Saturday, August 31, 2019

Reflection on Blodeuwedd

Blodeuwedd - mixed media painting. Oil pastels,
acrylic, watercolor pencil on canvas board
by Suzy, 2019
     The Welsh have a small collection of traditional stories that are gathered into a text known as The Mabinogion. The Mabinogion consists of eleven tales, known as The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, that were handed down in bardic tradition and first collected into a written text in the 12th and 13th centuries. The initial text was written in Middle Welsh. This text has been translated into English from the Welsh a number of times. The first person to translate the myths from The Mabinogion into English was William Owen Pughe, who published a few of the stories in 1795, 1821, and 1829. However, the first to translate all eleven stories was Lady Charlotte Guest, who published them in both English and Welsh in the mid 19th century. These tales have influenced many writers of fantasy, including J.R.R. Tolkien. Evangeline Walton wrote a four part series of novels based entirely on The Mabinogion. These books, while not initially written in the order of The Four Branches, should be read in the order of the original tales. The last book, The Island of the Mighty, is Walton’s retelling of The Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, and it is in this book that I came to be touched by the story of Blodeuwedd. It is her tale I wish to explore with you today.
     Let me give you an overview of Blodeuwedd’s story. Her part in the myth is short, yet I feel that she is much more important than many realize. You see, Blodeuwedd is part of the story of Llew Llaw Gyffes, a magician and warrior destined to be king of Gwynedd. In order to understand Blodeuwedd, you must understand Llew. 
     It all begins when Gwydion, who is the nephew of Math, Magician and King of Gwynedd and a powerful magician himself, tricks his sister Arianrhod into trying out to become the new Footholder for Math. It is said that Math would die if he did not keep his feet in the lap of a virgin when he was not at war. Arianrhod is forced to undergo a magical test for virginity. However, she is not a virgin, and during the test she gives birth to a boy who is quickly named Dylan by Math and sent to the ocean to take on the attributes of a sea creature. Embarrassed at being found out, Arianrhod runs to the door. As she runs, something drops from her, which Gwydion picks up and stores away in a chest in his room. After many months, Gwydion hears cries from the chest. Opening it, he finds a robust baby boy. He raises the boy and trains him in magic. This is the second son of Arianrhod, incubated by his uncle Gwydion, to be raised as his son. In fact, there are some scholars who surmise that perhaps Gwydion himself is the father of his sister’s sons.
     After a few years, Gwydion takes the boy to Arianrhod. She is angry and embarrassed, and as a result, she curses the boy, saying that he will have no name unless she names him, and she does not intend to name him. Gwydion is the Trickster in Welsh mythology, and he soon tricks her into giving him a name: Llew Llaw Gyffes, meaning “the fair-haired one with the skillful hand.” As soon as she realizes she has named the boy, she curses him again, stating that he will never receive weapons unless they are given to him by herself, which of course, she does not intend to do. Again, Gwydion tricks Arianrhod into arming her son. Again, she is infuriated when she realizes she has been tricked again, and curses Llew that he will never have a human wife. This is where our story begins.
     Llew is a strong, powerful warrior and a magician, but he is lonely. Gwydion goes to his uncle Math, and the two of them make a beautiful woman out of flowers and name her Blodeuwedd, which means “flower-faced”. They present this lovely woman to Llew to be his wife. It seems they are happy together, but there is little depth to their relationship. Llew decides he needs to visit Gwydion and Math, leaving Blodeuwedd behind.
     Now, Blodeuwedd sees a passing man and his hunting party, and she is curious. Inviting them in for the night, she plays hostess to the man, Gronw Pebr. They fall in love and begin an affair. After awhile, the two conspire to murder Llew. However, because Llew is magical, he can only be killed in a very specific way: he can’t be killed in the the day or night, inside or outside, not riding or walking, neither clothed nor naked, and not by any weapon made legally. Blodeuwedd gets him to reveal the only way he can be killed, which is only at dusk while he is wrapped in a net, standing with one foot on a bath and one on a goat, near a riverbank with a spear that was forged over the span of a year only during certain hours. With this information, Blodeuwedd and Gronw attempt to kill Llew.
     Though the spear strikes Llew, he is instantly transformed into an eagle and escapes to hide in the trees, bleeding. Gwydion hears of what has transpired, and seeks high and low until he finds Llew, turning him back into a man. Once Gwydion and Math have nursed Llew back to good health, they gather the forces of Gwynedd and take back Llew’s lands from Gronw and Blodeuwedd. Blodeuwedd tries to run, but Gwydion turns her into an owl as punishment. Eventually, Llew kills Gronw.
