Gathering Space for June 30, 2022
The early evening holds diffused light. What a joy for us to feel the warmth of high summer in the gentle breeze that caresses our skin, ruffles our hair, touches our face as we look up at the sky. Some of our companions are carrying books of poetry. We glimpse an author's name: Mary Oliver and then another: Rainer Maria Rilke. There must be a poetry reading planned. Others are carrying what look like trays and containers of food. Are those bottles of wine in an ice bucket? Fine reasons to hurry towards our gathered circle, and find places to sit on the grass or low stone walls, still warm from the day's sun.
Once everyone has found a place and we have greeted one another, an expectant quiet arises as we wait to see who will open the circle with the lighting of the fire pot.
Patty stands and comes to the circle's centre to light the fire. After she returns to her place on the grass, she speaks: "Some of us got together on Zoom to select poetry for this summer night. We’d been reading Merton's Hour of Terce in his poem to Hagia Sophia. We found that we liked best the way Sophia is described as being at the core of all life, in all things like the air receiving sunlight. We wondered what it would be like to select poems that showed how this presence of love is found in the four elements: fire, earth, water and air.
"Each of us took on the task of finding a poem or a piece of beautiful prose about one of the elements. To make it more interesting we thought a woman writer should speak for the feminine elements of water and earth and a man for the masculine ones of fire and wind."
Shirley speaks: "Before I read Teilhard's words about the element of Fire, I would like to read for us the words of Kathleen Duffy that show Teilhard's desire to be immersed in Matter, Mater, Mother Earth:
Sophia was the source of Teilhard’s life. Her constant care for creation during so many billions of years gave him confidence she would continue to be faithful… Teilhard vowed to steep himself in the sea of matter, to bathe in its fiery water, to plunge into Earth where it is deepest and most violent, to struggle in its currents, and to drink of its waters. Filled with impassioned love for Sophia, he dedicated himself body and soul to the ongoing work needed to transform the cosmos to a new level of consciousness and to transformative love.
"Here is what Teilhard writes of FIRE
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 depths of matter a-flame. "
After Shirley sits down, Carol Ohmart Behan comes forward to speak: " My element is EARTH. I'll read from the writings of Susan Griffin.
As I go into the Earth, she pierces my heart. As I penetrate further, she unveils me. When I have reached her center, I am weeping openly. I have known her all my life, yet she reveals stories to me, and these stories are revelations and I am transformed. Each time I go to her, I am born like this. Her renewal washes over me endlessly, her wounds caress me. I become aware of all that has come between us, the blindness, of something sleeping between us. Now my body reaches out to her. They speak effortlessly, and I learn that at no instant does she fail me in her presence. She is as delicate as I am, I know her sentience, I feel her pain and my own pain comes into me, and my own pain grows large and I grasp this pain with my hands, and I open my mouth to this pain, I taste, I know and I know why she goes on, under great weight, with this great thirst, in drought, in starvation, with intelligence in every act does she survive disaster. This earth is my sister, I love her daily grace, her silent daring, and how loved I am, how we admire this strength in each other, all that we have lost, all that we have suffered, all that we know: we are stunned by this beauty, and I do not forget what she is to me, what I am to her.
We hold these words in silence for a time as Carol sits down.
Ellyn comes forward to speak: "You know that Thomas Merton is important in my life. I searched through his poetry seeking something about the element of air. I found Wind and a Bobwhite."
Wind and a bobwhite
And the afternoon sun.
By ceasing to question the sun
I have become light,
Bird and wind.
My leaves sing.
I am earth, earth
All these lighted things
Grow from my heart.
A tall, spare pine
Stands like the initial of my first
Name when I had one.
When I had a spirit,
When I was on fire
When this valley was
Made out of fresh air
You spoke my name
In naming Your silence:
O sweet, irrational worship!
I am earth, earth
My heart’s love
Bursts with hay and flowers.
I am a lake of blue air
In which my own appointed place
Field and valley
I am earth, earth
Out of my grass heart
Rises the bobwhite.
Out of my nameless weeds
His foolish worship.
Now Suzanne stands and comes to the centre to speak: "I asked if I might choose a piece of writing on Water. I found there were many to choose from as writers seem to be so inspired by this element. I finally settled on Mary Oliver's poem: Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me
spoke to me
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!
That’s what it said
as it dropped,
smelling of iron,
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.
Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing
under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment,
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain –
the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.
We sit in stillness for a time, each of us absorbed in these stirring images, these poetic delvings into the elements of our Sophia-infused earth, where we are immersed in Sophia's love.
The evening has darkened. The moon is in her hidden phase, like the Dark Mother, the Black Madonna…. Her darkness grants us a clearer view of the stars, more brilliant than we can ever recall. We stand, begin to prepare for our feast to celebrate life.
A Visitor Comes to Iona June 23, 2022
Into our Gathering Space comes a woman clad in what appears to be monastic clothing of centuries long past. She smiles, looks at us rather uncertainly, takes a place among us on the low stone walls in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. As the women of the communion arrive, each choosing a place to sit, many of us pause to look at the stranger. We turn away, not wanting to stare, but low whispers stir around the garden. “Who is she?” “Where is she from?” Why has she come?” “Might she be one of the nuns who once lived here?”
Jean is the first to approach her, taking a seat beside the stranger on the low wall. “Welcome to our Gathering Space,” Jean says as though this is an ordinary guest beside her. “What’s your name?”
“I am Hrotsvit,” the woman replies. “I come from the Monastic House of Gandersheim.”
Jean is clearly delighted. “You come from early Saxony. Let me guess … Tenth century?” The woman pauses, unsure. “I am born in the year of our Lord 930.”
By now, everyone else in the garden is as still as a held breath. Jean’s next question is a surprise. “You've managed to cross more than a thousand years and most of Europe to come to us. You must have felt a compelling need to be here. What brought you?”
Hrotsvit draws a breath. “I am alone at prayer, thinking of what my abbess has just asked me to write. About women, to tell our true story. So I make this prayer: Where shall I find women to whom I might speak my heart? "Then, suddenly, I am here. That is all I know.”
Jean’s courtesy and directness having untied our tongues. Now we add our words of welcome, drawing near to Hrotsvit. Somehow we find we have formed a circle with her in the centre.
“Go ahead,” Jean encourages her. “You have found the women you seek. Tell us your story.” Ego Clamor Validas Why, why, why, O God,
does the voice of a woman so distress them? My voice is the one You have given me:
Even my name says it, Hrotsvit, clamor validus,
I am the strong voice of Gandersheim. The men know and own their voice
I sought the monastic safety of Gandersheim
and here, oh joy, my abbess, Gerberga,
urges me to speak:
“So much needs to be said about women,” she said.
She told me to read all that had been written about women,
the lies, deceptions, distortions,
all their lives turned to ridicule for men’s pleasure,
and through men’s fear.
“Change all that,” she said to me. “Tell the story of women.”
And so, my God, I use my voice, the clamor validus,
which is Your gift to me to tell the story of woman.
I will write, O God, of women’s true selves,
of women as You see them,
as You created them,
as You speak to them.
So, O God, sprinkle my mind with dew,
and moisten gently with Your love the dark recesses of my mind.
Do not let the voice You gave me
Grow rusty from neglect.
…I will write of the women I know,
Their strength, holiness, goodness, courage, hospitality,
and above all, their ability to face themselves,
to remake their lives,
to know the truth of themselves
created and ever-loved by You.
I want my pen to praise Your greatness
in the greatness of women.
I want to urge women to move beyond despair,
that sin which is the bane of womankind.
We have been told so often that we are nothing,
that despair seems the easy road.
I want women to know it is not so.
We are made for great things.
I want women to cease the pretence of being voiceless
and to raise their voice in womanly words of praise and hope.
I want, O God, to be the one
who with flinty spark can set the whole sea alight.
I want all women to say without excuse,
Ego clamor validus.
After Hrotsvit speaks, a deep and holy silence falls, as her words echo within us.
The woman looks at us: “Have I spoken to your hearts? Does what I say, what I intend to write, feel true to you? Please tell me your thoughts.”
What response does each of us make to Hrotsvit’s request?
Please note that the words spoken by Hrotsvit are from Mary T. Malone : Praying with the Women Mystics published by Columba Press, Dublin Ireland 2006; available from Novalis Press, Canada (www.novalis.ca)
Gathering Space for Summer Solstice June 21, 2022
The soft light of evening welcomes us to the Garden on Iona. It is the time of summer solstice, the time when sunlight wakens us early and accompanies our evening activities. These are the days born from our winter dreams when the longest nights of December Solstice were followed by days whose dawns came earlier. This is the time when seeds planted in our hearts in winter’s darkness emerge into new life.
We have planned a ritual to celebrate the Summer Solstice. Once all thirty of us have arrived, and found a comfortable place to sit either on the low stone wall, or on the grass, we begin with “A Summer Day”, a poem by Mary Oliver:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself
out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar
out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth
instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous
and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and
thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed,
how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last,
and too soon ?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver’s question echoes around our circle, finds its way inside us….
******************************************************************* After a time of reflection, another question is asked, this one from Dolores Whelan’s Celtic Calendar:
What seeds sown in the darkness of winter
have now blossomed and opened in my life?
Our mysterious flute player (might she be one of the thirteenth century Augustinian nuns?) is somewhere nearby within the crumbled remains of the Chapel. Her notes rise to flow across the air, to clear our thoughts, focus our hearts, allowing memories of winter plantings to rise in us, showing us how those hopes have emerged, what they have become in our lives…..
After each woman speaks, the group prays together:
May you see and celebrate the triumph of light as it is expressed in all that flowers in you at this time.
While each of us remembers, recognizes, shares our blossoming, and receives the group’s blessing, the last light of longest day is slowly ebbing from the sky. As the sky dims, then darkens, the full moon is rising, her light illuminating our familiar garden with magic.
When the last person has spoken, it is time to stand, to move about, to begin the ritual we have adapted from Kathleen Glennon’s book: Heartbeat of the Seasons.
Opening: We gather in a circle around our unlit fire pot. When the fire has been lighted, we sing, with these gestures:
Fire of the sun
- reach up to draw in the light from the sun
Fire of the stars
-reach up to draw the fire from the stars
Fire of the earth
-reach down to draw the fire from the earth
- cross your arms at your wrists and make dancing movements with your fingers
Fire of the rocks
-join hands and sway to the music for this verse
Fire of the clay
Fire of the hearth
Fire in the heart
-extend arms and place hands on your heart
Fire in the head
-extend arms and place hands on your head
Fire in our veins
-with your right hand gently rub the veins on your left arm
- cross your arms at your wrists and make dancing movements with your fingers.
Blessing of the Fire with Water from a Local Holy Well
We bless this fire with water from our holy well.
May the lighting of this fire inflame the hearts of all with love and passion.
May this fire bring blessings of peace and protection to all.
May this fire remind us of the first spark of light which flared forth
at the beginning of time.
Lighting of Candles
Each woman is given a small unlit tea-light. A large candle is lighted from the fire pot and light is passed around the circle for each one’s tea-light.
Hymn of Praise
Response after each verse: How beautiful the light!
How glorious its splendour!
Sacred this fire of midsummer’s eve.
Sacred the light of our sun.
Sacred are you, the Most Holy One,
Who kindles light and fire.
Sacred the moment
When you sparkled
Forth a fireball of love and creativity.
Sacred that kindling nearly fourteen billion years ago.
Sacred the birthing of supernova,
The fiery activity of stars,
The formation of galaxies,
The formation of elements.
Sacred the calling forth
Of our Milky Way.
Sacred the seeding of our sun
Aflame with brilliant energy.
Sacred the blaze that whirled
The planets and shaped our earth.
Sacred the formation of earth’s crust
Sacred the trees, the plants, the flowers
All kissed into light, into life by sun.
Sacred the fish that swim, and birds that fly,
All creatures that breathe the fire of creativity.
Sacred the creation
With sun’s burning love
Sacred the seed of fire in all that is.
Fire that reflects your eternal light.
Each heart aflame with a flame of fire,
Each eye reflecting your burning love.
Sacred this holy night
Aglow with star-light, fullness of moon light,
Love light, fire light,
Candle light, God light.
Dancing around the fire
Finally, we express our joy, our happiness, on this Solstice night in a dance. In Irish style we will dance around the fire three times to the right. In our hearts we bless the numinous presence from an earlier century as she plays a lively dance tune for us on her flute.
Gathering Space on Iona June 9, 2022
We have planned a later arrival this evening in our Sacred Garden on Iona so that we might enjoy the moon’s light as she waxes towards her fullness. As each woman comes into the grassy circle that opens among the worn ruined walls, she stops to gaze at the explosion of beauty that has continued to flower since our last gathering.
Our labyrinth is still in place and the early arrivals have already begun a slow meditative walk towards the centre. In mutual agreement, we join them, until gradually the whole labyrinth is laced with our Communion friends. We carry our questions inwards, spiralling back with fresh insight, some light for our dark searches, heartsease for our burdens….
The Moon in her rising finds each of us seated, either on the grass or along the low walls, gazing back at her with wonder and delight. It seems that no one is willing to break the spell with words for a long time. Our mysterious flute player has come prepared: her clear notes rise up to touch the Moon’s fair cheek.
After a time someone asks, “Is there a poem for this night?”
Mary Malone’s book is opened to “Magnificat” a poem inspired by Elsie Gerber, a contemporary Canadian writer, involved in the women’s spirituality movement. The light of the moon is strong enough to read by so we decide that each of us will choose a section, then hand the book on to next reader:
woman on the edge
woman of the open spaces
dwelling in the empty places
woman on the edge
she is listening for a distant song
even a single word
she is hoping to hear the very voice
she is digging in her garden
she is looking for roots
her fingers probe the damp cool earth
the place where life begins
she still believes in beauty
and miracles and promises
she has faith in seeds
her heart is open
she longs to sing a song of victory
to dance with light feet
among the flowers crushed and trampled
she is longing to feel her feet on the ground
her roots sinking deeply
into the dark soft earth
she is looking for a revolution
she is aching for grace
she is seeking the very face
and grace pays an unexpected visit
in woman form, a wise woman
with laughter lines carved ‘round her eyes
and holes in her boots
a touch of silver in her hair
wise woman listens and knows and sees
then she hears once more the old song
which strike deep and true
and echo throughout her body
her heart her womb
the place where life begins
she hears once more the old song
out of the silence
she didn’t know today was the day
to rewrite her story
she is weaving colours and images
and memories into a whole
she too is source and giver of life
she is poet and dancer and prophet and mother
dreaming and birthing and sinking into the warm soil
she is rediscovering the colour blue
blue, born of fire
born in the first waters
welling up from the heart of the earth
she is rediscovering blue
in the first morning glory on the vine
she is learning to sing a triumphal song
to dance through the garden with feather-light feet
learning to heal
she is not afraid to become
she is a strong woman
a woman on the edge
singing in the open spaces
dancing in the empty places
woman on the edge
After the reading, we sit very still, each of us remembering a line or a phrase, an image or a longing that resonates deeply with us….
A few women rise to move into a dance of joy under the moon’s light and soon the garden is filled with dance and the sound of voices lifted in song…..
Gathering Space for June 2, 2022 The moon is a slender silver earring in the deep blue of the evening sky as we come into the Sacred Garden on Iona. The mingled fragrance hits our senses like rich wine. Seeking its source we move nearer to the explosion of beauty that has flowered here over the week since our last gathering. We see Canterbury bells, tall purple Iris, June roses in warm shades of pink, flowering bushes of yellow forsythia.
Some of our companions have been busy creating a labyrinth in the centre of the garden, using stones from the North Atlantic shore to outline the pathways. In silent accord, we begin to walk the meandering way, recalling the teaching that one enters the labyrinth with a question, pauses at the centre to hold the question, walks back allowing the answer to arise from within.
We are learning that to open oneself to a question, to risk hearing a response that may be surprising, startling, perhaps unwelcome, is to practice self-fragilization. This is to allow oneself to be vulnerable, to risk the embrace of mystery.
What question do I take with me now as I enter the labyrinth?
(we now make our way imaginally along the path)
As each person emerges from the labyrinth, she stands silently nearby, holding her companions in an intention that they might know what to ask, might hear the response with an open heart.
When the last woman emerges from the labyrinth, a voice begins a familiar song and soon we are all singing:
We will never, never lose our way
to the well of her memory
and the power of her living flame
it will rise, it will rise again.
We repeat the song as voices weave in harmonies...
Now we move in behind the stone walls to the roofless chapel. Elements have been carefully placed for a ritual.
Each in turn, we kneel on a soft cushion, raise our hands to receive the water being poured over them by one of our companions, who then offers a towel.
Each in turn, we rise, walk to the table where we choose a piece of bread from a bowl, dip it into a second bowl of honey and into a bowl of milk. We consume it.
Two of our companions are holding the braided circle of cloth known as the crios of Brigid. They hold it high enough for each woman in turn to walk through it. The first entry is a time to choose to let go of something in our life that no longer serves us. A second time we walk through the crios thinking of what we are grateful for. On the third and final entry, we think of what we must now do in our lives: what call do we hear?
When each woman has completed her ritual, we join hands to move out into the garden for a joyous spiral dance, stepping in time to the music of our flute-player.
Gathering Space for May 26, 2022
Celebrating the Gifts of May
The warmth of this early evening in late May lingers as we walk towards the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. The grey stones come into view, with splashes of colour from our quilts brightening the scene before us. Towards the edge of the grass lawn, May flowers and low bushes add softer shades of pink, mauve, pale yellow. There is something more. Just beyond the quilts on the grass is a long low table, covered with a white cloth. There are vases of daffodils, bugloss, lavender, small bowls where violets and primroses float.
