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Friday, April 24, 2015

Soul to Soul



Have you ever thought about what it means to have soul? About what a soul is?

Soul. This is an interesting concept, really, especially considering the many ways that we use the word; at least in English. My son says that a soul is something that is "given" to anything that is loved. He thinks that all living things can have a soul and love, not just humans or even just sentient beings. Perhaps he's right.


I think of "soul" as something personal. Something that resides inside us. I consider the concept of "soul" versus the concept of "spirit." I think of "spirit" as something outside of us, something greater. I think of it as what Christianity calls "Holy Spirit," and others refer to simply as "Spirit." Some call it "Ki," or "Chi," or "Energy."  It is something that connects us, one to the other and to something greater, to God. Perhaps it's that which science says connects us at the quantum level. Perhaps "soul" is our own little piece of that greater Spirit, living within us, yearning to be One once again with the Source - Spirit.


Maybe when we feel that "thing" that makes us say that someone "has soul," we're feeling their inner Soul reaching out to ours - we connect in some way that gives us a strong sense of that connection. The music, the spoken word, the talents that touch us the strongest; they have soul. Soul reaches across race, culture, religion...even time. Soul touching soul makes us want to be better people. For instance, when I hear Billie Holiday sing anything, my soul reaches out, I feel a sense of yearning. When I hear her sing StrangeFruit, the sadness I feel is so deep and so dark, I can't explain it in any way other than a soul to soul connection. I feel sadness, and yet I also feel love for those of whom she sings.


Like my son says, soul is something that is given to anything that is loved. And, I add, anything or anyone who loves.

Perhaps "soul" is what makes us real.

“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.' - Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
Photo Public Domain


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ancient Memories - The Agency of Stone


For thousands of years, stones have been used to mark specials places and experiences. In the Hebrew Bible, Abraham sets a stone at the place where he first hears Yahweh's Voice. Stone altars have been set wherever humans have had interactions with the divine. Stones have been carved into gods and goddesses. Stones are placed to commemorate loved ones who have died. Stones are set up recognize sites of historic import. In the online class I just completed through EDx, one of the first assignments was to answer the question, "Do stones have agency?" This is how I answered:

This is my special crystal. I chose this crystal from a table filled with other pieces broken off some larger quartz. I have had it since the summer 1987, a summer I call my "summer of love," 20 years after the original. I stood with my friend as we looked over the table hosted by the Rainbow People, a group of hippies who came to Venice Beach to sell their crafts. I held my hand over the stones, "listening" for a call, a sense, a feeling that would tell me which stone was mine. I felt a warmth, and I knew that this stone, the one with a heart-shaped crack and a little bit of rainbow inside belonged to me.
 
I believe that all creation is connected, that the Divine is that which connects us, that calls us to our greater good, whatever that might be. This view of All That Is cannot see anything, any part of creation, as being absolutely static. Are they sentient, these stones? Perhaps not, at least not in the same way animals are sentient. Do they have "agency?" I think so, though how this can be is a Mystery. Who is to say that I did not place the meaning of the "warmth" I felt upon the stone; yet, who is to say that the stone didn't actually "call" to me? 


I think the "agency" is in the energy of the stone, and perhaps at quantum level, our energies reached out to one another. Meaning, now, is imbued by a person's - or a people's - understanding of the world around them. It might change as the culture changes, and the worldview of the people changes. That there is a meaning might continue to be understood long after the original meaning is lost. Stonehenge and other stone circles have meaning, though the original purpose of such megalithic collections has been lost. Yet today, these stones are held as sacred by modern Druids and other Neo-Pagans, given meaning by the very mystery that surrounds them.


I have a rustic stone labyrinth in my backyard. When I walk into the center of the spiral, I can easily imagine that I am transcending space and time. If I walk a labyrinth made of brick, this imaginary time-travel is more difficult. Why is this? Is it a failing of my imagination, or do the ancient natural stones that line my path lend me their memories?

Once I stood silently in the Petrified Forest in Arizona. The winds blew constant, and upon the winds I could hear the whispers of the trees in the once lush forests so long turned to stone. Perhaps it was only my imagination. Perhaps it was the memories of the ancient trees.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Bread

In the United Methodist tradition of Christianity, the Communion Table (known as Eucharist in many traditions) is open. The Open Table means that everyone, no matter who they are or where they have been, is welcome to partake of the sacrament. This includes children.  There are theological reasons for this beyond the simplest "Jesus would have included everyone." However, this is not the place to go into the theology behind it.  As I pondered this question, I was taken back to a Sunday service many years ago when my now 22 year old daughter was about three. At the time, I was a single mother, and was not a regular church-goer. In fact, I spent more time at Wiccan circles than in the Christian church. Even then I was seeking something common in both paths.

