being.
Thomas Berry said that “the natural world gives us an interior world. It gives us a healing presence, a fulfilling presence.”
It was Berry who counselled many decades ago that we set aside our Bibles for twenty years, to read the Scriptures of the Earth.
And it was Berry who introduced the young cosmologist Brian Swimme to the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Through Teilhard, Swimme came to understand that there is a spiritual dimension as well as a physical one to everything in existence,
and that the universe is in a deep process of transfiguration, moving towards beauty, embodying qualities regarded as divine, such as compassion, truth and love.
With Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme co-authored The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era (HarperSan Francisco 1992)
In 2004, Swimme created the DVD series The Powers of the Universe. Over the next few weeks we shall revisit our earlier reflections based on Swimme’s work
interwoven with writings from the mystics. This astounding new moment in the planet’s history is preparing us to recognize and claim these powers within us.
All the powers of the universe are seamlessly one, trying to bring forth radiance. These powers can be understood mystically as within ourselves
waiting to assist us to bring forth a world that works for everyone. (Jean Houston)
The universe is bound together in communion, each thing with all the rest. The gravitational bond unites all the galaxies;
the electromagnetic interaction binds all the molecules; the genetic information connects all the generations of the ancestral tree of life. (Brian Swimme)
We are the gathered-in-ness of 13.8 billion years: the universe conscious of itself; it is important that we are self-aware of WHO we really are and of all that we are.
The mystics knew themselves in the presence of the Holy: Mystics are people who come in touch with the sacred source of who they really are
and are able to realize and experience that in their lives. When we have come in touch with the deep centre of ourselves, of our lives,
we realize that we are more than what we seem to be, that there’s something deeper in ourselves than meets the eye. (Margaret Brennan)
For millions of years, before you arrived here, the dream of your individuality was carefully prepared.
You were sent to a shape of destiny in which you would be able to express the special gift you bring to the world.
Sometimes this gift may involve suffering and pain that can neither be accounted for nor explained. There is a unique destiny for each person.
Each one of us has something to do here that can be done by no one else.
If someone else could fulfill your destiny, then they would be in your place, and you would not be here. (Anam Cara by John O’Donohue)
Centration, the first of the Powers of the Universe, as presented by Brian Swimme, is the coming together in one life of the entire evolutionary development.
Swimme asks: What if the role of the human is to allow the Powers of the Universe to be enhanced and advanced through us?
What if we understood that the universe is centered on us, with the aim of bringing forth another form of life, one that will draw life itself forward?
Our challenge, Swimme says, is to learn how to participate in this process by removing obstacles so that the power of centration can proceed.
The main obstacle, he says, is that modern individual consciousness prevents our appreciation that the WHOLE is real, and has its own intentions.
How would our lives look if we opened ourselves to allow the power of centration to grow in us?
The shift in consciousness, should we as a species open ourselves to this fully, would rival the shift that occurred
when, in the sixteenth century Copernicus declared that the earth revolved around the sun, not the sun around the earth….
In 1905, Einstein realized that life is not boxed in with a clock ticking beside it but rather that space and time in the universe depend upon the observer,
that the universe rises up with respect to a particular orientation. Half a century later, Carl Jung would understand that each of us experiences the universe in our own way.
The story of the evolution of life holds the teachings we require to allow the power of centration to be enhanced through us.
Life created the membrane to allow creation to withstand the onslaught of the sea. Swimme advises that in this time when our planet is threatened
we too need to develop a permeable barrier whose intelligence will determine what goes through and to find a way to hold out what is leading to degradation, refusing to give entry.
We need also to identify and amplify what we do want to pass through the membrane: those elements which will enhance our journey into ourselves.
The second thing required for the development of life is a catalyst that, like the molecule, accelerates the process.
For this, Swimme suggests we find a way to contact the primordial energy of nature, to drop into contact with the universe,
knowing that the universe is longing to center itself in a new way. Spend time in a storm, by the waves of a shore, beside a birdfeeder, Swimme suggests.
Find a way to channel this energy of 13.8 billion years.
For Personal Reflection:
How is the global pandemic moving you beyond your individual consciousness towards a greater appreciation of the WHOLE?
What changes are you noticing in the way you view your own life within the life of the planet?
The Mystique of the Earth
Communion Reflection April 14, 2020
In a posting on her Facebook page a few years ago, Jean Houston offered the transcript of an interview with Thomas Berry, conducted by Caroline Webb in 2002.
When I read it yesterday, I saw how the words of that great geologian, inspired by Teilhard de Chardin, offer guidance to us now as we are called to reimagine
our relationship with the planet, with the universe, as a “qualitative presence.”