Standing just beyond the table, our friends from Iona greet us: Elspeth, Bridie, and two others who assisted in creating our quilts.
Elspeth speaks first: “You’ll remember Bridie, Mary Elizabeth and Jane. We got together on the weekend and decided to plan a celebration for you, with you. It’s almost the end of May. "We’ve all been so taken up with the tragic events on the planet that we hardly saw the earth's springtime beauty.
“Here on Iona we're now free to gather in small groups. The four of us talked together for hours. We’ve prepared a Celebration of May, putting together a Ritual with some of the traditions we love best.
“This evening you will be our guests as we lead the Ritual. We may ask you to share your memories and stories as well.
“Let us begin our celebrations by singing our chant:
Welcome to Summer with her lap full of flowers!
“Now I invite you to form a circle as you find a place to sit on a quilt, on the grass, or on the low stone wall where you may see each other. Jane will lead us in a guided reflection on summer:
REFLECTION ON SUMMERTIME
Jane comes to stand at the centre of our circle. "Today we come to celebrate summer. This is the season when we celebrate the dance of sun and earth.
Let us become aware of the earth under our feet.
Anchor yourself in the earth.
"Imagine the earth rotating on its axle in the vast cosmos.
Imagine the millions of stars under you,
the millions of stars above you,
the millions of stars to the right and left of you.
"Become aware of the sun; feel its rays on your face.
In your mind’s eye see the other planets orbiting around the sun.
"The northern hemisphere of our earth is titled slightly towards the sun at this time; that is why we have our warm season.
If the sun were a few degrees nearer we would burn up.
If the sun were a few degrees farther away
all life on earth would be frozen.
"All life owes its existence to the sun."
(Pause for reflection)
WELCOMING THE SUN INTO OUR LIVES
"Let us welcome the sun into our lives.
Take the sun’s rays into yourself.
Spread them imaginally to the person beside you.
Extend them to the earth and its inhabitants.
Send them to situations that need healing and warmth."
OFFERING OF FLOWERS
Elspeth speaks: “The next part of our ritual we've had to adapt. It's meant to be the creation of a garland of flowers to honour Mary. In Celtic Christianity, May has been Mary’s month. Some of you will recall walking in procession as children while you sang:
Bring flowers of the rarest,
Bring flowers of the fairest,
From garden and woodland and hillside and dale.
Our full hearts are swelling, our glad voices telling
The praise of the loveliest Rose of the Vale.
Oh Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.
“We invite you to come one at a time to choose a flower from the table and take it to someone in the Communion in whom you recognize a quality that we have attributed to Mary. Offer that flower to her. Say the quality aloud for each of us to hear.
“When each woman has received a flower, Mary Elizabeth will lead the next part of our Celebration.”
CELEBRATING THE VISITATION
Mary Elizabeth speaks: “As a child, my favourite feast day was the Visitation, the day we remember how Mary, who had just said yes to bearing the Holy Child, set off at once for the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant. Elizabeth’s son would be known as John the Baptist. "I loved this feast because it celebrated the two women for whom I was named. Now I still love the feast though for different reasons. "Let me read the story as it is told in the Gospel of Luke:
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.”
“I used to think this story 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 our 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, someone who knows mystery in the depths of her own being, as Elizabeth does. Would not each one of us set out at that time and go as quickly as we could to the embrace of a friend whose gaze mirrors our wonder and delight?
“John O’Donohue wrote a poem I've come to love about Mary and her visit to Elizabeth :
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.
Elspeth speaks: “After our blessing, we four will make ready a May Feast of early fruits, white wine, fruit juice and desserts. While we're doing this you may wish to talk together about the story of the Visitation, how it echoes in your own lives. "From what I understand about your Communion of Creative Fire, you've each been invited, and have agreed to provide, the inner space for newness to gestate in preparation for birth. Each of you knows the need to nurture this newness in times of solitude, and you know also the absolute requirement of being companioned by one another if your hearts are to remain open, nourished, and (as Hildegard says) juicy!
“When you return here next week, you may wish to bring your thoughts on the VISITATION, a feast that is celebrated on the last day of May. How do you experience in your own life what John O’Donohue speaks about in his poem?"
May all be blessed with the fragrance of wild flowers.
May all walk in their beauty.
May all be clothed in their grace.
May their colour surround all.
May their petals enfold all.
May their magnificence lead all
into the spiral of mystery.
“Now let the celebration continue with a feast!”
Gathering Space for May 19, 2022 To conclude our Reflections on Julian of Norwich, I offer from our Archives Julian's first visit to us in the Ruins of the Nunnery:
The air off the north Atlantic is milder this evening though a soft rain is falling. Sitting on the grass here where the Augustinian Nunnery once stood is not appealing. We seek partial shelter at the edge of the property where high stone walls remain. A few minutes of engineering creates a roof of umbrellas and raincoats. Under this makeshift shelter, we spread blankets and groundsheets. Soon, we are dry and comfortable enough to exchange greetings and questions about the past week.
We're happy to see that Maureen has made the journey to Iona tonight. “It’s the power of the Spirit,” she tells us. “The Feast of Pentecost last Sunday gave me a boost of energy…. And besides, I’ve been thinking about Julian of Norwich. I’ve had an idea.”
We all turn to look at Maureen, wondering what she might have in mind. There is a rather alarming light in her eyes….
“I was thinking that Julian was living in Norwich at the same time as this Women’s Monastery was thriving. I wondered if this might be a place where she would feel at home.”
“What are you suggesting, Maureen?” Ellyn asks. “Is it what I think you mean?”
“Probably,” Maureen says. “I think if we invited her to come here to Iona, Julian would say yes.”
There is complete and utter silence.
Undaunted, Maureen continues. “Look, we’ve learned about the way time past and present are one. We’ve learned about the continuation of life beyond death. And we’ve learned that the Power of Allurement draws to us those whom we love. So I thought we should ask her.”
Mary Ellen says, “I think, Maureen, that as you've had the thought, you should be the one to ask.”
Maureen smiles. “Well, actually, I already have.”
“And what did Julian say?” Violet asks.
“Julian asked if there was a window where she might sit to speak with us…. Well, it’s what she’s used to. So I said that there was one left in the ruins.”
Like puppets on strings, we all turn to stare at the window that Maureen is showing us.
For a few heartbeats, no one moves or speaks. The song of a blackbird fills the garden. Then we hear a sound so strange we do not at first identify it…… Laughter. From the other side of the window.
“If you could look upon your faces now, you would laugh more merrily than I do!”
We see a figure at the window, cloaked in grey wool, the face almost hidden by the hood. Yet the eyes are bright, wise and merry! And the woman, Julian herself, is laughing at us!
“Well, have you nothing to say to me? To ask me?”
Ruth is the first to recover: “Julian, will you teach us how to pray?”
Julian turns toward her and smiles. “Often our trust is not full. We are not certain that God hears us because we consider ourselves worthless and as nothing. This is ridiculous and the cause of our weakness. I know, because I have felt this way myself! Then Love told me this: I am the source of your prayers. First it is my will that you have what you desire. Later I cause you to want it. Later on, I cause you to pray for it and you do so. How then can you not have what you desire?
"Some of us believe that God is Almighty and may do all, and that God is All-Wisdom and can do all; but that God is All-Love and will do all, there we stop short. Dear Women of the Communion of Creative Fire do not stop short. instead trust that God is All-Love and will do all for our joy!”
Yvette asks: “Julian why do you call Jesus our Mother?”
Julian pauses, then says, “I suppose it is what you now call an image or perhaps a metaphor. He who loves us so much, with such great tenderness, is not this the Mother’s part? I call the Christ our Mother because it is the Mother who best shows love, as the sea and the storm show power, as the flower shows colour. It seems to me that Christ gave birth to us through his great love as he died. Then having birthed us into life, he continues to feed us with himself through the Eucharist. That is how it is to my sight.”
Suzanne asks: “Julian what must we do to be worthy of God’s Love?”
Julian leans into the window and looks straight at Suzanne. “Nothing.”
Suzanne is puzzled. “Julian, I wonder if you heard my question?”
Once again Julian is laughing. “Oh my dear, of course I heard your question. And my answer remains. Nothing. In the one night of my visions, I understood that the love in which we are held is unchanging, and depends not at all on what we do. Jesus is our clothing. He wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us. It is we ourselves who hold Love away from us, believing we are not deserving. Oh, my dear friends, are you not now aware that you live within a universe that is continually alluring you with love, yearning for you, drawing others to you and you to all of life? Love holds the stars in place, and sets the earth on its spiral dance around the sun. Oh, you are loved.
Shirley asks: “Julian, if we are held in love, then why do we suffer?”
Julian looks at her with tenderness: “We suffer because we love. There is no love without suffering. In another sort of universe, where one could exist without caring for another life, whether human or animal or tree or flower or river or sea, there might not be suffering. Yet on earth once we allow ourselves to give and to receive love, we are saying yes to suffering. That is the price of love. Human love. Divine Love. Agony enters in. But so does ecstasy. Who would wish to live without Love?
You, dear women of Creative Fire are learning this. Be right glad and merry for God loves you, will never leave you and wants you to be happy!”
And as suddenly as she appeared at the window, Julian is gone. For a long while there is silence. We hold her words within our hearts. Gathering Space for May 12, 2022
Brigid, Archetype for our Communion of Creative Fire The waxing moon, four days from her fullness, illumines our path as we enter the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. It is late evening as we arrive, having received a message from Elspeth that she has prepared a ritual that would be best done in darkness.
We approach the place where our quilts are spread out on the grass so as to form a circle with the lighted fire pot placed at the centre. Elspeth is already here waiting for us. When we are comfortably seated, having taken care to allow for social distancing, Elspeth welcomes us.
“When we last gathered here, I told you the Story of Bone Woman. After the story, I invited you to reflect on who in your life is that loving presence, the one who gazes at you in the lamplight, expresses compassion, offers to untangle your life. This is the one whose heart becomes a drum as you become the drummer, calling yourself into wholeness, and into union with this Love.
“This mysterious presence we may now see as an archetype, a co-creative partner for our lives. In a few moments, when you hear the music begin, I invite you to stand, to find a space alone where you have room to dance, as I read for you the “Process of Union with the Archetype”, adapted from Jean Houston's The Hero and The Goddess."
(Note: to do this process on your own, choose some music you love; I chose the "Flower Duet" and you can hear it as well as the process in the recordings attached to this week’s Communion email. You may prefer to record your own voice reading the process, or even to put on some music, read the script a few times, and just go ahead.)
Process of Union with the Archetype "Begin now slowly to turn in place, turning, turning. And while you turn, listen closely to these words:
You are now prepared to meet and join with your archetype. This archetype can be considered in several ways. It might be the goddess-self you have come to know within you. It may be known as the Beloved Friend within. It may be experienced as a divine presence whom you have met before in your life, or one you have yearned to meet. In what is about to happen the relationship between you and what we are calling the archetype will be deepened and matured.
Continue to turn now as you bring to this meeting the fullness of your human virtue with the added strength of your longing. Not overwhelmed by this meeting, you are instead enriching your sense of relationship to the archetype so the archetype can deepen you and can serve as midwife of your soul.
And continuing to turn – or, if you prefer, now moving into a dance – but meeting and deepening your relationship to the archetype.
Ask the archetype to be careful not to overwhelm you. Together, you will move gently, gracefully into each other’s presence, experiencing the joy of mutual presence and loving communion. And in so doing, deepening the archetype, helping him/her/it reach the next stage of archetypal evolution. And that is happening now…
The two of you now are dancing together. The rich knowledge and communion are flowing back and forth in the dance…
The two of you dancing together now. You, the human being, are now deepening and thus are able to meet the archetype in communion. The archetype is deepening through your humanity as well as through your new ability to meet the archetype fully.
Feel this initiation, this mutual deepening, back and forth. The god, the goddess, the depth self, is being welcomed and grown beyond its archaic stuckness. Not losing the ancient qualities, but strengthening them so they are more available for present and future times…. Both of you are meeting each other as full beings in this moment of holy time, this moment of sacred kairos.
…know now that as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, the human and the divine dance without end.
(The music and dance continue until a natural ending occurs.)
Once we have completed this dance, Elspeth invites us to come to a table where lanterns illumine the cool white wine, the fruit and baking that Bridie has been quietly preparing while we danced.
"Let’s celebrate coming to know our archetype better,” Elspeth says. "Under the waxing Flower Moon, let’s experience the joy of this partnership.”
Gathering Space for May 5, 2022
The young moon has not yet risen in the skies over the Isle of Iona in the North Atlantic. The evening is soft, still warm in the lingering old-gold sunlight. Elspeth our Storyteller is waiting for us in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. The tent of our winter gatherings is long since gone. In its place, spread out to receive us, we see our quilts, each a joyous profusion of bright and dark shadings in contrasting patterns, the quilts that show us the longings of our hearts, the delights of our spirits, the way the unique gifts of our souls harmonize, dance with one another.
When we are seated, we look towards Elspeth, as she lights our fire pot where it rests on the low wall of the ancient stone ruins.
“What story have you brought us this evening?” Karen asks.
“What sort of story do you wish to hear?” Elspeth asks. Silently we consider, allowing the memories of loss and fear brought by the pandemic to return, strangely comingling with awareness of its unexpected gifts: a deeply felt knowing of the interconnectedness of life on our planet, a rise in compassion for those we love and those we will never meet, all of whom have been walking this dark path together. Images rise of the beauty of the earth as it blossoms into sudden life with the coming of spring to the northern hemisphere, as it cools into gentle autumn in the southern climes…
“Do you know a story that tells of love and the life-death-life cycle?” Yvette asks.
Elspeth smiles, her eyes alight with pleasure. “Yes. One I love very much. Shall we begin?”
Once more, as she does with the deepest, truest, most magical tales, Elspeth asks us to take deep, centering, relaxing breaths. She watches us, choosing her time to begin.
This story is older than Christianity, older than the druids, nearly as old as Ireland herself, for it comes from the age when the ancestor gods, the Tuatha De Danaan, were honoured here. There was a maiden, beautiful and filled with grace. So lovely was she that people called her “Aine”, ( our ears, unaccustomed to the Irish language, hear “Ohn’ya”) a name which in the old language meant, “Delight”.
Aine offended her father in some way. Some say that her name hints that it was by her very pleasure in life itself, her love of music and dance. No one remembers just why or how he became enraged. One day, he marched her to the edge of the Cliffs beyond their village, and hurled her down, down, into the depths of the sea. The force of the thrust sent her deep under the waves, and before she could swim upwards, she was drowned entirely.
Her beautiful body sank down to the very floor of the sea, and there she lay, lifeless, as the eons passed. The fish and other sea creatures devoured her flesh, her eyes, until only her bones remained. Crustaceans moved in, fastening themselves in her empty eye sockets and on the ivory keys of her teeth.
Eons passed. Over time, the great waves carved a deep bay among the mountains. No fisherman ever came there seeking the salmon who flourished in abundance, for it was believed that the bay was haunted.
Famine came upon Ireland and fishermen were putting out further and further from their villages, seeking food. One day, a fisherman in a small coracle came into the bay. A long piece of fish gut with a hooked end dangled from his fishing rod of polished oak wood. He waited patiently in this bay, so far from his home village, dreaming of taking a great fish back to his people. Dreaming of their gratitude.
Suddenly, he felt a strong tug on his line. He turned to reach into the depths of his coracle for the net he had brought with him.
But far, far below the surface, his hook was caught, not in the mouth of a salmon but inside the rib cage of Bone Woman. And she was not of a mind to be caught! She began to thrash, this way and that, on the floor of the sea. Yet the more she struggled, the more the fish gut became entangled in her bones, and the more the fish gut became entangled, the shorter it became, slowly, slowly dragging her upwards. The fisherman was just turning back, a net in his right hand, his heart already beating wildly with joy at his great catch, when her bald head arose above the waters. He saw the crustaceans gleaming in her eye sockets, glinting from her teeth.
The fisherman’s eyes rolled back into his head. He bellowed a blood-freezing cry of terror. He dropped his net, seized his paddle and began furiously to make his way back up the coast to his village. Of course, Bone Woman was still wrapped in the fish gut which by now was so short that she seemed to be skimming the tops of the waves. He turned once, and seeing her following him, bellowed once more in terror, then paddled all the more fiercely for home. Meanwhile, as Bone Woman danced over the waters, the far-off days of her maidenhood came to her as a dim memory of joy. She lifted her bony feet, one at a time, while she hummed an ancient tune. She began to know delight once more.
When the fisherman at last came near the shore of his own village, he paddled only to the point where he could leap out of the boat into shallow water. Then lifting his light coracle onto his head, he seized his precious fishing rod and began to run towards his cottage. He placed his coracle on the ground and fell in the door, still clutching his fishing rod. For a long, long while he lay panting on the floor, whispering a prayer to Anu, the Great Mother, the womb of life. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” he repeated as his breathing slowly returned to normal and his heart stopped pounding like a bodhran in his chest.
By now the early darkness had risen. The man rose slowly to his feet and reached across the wooden table near the door for his seal oil lamp. Taking some flint and tinder from a small box beside the lamp, he lit it….and immediately dark shadows leapt up to dance on the familiar walls of his cottage, illuminating table and chairs, the small cot where he slept… and there, just by the door … what was that? The tangled form of Bone Woman herself lay there, her knee bones trapped in her ribs, her left shoulder twisted, pulled downwards, her right arm above her head.
The fisherman would never be able to explain, either to himself or to any other, what happened next. Perhaps, he thought, it was a trick of the golden lamplight. Yet as he gazed at her, a feeling of kindness came over him.