     So here we are, with Blodeuwedd, the unfaithful wife, having been punished for her infidelity and her part in the attempted murder of her husband. She is the owl who must fly at night, and according to the story, is hated by all other birds. Yet, is this all there is to this story? That Blodeuwedd was shallow, unfaithful, and murderous? I don’t think so. I think there is more to the story.
     Consider Blodeuwedd, created by two men for the use of another. Taking flowers of oak and broom and meadowsweet, they magically created a beautiful woman with absolutely no thought of this woman’s autonomy; not even an idea that she might become a creature with her own desires, her own dreams, her own expectations of life. Indeed, at first she is quite innocent of her own existence; she is naught but the wife of Llew Llaw Gyffes, and as long as he stays with her, reflecting her own beauty back to her, she is satisfied. She knows nothing else. She has seen nothing more. She is content to exist solely for the pleasure of her husband. Then, he leaves her alone for a long stretch. 
     With Llew away, what is Blodeuwedd to do? She is no mere flowery housewife with tasks to be done; she is the Lady of the Manor, with servants to care for her every need – but one. She has not been raised a human woman to understand the value of friendships with the ladies in her household. She has not been taught the arts of needlecraft, painting, or music, or any other time consuming craft that high born women of her times would know. All she knows is that she feels, perhaps, a kinship with the flowers and the love, as she understands it, of her husband.
     For Llew’s part, he has not been given the opportunity to learn what love is, for he has been denied all the normal interactions of a growing young man of his culture. Gwydion raised Llew for Gwydion’s purposes, in which all that mattered was his ability as a warrior, a magician, and a would-be king. It is certain, I believe, that Gwydion cared little for matters of the heart. He went to Math for help creating a wife for Llew because having been cursed, Llew feared he would always be alone. That fear of loneliness and of never having someone to love would overshadow Llew’s abilities unless Gwydion figured out a way to provide Llew with the wife he would not have had otherwise. Blodeuwedd seemed to be the best they could do.
     This couple, he without knowledge of normal human interaction, and she without knowledge of anything but beauty, was brought together into a life in which neither was likely to provide all that the other needed. Certainly, Blodeuwedd had no idea what she needed – until she met Gronw. Now, here was a man who saw her only as a woman. He met her and fell in love with her, not with what she represented. Perhaps he spoke to her as if she might have an idea of her own. Perhaps he asked her what she might prefer, whereas her husband likely took it for granted that she would always belong to him, and do whatever he wanted to do, since she was literally made for him.
     When I first read about Blodeuwedd, I was disappointed in her for cheating on Llew. He was the tragic protagonist and she was the heinous trollop who betrayed her husband and helped her lover to attempt to murder him. However, as I thought about it, I found myself feeling sad for her. I began to see her as a character with few options. Her life was simply handed to her as is; without information and without choices. Who might she have become, if they had provided her with more than the fragility of flowers?
     Is there a cautionary tale in Blodeuwedd’s story? I think there is. I consider the error I made in reading her as a two-dimensional character, all flowers and fornication, and I realize that sometimes I make this error in real life. How often do I get to know a person only on the surface and think I understand what they are all about? How often do I judge an individual on their actions today without any knowledge of what led up to whatever it is I’ve observed? How many times do I approach others without giving thought to their basic humanity?
     As an owl, Blodeuwedd has become much more than a girl made of flowers; she is a symbol of death and rebirth. In her visage of an owl, she is wisdom, magick, and initiation. For the Welsh, the owl's cry can be a harbinger of death, and has been called the corpse-bird. Arianrhod herself, who is the Welsh Goddess of fertility and fate, has been known to shape-shift into an owl that she might better be able to see deep into the human subconscious. Blodeuwedd as an owl is a reminder that things are not always as simple as they seem. She reminds me that it’s useful to look at situations and interpersonal challenges with my spiritual eyes, for with wisdom and intuition I may be able to see what is right rather than simply what is easy.
     You can hear a beautiful song about Blodeuwedd the Owl by Damh the Bard, if you’d like. You can also watch a movie called Y Mabinogi AKA Otherworld that loosely tells four of the tales from the Mabinogion, including the tale of Bloeuwedd, wrapped around the stories of three modern Welsh teens.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Interspirituality: No Contradiction