Thomas Berry: What I am proposing is the development of an integral human order within the order of the planet Earth: that we begin to think of an integral relationship
of every aspect of existence with all other aspects, because in the design of Nature things are inherently supportive of other things.
It’s a question of developing a qualitative relationship instead of a quantitative one.
We are so quantitatively oriented that we see the planet Earth as a natural resource to be used.
That’s the basic distortion of modern times that comes from Descartes who said there is only ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ – with humans being the only ones with ‘mind’.
So the idea arose that there is no living principle in living organisms: it’s just a mechanistic process that biologists would say is an ‘emergent property’ of matter.
And if there is nothing ‘there’ then obviously it is something to be used.
But as soon as the person begins to think of living beings as ensouled beings and thinks of the planet as a qualitative presence,
to be communed with primarily, not simply as a natural resource to be used, then we can restore the key element in human-earth relationships
that has been distorted in the West ever since the 16th and 17th centuries.
We can’t survive without using what’s around us but we have to do it in such way that we recognize this mystique of the community of the Earth.
It is time to step back and find the human place in the natural world and not think that we can make the human world primary and the natural world secondary.
We have got to say to ourselves, ‘Let’s begin to try to understand the natural world and find a way of prospering the natural world first.’
Then find our survival within that context. Because if we think we can put ourselves first and then fit the natural world into our programme, it’s not going to work.
We have got to fit the human project into the Earth project. That is what I am suggesting with Law. You have got to fit human law into the structure and functioning of planet Earth.
In other words it’s the mystique of the mountains and the birds, the sea – it’s what makes us sing. It’s what makes our literature.
Thomas Berry, CP
photo by Gretchen McHugh
Even though we have worked out a mechanics that is fairly helpful, it doesn’t give us an interior world. The natural world gives us an interior world.
It gives us a healing presence, a fulfilling presence. By the term ‘presence’ I mean that indwelling quality that manifests itself throughout the natural world.
We find this awesome presence in the sun and moon and stars in the heavens, in the mountains and seas of Earth, in the dawn and sunset, in the forests and meadows and wildlife.
We are immersed in an ever-renewing wonder-world that evokes our music and dance, our poetry and literature as well as our philosophical reflection and our scientific inquiry.
None of our industrial productions brings such inspiration as we obtain from these sources.
So, even if we use solar energy, without some mystique of the Sun and the Earth, it won’t work.
We should do away with the light pollution in cities so that children and all of us can see the stars.
Our children don’t have the experience of seeing the stars, and they are crippled, emotionally and in other ways.
And that’s the danger of putting children into this context of computers and machines, because what we make, makes us.
Children don’t have contact with anything natural, they don’t wander through the meadows and see butterflies, fireflies, lizards and frogs
and so they do not have contact with reality – they are living in an artificial world.
The greater difficulty is not the physical damage to our lungs from industrial pollution; it is what is happening to our souls, our minds, and our emotions.
(excerpts from an interview with Thomas Berry by Caroline Webb, 2002)
By the Light of the Paschal Moon
Communion Reflection for April 7, 2020
As last night’s full moon was lifting into her place in the sky, eleven women of our Communion gathered for a ZOOM call.
We spoke first of our experience with this strange surreal time of stillness and personal solitude woven as it is
within a sense of deepening connection with all beings on the planet.
For some among us the virus comes very near with loved ones who are ill, elders in quarantine, the challenges of negotiating new rules for social distancing. We are dancing in the shadow of fear, balancing the need for staying informed with the desire to avoid being engulfed by hourly news.
And then the conversation deepened as we spoke of the effects of this sudden cessation of so much activity. The planet is breathing again. Even in Ottawa, a friend told me, it is easier to see long distances, as far as the Gatineau hills, through clearer air. Without the roar of traffic, birdsong can be heard around us. Spring flowers are emerging, clustering close without concern for a 6 foot/ 2 metre space between them.
Suzanne's photo of trilliums
Deeper still we travelled as one by one, we began to speak of a growing awareness of the way each of us is being called
to take our part in this new drama. Whether by listening to the land where we live, hearing its call for our care,
or by being a “mother” to the planet and all of life in a spiritual sense whether or not we have been prepared for this by physical mothering.
Through an instrument that picks up vibrations from plants, Corinne invited us to listen to the melodic rise and fall
of tiny waterfalls of sound. The plant’s music brought a sense of peace to our call.
And we sensed the Sacred Source of the beauty that was rising in and around us in so many different ways during this time of global suffering.