He walked closer to her, knelt down by her. With gentle love, with compassion in his heart, in his very fingers, he began to unwind the fish gut that entrapped her. He first untangled her toes, then her feet, then the long bones of her legs. All the while, though he did not know he did it, he was humming an old melody, one his mother sang to him when he was a boy.
Finally, when he had unwound the fish gut entirely, she sat there before him, as whole, as complete as a bone woman could be. It was then that he noticed how chill the night had become. He walked over to his cot, carefully lifted the old quilt his mother had made for him and carried it to her. Gently, he wrapped the quilt around her.
Meanwhile, Bone Woman had not moved. She sat very still all the while he untangled her; all the while he wrapped her warmly. She was afraid to speak. Afraid to offend him. Afraid he would hurl her back into the sea. And she did not want to go back into the sea.
The fisherman was busy tending to the rewinding of his fish gut, the cleaning and polishing of his fishing rod. When all was in good order, he placed the rod on a shelf in his cottage. Because there was no further work to do, and no food to eat, he lay down on his cot and fell into a deep sleep.
Still Bone Woman sat motionless.
Now, as sometimes happens during sleep, a tear slipped out from one of the fisherman’s closed eyes. Bone Woman saw this. And she was so-oo-oo-oo thirsty! With a clicking, a clacking, a rapping, a tapping, she made her careful way across the floor to where he slept. She placed her bony mouth over the tear and at once there sprang forth a spring of fresh sweet cool water. She drank and drank and drank, slaking a thirst that was millennia-long.
She placed her bony hand on his chest, reaching deeply inside until she grasped his beating heart. She lifted it up and out, placed it on her knees and began to drum upon it as on a bodhran. While she drummed, she chanted, “Flesh, flesh, flesh. Flesh, flesh, flesh. Flesh, flesh, flesh.” As she chanted, warm living flesh grew upon her arms, her legs, her hands, her feet, her head, her lovely face, her neck and her torso. Her eyes became full and luminous. She chanted the sweet opening between her legs, her large tender breasts, and the long red-gold hair that fell down her back. When she stopped drumming, she was fully a woman. She returned his heart to the sleeping man’s breast. Then she lay down beside him, and he wakened to embrace her. And so together they became entangled in a good and holy way, and lived on as lovers all the days of their lives.
Elspeth allows a time of silence for us to receive the tale, to let it do its work of magic within us.
“When you take the story of Bone Woman into your heart, notice how it resonates with your own experience: Where are you in the story now? Do you still lie under the watery weight of the sea? Do you long to be drawn back into the light of day? Have you been drawn forth by someone you do not know who’s taken you home? Someone who is now looking at you in the light of the lamp? Untangling you? Calling you into fullness of life? Becoming one with you in a good and holy way, a deep wise loving presence in the depths of your being?
“Let’s stay here now in silence as we allow the story to dance within us. When you feel ready, you may wish to write a poem or a song or a reflection, perhaps make a drawing or painting. "Next week, bring what you’ve created with you when we gather here once more.”
Gathering Space for Bealtaine
May 1, 2022 In the pre-dawn darkness we make our way into the circle of grass embraced by the low stone walls of the ruined nunnery on Iona. We have never before been here before the sun, never seen our companions like this: darker shadows against a grey sky. It is utterly still, without even the movement of light wind that heralds the sun.
Each of us has brought dry sticks, bits of gathered grass and heather. This we pile on the wood that awaits the Bealtaine fire.
On the edge of a cliff across the island is a pool that has been known for its spiritual power. Two of our companions, Shirley and Suzanne who have a deep affinity for water, who work for its healing throughout the planet, went there yesterday to collect water for our ritual. The large clay pitcher they carried back sits beside the readied fire.
Despite restrictions due to COVID 19, Dolores Whelan has travelled from her home in Ireland to our Gathering Space on Iona. We find places to sit in a circle around Dolores who has come to speak with us about the meaning of Bealtaine.
Dolores speaks: Bealtaine is the second most important festival within the wheel of the Celtic Year, while Samhain which stands opposite Bealtaine is the most important. The positioning and significance of each of the seasons within the Celtic Year reflects much of the cosmology of the ancient people who created this calendar. From this we learn the importance of the journey that begins at Samhain (November 1) a journey through the cold dark season, which eventually yields to spring and emerges into summer on May 1 at Bealtaine.
And we begin to understand that there can be no Bealtaine without Samhain, because both in the natural world and in our own lives we experience the reality that summertime always emerges from the darkness of winter. A quotation that I read somewhere says :“It is always summer in the grateful heart.”
This appealed very much to me and I pondered what it might actually mean for me in my day to day life! It challenges me to constantly remember the many blessings present in my life. When I do this in a conscious way my heart swells and I feel the abundance of life flowing in and through me and isn’t it in essence what summer is? This attitude of gratitude supports the blossoming of the many buds that are deep within us awaiting the right circumstances in which to blossom.
I am reminded of the beautiful poem “St Francis and the Sow” by Galway Kinnell:
"The bud stands for all things,
even those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing."
My wish for you this summer time is that you will experience the fullest expression of your unique self and that your many gifts will blossom into fullness either within yourself or in the world, so that you become a part of the wonderful explosion of life! May you relish the long days, may the sunlight brighten all aspects of yourself so that you become a shining one walking this earth.
With these words echoing in our hearts, we stand in a circle facing towards the east. We chant: “Look to the East where promise is born; look to the East where the sun brings the morn.” Slowly, slowly, as we repeat the chant, the grey of the sky warms into shades of pale seashell pink, deepening into soft rose then into deep rose madder. Slowly, slowly, the golden orb of the sun appears to be pushing itself up above the horizon. In such a way, though we know it is the earth on which we stand that is rolling towards the sun, we still experience the moment as did our ancient ancestors. We still speak of a rising sun.
At the moment when the sun becomes visible, Noreen lights the fire, and as the sun’s light ripples on the water in the clay container, we come forward, one by one, to splash the water over our faces. Then with the water still wet upon us, we stand in the rays of the rising sun. The sun blesses us, blesses the water upon us. As we feel the warmth that comes from sun and fire, and the wetness from the water, we ask for a harmony within us of the masculine/sun/fire energies and the feminine/water energies.
By the time each of us gathered here have completed the ritual, the garden is glowing with the full golden light of morning. Now that it is warm enough to sit down, we gather in a circle. There is a lightness in our hearts that bubbles up in spontaneous laughter. Someone begins to sing, “Morning has broken…” and we join in.
Dolores invites us to ponder the Bealtaine questions:
What negativity left over from winter do I now release into the Bealtaine fires so that my heart is ready for the newness of life and work at this season?
What new fertility in my life, in my projects, do I welcome in the form of the young mother of early summer?
How shall I honour the harmony of fire and water, the masculine and feminine energies working within the land, within myself, within the work that I am called to birth?
After we take time to answer these questions in our hearts, Dolores leads us in a Bealtaine Prayer: May we embrace the support of the blossoming life force and growing light as we step boldly into the world to express our creativity.
Gathering Space on Iona for April 21, 2022
Image by Sieger Koder)
The Paschal moon is waning from her fullness. The great feasts of the Jewish Passover and Christian Easter have come, have left their meaning still fresh in our hearts. Winds off the North Atlantic do their best to disperse the cloud cover, allowing brief glimpses of her remaining light. We come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, feeling the rising temperature (11 degrees Celsius, 52 degrees Fahrenheit) as blessing even if it is not much above freezing. We have dressed warmly for our gathering under the open skies where our lovely embroidered cushions in our Gathering Tent have been replaced by the ruined walls whose stones still remember winter.
The fire pot is lighted at the centre of our circle. As we take our places and greet our companions, thoughts of cold are forgotten.
Tonight we will celebrate Easter in poetry, in song and dance. Later there will be a feast of food and wine. We see the covered trays of food, the wine glasses already set on the long table that rests against the wall of the monastery.
Heather stands to begin our celebration: "I have brought a poem by Jan Richardson that was written as a blessing for Mary Magdalene, the first person to whom Jesus showed himself after the Resurrection:
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” John 20:16
The Magdalene’s Blessing
You hardly imagined
everything you ever loved
suddenly returned to you,
looking you in the eye
and calling your name.
you do not know
how to abide this hole
in the center
of your chest,
where a door
and swings open
at the same time,
turning on the hinge
of your aching
and hopeful heart.
I tell you,
This is not a banishment
from the garden.
This is an invitation,
This is your life
calling to you
from a place
you could never
but now that you
have glimpsed its edge,
you cannot imagine
choosing any other way.
So let the tears come
let them go.
Let this blessing
gather itself around you.
Let it give you
what you will need
for this journey.
You will not remember
the words –
they do not matter.
All you need to remember
is how it sounded
when you stood
in the place of death
and heard the living
call your name.
(Jan Richardson in Circle of Grace)
While we are quietly taking in the wonder, the power of these words, Heather passes around the circle copies for each of us of the painting by Sieger Koder inspired by that first Easter Morning.
Shirley stands now and says, “In her book, A Warm Moist Salty God, Edwina Gateley imagines in a poet’s words how Jesus might have given Mary Magdalene her task as apostle."
Breaking through the power of darkness
bursting from the stifling tomb
he slipped into the graveyard garden
to smell the blossomed air.
Tell them Mary, Jesus said,
that fear will flee my light
that though the ground will tremble
and despair will stalk the earth
I hold them firmly by the hand
through terror to new birth.
Tell them, Mary, Jesus said,
the globe and all that’s made
is clasped to God’s great bosom
they must not be afraid
for though they fall and die, he said,
and the black earth wrap them tight
they will know the warmth
of God’s healing hands
in the early morning light.
Tell them, Mary, Jesus said,
smelling the blossomed air,
tell my people to rise with me
To heal the Earth’s despair.
Shirley has a photo for each of us to take home. It shows the statue that stands in the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral in England: Mary Magdalene is striding forth to take the good news to the apostles.
Now the music begins, calling us to dance. What a great way to warm up after sitting still on stone. Music, Dance… until the Easter Feast begins.
Gathering Space on Iona for April 14, 2022
(image of Julian in her near-death experience by William Hart McNichols )
When we come to the Garden of The Ruined Nunnery on Iona, the sun glows like old gold as it prepares for the fiery light of its own setting. The air is still warm from a day of late spring that held promise of summer. We have come wearing our protective masks. Still aware of the need for social distancing while COVID lingers around the planet, we choose places to sit on our Communion Quilts. Once we’ve greeted our friends, and exchanged news from our lives, silence rises among us. Anne Kathleen stands to light our fire pot, turning to look around the circle: “The Paschal Moon is waxing towards her fullness. It’s the sign that we’re approaching days sacred in both the Jewish and Christian traditions. Across our planet, suffering in Ukraine continues where war creates a path of death and destruction, with refugees fleeing from their homes to save their lives. Elsewhere, flooding devastates South Africa, snow storms howl over Western Canada, mass shootings bring terror in the US…
“I wonder if you feel, as I do, that remembering the sorrowful events of Good Friday may be too much for us to bear this year.
“In past weeks, as we‘ve listened to the words and teachings of Julian of Norwich, I’ve been reminded that for Julian, the image of Jesus on the cross was an expression not of sorrow but of exquisite, unparalleled love. For many of us, this is a stumbling block. We have come, in the seven centuries since Julian’s death, to distrust anything that appears to exalt suffering, to glorify pain. The dark side of Christian history has shown us the horrors of suffering, sometimes inflicted, often counselled, in God’s name.
“In selecting passages for our reflections, taken from Julian’s writings, I have skipped lightly over the heart of her Revelations: the fact that they came to her during one night of visions in her own near-death experience. Julian saw, in vivid detail, the crucified Jesus, and held long intimate conversations with him.
“Revisiting those passages before our gathering here this evening, I was struck by two important things. First, it was Julian’s own desire that drew these images to her, and second, this desire, as she tells us, came from her longing to know the depth of the love of the Christ for her. And that is what she discovered: the passionate, tender, unshakeable love in which she is held, in which each of us is held.
“Julian is amazingly honest with us, with herself, when she tells us in her book that when she asked for this share in the suffering of Jesus, she did not know what she was asking. "Let’s listen now to Julian’s own words. I’ve asked some of our Communion members to read from Julian’s Showings, edited by Colledge and Walsh, published by Paulist Press, 1978. "Heather will you begin?”
Heather opens Julian’s book of her Showings: This revelation of Christ’s pains filled me full of pains, for I know well that he suffered only once, but it was now his will to show it to me and fill me with recollection, as I had asked before. My mother, who was standing there with the others, held up her hand in front of my face to close my eyes, for she thought that I was already dead or had that moment died; and this greatly increased my sorrow, for despite all my pains, I did not want to be hindered from seeing, because of my love for him….
Heather passes the book to Clara who continues the reading:
In all this time that Christ was present to me, I felt no pain except for Christ’s pains; and then it came to me that I had little known what pain it was that I had asked for, for it seemed to me that my pains exceeded any mortal death….how could I suffer greater pain than to see him who is all my life, all my bliss and all my joy suffer? Here I felt truly that I loved Christ so much more than myself that I thought it would have been a great comfort to me if my body had died.
In this I saw part of the compassion of our Lady, St. Mary, for Christ and she were so united in love that the greatness of her love was the cause of the greatness of her pain.
Clara passes the book to Carol Ohmart Behan who continues:
Then there came a suggestion, seemingly friendly, to my reason. It was said to me: Look up to heaven to his Father…..I answered and said: “No I cannot, for you are my heaven.”
Thus I chose Jesus for my heaven, whom I saw only in pain at that time. No other heaven was pleasing to me than Jesus, who will be my bliss when I am there; and this has always been a comfort to me, that I chose Jesus as my heaven in all times of suffering and of sorrow. And that has taught me that I should always do so, and choose only him to be my heaven in well-being and in woe.
Anne Kathleen: “So Julian received her heart’s desire. After that the revelations took her beyond pain. Seeing that evil was defeated, she tells us, I laughed greatly, and that made those around me to laugh as well; and their laughter was pleasing to me. I thought that I wished that all my fellow Christians had seen what I saw. Then they would all have laughed with me. (Showings, Chapter Thirteen)
“I’ll ask Karen to read Julian’s words from the longer text. Having spent some twenty years reflecting on her visions, Julian reveals what she has learned. Any doubts we might have had about her being drawn to suffering for its own sake are quelled in this passage."
Karen reads: For it is God’s will that we do all in our power to preserve our consolation, for bliss lasts forevermore, and pain is passing, and will be reduced to nothing for those who will be saved. Therefore it is not God’s will that when we feel pain we should pursue it in sorrow and mourning for it. But that suddenly we should pass it over, and preserve ourselves in the endless delight which is God.
“In a later passage, Julian tells us that the delight and bliss is not only on our part. Colette, will you read this for us?”
Colette reads: And for my greater understanding, these blessed words were said: “See how I love you”, as if he had said, behold and see how I loved you so much, before I died for you, that I wanted to die for you. And now I have died for you, and willingly suffered what I could. And now all my bitter pain and my hard labour is turned into everlasting joy and bliss for me and for you.
Colette passes the book to Mary Ellen for the final reading:
Mary Ellen reads: How could it now be that you would pray to me for anything pleasing to me which I would not very gladly grant to you? For my delight is in your holiness and in your endless joy and bliss in me….This is the understanding, as simply as I can say it, of these blessed words: “See how I loved you.” Our Lord revealed this to make us glad and joyful.
Anne Kathleen reflects on this: “Since Julian herself found such comfort in the love expressed by Jesus, even as he suffered, might we also learn to recognize the love that is stronger than death that he bears for us? Surely these are thoughts to carry us in trust and joy through the days of Holy Week to the bliss of Easter Morning."
Gathering Space to Welcome Spring April 7, 2022
We’ve been invited to bring spring flowers, essential oils, small clay pots with budding seedlings to our Gathering on this early spring evening in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. A light rain, more like mist, touches our faces as we walk towards the garden.
Though our winter tent is gone, we see a welcome sight... a large canvas cover carefully secured to four tall poles, offering shelter above an area large enough for all twenty-eight of us to gather. Relieved laughter erupts as we find ourselves rain-free as though beneath an outstretched wing.
Carol of Lightspring Glen has offered to lead us in a Celtic Spring Ritual from Kathleen Glennon’s book Heartbeat of the Seasons. A table covered with a cloth in shades of rose, green and gold stands along one side of the sheltered area, inviting us to place there spring flowers, clay pots with seedlings, containers of essential oils.
We form one large circle around Carol as she reads the opening prayer:
Turner of the seasons,
Energy of the first flaring forth,
Source of newness and creativity,
Hidden activity in the darkness,
Align us to your budding presence
In this season of the spring.
Heather reads from the Chinook Psalter:
Everywhere is the green of new growth,
The amazing sight of the renewal of the earth.
We watch the grass once again emerging from the ground.
We notice the bright green atop the dark green on the pine,
the fir, the hemlock, the spruce, the cedar.
The alder is already in leaf.
The old plum trees still blossom, leaf and give forth fruit.
The locust is late as always.
Everywhere and always the song of birds…bees raiding the orchard, raccoon prowling at nightfall, the earthworm tunnelling the garden, chickens and rabbits pecking and nibbling, the goats tugging to reach new delights… all are the ubiquitous energies of life.
May we today be touched by grace, fascinated and moved by this your creation, energized by the power of new growth at work in your world.
May we move beyond viewing life only through a frame, but touch it and be touched by it, know it and be known by it, ove it and be loved by it.
May our bodies, our minds, our spirits, learn a new rhythm paced by the rhythmic pulse of the whole created order.
May spring come to us, be in us, and re-create life in us.
May we forge a new friendship with the natural world and discover a new affinity with beauty, with life.
