September 2017 - April 2018
Communion Reflection for April 10, 2018
Mary Magdalene: Apostle to the Apostles
“High on an escarpment crowning the medieval walled city of Vezalay France, stands the magnificent basilica of St. Mary Magdalene”.
That is how Episcopal priest and writer Cynthia Bourgeault opens her book, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene (Shambala, Boston and London, 2010).
Bourgeault spent Holy Week of 2005 with the young monastic order in residence at the Cathedral of Vezalay. Here she would have a stunning awareness of Mary Magdalene’s presence in the events of the death and resurrection of Jesus. She tells us:
This mixed community of men and women monks is well known for the imagination and beauty of its liturgy, and toward the end of the Good Friday Liturgy I witnessed an unusual ceremony that changed forever how I understood my Christianity….
The late afternoon shadows were already dimming the cathedral when we finished with communion, followed by the traditional stripping of the altar.
And then came the ceremony I am speaking of. Two of the sisters brought forward a small corpus – the crucified Christ figure that traditionally hangs on Roman Catholic crosses. It was carved in wood, about two feet long. Tenderly they wrapped it in the altar cloth, laid it on the altar, and placed beside it an icon of the Shroud of Turin (the portrait of Jesus allegedly imprinted on his original burial shroud and revealed through radiocarbon dating). They set a small candle and incense burner at the foot of the altar. And then, as sunset fell, one of the monks began to read in French the burial narrative from the Gospel of Matthew.
Enchanted by the mystical beauty of all this – the smell of the incense, the final shafts of daylight playing against the great stone walls of the cathedral – I allowed the sonorous French to float by my ears while I drifted in and out, catching what I could. I heard the description of Joseph of Arimathea asking for the body of Christ, wrapping it (just as the sisters had just done) in a linen cloth, laying it in a tomb. And then out of the haze of words came “et Mary Magdalene et l’autre Marie restaient debout en face du tombeau…”
That’s when I did my double take. Mary Magdalene was there? That was in the scripture? Why hadn’t I ever noticed it before?
Thinking that maybe my French had failed me, I went back to my room that evening, took out my Bible, and looked it up.
But yes, right there in Matthew 27:61 it reads: “And Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained standing there in front of the tomb.”
Suddenly the whole picture changed for me. I’d thought I knew the tradition well. …. How could this key point have escaped my attention? No wonder Mary Magdalene came so unerringly to the tomb on Easter morning; she’d stood by in silent, unflinching vigil the whole time Jesus was being laid to rest there. Maybe she never left…. Since that moment I have literally not heard the Passion story in the same way. It inspired me to go back to the gospel and actually read the story in a new way. (pp.5-6)
Bourgeault reflects further that much of what we know of Mary Magdalene has been absorbed “through the dual filters of tradition and the liturgy, which inevitably direct our attention toward certain aspects of the story at the expense of others.” (p. 6)
Turning to the Gospels directly, Bourgeault focuses mainly on John’s account of the resurrection.
Here is the story:
Mary (Magdalene) arrives alone at the tomb in the early hours of the morning to discover that the stone blocking the tomb has been rolled away. She hurries off to find Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” who race each other to the site, discover the tomb empty and the grave cloths rolled up, and return home in bewonderment.
After the two of them have gone their way, Mary stays behind, weeping beside the tomb. Then, in a unique and immortally reverberating encounter:
She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not recognize him. Jesus said, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and answered him, “… if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him and I will go and remove him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him, “Rabboni” – which means Master. Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me; you see I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brothers and say to them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
So Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord, and this is what he said to me. (John 20:14-18)
Bourgeault continues: It is on the basis of this announcement that Mary earned the traditional title of “Apostle to the Apostles.” The first to witness to the resurrection, she is also the one who “commissions” the others to go and announce the good news of the resurrection. (p. 8)
sculpture by Elizabeth Frink
Mary Magdalene Strides Forth to Bring the Good News: statue on the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral, England
Communion Reflection for April 3, 2018
Waiting in Darkness
The ancient ritual of the Easter Vigil lures me after an absence of several years. The parish church doors open to invite us into the Phrygian darkness of night. We stand scrunched together at the back, among friends whose faces we cannot see, whose voices we do not hear. Then comes the flaring forth of vermilion flame as the Easter fire is birthed from flint. It could be the flaring forth of light at the dawn of this Universe, the primordial moment that the physicists cannot yet grasp.
The priest uses the new fire to light the great Paschal Candle which stands taller than he does. He intones the ancient chant: three notes rising: "Christ our Light." From the single flame, the candles held by all who have gathered this night bloom with yellow light, creating a halo that reveals each face. "Christ our Light".
A cantor sings the "Exultet" the Hymn of Praise to the Risen Christ, echoing the words of Paul: "What good would life have been to us if Christ had not risen?"
Seven Readings follow from the Hebrew Scriptures, telling the old, old tales….
And this is where I begin to feel discomfort. I who love stories, the older the better, find myself rejecting the Genesis account of creation. Once I could overlook its scientific inaccuracies, defend them to others as poetry, not truth. But tonight I am comparing this account with the enchantment of the 13.8 billion year story of the unfolding, evolving, unfinished Universe.
I feel something like revulsion for this strange god who creates man in his own image, adding a woman only for the man's sake, an after-thought, giving these latecomers dominion over all of life on our planet while forbidding them to eat the fruit of the tree that would give them wisdom.
Finally, pleased with himself, this god decides to take a day off.
When we meet him in the next reading, this god is asking Abraham to make a blood sacrifice of his only son.
After the agony he puts the father through (no mention of Sarah, the mother), he says, "I was only testing you…"
As Moses and his people are fleeing from Egypt, this god "covers himself in glory" by drowning a people who were among the wisest who ever lived….
Who is this god?
I do not know him.
Joseph Campbell writes of him as a "local desert god", a "thunder-hurler".
Indo-European deities encountering warrior gods tended to have their goddesses marry the male gods.
Campbell notes that this did not happen among the Semites who ruthlessly obliterated the local goddesses. He points out that a religious tradition with a father god but no mother god is one where we are separate from God, where God is separate from us, from nature. This is a God who is "out there" rather than within us. To find this God we need religious structures, laws, authorities. We are separated from nature, distrusting, even despising our own bodies. Beauty is itself suspect, a distraction, a seduction.
I am working myself into a state of high dudgeon, wondering why I came, when the tone of the readings alters.
I begin to hear words of undeniable tenderness. I remember why for so many years my favourite biblical passages were the Hebrew prophets who knew, must have experienced, a Presence of Divine Love, what Julian of Norwich calls a Mothering God.
Isaiah invites all who thirst to come to the waters, to come without need of money for what the heart desires…
Hosea's voice calls back from the desert an abandoned, heartbroken lover.
The seventh reading of the Hebrew Scriptures begins, one I do not recognize, do not remember hearing before.
I listen to words that tell of a presence who guides, who brings light and joy, when we follow… HER.
What is this?
It is the writing of the prophet Baruch.
Later, at home I find the passage in my Jerusalem Bible:
Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
Hear and learn what knowledge means.
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.
But who has found out where she lives,
Who has entered her treasure house?
Who has ever climbed the sky and caught her
To bring her down from the clouds?
Who has ever crossed the ocean and found her
To gain her back in exchange for the finest gold?
No one knows the way to her,
No one can discover the path she treads.
But the One who knows all knows her…
(Baruch 3: 9, 14, 15, 29-32)
And now we are hearing Paul's words of promise, of hope, of assurance of our own Resurrection: Paul who never met the earthbound Jesus, who was hurled from his horse when the Risen Christ called his name, who fell in love with the Unseen One and spent his life carrying his message to others, who did not disdain to tell them he was in labour until Christ was born in them.
Suddenly the dark is rent by an eruption of light everywhere, flowers make a garden of the sanctuary and bells are ringing. Two clear soprano voices lift in a duet sung in the pure tones of angels, "He is Risen. He is Risen."
After the Celebration of the Easter Eucharist, I greet my friends, set off in the rain for home, awash in questions….but slowly I let them settle in me.
I remember Teilhard's understanding that we live in an unfinished universe. We each have a part to play in bringing it nearer to completion. I recommit to my calling to invite others to join me in providing a space, a place, for the Sacred Feminine to dwell, embodied within us.
Reflecting on the Easter Mystery
Communion Reflection for March 27, 2018
Through the cold, quiet nighttime of the grave underground,
The earth concentrated on him with complete longing
Until his sleep could recall the dark from beyond
To enfold memory lost in the requiem of mind.
The moon stirs a wave of brightening in the stone.
He rises clothed in the young colours of dawn.
John O’Donohue “Resurrection” from Connemara Blues
The Easter Mystery of life-death-life 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 mystery. Through their careful observations they constructed buildings such as the mound in Newgrange Ireland where a tiny lintel receives the first rays of dawn only on the winter solstice.
The ancients 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; the Sumerians tell of the great queen Inanna who descended to the underworld to visit her sister Erishkigal. There she was stripped of all her royal robes and insignia, and 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.
The people of Jesus’ time would have known these and other great myths of the ancient Near East. 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/life 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.
We know our call to 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?
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?
Seeking the Woman-God
Communion Reflection for March 20, 2018
Where do you go looking when your soul longs for a Mothering God? Do you find her in poetry? in ancient stories? in songs or rituals or art or sacred dance? Do you look for wise and loving women who embody her? Do you seek her in your own wise and yearning heart?
Or would you go out to explore the earth around you, seeking her in the beauty of spring flowers, in the grace of a flowing stream, in the tender presence of young birds in a nest? Would you look in wild places where the sea explodes into the rock face, pummels the cliffs, shapes stone into forms that resemble an ancient wise woman, a cailleach….
Six weeks after my return from the Brigid of Faughart Festival in Ireland, I am still processing the insights, inspiration and experiences of those days. It is not surprising that what I found was sourced in the lives, the words, the stories, the songs and poetry of the women I met there. The Sacred Feminine is an embodied presence.
Yet of all that I learned, what stirs me most is the way that women spoke of seeking, finding and being found by the Sacred Feminine in the land: in her sea and shore, her grass and trees, her wells and rivers, her mountains and ancient stones, her golden light and eerie darkness, her wild winds and gentle rains.
I am captivated by this new understanding.
To honour the feminine presence, Wisdom Sophia, is to honour the planet which embodies her. From earliest days, from the time even before the arrival of the Celts, the people of Ireland honoured the goddess, whose ancient names include Aine or Anu. She was the one whose eyes held the light of the stars, whose hair rippled like the corn, flowed like the waves of the sea, whose body was the great earth barrows, her breasts the hills, called "the Paps of Anu".
Before this recent visit to Ireland, I had thought these descriptors were lovely metaphors, a poetic honouring of the sacred presence. On this journey I met women for whom the land, the sea, the rocks and rivers somehow embodied the goddess herself. This is not pantheism, making gods of nature, but rather panentheism, recognizing that the holy is present within all that lives, as Teilhard de Chardin understood and taught.
Snowbound for days in this never-ending winter, I sat by the fire reading Kate Fitzpatrick's book. Kate spoke during the Brigid Festival of her years of workshops, story-telling and powerful shamanic healing rituals to help bring about peace in Northern Ireland. Her guide, counsellor and co-creative partner in this was Macha, the mythical Ulster Goddess.
In her book, Macha's Twins: A Spiritual Journey with the Celtic Horse Goddess, (Immram Publishing, Inishowen, Donegal, Ireland 2017), Kate describes encounters with Macha, mediated by the land and sea. While living on Inis M`or off the west coast of Ireland near Galway, Kate writes:
I am exhilarated with the vital power of this island. The shifting clouds, the showers of rain. What I love about it is the changing light in each hour of the day. The land is bleak and barren. Yet the play of light makes it so beautiful.
site of ancient fort of Dun Aengus, Inis M`or, Ireland
I begin to see that Macha is the Wild Mother here. Every day in the raw vitality of wind and rain and sea I find her. Like her wild spirit, all here is dynamic and powerful. Restless and free. Seeping right in to my bones. I move through autumn and winter beckoned by this force. Every day I see more of the power of the feminine in the sea, the waves, and the rock. (p. 67)
In the years that follow, Kate experiences a call to return home to Northern Ireland, to assist the Sacred Feminine presence in the work of bringing healing and peace to the soul of Ulster.