As a friend remarked to Marianne Williamson: “It’s as if the Divine Mother was sending us all to our rooms to think about what we’ve been doing…”
After the call, the full Paschal Moon was shining though my bedroom window. I slept all night in her light.
When I wakened, I knew what story of the Paschal Mystery I would share with you today.
Once there was, and there was not, a village where love prevailed. People treated one another with kindness,
and respected animals, birds, trees, plants, all living things contained within the village boundaries.
Beyond its borders there were treacherous bogs, noisome swamps. These the people avoided, fearing the great black pools of bog water,
the deceptive greenery of the marsh moss, the foul smelling liquid that squirted out should someone step upon it.
Though they would gladly have remained always in their village, at times it was necessary for a villager to cross the swamp
whether to visit a friend or family member, to consult a lawyer or business associate, to seek mentoring from a teacher or poet, artist or musician.
These journeys were best made in daylight, but if someone needed to cross the marsh in darkness,
the light of Mother Moon would guide the villager’s steps among the pools and marshes.
But on nights when she did not shine, evil creatures who dwelt in the depth of the swamp would emerge to harm any villager they could find.
Word of this treachery reached Mother Moon. Her heart was stirred with compassion for her beloved villagers.
She decided she must come to earth to see for herself what was happening. When the dark of the month came,
she wrapped herself in her dark hooded cloak, carefully tucking inside the hood her bright nimbus of golden hair.
She took advantage of a shooting star that carried her down to the edge of the bog.
She walked carefully across the oozing ground, guided only by the light of her graceful white feet below her cloak,
and by the starlight reflecting in the dark pools. She was almost at the edge of a great sucking bog hole when she tripped.
She reached out to a bush to regain her footing, but its fierce branches wound themselves around her wrists and arms.
The more she struggled to free herself, the more she was entrapped.
Just then, from across the swamp, she heard a cry for help. One of her beloved villagers, lost and afraid,
was coming nearer to the flickering light reflected in the very black pool she herself had just avoided.
How would she warn the man? Desperate to offer light, Mother Moon shook her head until her black hood slipped backwards.
Her golden hair shone like a warning, a lighthouse in a stormy night sea. The evil creatures slithered away.
The man, relieved to see them disappear, chose safer ground, and hurried straight home.
Now Mother Moon struggled even harder to free herself. But all her efforts were in vain.
At last, her head bowed in exhaustion. Her dark hood fell forward, snuffing the light of her hair.
At once, the evil creatures surged towards her, attacking her, biting, kicking, driving her deeper into the mud.
When the first faint grey of dawn appeared, the evil ones found a heavy boulder. This they placed above her and slithered away.
Night after night came, and the new moon did not appear. Night-time without the moon’s light became a time of terror.
Villagers were lost in the bog, and the evil creatures grew bolder, terrorizing the land.
Everywhere there was suffering. People grew afraid of the darkness that swallowed the land each night.
Desperate, the villagers sought guidance from the wise woman who lived in the old mill at the edge of the village...
She told them to take stones and hazel twigs with them to the marshes. They were to look for a large boulder close by a dark pool…
When they came upon the place, they glimpsed a small lip of light around the edge of the great stone.
Together, men, women, children placed their left shoulders against one side of the stone and pushed it over.
They looked down in wonder on the most beautiful face they had ever seen or imagined.
She gazed back at them with immense love in her eyes.
And as the fleeing creatures wailed in terror, vanishing forever, the moon rose into the sky, bright and beautiful as ever.
And on the nights when she does not shine, the villagers stay home, gathering by their firesides.
They tell their children the tale of the loving Mother Moon who died for her people, and rose again.
(This old English folktale is adapted from “Dead Moon” in Eating in the Light of the Moon, Anita A. Johnston, Gurze Books, Carlsbad, CA 2000)
Communion Reflection on the Paschal Mystery
March 31, 2020
Through scragged bush the moon discovers his face,
Dazed inside the sound of Gethsemane,
Subsiding under the weight of silence
That entombs the cry of his terrified prayer.
What light could endure the dark he entered?
The void that turns the mind into a ruin
Haunted by the tattered screeching of birds
Who nest deep in hunger that mocks all care.
Still he somehow stands in that nothingness;
Raising the chalice of kindness to bless.
(John O'Donohue "The Agony in the Garden")
We are now in the sacred weeks when Christians re-enter the life-death-life mystery that leads to the Celebration of Easter.
This year, as COVID 19 makes its silent way through the countries of earth, we are entering a planetary passion play.
