rising from beneath

Cicadas as my teacher

The wisdom of the Cicada

As I drove to the farm market a few weeks ago, listening to Robert MacFarlane discuss his exploration of the Underland, for his book of the same name, I was struck by the emergence from underground of these 17 year cicadas, who continue to serenade where I live, although they are beginning to fade and to fall, where they will disappear from our awareness again until the next time.

The emergence of these cicada has been meaningful for me. As a marker of time, they have invited me to consider my own life in 17 year increments, its risings and its goings underground. Will I be here for the next emergence? The one after that? I spent some intentional time with them with my granddaughters, not so much that i wanted them to learn about the Cicada itself– although they are fascinating insects, from the female’s ovapositor that slices slits into the end branches of trees in order to deposit her eggs, to the way that they emerge pure white and tender to harden to a more crusty and hardy appearance (there is more but that’s not the point of this post) — but that I wanted to plant a memory in them, one that they might recall in 17 years of this time spent with me, and of who they were at that time, in case something in them gets buried between these tender ages of 8-12 and the next time the cicadas emerge, when they will be adult women. Perhaps there will be something they wish to retreive from this time, something that wants to be dug up from where it is buried, to sing or to fly.

As i considered my own life in seventeen year increments, I realize that seventeen years ago, my husband and I were married, an event which marked the ending of a period of intense upheaval, grief, healing, and transformation for me, and the beginning of a new stage of life. Seventeen years before that, my daughter was born, an event that awakened me so potently to my own wounded/buried feminine self and my tender desire/love for her that I couldn’t put her back to sleep, and which set my life on a trajectory which culminated in her freedom to fly and to sing, to being valued and loved, 17 years later. I can’t recall much of the first time the cicadas visited me, but I would’ve been 8 years old at that time, still in those blessed years of naivitee, before parts of myself were forced underground in those tumultuous adolescent years of girlhood.

It has made me wonder what this year will bring?

I think I am beginning to intuit/sense what is emerging from beneath in me this year, that which has lain buried, taking its nourishment underground perhaps, these last 17 years. (Like the cicada we are not dead during those times, nor are we hibernating, we are simply taking our nourishment from a hidden source, within the body of the earth, as we grow) My marriage, while a new beginning, also in some ways marked the end of a time of profound transformation for me…. a transformation that was inspired by the dismantling of my external life and the subsequent inner spiritual awakening (although which came first I cannot say– was it the inner awakening and rising that wrecked that outer structure, where I no longer fit; or the emptiness of loss, which allowed space for my inner spirit to grow and emerge?) The journey of Love’s becoming in me, the experience of being infused by Divine Love, and the growing awareness of self as both Beloved and Lover, was a profoundly spiritual and mystical journey. As that period of intensity quieted, 17 years ago, and I moved fully into the next stage of my life, perhaps I was able to receive Love in the human form, to take nurture in the stuff of life on this earth, which I had felt so powerfully from the Beloved during those healing years. I do recall asking the question in prayer, before saying yes to the proposal, ‘Is there room enough for 3?”

Perhaps I needed to fall in love with Life?… and so the spiritual dimension of my life went beneath for a time? Perhaps I was not yet ‘worthy’ (teacher, Cynthia Bourgeault has unpacked that word for me— it merely means ‘not ready’ in the original) , not able to integrate what I experienced in those glimpses of the Sacred. Perhaps my ego needed to detach from some story of my individual ‘chosen-ness’ (we all are, after, chosen to bring forth Love in this place)

As I’ve told the story so many times now, these past years have been a dark time between the Beloved and myself. It wasn’t that I couldn’t see the Beloved’s face in the midst of all of this wonder (which perhaps was the falling in love with life part) but I really didn’t believe that my face was being seen, that I was at all integral or important. I was just a speck in the grandeur/a witness at most.

Here is how I described it to a group facilitator recently.

After a profound few years of mystical experiences, (about 15-20 years ago now) where i experienced such intense and healing love for me , where i knew myself as Beloved and God as my Beloved, where I came to Know and see All is Well in a real way, I entered a long period of dark night where I couldn’t find my footing. I can’t explain it completely, other than somehow when I came to see the sacred in everything, I lost the personal connection between God and self. I felt more like a witness to the wonder and beauty that is, but forgot somehow that I am a part of/participant with that wonder and beauty, if you will. In that place, i felt rather insignificant, not that i needed to be seen and known so much as wondering what was the purpose?

In Cynthia’s teachings* thus far i hear so many echoes of what i experienced of the Divine One all those years ago, but perhaps had no roadmap/theory/context to follow beyond the experiences– such as the experience of reciprocal feeding, of God needing me, of me feeding God and being a part of God’s growth in Love, of opening a clear channel in myself to take light and love into my being so that i can flow forth from me, of being ‘chosen’ (as we all are), of a deep knowing that All is Well despite it not looking that way on the surface, of the whole world shimmering with presence. 