A couple of weeks ago, I promised someone in an online group I belong to that I would share a little about my spiritual path and how I reconcile the sometimes apparently divergent understandings of spirituality and belief that comprise my world view. Since I haven't blogged here in awhile, I thought this might be the perfect venue in which to do this.

If you're someone who has been following me since I was hip-deep in the pursuit of ordination in the United Methodist tradition, you may know a little bit about my background.  However, unless you're part of my family or my very close circle of friends, you may not have recognized how gingerly I have approached my Statements of Call and even the sermons I have given. You see, no matter how hard I tried to fit into what I believed the church expected of me, I never felt completely authentic. I never wanted to lie about what I believed, yet I wanted to be accepted and supported within that community. I withdrew and re-entered the process three times before I finally broke. I realized that I was trying to perform some kind of spiritual gymnastics to fit into a box that was too small for my spirit. Now, mind you, I had walked a thin balance beam for many years before I ever thought I heard that call to ministry with the UMC. I realize now that I was afraid to immerse myself into my own understanding because I feared being judged and found wanting. Not by God/dess, but by the humans who I believed would not understand. Specifically, of course, those whose "Christian" religiousity is informed by literalism and dogma rather than a metaphysical experience with something greater than themselves. 

I want to share some of what I wrote about my spirituality during my pursuit of a seminary education and ordination in the UMC. I think you'll see that while I was never dishonest about my personal understanding of the relationship between myself and the Divine, I never quite defined myself either. I think there's a good reason for that -- which is that my metaphysical experience has rendered me very difficult to define -- even to myself!

The following is an excerpt from the Statement of Call I provided to the District Committee on Ministry in the UMC Conference in which I live. I wrote this in 2008, after I had worked in the UMC for about five years as an Office Manager. I was still also attending Neo-Pagan gatherings and festivals once in awhile. 

I have spent a lifetime seeking a closer connection to God.  I have honored God in many different ways and been moved by the imminent Spirit of God in unique places.  Since I was a child, I have felt God’s Presence wherever I am, whoever I am with.  As a teen, I would find myself lying on the grass with a friend, watching the stars and discussing the nature of God and the place of God in our lives.  As an adult, I am drawn into the continuing conversation of the human experience in relation to God.  I have had mountaintop experiences in my spirituality, and been blessed to learn how to bring some of that euphoria into mundane life.  I strongly sense a unity between people, the planet, and the whole universe that can only be attributed to one all-pervasive, loving God. 

This next piece was written as part of my Credo paper, written for my Theology class in 2009.

Any ministry that I work in will naturally be informed by my sense of connection to all that is, all that will be and all that has gone before.  I yearn to bring to those with whom I work that sense of belonging and connection that has been my gift for as long as I can remember.  Whether it be in Christian, interfaith or secular education, spiritual formation or research and writing, I wish to offer a small vision of the Divine to others.

Then there's this, from my final paper in my World Religions in Dialogue class, also written in 2009.

For over thirty years, since the age of 12, I have been actively and consciously searching for my spiritual path.