We know at a depth never before imagined that this mystery is at the heart of the universe, at the heart of life on our planet, in the deep heart of our own lives.
From its birth out of the womb of a dying star, through its daily cycle of day/dusk/ night/dawn, its yearly cycle of summer/autumn/ winter/spring,
the earth teaches us to live within the paschal mystery.
Ancient peoples understood this. They wove their understanding of life/death/life into their mythologies: the Egyptian story of Osiris,
whose severed body was put together piece by piece by his wife Isis, then reawakened allowing her to conceive their son Horus;
the Sumerians tell of the great queen Inanna who descended to the underworld to visit her sister Ereshkigal.
There she was stripped of her royal robes and insignia, murdered by her sister, who then hung her lifeless body on a hook.
Three days later, Inanna was restored to life, all her honour returned to her.
Demeter calls forth her daughter Persephone from the kingdom of the dead; Tammuz, Adonis, Dionysius return to life after being destroyed.
The people of Jesus’ time would have known these and other great myths of the Ancient Near East. Jean Houston tells us in Godseed (Quest Books, 1992):
"In the Greco-Roman world, these acts of resurrection were celebrated in the Mystery Religions. These ecstatic forms of piety
involved dramatic, highly-ritualized inward journeys of anguish, grief, loss, resurrection, redemption, joy and ecstasy.
The Mystery Religions provided alienated individuals lost in the nameless masses of the Roman Empire with an intimate environment and
community of the saved, in which they counted as real persons and found a deeper identity.
Identifying with the God-man or the Goddess-woman of the mystery cult, the initiate died to the old self
and was resurrected to personal transfiguration and eternal life." (125-6)
What was so stunningly different in the Jesus story was that the mystery of life-death-life was incarnated in a historical person.
The Resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith. As Paul wrote, “If Christ be not risen then our faith is in vain.”
In our lifetime, the explosion of new science shows us the life/death/mystery at the heart of the universe.
Like exploding stars, our lives are continuously being rebirthed into a deeper more joyous existence.
By allowing the death within ourselves of old habits, old mindsets and narrow ideas of who or what we may be,
we open ourselves to the possibility of new life being birthed within us.
As Jesus told his friends, “You will do what I do. You will do even greater things”.
“Resurrection is about being pulsed into new patterns appropriate to our new time and place,” Jean Houston writes in Godseed.
For this to happen, we need to open in our deep core to “the Heart of existence and the Love that knows no limits.
It is to allow for the Glory of Love to have its way with us, to encounter and surrender to That which is forever seeking us,
and from this to conceive the Godseed”.
“The need for resurrection has increased in our time,” Jean continues. “We are living at the very edge of history,
at a time when the whole planet is heading toward a global passion play, a planetary crucifixion.”
Yet “the longing with which we yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for us….
the strength of that mutual longing can give us the evolutionary passion to roll away the stone,
the stumbling blocks that keep us sealed away and dead to the renewal of life”. (Godseed pp.129-130)
The yearly miracle of spring awakens within us the confidence and joy that this same rebirth is ours to accept and to live.
The timing of the COVID crisis just as spring is about to begin in the Northern Hemisphere,
offers hope that we too may green our lives, our times, our planet:
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age (Dylan Thomas)
Where in my life do I most experience the need for a rebirth?
What old habits and beliefs would I have to let die in order for this new life to be born?
What attitudes, behaviours, surprising newness have I noticed since the COVID 19 crisis arrived?
How does knowing that the longing with which (I) yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for (me) make my life more joyful?
What would a resurrected life look like, feel like, for me? for those with whom my life is woven? for our planet?
May Sophia, the feminine presence of Sacred Wisdom, gently guide us as we, like Jesus,
"stand in that nothingness ... raising the chalice of kindness to bless"
through this health crisis, through the death of what no longer serves us, personally and as a planet,
into the joy of the rebirth for which our hearts yearn.
Communion Reflection for March 24, 2020
Mary of Nazareth
I remember a day when I was perhaps eleven years old.
Each afternoon, walking home from school, I passed our parish church. On this day, I was drawn to go inside.
I remember glancing at the green-robed marble statue of Mary, standing to the left side of the altar.
Her stone pale white face was shuttered, her eyes downcast.
The statue radiated coldness. Though I did not understand what her title of "Virgin" signified,
I associated the word with an absence of what I longed for most in my life: warmth, caring, love.
I turned my gaze away from the statue, noticed a small booklet on the bench where I was sitting.
It contained the Scripture readings for the Sundays of each month, with reflections.
On the inside front cover, someone had written of Mary, creatively presenting ideas in the form of a letter as though it had been written by her.