Perhaps my ego had to die before I was ready to understand this as nothing ‘special’ about me, but the Truth of the Universe. Before I was ready to be a pure transmitter and co-creator of Love, Grace, Mercy, Compassion. Before I was ready to Be Love.

Now, like those cicadas perhaps, it feels as if the light is shining on my face again and I can see that I AM integral – not merely a bystander. It is at once a terribly humbling awakening and an elevating one, for I Am ‘merely’ a part of Love’s becoming, a small part of the body, and I AM (we together/collectively are) the way in which this universal energy of Love – God- is made Real, becomes both Manifest and More.

In other words, we are made to praise and serve—but how those words have been transformed for me—not as subservient to an egomaniac diety, but as necessary in order that Love can be manifest/seen. Not as accidental byproduct of that Energy of Love but vital to it… and not in the way that God requires something to love, to awaken God’s compassion, so to speak, (that would be akin to pity) but that we are doing the work of Love/Compassion here, making it visible, Life itelf is the grist for the mill that produces more Love.

“I was a hidden treasure longing to be known’

Today’s teaching spoke of mercy. We learned that the word comes from the same root as ‘merchant’, and ‘mercantile’, and that when we pray ‘lord have mercy’ it is NOT as if we are plea-ing to a juridical power for pity. Mercy is the very field in which we live and dwell and have our being, a field of exchange! Our relationship to it is not one of a power differential, but of scale. When we pray this way we are asking to be restored into the vastness of that mercy, to re-member it, to see it, to step into it and thus into the heart of God. We are a part of that mercy. In the utterance of that prayer for mercy, we open the purse of our hearts to offer our bit, if you will, and thus step into the vast, ever presence of mercy, into the heart of God, and thus receive its abundance in return

How healing and spectacular is that?

I realize I am rambling because I am struggling to capture in words what I am feeling. So much of what I share here is nothing new, nothing that hasn’t been said in a million different ways before, through the ages, by countless others, in many words and languages, but it ‘makes sense’ to me in a new way somehow, as if some door has opened. Something in me was/had closed, perhaps, not ready or unable to see or hear, needing to grow, needing to go underground for some time, to enter into the nymph stage and live in the dark, drawing some sap of nourishment that I couldn’t see….

And the resonances now with what I was ‘shown’ all those 17 years ago, when i was singing in the light, joining with the Divine, being inseminated, but couldn’t completely understand nor integrate, feel like echoes from that time, resounding forward in this day, and saying ‘yes’!

stillness and wind

Lying on the end of the dock, I feel like a mermaid on the prow of the ship, the wind blowing my hair down my back as I face the spray. It’s a brisk wind, funneling waves into this tiny bay, the boat tied at the neighbor’s dock rocks from gunnel to gunnel in the surf. Lap after lap the waves lick and leap, kissing the dryness of the dock’s planks.

This early evening I am grateful for it, this wind, for it also blows the black flies back from my face. Or, perhaps, it carries my scent, my heat, my carbon emission, off and away so that I am less detectable. (as i write this, i realize i rather like being invisible like that)

The first morning in this place, I rose early, hours before Don (as seems to be our rhythm of late). Despite what my head knew about the preference of black flies for the stillness of dawn, I too am lured by it. Eager to be out on the water, in it, with it, I lifted my new-to-me solo canoe from the cartop, eased it into the water, the lowered myself to me knees in her open hull with a sigh. I thought she must be as eager as I to be wet once again, after so many months out of her element, in storage.

Off the two of us set into the glassy morning.

Not 50 yards from shore, the black flies were swarming. I don’t know if one signals the next, or exactly how they grow from an occasional buzz that can be flicked aside into a swarm, but there they were. Perhaps I was like a hot-blooded beacon in the middle of a sea of cool water.

I pulled out my headnet and continued on my way, out of the bay, around the bend, into the marshy inlet, which was an unexpected delight to discover on this new-to-me lake. Along the way, I learned that stillness is still possible, even within a swarm, within that headnet of protection. From inside it, I was able to soften into a curiosity and appreciation of their tenacity and their purpose in the cycle of life. Everything belongs. Deep breaths along with paddle strokes— not to numb, but to quiet the tendency to anxienty, worry or panic, to be present in a state of calmness.

Surrendering to what is.

The practice of surrender is the one that has been softening me of late, watching for that inner brace and letting go into Love or Patience, or Trust. That softening, when I can invite it, invites me to see something deeper than the moment of frustration, anxiety, or pain.

It’s easy to brace and panic when being swarmed by black flies while paddling in the middle of a lake with no escape. But I am protected, by a head net and bug jacket. A few get in here and there but mostly it is just the incessant swarming, buzzing that can set off my mind’s panic, if I let it. It’s really good practice for those other nagging places in my life where I might instead tend to panic or brace or overact (or ruminate or over analyze or worry or try to fix – as the enneagram reveals about me) to let go and let be. I am protected by a net of Love—if you will— from which I can respond with grace.