My spiritual life has been adventurous. I've made pit-stops in Unitarian, Unity and various Methodist and Lutheran churches. I've woven my Path through Kabbalah, Mysticism, Wicca and undifferentiated Paganism. I've visited Druidism and Buddhism; New Age and New Thought. I have known Jesus all along the erstwhile Paths. I love the concepts of the Buddha, Sarasvati, and Kwan Yin. I have respected the image of the Hindu goddess Kali-Ma and embraced the feminist inspiration she brings to western thought.  How, I have wondered, does my personal understanding of Jesus fit in to these discoveries?

Throughout my spiritual and spatial travels, I discovered similarities in all religions. It became a passion to seek and find that which runs through them all. While I have certainly meandered along an eclectic path, I have discovered that genuine spiritual experience is multivalent.  God is boundless and simply won't fit into the tiny boxes marked "religion" into which we humans try to force God, no matter how hard we try. I have made the conscious decision to claim Christianity as my tradition. Still, as poet Solomon Grundy once wrote in a blog, "When you study religion it all finds its way into your head."

The bolded sentence above, "I have made the conscious decision to claim Christianity as my tradition," is where I thought I was going. It's what I tried to do during all my years of seminary and struggling through the somewhat grueling United Methodist ordination process. However, "claiming Christianity" in the way I was trying to do required me to turn my back on other valid belief systems that spoke to my spirit. I had discovered that these other ways of understanding overlapped with what I had come to understand about the metaphysical aspects of the teachings of Jesus the Christ, and I could not pretend that I didn't know this deep within my Being. In fact, all the years of seminary, all the years of facilitating progressive Christian studies and leading meditation and Lectio Divina groups, all the reading, discussing, learning, and, yes, praying...had led me right back to where I started.

I wrote the following bit on my LiveJournal (which I've moved to Dreamwidth) in 2003.

Who am I?

One never really knows the complete answer to such a question. I am a woman who has been a student of the spiritual for most of my life. I have practiced some form of magick for 29 years. Unfortunately for all of my practice, I have not always been practical - I have made horrible relationship choices and shortsighted career choices. I could lament these for the waste of time and energy; however, I choose to celebrate them as detours that have given me insight and experience, strength and character that were necessary to bringing me to the me who sits here today. I am a good person who has made mistakes. Who can say anything better about themselves?

Over time, this place will reveal many facets of the me who is and the me who is to come. Perhaps something deeper will be revealed; perhaps not. Perhaps, it will all be in fun. Whichever it is, know me today as the mother of Dragon, Monkey, and Ox; the daughter of Thor, the sister of Frigga and Aphrodite, the friend of Kali, and the beloved of Herne. True, this is an amalgam of deity and concoction of cultures - but this is how I see deity and my life. Not one is all true, none is all wrong; but God has as many faces as S/he has names.

When I was a senior in High School, I took a Local History class. The school, Conestoga Valley, is in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, smack in the midst of Amish country. The area has a rich history of religious traditions, having been settled by the Anabaptist Amish and Mennonite, as well as Moravians and Quakers. The Pennsylvania colony was known for its religious tolerance, which allowed these different denominations to settle in and grow side by side. I had been initiated into The Craft approximately six months prior to starting at this school (my seventh high school, as a side note) and I had been studying Occultism in general for about five years. When I was asked to take part in a panel to discuss various spiritual/religious beliefs in class, I chose to call myself a "Christian Mystic." Of course, I was pretty naive and silly when attempting to discuss the things in the universe that we cannot see but which I believe exist alongside us. Still, this is evidence that I was already experiencing a rather rich spiritual life.

So, it comes to this. I am Christian, I am Pagan, I am Heathen, I am all of these and none of these. It boils down to this one thing: as a spiritual being, I simply am. I no longer see any contradiction between spiritualities. The differences between religions is the difference between people and cultures. Religion is not spirituality, and spirituality is not religion. They often go hand in hand, as religion is a framework within which a group practices their spirituality, yet religion is not necessary for spirituality. History shows us beyond a doubt that spirituality is not necessary for religion. If it were, we would be living in a very different world.