I have now no memory of the letter's content. Perhaps I did not even read it.
I was transfixed by the words at the end, "Your Loving Mother Mary."
In that instant, my life shifted. A loving presence entered into my existence and has never left me.
As Jean Houston has written, "Whenever they move into our awareness, both personally and collectively,
archetypes and the old and new stories that they bring with them announce a time of change and deepening."
To grasp the true significance of Mary as Archetype, come with me now to the tiny sanctuary dedicated to Isis on the Island of Philae in the Nile River.
Crowded into a space never meant for a group as large as ours, stand here with our Communion companions, Ellyn and Suzanne,
as well as with the other travellers on this spiritual journey to Egypt, led by Jean Houston.
Listen now to the words Jean is reading from the writings of Apuleius, a second century Roman, not a Christian.
In the story, a hapless magician named Lucius has cried out to the goddess for help. Isis responds.
The way the Sacred One identifies herself to Lucius may startle you: I, the natural mother of all life, the mistress of the elements,
the first child of time, the supreme divinity…. I, whose single godhead is venerated all over the earth
under manifold forms, varying rites, and changing names…
Behold, I am come to you in your calamity. I am come with solace and aid. Away then with tears. Cease to moan. Send sorrow packing.
Soon through my providence shall the sun of your salvation rise. Hearken therefore with care unto what I bid.
Eternal religion has dedicated to me the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.
After the reading, listen as Suzanne suggests that we call out all the names by which we have known the Sacred Feminine.
Listen as voice after voice calls out wonderful names. Many of these names are familiar to you, titles you may have learned as a child.
We knew them as part of a litany, composed in honour of Mary. Yet many of these titles were given thousands of years earlier to Isis:
Mystical Rose. Tower of Ivory. Gate of Heaven. My own voice calls out: Star of the Sea.
Jean’s voice, strong, certain, proclaims: Mary in all her forms.
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.
In the early centuries of Christianity, Mary of Nazareth became an Archetype of a Loving Mother. How that came about is a luminous story.
Christianity had no “Mother God” to put in the place of the Goddesses whose worship it was determined to eradicate.
In his book The Virgin, Geoffrey Ashe writes of his theory 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.
Mary became for Christianity a portal for that sacred presence. Or, put another way, a sacred 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.
And yet, and still, before any of that happened, Mary, a young woman living in Nazareth, a town despised in Israel,
was already a luminous presence who made a choice to say "yes" to a call
that held mystery, uncertainty, unimaginable risk, a call to mother a child with a love that would ask of her everything.
When we first meet Mary in the Gospels, she is being offered that invitation.
The Christian calendar assigns a day to honour her acceptance: March 25th, Feast of the Annunciation.
Here is how John O’Donohue imagines the scene:
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.
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.
Where does our story touch Mary’s? Where are the meeting points? What are the words waiting for the hunger in us
“to become the silence where they could form”? This might be a question to ask in our daily contemplative time…
When our hearts open, will they also become a nest for a new birthing of the Holy?
The urgent needs of our time require a “yes” to the conception, followed by the birthing, of new life.
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”.
Mary comes as Archetype to 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, prepares us, to welcome
“the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.”
communion Reflection for March 17, 2020
Last week, in our Gathering Space, we looked at our weaving together over these past years within the Communion of Creative Fire.
We recalled the strong warp threads of a Spirituality needed for our time: Jean Houston’s writings on the interconnectedness of life in the universe, its energy of joy with love at the core of all reality, both finite and infinite. We looked at the wisdom of creation, available to us in our ordinary life experiences. We recalled our new learnings about the universe, inspired by Teilhard’s teaching that all of life is guided by a mysterious inner wisdom with love at its very heart.
To our deep love for our planet earth, we added the warp threads of insights from luminous beings such as Hildegard, Julian, and Brigid who once dwelt here, women whose wisdom still guides us. These strong warp threads hold our weaving secure. Through them we each weave our weft threads, the work, the engagements, the relationships that reflect our particular gift from and for the Universe.
In the days since, we have experienced a radical shift in our experience of life on our planet. The entire earth is faced with a crisis unlike any other. This is a time when these strong warp threads become more than ideas. They become foundational in our way of perceiving and dealing with this crisis. They offer us a lens through which we may view it. Without diminishing the seriousness: the anxiety, the uncertainty, the suffering, the grief, and the knowledge that it will worsen, we may still take a step back, breathe, and see what it has to teach us.