What is the head net of protection beneath which I can be present with grace? Sometimes it is compassion, sometimes it is mercy, forgiveness, appreciation, grace, kindness, forbearance, wisdom… all facets of this jewel we call Love.

After a few hours of paddling that morning, the sun now glaring and my energy flagging, arriving back at the dock was a relief. I was grateful to return to shelter, to strip off the headnet inside of the cabin’s walls. Like prayer, this shelter offers respite and rejuvenation. Peace without so much effort. And through its window, glimpses of quiet beauty are revealed, encouraging me to go back out there.

Waiting now for the wind to pick up a bit is rather an opposite experience for me. Usually I covet still waters, but here and now, I wait for the wind to offer some assistance to the head net.

Now… I wonder what the wind might be in my life?

walking on shattered glass

For a long time now, I’ve been walking in the dark. As seems to be the way with journeys of awakenings, there comes this time of sleep along the way. Sleep walking, if you will – feeling your way through the dark passage.

Paradoxically, that darkness often comes after a blinding light, like the one I experienced near the beginning of this stretch of the journey. (And perhaps ‘blinding’ is an apt descriptor then… after which it seems I lost my ability to see for awhile).

Regardless, I felt abit lost, still going through the motions but not sure where I was headed. After those years of being bathed in such profoundly healing experiences of belovedness, the feeling of intimacy fell away and I was utterly alone.

Al-one? Perhaps. For in the place of those mystical Love experiences, I’d been ‘left’ with ‘everything is Holy’. I saw the sacred mystery all around me, the terrible beauty of it all. But I felt like I was merely an observer, an inconsequential speck in the midst of that infinite grandeur. Prayer felt empty, devoid of meaning, and there was nothing I could grasp to direct my prayer to. No purpose in it.

This year, the light has been making its subtle way back through the cracks. The energy of that light opening my eyes once again to wonder, but also restoring to me the dignity and integrity of human life. What has shifted in me is the realization that I AM also a piece of that grandeur, a vital piece. I AM ‘made’ to receive Light and Love in order to BE LIGHT and LOVE.

I had forgotten that I Am light!

Again, it sounds so trite, ( because human words fail to express it– those words, ‘no hands but yours’) but somehow now I know it in my body in a new way. I am not here, experiencing brokenness, merely to give Divinity something to Love. That seems a cruel fate, after all. I am also here because the Divine One needs me -this humble human vessel that I am, to become Love. There is no Love, Compassion, Mercy, Peace, without us to receive it and to BE it. Those divine energies are merely ideals without the flesh of life to manifest them.

There is something reciprocal about the flow of Love in this way. I am Loved, I am Love. I receive, I give back. I am fed. I feed. Love grows.T

To pray in this way is to take a bath in Love, in the wonder of Light becoming flesh all around me, and within me. To fill up in order to Be Love.


I dreamt the other night some new words: “This human journey (to be human) is to walk across a field of shattered glass” As I gazed out upon that endless exquisite field, I was taken by the beauty of the sparkling colors, even as I felt the inevitable cutting.

The human journey is fraught with pain. It is fraught with Beauty…all that broken glass, like prisms, imperfectly reflecting the light, the Divine One shattered into so many pieces in order to Become.

I am a piece of that broken glass, as are you. Reflecting beauty. And in my broken bit I will be imperfect and I will inadvertently cause suffering and pain to those I love, and that suffering will cause compassion to become real… and to grow. As best as I can my job is to polish that glass here in this ocean of Love , to dive deep and bath in it , swim in it, be tumbled by it, allow it to knock off these rough edges, and to shine.

 Love,V

PS . To those who companioned me along this journey of returning light this long year (you know who you are) Thank you!  Our relationship has so sustained me. There has been such Love. There has been grace. There has been mercy. Thank you for being a mirror.

‘Left to my own devices, I had fallen asleep and forgotten who I am’ Thank you for gently blowing on my embers in the midst of that darkness, and reminding me that I AM light.

 

 

becoming old

Recently, a young child looked at me and said, “wow, you have a lot of hairs to pluck!” It seems his young mother has a few white ones and that’s what he’s seen her do. I said, “Oh no, i love my white hair! I keep them all! White hair is so beautiful.” To which his baby sister said, ‘but…white hair is old hair!” As if that were a bad thing? Being old? I simply replied, “oh, but I couldn’t wait for my white hair to grow in”


Ladies, (and gentlemen..I am blessed to have one of these in my life, who actually suggested to me when I was 40 to just let it grow out) we must redefine what beauty looks like. It is not dependent on hair color or age. Teach your daughters and sons, by modeling for them, that you see beauty in many ways and stages of being…including yourself. I find your thick dark hair lovely too.