By early June, it is becoming clear to me that the rocks, trees, stones and rivers, along with the elements and the sheer beauty of this glen, have, together, become an alchemical vessel to hold a wider healing of the soul of Ulster.
The sea, as I look out at it this morning, is playing its part in the offering of light, the blue of its holding, the high vibration of its silver water, the wildness of its dance. There is a fierce power of transformation in the rolling waves. (p. 169)
Kate tells of knowing Macha's presence with her:
I breathe deeply as she shows me pictures of the town in County Antrim where I grew up in the 1960's. 'There are many towns in the North that need healing,' Macha tells me. 'This is a journey to bring the heart home, to bring back the kindness lost to everyone in the shadows of war. For you, Daughter, concern yourself only with this.' (p.169)
Kate's work, with the support of other women, led to a tangible presence of light and peace in the land. Two decades after her time on Inis M`or, Kate knew that "the old patterns are going now and light is coming in, bringing forgiveness, beauty and joy".
Then she describes this experience:
I sense a presence in the middle of the strand and when I look over, I see Macha walking in the shallow waters of puddles left on the sand. I see her bend down to pick up shells. As I walk towards her, she looks up, sees me and smiles….I sigh a deep breath and run towards her, power seeping into me from the very sand itself. As I approach her, she straightens up and, still holding the shells, opens her arms to welcome me. Her holding is of the ages. In the warmth and strength of her embrace, I weep. (pp. 237-8)
Macha's Twins : available for online sales in Ireland, Europe, USA and internationally (Kate says postage may be free)
Brigid : Cailleach and Midwife to a New World
by Dolores Whelan
A story from the Celtic tradition that illustrates the importance of the cailleach and her energy is the story of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Niall and his four brothers come to a well to get a drink of water. The well is being guarded by an old woman who represents the cailleach or hag. When the first brother goes to the well, she tells him that if he wants to drink the water, he must give her a kiss. He is horrified and refuses; she sends him away. The other three brothers go in turn on the same errand, and each refuses to kiss the hag. As the story goes:
Then it was Niall’s turn. Faced with the same challenge, he kissed the old hag and embraced her.
When he looked again, she had changed into the most beautiful woman in the world. “What art thou?” said the boy.
“King of Tara, I am Sovereignty . . . your seed shall be over every clan.”
This story suggests that in order to have access to the life-enhancing energy represented by the water in the well, it is necessary for the young masculine to embrace this particular and perhaps unattractive aspect of the feminine energy. Why is this so? The cailleach represents the wisdom gathered by living in right relationship with the earth, something that requires reflection, stillness, and attentiveness. It knows more clearly what is needed and what is possible in each situation, and it is aware of the consequences of particular actions. It knows how to proceed slowly; it understands the value of times of waiting and times of allowing. It knows how to be and how to act.
So how can we, you and I, begin the journey back towards wholeness and balance?
Brigid in her cailleach form can help us to embrace these difficult and fearful aspects of our lives.
The cauldron, a central image in both the Celtic and other traditions, is a vessel for transformation and transmutation. In many stories, the cauldron is first filled with unpalatable raw things, which then are used to create a nourishing soup using the transforming energy of the universe through the action of fire and water. The transformation of the contents of the cauldron is supervised by the cailleach energy, which works inwardly, quietly, and slowly to bring about an unforced and timely rebirth. The transformation of the cauldron’s contents concentrates their essence and offers them back in a new and more suitable form. From this process, we learn that the possibility of transformation and re-birth always exists, no matter how devitalised something appears to be.
A new rebirth can be achieved when we submit ourselves and our concerns to the inward and slow transformational energy of the cauldron and the cailleach.
Philosopher Richard Kearney in his poem "Bridget’s Well" speaks of the importance of this inward and downward journey and suggests that it is the only way to access the life-giving and inspiring fire of Brigid that lies underneath the water.
I will rest now at the bottom of Bridget’s well
I will follow the crow’s way
Footprint by footprint
In the mud down here
I won’t come up
Until I am calmed down
And the earth dries beneath me
And I have paced the caked ground
Until smooth all over
It can echo a deeper voice
Mirror a longer shadow (2)
This poem suggests the importance of that deep journey to the well where the source of new life and the fire of passion is found.
At Imbolc (Feb 1st) the tiny spark of new light discovered in the deep womb darkness of the winter solstice has grown sufficiently to safely emerge from that inner world and begin to transform winter into spring !
At this time Brigid appears as the fresh maiden of springtime emerging from the womb of the cailleach, queen of winter.
Here Brigid embodies the energy that breathes life into the mouth of dead winter. The energy of Brigid at Imbolc is the energy of Yes, and it can only emerge from the place of stillness!
Brigid is also closely associated with the life giving aspect of fire, a fire that doesn’t burn but which can never be fully quenched. When this fire comes from a clear and deep space, as happens following the inward journey, it will be significant and filled with truth and potency. This life-giving fire will act within individuals, within the land, in the relationships between the people and their land, fanning the fires of creative endeavour so that all life forms can partake in the symphony of new life emerging each springtime! The fire discovered through this deep journey is an inner light which guides each of us to find our next step!
Richard Kearney in his poem "Brigit’s Well" also speaks of the re-emergence of a new fire born of a deeper place within
Then the fire may come again
Beneath me, this time
Rising beyond me
No narcissus-flinted spark
Behind closed eyes
But a burning bush
A fire that always burns away
But never is burnt out (3)
I believe that the archetypal energy of Brigid, the embodiment of the divine feminine, present within the essence of the Celtic tradition, has the capacity to lead and support us in transforming the present wasteland into a new life-sustaining society. For this to happen, it is necessary for us to understand that the archetypal energy that Brigid represents is a real aspect of the human psyche, one that has been largely dormant over the past few hundred years, but is now re-emerging.
Each of us can become keeper of the Brigid flame by developing and living those qualities and values that distinguished her. As we align ourselves with her archetypal energies, she supports us courageously and safely to face the demons of this time. She teaches us how to stand still in a wobbling world, to act as a unifying force, to hold the space of possibility and so become agents of transformation. So we ask for
The mantle of Brigid about us
The memory of Brigid within us
The protection of Brigid keeping us from harm, from ignorance,
from heartlessness this day from dawn till dark (4)
When we embrace her energy, Brigid will hold us and guide us through this transition. I believe she is the one who has the power to awaken in each of us “An eye to see what is, the heart that feels what is, and the courage that dares to follow.” (5)
1 Amergin Jan de Fouw Amergin Wolfhound Press Dublin 2000 ( afterword ) no page number
2 Richard Kearney quoted in Stephen J. Collins The Irish Soul in Dialogue the Liffey Press Dublin 2001 p 147
3 Richard Kearney quoted in Stephen J. Collins The Irish Soul in Dialogue the Liffey Press Dublin 2001 p 147
4 Poem source unknown
5 Celtic triad found extensively in the literature
Brigid : Cailleach and Midwife to a New World
by Dolores Whelan
Communion Reflection for March 6, 2018
As we consider the qualities embodied by Brigid as reflected in the stories of her life as abbess of Kildare Ireland, it is obvious that these qualities are similar to those present in her incarnation as pre-Christian goddess. Brigid is considered a threshold person, one who can straddle both sides and remain detached. This quality, which is central in her life, is highlighted in the stories of her birth, which attest that she was born on the threshold of the house, neither within nor without; that her father was a noble man, her mother a slave; and that he was a pagan, her mother a Christian. From her origins, she has this ability to stand in the void and remain centred within it, while holding the creative tension between two opposite perspectives.
centred and aligned within herself, she is detached
Many stories from her life portray her as a person capable of resolving conflicts in a healthy manner. Being centred and aligned within herself, she is detached and can grasp the energies of both sides clearly thereby facilitating a resolution. She has the ability to stand still and remain focused, in spite of the uncertainty present in the outer world.
a person who lives her life from a place of deep inner knowing
As a child and a young woman Brigid constantly challenged the accepted norms of her society, especially those expressed by her father when they were opposed to her own values. This reflects Brigid as a person who lives her life from a place of deep inner knowing and inner authority.
She also refused to marry any of the suitors that her father arranged for her, because she had chosen a different life path and destiny. She would not compromise her soul journey!
absolute faith in the abundance of the universe
Brigid’s generosity is legendary and is related in numerous stories of her giving away food and clothes to people who came to her monastery or whom she met along the way. This generosity was, it seems, based on her absolute faith in the abundance of the universe to provide all that was needed in each moment. Each time she gave away the butter or meat needed for the next meal it miraculously reappeared in time for that meal!
Brigid’s 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 is a reflection of the true abundance and with the prosperity of the society, created by her living in relationship with the land.
Her life and work thrived because of her deep trust and an absence of fear.
her mind remained ever focused on God
It is said that from the moment Brigid learned to know God her mind remained ever focused on God. She remained connected to God and the heavens while living on the earthly plane. Her 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 and ensure its manifestation.
The story of how Brigid got the land for her monastery in Kildare is a wonderful example of her ability to manifest what is needed. She states clearly what she needs and asks the local lord for land. First he refused but she is not deterred by this. She pursues her request in a different way by asking: “Give me what land my mantle will cover.”
He says yes! When she placed the mantle on the ground it grew until it covered enough land for the monastery.
This reflects a woman who can hold her intention clearly, even when on the surface it seems that her request will not be met!!
These inspiring stories of Brigid relate to her active life in the world, where she embodies and lives true spiritual power!
But what and where is the source of this power?
To fully understand the power and the qualities that Brigid embodied, as reflected in the many stories about her life, we need to begin with an exploration of the role of Brigid as Cailleach, the aspect of the Divine Feminine that rules during the season of Samhain (winter) at the beginning of the Celtic year. This I believe is the wellspring from which Brigid’s power manifest in the world emerges.
(the cailleach energy) will hold us safely as we embrace the darkness
What then is the energy associated with the hag, crone, or cailleach aspect of the divine feminine? The cailleach is the embodiment of the tough mother-love that challenges its children to stop acting in destructive ways. It is the energy that refuses to indulge in inappropriate personal or societal dreams. It is the energy that will bring death to those dreams and fantasies that are not aligned with our highest good. Yet, this cailleach energy also will support the emergence and manifestation in the world of the highest and deepest within us. It will hold us safely as we embrace the darkness within ourselves and our society. It is an energy that insists that we stand still, open our hearts, and feel our own pain and the pain of the earth. This is the energy that teaches us how to stay with the process when things are difficult. This energy will not allow us to run away!
a way that values times of active waiting
Her way of being is a slow, inwardly focused way, with minimum outward activity: a way that values times of active waiting that pays attention and allows life to unfold. An essential part of the journey that all the great heroes and heroines in world mythologies undertake includes facing and embracing the energy of surrender, darkness, and death. The hero or heroine learns the next step required in their outer world journey only by submitting to and being initiated into the dark world of the cailleach.
Through this initiation the mature masculine power can emerge and lead each one to find their true path. When this happens the action that follows will be in the service of the true feminine and bring forth wisdom and compassion creating new life, vitality, and sustainability.
However because western society is currently dominated by the young masculine energy, present in both men and women, characterised by its “can do” attitude, there is an urgent need for each of us to make this heroic journey with the cailleach, so that we will become agents for the transformation of our society.
( to be continued...)
Brigid: Cailleach and Midwife to a New World
by Dolores Whelan
Communion Reflection for February 27, 2018
Reflecting on the turmoil present in the world today it is clear to all, but those steeped in denial, that all is not well. It seems that something ails us humans; something that causes us to live in ways that disrespect our mother, the living earth, and all our relatives. We ask what is it in us humans that creates such a restless world where there is little sense of belonging, nurture or home and which causes so many of the species with which we share this planet to suffer?
The exclusion of the Feminine energy in our naming and understanding of the Divine is reflected in a corresponding absence and valuing of feminine energy in all aspects of life in western society. The devaluing and exclusion of the feminine energy over the past centuries has created a distorted story about life which has resulted in a world whose shape and vibration create disharmony.
So how do we find our way back to a more harmonious way of life? If we know what is missing and what ails us, it may be possible for us to make the journey back towards wholeness and health.