As many know, I graduated from Claremont School of Theology with my M.Div. in 2013. Not long after that, a friend of mine introduced me to the Bishop of a small interspiritual church, the Universal Anglican Church (now called the Universal Anglican Interspiritual Church, or UAIC). While the church is foundationally a Christian denomination in the succession of the Anglicans, it is inclusive of individual lifestyles and the various practices that spiritual people encounter and resonate with. Priests in the UAIC often practice an amalgam of traditions. After a long conversation by phone and submission of papers and transcripts, I was accepted for ordination. In October of 2013, I flew to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to the General Assembly, where I was ordained in an extremely moving and empowering ritual. For a few years after my ordination, I still struggled with the labels and preconceived expectations of what it all meant, partly because I remained associated with the United Methodist Church as a lay employee. I still have many friends in that tradition who supported me through those difficult times. I will always be grateful for them.

A few month's before my ordination, with permission from the Bishop, I founded St. Brigid in the Desert UAIC, held meetings, and provided ministerial services. I went on to Clinical Pastoral Education and completed 800 hours of Chaplaincy training. Then, after 11 years of working in the UMC, I changed trajectories in my "day job." It wasn't long before I was reintroducing myself to my other traditions in greater depth than I had in ages. I picked up my Tarot cards, crystals, and runes. I was, and am, finally truly interspiritual. About a year ago, I dropped the "St." from my church's name and registered it with the State of Arizona. Today, Brigid in the Desert is still a small group of individuals who meet only sometimes, in different places, and online. I officiate weddings, handfastings, and other rituals and blessings whenever I can. I'm the priest who will work with you to create the wedding ceremony of your own choosing -- whether you want to refer to God/dess or not. Right now, Brigid in the Desert is something I have to do "on the side" while I do some serious ministry in my "day job" in Behavioral Health. I'll be semi-retiring in about nine months. That's when I'll really be able to focus on Brigid. There's something powerful in the metaphor of waiting nine months to birth something new.

In the meantime, I'm reacquainting myself with myself. As I wrote back in 2003, I am a daughter of Thor (I once used the magickal name of Gaelyn Thunarsdottir). I am beloved of Herne (I also called myself Shae O'Herne for awhile in the 90's). As I was taught in Sunday School, I know "Jesus loves me." And, as I was told at my ordination, I am a Priest in an order that has no home, but wanders the world, serving as I am called to serve. That's still kind of Wesleyan, isn't it? After all, it was John Wesley who said, "The world is my parish."

And the magickal name I was given at my initiation in 1975 is still a secret.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Finding Our Identity While Honoring Others

This is a tough subject to address, but I feel it needs to be discussed. I've been thinking about this long and hard.

Most "white people" who struggle to talk about who they are and where they came from are not "white supremacists." It's not about being "white." It's about heritage. It's just that we are mainly northern peoples and therefore mostly have light pigmentation.

Our early history was all but obliterated by  various invasions of what is now Western Europe, and as we grasp for foundations to hold on to, we run into various challenges.

Our symbolism has been wielded by bad people, so if we want to use it as part of our identity, we are sometimes interpreted as being bad people. Some of our shamanic practices... the few that are remembered... are similar to practices of extant indigenous people, but we don't have the names of those practices in the indigenous languages of our forebears, so we use familiar words, and suddenly we are appropriating another culture.

For instance, cleansing with smoke has been practiced across the world for eons. As the practice came back in style, Wiccans and New Age practitioners called it "Smudging," a term taken from Native American practice. Now, when we use the word "smudging" for "cleansing with smoke," we are told we are appropriating a Native American practice. This English word probably replaced the original names that the members of the indigenous people of this continent called it in thier various languages. Those words were likely lost as the languages were taken from the peoples through violence and forced English speaking. So this word is theirs now. And now we know. I didn't understand this when I first learned of the technique. Now that I know, I'm left with the awkward phrase, "cleansing with smoke" rather than a word out of the practices of my ancestors.