But mostly, take care with how you see yourself. Your youth is not slipping away…you are Becoming More. You are not losing, you are gaining. The secret that nobody tells you in our culture is that growing old is a beautiful thing. Looking old is not an insult, it is a blessing. Aging can truly be Grace. In it, there is deepening joy and peace.


White hair is like the butterfly’s wings, emerging from the chrysalis of the first half of life. (and I understand that transformation inside that confining chrysalis, the body of what had once been the caterpillar’s way of being and moving in the world being dissolved, and the final emergence, is also a painful one). But these white wings of mine give me freedom to fly, and taste the sweetness of life.

Hemlock trees and me

Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrongdoing there is a field, 
I'll meet you there.
-Rumi

Overlooking the patch of woods before me, I sit to pray in the quiet of this morning, surrounded in stillness and bathed in grace. My eyes light upon the flush of green at the tips of the hemlock, and I smile, brimming with hope and delight.

When we first moved into this cottage eight years ago, the Hemlocks were already devastatingly diseased. Matriarchs and adolescents alike had been infested by the Woolly Adelgid, which had infiltrated these woods decades ago. These invasive insect pests draw sap (the life-juice of the trees) and interfere with the trees’ ability to take in nutrients. As with other invasive species that have done such damage, often widespread and irreversible (think Chestnut blight), these trees had not co-evolved with those insects, which were accidentally introduced to their environment all at once (by the standard of earth-time) and so they had no natural defense against their assault. Nor were there critters here that had evolved to consume them. By the time we settled into our home here, the green flush of needles was long gone from limbs, branches were brittle and dying, and many of the trees were gray skeletal remains of what they once had been. I was told that many were too far gone and should be given up on.

Indeed many were, but I began feeding the roots of those with even a trace of life. The nutrient substance I used also contained small amounts of a systemic insecticide that the trees could draw up to provide some defense (My trees are not near any water source, nor does this land drain onto the street where any runoff might enter the stormwater drains). With the infestation in check, the trees have been able to once again take in nutrition – sunlight, minerals, water– and begin to heal themselves.

This week is the time of year when those bright green needles flush at the tips of the limbs. Their midspring appearance fills my eyes with delight, and I feel enveloped in hope. Here is a sanctuary and shelter not merely for my heart but for beings who will nest in their branches, take nurture from their cones, grow in the coolness of their shade, and make burrows in their roots.

Somehow, I have loved them back to life.

This morning I see that they are returning the gift, reminding me that I too can stay green if I take care to tend my roots with the right kind of nurture and be vigilant about what I allow to invade my spirit that might prevent me from taking in (and seeing) goodness. They are gently reminding me that it is never too late to nurture myself back into life, and that what I choose to feed myself will make a difference in how my own branches reach out into the world. And they have made me ponder the negative toxin that has entered my own internal landscape, which has threatened to dry and brittle my heart.

This has been a difficult year for many of us. And yet, my experience has not been that the corona virus has been the devastating event. Rather, my dis-ease has been the associated slow creep of a hardness that has come from that other viral invasion of our day– the mass infestation of divisive negativity in a world where judgment of the ‘other’ has gained traction and gone viral. While this has been a slowly spreading infection of human culture for several decades now, it seems these last 12 months, as it mutated from issue to issue, have reached a tipping point where it’s widespread corrosive effect is becoming more visibly evident. ( but of course, this human tendency to demonize the other is not new, else the caution to ‘judge not’ would not have been so needed 2000 years ago, else genocides and slavery would not have been able to take place. It just seems that today, the capacity to be bombarded by mass waves of negativity is so much greater. We have not evolved to withstand that kind of overload).

In these divided times, we all have been challenged to understand the heart of the “other.”( and who we perceive as ‘other’, of course, depends upon where we are standing.) But as I noted here, over a month ago, I had become aware of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that bitterness and anger, cynicism and judgment, name-calling and even disdain had begun creeping their way into my heart, drawing life-giving sap from my spirit . These feelings infesting me threatened my well-being far more so than that other virus, making it difficult to keep myself rooted in Love, and had begun making me feel a bit brittle. My stop gap measure against that onslaught had been to desparately seek understanding in an effort to keep my mind open, my heart soft…myself green, if you will.

But, in the end, as is often the case for me, a dose of nature heals, and trees are often my teachers.