In quiet, we allow this reflection to take root in our souls.
Now Carol invites us to get in touch with the energy of spring:
Let us become aware of the energy of the earth at this time.
We, earthlings, are part of the earth and pulsate with its energy.
Our bodies have springtime energy at this time.
Let us be fascinated and moved by the wonder of spring,
and the power of new growth at work in our world.
Let us touch the earth at this time and be touched by it.
Let us know the earth and be known by it.
Let us love the earth and be loved by it.
Let us discover our affinity with the beauty and mystery of springtime.
May spring come to us, be with us, and re-create life in us.
Each of us now takes a clay pot with seedlings from the table. We spread our jackets, shawls, sweaters and blankets on the soft spring grass and sit down as Carol leads a guided reflection:
Imagine that you are a seed that was planted
in a pot of clay last winter.
At first you are afraid of the darkness.
But after some time you grow accustomed to the dark
and settle into the clay.
All winter you are very quiet and still.
One day you notice that there are roots, long ropey fibres growing from your body down into the clay.
As the days go by, these fibres grow stronger and steadier.
You feel yourself rooted firmly in the clay.
You nestle into the clay.
Then one day you feel an irresistible urge to move upwards.
You try to ignore it but the feeling grows stronger.
Some hidden force seems to be luring you forward.
You push upwards.
A shoot emerges from the top of your body and pushes upwards.
It grows larger and larger until it reaches the top of the clay.
You are being lured forward by some unseen energy.
You know that you must make a final push
to break through the clay
but you are afraid.
You have grown used to the darkness.
You have grown used to
your home underground.
One part of you longs for the kiss of sunshine on your face.
Another part of you recoils in fear.
One part of you wants to follow the lure in your heart.
Another part of you wants to stay with the familiar, the comfortable.
Will you have the courage to move into the light?
All now is silence as we weigh these questions…
Apply this message to yourself, and to your situation.
Will you have the courage to follow this lure, this pull?
Into the silence, clear lovely notes of a flute rise
like the lark at break of day, lifting us into our response.
Litany of Thanksgiving
Chant: (response) Welcome to spring
with her lap full of flowers.
For the sap rising in all green things,
For the life force pulsating newness,
For the earth alive with freshness.
For the impulse of budding plants,
For the knowing that awakens flowers,
For the energy that dwells in hibernating animals.
For the yielding of winter to the call of spring,
For the sunshine that caresses the earth awake,
For the power that coaxes deep down things towards light.
For the lure that calls the catkins forth,
For the instinct that moves the birds to mate and nest,
For the playful energy of frolicking lambs.
For the creativity stirring in our bodies,
For the dynamism that prompts our growth,
For the allure that seduces us.
Blessings With Oil
Carol speaks: I invite you to think of the blessing you need
to help you to break through, to move forward, to grow.
When you know what that is, choose someone in the circle and ask that person to anoint you with an oil of your choice, either on your forehead or your hands. If you seek energy, jasmine is a good choice; if you need stimulation, choose lemon. For soothing ask for lavender.
When each woman has been anointed with oil for the blessing she most desires, Carol offers the final blessing:
May the knowing that opens the snowdrop be ours.
May the energy of the waking squirrel be in our veins.
May the song of the nesting sparrow be in our hearts.
May the dance of the daffodils be in our feet.
May the joy of frolicking lambs be in our bones.
May the glow of celandine surround all.
May the kiss of catkins envelop all.
May the morning dew rest lightly on all.
May the creativity of spring touch the hearts of all. Amen.
Julian Returns to the Window on Iona Gathering Space for March 31, 2022
On this last evening of March, we gather in the garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona. There is a brisk wind off the sea so we are clutching shawls, sweaters or jackets around us as we settle onto the worn grey stones that once formed the foundation of the Chapter House. There is a murmur like the low hum of bees as we greet one another.
A sudden hush, a silence rises like a soft cloud, as one by one our heads turn towards a corner of the garden, where, once more, miraculously it seems, a woman sits on the other side of the window that once opened out from the 13th century nunnery. We know who she is. Though her fourteenth century cloak and headpiece are clues, it is the settled kindly wisdom in her gaze that gives her away. Beyond hope, beyond expectation, yet perhaps allured to us by our unspoken desires, Julian of Norwich has joined us once again.
Those among us who are not dumbstruck begin to murmur greetings, words of welcome. Julian smiles at our shyness, our wonder, our surprise. “I am here because you drew me with your longing. You desire to understand so much about God, or... whatever name you use in your time for the Holy Presence of Love. I have no degrees in theology, certainly I never claimed to be a teacher; yet I have known that Love in my life. What do you wish to ask me?”
Yvette is the first to recover enough from surprise to respond: “Julian, you said you came here because our desire drew you here. Will you speak more about desire?”
“It is through our desires, Yvette, our deepest longings, that God, the Holy One, draws us. Allurement. Is that not what your physicists now find to be at the heart of the universe? The galaxies are held in place by it, spinning in a dance of desire and longing. The earth is drawn to the sun, held in orbit by its attraction, just as the moon is allured to the earth, the tides of the seas to the moon, even the very blood of our womanly bodies is lured into rhythm by the moon. Our deepest desires draw us into the Presence of Love.”
There is silence as we take this in. Carol looks uncomfortable: “Our desires sometimes lure us away from Love, don’t they?”
“Now you are coming to the heart of the question,” Julian answers her. “It takes a wise heart, Carol, and considerable practice to recognize deep desire. If you trust in the Love that holds you in tenderness, you will learn to take your desires to their source by asking, What is it that I really want?
“When we're young, life sparkles like a sea of jewels and everything draws us. Slowly, often through painful errors, we learn to recognize the deeper joys and truest gifts.”
Julian seems to sense our confusion. She adds, “I didn’t say it was easy, only that it is the way towards Love, for it is Love’s way of drawing us. To close ourselves off from longing, to settle for a life without desire may appear safer, may help us to avoid some suffering; yet, it will not lead us into Love.”
Ruth has a question: “Julian, didn’t you yourself choose a way of life as an anchoress in order not to be distracted by other desires? You couldn’t even leave your anchorhold, smell a rose, see the stars, walk among people, go to the market?”
At this Julian laughs merrily. “Remember Ruth that I didn’t go into the Anchorhold until after I was thirty. In my time that was a goodly age for a woman, her girlhood and youth long past. And truly I was lured into that way of life by a powerful experience of love. "One night as I lay near death, I had conversations with the Love of my life: in my mind’s eye I saw the suffering Jesus. He taught me through that night all I ever learned of Love. The desire to become an anchoress followed, for I wished to be only in the Presence of that Love. I wished also to have the solitude I needed to reflect on what I had learned, and to write about it so that you in your time might know that Love is at the heart of our lives, at the heart of the Universe. I spent the next twenty years writing, Revelations of Divine Love. I wrote it, though I did not know it then, for your time, for people like you, Ruth, who seek to live the way of Love.”
There is a silence as we each absorb her words. Heather asks, “Weren’t you lonely?”
Julian looks at her. “Lonely? O my dear Heather, how could I be lonely when half of Norwich passed by my open window each day! My anchorhold was beside the busiest road in the city. People began coming to my window to speak of their lives, their sorrows, their struggles. Like you, they asked questions. “There were hours each day when I listened, then told them what they had just told me. I often smiled secretly as they called me wise for simply repeating their own wisdom. For I believe God‘s Spirit is in all of us, giving light, wisdom and understanding, showing us gently what we cannot see, what we are afraid to see, that we may show mercy, wisdom and kindness to ourselves.
“From that same open window came the scent of the red roses in the garden below. From that window, on many a night, I looked out at the stars. I was happy there in my anchorhold. Wondrously happy.
“So shall you be happy, dear friends. For I pray God grant you all your good desires, wishes and longings. It is all in the choosing. It is all in the asking.”
Suddenly she is gone, leaving us without words.
Rosemary has brought her harp. Now she lifts it, begins to play some soft notes. The music draws us within ourselves. We remain in silence, allowing the deepest longings of our hearts to rise.
Gathering Space for March 24, 2022 The moon, partially hidden by clouds, is waning towards her final quarter on this late March evening. Though we miss the warmth and comfort of our Gathering Tent, the temperature, several degrees above freezing (9 Celsius, 48 Fahrenheit), is easily borne. We’ve wisely worn jackets , sweaters, or shawls as we come into the garden of Iona's thirteenth century nunnery. We assist one another in carrying our Communion quilts, manuscripts of our spirituality in their contrasting harmonious shades, so that we may sit under the open window in the ruins where in the past Julian has come to speak with us.
On these same grounds there once stood the Chapter House where the abbess and her sisters would have gathered to reflect together, to seek solutions to the challenges of their daily lives.
We twenty-first century women come with questions, concerns and challenges from our lives and the lives of those we love. We are aware also of planet-wide challenges, for we carry in our hearts the entire human family, and all that lives on this earth. We are aware, as the women who lived here eight centuries ago were not, of the sufferings of the earth herself, the choking and poisoning of her waters, the depletion of her soil, the rape of her rain forests. Yet as they would have done, we shall pray, listen to one another, and trust in the guidance of the Spirit to show us the way forward. How much greater is our need for guidance, for knowing how each is called to be a presence of love and light in the midst of darkness. We need guidance as well for the future of our communion, knowing that our combined daily contemplative time, our deep listening to the Sacred Presence and to one another, our actions which flow from this, matter to our time.
We come prepared to stay for the whole evening, eager for the coming of darkness. In the dimming of the moon’s light the stars that become visible among the clouds will be especially brilliant.
We settle comfortably onto our quilts, allowing for space between us, aware that the pandemic, though waning, is not yet over.
In expectant hope, we look towards the opening in the stones, awaiting Julian’s arrival.
Soon Julian is greeting us, inviting us to listen to her words about the Presence of Love within all of life:
I know well that heaven and earth and all creation are great, generous and beautiful and good….the One who created it created everything for love, and by the same love it is preserved, and always will be without end.… Julian pauses to see that we have taken in her words before adding emphatically, God is everything which is good, as I see, and the goodness which everything has is God.
Julian invites us to settle now into a time of quiet, feeling our breath slow and deepen until peace fills us. We allow Julian's words to penetrate our concerns, our grief over the war in Ukraine, our sense of loss.
.... We stay in this time of deep listening until our inner joy is stronger than our fears.
Julian gives us a blessing: May you each go forward from this place into your daily lives, blessed with fresh hope, blessed with the joy of your shared communion of love, carrying light wherever you walk.
As we prepare to leave, the stars emerge to guide us home.
Gathering Space for March 17, 2022
It is twilight when we gather in the garden where Iona’s Augustinian nunnery once stood. The muted light gives the early grass, the delicate snowdrops, the daffodils, the low stones that remain of the walls, a lack of clear definition. There is a sense of presences, moving like soft shadows, perhaps the spirits of the nuns who once dwelt here.
The tent of our winter meetings has vanished. As we gather in a circle under the early evening sky, we each form and hold our intention. On this day of the Spring Equinox, we seek to experience the earth’s harmony and balance.
The fire pot is placed in the centre of the circle, reminding us of Brigid, reminding us who we are as the Communion of Creative Fire.
We begin by facing south, inviting Cynthia, our southernmost member, to call the direction from Western Australia: Spirit of the South, place of the warm sun, of brilliant flowers, exquisitely coloured birds, rainforests, sandy beaches, let us know the joy, the playfulness, the celebration of summer.
We look to the west, inviting Jean, our westernmost member, to call the direction from Oregon: Spirit of the West, spirit of fulfillment and abundance, of harvest, completion, and thanksgiving, bring us close to the fruitfulness of our lives, the autumn days of our wisdom.
We look to the north, inviting Shirley, our northernmost member, to call the direction from Sudbury: Spirit of the North, the place of courage and faithfulness, the place of winter’s rest and inward strength, draw us to the richness of winter’s gift of journeying within.
We look to the east, inviting Carol Zickell, to call the direction from New Hampshire: Spirit of the East, place of the rising sun, of newness and creativity, of starting fresh, align our hearts with spring’s gift of renewal.
Now we seek to get in touch with the energy of the Earth, as we each in turn read a section from the Spring Equinox Ritual in Kathleen Glennon's Heartbeat of the Seasons:
At this time the earth in the northern hemisphere experiences a sense of balance.
The pendulum of the seasons rests for a brief moment.
The ebb and flow of life pauses for a moment,
A moment of harmony,
A moment of rest,
A moment when the fulcrum of the seasons is in balance.
Let us get in touch with the earth and feel her pulse at this time.
Let us attune ourselves to the twilight, to the magic of the in-between time.
Let us become aware of the struggle between light and darkness and the subtle blending of both.
Let us become aware of the shapes of things in the twilight – the mystique that envelops everything.
Let us become aware of the last rays of the dying sun.
Let us be in touch with a sense of loss.
Let us also be aware of another emotion – the feeling of anticipation for the first rays of moonlight.
At equinox time, we have equal sunlight and nightlight.
Each of us is influenced by the rhythms of both the sun and the moon.
Sun energy influences our logical thought process, our analytical capacities, our decision-making skills.
Moon energy influences our intuitive capacities, and our aesthetic abilities.
We need both energies to be in balance— to be integrated, whole persons.
Candles are now passed to everyone in the circle. We each move forward in turn to light our candles from the flame of the fire pot.
When each person’s candle is lighted, we begin walking clockwise around the circle, balancing our lighted candle on our right hand, becoming aware of our body, our sense of balance, as we walk.
Now we move the candle to balance on the palm of our left hand, aware of our body and of sense of balance as we walk clockwise around the circle.
We next extend our left palm upward and place the right hand, with the candle on it, on top of the left, palm upward. Again, we walk clockwise around the circle and experience our sense of balance as we walk.
We take time to reflect on balance in our life: Is there balance between
Work and play,
Activity and rest,
Logic and intuition,
Busyness and relationships,
Joy and sorrow?
We call now on the energy of the universe to support us in our efforts at balance and integration.
We call on the energy of the earth at this time – the energy of integration and harmony.
We call on the energy of the moon to re-align us to our intuitive, creative side.
We call on the energy of the sun to align us to our logical, analytical side.
We call on the energy of twilight to attune us to the balance of polarities.
May the blessing of twilight integrate the light and darkness of all.
May the blessing of equinox balance and anchor all.
May the angel of balance support and strengthen all.
May all of creation be truly blessed with harmony and stability.
We turn towards Dolores Whelan asking her to suggest Reflection Questions that we might take into our Sacred Hour.
Dolores responds: "The energies of Spring Equinox invite us to ask: To what aspects of this new life within am I willing to commit myself?
"After you take time to answer this question, you might close with this prayer:
"May I be able to discern where to focus my creative energies at this time and have the commitment to follow through. "
Gathering Space for March 10, 2022
The wind off the North Atlantic is raw tonight. We approach our Gathering Tent in the Garden of Iona’s 13th c. Nunnery, grateful that it is still here, knowing that, like the birds, it will soon rise up and fly away, leaving us to gather under the starry starry sky. But not yet.
Inside the tent flap, we pause, breathe in the stillness, gaze at the soft light created around the inside walls by tall candles in silver stands, at the dancing vermilion flame in the fire pot, at the vibrant woven scenes on the large cushions that await us, at the faces of our friends who are already gathered here. We move to join them in the circle.
Following a time of greetings, questions, welcoming one another, a quieter mood takes over. We look around the circle, wondering who may have brought a poem, a prayer, a stirring question to begin our time together… Colette stands, holding a small book. “I’ve brought a book of poems by Mary Oliver, called Dream Work. One really speaks to me and I’d like to read it for us tonight:
likes to dress up like this:
shoulders, and all the rest
in the black branches
in the morning
in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather
plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
the metaphor of the body,
lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body’s world,
and the dark hug of time
to be understood,
to be more than pure light
where no one is --
so it enters us --
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;
and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.
There is silence as Colette stops reading. We each sit with the words we heard, that one phrase or image that enters within us, startling, delighting, awakening…. Someone asks Colette to read the poem again…. And she does.
“What most stirred us in this poem?” Colette asks.
These are the responses that we hear:
“I love that the spirit is dressed up as US! I can’t help remembering the years when I truly thought that to live in the Spirit meant to ignore, to try to fly away from my body, from my own earth, into some imagined sky place above human desire.”
“Yes, me too!” comes another voice. “I liked where the poet says that the Spirit could float but prefers matter, rough matter.”
“Doesn’t the poem say too that the Spirit needs us, needs our bodies, our imagination, our instinct…?”
“I heard the part about the Spirit entering us… in the morning and at night. It makes me think of sudden joy noticing a sunrise, and of the way sometimes a dream comes with comfort.”
“What was that line about the night?” someone asks.
Colette reads it once more:
at night (the Spirit)
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.
There is deeper quiet as we draw in these thoughts.
After a time, a clear voice rises, singing a song we know from Carolyn McDade, “Within All Things”. Soon other voices join, some creating a spontaneous harmony. The music reverberates around the tent, dancing in the air, enters our hearts, filling us with joy.
As Earth bows in evening and opens to the night
we wander in the swing of stars beyond the bend of time.
O Ardent One, O Yield of Dreams who call Earth’s people home
to make of love a greater love and pass the living flame.
You are the love within all things, a widening embrace.
A flame that weeps and launches joy to leap through realms of grace.
Are we not born to love this life,
to make the wounded whole,
to plunge the chasms of despair
and lift the singing bird.
O Ardent One, Be with us now
Go with us as we dare,
to make of love a greater love and pass the living flame.
Gathering Space for March 3, 2022
It's the dark of the moon as we come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. No veiled light reaches us through the clouds of the night sky. Yet a ruffling breeze through air warmer than winter stirs a memory, a hope of spring.