In times of great danger and challenges, cultures often seek the wisdom for the journey ahead in the stories and myths that sustained them in an earlier time. However as Poet Nuala Ni Dhomhnail suggests this requires an understanding that “actual myths and stories themselves soar way above any uses to which they may have been put to already and can and must be retranslated by each generation in terms of their own need and thus liberated into a new consciousness." (1)
At the present time there is a wonderful re-emergence of aspects of ancient spiritual traditions by people all over the world. The reconnection and embodiment of these ancient spiritual traditions, myths and stories has the potential to release the spiritual power needed for us to become agents of transformation within our society.
At this time many people are becoming aware of the wisdom of the feminine. As this happens, the absence of genuine feminine energy present in most institutions, both religious and secular, throughout western culture, becomes obvious. To include the presence of the divine feminine energy in creating a world whose shape is more wholesome requires a fundamental reclaiming of the essential role of the feminine in all aspects of life. In order to create change within the physical world and in our society it is necessary to change the dreams and stories held within the imagination of a society.
My own journey over the past 25years has been primarily within the Celtic spiritual tradition. This tradition has emerged over many millennia and continues to evolve. It includes the wisdom of the megalithic, the pre-Christian Celtic and the Christian Celtic traditions as they met and engaged with each other through the ages. I believe the rekindling of the flames of this tradition, which have lain dormant for many centuries, “like coals under the smooring awaiting a new kindling” holds a key to the recovery of the wisdom needed to create a more sane society.
“God is good and he has a great mother!” a statement sometimes heard in Ireland, reflects an important truth at the heart of the Celtic spiritual tradition, one that honours the presence of the divine feminine and understands that even God emerges out of the feminine energy of being-ness. The Divine Feminine is present at the heart of this spiritual tradition and plays a central role in both Celtic spirituality and Celtic culture. There are many goddesses within Celtic mythology; however Brigid, as both goddess and saint, occupies a central place as representative of the Divine Feminine within Celtic tradition.
Statue of Brigid at Solas Bhride, Kildare, Ireland
Reconnecting with and re-membering the spirit and archetypal energy of Brigid, in both her Goddess and Saint manifestations, is an essential task of this renaissance. Brigid, although normally associated with the maiden and mother aspects of feminine energy, is also expressed in the cailleach form, as indicated in the prayer “Molamid Brid an mhaighean; Molamid Brid an mhathair; Molamid Brid an cailleach” (Praise to Brigid, the maiden, the mother, and the crone).
These three different, but related manifestations, the maiden, the mother, and the cailleach, or crone, together create a divine feminine trinity. Each aspect of this trinity occupies a different role within the life, death, and rebirth continuum. The Feminine energy is both the harbinger and the birther of new life and is the destroyer of life that has been spent. It is experienced at the thresholds of life and death and rebirth.
In the past 20 years there has been a new awakening of the importance of Brigid and her place within our lives and our world. Her Feastday at Imbolc in now celebrated in many places in Ireland and all over the world. There is an understanding perhaps it is time for us individually and collectively to recover the qualities that Brigid embodied in her lifetime, marking her as a woman of true spiritual power. (to be continued)
Begin the Beguines
Communion Reflection for February 20, 2018
Though I learned from the presenters, poets and performers at the Brigid Festival, my conversations with those who came to experience the events were illuminating. Patricia, from Dublin, carries a dream of gathering women in her home for spiritual growth. Kathleen from Ulster wants to offer storytelling sessions in her home as a way of deepening awareness and growing together. Listening to each of these women I recognized the lure I felt at their age to begin to understand, and to gather other women to share, the path to wholeness that was different from the masculine journey, taught to us by the men who were our priests, minsters, spiritual guides.
Then Dolores introduced me to Barbara Brosch, who had travelled from Germany to take part in the Brigid Festival.
Surprising as that journey seemed to me, it was immediately overshadowed by Barbara' s first words: " I am a Beguine."
Had she said, "I am a leprechaun," I could not have been more astonished. I hought the Beguines had vanished in the 14th century.
Over several conversations that we had through the week, I learned that there are now some 300 women in Germany who are part of this movement that has been growing over 17 years. The women live in various forms of shared housing, each with a private room for solitude and prayer, with a common kitchen and a gathering room. They each have their own prayer life and way of spiritual growth.
Though tailored to the realities of life in the 21st century, their lifestyle is inspired by the Beguines of the 12th-14th centuries in Northern Europe. The earlier Beguines were drawn to a spiritual life but not to life in a monastery; they were self-supporting, living alone or boarding with a family, some in groups. They chose one among their number to serve the Beguines in each area as a spiritual guide. They were dedicated to serving the poor, often working in hospitals, orphanages and schools. Some Beguines, such as Mechtild of Magdeburg and Hadewijch of Brabant, dedicated their time to contemplative prayer, writing spiritual works that inspire us today.
Barbara came to the movement after it had already begun and now serves as a facilitator to gatherings of Beguines. Though she had chosen to live alone, another Beguine asked to share life with her. Barbara and Claudia have apartments in a former Benedictine Monastery, now privately owned. They care for the land as part of their commitment. When they host gatherings of Beguines for workshops, they rent rooms in the Monastery to accommodate them.
When I asked what kind of topics or themes they have for these gatherings, Barbara said the next one will be on Spirituality, although until now the main focus for the women who come has been the challenge of living together in Community.
Here is the website address Barbara gave me. (click on translate and it magically becomes English!) http://kanu-wandern-frauengeschichte.de
A second website offers photos and descriptions of the repurposed monastery where Barbara and Claudia live:
We value simple life, silence, slowness, singing and dancing, being outside (on the road) as well as philosophizing about "Goddess and the world". We start the day with a circular dance meditation outdoors and celebrate the annual festivals. We support each other in everyday life and work for women's issues and in women's networks.
Our symbols - next to the spiral connecting all Beguine communities - are the apples. These native fruits stand for life in harmony with the seasons. They are the fruits of summer and accompany us through the winter months. Inside is the five-star, the pentagram…. This symbol of the wise women represents the new cycle, because it is (also) the five petals of the apple blossom. Among other things, we chose this symbol because our coexistence is supported by community in diversity. Each apple is the fruit of a precious woman's life and we place our fruits in a common basket so that they nourish us well. (from the website)
And there is more! Carmel Boyle, an Irish singer whose voice filled the Oratory at Faughart on Brigid's Feast Day with a flowing stream of enchantment, joined Dolores and I afterwards beside an open fireplace in a nearby coffee shop. Carmel told us that she and Geraldine who together offer programs in their "An Croi" Centre in Drogheda, had dedicated themselves as "Irish Beguines" on Brigid's Feast in 2017. When I expressed my delight, Carmel sent me these photos of their first commitment ceremony in 2017, and this year's renewal on Brigid's Feast Day.
Geraldine and Carmel in their Ritual of Commitment in 2017, 2018
A Google Search for "An Croi Beguines" offered this further information:
The An Croi Beguines, animated by Geraldine Holton and Carmel Boyle, is a contemporary re-visioning of the medieval beguine movement. The inspiration for the revitalization of the An Croi Beguines has grown out of Geraldine and Carmel’s lifelong commitment to a God-centered spiritual life …. inspired by a new energy among some women who seek a common spiritual approach to everyday life that is both meaningful and purposeful. The new An Croí Beguines is a way of responding, just as the original beguines did, to the contemporary spiritual, social and economic landscape. It speaks to those with a strong desire to live a deeper spiritual life that is both inward and outward looking. It speaks to those who hunger for more and who seek a spiritual home in spiritually challenging times.
Neither Carmel nor Barbara knew of the other's Beguine involvements, so they are planning to meet in August when Barbara returns to Ireland.
I gave both our website address to explore. All three of our groups are under Brigid's mantle. What is Brigid about in all this? How do you see this new call to "begin the Beguines"? How do you see our place within it?
Send us your creative thoughts and imaginings!
Women Rising Rooted: Brigid of Faughart 2018 Festival, Ireland
Reflection for February 13, 2018
If we surrendered
to Earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted,
(Rainer Maria Rilke)
At the end of a frigid Canadian January, 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 the home of my friend, Dolores Whelan, the first thing I see are snowdrops….then one purple crocus, two golden ones.
It is especially Dolores who embodies for me the spirit-energy of Brigid, who has taught me the rhythm of the seasons of the Celtic Calendar, their spiritual meaning. Dolores has 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 of her heart to the west of Scotland and then to Donegal adn Connemara in 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 endeavor.
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. 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 resonance. Ann creates songs, receives songs 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, 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.
Brigid: Who Is She For Us?
Reflection for January 23, 2018
Who is Brigid for us today? As women of the Communion of Creative Fire, we take inspiration from her, and yet we are separated from her life by a millennium and a half. We don’t live in a monastery, or in a way of life intimately tied to the land and its cycling seasons.
In her book Praying with Celtic Holy Women Bridget Mary Meehan writes that “the force of (Brigid’s) Celtic soul is a rich lodestone of the Celtic feminine which continues to challenge each new generation.” (p.29)
Consider the word Meehan chooses: a lodestone which is a magnet, a thing that attracts….
What is it in Brigid’s story that so attracts us after so many centuries? I will give my own answer, inviting each of you to give yours.
What I see in Brigid is that she matters to the time in which she lives, and to the people whom she serves...
But she also matters to (maters as in mothers) the Church where her leadership was strong, recognised and luminous.
As women living in the 21st century do we matter to the Institutional Church? Perhaps not much and until now, I have not minded. It allows a certain freedom. But something in Brigid’s story makes me wonder if perhaps it does matter very much indeed that the Church to which I have belonged since infancy does not appear to need or even notice women.
How does the Celtic Feminine as expressed in Brigid’s life challenge me/us in this matter?
In last week’s Reflection on Brigid, we saw how old Bishop Mel, guided by the Holy Spirit, accidently consecrated Brigid as a bishop. We know that her monastery in Kildare was a double monastery, housing consecrated women and men, as was the way in the Celtic expression of Christianity. Brigid would have governed as Abbess/Bishop to both women and men. The development of Irish Monasticism appears to have been richly differentiated, a garden of wild profusion and endless variety. So there is no way of knowing how or when or why Brigid’s monastery of women began to welcome men. But here is a story I found that tells how it may have happened:
One day a group of men, for whom Brigid’s faithful spirit and generous heart were as a lodestone, came knocking at the door of the Kildare Monastery, requesting that they be allowed to join the community. Brigid consulted with her Sisters. They were aghast!
What? Men! Noisy, unruly, bothersome. No way!
Brigid’s first assistant sealed the matter with the words that have frequently put an end to something new: “It’s never been done before.”
Still not at ease with the decision, Brigid went outside and sat near the holy well. Something urged her to look deeply into its dark waters, recalling as she did so that imagination dwells in the dark places. Brigid picked up a tiny stone and dropped it into the well. Down, down it fell, until a small splash told her it had reached the water. But there was still nothing to be seen in the well’s depths. She picked up another stone and dropped it into the well. Just at that moment the noonday sun at its highest place in the sky illumined the water where the stone had struck. Brigid saw tiny circles rippling out from where the stone had pierced the water.
In the depths of her own imagination, Brigid saw a circle widening. She thought about this: “Because it’s never been done before does not mean it can never be done.” And it was so. Kildare become a monastery for both men and women, drawn by the lure of Brigid’s holiness.
Seeking a meaning for the word lodestone I notice another word: lodestar. This refers to the star by which a ship navigates, usually the pole star. Symbolically it refers to a guiding principle. This illumines something for me, shining into the wells of legend and story that flow around Brigid’s life. Under the tales there is a guiding principle that will illumine our lives if we look deeper.
What was the lodestar of Brigid’s life, the star by which she navigated the uncertainties and challenges that faced her each day? When Brigid became one of the “godmothers” of our communion, I wrote an imaginal dialogue with her. I asked that she help us to build a fire that “never dies away”. I asked her what its source must be and how it is to be ignited.
Here is Brigid’s response: From the first moment I met the Holy, my thoughts have never left her…. Can you say the same? Or are you like Brendan, anxious about the weather and the tides and the location of the fish? focussed on your important tasks but forgetting the one thing necessary?
I had to admit to her how easily I lose focus, forget the One who began this work in me, let the Holy One slip from my gaze, from my path, from my heart. I realized then that it is the fire of a passionate love for the Holy that has been lit within me, a fire I must tend faithfully. A fire tender must first of all take care that the flame of her love burns bright. All else, for each one of us, flows from that.