Twenty years ago, I was graced with a dream. I guess that is what you would name it, though it felt more like a visitation to me at the time. I was in a great deal of pain at the time, and in a very dark place. I have written about it here in the past, but from time to time its message resurfaces for me, shedding new light each time that it does. I fell to sleep sobbing that dark night, and the Love that came to enfold me is like nothing I have ever experienced. (so much so that when I awakened the next morning, I wept once again as my feet hit the floor, yearning to return to that place). While being held in that Love, a voice told me to gaze upon what i was being shown. There was a great tree/cross being poured into from above by a brilliant LIght. I was told to let myself be filled that way, to notice the roots of that tree/cross and how the Light was also flooding those roots. Then I was asked to see that the tree was being filled from those roots, light being drawn up the trunk, where the it was naturally, effortlessly overflowing from its outstretched arms/branches. There was nothing more I needed to do, the voice had said, but to let myself be filled that way, with Light and Love. At the time, i was suffering alot from feelings of unworthiness, rejection, abandonment, unlovability and loss.I thought i had to do something/change something about myself in order to earn Love. The message that I was Loved and Beloved just as I was was so healing for me at the time.

All these years later, the dream is still vital, however its message has subtly shifted for me. No longer is it one of individual belovedness for my own healing, but has become a lesson in how I am to receive Love, to stay aligned with it, to keep myself grounded firmly in it, so that I can Be Love in the world. I am not here to merely receive Love, but I AM here to Be Light. We humans are meant to be manifestations of Love– to make the sacred qualities of compassion, mercy, beauty, peace and hope Real. (As trite as it may sound, there are no hands but ours.) Without us, Love is just an ideal, an energy perhaps, but not a tangible reality. The dream was a message of what it looks like to incarnate Light, of what I am called to do and to Be.

Sitting now, at the feet of these wise trees, that dream is recalled. They too are taking in light and transforming it into something corporeal and beautiful. They too are drawing that energy to the earth, sending it deep into their roots (where we now know they also transport it to others) They too are breathing out that which others need to survive and to thrive, and extending their greening limbs in offering.

I understand now that I must take care to feed my own roots and ground myself in love. I must safeguard my heart by making myself inhospitable to infestations that threaten my own life-giving verdancy- infestations of negativity, cynicism, judgment, hatred, and “othering”, which make me brittle and grey.

I imagine myself drawing in goodness, letting it fill me, sinking it deeply into my roots. I imagine it flowing up and out through my limbs in offering. I seek to align myself with Love, so that when i open my eyes that is how I see, when I open my arms they will be opened with compassion and grace and forgiveness– for not only those ‘others’ who know not what they are doing, but for myself too in the ways that I will fail to see and Be Love.

A daily practice such as this makes it possible for me to draw from that well in my ordinary life, making of my mundane existence something sacred. In places where my outstretched limbs might offer welcome, shelter, nurture, or shade to another, I become a place of sanctuary in a bedraggled world. And I do feel it softening me. I feel a softening of my reactions, a softening of my gaze, a greening of my compassion. It has become an antidote that I can return to again and again when I notice those old patterns and new nagging negativites threaten to overrun me or block Love’s flow.

May it be so for you too.

what’s love got to do with it

I have decided I’ve wasted too much time recently trying to understand. I’ve realized that all of this seeking a framework in which to understand and accept the ‘other’ (and, of course, myself) –moral foundations theories, ethical philosophies, and personality typologies — in an effort to stay out of judgment and remain in love has in many ways backfired. My attempts to both safeguard and gentle my heart, in fact, have in some way possibly even hardened it by building a protective wall of mental constructs and justifications around it. Yes, all of this seeking understanding—spending too much time in my head — has somehow separated me from my heart.

Perhaps I was simply seeking a way to deny my own anger – an anger based on feelings of hurt, betrayal, frustration, fear and injustice. Being angry/judgmental is not an emotion or aspect of myself that I particularly want to accept. And acknolwedging my hurt can sometimes make me feel selfish.

(Specifically, I have struggled mightily with persons whom I perceived as being willing to selfishly  put themselves above the needs of others. Persons either jumping the line by lying about conditions (at the time, when we had a limited supply, making up conditions to put themselves ahead of much more vulnerable populations, (there were sooo many instances of this) or alternately, refusing to get the vaccine for the sake of community welfare or to wear a mask in public for the sake of the other. Lebanon county , where I live, is such a hotbed—ahem, place for me to practice. We recently closed our mass vaccination site because not enough people were registering for open slots, when we currently have only a 17% vaccination rate and kids’ classrooms are forced to close because of a rise in cases. All the while, my personal sacrifices, my trying to do the right thing, for the sake of the other, have left be feeling alone, misunderstood, and left out (Easter was quite hard for me)  )

Although my seeking understanding was based upon my desire to not dismiss the other, steeped in my desire to remain in Love and out of judgment, and to somehow reconcile these feelings of dissonance within me, I realize now that Understanding is not a prerequisite for Love. My quest for understanding has been based in my deep knowing (belief?) that humanity is innately and inherently good, and worthy of the deepest compassion and mercy, despite the fact that we more often miss the mark and don’t always, or often even, act with that integrity (recognizing that another’s acts of integrity might look different than my own!) These feelings of anger/judgment in me have challenged both that pure belief in humanity’s goodness and my own self-concept – as one who sees and believes in humanity’s goodness. Coming face to face with our failures to Love in the face of our fears has challenged a naivitee in me, perhaps. Are we evil, or merely broken and confused? Are we selfish or merely afraid?