It's still too cold to gather outdoors. We enter the Communion tent.
At once we see a change. Our circle has been widened, the large embroidered cushions arranged at the room’s outer edges. In the centre of the room sits our firepot, already lighted. Around it, four of our Communion members have placed themselves in a circle, each facing outward in a different direction. There is a whispered discussion going on among them, a rearranging of positions, questions about who is to begin…. Ahhhh! It must be a ritual!
Eagerly we take our places on the cushions, wondering aloud what the theme will be. It's not yet Equinox, nor Earth Day nor Water Day…
Two of our companions get it in the same moment, speaking as one: “Women’s Day! It’s on March 8th, this coming Tuesday.”
Maureen steps into the centre of the circle. “Those of us who gathered in Guelph for the Fires of September in 2015 experienced a ritual created by Rosemary to honour the four godmothers of our Communion. We have adapted this ritual as a way for us to celebrate International Women’s Day.
“I invite you to stand and join hands around the outer circle. Let all disturbing thoughts be laid aside.
“Let us take three breaths….
Together with Earth beneath us….
Together with Sky above us….
Together with the Sea around us….
“With the blessings of Earth, Sea and Sky may our ritual begin ! Let us our hands as we face the East: O Beloved, we greet you and honour you, and ask for your blessings!
“We now look into the faces that surround us in this circle: O Holy One of this place, O Sacred One of this circle, we ask for your blessings, your guidance, and your inspiration for this evening’s ritual.
May there be Peace in the North.
May there be Peace in the South.
May there be Peace in the West.
May there be Peace in the East.
May there be peace throughout the whole world.
MARY ELLEN will hold the energies of the East,
ELLYN for the South,
SUZANNE for the West,
SHIRLEY for the North.
MARY ELLEN turns to face the EAST: “With the blessing of BRIGID, Goddess and Saint, Wise Woman of healing and compassion, who saw no separation between the inner and outer worlds, who became the muse of poets and the patroness of smithcraft, we call upon the powers of the EAST.”
ELLYN turns to face SOUTH: “With the blessing of JULIAN of NORWICH who intuitively understood that the universe is woven together in love, that the goodness of God is always complete and as close to us as our clothing, wrapping and enfolding us for love, we call upon the powers of the SOUTH."
SUZANNE turns to face WEST: “With the blessing of HILDEGARD of BINGEN who listened deeply to a voice that came from within, pondered the meaning of mysteries she saw around her, then spoke of what she had come to know, we call upon the powers of the WEST.”
SHIRLEY turns to face NORTH: “With the blessing of RABIA of BASRA, who when God said, My hands are yours, saw that she could heal any creature in this world and that divine beauty in each heart is the root of all time and space, we call upon the powers of the NORTH.”
(All four then turn to face into the circle.)
ALL: “May the harmony of our circle be complete.”
Maureen now passes around papers holding words of women who have been inspirations to us in our Communion:
Carol Ohmart-Behan reads from Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th c. Benedictine Abbess, musician, artist, herbalist, and theologian: “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!”
Clara reads from Angela of Foligno, a third order Franciscan in 13th c. Italy: “There was a time… when my soul was exalted to behold God with so much clearness that never before had I beheld him so distinctly. But love did I not see here so fully; rather did I lose that which before I had and was left without love. Afterwards did I see him darkly, and this darkness was the greatest blessing that could be imagined and no thought could conceive aught that would equal this. Then was there given unto the soul an assured faith, a firm and certain hope, wherein I felt so sure of God that all fear left me. For by that blessing which came with the darkness I did collect my thoughts and was made so sure of God that I can never again doubt but that I do of a certainty possess him.”
Colette reads from Julian of Norwich a 14th Century English writer, teacher and anchoress:
"I saw that God is to us everything which is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us. And so in this sight I saw that God is everything which is good...."
Ruth reads from Evelyn Underhill, an English mystic who lived from 1875-1941:
“Come in! Enter my small life! Lay your sacred hands on all the common things and small interests of that life and bless and change them. Transfigure my small resources, make them sacred. And in them give me your very self. When out of the heart of my own homely circumstances, you feed me --- then my eyes are open to the presence I long for and can never understand."
Karen reads from Etty Hillesum, a Dutch mystic who died in Auschwitz in 1943:
“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.”
As we have been listening to these words, the women who led the ritual have been quietly preparing a table with a brightly woven cloth. They have set out dips, raw vegetables, bowls of chips, plates, glasses, napkins and bottles of white Rhineland wine in honour of Hildegard.
As the readings end, Maureen calls out: “Come to the Feast! Let us celebrate the great women whose lives were cups that caught the sacred rain as well as the holy wine!”
And so with joy we celebrate.
Gathering Space for February 24, 2022
Elspeth's Story of life-Death-Life
Gathering Space for February 17, 2022
Photo: Calabogie Lake
Under umbrellas and rain hoods, our bodies bent like trees in the stiff wind, we make our way across the open space of the garden of the ruined 13th c. Women’s Monastery on Iona. Though the temperature has at last climbed above freezing, our Gathering Tent is a welcome promise of warmth and shelter. With a quick shake to remove rain from umbrellas and raingear, we open the tent flap and go inside.
We blink to remove drops of moisture from our eyes. We gaze with gratitude upon the tall white candles that stand in silent greeting around the periphery, suggesting a medieval castle, rather than a canvas tent. Many of our companions are already seated on the large embroidered cushions that surround the flaming firepot. We join them, greeting our friends, exchanging small bits of news, asking about loved ones who are ill, expressing our joy at being here once more.
When the murmur of voices, sounding like the poet Yeats’ “bee-loud glade” finally stills, Suzanne steps forward.
“We have often spoken of the image in the poem of Christin Lore Weber: a cup to catch the sacred rain. We know that our times of quiet meditation prepare us to receive that gift. I've asked Jean Houston to lead us in a contemplative practice of finding a source of light within us.” Suzanne takes her place in her our circle as Jean stands to speak:
Please begin by breathing slowly and deeply; slowly and deeply; slowly and deeply. Continue doing so…
In the quiet of the breath, I invite you now to begin to imagine that within the center of your mind there is a quiet, calm lake, and it is a lake of light – serene, peaceful, placid, in the center of your consciousness. This quiet lake of light . . .
… and as you breathe in, the light grows. And as you breathe out, it contracts.
But now you find that you’re able to be with the light in a playful way so that as you breathe in, the light expands, it grows brighter. As you breathe out, it moves through your entire mind-brain system and illumines that mind-brain system – that whole beingness. So, inhale and the light becomes more intense, expands, becomes brighter; exhale, it is dispersed to all parts of you, all parts – atoms, molecules, cells, neurons, the structures of your brain, mind, even now the whole body, the brain that hangs down through every part of the body, receiving that light.
Inhale, the pool becomes intense, expansive. Exhale, the light particles, the photons, move out throughout your brain and body, filling your heart. Inhale, it becomes brighter, more expansive, richer, lovelier. It is a loving light filling your heart. Exhale, these particles, these parts of loving, living light, move through your whole body, your entire being.
You find yourself in a vast sea of light. You are there in the fathomless depths of that oneness which is light. And the light that is embedded in you burns deeper and brighter because you are in that field of light. You are in the field – the quantum field – that banishes all the negative, all the old things that you no longer need. You are also in that quantum field where all new possibilities exist.
And from this moment forth, if you choose, it is never, ever going away. If you choose, you will always have access to your beingness of light. And it may even be that an emotion so sweet, so lovely, so beautiful – pure love and compassion or just sure delight of beingness – fills you now.
You are also the light that moves the sun and all the stars. And, being filled with light, you can say in your heart’s mind, in your mind’s heart, “I am a being of light. I love the light. I serve the light. I am illumined, sustained, supported by the light, and I support and sustain the light. The light, which is also love, and I, are of the same essence.”
And it seems to you that within this great sea of light, which is you, which is the quantum field of all possibilities, which is the light, which is love, this essential nature dwells in you, calm, serene, centered, illumined, sustained and sustaining the universe, always there -- although it may be that before this moment you never knew it was there, sitting perhaps like a Buddha in the center of your very being. Full of light and yet no one thing and now discovering in the light the pattern of your own possibilities emerging from the light.
You may see or feel what is emerging of these possibilities, these new ways of being, but also placing there some intention you have for your life; some dream or desire, placing it in this field in which your dream, your desire, your intention, is taken up in the interdependent co-arising so that your intention is made clearer. It may grow or change as you feel and observe it in this vast sea of creative, fertile light.
Observe it now as it begins to take on the qualities, the very form that you intend. It is partnership in creation – your desire, your intention, and the cosmic response. Watch now. Feel now as it grows in clarity, in manifestation, as it is remade, improved, deepened in the quantum field of all-becoming. And do that now. I will be quiet a few moments as you do that now.
But always remember that you are made of light. You are of the same essence as the quantum field of light, wherein all thoughts, all dreams, become reality.
On each of the days to come, practise being the light as a joyous experience that you look forward to engaging in. You’ll begin to find yourself filled with luminous joy, and you will also discover how radiant will become your intentions as they move to manifestation.
Following these words, Jean rejoins our seated circle, and for a further time of quiet, we continue the meditation.
Now weaving through the stillness, there is a steadily growing drumbeat, joined by the high songbird-like notes of a flute. One by one, we rise, seek a clear space somewhere in the tent. Joy is rising within and around us. Sitting still is no longer an option! We dance.
Gathering Space for February 10, 2022
A sudden brisk wind off the North Atlantic sends the clouds scurrying. The sky is a black velvet cloak adorned with shimmering stars, and the steady glow of planets. These light our way towards the opening flap of our Gathering Tent.
Inside, our companions have already taken their places on the large colourfully patterned cushions. No one seems to notice us as we choose the last four, joining the circle. An explosion of laughter erupts. Seeking its source we follow the gaze of our friends, who are looking towards someone in the circle. It is Jean Houston.
Ahh, so that is the source of the laughter. Jean must have just told one of her favourite jokes. Looking up to greet us, Jean responds to the question she sees on our faces. “The one about ET in Australia. You’ve heard it before.” As the laughter subsides, Anne Kathleen walks to the centre of our circle to light the fire pot: “As you see, and have heard, we are blessed to have Jean Houston with us this evening. As you know, Jean is the one who imagined the Communion, inviting me to begin it.
"On February 11th, nine years ago, the responses arrived to the invitation I sent on Brigid’s Feast Day in 2013. Some of you here tonight were among those ‘first responders’: Jean herself was the very first, followed by Suzanne, Ellyn, Yvette, Mary-Ellen, Colette, Kate, Colleen, Adriana and Mary Teske. Others have come in the years since, some staying with us, as many here tonight have done.
“In 2020, on Brigid’s Feast Day, while I was attending her Salon at EarthRise, at the Institute for Noetic Sciences in Petaluma California, Jean offered me her wisdom, her guidance, regarding our Communion. I've asked Jean to come to Iona to share her thoughts and offer her inspiration to us. Jean, will you speak with us now?”
Jean looks around our circle before beginning: You, we, are here tonight in response to a call. You may not at first have fully understood what you were saying, “yes” to when you responded, but you said it and the universe heard you.
I do not need to tell you how the planet has darkened in these nine years. We have lived through the good times. The great times are now upon us. I do not say this to burden you, to bring sadness or despair. For this is not a time for either. This is our time, and we have and shall be given all we need to live it magnificently.
I used to ask those who came to my Mystery School, “Why are you alive at this time in history? Did you put up your hand to go the bathroom when the 21st century was asking for volunteers?” Yet never doubt that you will be able to meet these challenges. And know too that you will, at times, be surprised by joy as we live into this new mystery.
Predictions are dire: unless the climate crisis on our planet is addressed and abated, there may be only some 150 million humans still alive by the end of this century.
Now I see you all looking at me like basset hounds so I want to offer you a poem of great hope written by Christopher Fry who lived into the early years of the twenty-first century:
A SLEEP OF PRISONERS
The human heart can go the lengths of God…
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul folk ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
The enterprise is exploration into God.
Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake…
But will you wake, for pity’s sake?
The enterprise is exploration into God. This, dear friends, members of the Communion of Creative Fire, is your entrance cue. You have been engaged in this exploration, some among you for several years. You have listened and shared with one another what you have discovered.
What I ask of you now is that you make a deeper commitment to this work, what I now call Spiritual Artistry, not just for yourselves, not just for the members of the Communion, not just for those whom you love, but for the entire planet. Do not doubt that your strengthening spirit, your fiery intention, will have, does have, powerful effects on the entire ecosystem. Remember that we do not simply live in the Universe. The Universe lives in us.
I wrote the first Reflection for the Communion in 2013. I called it, “Communing with the Creative Fire of the Universe”.
Begin this new year as members of the Communion of Creative Fire in hope, with confidence. Live your commitment with a creative fire that moves you from walking to dancing, from speaking to singing, from smiling to laughing. Let the joy of what you have created among you rise in you to illumine your days with its growing radiance. I shall expect to look out of my window on the hillside in Ashland to see your light lifting from the horizon.
Feel the wonder and enchantment of what you are creating together. You are what is needed now. You have a place among the myriad enterprises arising around the planet. You are part of what I have seen in my travels, the Rising of Feminine Power, the crucial need for women’s gifts and perceptions if there is to be hope for the planet.
The Communion will last. I am certain of this. Rejoice that you have been called, that you have answered, and let your creative fire ignite the planet.
Dante wrote of “L’amor che muove il sole e l’altre stele” (“The Love that moves the sun and all the other stars.”)
I offer you a blessing written by the poet Rilke,
speaking on behalf of Love:
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.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give Me your hand.
In the stillness that follows upon Jean’s words, the music of a flute rises. Slow, almost uncertain notes soon become sure, as a melody entices us to dance. Dancing seems the only way to respond to the gift of Jean’s words, her contagious courage and joy.
Gathering Space for February 3, 2022
As we come into the Garden beside the ruins of the 13th c. Augustinian Nunnery on Iona, we stop outside our Gathering Tent to gaze upwards. In the dark of the moon the sky above us is alive with stars.
“The stars are magnificent,” Heather says, “yet I miss the moon."
“The moon is an image of the Sacred Feminine,” comments Kate. “She is light in our darkness; yet on a night when she is herself wholly dark, she represents the dark feminine.”
The ruffling wind rises, stirring the chill air, barely above freezing. If it were summer, even late spring, we could stay outdoors, hold our gathering here under the stars. Reluctantly, we go inside.
We join our companions seated around the fire pot. When the excited chatter subsides, silence rises like a healing zephyr.
Kate stands to speak.
“Just now, outdoors, we noticed how brilliantly the stars shine on nights when the moon is in darkness just before her rebirth. Like the moon, the Sacred Feminine also has her dark side. I've brought some writings to share with you on the Dark Feminine. The first is from the Jungian writer Sylvia Senensky. This passage is from her book, Healing and Empowering the Feminine:
We have come to a time when we can no longer remain silent. We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine to know our own darkness and the profound richness of all dark places, even when they are laden with pain. Through her we know the mystery of existence and the sacredness of the cycles of life. We learn how important the destruction of the old ways is to the rebirth of the new. When she steps into our lives and awakens us, we can be shattered to our core, and we know, as we see the tears streaming down her face, that she too is holding us in her compassionate and loving embrace.
We need to know her as the source of life in the material realm, and to know her sorrow at how we have so unconsciously set out to destroy her...our Mother Earth. She is calling upon us, each in our way to do our inner work, to become her allies, to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet. This is the lesson of the Feminine we all need to remember. We need to honour our earth and all creatures, human and other, that she supports. We need to nourish ourselves, each other, all children, and the unbelievable creative potential within each human being....As we come to a place of love and compassion for ourselves, our struggles, and our own vulnerable humanity, we will at the same time begin to kindle a similar compassion for others. Love attracts love. If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy, our actions will begin to mirror our feelings. We will come home to ourselves.
There is a time of quiet as we allow these words to resonate within our hearts. After a time, Kate continues:
“I invite you now to join with me in a contemplative practice that I engage in each morning, sitting in quiet stillness.
“I invite you to become aware of your breath, gently breathing in the healing Breath of the cosmic Spirit of Love, sending it forth as a transformative healing for the whole world.
“Let us together hold this intention as we stay focused on the Spirit's Breath -- in and down through the chakras -- and out to wherever the Spirit desires to move with her healing presence and benediction. “
In the stillness, we spend time allowing the Breath of the Spirit to move in us, through us and out to the world. We continue this practice for ten minutes.
Kate speaks once more. “A prayer arose from within me as we engaged in this breathing together. I'd like to share it with you:
I sit in this gathering space
in silence and thanksgiving
aware of Wisdom's sacred Presence.
She wraps me gently in her cloak of knowing
assuring me again
that Love holds this pregnant universe
in compassionate, creative embrace,
that Hope awaits with outstretched arms,
expectant hands cupped to receive
the promised new birth.
In silence she offers me her cloak of knowing
inviting me to remember her constant Presence and her gifting of Creative Love and Expectant Hope.
If you would like to share with us a prayer, an image, a poem, a thought that arose for you during this time, please send it to email@example.com so that it might be shared in our Gathering Space.
Gathering Space for January 27, 2022
Dolores leads the Crios Ritual
On this night, so near to Brigid’s Feast, the moon is waning towards darkness. On February 1st her light will not shine for Brigid; yet that seems appropriate. Brigid in her Cailleach form has been with us through these three dark months since November 1st. On that night in our Samhain Ritual we placed in her cauldron aspects of our lives that needed to be transformed with fire and water.