We in the communion can support one another in the wisdom and creativity and vision of new life that flow from that fire, but first we must keep our own fires alight. The one thing necessary is the flame that must be tended and nourished from deep within. Then the fire may be turned to other uses: warming those who come near, creating art, poetry, song, melody and ritual, offering food to the hungry, justice to those denied it.
Brigid spoke again: If you turn your heart towards the fire, the other tasks will seem less arduous. The fire will ignite your creativity. The love will give you the strength and joy you require. FOCUS! That’s the Brigid–gift I offer you.
Brigid, you are our lodestone, drawing us to a life aflame. You are our lodestar, offering us guidance in something so utterly new, so untried,
that it sparkles in the sun’s light even in the midst of surrounding darkness.
The ripples make circles that widen, that embrace ever-new possibilities. Thank you.
Reflection for January 31, 2018
The knocking on the wooden door is so loud it startles us, even though we are waiting for the sound. A woman’s voice, strong, certain, calls out from the other side: “I am Brigid. Do you have a welcome for me?”
We have our answer ready, “Yes, we do.” The door opens. The woman playing Brigid’s role enters.
On this final morning of our weekend with Dolores Whelan at the Galilee Retreat Centre in 2014, we are enacting an ancient Celtic Ritual of Imbolc, as we welcome Brigid in her Maiden form.
Brigid, who “breathes life into the mouth of dead winter”, comes among us announcing spring.
centrepiece at the Brigid Retreat in 2014
Reflecting now on Brigid, godmother/ foster mother of our Communion of Creative Fire, I see the depth, the importance of this brief exchange. Do we “have a welcome” for Brigid in our lives? What does it mean to answer her question with a resounding, “yes”?
This is a woman of great power, an archetype, an embodiment of energies of the sacred. Our welcome of her will open up our lives in ways we cannot foresee, cannot even imagine. But the hints are already given in the stories we have been recalling.
Two weeks ago we recalled the legend that angels carried Brigid over the seas from Ireland to Bethlehem so that she might be present for the birth of Jesus, assisting Mary as midwife. Brigid, who was born in the fifth century after the event…. Immediately we find ourselves in sacred time, in what today’s physicists, following Einstein, would call the simultaneity of time. Mystery. We suspend disbelief, allow our linear, logical brains to take a break, invite the story to offer us its teachings. Ask how this applies to our own lives. Listen.
Each one of us is asked, like Mary, to give birth to the Holy One. In Godseed, Jean Houston writes about the heart of our call, inviting us into a meditation, a visualization, of how this might be:
Lying down now and closing your eyes, imagine that you are dreaming. In your dreams, you see light, and into this light comes a Being of Light, a Bearer of Good News, a Resident from the Depths. This angel says to you, “Oh Child of God, fear not to take unto yourself the spiritual partnership, for that which is conceived in you is of the spiritual Reality. And this Reality, if nurtured, shall be born of you and shall help you to…bring the Godseed into the world.”
And now see what the angel sees—the fulfillment and the unfolding of this Child of Promise within you….
….see and feel and know the possibilities, indeed the future, of this Child in you, this Godseed that you are growing in the womb of your entire being, should you allow it to be nurtured and to grow and to be born into the world.
(Jean Houston in Godseed Quest Books 1992 p.39)
This call to birth the Christ within us is as ancient as first century Paul, who wrote of being in labour until Christ is born in us. It is as modern as twentieth century eco-feminist theologian Yvonne Gebara who entreats us to give birth to the Christic Presence in the Universe.
Contemporary writer Diarmuid O’Murchu cites the words of the thirteenth century Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart:
What does God do all day long? God lies on a maternity bed, giving birth all day long.
Reflecting on Meister Eckhart’s image, O’Murchu continues: This is a metaphor we have known as a spiritual species for thousands of years, long before formal religions ever came into being….The Great Goddess of our Paleolithic ancestors was perceived as a woman of prodigious fecundity, birthing forth the stars and galaxies, the mountains and oceans and every life form populating planet earth today. God, the great life-giver in the pregnant power of creative Spirit, is probably the oldest and most enduring understanding of the Holy One known to our species.
O’Murchu concludes that: we are called to become co-birthers with our birthing God of the ongoing evolutionary re-creation of God’s world in justice, love, compassion and liberation. (Diarmuid O’Murchu Jesus in the Power of Poetry 2009 pp. 45-46)
When we say yes to our call to give birth, we are embracing a lifelong partnership with the Holy One of “prodigious birthing”, a responsibility that has the power to take over our lives, to demand of us everything, to offer us a life that is at once profoundly meaningful, and intimately engaged with the ongoing renewal of the universe. There will be suffering, there will be hard work, but there will also be times of ecstatic joy, tasting our oneness with the Love at the heart of life.
Dolores reminds us that: It is only in us, you and me, that the energy of Brigid will rise again, take form and become a force for transformation in our world.(Dolores Whelan in Ever Ancient, Ever New Dublin 2010 p. 81)
Brigid, midwife of this birthing, stands at the door. We hear her voice, “Do you have a welcome for me?”
What is our response?
Brigid: “The Mary of the Gael”
Reflection for January 16, 2018
Edinburgh was coated in light snow on that February day, more than twenty-five years ago now, the air a raw biting cold, as I set out to explore the city. 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.
I had no idea what I was seeing.
That evening, in the home of the 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 in the realm of story. But as I hope you realize, it is the story that matters, that lures us, inspires us, teaches us what we need to understand about life.
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 her 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, 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.
In the book, Miniature Lives of the Saints, I came upon this explanation for Brigid’s title, “The Mary of the Gael”:
At a synod held near Kildare, during the lifetime of the saint, says an old legend, one of the fathers declared that he had seen a vision, and that the Blessed Virgin would on the morrow appear among them. Next day Brigid arrived with her companions, and the father immediately exclaimed, “There is the holy Mary whom I saw in my dream.” Brigid accordingly came to be called “The Mary of the Gael,” that is, of the Irish; for so pure was she in spirit, so holy in every action, so modest, so gentle, so filled with mercy and compassion, that she was looked on as the living image in soul and body of Mary the Mother of God. (London, Burns and Oates, 1959)
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, interweaves with the myth of the ancient Irish goddess who shares her name. As goddess, Brigid is known as maiden, mother and crone. The Feast of Saint Brigid, February 1st, coincides with the ancient Celtic Festival of Imbolc, the beginning of spring. As a contemporary Irish woman, seeking to grasp the goddess/saint mystery of Brigid, said it so well: "Ah, wasn’t she a goddess before ever she was a saint?” (quoted in The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog by Patricia Monaghan)
It is Brigid who “breathes life into the mouth of dead winter”. It is Brigid who, as Dolores Whelan teaches in her article, “Brigid: Cailleach and Midwife for a New World”, holds the energy of the cauldron where our lives, individually and communally, need to be transformed through the power of her fire, her water.
Epiphany Night Reflections January 9, 2018
It was late evening on the Feast of the Epiphany when I felt drawn to the poetry of Jan Richardson on our Gathering Space.
Soon I was reliving the story of our Communion: our calling, our companionship through moments of light, and times of darkness....
On a dreary mid-January day in 2013, I said yes to Jean Houston's suggestion that I invite companions to create something new with me, something that would be for our time what Hildegard's music and vision was for the 12th century, what Julian of Norwich wrote about in the 14th century, what Brigid of Kildare created in 5th century Ireland, what Teilhard glimpsed in the 20th century...it would be something alive with poetry and story, with music and joy, grounded in a contemplative practice that would ignite our spirits, nourish our souls, and grow something new in the Spiritual life.
On Brigid's Day, February 1, 2013, I sent an invitation by email to women I knew who might be drawn to be part of this. Many of you were among that first group to say "yes" and have continued the journey faithfully. Others of you have come along in the years since, have made a commitment or may still be wondering if this is the path for you.
Five years ago, none of us could see far along the road that stretched before us in the moonlight. Like the wise ones whose tale we tell on the Feast of the Epiphany, we set out together lured by the star that burned inside each of us, seeking a new birth. That we found ourselves, as they did, in a homely shelter rather than a palace, did not diminish the light and joy and love that awaited us.
What did we imagine the path would be when we said yes? Did we hope for a new understanding of life and love within a Cosmos so radically expanded and deepened from the way it was glimpsed in earlier times? Were we seeking something like a synthesis, a compelling succinct vision of spirituality that we would each embrace, rejoicing that we finally understood……
As I drew in the wisdom of Jan Richardson's Epiphany poems, I saw how far my expectations were from the story we have been creating.
And I rejoiced.
It is not to some diaphanous vision that we are committed. We will not likely ever be saying "yes" to a shared view of spirituality.
What I saw on Epiphany night with piercing clarity is that we each need to recognize and follow our own star. The call is to each one of us as individuals. This creates a shift in perspective. We share the joy and danger, the companionship and storytelling, the rituals and celebrations that are part of any travelling company's experience. We share the times of darkness when the way is not clear, when there are fractures among us, when some choose freely to take another path. And there are moments when the way suddenly opens before us into a vista of immense beauty. We reach a height of land where we may look back to see how far we have come, then ahead to glimpse the direction of our journey.
The creation of our Gathering Space quilt was a defining moment in our story. Our choice of a colour to describe our sense of the new spirituality was one of those "height of land" moments. The unique choices each of us made, and the way we understood and described the depth of meaning in the colours that drew us, revealed the mysterious way we each were coming to know the star that burns within us.
We each have a passion for some aspect of the call to live and love fully in an interconnected universe, woven out of love. So we each need to resolve gently, surely, joyously to follow our own star. We as the Communion of Creative Fire are called to support and love one another through this journey, to respect the allurements that draw each of us onwards, and yet to know we are on this journey together.
Each year on the Feast of Brigid of Kildare, February 1st, we are invited to make or renew our commitment to the Communion. We each do this privately in our own space and time, guided by some ritual suggestions in the Gathering Space. This year there will be an invitation to personalize your commitment by including the aspect of the call that most allures you. If you would describe for us the way you feel called and how you desire to live this more fully, we will be more able to support you in this.
I know for some it is a passion for the healing and preservation of life on our beloved planet; for others it is especially the trees and forests or the rivers and oceans that sustain our life that you are drawn to support. Others have a profound longing for peace, for the cessation of war, the abolition of weapons of mass destruction. Joy has a unique calling to support those making the mysterious passage from life through death to what is beyond. Clara is following her longing to offer comfort to the homeless. My own passion, shared by some of you, is for the feminine expression of the Holy, the Sophia in her many forms in many cultures, that we might embody her for our time.
Our commitment to a daily contemplative practice of our choosing provides each of us with the spirit-energy, the soul-nurture we need for our call. The wise men in the Epiphany story were likely astronomers whose intense watchfulness of the patterns of the stars revealed the brilliance of what was probably a real comet, historically recorded. It is said that the word "contemplation" derives from the practice of star-gazers who were each assigned a particular area of the sky as their "template" to study for patterns. So we too spend a brief time each day studying the patterns, seeking guidance for our lives.
Our weekly Sacred Hour is meant to support and inspire us for the journey we are making together. Our willingness to share our thoughts and struggles, inspirations and experiences with one another, whether through an email message or a short reflection on our secret Facebook page, or on a ZOOM call, transforms us from lonely walkers to a communion of friends who support each other's calling as we travel together.
Take time to reflect on your own deep calling and write about it for us. Know that your particular allurement, your way of being a "cup to catch the sacred rain" will be honoured by us, your companions.
Finally, I know that some of you are in a tender and difficult time in your life when to write of your experience or even to think deeply about these matters of spirituality is too much for you. Be at peace, and wait until the way opens for you to share with us once more. You are held in love, as we each are held always, especially in dark moments. Ours is a multi-ringed circle. At times we can only sit at the furthest edge of the creative fire, and feel its warmth. At other times we come near to add wood, to stay close enough to nurture the fire. That is as it must be and shall be. Just know that wherever you sit, you are in a circle of love.
Reflection on the Ninth Day of Christmas January 2, 2018
Ever since Christmas Day, icy winds from Siberia have been sweeping across most of Canada. Sitting by my wood-stove, cocooned in blankets, I have been content to be housebound, resting from the activity of Christmas celebrations and travel.
All this week, CBC radio has offered Classical Music themed for Christmas. Once each hour a newscast breaks the spell. Mostly I manage to ignore reports so far removed from my life and concerns, until one item alerts me. It is repeated on each successive newscast, without variation, without comment.