What I recognzie is that my seeking understanding has been a bit too urgent. I have perhaps used it as an antidote for my feelings of anger, fear, disbelief, betrayal, and judgment. It was a vain attempt to stay soft, because what I realize today is that Understanding like this is seated in my head- in constructs and paradigms, perspectives and world views. I guess the real question I must ask myself, then, is this—do I seek to understand the other because I Love, or am I seeking to understand the other so that I can love. Which one is primary in me? Can I love first, without reason, without understanding, simply because this is how I AM, and who I am to be. Love

Today, I am choosing to live from my heart. To love WITHOUT understanding, without reason, without cause. To fall (or jump) willingly from this ivory tower of my head into the softer mercy of my heart.

Go on then, Be different. See differently, believe differently, choose differently, act differently.

Today I am choosing Love.

Let the practice begin.

Sent from Mail for Windows 10

Seven Streams

Be a provenance of something gathered

a summation of previous intuitions

let your vulnerabilities walking

on the cracked sliding limestone

be this time, not a weakness, but a faculty

for understanding what’s about to happen

Stand above the seven streams

Letting the deep down current surface around you

Then branch and branch as they do

Back into the mountain – from the poem Seven Streams, by David Whyte

I’ve been suddenly captivated (and I word it this way deliberately because this feels very much like being captured by something outside of myself, not at all a pursuit that I followed) by the stories of my ancestors. I’ve ridiculed my new obsession as one more distraction, one more fix in my quest for knowledge, bemoaning my lack of devotion to the spiritual practice I’d intended to walk this season. Gone are the morning contemplative sits, the reading of spiritual books. I am instead compelled by the stories of those who came before me, as if that thirst in me is so parched that it cannot get enough to drink. In writing those words, of course, i can feel the broken connection to my family of origin— my mother and I were estranged, my father died when i was but 28— and recall the longing I’ve felt when pulling out the old photographs given to me by my grandmother when I was a young woman, wanting to know their stories, yearning for an old journal or something.

Then this week, came in my email, a reflection by Richard Rohr on the communion of saints, and the liminal space we enter when we vist our ancestors. (The celts recognized certain thin times of the year when we enter those spaces more readily… All Saints (hallow- eve) and St Brigid’s day (our groundhog day here… the day when cultures across time have begun looking for signs of life in the dark, which is close to when this all began for me) His email redeemed my draw (ok, obsession) into this space. As I mentioned, I’d felt as if I’d just thrown in the towel on any sort of intentional spiritual practice (again) and yet I was so very captivated by it (and isn’t that what they say about spiritual  experiences after all, that you can’t make them happen, they come and grab you? )  In the research, I’ve been aware that there is a sense of loss of time and getting lost in the big story….I guess that’s often the description of a spiritual experience.  There is finding my place in the circle of things and reorientation to place. There is reconnection and a grounding of spirit to place. And it is changing me too … I’ve a new understanding about family, humanity, our people, our country. As I drive through the landscape I’m looking at farms and homesteads differently, as if I am seeing through new eyes what previously felt like looking before from some distant objective viewpoint.

And then, yesterday, I had an experience with one of my children that left me feeling, as often is the case, vulnerable– that old family-iar feeling of both not-enoughness and of invisibility. Uncertain of my footing. Uncertain of my place. Uncertain of my worth… was i /am i enough? Feeling somehow ridiculed (there is that word again). What is this lack, this insecury, I feel?

I’ve noticed in myself the not wanting to admit frailty, or ineptitude, or incompetence, or ignorance, not to mention abject failure….this not wanting to be human? Is that a protective mechanism, a hardening of self with the need to be perfect or proficient, knowledgable and in control, that covers over my heart so, that I attempt instead to lead with my head (doing all the ‘right’ things, knowing all the ‘right’ answers, learning all the ‘right’ ways) Oh, the ways i fortify myself from this felt sense of tender vulnerabilty and brokeness.

And then this morning, in a conversation with a friend, she too noticing her feelings of anxiety around a visit with her adult children, and their overwhelming troubles, I felt such communion with her about what it feels like to be a human mother on this planet.

I thought about a son who is just embarking on this journey of parenthood, downstream from this moment in time. He is the one who inspired this opening in me when he innocently asked about the dates of birth of my parents and theirs for a chart he was creating for his newborn son. How the lineage of Love now flows through him and his brothers, those branches spreading out beneath me as wide as the ones before me. I am, for this moment in time, the fulcrum, the funnel, the moment, the speck of condensation, through which the past and the future flow. I thought about how he too will be imperfectly human, but will pass on Love through his wounds, nonetheless… or perhaps precisely as a consequence of our human frailty.