The first inkling that our experience of life was changing in unexpected ways came as I listened to an interview on CBC radio on March 13th. Two Canadian women who are journalists reflected on the changes they were seeing, the insights they were experiencing. They commented that the interconnectedness of life on the planet is now evident. The journalists noted the change in our Canadian Parliament when the anticipated long weeks of contentious debate over the new North American Free Trade Agreement were quashed with a sudden passing of the bill… Leaders of all four political parties agreed to new measures with regard to the Corona Virus, and the journalists noticed that Canadians were now looking to government leaders for guidance and support.
For Canadians, the virus was given a human face when Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, wife of our Prime Minister, tested positive after returning from a speaking engagement in the UK. Journalists now cluster around the PM’s Residence at a distance of several metres from the podium where the Prime Minister, in self- isolation, addresses the country.
Recommendations from government leaders and health advisors now add to the health-related precautions of hand washing, coughing into your elbow, social distancing and staying home the plea to show “kindness to the vulnerable among us”.
Internationally we saw and heard people of Italy taking to their balconies to sing their solidarity in the face of a burgeoning health crisis.
Musicians such as Yoyo Ma and Ashley MacIsaac are offering free concerts on the Internet.
The MET is streaming Opera each evening on radio.
Writers, Artist and Poets offer fresh perspectives that lift our hearts, our imaginations, to see the possible blessings of this time.
The words below, borrowed from a friend, were posted by Social Activist Bill Chisholm.
And the people stayed home. And read books, and
listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and
learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply.
Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And
the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in
ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they
grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and
created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
This poem by Lynn Ungar has shown up on the internet several times this week:
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love--
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
- Lynn Ungar 3/11/20
And what do you see in all this dear friends?
How may we offer to one another in our communion our own hope
in words, insights, images and the support of our love?
Cosmic Brigid: Part Two
by Kate Fitzpatrick
Communion Reflection for March 10, 2020
In November 2000 four women and myself spent 5 days in County Meath
to do the workshop to awaken Serpent power and call her back to Ireland.
At a birthing ceremony at Loughcrew, we experienced an awakening of the Serpent energy from the deep earth beneath us.
In our myth, she poured out of the Stone Cairn and onto the rich green lands of Meath that surrounded us.
On the final day we went to Tara – with the intention of grounding the energy of Serpent in the land
as an act of sovereignity to the Feminine spirit and we sent the power of Serpent out to the four corners of Ireland.
The Hill of Tara, County Meath
I hear the horses of the Tuatha Dé Danann thunder into Tara to witness the power of Serpent
joining herself with the ancestors of this land. To Brigid in particular, she who was once known as Serpent Mother.
I am knowing an ancient union has taken place that the Old ones have longed for. That Serpent would return
from the depths of the Earth into the heart of this land and unite with the people of the Sidhe
from whom she has been long separated.
A Higher Light of Brigid
In the two years of 2011- 2013, I returned again to work with Brigid and Serpent and I was linking
with the significant universal energy shift predicted to happen in 2012.
Out of this reflection and journeying came an understanding of Brigid as ‘Cosmic Brigid’ in a far-reaching way.
In the myth that was then weaving, it was Brigid’s light that could connect us with the Divine Feminine
coming to birth in the cosmos as part of the 2012 alignment. The ancient energies of the Tuatha Dé Danann
were always linked to the stars and to cosmic light. This ‘cosmic’ link with Brigid has never been lost
and Brigid as spiritual midwife can support the birth of new light into the world
and help to ground it safely where it can be used for spiritual development of the human race.
I also knew that the higher evolved ‘Serpent’ energy we had been working with in 2000 is ‘Serpent in the Heart’.
In 2013, at Imbolc, I gave a talk at the Navan Centre in County Armagh that was pulling together
these new ideas and I called the presentation: ‘A Higher Light of Brigid’.
This extract below summarises the evening where a new energy of Brigid was tangibly felt:
On Friday, 8 February 2013, an audience of some forty people have gathered at Emain Macha in County Armagh
to listen to a presentation of the stories of Brigid, together with music, songs and poems.
Brigid’s presence is tangible in our midst. Carrying her spirit on the wind, Brigid, Celtic Mother Goddess and Saint,
brings to all who might receive her light the qualities of truth, clarity, creativity and healing.
Tonight, we dare to call her ‘Cosmic Brigid’ and ask her to bring in an even higher light than heretofore.
One that is linked to the sun and the moon and the stars, to all of the heavens above us.
That evening was the naming of Brigid as Cosmic Brigid. And it was a year later that I went to
the Brigid of Faughart festival in Dundalk and presented the talk on ‘Cosmic Brigid’.