We are now seated in a circle on our brightly patterned quilts in our Gathering Tent. Following the usual hum as we greet our companions, a silence rises, as we anticipate the Ritual in which Dolores Whelan will lead us. Some of us have assisted her in preparing an altar for Imbolc at the centre of our circle. We gaze at the image of the Cailleach who stands looking away from the top edge of the circle. Nearer to the centre we see the Spring Maiden. Just behind her there’s a braided Crios.
Dolores bends towards the Communion fire pot in order to light the candle she has brought from Brigid's Festival in Faughart, inviting Shirley to use it to light the candles and lanterns that have been placed within the circle.
When all are glowing, Dolores speaks:
“Imbolc is synonymous with Brigid, Celtic Goddess and saint,
who embodies the energy of new life and of new beginnings.
She is the fertile aspect of the divine feminine energy,
which emerges from the hag or cailleach,
that dark barren aspect of the feminine energy.
"This transformation of the cailleach into the maiden
reflects the same mysteries which are happening
in the natural world as winter yields to spring.
"Brigid is the energy which at this time
into the mouth of dead winter.
"Brigid is the fertility goddess
who embodies the neart or life force,
that raw primal feminine energy
which gives rise to all living beings.
"Tonight our ritual begins with a thank you and farewell to the cailleach who brought us into and through the darkness of winter where new life was being planted deep within each of us. As we prepare to thank the cailleach, we may reflect on what new seeds the darkness has quickened within us.
"Who would like to carry the statue of the cailleach around our circle so that each of us may offer our thanks and our farewell?"
Ruth offers to be the bearer of the cailleach energy. She lifts the wooden effigy from the centrepiece and carries it to each woman in our circle, allowing time for each of us to quietly express our gratitude and say goodbye.
What new seeds have been quickened within us by this winter’s darkness? Let us say thank you to the Cailleach.
"Imbolc welcomes the maiden into our lives," Dolores says. "Will someone now carry the image of the maiden around the circle so that we may welcome her into our lives? As we wait for our turn, we may become aware of the way the neart, the life force is rising in us, breathing life into our being. "How will our lives be different now?"
Heather stands to lift the image of the maiden, to take her around our circle, as we welcome the life force of spring.
After we have each greeted the maiden of spring, Dolores speaks:
“Brigid has the ability to stand in the gap and remain centred within the uncertainty present in the outer world.
This quality of being centred and aligned with one's deep inner knowing is a quality that each of us can, must develop at this time.
"This braided length of cloth is a crios, also known as Brigid’s belt. It was used in ancient times by midwives to assist women in childbirth. In a few moments, I shall place the crios in the open space beside our ritual altar. I will invite you, each as you feel ready, to come to the crios and imagine it as a womb of new life.
“Step into the crios womb and speak aloud your intention for this new springtime, the way you wish to stay centred. As each one speaks, we will respond: We support you in this. Then move forward to step out of the circle on the far side to symbolize your emergence from the womb."
Dolores arranges the crios in a womb shape and asks, "Who would like to begin?"
What is my intention for this new springtime? How shall I stay focused, with my life centred on this intention?
Each of us now takes our turn, stepping into the centre of the crios, the womb of new life, speaking aloud our intention, hearing the heartfelt response from our companions: We support you in this.
Dolores invites us to take a few moments to record in our journals the words that came to us within the crios. This will help to remind us of our intention for this new springtime so that our energies may stay focused on what we most desire in our lives.
As the sound of scratching pens and pencil fades, music from Abba fills our Gathering Tent. We set aside our journals, move into the open space, as each of us becomes a "Dancing Queen", transformed for this time into spring maidens …
Gathering Space for January 20, 2022
When northwest winds blow the clouds aside, we see the full wolf moon above the Island of Iona. Though the temperature is a few degrees above freezing, the winds wrap us in their cold breath as we walk across the winter-hard earth of the Ruined Nunnery towards our Gathering Tent.
Inside, we are soon warm, sheltered, gathered in our circle around the fire pot.
"What is the star that burns within us?" The question, inspired by Jan Richardson's Epiphany poetry, is our theme this evening.
We wait, wondering who will speak first.
Brenda speaks: I just came upon a poem by Anne Hillman, an author whose book "Harnessing the Energies of Love" reflecting on the work of Teilhard de Chardin both opened my soul and nourished it for many months when it came out about 15 years ago. I keep this poem close for my own soul-nourishment:
"We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices
for clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes...
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to Love.
Shirley speaks: “Thank you Brenda! I loved Teilhard de Chardin's comment when asked if he was afraid of being killed in his role as stretcher bearer in WW1. He said something like, Then, I shall fall into the arms of Earth that I love. "He was trained as a geologist and paleontologist as well as a priest. He touched the soil in a way that is different from people who refer to it as dirt. We must learn to be aware of just what we are doing and being together with Our Creator today as we go about even the most menial of tasks. I haven't arrived yet.”
Brenda responds: "I so appreciate this story of Teilhard...how he is coming into his own now in wisdom for the world.”
Suzanne speaks: “As I navigate a new path in my journey since my husband transitioned, I thank you and feel your circle of love, while focusing on the (Thomas) Berry quote that Shirley brought to me: May you know that you are guided by the same Divine Power that spun the galaxies into space, lit the sun and brought the moon into orbit..."
Mary Ellen speaks: "A powerful turning point in my life took place about four years ago at New Year. I read an article which pierced my heart. In it, I read of a 'vocation to be loved.'
“This opened my heart as never before to the immense Love of God, and the call to receive that Love, trust in it totally, and be transformed by it. Receiving this Love can come through silent contemplation, and it can also come through a growing recognition and openness to the Radiance of the Love in all of creation both human and non-human.
“ I also experience it in allowing myself to be a receptacle of the Love for the ministry of healing and listening. Allured by, and recognizing that Love in all, I see everything in a new way. I am more aware of the Love of Christ drawing all of creation towards a Union in Love. This sustains me and gives me hope amidst the darkness, chaos and violence of this world. That Love is living and active and I can be part of it. And so, I feel called to work for non-violent peace, to a non-violent way of being and living. This will include an elimination of weapons, especially of weapons of mass destruction like nuclear weapons.
“However possible, I feel called to grow with others into a contemplative experience of Love which shines forth in the beauty of creation, to fall in love with creation, and to desire its fullness of life. I feel called to be open to the Wisdom of Creation ever desiring to guide me and others, to learn from the interconnected relationships which never cease to astound. I feel called, in the relationships with family, friends and communities, to grow in a sense of what is means to be and build community and communion.
“Now, I had better stop as this is certainly enough calling to keep me going for the rest of my life and beyond. And that is the Way of Love, never-ending.”
Colette responds: “What a joy to hear this precious sharing of your personal call Mary-Ellen. A vocation to be loved! and all the places it takes you in service of Oneness. Thank you! A beautiful startling call so inspiringly expressed.
“It stirs up in me a desire to verbalize the call in my life at this time which I am recognizing as having to do with responding to an invitation to more openness of the heart (allowing myself to be loved) that I may receive and in turn be a manifestation of this Love streaming through me, as me! (as I dare quote Richard Rohr’s expression). So amazing. "This implies showing up as who I truly am and like Samuel saying 'Here I am' in the ministry of spiritual direction (being a soul friend ) and in life in general, just being present to the moment in relationships and situations wherever I find myself to be that Love may stream through me as it will - radiance.
“Kindred spirits, aren’t we. Similarities with personal colours and shapes as well. Part of a lovely quilt sheltered by other magnificent rich presences on all sides. A joy and a privilege to walk together in this Communion.”
Yvette speaks: “My own deep calling, my spiritual allurement, is to love, to know Love - to meet the other (person, event, nature, all that presents itself to me in my daily lived experience) in seeing, hearing, considering, touching as if for the first time. It is to know the beauty, the joy, the pain, the sadness, the expectation, the mystery ... of each encounter and to embrace it.
“Sometimes, the recognition of godliness in what is before me, what is at hand, will be instantaneous. More often than not, the recognition comes as I review my day before falling off to sleep, or early in the stillness of the morning as I sit in the silent wonder of a new day.
“I edge forward, like the turtle, slowly taking in aspects of a more feminine, contemplative spirituality. On some days, I hop forward, like the rabbit, playfully enjoying what is developing within me and all around me.
“I know this Love for which I seek is real, alive, transforming how I live. The weekly reflections of our Communion and the responses that we share are widening my spiritual horizons and empowering the graced love that I pray to echo in my daily life. "Words are inadequate to express life's meaning and the expansive understandings our virtual community is offering me.”
Brenda speaks: “I sense that we are each bringing light into the world by our responses and considerations of where each of our own paths is dwelling right now in the differing circumstances of our lives. And to be able to share it - what gift. "The state of the world brings me to seeking out those flames and sparks, both in myself and wherever they appear. And even where I cannot seem to find them. Sometimes they surprise me in those places where I would not expect.
“But less and less do I have faith in any significant restoration of peace in the world in my lifetime. It is the faithfulness to the flames and the sparks of presence and grace, both group and individual, and first of all in myself, that hold the power to keep the world together, to contribute to a sustenance unseen and unfathomable. But there, there...”
A beautiful silence arises among us,
inviting us to hold sacred what we have heard.
Gathering Space for Epiphany, 2022
This January night on Iona in the North Atlantic is crisply cold at 9 degrees Celsius, 48 degrees Fahrenheit. The moon, waxing towards her fullness, has parted the clouds as she would pull aside curtains, offering us her light as we come to the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. Tonight we will celebrate Epiphany together, so some of us are carrying trays of Christmas baking, thermoses of hot cranberry punch, and small wrapped gifts that are meant to be symbols of light. The tent flap is held wide, making room for us and our many bundles to enter.
Once inside, we find places for the food, beverages and gifts on a long covered table on the far side of the tent. When we come to take our places in the circle, we see that the planning committee has already placed beautifully illustrated booklets on each cushion. We gaze at the artwork that adorns the cover page, and at the title below:
By Way of the Heart
We look around our gathered circle of beloved friends, emitting tiny pops of surprise as one by one we notice a woman seated among us whom we have not met. Noreen stands to introduce our guest: "Tonight we are blessed with the presence of someone who has come to Iona, to our Gathering Tent, for the first time. Yet this woman is not a stranger to us, for her poetry has been inspiring our hearts and nourishing our souls for years, most recently at the time of the Winter Solstice when we read her 'Blessing for Longest Night.' For several years now, our guest, who is a poet, artist, and spiritual writer, has been offering a yearly Retreat for Women's Christmas. Tonight she brings us selections from her Collection. Let us welcome our guest: Jan Richardson."
Noreen bendsto light the fire pot, and returns to her place as Jan begins to speak:
"I am happy to be here with you women, friends drawn together in Communion around the Creative Fire of your lives, to offer you this time to rest, to reflect, and to contemplate where you are in your unfolding path. Mindful of those who traveled to welcome the Christ child and who returned home by another way, we will turn our attention toward questions about our own journey.
"To begin our time together, I offer you a Blessing poem:
A Blessing for Women’s Christmas
Consider that the heart
holds its own constellation.
Consider that it has
a secret chamber
radiant with unspent light.
Consider this when you cannot find
that one star, that dream
that compels you to the road.
When every last thing seems
to have disappeared into dark,
consider that you cannot always know
how you bear this brightness
but that it holds you
and is not wasted
See how we share this sky,
how it stretches above us
beyond every border,
how every day
turns each of us
in steady revolution
through morning, night,
Or think of it like this:
that every heart is its own voyage,
sending its vessels out,
drawing them back again,
never by the same way they went
but still somehow making for
home, that place
that shimmers now in welcome
with all the gathered light
you had thought
you could not see.
There is a sacred silence as we ponder Jan's words. Then Jan invites us to read the four stanzas aloud, as a choir , with first the left side of our circle reading a verse, then the right, as was the way with the ancient nuns who once lived here on Iona.
Following this reading in choir, Jan invites:
"Consider what helps you put the pieces of your life together: the experiences you carry, the scraps of your story, the fragments that seem jagged and painful as well as those that you think of as beautiful. What response—in words, in images, in prayer, in movement, in stillness, in conversation, in solitude—helps you recognize and honor the pieces and put them together in a new way, making your path as you go?
"I bring you tonight a story of a woman who is well known to you through her writings, a woman who had the courage to tell us what she learned of Divine Love on her own life-path.
"On a day more than six hundred years ago, in the English town of Norwich, a woman walked into a cell attached to the parish church. She intended to remain there for the rest of her life. Her original name is unknown, and the cell where she would live as an anchoress—a woman devoted to a life of contemplation and solitude—no longer remains. It is likely that she took her name from the church in whose cell she lived: the Church of St. Julian.
"Nearly everything we know about Julian of Norwich comes from a manuscript she composed in her cell. In it she tells of how, at the age of thirty and a half, she became desperately ill. Just when she seemed at the point of death, her pain suddenly departed. As Julian continued to pray, she received a series of sixteen visions, which she called 'showings.' These visions primarily are of Christ on the cross, who reveals the face of joy and love to her.
"Julian recorded her visions in a short text. Nearly two decades later, she wrote a longer text that incorporates the insights she gained through years of reflecting on and praying with the visions. Together Julian’s texts became the book known as Showings, or Revelations of Divine Love.
"In the final chapter of Showings, as she comes to the end of the remarkable work in which she reveals to us a God of endless mystery who knows and loves us in all our human particularity. Julian writes: And from the time that it was revealed, I desired to know in what was our Lord’s meaning. And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: 'What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning.
'Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love.
'Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never know different, without end.'
Once more Jan invites us into silence to receive these words. Then she asks this: "As you stretch yourself into loving others, what becomes revealed to you—of them, of yourself, of God?"
"How has love challenged or changed what you know?"
"How are you opening yourself to its presence in your life?"
After we have time to consider these questions, Jan says, "I have one more poem to offer you before we begin our celebratory feast together:
Beloved Is Where We Begin
If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.
Do not leave
who you are:
named by the one
who has traveled this path
Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.
I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from danger, from fear,
from hunger or thirst,
from the scorching of sun
or the fall of the night.
But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.
I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.
I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
whisper our name:
The singing bowl tells us our reflection time is over, and yet for some minutes all is stillness as we breathe in what we have heard, felt, seen and understood.
Now it is time to celebrate with food and drink and gifts. We express our deep gratitude to Jan whose life is offered to others as a pathway to their own wisdom, as they recognize and learn to follow their own star.
Winter Solstice Dawn at Newgrange, Ireland Gathering Space for Winter Solstice 2021
Each of the Sacred Nights from now until the Feast of Christmas holds a darkness that arrives early, stays a long while, is scattered at last by a late dawn. We have decided to experience the darkness fully, to find its gifts. The garden of the ruined nunnery on Iona is inky black, a blackness pierced with what might look to a passerby like stars fallen to earth, but are actually tiny flashlights carried by our Communion as we make our way towards the Gathering Tent.
Inside, there is no need of flashlights, for the large space is illumined with candles that shine from every flat surface. At the centre of a circle, formed by careful placement of brightly coloured, intricately patterned silk cushions, there sits our fire pot, already burning a welcome.
We take time to exchange greetings, to look into the faces of our companions, to see reflected there the same suppressed excitement. The long autumnal darkness is about to end. But tonight we celebrate its gifts.
The Celebration of Light and Love will follow in a few days’ time.
Quiet settles on us. We wait in expectation.
Mary Ellen rises, goes to stand beside the fire to read a poem by Pablo Neruda:
night of the whole earth,
you bear something
within you, something round
like a child
about to be born, like a
it’s a miracle,
Your beauty is all the greater
because you nourish this budding poppy
with the darkness that flows in your veins,
because you work with your eyes closed
so that other eyes may open
and the water may sing,
so that our lives
might be born again.
After Mary Ellen returns to the circle, we hold Neruda’s words within us, wondering how each of our lives might be born again.
Karen comes forward to speak: ‘The poet, Rilke, writes often of darkness. This dark space for him resembles the hub of a wheel, a pitcher, the hold of a ship that carries us through “the wildest storm at the edge of all”, the grave earth under the tree, the lower branches of a pine, the darkness at the edge of a bonfire. 'Rilke’s darkness is something out there and at the same instant it is far inside. Once a man or woman inhabits that dark space, he or she finds it hidden inside objects, in walnuts or tree roots, in places where people don’t ordinarily look for it. In one of his poems, he says, “…no matter how deeply I go down into myself my God is dark, like a webbing made of a hundred roots that drink in silence.”
'In another poem Rilke writes:
“You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than the fires that fence in the world
For the fire makes a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns from you.
But the darkness pulls in everything:
Shapes and fires, animals and myself,
How easily it gathers them!
Powers and people—I have faith in nights.”'
Rita stands to read from Judith Duerk's Circle of Stones:
“I am so aware, at my age, of light and dark. Earlier in my life, I was all light, swift, clever, bright. I dressed in primary colors and abhorred anything that I considered slow, dull, muted.
“It was only when I lived through the summer solstice light, far above the Arctic Circle, the light of the longest day in our year, the totality of white, ever-pervasive light, day after day, that I experienced our desperate need for darkness, for shadow, for relief from the clarity, sharpness, and rationality that this present world demands….a need for soft lines, blendedness, greys….to respect one’s need to be sometimes out of focus, unformed, blurred.
“Now the winter returns, the darkness…the year come full circle again…a chance ... to sink into one’s own stillness…a time to feel one’s fatigue, the aches of life, one’s own age, to reconnect ... with deep, dark earth-energy, hidden far below in our roots.
“The winter is for us to nurture ourselves in that same way —a long time of preparatory darkness and inchoateness… a very long time to nurture and to begin to begin to bring forth …. A time when it is in the natural order of things to be still, to rest in the quiet blackness. A time to trust that one will be refreshed and brought again to new creativity just as is all the rest of nature… to trust, once again, in the cycles of light and darkness in nature herself and within one’s own nature.”