Perhaps you heard the report. Perhaps you too felt, still feel, the rawness of the dissonance: A group of refugees fleeing from Syria, hoping to enter the European Union, reached the borders of Croatia. Many had walked on Christmas Day in frigid weather along railway tracks. At the edge of Croatia armed border guards refused them entry.... Croatian officials blamed aid workers in Syria for this flood of refugees, claiming they had encouraged the refugees to approach Croatia as it is a Catholic country and would receive them.
In these post-Christmas days, I have been trying to process this happening, so at odds with the theme of the season's songs, films, music and stories, its powerful mythology of the birth of love on earth in a stable…..
All day I have been delving through segments of books, articles, poems, seeking others who are asking the same kind of questions: hoping to find a poet, a mystic, a theologian who might offer guidance, hoping to find light in time for the Feast of Light: Epiphany.
This is the first poem I found:
by Mary Oliver
Says a country legend told every year:
Go to the barn on Christmas Eve and see
what the creatures do as that long night tips over.
Down on their knees they will go, the fire
of an old memory whistling through their minds!
[So] I went. Wrapped to my eyes against the cold
I creaked back the barn door and peered in.
From town the church bells spilled their midnight music,
and the beasts listened –
yet they lay in their stalls like stone.
Oh the heretics!
Not to remember Bethlehem,
or the star as bright as a sun,
or the child born on a bed of straw!
To know only of the dissolving Now!
Still they drowsed on –
citizens of the pure, the physical world,
they loomed in the dark: powerful
of body, peaceful of mind,
innocent of history.
Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas!
And you are no heretics, but a miracle,
immaculate still as when you thundered forth
on the morning of creation!
As for Bethlehem, that blazing star
still sailed the dark, but only looked for me.
Caught in its light, listening again to its story,
I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled
my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me
the best it could all night.
It was comforting but could not heal the fracture I still felt: our human failure to live the Christmas mystery.
So I turned once more to Teilhard, rereading his thoughts on Christmas from last week's Reflection. Teilhard understood the birth of Christ within the greater story of the evolution of the universe over 13.8 billion years. He saw that Divine Love was present from the beginning, being poured into space-time, rising in consciousness, erupting in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. For Teilhard, the coming of Christ was neither the beginning nor the end of the story. He wrote: "...since Christ was born and ceased to grow and died, everything has continued in motion because he has not yet attained the fulness 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 yet 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 all created beings."
And I recall once more Jean Houston's urgent, repeated call to us to engage fully in the evolution of Consciousness, her assurance that we are
"the microcosm of the macrocosm of Consciousness.... we are to implant new codings of an emerging spirituality. We are encoded with the Universe Herself."
I recall listening to the Brazilian theologian, Ivone Gebara, who spoke at Saint Paul University in Ottawa several years ago. I saw that day a woman whose heart had been pierced by the failure of her lifelong efforts to obtain justice for women in her own country. She had learned of the condemnation by the Cardinal of Brazil of a woman who had sought an abortion for her nine-year old daughter who had been raped. Both the mother and the doctor were excommunicated.
I went looking for what Ivone had written in her book Longing for Running Water about the mystery of the coming of Christ. I found this:
When we say Jesus is the symbol who fulfils our dreams, this does not mean that in him everything was worked out or fully accomplished. It is to say that we need to entrust our dreams to this man because we need these dreams, and we hope that their fulfillment is possible. We turn over to Jesus, a man, flesh of our flesh, the concrete possibility of a better world and of more just and equal relationships among people. Because of him, we throw in our lot for a world that embodies greater solidarity— but all the while we know this decision is our own. (p. 187)
(Jesus) is the symbol of the vulnerability of love, which in order to be alive, ends up being murdered, killed ...and which then rises again in those who love him, in order to revive the vital cycle of love.
Jesus comes from here: from this earth, this body, this flesh, from the evolutionary process that is present both yesterday and today in this Sacred Body within which love resides. It continues in him beyond that, and it is turned into passion for life, into mercy and justice….
(T)he criteria of “giving life” and of fostering the “flowering” of life in dignity, diversity and respect are quite enough to give us the collective authority to speak in a different way of our experience as partners of Jesus. (p. 190)
As I re-read these words today, I feel a stirring of hope. All is not lost, not in vain. The task is still ours, the witness of a life lived wholly in love is still shining. Our failures are evidence that we have a long long way to travel towards love. As long as our human hearts can still be broken, we will keep walking towards the light revealed by one who lived in love.
Enchantment, dis-enchantment, re-enchantment….the Christmas experience works its yearly miracle of the heart, taking us back once again to the fragile radiant child for whom, in Christina Rossetti's poem "a breast full of milk and a manger full of hay" are enough. Heartened by Teilhard and Gebara I look with fresh eyes at Mary Oliver's poem about Christmas.
As for Bethlehem, that blazing star
still sailed the dark, but only looked for me.
Caught in its light, listening again to its story,
I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled
my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me
the best it could all night.
How Would Teilhard Speak about Christmas?
Reflection for Christmas 2017
Gazing into the mind and heart of poet-mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I wonder how he would mark the celebration of Christmas. As a brilliant scientist, creative thinker, man of faith, Teilhard brings into harmony recent discoveries about an evolving universe. For him, the Christic presence is at the heart of it all.
Contemporary scientist and spiritual writer Ilia DeLio guides us through the seas of Teilhard’s theology: Teilhard began with evolution as the understanding of being and hence of God. What he tried to show is that evolution is not only the universe coming to be but it is God who is coming to be. By this he means that divine love poured into space-time rises in consciousness and eventually erupts in the life of Jesus of Nazareth….
From the Big Bang 13.8 Billion years ago to the present, God has been creating through the word of love and incarnating creation in a unity of love. The integral relationship between incarnation and creation is the unfolding of Christ, the Word incarnate, who invests himself organically with all of creation, immersing himself in things, in the heart of matter and thus unifying the world. (From Teilhard to Omega Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2014)
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!
Sources: (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
The Power of Radiance
Reflection for December 20, 2017
All the Powers of the Universe are one, seamlessly involved with one another, present everywhere in the universe, coursing through us, trying to bring forth Radiance. In his concluding talk in the DVD series, Brian Swimme speaks about Radiance.
The mystics intuited radiance long before the physicists described it. Hildegard of Bingen, the astonishing 12th c. abbess and genius, wrote:
From my infancy until now, in the 70th year of my age, my soul has always beheld this Light, and in it my soul soars to the summit of the firmament and into a different air....The brightness which I see is not limited by space and is more brilliant than the radiance around the sun .... I cannot measure its height, length, breadth. Its name, which has been given me, is “Shade of the Living Light”....Within that brightness I sometimes see another light, for which the name “Lux Vivens” (Living Light) has been given me. When and how I see this, I cannot tell; but sometimes when I see it, all sadness and pain is lifted from me, and I seem a simple girl again, and an old woman no more!
The most powerful presence of Radiance is the sun. In its core, the sun creates helium out of compressed hydrogen, releasing light.
The process of fusion generates photons. Light emanates in waves which collapse into photon particles, creating light.
The sun is also giving off messenger particles called gravitons that mediate the gravitational interaction by penetrating the earth,
pulling the earth to the sun. We see the light, and feel the gravitational pull.
The moon also has Radiance, but not from creating light through fusion as the sun does.
The photons that come from the moon are created by the sun’s activity on the moon.
The moon releases the light thus created, also bathing us with gravitons, to which the earth responds, as in the tides of the seas.
It is an ongoing activity of the universe to radiate. Even in the depths of the earth, everything radiates LIGHT. Radiance is the primary language of the universe.
We are frozen light… Brian Swimme says that every being we meet holds fourteen billion years of radiance.
The twentieth century mystic Thomas Merton saw with clarity the gap between this stunning reality and our capacity to see it, and wondered how we might tell people that they are walking around shining like the sun!
Yet, by a willingness to see deeply, we can develop a subtle spirit that responds to the depths of spirit in another, a container that responds to the beauty of the other. The archetypal example of this kind of depth perception, Swimme says, is a mother beholding her child. What is a mother seeing in the eyes of her child? This is the depth perception of beauty. When we look into the eyes of another do we see colour and shape only as in a surface, machine-like mentality or do we see flowing, radiating out of the eyes, the essence, the fullness of the person, his or her depth?
Light is a flow of emotions: light as joy, sadness, pouring out from another. Think what can happen with one glance where we fall in love so deeply that the rest of our life is changed: we contain the Radiance that is streaming out of another.
When, on a sleepless night, Swimme suggests, we go outdoors and see the stars, difficulties melt away and we are smothered with deep peace. Something glorious is streaming into us, something so deeply felt that we find peace in our at-homeness in the universe. When we look down and see fireflies (flashing to interest their mates) we realize we are participating in an amazingly sacred event.
We are drawn into the depth of things and when we go there we find the future direction of the universe. The earth makes rubies and sapphires out of elements that come together, that explode and sparkle with Radiance, as though the universe is trying to tell us something about our aliveness in the realm of possibility!
We sit by the ocean, drawn into what is really real, something that is attempting to establish a deep bond with us. The magnificence of ocean/sand/sky wants to sparkle forth like a sapphire. We feel what reverberates out, Swimme says, as if completing the beauty that’s there.
We enter into relationship with the Radiance of the Universe through resonance and that is the primary form of prayer. Reverberation is the primary sacrament. We become the radiance that is flooding the world. If the resonance is deep enough, it fills our being so that we reverberate with the being of the other. The Radiance becomes the being. We are resonant with another when we begin to reverberate with the one we see. We are then in a non-dual relationship with another. There is great joy in developing this level of interaction with life.
Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit priest and paleontologist who died in 1955, wrote:
Throughout my whole life during every moment I have lived, the world has gradually been taking on light and fire for me, until it has come to envelop me in one mass of luminosity, glowing from within...The purple flash of matter fading imperceptibly into the gold of spirit, to be lost finally in the incandescence of a personal universe...This is what I have learnt from my contact with the earth - the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe, the divine radiating from the depth of matter a-flame. (The Divine Milieu)
The Power of Interrelatedness: Care in the Universe
Reflection for December 12, 2017
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 and (go) as quickly as (we) could to the embrace of a friend whose gaze mirrors our wonder and delight?
John O'donohue's poem captures Mary's need for Interrelatedness:
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 in Conamara Blues)
Take this fragment of Mary’s story, hold it in the firelight of our communion. What likeness do we see 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. 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!
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 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. But I believe Elizabeth would bless each one of us as she did Mary:
Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.
The Power of Interrelatedness or Care has been at work in the universe for 13.8 billion years, says Brian Swimme.
Without it, the universe would fall apart.
Parental care emerged as a value in the universe because it made survival more likely when the mother and father fish care for their young. As reptiles evolved, Swimme speculates that either they discovered caring, or perhaps it evolved along with them. Reptiles watch over their young and do not eat them (as do some fish). The amazing power of care deepens with the arrival of mammals, whose care continues sometimes for a lifetime. This, says Swimme, is the universe showing what it values, enabling mammals to spread out.
Swimme notes the amazing capacity of humans to care, a power that is coded in our DNA, where life has extended its care through us.
But we also have, through the power of language and symbol, through our conscious self-awareness, the capacity for empathy. We can learn to experience care for another species, even as we can imaginatively occupy another place, and extend our care to other cultures. With deepening compassion we move outside of our own boxed-in perspective.
White Buffalo Calf Woman taught her people that all things are interrelated, so they must reverence all of life. This, Jean Houston teaches, is what the power of Interrelatedness is about: a vision of caring with a sense of the whole; we need an overarching vision that is so simple and alluring that we can see what can be from an all-inclusive vision. Jean sees the Power of Interrelatedness as an incredible invitation from the cosmos to create deep caring.
Seeing that cosmological care is built in from the very beginning of the universe, some people today speak of the Great Mother or Mother Earth. This, says Swimme, is the cosmological power of care employing a powerful image or symbol to reflect upon itself through the human. Paraphrasing Meister Eckhart, Swimme says that “the eye we are using to regard care in the universe is the same eye that care is using to regard itself”. He asks: Is the role of the human to provide the vessel for a comprehensive care to come forth in the universe?
The space in which this will take place is within the human.