This idea continues in my awareness today as we move onwards in our awakening of the Feminine spirit
and witnessing its influence as it filters into society and is changing
our perspectives about women and roles and power.
New paradigms are being born and old, outdated patterns of spirituality are being shed.
The idea of ritual and ceremony is still a potent way to link the cosmic energies with the land –
thus blessing it and clearing it. The powers of Serpent energy, Feminine light and
Cosmic Brigid to assist with this are, I believe, real.
We are linking across universal truths. In Ireland we hold and awaken our indigenous spirituality
and we are no longer a separate island but part of a newly emerging world culture
of indigenous spiritual potential that is currently giving birth to a healed Feminine Light.
I am knowing Serpent to have risen. From the centre of the Earth she came in Fire.
Across the land she came in Water. I know her to have moved up through my body from the below to the above and
be transformed in the love of the Heart.
Kate Fitzpatrick is the author of Macha’s Twins, A Spiritual Journey with the Celtic Horse Goddess.
She is currently writing a book about her experiences of shamanic work with the evolving roles of Brigid saint and Goddess.
Her email is email@example.com
At the Brigid of Faughart Festival in Ireland in February 2018, I met Kate Fitzpatrick, one of the performers
in an evening of music and storytelling. I was moved by her work in Ireland to bring about a rebirth of its ancient spiritual heritage.
Learning that Kate had given a talk on “Cosmic Brigid” for an earlier festival, I asked her to allow me to repost it for our Communion. Anne Kathleen
Communion Reflection for March 3, 2020
COSMIC BRIGID Part One
by Kate Fitzpatrick
Brigid has always held the role of being a cosmic Goddess. There are many areas of life that she governs. Her symbolism is vast
and covers all elements – the power of transformation of the Fire, the healing qualities of Water and holy wells,
and in the blessings of the Earth in the ritual prayers for crops for the year to come. The inspiration of her creativity
given to poets and crafts people is the intuitive faculty associated with the element Air.
statue of Brigid near her well in Kildare, Ireland
I have worked with the Celtic Goddesses for almost thirty years now – in designing and facilitating spiritual journeys for healing and transformation.
My work with the myths is to help bring them to life in a modern context. Let the myths live on. Let the myths change, transform
and become a new thing as we work with them at profound depths. Become the myth. Listen with your heart and allow it to weave magic within you.
Allow Brigid to be with you and to assist you in your own life. It is not theoretical knowledge but wisdom we are speaking of.
It is the teaching of ages that we want to call in from the cosmic dimensions to help give meaning to our lives today.
Let the women sing out the stories that the Goddesses will hear and they too will be changed in the process.
Can we allow the myths to change? Give permission for the music to evolve? And help Brigid to become an even bigger version of who she is?
Archetype of the Divine Feminine in her full power, equality and wisdom. She is a guide to us such that we too can reach for the stars
and have a model to find the map forward in this new age of Feminine wisdom returning.
There is a higher light coming in to support us in these changing times.
A living myth of cosmic dimensions is living through and beyond us. Will we lean into it to assist us in these challenging times?
Brigid as Serpent Goddess
Since 2000 there have been great changes happening in spiritual light and the Feminine.
The patterns of cosmic energy began to shift in 1987 in what became known as ‘Harmonic Convergence’ (1).
What this entailed was an increase in the vibration of the earth’s energy system. Along with this shifting of frequency,
portals were opening and greater spiritual light was coming into the earth’s field.
Many people were tracking these changes and it was said that the new millenium of 2000 would be a portal also.
Each four years after that - 2004, 2008 and right up to 2012 - would see another major shift in the measurable hertz
(that is - in the earth’s vibration rate) and corresponding portal of energy opening.
In 1999 I did a vision quest in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, and as a result of this was shown to work with the power of ‘Serpent’
in the energy fields of Ireland. As I opened my heart and mind to find out what this meant I began in earnest doing shamanic journeys
to follow this vision and carry out the work asked of me.
In March 2000 I decided to lead a workshop in November in Co Meath called ‘The Power of Serpent Rising’ .
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 entered the void and just sat in it.
Often there were no images – just an awareness of body energy. The stillness was profound however – it was like the silence of Stone.
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. In my whole being I glimpsed the cosmic dimensions of the ancient stone alignments of Ireland
and their eternal mythic links to the Tuathe Dé Danann.
(to be continued next week)
Reference: (1) The Harmonic Convergence is the name given to one of the world's first globally synchronized meditation events,
which occurred on August 16–17, 1987. This event also closely coincided with an exceptional alignment of planets in the Solar System.