Suzanne reads from Wendell Berry:
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark.
Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
Now Ellyn comes forward with a poem by Jan Richardson:
Who know the darkness
and do not fear it,
Who carry the light
And are not consumed,
Who prepare the way
and will not abandon it,
Who bless with grace
That does not leave us.
The readings are ended. A soft persistent drum beat is heard, accompanied by the sweet soaring notes of a flute. We slowly begin to rise, to spread out through the tent, to dance to the rhythm.
After the music and dancing, there will be stories, our own stories of darkness and light. There will be feasting, for a long table is already spread with food and wine.
We shall spend this longest night together and then we shall go outdoors to greet the dawn of Solstice.
Gathering Space for the Communion: November 4, 2021
It is the dark of the moon as we enter the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. The blackness of the sky makes the stars appear diamond bright on this crisply cold evening on the Island of Iona. Pulling sweaters, shawls, jackets more closely around us for warmth, we stand still in the night air to gaze in wonder at the feast of light high above us.
Inside our Gathering Tent, we see our Communion Quilts laid out on the floor, forming a seating area around the fire pot. Elspeth is standing outside the circle of quilts speaking with a woman whom we have not met before. The woman is holding a violin.
Once we are seated on the quilts, Elspeth speaks to our circle:
“Kate Fitzpatrick is a good friend of mine who lives in County Kerry, Ireland. Kate, as you see, is a musician as well as a writer whose work appears regularly in “The Mythic Voice”, her online Blog illuminating the events and times in which we live. When Kate arrived on Iona just after Samhain, I invited her to visit our Gathering Tent to share her thoughts with you.”
Elspeth takes a place among us on our quilts, while Kate speaks:
“When Elspeth told me about you and your weekly Gatherings here among the stones of the Ruined Nunnery, I was eager to come to meet with you. These times invite us to expand our friendships so that we might circle the globe in spirals of love. Before offering you my reflections on this time of Samhain on our planet, I’ll first allow my violin to speak for me.”
Kate lifts her bow, places her violin under her chin. The melody begins. As we listen, images arise from with us, ocean waves washing the shore, bringing hope, the promise of a new dawn…
When the music ends, Kate places her violin carefully on a side table and comes to sit within our circle. “In crossing the threshold to Samhain on 31st October,” Kate begins, “we have the ancient energies of the land coming to meet us and take us into the Cave again. This is a cave of transformation, rebirth, gestation. It is the death of the year and the beginnings of a new one taking form within. It is the Cave of the Feminine – the womb, and a time to surrender.
“This year, I believe, we are being asked to become lighter, clearer and more in resonance with a higher light of the Divine Feminine. All patterns of Patriarchal control and domination of this earth are being demolished.
“And what I believe – is that the Gaia, our Earth Mother - is spitting out abusive patterns one by one. With Earthquakes, volcanoes, breakdowns in many systems, this is helped by the power of the other planets and the beings of light from many places in our Universe that are collectively committed to this evolutionary change. "Gaia - within us and around us - is raising her vibration of Light.
“Centuries of abuse are being purged from the Earth. In the mythic sense, I see it not as an issue of ‘Climate Change’ nor a need for ‘Climate Control’ but rather that Mother Earth is taking her power to become free of this horrendous abuse to her and all her children. She is settling this score once and for all. Humanity will no longer be able to use her riches to dominate and control the beauty of the earth, nor the creatures and kingdoms that live within it. As all patterns of abuse are being purged, we keep in step with her as we release our own issues and regrets. We can, therefore, go with her to a higher, healed place.
“What I imagine also happening – is that the Divine Feminine Light of Source is coming in more and more to meet the Earth Mother and she is rising up to meet this new light. When they meet – perhaps in 2022 as many would say- it will be a union of Earth and Heaven. By our steep climbing and resilience to let much go from our lives - we too we can be a part of this.
“We are a part of that flow and right now - every day - every step we take - we are helping to release the energies needed for that Union. A Healed Feminine will exist in one whole body of light. New Earth Risen. A healed Masculine energy rising from the ashes of old systems - is a phoenix reborn and ready to meet this liberated Divine Mother.
“I have journeyed for more than thirty years in the search of Feminine Healed light and her integration with a healed and whole Masculine that is held in divine union. On and on and on, harrowing and endless it seemed as we progressed through the years. Never, ever giving up that journey to the Light.
“In the past few months I have the ever-increasing sense that we have now arrived at what we were looking for. I cannot put this into words. I cannot even understand it myself. But in every cell of my body and in the flow of each precious day, I know this: In the clear-seeing of patterns being shown to me, and as I tackle every challenge thrown in my path by the forces that would resist the upgrade of Earth to a place of light and truth and healing, I know, in the whole of my heart, that this world is changing forever and that what we have steadfastly held as our life’s vision for New Earth, is about to manifest. Blessed Be.”
After she stops speaking, Kate’s voice seems to resonate within our circle. No one among us can think of anything to say or ask. We remain awash in light. Elspeth, looking around our circle, understands. “I wonder if you would play your violin again while we absorb what you’ve offered,” Elspeth asks. Kate agrees.
As we listen, lost in her music, we are also aware that we have been found.
Ritual to Celebrate the Season of Samhain Gathering Space for October 28, 2021
The night is wet with rain as we approach our soggy Gathering Place, the garden of Iona’s Ruined Nunnery. Something is different this evening. We sense, then lift our gaze to see, a canvas tent whose bulk now fills the whole of the grassy area within the low stones of the former Chapter House.
Its open doorway is flapping in the light winds, but plastic sheeting keeps the rain from entering. Our Seasonal Gathering Tent has been raised, offering shelter from the autumn rains, from the coming cold and snows of winter. Memories of its sheltering warmth, inner beauty fill us with delight as we enter.
Many of our companions are already here, have settled on the large cushions patterned in squares of beautifully-toned fabrics. Some of the cushions have been embroidered with scenes inspired by Iona’s history: the arrival of the boat that brought Columba and his companions to this island in the sixth century; designs that recall the Book of Kells which was created here; depictions of the wild goose, a Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit. And look! Here are our quilts of many colours, hung with care against the bare inner walls of the tent, offering layers of warmth, additional protection against the outer cold that will come with winter.
Dimly, we hear the rain as it dances on the top of the tent. The sound only adds to the feeling of being enclosed in warmth, sheltered. Though the air outside is still mild, the chill of the rain invites fire. People begin to look with expectation towards the fire pot which sits at the centre of our circle. Suzanne stands and walks towards it. The oil receives the lighted match, and a bright orange flame leaps into view.
Suzanne speaks: "Tonight we celebrate our yearly return to our Gathering Tent. This is the eve of the Feast of Samhain, the doorway to winter in the Northern Hemisphere. For the ancient Celts, the three days that we now call Hallowe’en, All Saints’ and All Souls’ were one feast, marking the year’s end with a three-day festival. It was for them the time when the year turned from the bright masculine season with its intense activity of planting, growing, harvesting. They welcomed the quieter days of winter.
"Tonight I invite us into a Ritual. Together we'll release into the cauldron of the Cailleach something which is raw and painful in our lives, something which is not yet resolved or completed.
"Ask yourself what you are willing to release/sacrifice into the cauldron at this festival of Samhain so it can be transmuted by the power of Fire and Water and the energy of the Cailleach into nourishing creative energy for your journey. " To Sacrifice means to be willing to let go of something in order for something new to be born into our lives. Be conscious of choosing to release something in your life that no longer serves your true self. "I invite you as you feel ready to stand and walk to where the cauldron now sits in the midst of our circle. Make a gesture with your hands of dropping into the cauldron what you wish to release, as you say these words:
“I release …………. into this cauldron. "May it be transformed and transmuted by the power of Fire and Water and the dark feminine energy of the Cailleach into nourishment for my soul journey. "
Let us pray these powerful lines from John O’Donohue’s poem for ourselves our friends and families:
“May all that is un-forgiven in me/ and everyone be released
May all fears yield their deepest tranquilities
May all that is unlived in me and in everyone blossom into a future, graced with Love”
After we have each completed our Ritual at the Cauldron, Suzanne speaks: "Tonight we close our Samhain Celebration with a ritual that awakens inner fire, reminding us of who we are: the Communion of Creative Fire. Ellyn has offered to lead us in this sacred movement, so let us stand to be ready to begin:
Ellyn comes to stand beside the fire pot and speaks: "Standing at ease, we become aware of the earth beneath our feet, the embrace of air and light on our bodies. We move our awareness inwards, to the deep centre of ourselves. Here is where the fire burns that ignites our passion for life. Let us hold our attention on this inner fire. Imagine it as a small flame. Now see if our inner gaze upon it makes it grow stronger, steadier, hotter.
"This is the fire at the heart of our being, the source of the love we send forth to others, to people on the planet we have never seen, to places where there is a hunger for peace, for food, for shelter. This fire is the source of our impulse to reach out through our work, our service, our caring, our wisdom, our strivings to understand life and all it requires of us.
"But this fiery centre is also the dwelling place within us of the Holy One. Love awaits us here, awakens us to joy, to the knowing that we are worthy, and beautiful, and held in a love more tender and deep than we can imagine. "The Sufi poet Hafiz says it best: There is something holy deep inside of you that is so ardent and awake …
"This inner fire of love, received and given, is the holy heart of our communion. It is present in the depths of each of us, and each of us is invited, called, to awaken this fire, to tend it, so that its flames become a burning that radiates forth to the Communion, to all those we love, and finally to all of life.
"Some gentle movement will warm us, while reminding us of our task, our great work: Stretch your arms upwards and imagine the sky above our tent. Imagine the heat of the sun on a summer day so that you feel it in your outstretched hands, on your palms. "Now lower your arms to just above your head and draw the sun’s warmth in through the crown of your head. Imagine it passing down into your body to the place of inner fire, adding warmth and light. Now slowly, gently, bend forward, and with your outstretched arms, scoop up from the earth the heat that is in the belly of the planet herself. Draw it upwards as you slowly stand. Now draw it into your body, into the heart of your being where it meets the light you have drawn in from the sun. Stand at ease, your eyes closed, as you imagine the fire of the earth and the fire of the sun meeting in the deep centre of your being, increasing the fire within you. AHHHH. Breathe slowly in and out for a few moments as you feel this inner fire growing, filling you. "Then with a gesture of giving it away, send it forth as radiant light and love to the planet.
"This is a simple practice we may do each day, as we remember our Companions in the Communion of Creative Fire, and imagine them standing in a circle around us."
After this time of sacred movement, the joy of being restored to our Gathering Tent spills over into excited conversation and laughter. And yes, some of our Communion members have come prepared to celebrate Samhain with home-baked pumpkin pies, chocolate witches, and light honey wine. Let the feast begin!
Gathering Space for October 21, 2021
The cool air of early evening brushes our skin, ripples our clothing. As we come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on the Sacred Island of Iona, the sun has not yet set, though its patina of gold offers little warmth. October is moving swiftly towards the Celtic Festival of Samhain. The dark quiet feminine time of the year will soon be here.
Once we are within the stones of the low walls we stop, gazing in wonder at the sight before us. The grassy area is crowded with long tables, covered in an enticing array of baked goods, woven scarves, shawls, small paintings, handmade pottery, clay cups and plates, jewelry… Have we fallen through a worm hole in time? It looks like a Medieval Faire!
Someone is coming towards us as we stand transfixed by this vision. Our friend Elspeth is smiling, greeting us. Now we know we’re in the present time.
"What's happening?" Karen asks. "What is all of this?"
Elspeth's smile broadens. Her grey eyes are warm with delight: "This, my dear ones, is our Harvest Fair! We've brought the goods not already purchased last week by the tourists drawn here to Iona. Since you began holding your Gathering Space here, some mysterious energy has increased the flow of tourists. "Come. Move around the displays. Enjoy all that we’ve brought for you. There’s hot apple cider, mulled wine, scones, cakes, pies. If you’re drawn to something lovely, a necklace or bracelet, a shawl or scarf, it’s yours for the asking. The village of Iona offers this as a thank you for all you’ve brought to our small island."
What joy to mingle, to greet the other women from Iona, many of whom we’ve met on past visits. Some are the quilters who created the magic carpets of colour for our Gathering Space. We explore the craft table with delight, each choosing a either a beautiful piece of jewelry, or a colourful scarf, or a warm hand-woven shawl. Then we choose cider or mulled wine and sample the baking.
Afterwards, drawn by the crackle of flame, the scent of burning wood, we gather around the fire pit which the women from Iona have created. Its welcoming blaze invites us to stay a little longer. We find places to sit on the grass, feeling the fire's warmth, sipping mulled wine.
Once everyone in our Communion has formed a circle around the fire with the Iona women, Clara asks a question that many of us have wondered about.
"Elspeth, what do you know of the beginning of this Nunnery? Are there any stories of its founding, or of the nuns who lived here so long ago?"
"Well now, I’m glad you asked, Clara." Elspeth’s face is lighting up with a storyteller's eager joy. "You may have heard of the great Celtic Scots leader Somerled, known as Lord of the Isles? He had a dream of uniting the Irish and Scots Celts, at the time when Viking raiders were attacking the isles. He is honoured for creating a Celtic Renaissance and through his wife, Ragnhild, daughter of Olafr Godredsson, King of the Isles, claimed for himself and his descendants the Kingdom of the Isles.
"One of his unfulfilled dreams had been to bring Irish Monasticism to Iona. In the last year of his life he attempted to persuade the Columban monastic community in Derry to relocate from Ireland to Iona, for this sacred island was within Somerled's sphere of influence.
"Unfortunately for Somerled, his death denied him this hope. Somerled was slain in 1164 at the Battle of Renfrew, during an invasion of mainland Scotland while he was commanding forces drawn from all over his kingdom. We believe that Somerled was buried here on Iona.
"Somerled's son Reginald, founded the nunnery in 1200 and installed his sister, Beatrice, as its first prioress. It was one of only two Augustinian Orders in Scotland. The nunnery earned itself the name 'An Eaglais Dhubh' - the black church - after the colour of nuns' robes.
"Unlike the rest of the Abbey buildings, as you know well, the nunnery has not been restored since being made derelict during the Reformation. The pink granite walls that remain, despite being ruinous, are amongst the best examples of a medieval nunnery left in Britain. Little is known of the nuns who lived here. Like the Benedictine monks, they followed a strict life of prayer and contemplation. A few clues have been left which shed some light on aspects of the nuns' lives. For instance, the tomb of Prioress Anna Maclean is so detailed in its carving as to give a clear depiction of her dress. Some of the nuns were thought to have fled to the nearby Island of Mull where they lived in a cave during the Reformation. This cave is called the 'Nun's Cave' and is to be found on the coast at Carsaig on Mull. It has crosses carved into its inner walls."
While Elspeth’s story unfolded, the light of evening faded. Darkness now enwraps us like a cloak. Deep silence pervades as each of us is lost in our own imaginings of those long ago times, of the mysterious life that went on for more than three centuries, of the terror of the nuns' escape to the Island of Mull.
"What a sad story!" Colette says.
Elspeth stirs as if waking from a dream. "Sad? I’ve never thought so. Does this Garden feel sad to you? You know there’ve been a few times when I’ve been walking here in the evening and heard music, ethereal, lovely, as though coming from far away. There was one eve of Samhain…. But no, that story is too strange for such a night as this.
Low murmurs begin, sounds of wonder, of awe, grow louder. Our companions are looking upwards. We follow their gaze. The full moon is rising above the Garden of Iona, clothed like us in an aura of colour.
Gathering Space for October 14, 2021
Galadriel’s Mirror: Part Two
This evening, as the women of our communion come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona, each looks about the grassy enclosure, then beyond to where trees obscure a pathway. Some of the looks are hopeful, expectant; others are cautious, a few even fearful. No one has yet spoken.
Finally, someone asks, “Is she here? Or do you think she is coming?” A chorus of questions follows. Everyone seems to be wondering about Galadriel. Will she return? Will we have another opportunity to gaze into her Mirror?
Kate is looking thoughtful. “If I understand Galadriel, her coming will depend on whether or not we want her to return.” Kate pauses while we take this in, then she asks, “Well do we want her to come?”
“I’m not sure I want to know anything more than what I saw last time,” Carol says. “It will take me a while to really understand it.”
Colette agrees. “Once is enough for me, too.”
“I’m wondering…” Clara begins, and everyone looks her way. “Well, I just wonder how it would be if we asked Galadriel to show us something about our whole communion, since we’ve each had our chance to see a personal vision.”
This suggestion is greeted with relief, even enthusiasm. The mood of the group quickly shifts to a subdued excitement.
“How shall we invite her to return?”
Yet no answer is needed. Galadriel is already standing among us, gesturing for us to follow her along the path that leads to her mirror. In moments, we are gathered around the tree-shaped pedestal, watching as Galadriel fills her silver ewer with water from the nearby stream, pours it into her shallow silver bowl.
“Do not stand too near, and be careful not to touch the water,” Galadriel advises.
“Make a large circle allowing two metres between each of you, so that everyone can see the surface of the mirror.”
Although we seem to have only arrived minutes before, the sky is now fully dark.
There is no moon. We gaze upwards towards more stars than any of us have seen or even imagined. There are so many that it is impossible to make out the shapes of the familiar constellations, riddled as they are with flickering lights within and around them.
“Now look carefully at the surface of the water, and wait,” Galadriel says.
And so we gaze, and wait. And wait. And wait.
Someone whispers, “There is nothing to see.” Another voice says, just as softly, “I don’t think anything is going to happen.”
“Quiet,” Galadriel speaks in a voice of command. “You must wait or the vision will not come to you.”