As I was not a regular congregant, I was a bit shy and easily embarrassed. That Sunday, I got up to take Communion, and my daughters went with me. My seven year old took her bread, dipped it in the grape juice, and placed it in her mouth. The three year old followed her sister's lead. Reverently, she accepted "The body of Christ, given for you," and dipped it into "The blood of Christ, shed for you"(many churches practice intinction rather than drinking from the common cup).  Next, it was my turn. The girls were walking back to their seats.  As I dipped my bread, torn from the loaf, and placed it in my mouth, I heard my little one say (quite loudly), "I'm still hungry!" It was all I could do not to spit the host from my mouth!  I covered my face and hurried to her. I took her hand and we sat back in our seats next to my other daughter, who was laughing so hard she could hardly stop.

The rest of the congregation were still giggling as Communion ended and the pastor stepped back up to the pulpit. After the service, people came to us and talked with my girls. Those who didn't talk to us smiled at my little one, eyes dancing with the laughter from earlier. In the moment of my daughter's "faux pas" the people gathered in that room were united in the delight they felt at her cuteness. I had been embarrassed, but in the jocularity, I forgot my embarrassment and just loved my daughter for who she was. Her big sister thought that the moment was the funniest thing she'd seen in awhile. So, the bread was the center of the experience, yet it was the laughter that brought everyone together for a moment.

While this happened in what was meant to be a solemn ritual of Communion, the lightheartedness of it made it into a different kind of Communion - or Community - for a moment. It wasn't until much later that I realized the import of what my daughter had said. For unwittingly she had made a great theological statement.

You see, the bread and wine (juice in the United Methodist Church) are meant to represent the sustenance of life, both physically and spiritually. It is more than the words "The body of Christ, the blood of Christ." It is the very food that sustains us, for which we pray "give us this day our daily bread." It is the blood of life that connects us all in that we all need blood to carry the nutrients to the cells of our individual bodies to keep us alive.  It is the meal around which we recognize the holiness in one another. The bread and wine together are meant to represent our spiritual lives and our connection to God through Christ. In most Christian denominations, the ritual is understood to connect all those who claim to "follow Jesus."  In my Inter-Spiritual denomination, it is understood to be a universal connection - all sentient beings are sustained and elevated through Communion and community, even those who do not physically partake. In the Wiccan/Pagan tradition, the feast of bread and wine or mead represents these same things. We are hungry physically when we are deprived of bread (food), we are thirsty physically when we are deprived of liquid (wine, mead, water). We share that we might sustain one another. Yet on the metaphysical level, the bread and wine represent the spiritual sustenance that we need to grow closer to God/dess and closer to one another and all living beings. "May you never hunger, may you never thirst," we say.

When my daughter said, "I'm still hungry," she spoke aloud the need of all spiritual people. When our stomachs are full, we are satisfied, but it is only temporary. When we find ourselves spiritually fed, we realize the possibilities for greater things, and seek to find fulfillment. As long as we are living on this earth, humans will seek spiritual fulfillment in some way. I believe that even those who do not think spiritually seek deeper fulfillment than material success can provide. As long as we live, we will still be hungry. As we go along our paths there will be way stations where for a moment we can taste our ultimate connection with all that is. Communion, Feast, breakfasts, lunches, teas, or dinners with friends or sharing a bottle of water with a homeless person - these are the way stations where we can know for a moment what complete unity and fulfillment taste like.

In the meantime, we're still hungry.



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Story of a Stone

I have been taking an online course through Edx called Spirituality and Sensuality: Sacred Objects in Religious Settings.  The course is an undergraduate Religious Studies class from a professor at Hamilton College a liberal arts college in Clinton, New York.  There are 4500 students from all over the world enrolled in this free course, which makes it even more interesting than it might be otherwise.  Last week, we were asked to write about a stone (or stones) in our environment and the significance that stone has had on people, including ourselves.  Now that the grading for the week is complete, I thought I would share what I wrote here.  Enjoy!


The Freya-Stone
 
This stone stands next to a picnic area on Piestewa Peak in Phoenix, Arizona. Taller than a person, it somewhat resembles a veiled woman with her arms held close in front of her. This is her home, on the mountainside below the trails. The park is part of the Phoenix Mountains, with rock formations that rangers say are relatively young -- 14 million years. This particular rock stands near a picnic ramada that for many years was used by the local Pagan community for gatherings and community meals. Memorial Sumbles were held for those who died, with much "huzzah!" and a toss-back of mead, first into the throat and then at the rock along with a memory of the loved one who passed. Though not a gravestone placed over the dead like those in the cemetery, this stone still stands over the spirit of those who crossed over; holding the bits of memories spoken in reverence and love. When children were present, they found this rock to be a welcome climbing-spot while they awaited the end of a ritual and the call to the table for the sharing of food.