“Together on the Pathless Path”
Communion Reflection for February 25, 2020
As I write to you today, I am holding a collection of brightly-coloured threads. Along with each of you in the Communion,
I am like the Old Woman in the Cave at the End of the World, the story told by Elspeth in our Gathering Space last November.
You may recall that the old woman’s carefully woven tapestry, the one she desired to create as the most beautiful on the planet,
was picked apart by Raven. She found a tangled net of threads on the floor. She gazed at the ruin, her eyes lighting
on one brilliant green thread. She began to weave a tapestry with this one thread at its heart-centre.
For the past three weeks, since the day I came home from Jean Houston’s weekend programme at EarthRise,
I have been, with the guidance and support of Jean and a small nucleus of women in our Communion,
playing the roles of both Raven and Old Woman.
On Brigid’s Feast Day, February 1st, seven years to the day after the Letter of Invitation to join the Communion of Creative fire
was sent out, I spoke with Jean about aspects of our shared task that were puzzling to me.
Why were so very few of the women in the Communion willing to make a full commitment to our threefold promise?
Where were we to go next, having already explored in our Reflections many of the ancient and new aspects
of the new spirituality so needed in our time? How are we to stay connected given our geographical spread?
In that conversation with Jean, I heard words that only a true friend dares to speak. I saw that my own approach to the weaving,
my willingness to do too much of the work, was not encouraging others. I saw that I need to ask for your creativity,
your engagement, your commitment in this shared task. It requires each of us to take our place at the shuttle,
to choose threads for the weaving, to dream up the patterns.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes of seeing “a little farther than our knowledge reaches, and a little beyond the borders of our intuition”.
There are moments when “something new enters us, something unknown.” He writes that in these moments:
“Our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, they take a step back, a stillness arises, and the new thing,
which no one knows, stands still in the midst of it all and says nothing.”
In a Zoom call which Jean offered to hold with members of the Communion on February 13th,
and in the conversation among us afterwards, (Carol, Colette, Ellyn, Cynthia, Mary Ellen and me)
the tapestry of the Communion began to be picked apart, to be rewoven in a way that now promises
to be more beautiful than any of us dared to imagine.
So what is this “new thing, which no one knows”, this thing that “stands still in the midst of (all the picked apart threads) and says nothing”?
That is the question I invite each of us to take into this new weaving as we begin a fresh cycle of seven years….
In “Communing with the Creative Fire of the Universe”, written for the 2013 Birth of our Communion,
Jean Houston has given us the long warp threads that will hold our new weaving together
as we add the weft threads of many colours and textures that will move in and out of the long ones,
the weft threads seized on our ZOOM call from the tangle on the floor of the cave.
Each thread carries important implications if we are to live the new spirituality, not just read and write and speak about it.
1) Warp thread: 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.
Weft threads: We are already united, continuing to welcome into awareness our interconnectedness.
This implies that rather than each choosing a circle to match our own comfort zone,
we gather as one united circle of love around our creative fire.
We are radically equal in our belonging and in our gift to the communion,
through our commitment to keep our own inner fire, the sacred fire at the heart of our being, burning brightly.
Together we form the Communion of Creative Fire, an Indra’s net of interwoven threads, with a flame at each crossing of the threads.
2) Warp thread: The resonance of the universe is …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.
Weft thread: JOY will guide us, knowing we are held in LOVE. Our interactions then flow from LOVE and JOY.
This implies that our Communications with one another, our choices to write our thoughts, to send photos, poetry,
or drawings to one another, arise out of that JOY, our desire to share the gifts of the Spirit with those we love.
Acceptance of our own choice to share or not to share, acceptance of the choice of others is the new way.
There is no place in the new spirituality for guilt or for judgement of ourselves or others.
3) Warp thread: “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.
Weft thread: I offer you a dream that came to me in the midst of these reflections:
I stand before two high ancient stone walls, somewhat like the ruins where we gather on Iona. There is a narrow space between the walls. On the side of one wall there is the image of a small creature, perhaps a brown fox, curled up. I have a sense I am to follow this little being along the gap between the walls. These words are within me: "the pathless path".
That this dream should come when I needed it implies that we hold within us the wisdom we need for this new path.
We need not align ourselves with an outward structure, a prefab plan for spiritual growth.
We take time to listen deeply to the wisdom that dwells deep within each one of us. We are not alone.
We walk in JOY and LOVE as a community of co-creators who practice, in Jean’s words, “deep seeing of one another”.
We know that we are held by the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars. Cherished, honoured, safe and strong.
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.
Communion Reflection for March 24, 2020
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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?