Powers of the Universe : Transmutation to Transformation
Reflection for December 5, 2017
"We are in a giant crucible," Jean Houston said. "The mercury of everything is shifting and sliding….in an alchemical analog of transmutation and transformation". It was early September. Jean was speaking at the Rowe Conference Center in Massachusetts, leading a weekend program on the Powers of the Universe, as activated in the lives of the Magus, the Mystic, the Shaman, the Sage and the Alchemist.
The work of the Alchemist is to Transmute. As the medieval Alchemists worked at their crucibles, seeking a way to refine materials to make gold, they were at the same time refining themselves. "This is where you find yourselves living," Jean told us. "You are an alchemical reality shifting into something else and you do not know what you are becoming."
We are in a time of Sea Change for the human race. A whole new order of speciation is taking place. We can find ways to transmute our suffering and pain, shifting them into beauty, choosing to be like Duke Ellington who said, "I take the energy it takes to pout and write some blues."
Peg O'Brien, one of the participants in the Rowe weekend, offered us a stunning example of transmuting pain into beauty when she performed a dance prepared for the anniversary of 9/11 in New York City.
Transformation is among the most stunning of the powers of the universe. Unlike the power of transmutation which creates small changes over time, transformation is sudden, dramatic.
Transformation: the dragonfly emerging from the skin of its former self
In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme notes that while transmutation is the power of change at the individual level, transformation is change that is worked into the whole universe by the individual.
Scientists believe that the universe was aiming towards life from the beginning, yet the universe had to transform itself over and over through almost 10 billion years to get to LIFE. Early events in the universe are present in the early structures to which they gave birth.
Within stars, the birth of the universe is re-evoked, returning to its earlier stages. Galaxies come to birth holding different eras in their structures. Galaxies enable planets which enable life. These are transformative events leading to a time when more of the universe is present in one place.
Life is a way of holding a memory of an event. For example, in photosynthesis cells learn how to interact with the sun. That learning process is remembered in the genes so it can be folded back out. Now that whole event of photosynthesis is here. It’s not a “one-off”. More of the universe is folded into it. The memory is passed on by cells.
With the invention of sexuality, two beings fuse, the memories they carry shuffled together in new ways. The ancestral tree remembers, folds itself into a new being, shuffling events, shuffling genes so new combinations can arise.
The energy that permeates the solar system has been there for all time. Elements of the earth came from the stars. Life holds together all these ancient events. A colossal interweaving enables this moment to exist. We can’t say the universe is simply here “by luck”. Swimme says that the universe is aiming to participate in the creation of community, attempting to become involved in a four-dimensional way in every place to activate community. We have to orient ourselves to the reality that the universe is aiming towards this.
We are invited into a huge responsibility as part of this unfolding. An individual’s experience can become the source for the recoding of the planet. All of cultural DNA can be recoded. The way in which we organize ourselves is recoding the genetics of other species. With the appearance of the human we have the possibility of the transformation of the planet.
The mystics and poets intuited this before the scientists sought proof. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a century ago:
We are the transformers of Earth. Our whole being, and the flights and falls of our love, enable us to undertake this task.
Swimme asks what laws we are proud of: ending slavery? votes for women? laws to protect animals? Where else do we see possibilities for transformation? And what of the seismic shifts happening in our purchase of food? What of our growing demand to know where our food comes from? Our choices based on local sourcing? farmers’ markets sprouting everywhere? What of clothing purchases now that we know more of the sweat shops in Bangladesh and China?
From small transmutations in our personal lives, we can consciously seek the larger changes that will alter the planet, testing them for their coherence within the powers of the universe, asking whether these changes will contribute to the enhancement of life, becoming transformative.
We are part of the unfolding of the four dimensions of the universe. The universe is present now, enfolded in the work we do.
One of the clearest descriptions of the experience of transformation at the personal level comes to us from the 20th century writer and mystic, Caryll Houselander. After a long illness, a bout of scrupulosity, Caryll had an experience of God that removed her obsessive fears:
It was in the evening, I think. The room was dark, and the flames of firelight dancing on the wall seemed almost to cause me pain when I opened my eyes....I no longer attempted to translate my torment as particular sins; I had realized in a dim, intuitive way that it was not something I had done that required forgiveness, but everything I was that required to be miraculously transformed.
Jean Houston advises that when we are moving into an experience of transformation we should go looking for guidance from the mystics, writers and poets who have experienced this. Welcome beauty into our lives. Know that we have within us a visionary process which is a source for the recoding of the planet. All the codings for the life of the unborn future are available in us.
We are the recoding, the reset button.
Powers of the Universe: Transmutation
Reflection for November 28, 2017
On a day in spring, I returned from a holiday to find my brightly painted front door liberally splashed with bird droppings. I looked up….. my heart did a small dance of joy! Above the porch light sat a nest with several tiny feathered heads just visible… the phoebes had returned! The year before, the nest sat empty and I grieved the loss. Now in a brief moment of rejoicing, I was thinking like a planet, rather than a dismayed human. Such transmutations in our perceptions, our behaviours, are occurring among us humans in this time of immense change.
In his DVD series, “The Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme recalls Teilhard’s saying that we are the universe reflecting on itself. Swimme invites us to see ourselves as the Power of Transmutation reflecting on itself in conscious self–awareness. He asks, “How can this lead to a more vibrant earth community?”
Natural selection, Transmutation, is the way form changes through time. In the universe, the birth of radiant energy in atoms changes everything; clouds change into galaxies; primal stars transmute into stellar systems with planets; the earth herself changes from molten rock into a living planet.
The universe forces itself out of one era into another. If you are a particle you have nowhere to go but into an atom…
So, what do we do when we discover ourselves in the midst of the end of one era, moving into another? How do we participate in this Transmutation? Swimme says we need to look at the way life moves from one form to another. The earth uses a form of restraint, of judgement. At the moment when the earth begins to cool from its molten state to form a crust, there is a constraint into the form of continents. When two continents collide, there is further restraint on formerly free activity, enabling restriction and opposition that create mountain ranges. To insist that things remain the same is to insist on the end of the planet’s growth.
Another form of resistance happens when the desires of different beings are in opposition. At the heart of transmutation is the question of how to deal with obstacles and opposites. The grasshopper is constrained by the bird who eats it; the bird has to follow the grasshopper. But to remove the constraints is to upset the beauty of form. A slower grasshopper leads to a less fleet bird; a slower bird means that the grasshopper decreases its speed. The destiny of the bird is tied to the grasshopper.
Creativity is spread out over the whole community. The system has constraints, demands, judgements. The natural selection dynamic is based on judgement that leads to excellence of form and beauty. The beak of the bird developed so it might retrieve bugs from a tree. The relationship between the bird and the tree is a form of intimacy. Every bioregion has this spectacular beauty, with the integrity of the whole maintained by this power of judgement, restraint, struggle.
This was so until humans arose, taking the whole system into collapse through our ability to get around the constraints, the judgements, using all the powers to our own advantage. No longer does natural selection take care of the whole.
Our challenge is to become the Power of Transmutation in conscious self-awareness. We are called upon to bring restraint to human activity so that the natural selection dynamics can proceed. The powers of the universe need the human to proceed through this change. Though our laws, customs and disciplines impose restraint on human activity, they have until now taken for granted that the human is the focus. Now we need to ask for laws that enable the whole community of life to flourish. We need to say clearly, “Some things are going to lead to ruin.” We need a law to protect species for themselves.
Swimme suggests that the human person in whom the Power of Transmutation surfaces strongly has a mind that is highly critical, judgemental. The tone of this person will be highly pessimistic with sensitivity to the dynamic of the whole, with a drive for survival as well as deep respect for law, tradition, custom. The mind of a person in whom the Power of Transmutation is strong is not dogmatic, but has the ability to change in order to make it through the challenges before us. The one in whom the Power of Transmutation is strong is highly–disciplined, leading a structured life, the opposite of the chaotic personality in whom Emergence is the stronger power. However, should the Power of Transmutation become frozen in a person, there is danger that the negative aspects of pessimism, cynicism and guilt might take over.
The feeling mode of the person experiencing the Power of Transmutation is that one does not fit in. There is a sense of being cut off, set aside, rejected, wounded. Yet those who feel most cut off are the ones how feel most deeply that the universe has made a judgement that this era is over. This is an invitation from the universe to look at what life does, to see in the opposition, the wound, one’s destiny. Swimme says: You are feeling the universe is rejecting part of you. Embrace the rejection, embrace that which is attempting to eliminate those aspects of yourself that are maladaptive, the elements that are part of the era that is over: a society based on consumerism, based on destroying opposition.
The planet is withering because humans have accepted a context that is much too small. We can no longer decide only what is best for a corporation or a culture but we must move to a larger context, to the planetary level. Our decisions will affect thousands of future generations. We are the universe as a whole reflecting on itself in this particular place.
Who are the models to inspire us? We co-evolve with all other beings. The great moments of beauty in the universe become our guides, our criteria by which to judge. We look to the future, to beings who will learn to live in harmony to enable the whole to flourish. Thus we learn to live in the context of the whole universe: past, present and future, with the energies of the planet.
Sometimes we catch a glimpse of that future: when a windstorm knocked out electricity in our community’s holiday place one weekend, a few of us decided to stay on. Small changes, transmutations… an evening swim rather than a morning shower…. food cooked on a barbecue… water for washing dishes heated on the barbecue…. perishables such as milk and yogurt packed in an ice chest…. wading into the lake in tall boots to scoop up buckets of water to keep the toilets working...
On the second night, sitting in darkness illumined by golden candles, we watched the rose madder sunset splash across the sky. Venus become clearly visible, a silvery presence. As Earth rolled away to the east, Venus slowly sank below the horizon…
We would have missed this beauty had there been electric light.
A poet once wrote: “After my house burned down, I had a better view of the moon.”
Powers of the Universe: Synergy
Reflection for November 21, 2017
As we continue our exploration of the Powers of the Universe, as described by Brian Swimme in his DVD series, we come to Synergy. This power is magnificently illustrated in the behaviour of the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica for whom a learned behaviour has meant survival. 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.
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) organisms learn how to mate: the discovery of sexuality 1.5 billion years ago 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. 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 has led to increasing complexity in the human. The challenge of finding energy relates to finding food. Swimme cites an aboriginal tribe who depended upon rabbit for survival. Regularly a group of fifty hunters came together to catch an abundance of rabbits for a steady food supply. Their social cohesion resulted 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 being 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.
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.
In her poem, "Ten Million Stars" Nancy Wood celebrates our identity as earth community:
Inside each raindrop swims the sun,
Inside each flower breathes the moon.
Inside me dwell ten million stars,
One for each of my ancestors:
The elk, the raven, the mouse, the man,
The flower, the coyote, the lion, the fish.
Ten million different stars am I,
But only one spirit, connecting all.
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 eco-system.
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 align our human energies with this cosmological power called synergy.
What in the physical/sensory world sustains your joy?
Who are your synergistic partners? (Synergy activated by others)
What story/myth sustains your relationship with your life?
What spiritual practices energize your relationship with the Holy?
The Powers of the Universe: Cataclysm
Reflection for November 14, 2017
Our reflections continue on the Powers of the Universe
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. 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.
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 as 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 is 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. Just yesterday (November 13, 2017) more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issued a "warning to humanity" that we need to change our behaviour in order to protect the planet.
In a signed open letter published in BioScience they note:
* a decline in freshwater availability
*unsustainable marine fisheries
*ocean dead zones
*forest issues (loss of trees that would cover an area the size of South America)
The scientists recommend that governments establish nature reserves, reduce food waste, develop green technologies, and set up economic incentives to shift patterns of consumption.
The one positive change since 1992, when 1,500 scientists issued a similar warning, is that the rate of ozone depletion has diminished.
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 that revealed what is worth valuing in life?
The twentieth century mystic Etty Hillesum, shortly before her death in Auschwitz, wrote words that might 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 is 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
Reflection for November 7, 2017
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 fulness 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.
Asking the question why homeostasis is 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…) Brian 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 now for fossil fuel in tar sands or through fracking, poisoning the water to release gas, is 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: Cataclysm ….
The Powers of the Universe: Emergence
Reflection for October 31, 2017
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 bring forth from 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. Then 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. Then, 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. Twenty five 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 religion, in spirituality, that is emerging among women with roots in Christianity, with branches that now extend to embrace with devotion, 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 June 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 each woman here, that have awakened awareness in her of a Holy Presence that is feminine. For some it is the writings of the feminist theologians, uncovering the deep, 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.