We see a bowl. It holds dark water. The surface begins to fold as though someone were blowing a breath of air across it. The folds grow larger until they look like waves. We are gazing into a dark sea whose waves rise and fall and rise again. At the edge of the bowl a tiny radiant star is rising until it stands above the waves. A guiding light.
“Star of the sea”, someone whispers. But no one hears, for now on the surface of the sea, a little boat has appeared. It is enclosed, made of wood, looking like an ark from a child’s picture book. It moves over the waves, rising and falling with them. The tiny star is leading it forward.
Suddenly the vision fades. We are looking at a bowl of water that holds starlight in its clear unruffled surface.
“What did you see?” Galadriel asks.
“A sea.” “A ship”. “A star.” The responses carry disappointment.
Now the white lady smiles, and seems on the edge of laughter. “But what did you desire to see?”
It takes us a moment to put the expectation with the result.
Yvette speaks: “We hoped to see a vision for our Communion. Who we are. Where we are going…. Might it be all of us inside that ark, floating on a sea, not certain where we are going, but guided by the Star of the Sea? ”
Galadriel’s smile is warm. “What is the meaning of that title, “Star of the Sea”?
Colette asks: “Isn’t that a title of the Sacred Feminine?”
Suzanne is excited. “Yes. It is one of the ancient titles of Isis in Egypt. And it is also a title of Mary. Stella Maris in Latin. Star of the Sea.”
The mood is shifting from mild disappointment to wonder, to awe. Galadriel looks at each one of us. “Do not be afraid. You are on a journey together across the sea of faith to an unknown destination. You are being guided by the presence of love, the ancient feminine form of the Sacred: Wisdom Sophia. Be joyful, for you are greatly loved.”
Suddenly she is gone. We make our way back to the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, guided by the light of uncountable stars.
Gathering Space with Galadriel Part One October 7, 2021
There is a stillness to this early evening. It wraps itself like a magic cloak around us, as singly or in two’s or in clusters of friends, we come into the Garden of the Ruins of Iona’s 13th century Nunnery. With the earlier darkness of Autumn, especially on this night when the moon is in darkness, stars are becoming visible. We find spaces to sit on our Communion quilts of many colours at respectful distances from one another. COVID continues to hover about our planet, requiring us to respond with wisdom and care for ourselves and for others. The usual energetic twitter and chatter of greetings is softened by our cotton masks, lovingly sewn by Elspeth and her friends here on Iona, with a design stitched on each showing a scarlet flame. The sound of our voices creates a low murmur, more a quiet stream than a babbling brook… until it quiets further into a sacred expectant hush. It is Noreen who finds words for the moment. “It’s as if something awaits us. Something wonderful.” Ellyn asks, “Might it be Sophia? We have been reflecting on her presence in our lives. Perhaps she is here with us.”Mary Ellen suggests, “Maybe we should invite her to come to us, as Solomon did? Didn’t he write, I asked and the spirit of Wisdom came to me? Shirley is looking puzzled. “It doesn’t feel like Sophia, who is always with us and within us. It feels more like an imaginal presence, an archetype, someone who represents Wisdom.”Heather speaks, “Whoever it is, we need to welcome her. Just ask her name, and why she has come.”Hesitantly, Corinne speaks now: “This might sound impossible, but what about Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlorien in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? Galadriel shows wisdom reflected in her water mirror.”Carol adds, “That’s an ancient Celtic practice called scrying. I wish we had Tolkien’s book to know how to do it.”Anne Kathleen says, “I have my copy. I never go anywhere without it. Let me find the page and I’ll read it aloud:”They saw, as if she came in answer to their words, the Lady Galadriel approaching. Tall and white and fair she walked beneath the trees. She spoke no word, but beckoned to them.
Her eyes on the page, Anne Kathleen cannot see what the others do. As the words are read aloud, the Lady Galadriel comes, enacting her own movements just as in the story. Magically, the Garden of Iona is transformed into the place described. The Communion members, as though under an enchantment, follow Galadriel.
Turning aside, she led them toward the southern slopes of the hill… and passing through a high green hedge they came into an enclosed garden. No trees grew there,and it lay open to the sky. The evening star had risen and was shining with white fire above the western woods. Down a long flight of steps the Lady went into a deep green hollow, through which ran murmuring the silver stream that issued from the fountain on the hill. At the bottom, upon a low pedestal carved like a branching tree, stood a basin of silver, wide and shallow, and beside it stood a silver ewer.
With water from the stream Galadriel filled the basin to the brim, and breathed on it, and when the water was still again she spoke. “Here is the Mirror of Galadriel,” she said. “I have brought you here so that you may look in it, if you will.” The air was very still, and the dell was dark, and the Elf-lady beside (them) was tall and pale. “What shall we look for and what shall we see?” (they) asked, filled with awe.
“Many things I can command the Mirror to reveal,” she answered, “and to some I can show what they desire to see. But the Mirror will also show things unbidden, and those are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold. What you will see, if you leave the Mirror free to work, I cannot tell. For it shows things that were, and things that are, and things that may yet be. But which it is that she sees, even the wisest cannot always tell. Do you wish to look?”
Looking up from the book, seeing the Communion members have disappeared, Anne Kathleen goes in search of them, arriving just in time to hear Galadriel’s question, the response from each woman: “Yes.”
And so begins the most magical of all our rituals on Iona. One by one, each woman steps forward to stand beside Galadriel. In the clarity and strength of her presence, each one looks without fear into the mirror.Now it is your turn. Come forward. Do not fear. Look into the water. Wait while the clouds on the surface clear. What do you seek?What do you see?Take the time you need. Afterwards, you may wish to move a little apart to make notes on your experience or to draw or dance what you have seen/felt/ glimpsed/ understood.
The ruffling wind rises, stirring the cool air of this September night. We have grown to know Iona's fickle charms, have come here warmly covered in long sweaters or cozy jackets, carrying blankets to sit on, or to wrap ourselves in. We want to stay outdoors, gathered here under the Moon’s benevolent gaze.
We join our companions who are already seated in a circle on the grass around the fire pot. Several conversations are occurring all at once as greetings and news are shared. When the excited chatter subsides, and silence rises like a healing zephyr, Kate stands to speak.
“Just above us the moon is rising. Tonight what still remains of her radiance brings us joy. Yet we know her light is not always with us. Like the Sacred Feminine, the moon too has her dark side. I have brought some writings to share with you on the Dark Feminine. The first is from the Jungian writer Sylvia Senensky. This passage from her book, Healing and Empowering the Feminine is especially appropriate now as voices are being raised across the planet calling us to awake to our responsibility for our planet, for all that lives upon her in oceans, rivers, lakes and air, all that cannot thrive unless the Earth herself thrives and heals from the depredations that human activity is causing.
Senensky writes: We have come to a time when we can no longer remain silent. We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine to know our own darkness and the profound richness of all dark places, even when they are laden with pain. Through her we know the mystery of existence and the sacredness of the cycles of life. We learn how important the destruction of the old ways is to the rebirth of the new. When she steps into our lives and awakens us, we can be shattered to our core, and we know, as we see the tears streaming down her face, that she too is holding us in her compassionate and loving embrace.We need to know her as the source of life in the material realm, and to know her sorrow at how we have so unconsciously set out to destroy her...our Mother Earth. She is calling upon us, each in our way to do our inner work, to become her allies, to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet. This is the lesson of the Feminine we all need to remember. We need to honour our earth and all creatures, human and other, that she supports. We need to nourish ourselves, each other, all children, and the unbelievable creative potential within each human being....As we come to a place of love and compassion for ourselves, our struggles, and our own vulnerable humanity, we will at the same time begin to kindle a similar compassion for others. Love attracts love. If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy, our actions will begin to mirror our feelings. We will come home to ourselves.
There is a time of quiet as we allow these words to resonate within our hearts. After a time, Kate continues: I invite you now to join with me in a contemplative practice that I engage in each morning, sitting in quiet stillness.I invite you to become aware of your breath, gently breathing in the healing sacred Breath of the cosmic Spirit of Love, sending it forth as a transformative healing for the whole world. Let us together hold this intention as we stay focused on the Spirit's Breath -- in and down through the chakras -- and out to wherever the Spirit desires to move with her healing presence and benediction. In the stillness, we spend time allowing the Breath of the Spirit to move in us, through us and out to the world. We continue this practice for fifteen minutes.…………Now Kate speaks once more: A prayer arose from within me as we engaged in this breathing together. I would like to share it with you: I sit in this gathering spacein silence and thanksgivingaware of Wisdom's sacred Presence.
She wraps me gently in her cloak of knowingassuring me againthat Love holds this pregnant universein compassionate, creative embrace,that Hope awaits with outstretched armsexpectant hands cupped to receivethe promised new birth.
In silence she offers me her cloak of knowinginviting me to rememberher constant Presence and her giftingof Creative Love and Expectant Hope. Who else would like to share with us a prayer, an image, a poem, a thought that arose for you during this time?
Gathering Space for the Communion of Creative Fire We gather to celebrate the Autumn Equinox September 2021
This September evening of the autumn equinox greets us with surprising warmth as we arrive at our gathering space. The garden of the Ruined Nunnery still holds bright flowers: black-eyed susans, tall golden sunflowers, asters, anemone, the purple flowering spikes of vervain, the small blue michaelmas daisies, and the brilliant, if unkind, goldenrod.
Are they, like us, finding it hard to let go?
Yet the mood as we gather this evening is one of joy, a celebration of this lovely weather as long as it wishes to stay, the joy of settling on our quilts of many colours between the low stone walls that hold lingering warmth from the day’s sunlight.
Once we are each seated, and have greeted one another, we look about to see who might begin the evening’s sharing.
Anne Kathleen speaks: I have a poem about the Autumn Equinox to read for you this evening:
between day and night.
Earth readies herself to tip into autumn
leaning into loveliness of rare, golden September light
explosion of vermilion, scarlet sumac, rich madder maple, orange, sienna, yellow amid everlasting greens...
Earth in autumn is at her most alluring,
Her womanly last hurrah of intense beauty
before she freezes into Ice Queen.
I try to summon up sadness for summer’s passing
for warm nights lying on sand under meteor showers
the embrace of lake water cooling sunbaked skin
the morning watch for deer, for heron, for wild duck,
the evening wait for wild sweet calls: whippoorwill, loon, wolf.
I love these things the way I love exotic places,
thrilling to visit, leaving me hungry for home.
Who else has memories of summer to share?
Yvette speaks: Nature as seen in the changing seasons has always fascinated me. Walking in woods, visiting a local botanical garden, strolling on sandy beaches, gazing at the stars, hearing early morning birds warbling, laughing at scurrying squirrels and rabbits nibbling clover ~ these and many other moments in nature nurture my soul... speak to me about who I am.
Mary Ellen speaks: The wide vista visible from my apartment has contributed to my summer reflection. I feel part of the greater whole, and my spirit is one with the ever-changing scene of the sky, and the relationship of the Earth to the Sun and the Moon. Four years ago the Solar Eclipse brought alive the wondrous relationship between Earth, Moon and Sun. We participated in this sacred drama unfolding. Millions of people in North America and further, joined in this sacred ritual. We experienced at a visceral level our dependence on the Sun for life and warmth. And for a few moments, we had a sense of Oneness.
Clara speaks: To have immersed myself in nature this summer has been restorative and renewing. To listen to the waves, to feel the breeze from the trees, to listen to the birds, to walk the country roads, to swim……all this was like being bathed in the embrace of Sophia’s love. I sensed I was given much and I received these gifts with a heart full of gratitude at the extravagance and lavishness of the Divine.
Yet I am always longing for a deeper communion with the universe, people and the world. Hurricanes, fires and floods becoming ever more destructive with each season, the typhoons and earthquakes across the planet… these are a constant reminder of how climate change is creating chaos and havoc in people's lives. So many have lost their homes, their possessions, and are experiencing feelings of grief, frustration, fear.
Anne Kathleen speaks: In the midst of our compassion and suffering for/with so many who share our home planet, this poem by Wendell Berry helps us to remember and honour the wild things who share their peace with us:
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Let's reflect for a few moments now on the gifts of this summer for which we are grateful.
We have been, in recent years, honouring the Seasons in the Celtic Way. With the Autumn Equinox here, let us reflect during our Sacred Hour on the question that Dolores Whelan suggests in her Celtic Calendar:
What is it that is now complete in my life?
Dolores offers us this “Prayer at Autumn Equinox”
As this cycle draw to a close,
May I have the discernment to harvest what I need
and release what is no longer useful for me.
May it be so! And so it is!
Sounds are stirring in the garden just beyond where we are seated. Is that a tinkling of crystal? Yes! Some of our companions are arranging bowls of autumn fruit and berries on a long table, beside plates of chocolate chip cookies,the last of the summer wine. It is time to celebrate!
Suzanne: As I reflect on our Trasna, the spiral path has fed my soul. For the next phase, I am intrigued by Jean’s Houston’s latest, “The Quest of Rose”. Perhaps, participants could get the book and do the exercises together.
Colette: Interestingly I have purchased…“The Quest of Rose”. I have just started to read it. It certainly could be a possibility.
Shirley: For me, our human journey has been one with constant change and many opportunities for growth. All the precious information you have shared gave much to aid me on my life journey which I am so grateful for. What have we gained? I have gained insight, deepened my spirituality. courage, strength, hope and trust.How have we grown or changed? Well, for me trying new ways of connections was a brilliant idea.. The zoom calls are more of a connection, and are a symbol of how we are open to new ways when the old no longer works.Where are we called to go next? I see the need for more advocacy work for our wounded, suffering Earth and as I get older I have to find new ways to move forward with this. For me, our call is to be light bearers wherever we are. I am open to Jean's book!
Yvette: I would be interested in reading a Houston book together as you suggest. For me, the journey together has been progressive. There have been comings and goings as Psalm 121 tells us. I have always been faithful to reading Communion reflections and have written when I feel moved to do so. And, I write and read reflections in the way Mary Oliver speaks about life: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” I often respond to the group or to someone in particular. I do receive responses from individuals. I have come to know a lot about our members who post frequently enough.Given personal experience, I would say: some of us have come to know one another quite well. Of course, I feel closer to those who do post and/or respond to my posts. I think where we have grown most in COMMUNION, is when we meet online as a group. Your effort, Anne Kathleen, to bring us together in this way is, to me, of utmost importance. There are areas in my life’s interests that would not have deepened, expanded, and grown without your postings and your reflections. I thoroughly enjoy when members write about their doings, their comings and goings, their struggles, their joys ... I have no idea to where we are being called ... except to follow the leading of God’s Spirit. SHE will lead us, guide us, prompt us, encourage us, AND strengthen our bonds. We WILL be led individually and together to go into a future full of hope, a future that will draw those of us who are older to share our life-giving maturity with those who are younger and offer us new life and energy. Mary Ellen: I am wishing to…reflect on where we feel called in the year ahead and in our lives going forward. This is something on which I have been pondering for some time. I would say that I feel called to keep discerning the important integration of ENTERING DEEPLY INTO THE JOY AND STRUGGLE AND SUFFERING OF OUR WORLD AS IT MOVES TOWARDS UNITY, LOVE AND FREEDOM AND A GROWING CONTEMPLATIVE, MYSTICAL INTIMACY WITH THE DIVINE EMBEDDED AND MOVING IN ALL. Bridget of Kildare is a "light" and model for me. I believe the Communion has always been about this, and so my desire would be to continue the journey at a deeper level. Perhaps Jean Houston's latest book would be perfect for this. Karen: I have not been directly involved with much of the group’s journeyings. It feels as if I have been on a different path. That being said, when I have ‘listened in’ to the group, I have felt a deep connection with the members’ individual stories and experienced a resonance with the nature of the journey – the quest to honour the inner fire. My engagement with the group began to be more sustained and active around the onset of Covid. My heart sang and sings to see women, some of very advanced years such as Noreen, who continue to be alive to life and to the spirit within. This has been encouraging to me as I have sometimes lost faith with this – and my life-journey has taken me into the shadowlands of just ‘making do’, ‘coping’ and ‘getting through’ which has sometimes led to a desire for the end – i.e., to turn around, return to the village and die by the dying fire. As a child, I sought a relationship with the Earth – to know Her in Her beauty and power. As the call has evolved, it has come more and more to be about listening and speech – how my speech, and its attendant gestures, might touch the Earth and receive their impulse from the sacred in the Earth. This path involves really observing the Earth – through drawing and nature study as well as contact with animals – key aspects of listening. Poetry – ancient spirit lyric, my own writing and the sounds of epic narratives of old – are foundational to the speaking. (I am doing this work now with two online groups and an effort to establish an arts and culture centre.)I really now seek the sacred as it has been lived on Turtle Island and in the land here – and how that particular flavour of spirit related to the rest of the world. For so long, I cast my eyes and heart abroad.My desire is actually to be listened to by other human beings – to be a part of their journey; to touch them. Much of my life’s work has involved ‘fitting in’ to others’ programs or agenda. In the sculpting from the outside, I have often felt closed in upon myself. -- as if I were guarding a hidden treasure that was gestating and waiting with my breath and being to be born to its purpose and its joy.I am not certain that Creative Fire is the right place for me to speak that voice. There is a mode of speaking with which you are all familiar and from which you receive inspiration and nourishment: I have no wish to disrupt that or place my needs upon it. This is mostly why I have remained more on the periphery, occasionally enjoying and celebrating he warmth of your process. I am not certain about this; thus I share this with you to determine if I am to be more fully present in your path forward. After we have listened to each woman's experience, her questions, her thoughts about the way ahead, we take time in our own Sacred Hour to ponder what we have heard. We may wish to respond to some of the women personally. What do their words say to us about the call to our Communion as we continue our sacred journey together?