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Category Archives: Spirituality

On Sanctuary

With the upheaval we in the United States have experienced in the past weeks, the word “sanctuary” has taken on a deeper meaning for me. We all need places of sanctuary when times and events are ominous and hurtful. How can this blog address the need for sanctuary in our world today? Certainly churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship have traditionally provided sanctuary to people in distress or danger. And “sanctuary cities” are springing up across the United States. Last night I attended a vigil at a local Islamic Center (Hudson, NY) which was held to affirm solidarity with immigrants. It was a warm, candlelit outdoor gathering on a frigid night. The gathering was sponsored by the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement. Sanctuary as a movement is interesting to me.

Hudson Islamic Center vigil for solidarity

Hudson Islamic Center vigil for solidarity

My interest lies in sanctuaries without walls, and spontaneous gatherings, rather than literal sanctuary in buildings. On the day of the Women’s Marches worldwide,  a friend and I gathered together a group of women who for a variety of reasons were not marching. Around a dining room table we spoke our fears and hopes, and pondered actions we could take.

How, in our everyday lives, do we each provide sanctuary to others? How can we, with others, provide sanctuary in ways  “outside the walls?” What does sanctuary mean to you, and how do you create or experience it in your life?

Place of Resurrection

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“Let your feet follow your heart until you find your place of resurrection.”

This Celtic saying reflects the importance of pilgrimage as a spiritual practice in the Celtic tradition.

At the holy well of St. Brigid in Kildare, Ireland.


Why “place of resurrection?” During  pilgrimage we leave behind our usual ways, our comforts, as we step into the unknown. Resurrection is about the trust we have that our steps will be led by the ever-unfolding presence of guidance in our lives – that which brings us hope, healing, renewal, liberation, transformation, rebirth – whatever we choose to call it: God or Goddess, cosmic serendipity, Tao, flow, Christ consciousness, emergence, the Universe.

Celtic monks sought their places of resurrection in this world, journeying to find the place where they could best fulfill their mission. Many of us are wanderers in this way – spiritually if not physically. We follow our hearts to best discern where we can serve, and how we can bring the spirit of resurrection to others.

Feel free to share your pilgrimage and resurrection stories.


Nature as a mirror

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At this time of year, we take the time to explore inner themes of renewal, liberation, awareness, attention, rebirth – whether via Passover,  Lent, through the mirror of nature, or in other ways. The SWW Elderwoman circle gatherings have ended, but for those of us who participated, it was just a beginning. This is a perfect seasonal time for beginnings.

In the words of Mary Anne Brussat:

Nature often holds up a mirror so we can see more clearly the ongoing processes of growth, renewal, and transformation in our lives.

Finding Sanctuary

• Finding sanctuary.

• Listening to earth-spirit whispers.

• Sharing our stories and experiences.

• Developing the heart-dimensions of who we are.

• Becoming monks in the world, as we take our learning and presence seriously, playfully, compassionately back into the world when we part.

• Living from a deeper place within ourselves in each encounter as we live our daily lives: the passionate, connecting, transforming power that we can bring to the healing of one another and our world.

Earthen Practices

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“Our task is to stamp this provisional, perishing earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately that its being may rise again, ‘invisibly’ in us.” — Rainer Maria Rilke, 1925
………………………

The snow covers the ground here.

The light with its long shadows, the bare branches – it seems that everything is dead.

But this death is another stage of life.  With your hand, brush away the snow, and the signs of life will be there. Seeds are waiting to awaken, the insects are there, animals are burrowed in dens. The days grow longer. Hold them near. The wheel of life is turning.

Dark and Light

Dark and Light

Let us not be too quick to rush toward the light. A blanket of darkness wraps us in its stillness, and we turn in on ourselves. Dark nurtures the deep sunseeds, fosters the gestation of dreams. In old northern European traditions, Dark is valued as necessary in its cyclical and spiraling dance with the Light. We need Light’s kinship with Darkness.

Our ancestors from the northern reaches of the world experienced extended daylight in summer, and very long nights in winter. The primary division in Celtic sacred time is between the Dark and Light halves of the year. The Light half of the year is an outward time, when things happen rapidly, and in plain sight. In the dark half, the experience of change is minimized, the will is muted, and what is called for is contemplation, seeds hidden in the darkness, in the womb of our being, out of which new events and ways of life will grow, as the balance shifts. While these Dark and Light halves signify the seasons of the year, it goes deeper than that, because each event or process in our lives throughout the year has Dark and Light modes operative within them. Both Dark and Light principles of are of equal importance, but they are never static. That’s what introduces the triad, the love of threeness, in Celtic understanding: the fundamental sacred element, the spark from the Otherworld, that keeps everything changing, shifting, flowing and growing.

Let us not be too quick to rush toward the light. All true growth takes place in darkness, below the level of consciousness. Creativity is born in the unconscious,  the womb as its symbol, the cauldron image which is so dear to the Celtic tradition. In the dark bubbling of the cauldron, transformation slowly takes place. In the dark we rest, attentive to the influence of the unconscious, the sacred,  and an openness to the sunseeds hidden in the dark, the growth that is slow and unhurried.

While dark is necessary and complementary with light, we cannot discount the psychological effects upon us as humans. We cannot help but be joyful at the return of the light, the turning point. The Child of Light is born, the Mabon ap Madron in Welsh mythology, the son of the great mother. In these ancient tales, the spirit of Christmas predates Christianity. We are made confident that the seed of light, grown in the womb of dark, will grow and bloom in its proper season.

We gather in the room in darkness, with only the small hearth fire for light. As each of us speaks about what has been gestating for her, she lights a candle. We go round and round the circle, until at last, after many stories have been told, the room is ablaze with candlelight and we are aglow as we let our lights shine.

At another celebration, we turn out all the lights in the large building. Then we sing and drum and call the sun back to us, and surprise! The lights come on! The children love it. Then we form a great human chain to dance in a spiral throughout the building, singing The Lord of the Dance.

In closing I offer a prayer written in the Celtic tradition by J. Phillip Newell , where a sense of the sacredness of nature is blended with a religious concern for the world:

O Sun behind all suns

O Soul within all souls

Grant me the grace of the dawn’s glory

Grant me the strength of the sun’s rays

That I may be well in my own soul

And part of the world’s healing this day . . .


(This post is offered in gratitude to the many teachers of Celtic Spirituality, including M. Freeman, W. Melnyk, and the late A. Kondratiev, whose spirit lives on.)

“Beauty as well as bread…”

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,

places to play in and pray in,

where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

~John Muir