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,” says one. “At first she was mother, but now is more of a friend,” says another.
“A partner, inviting me to co-create with her,” says one woman. “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?
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 film 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.
The Powers of the Universe: Allurement
Reflection for October 24, 2017
Centration is the coming together in one life of the entire 13.8 billion year process of evolutionary development. Last week we saw how Centration looks within the lives of some of our companions, and we looked for signs of its presence in our lives also.
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 billion 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.
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. 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.
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. And in doing so, we will discover something that Swimme wrote many years ago in his book The Universe is a Green Dragon:
Your allurements draw you into the activity of evoking the life about you.
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.
How the Powers of the Universe Show Up in Our Lives
Reflection for October 17, 2017
In last week's Reflection we looked at the Power of Centration. This week, let's go deeper to see how it might manifest in our lives.
What happens in our lives when we take in the reality that we are the living results of a 13.8 billion year process?
How are we affected by accepting that as truly as we live in the Universe, the Universe with its creative powers lives in us?
What changes when we begin to live out of this belief and the profound sense of purpose it gives us?
Brian Swimme suggests that people who are deeply involved in the Power of Centration can be known by signs, by markers in their lives:
Confidence: A person who enters into the way the universe is centering into herself feels a rising confidence in the great and small self within. She feels a sense of partnership as she experiences herself as a co-creative participant in a work greater than she could imagine.
Freedom from Social Forces of Conformity: Contacting a deeper shaping energy gives courage for her to be who she is,
as well as freedom from external pressures to be other than authentically herself.
Joy: Everything happens through centres of particular beings so she experiences the joy of being a cause,
being the universe, because it took 13.8 billion years and now the universe wants to do this.
Focus: Centration leads to immense focus.
Glow: This comes from being at the centre of things, free of envy about what others are doing. This joy is at the centre of her being.
Yet Swimme adds a note of warning that Centration, in an immature form, can manifest as intense narcissism
arising from an inability to imagine another perspective.
Such a person hates criticism, hates being in the gaze of another, hates imagining what others think of her.
Grandiosity and self-absorption take over.
But when you begin to see that the universe in its seamlessness is giving birth to YOU, there is exhilaration!
You are like a child seeing the universe for the first time.
We recognize OMNI-centration because the universe is centering everywhere. If you look at the universe from any galaxy, it seems that the universe is expanding from that place.
In the earth community, every species is at the centre of its own web: this is the omni-centricity of life.
Every being of the universe is of immense self-relevance.
Every culture of the universe is of immense self-relevance.
When six members of our Communion responded to the invitation to write a reflection for us, some of these signs of Centration showed up! What a delight for me to see that the Powers of Centration are thriving among us. I share from these reflections a few examples of living the Power of Centration . For the rest of us, this may be an invitation to notice how these signs appear in our own lives.
How significant Contemplation is for the transformation of the dissolving world we now inhabit, with all its chaos and violence. We are not withdrawing in contemplation but seeking a new energy to affect the world for good and for peace. (Brenda)
The power of love lives in all if we can just embrace it, and learn to let go of fear. There is no greater force – all of God's creation is marked with his/her thumbprint of love. (Noreen)
I know that in every crisis we are given what we need to cope … through a crisis in one's life one has the opportunity for inner growth and change. Daily there is a challenge to be positive and not let fear overcome me. The universe responds favorably to those who can trust in its ability to create new possibilities for growth. (Clara)
I affirm Teilhard de Chardin's belief that all of creation is being drawn to a Oneness in Divine Love. I cling to this belief in the long wait, and the present chaos, destruction of life and sacred land…. I believe that the stronger movement is in the direction of Love and Unity…. I feel the transformation in my own heart. (Mary-Ellen)
At the depth of my being…I know joy resides and I ask the Divine to let that joy shine forth in me. (Clara)
My most profound desires are already given, there already for me to receive, whenever I can cooperate with grace and surrender in trust. Joy, awe and gratitude ensue. (Colette)
The colour of the dawn…the fiery sun bursts forth in the grand welcoming …the world awakens with joy and gratitude and I offer a prayer of awakening to a new spiritual belief of Love, and Grace for all. (Noreen)
The growing sense of the Divine in all fine tunes my attentiveness …to the myriad expressions of Beauty. My heart delights and is grateful. All of this contributes to a growing sense of Joy. (Mary–Ellen)
(Through) silence and communion with nature and the unfolding world I am cultivating a deep and intentional sense of Heart Presence in general, everywhere. (Brenda)
Interrelationships with earth, loved ones and others I encounter on my path…walking in woods, visiting a local botanical garden, strolling on sandy beaches, gazing at the stars, hearing early morning birds warbling, laughing at scurrying squirrels…these and many other moments…nurture my soul and speak to me about who I am….The echoes that come from all of you support my seeking, my search for an authentic, meaningful, integral and integrated spirituality. (Yvette)
The growing awareness of the Divine in all affects how I relate to everything in the Universe….As Thomas Berry would say, I am drawn to see "with the eyes of the heart". (Mary- Ellen)
This dwelling (of the Sacred) within us is deep within each atom, nucleus and cell- it is our life's journey to discover this truth and to live accordingly. (Noreen)
There is another gift from the teachings on the process of centration. Through our deepening knowledge of one another, we are coming to understand we each have our own experience of spirituality. Each week in the Gathering Space our quilt offers a joyous reminder of this. We each have our own perspective, our own understanding and experience of life, its questions and challenges, and of the Communion's calls to us.
Far from being an obstacle to our growing into a community of love, this deepening into our own centres leads us into greater union and love with other centres. As Brian Swimme assures us, the depth of the unity depends upon the depth of centration. Now that is cause for celebration!
the depth of unity depends upon the depth of centration
Powers of the Universe: Centration
Reflection for October 10, 2017
In his DVD Series, "The Powers of the Universe", Brian Swimme says this: The cosmological Powers of the Universe are coursing through us moment by moment. To become aware of these powers is to touch the Source of Life.
Swimme asks: "What if the role of the human after 13.8 billion years is to allow the powers of the universe to be enhanced, to be advanced through us?"
If this is our role, then understanding these powers and how they manifest themselves in our lives becomes crucial. Beyond our individual lives, Thomas Berry, the great eco-theologian, believes that our new grasp of cosmology is essential in the shaping of our relationship with the Sacred Presence of Love within the Universe:
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 recognize that the evolutionary process is from the beginning a spiritual as well as physical process.
(Thomas Berry The Dream of the Earth Sierra Club San Francisco 1988 p. 87)
Though they lacked the scientific language to express this reality, the mystics, the poets, the shamans and sages of earlier ages understood this well. Their words are a guide for us in our coming to know the universe and its powers.
The Power of Centration
Swimme summarizes Centration as the coming together in one life of the entire evolutionary development. Centration is the movement towards being centralized, moving toward a centre, as when a cloud of atoms breaks into galaxies. Within galaxies, a galactic cloud breaks into centres and each becomes a star. The whole system moves towards centres. Eventually this leads, in the dynamics of a planet like earth, to becoming centred in a cell. Consciousness becomes centred in more and more forms of life. The Universe centering on humans, aims now to bring forth another form of life that will take life further forward.
Our challenge is to learn how to participate in this process by removing obstacles to this participation so that the Power of Centration can proceed. Swimme says that our modern individual consciousness right now blocks our participation in the power of centration. He notes an earlier time when human consciousness was an obstacle to advancement. In 1544, Copernicus discovered that earth moves around the sun.
Imagine the shift in consciousness this required of 16th century humans who had believed the earth was the centre around which the sun moved!
How does this compare, Swimme asks, with the radical shift required of us today to acknowledge that the Universe is organizing itself with you as a focus, is interested in YOU as a means of bringing forward newness?
In the twentieth century Einstein made the amazing discovery that "the space and time of the universe depend upon the observer."
The Universe rises up with respect to a particular orientation. Swimme develops this thought: "Everyone is having a particular experience of space and time, of mass and energy... though somewhat coherent, still individually experienced."
Carl Jung came to believe that each of us experiences the universe in our own way.
We are the gathered-in-ness of 13.8 billion years: the universe conscious of itself; it is also important that we are self-aware of WHO we really are and of all that we are. So how can we participate with the power of centration?
Swimme offers two practical suggestions:
1) Develop an intelligent membrane
The invention of the membrane allowed the earliest forms of cellular life to offset the onslaught of the seas. Swimme advises that we develop a permeable barrier, using our intelligence to determine what passes through into our receptive awareness, and what we choose to hold out. Recognize the elements in our society that lead to degradation and destruction for our planet. Refuse to give them energy!
Identify the elements that enhance our own journey into our self (and thus are also good for the planet). Amplify the elements that enhance life.
2) Find a way to contact the primordial energy of the Universe
Swimme encourages us to drop away into contact with the Universe beneath language, knowing that the Universe is longing to centre itself in a new way. Find a way to awaken a more ancient capacity or sensitivity: spend time in a storm, or by the waves of the sea; buy a bird feeder.
Our Matrix /our Womb/that which gave us birth is longing to communicate with us. Find a Catalyst, a way to channel this energy… the Universe labours for 13.8 billion years, and right at the last second, invites a creature to participate in this.
Every day there is … a universe giving birth to itself; Humans participate by consciously entering into this to complete this ancient past.
The Powers of the Universe
Reflection for the Communion: October 3, 2017
The cosmological Powers of the Universe are coursing through us moment by moment.
To become aware of these powers is to touch the Source of Life.
Brian Thomas Swimme, Evolutionary Cosmologist
Early April, 2009. Where were you? What was happening in your life? What was happening in the larger life of the planet?
What do you recall?
Suzanne, Ellyn, Rosemary, Karen and I were together with many companions at the East Coast Mystery School in Garrison, New York. That weekend, Jean Houston and Peg Rubin were opening for us the treasures of Brian Swimme's teachings on "The Powers of the Universe." We learned that these "archetypal shaping powers" are part of our cosmic agentry, assisting us to engage in, to create the new story.
In the eight and a half years since then, life on our planet has increased in complexity, its needs have become more urgent, its sufferings more apparent. Our call to engage more fully as co-creative partners has become paramount. My notes from that April weekend, hold these words:
Free the Spirit so that the guiding entelechy in each is free to emerge.
The Hubble telescope has revealed so much about the universe, but what are the underlying dimensions of being that make it all work?
What is the underlying dimension of the cosmos?
Joseph Campbell taught that myth bridges the local and the transcendent. Myths are full of archetypes and the archetypes are shifting.
A new myth and a new series of archetypes are rising to evoke our place beyond futility.
Take the new story and re-invent our civilization within a self-organizing living universe;
we are moving towards something so stupendous (Swimme's word);
the universe, conscious of itself within us, calls us to a Partnership Spirituality;
we are the universe incarnate; we experience this as an essential oneness and identity;
when mythology works we experience accord with the social order and harmony with the universe.
What can be evoked by the newly arising myths and symbols to bring greening powers?
We are the planet restructuring itself; we need to feel ourselves as celebrants in the Eucharist of the world.
The sediments of earth make up our cells and her waters flow through our tissues as earth/water/wind were part of our ancestors' lives and stories.
"All the powers of the universe are seamlessly one, trying to bring forth radiance," Jean said.
"These powers can be understood mystically as within ourselves waiting to assist us to bring forth a world that works for everyone."
Peg described "Indra's Net" as an ancient symbol of seamlessness.
There is an endless net of threads throughout the universe.
At every crossing of the threads, there is an individual.
And every individual is a crystal bead.
And every crystal bead reflects
not only the light of every other crystal in the net
but also every other reflection throughout the Universe.
At every crossing of the threads of the net there is a jewel;
when you look at one jewel, you can see all the others.
Touch one and the whole net moves and sings.