A number of years ago, a small group of Pagan women gathered near this stone, sometimes together and sometimes individually. They took to calling this rock the Freya-Stone after the Nordic goddess of love, beauty, and death. They spoke to her, and in some way not unlike Annie Dillard's neighbor, hoped to teach her to talk, to answer them when they brought their prayers to her, taking small pebbles into their hands and holding them, praying their questions. Releasing their tears of loneliness, abuse, and self-degradation, they laid the stones on the small shelf of rock where it seems like her hands come together. After their prayers they would share a nibble of bread, a bit of cheese, a few grapes, and a mug of mead, completing their prayers with the "amen" of the splash: thick, dark honey-wine against the Freya-Stone.


One of those women found true love and had her wedding beside the Freya-Stone. Another found self-respect and freedom. The third? Well, she who had also been in abuse and then emptiness found that she had been truly loved for many years. Soon she, too, was wed to a friend she had not known had loved her for so long. In that, she also found her own power, to forge a life beside him.


It is often said by archaeologists and anthropologists that one cannot walk across the desert southwest even a little bit without encountering the remains of Native American life. The lost Anasazi left behind sherds of pottery, broken stones, ancient baked agave, an ingenious canal system, and perhaps the spirits of the Pueblo ancestors. There is no indication that this stone has ever been more than a beautiful, large stone on the side of a beautiful mountain. Yet, gatherings of people of many descents found themselves worshiping near her, sometimes in the company of cougars. Decidedly, three Euro-American women felt a great power in this stone, and to this day the ones who are still living feel the call to visit her once in awhile, and remember.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Deeper Things

Since we began meeting weekly, we’ve been a small handful; well, usually less than a handful, if I’m to be fully honest.  We are a sincere handful, though!  In fact, it is a joy to be able to speak so intimately with those who attend, and I find that including some discussion within my weekly message gives it unexpected life.  It’s no wonder Jesus preferred to have his little band of friends and family sit with him to learn about the deeper things.  And that is what I believe he taught.  Deeper things.  Metaphysical truths.  How to become a more spiritual person.  How to discover, through that spirituality, ways to bring God’s Love into the world.  How to be Love in the midst of oppression, anger, fear, and hate.  Indeed, how to be a Spiritual Warrior.  For, I do think that Jesus was a Spiritual Warrior.

For the past few weeks, we have been discussing ways to become Spiritual Warriors using Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as recorded in chapter 5 of the New Testament book of Matthew.  Specifically, we have been centering on the list of blessing we call the “Beatitudes.”  I call them the “Be Attitudes.”  You see, one way that I find to interpret this list is as a list of attributes of a Spiritual Warrior.  So far we’ve dealt with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.,”  ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted..” and“ ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”  If you’re interested in what we had to say, just click on the links.


This coming Sunday, February 15, we will be talking about “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  We’ll consider:  what is righteousness?  Who are those who hunger, who thirst for this?


Feel free to join us at Red Mountain Park in East Mesa.  We meet at or near the Owl Ramada at 4:00 p.m.  If you can’t make it Sunday, our discussion group meets on the first Monday of the month at the Macayo’s on Baseline and Dobson in Mesa at 6:30 p.m.  Our next meeting will be on March 2.  We’ll be discussing ideas and thoughts about belief in things greater than ourselves.  How do you perceive the universe and the place of humans in that universe?


Blessings to all!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lighting Brigid's Fire

St. Brigid in the Desert has started meeting as a church again.  We're meeting weekly - which is an unexpected turn of events, really.  It was in some ways a difficult decision, yet in another way it was the simplest decision of all.  It took a long time to decide what to do.  I knew the time was coming to light a little bit of Brigid's fire, but in my overwhelmingly busy life, I couldn't see where I was being Called to go with it.

Then, I started that whole journaling thing back up, an experience I wrote about in my last blog.  I was poised to graduate from my unit of Certified Pastoral Education, and I began to allow myself a little more time opening to Spirit.  Answers to my questions about what I needed to do next began to flow into my mind and settle into my heart.

First, find a place to meet for a discussion group once a month.  We'll be starting an open discussion on various topics at Macayo's in Mesa on Monday, February 9 at 6:30 p.m.  The first thing we'll be discussing is whether or not we believe in "God," and if so, what we believe.  There is no requirement to believe in anything - just a willingness to discuss our thoughts about things beyond our perception and to accept the thoughts of others.

Second, I knew St. Brigid needed to become more of a church than it has been in a long time.  It weighed heavily on my heart, yet after I decided upon the place and date for our first discussion group, I knew what to do for the worship service.  We met this past Sunday at Red Mountain Park in Mesa.  We will meet there every Sunday at 4:00 p.m. until we discover a better place.  I found a nice spot at or near the Owl Ramada that is first come, first served.  If we can meet under the ramada, we will do so.  This past Sunday, I set up my table nearby and a handful of us met around it.  We spent a little bit of time reviewing the history of St. Brigid in the Desert and the Universal Anglican Church.  We prayed, I gave a message, and we shared Communion.  The entire service can be read at my sermon site, Sermons from an Inter-Spiritual Priestess.