It sometimes feels too great a task we are charged with here, in this speck of humanity that we are, for all of this Love to flow through our smallness. And then I think of the way all of those generations of Love (and wounds) that we carry merge for the speck of a moment in the hourglass of time with another who is also carrying their own lineage forth … and then branches forth again, and again, in concentric multidimensional flows…. oh, how wondrous is that?

Anyway, back to the poem that came in a flash from this morning’s reading…

Seven Streams

I stand unsure-footed upon this slick rock,

vulnerable as it is to be a human here and now

and always

the gathered provenance of those who came before,

their stories flowing into

flowing through

washing over, filling

passing through

the hardened rock of this

my seemingly singular

human life

through which I’ve trod with so much trepidation

as if falling,

or failing

as if imperfection or loss

of control or capacity

were something to be feared.

And yet, it is the cracks, of course,

as always

that let the water flow,

somehow finding its way through this flawed surface

to emerge in streams of grace

beneath me, branching, branching

seven upon seven

and I see that I am not the rock at all

I am/we are the water finding its way

through this hourglass of time

pouring forth

into children… into children’s children

 carrying water

in the vessels of our lives

for a time,

until the exquisite vulnerability of stone

cracks open

into waterfalls of grace.

expansion

Is it light becoming Love that breaks us, then?

and this being human an essential

container in which Love

might become Real

like the velveteen rabbit, Divine Love matured

on the crucible of humanity

transformed within our experience here of tragedy

betrayal, heartbreak, loss

into these jewels –

compassion, forgiveness, tenderness, and mercy –

until this fragile blessed container becomes too constricted to withhold

Love’s exponential growth, at last breaking

open from within to reveal the hidden

My question then is this? Is it the breakage that inspires Love’s becoming

or growth in Love that forges the crack?

And is the crack where the light gets in

or out? And do we say

yes to this breaking open

before we are stuffed into these skins

shoved through this needle’s eye of birthing

Love.

http://paigebradley.com/blog/the-story-of-expansion/

the winter of my content

She asked, “And how are you this morning?”

Taking a moment to truly check in, scanning my internal landscape and seeking a word to describe what I saw and I felt there – quiet, still, settled, at peace—the word ‘content’ bubbled forth as the one that fit.

And then she went on to describe what she saw on the landscape spread out before her- the crsp early morning light, glinting off crystals of fresh snow, a finger of light reaching through the passage (that leads to the marsh where we paddle in summer)  to tickle the island awake.  The band of pink haloing the hilltop behind the cabin, where Don and I have nested like honeymooners, the interplay between that rise of land and the rising sun casting a line upon those frozen waters, separating (or connecting?) radiant light with blue shadowed ice. That pinkening spreading slowly to fill the sky, eventually kissing the same island, which that the finger of light had tickled awake. (oh you lucky island, how I envy you! ) The blush of pink that fades into the afterglow of gold.

I was transported. Her sun cracking the ice of this, my winter of content, until the tears dripped like honey, to the steady beat of my heart.  How could it be that beneath all this still silence, the quiet peace, that subtle surrender, there lay sleeping so much longing?

But has this been a time of ice, of coldness, of hardening? I want to trust that both can be present at once, in this complicated body of my humanity, that both can be true, concurrently – contentment and longing at once. That contentment has not meant either settling or suppression. I want to believe that one does not negate the other, that longing does not deny contentment, even as I trust that within this body of mine there is both something timeless and something constantly changing, an infinite yearning bound up in a finite body,  something profanely human and something profoundly divine,

(All is Well, and all is not well, as I have come to understand it)

Yet there it was, clear as the tears rolling down my cheeks, something melted in me by her words. A piece of my heart, perhaps frozen in that place where it has found home, in that beloved geography , which has been denied me because of a disease that has barricaded the border between us.

 I am in exile of sorts.

I thought I was ok with it, really. The piano that moved into my home has soothed my spirit. It is a place I can go to be present and free—similar enough to the way that I feel in a canoe paddling the shoreline. I am resilient that way, after all- good at surviving, to the point of thriving, it seems.  There are phone calls and zoom calls and books and prayer and new babies and snowshoe walks in the woods for connection.

 So what is this “longing’ all about? Longing for? Is it More, with a capital “M”? Is it Home? Belonging? (Did I not see the sign that said ‘Kensinger Cabin’ when I was there last?)  Intimacy?  Is it embodied, full-bodied (full spirited) living, body and soul in one place, at one with the earth, fully alive? A desire to dwell “in the undivided unity of a whyless Love’

If it is the Eros of the divine that got this whole wondrous ball rolling, the Alpha whose Omega point is Agape, (an Agape that could not be fulfilled without the human condition/experience  of heartbreak and suffering, and its resultant development of compassion and tenderness , forgiveness and fidelity, beauty and joy)  then I suppose this Eros in me just might be a Sacred thing, also.  This longing of mine may just be divine, not merely some human restlessness, not merely seeking some sort of escape, but desire for a deepening Love. And not seeking Love in all the wrong places, but in the right ones, hovering, perhaps, not over the waters, but under these frozen ones. Perhaps I can stop labeling my longing as a lesser/baser thing and integrate it as wholly holy.