Anne Baring's book, The Dream of the Cosmos (2013) offers further teachings on this beautiful image:
In India and China, there has long been an exquisite image of the cosmic web of life known as the Net of Indra, king of the gods in the Vedic pantheon. This jewel, diamond or pearl-studded Net – delicate as a silken spiders’ web – was said to be suspended over Indra’s palace on Mount Meru, the Holy Mountain and axis mundi of Vedic cosmology that I had found represented everywhere in temple sculpture on my journeys through India, Cambodia and Indonesia. The Buddha himself once described the cosmos as a ‘web of golden threads joining myriad multi-faceted jewels, each reflecting the multihued light of all the others.’ The jewels or pearls represent the souls of animate beings and each jewel holds a boundless universe of images and experiences, since all souls carry a fathomless past and are connected to each other through the Net.
Francis Cook in his book Hua-yen Buddhism (1977) gives us this description of Indra’s Net:
Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out indefinitely in all directions…the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each ‘eye’ of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring. ( The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for the Soul, pp. 363-365.)
How do you experience Seamlessness?
Our Lives within a Living Universe
Communion of Creative Fire Reflection for September 26, 2017
As we continue to reflect together on the colours we chose to illumine our pathways in spirituality, it is a delight to notice their rich variety.
More wonderful is what we see at the deeper level, the underlying themes that form the "backing" of our quilt in the Gathering Space.
What have you noticed about the common themes? awareness that we are part of an interconnected universe? our drawing to love all that forms part of our universe, especially our beloved home planet? our allurement to the beauty of the earth? our agony at seeing the devastation being wrought by fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane and by the wars and armed conflicts that persist across the planet?
What else do you see?
This underlying visceral awareness that we are part of a greater whole shows that we are coming to a wisdom that is both ancient and as new as the latest scientific discoveries about the universe.
In the winter of 2013, Jean Houston wrote the first Reflection for our Communion of Creative Fire. Here is an excerpt from her essay, "Communing with the Creative Fire of the Universe":
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.
Jean worked with Duane Elgin as he prepared The Living Universe (Berrett- Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, 2009). In this book, Elgin describes the complexity of the living universe:
An exquisitely creative, inexhaustibly intelligent, and infinitely aware life energy is both immanent (present throughout the cosmos) and transcendent (present in ecologies that extend far beyond our cosmos).The life force is simultaneously personal (upholding the most intimate aspects of our existence), impersonal (sustaining all of creation with great freedom), and transpersonal (extending beyond the boundaries of the cosmic system we inhabit.) p. 118
As we continue to explore our place within this living universe, we shall be deepening our awareness of the way the universe offers guidance in our personal lives, while sustaining all that lives on our planet and within the cosmos as well as beyond this system. We are walking in mystery, trusting that the immense power which guides the cosmos also holds us in love. Yet we are no longer so naive as to believe that we can exist outside of, sheltered from, the forces that are now being unleashed through human error and ignorance, as well as through the universe's power to achieve balance.
Writing in The Vanishing Face of Gaia, the independent British scientist James Lovelock notes the earth's capacity to survive eons of change. Lovelock suggests that the earth will survive the present crisis, though human life may not. If earth as a living system must raise her average temperatures to above 40 degrees Celsius, human life will not be able to endure this, but "Gaia", our living earth, will….
So what are we called to do? It may be tempting to consider just burrowing under our soft quilt to wait out the terrors.
Jean suggests a different way: "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."
As we grow in appreciation of this unity of existence, welcoming it into our awareness, we are acknowledging that within us reside the powerful operating systems of the universe itself. Remember: We are beings that the universe inhabits as much as we are beings that inhabit the universe.
How would our lives be different if we were to take this truth as given, if we set our sights on developing the capacities within us to co-operate with the universe itself in helping to heal the planet? Each of us would find her way to doing what she does best, following the allurement of her gifts to become a co-creative partner with the Love at the heart of the Universe….
We are beginning to hear stories of small seeds around the planet that are harvesting their first fruits…. places where the monarch butterflies have been given assistance and are plentiful once more; rivers that have been purified of pollutants, coming back to health far sooner than their human helpers had dared to hope; the resurgence of honey bees in places where beekeeping is again honoured as an important occupation.
No one of us can do it all nor do we need to. We do need to discover our role, whether it is holding life on the planet in love through our daily contemplative practice, or the sending forth of love and good energies where the human population, as well as other life forms, suffer from the devastation wrought by natural disasters on the earth, her waters, her trees, her soil.
We must, we shall, each find our place within what Geo-theologian Thomas Berry called "The Great Work"…. And as we do our part, we may find the burden of sorrow that we carry for our Earth lifting a little…
Find your gift. Find your way. Keep your heart nourished with beauty, with music, poetry and dance; keep your soul woven into the love that we are sharing within our Communion.
If these words of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke assist you, think of them being spoken to you from the Love at the Heart of the Universe:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose Me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give Me your hand.
Wisdom Guiding Our Pathways
Reflection for September 19, 2017
In the deep heart of the night I waken to a call, a ripple of notes so beautiful, so filled with longing and mystery, that it must be a song.
It takes a few moments before I recognize what it is I hear: the cry of the loon.
Over the dozen years that I have lived here by the Bonnechere River, I have heard this song perhaps three or four times. The loon seeks solitude, avoids the high activity of summer, the boating, the fishing, the swimming. She comes only when the river is still, comes with a mate, sometimes with new-born young riding on her back. A male or female arrives alone if a mate has died. Loons mate for life.
Standing by the river this morning, I think about guidance systems, the inner knowing that leads the loon, the heron, the less romantic and far less mellifluous wild geese. How do they know where to go, when to come to this river, when to leave? What brings the phoebe birds back each spring to the tottering remnants of last year's grass and mud nest, where it waits almost hidden just above my porch light?
In Teaching a Stone to Talk, Anne Dillard writes about the monarch butterflies who leave Point Pelee in southern Ontario to cross Lake Erie on their yearly migration path towards Mexico. At the same part of the lake each year they make a wide turn away and then back as though to avoid a huge obstacle. But there is nothing there! Scientists speculate that millennia ago there must have been some great looming shape… an iceberg, remnant of the ice age? a mountain, long since eroded? The monarchs who survived by avoiding this obstacle had this zigzag path imprinted on their genes….their descendants still have this route in their internal guidance system. Their own universe-given GPS still says, "Turn here."
When we, like the monarch, the loon, the phoebe, take the path that leads to life, pursuing the deepest longings of our heart, following the destiny that evokes life for others as well as for ourselves, we too are guided. Yet, the call for us is more complex. Whereas these other life forms have a shared species-wide direction or calling, we humans have more unique and varied paths to follow.
It may take a long time for us to learn to recognise, to know how to follow the longing that leads us on the path of wisdom. As noted in last week's Reflection, we are called to engage in a process of "defining and refining" our own role in this journey of longing, determining how we can be conduits for its influence in our lives and world. Yet, through what Frank MacEowen describes as a tangible heart-felt sense of the pain and joy of our personal longing…. a powerful force that seeks to serve others becomes activated in our souls. (The Mist-Filled Path)
The path of our longings leads us to serve the Universe as seekers and sharers of joy and wisdom. As we continue our journey together in the Communion of Creative Fire, this is becoming clearer. We are discovering the path for ourselves and revealing it to one another in our words, in the way we are living each day.
Several of you responded to my request that you reflect on the colour you chose for our quilt. Your rich and varied reflections show that colour "defining and refining" your personal longings, showing you more clearly the path that leads you into fullness of life. As I have read and re-read your words, I have rejoiced to see the different calls arising among us from the deep heart of our lives. We are being drawn towards an expression of spirituality that is as unique as the colours we chose. Yet at the depth of each is a lure towards a compassionate love for life on our planet in all its manifestations, a lure that evokes a wonder, a joy, as piercingly lovely as the night song of a loon.
In last week's Gathering Space, Colette spoke of her deep longing: to be as clear a channel of Source’s love as is possible. There is nothing more important to me than to allow Love to manifest through me, in me….
Colette sees this longing reflected in her choice for the quilt: The colour I chose for our quilt is yellow in its many hues. I am particularly entranced and have been for the longest time by transparency, like the leaves of a tree becoming transparent in the sunlight. I revel in this magnificence whenever I come upon it. It is a significant image that has always spoken to my heart which I better understand now.
Mary Ellen writes of the Solar Eclipse "(bringing ) alive the wondrous relationship between Earth, Moon and Sun"; Noreen writes of her allurement to fiery red, the colour of love; Brenda writes of being drawn to purple, the colour of the crown chakra, signifying wisdom; Clara writes of being renewed by the beauty and gifts of the earth in summer; Yvette reflects on her colour choice of orange as giving her "life, vitality, and energy". Each of these women is speaking of her pathway to wisdom, her unique way of experiencing the Love at the heart of the universe.
These reflections and others that I have received and hope still to receive from you will be shared over the coming weeks on our website.
Communion Reflection for September 12, 2017
Wisdom: Our Gift from the Universe
We each carry a treasure within us. Etty Hillesum writes of “that little piece of you, God, in ourselves,” and Teilhard de Chardin describes “the diaphany of the Divine” which he recognizes “at the heart of a glowing universe.” That sacred presence manifests in our lives at times as a kind of knowing more intimate, more sure, than something read or heard from others. We experience moments of clarity when we “see” into and around the deep questions that arise within us. In times of darkness or dimness, in times when we hunger for meaning, for a path through difficulties, we catch a glimpse of light, a glimmer of radiance, as when quartz crystal in a rock catches starlight.
We have moments of sight, of knowing. But do we trust them? Do we follow the path they point out to us?
Perhaps we do sometimes, perhaps for a little while…
There is an ancient Arabic tale of a wondrous golden bird who drops one burnished feather. Its magnificence lures other birds to set off in pursuit of the golden one. The intensity of desire fuels their flight into an arduous journey.They fly through danger, through darkness, through wild winds and pelting rain. The way is long. Some become lost, some sustain injuries, a broken wing, a blinded eye. Others become so exhausted that they stop to rest before turning back towards home. In only a few does the desire burn so intensely that they cannot turn away.
When they finally reach journey’s end, the golden bird is waiting for them, ready to reveal a secret.
Each one of the birds carries a golden feather in his or her breast.
This story illumines the path to wisdom. It begins with desire, with a glimpse of something lovely and golden that allures us. We set out, lured by our longing. If we hold the vision in our heart through danger, darkness, discouragement, through the disenchantment, the desertion of some of our companions, we win through at last to the place where the golden bird awaits us.
We discover that our allurement has led us into our own hearts where a golden feather has been all along.
What does this mean in our personal stories? What dangers do we encounter that are so terrifying that we are tempted to turn back?
I do not think we fear darkness, danger, stormy nights, piercing cold or blistering heat. We have lived long enough to know about difficult journeys. We have taken a few already. We are not like the birds who turn aside because the way is dark and uncertain.
I think Marianne Williamson has it right: what we fear most is not darkness, but our own light.
We distrust the very longing that allures us. We fear the beauty of what we seek. Somehow we have come to believe that it is best not to desire too much, that it is nobler to be content with less, to keep to the low road, the one that cannot disappoint or deceive us. We have been taught NOT to seek too much, NOT to desire joy, NOT to expect happiness. Perhaps those who taught us this prefer us to be more pliant, more in tune with their needs than with our own, more willing to serve their desires than the desires of the Universe, the longings that have been seeded in our hearts by the Sacred Presence of Love…
And yet, the poets, the mystics, the wise ones of all times and faith paths assure us: the Universe has birthed us out of Love, and our heritage is light and joy, inner wisdom, guidance towards fullness of life. We are not meant for ease, nor absence from the suffering that is part of life.
But we are offered beauty, meaning, wonder, and a love within us that draws us into Love.
It is our longings that lead us to our destiny. As Frank MacEowen writes in The Mist-Filled Path:
Nearly all initiations, if they are truly centered in the life of the soul, are about stepping into right relationship with the spirit of longing. Initiation is the process of defining and refining one’s role in the life of our longing, determining how we can be conduits for its influence in our lives and world.
Our longings influence more than our own lives as Brian Swimme also assures us:
Your allurements draw you into the activity of evoking the life about you. (The Universe Is a Green Dragon)
MacEowen believes that: When we have a tangible heart-felt sense of the pain and joy of our personal longing, a powerful force that seeks to serve other becomes activated in our souls.
And the Sufi poet Rumi encourages us: Let the Beauty you love be what you do.
While life’s door stands open, we must step out onto the moon-washed path that lures us forward. We must take the path that leads to life, the path illumined by the deepest longings of our heart. On that path we will be serving the Universe as seekers, sharers, of joy and wisdom.