Last week's message was about becoming Spiritual Warriors.  One of the tools for doing so, I said, was to think for ourselves.  It occurs to me that if only we thought for ourselves as we come into conversations with others, it might be easier to be ourselves all the time.  Wouldn't it be easier to avoid hypocrisy if we worked toward being who we are and what we are called to be, instead of trying to be what someone else tells  us we're supposed to be?  This doesn't require that we drop everything we've been taught - it simply requires that we think about what we've been taught and how it applies in this great big wonderful pluralistic world we live in.

Right?

I'm such a heretic.

In honor of St. Brigid, here's a beautiful song to light a fire of inspiration, played by the 1999 Hopkins Junior High String Orchestra of Fremont, California.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Friends in Thin Places: Looking for Liminality

Approaching another New Year, I find myself pondering the purpose of my own experience once again.  This has been a rough year all around, and without knowing why, I've found myself feeling frustrated, and even angry, for days on end.  I fought the feelings with vigor, pretending I was different and that somehow I could rise above my own humanity.  You see, after everything hit the fan and I found myself biting the heads off people who did not deserve my wrath, I began to realize that perhaps at least part of my problem was simply that I am human.  Humans get tired.  I have been multi-tasking, being strong, working hard, going to school, doing an internship, building a new marriage, watching my children grow up and out, trying to keep the peace between others, and trying to figure out what I'm called to be when I grow up for so long, I have no idea how not to be so busy.  It's been a couple of weeks since I had the first indication that I've been too busy for too long.  I just had no idea that it was building to the point that I was going to blow.

It could have been worse, of course.  It could have been like it was when I behaved poorly during my certification process with my previous denomination.  This time, I didn't do or say anything I couldn't apologize for with sincerity and have it be accepted at face value.  The unfortunate part is that it isn't over.  I'm still busy, but as I begin this last approach to the new year, at least I have an sense of when the worst of it will have passed.  The problem is that I don't know what to do with it.  I have a list of things I need to work on, not the least of which is to envision where St. Brigid in the Desert is headed as a church.  I promised the greater Universal Anglican Church a class for the online seminary almost 2 years ago, I think.  I need to work on that.  Yet, knowing that I have these and other projects ahead of me, I fear that first step.

There was a time, not so very long ago, that I was always aware that I stood on the threshold to a new life.  I felt joy looking forward into a new day, knowing that there is always not only hope, but expectation in the awakening.  I felt magick in the air on cold moonlight nights and sensed a shift in time and space as I walked the labyrinth or sat beneath my tree in meditation.  In my home office, I have a wood block wall hanging into which is carved a saying from my childhood:  "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."  I lived by that saying, expecting a spark of inspiration and a reminder of the divine every single day.  I found liminal spaces in all kinds of places.

As 2014 drew to a close, I lost that sense of newness with the sunrise.  I could not find a place where I felt God's Presence for more than a few moments.  All I felt was tired.  I was very tired, and very separate from All That Is.  I had built a wall of busy-ness around me.  I created a cell of certainty that I knew where I was going and why I was going there.  I don't know why I built it, but I do know that whenever it has begun to crack in the past, I have filled those cracks with more busy-ness and more certainty.  Eventually, I guess my wall was so solid there was no "breathing room" left.  No room for flexibility.  No room for God to breathe new life into mine.  There was nothing left to do but curl up inside the wall and give up, or burst.

I discovered the first trickle of air coming into that cell when I chose to pick up my old-school journal and a pen a couple of weeks ago.  There's something about writing out one's thoughts in good old-fashioned cursive that makes them real, rather like confiding in another person.  Amorphous thoughts begin to take form.  Looking back into the journal, I was reminded of earlier goals and of dreams both literal and ideal.  A journal is a liminal place, a space between then and now, here and there, within and without.  I remembered how much I needed that, and I remembered the importance of my friends.

We all need friends who will not only listen to us when we whine, complain, scream, and bite the heads off innocents, but who can also point out the places where we might find a crack in the wall we've built around ourselves.  I need friends who recognize the Thin Places.  The places where our spirituality and our physical lives meet.  The places where we can meet with God.

 Perhaps I have been going through what St. John of the Cross called "dark night of the soul."  The light, of course, always present, but unseen.  Unseen, that is, until I allowed myself to hear the voices of those who bid me rest, to let go of the perpetual motion of my life.

Thank God, I say, for my friends in the Thin Places. I give thanks for those who have stood where I am and who can help me remember how to find that place where God speaks to me once again.  I am not sure my veil of confusion has fully lifted, but because I have friends who recognize the liminality in the mundane, I can feel a little bit of the sunrise.

Indeed...