Likewise feelings of exile (without which this Holy Longing would be absent) and grief and sorrow and loss and pain.  Each of these are Very Good, too, not feelings to deny as mere illusion, nor signs of my brokenness , nor of the inherent symptom of the ‘sin’ of humanity, but an aspect of its very gift, not as a sign of something false or wrong but of something very right and real. The line separating right feelings from wrong ones, sacred from profane, real from unreal, as much a illusion as that line cast upon the snow between blue shadowed ice and dazzling reflection.

And deep contentment and limitless longing can abide in the same body, as Love.

This Strange Land, Meister Eckhart, as translated by Mark Burrows

When you find yourself possessed by God,

you will enter a strange land, a wilderness,

which is nameless beyond names, and more

unknown than known; there you will find

that your I and God’s I are a single I

in the undivided Unity of a whyless Love

calm waters

My child,

We are in calm waters. At last or merely for now I cannot know, but for today, at least, it feels as if the storm has passed.

We cannot always, nor even often, see what is truly occurring in this world, or in our lives. What feels in the immediate to be catastrophic is often corrective; what feels destructive, creative. Try to remember this in the midst of your own turmoils and tumults- though it is during those times that it is most difficult to do so, hardest to hold to the center that knows this – hold onto Wisdom, and Love, and Trust, and the rightness of the Unfolding.

Perhaps that is why the image of being tossed in a violent storm at sea is so potent for us as human beings. (And I wonder, will this metaphor remain relevant for you?) In a storm at sea, there is nothing upon which to set our sights, upon which to get our bearings, and the waters upon which we navigat­­e are too deep to hold anchor.

In those moments, if you can, (and there is always mercy and grace, if you cannot), remember to anchor your identity not in that tiny boat, but in the ocean itself.  Remember this, if you can- that you are a part of that vastness.  Trust that you can breathe there, as you did in your mother’s salt water womb, that those waters can absorb and incorporate both your tears and the sweat of your fears. You can dive into its depths, beneath the unbridled surface of things, beneath even the swells upon which you rise and fall in more tranquil times.

Remember, my child, you are not merely the vessel. And, while the boat, in which you are journeying here, may one day be wrecked, the ocean will wash you ashore, bear you back into life, like a babe landing from those crashing waters in the arms of its mother. Let yourself be received by that Love, of which you are a part, which suffuses your very being.

But this morning the waters feel calm. Perhaps winter has finally come to our world.

What do I mean by that?

I have had the privilege of visiting true North just twice in my lifetime (thus far) during those frigid months, been awestruck by the feeling of stillness I experienced, gazing out upon, or walking across, those waters, which in the summer or autumn are so full of energy. I hadn’t realized just how much lifeforce—motion and sound– was contained in those waters until I witnessed them being stilled by winter. It felt like a sacred hand had silenced the land, rocked it to sleep, bestowed upon it, rest. No way, nor need, to climb into my boat then at all to Be One – with that Great Silence.

Winter, of course, is fleeting. And while it gives us the opportunity to enter that Great Silence during this lifetime, to remember that we are not merely our vessels, but that our humanness is simply the vehicle in which We are carried, in which we bear what is sacred in us into this Life, we must eventually climb back into those boats to continue the journey.  For that is what it means to be human too.

 As the poet David Whyte reminds us, “… to be human is to become visible while carrying what is hidden
as a gift to others…”

We are always both/and—while we are part of something much larger than ourselves, at work in the world, as humans we also require a vessel of some sort. It is perhaps the very definition of humanity.

Wreckage is always painful human experience. It fills us with angst and fear , sorrow and often despair, especially when we cannot see that Beyond.  But somehow, “in feeling our own pain and sorrow, our own ocean of tears, we come to know that ours is a shared pain and that the mystery and beauty and pain of life cannot be separated”* Again, both/and, my love. Both/and.

Life is terribly beautiful and exquisitely painful.

Birth is terribly beautiful and exquisitely painful.

Death is terribly beautiful and exquisitely painful.

We experience its Beauty when we step into the vast sacredness of the moment. We experience its pain when we enter into the intimate sacredness of the moment. And vice versa. Always vice versa.

But oh what wonders we might visit, and might be visited upon us,  as we carry that precious cargo forth.  So, when the storm has passed, Climb back into your boat, my love, and BE that bearer of light.

*quote attributed to Jack Kornfield

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