You see, our words for it have been lost for hundreds of years. That's why we picked up "smudging." Things like this are not done with ill intent. These are things that happen when we struggle to find our identity as people with a history and come up empty.  We're trying, we really are.

As we do, we run into these challenges: lack of terminology, the historic appropriation of the words and symbols we have left by those who DO have ill intent. The attempts by governments and do-gooders to take away what's left of the tatters of our various heritages. And, we are challenged by our own fears of hurting those others who have been hurt by some of our ancestors, those whose wounds are still smarting.

Most of us understand the fight to maintain identity. We support those of other cultures in that fight. At the same time, we want the right to fight to regain some of our own culture. Those cultures are not "white." They are Norse, Scandinavian, Slavic, Spanish, Italian, Celtic, Irish, Scottish, Russian (and a lot of other names that represent the smaller groups of our Indo-European forebears).

I think it's time for us all to learn to ask questions, listen to the answers, and educate ourselves beyond the knee jerk reactions of today's media, social and otherwise. If we only respond to the fear mongering we are faced with on our timelines, we learn to only see enemies. Friends, let's step outside once in awhile. Let's look outside our timelines and outside our comfort zone. Let's give others the benefit of a doubt before assuming they are our enemies. Let's acknowledge that we can be who we are and still reach across cultures and honor others for who they are.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Ministry on a Daily Basis: Peer Support

Well. Here it is the fifth day of the new year, and I haven't posted a pastoral blog since November. If you've read my previous blog entries you know that I am a bi-vocational minister. This means that in order to pay my share of the household bills and afford to support this ministry, I need a "day job." I am extremely fortunate, as I have been able to find a day job that allows me to minister to others just about every day. In my position with a behavioral health non-profit in Arizona, I work with adult individuals who are often homeless, struggling with addiction and mental health issues, and related problems ranging from unemployment to suicidal ideation. Currently, my job title is Clinical Services Liaison. My main tasks are to outreach and register individuals for the program I work for. In the course of my duties, I often provide "counseling."

I place that in quotation marks because I am not a licensed therapist, and I do not provide the kind of counseling that a licensed therapist or social worker is trained to provide. I do provide the level of counseling I am trained for as a Chaplain and a Pastoral Care provider. Perhaps it could be considered a little bit of "Life Coaching," or "Spiritual Direction." However, I don't do this in the guise of a priest. In my day job, I am simply utilizing skills I have acquired through my pastoral and chaplaincy training to help clients to discover and articulate their life goals. More importantly, I use my life experiences to work with the clients as a Peer.

When I started with this company, my job was to provide Peer Support as a Crisis Transition Navigator. Navigation and Peer Support are just about the only jobs I can think of where an individual's mistakes in life are a positive point on their résumé. My experiences as a domestic violence victim, a single mother, a person who has temporarily experienced homelessness, a person who has suffered from situational depression, a family member of individuals who have been part of the behavioral health system, as a person who has lived through times of overindulgence in alcohol and other substances myself, and as a relative and spouse of addicts has provided me with the ability to identify with most of the clients who come into our program.

As Peers, the ability to identify with the challenges our clients face gives us a level of empathy that invites the clients to put their trust in us. I cannot count on both hands the number of times a client has told me that they could not open up to a person who never experienced the kind of life they have faced. When a client hears that I, too, have had to escape the horrors of a physically abusive spouse, the client is able to breathe a sigh of relief, knowing not only that they are not alone, but that there is hope for them that their lives will improve, as mine has. It doesn't matter if the client is male, female, or non-binary. What matters is the experience and my ability to compassionately hear their story.

Clients who struggle with addiction are touched when they find that their Peer Support provider is also in recovery. I am not in recovery, but I have experienced what has been called "situational addiction," recreational use of certain substances, and have been in relationship with others who have struggled with opioid, amphetamine, and alcohol addiction. Even so, my clients find me to be an empathetic and caring Peer who understands where the client is "coming from." The most important part of being a Peer Support Specialist is the ability to understand the client's point of view, and to meet them "where they are right now," without any expectation of them meeting specific criteria or demands.

Peer Support Specialists often face a type of discrimination from other healthcare providers. Peer Support Specialists undergo training that provides them the tools to set boundaries between themselves and their clients. They are trained in guidelines for providing professional services while also disclosing a limited amount of personal information while outreaching a client. Nevertheless, there are many who look at a Peer Support provider as simply being "another addict." Rising above the negative perceptions of one's mistakes in life is difficult. When an individual identifies themselves as a Peer, there are some professionals who don't recognized the value of lived experience.

Here in Arizona, we are working on that. More and more, the value of a Peer Support Provider is recognized. As time goes by and statistics are collected, in becomes clear that a client with a Peer Support Provider or Navigator is more likely to be able to follow up on the requirements of treatment and the legal system. With a good, caring, and strong Peer Navigator, a client who is motivated to improve thier life is more likely to achieve success. I don't have the actual statistics, but Peer Support is an evidence based practice that is proven to help individuals make positive changes in their lives.

There are all kinds of Peer Support Specialists. Some work with individuals, other work with families. Some work in the medical field. Others, like me, work in behavioral health. As the benefits of Peer Support become better understood, the possibilities are endless.

I wanted to share this with you, because  I know that Peer Support is a positive and compassionate profession that allows people who have faced hard times to use that experience to help others come through their difficult situations. I want to reach out to those who are searching for a meaningful career who have "been there." If you are one of us, consider Peer Support as a possible new career track. Of course, in full disclosure, this isn't an area where you'll get rich, so if wealth is your goal, this isn't for you. However, if your goal in life is to be able to help others, to use your experiences in life creatively, and to give hope to the hopeless, Peer Support might just be for you.

Think about it - and may your have a happy and joyous 2019!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Birthing Hope

As a bi-vocational priest, it sometimes seems like opportunities to act in the "official" capacity are few and far between. Yet, when those opportunities arise, there is a joy that bubbles up inside me that cannot be described other than to say, I feel blessed. The month of October brought me two weddings this year, both of which took place outdoors. One was held in the White Mountains on a rainy day in the woods; the other, just a week later, took place at the foot of the Superstition Mountains in the center of a labyrinth. While one of these weddings was completely secular, the other included references to the Divine; yet both couples held Handfasting Ribbons and bound one another to promises. Both ceremonies were glorious. Both couples look forward to long, happy relationships. I am thrilled to have been a part of their big days.

I am preparing to print out a brochure with descriptions and pricing for services I provide in the capacity of priest. It's a little discomfiting, to think of these things from a business perspective. I am a person who deals in human compassion, empathy, and love. You really cannot put a price tag on these things. However, one must also make a living, and our time and effort are worth something. The "day job" provides income and insurance, but being in a social services position is not particularly financially lucrative. It's taken me a long time to bring myself to being able to set a cost to the ministerial services I provide. Now that I've done it, I've procrastinated on printing it out. By rights, it should have been delivered to the local wedding venues and other places before this "snowbird" season in the Southwest began last month. This is how I sabotage myself, isn't it. One of a million ways...

Brigid in the Desert hosted an in-person gathering every month for the first 2/3 of this year. When there were two or more of us sitting together at a table in discussion, it was awesome. Unfortunately, we are a small group of individuals with a variety of challenges. Toward the end of summer, some of our physical challenges made it difficult to meet in person. Instead, we have been chatting on the Facebook page and in the Facebook group, Brigid in the Desert Discussions. We have talked about everything from pain and spiritual experience to our interactions with those who have crossed beyond the veil from this world into the next. We are a diverse, fun, and hopeful group. Feel free to join us!

Now it's November. The Wheel of the Year has taken us past Samhain and the beginning of new life after the death of summer. We head into a time of deliberate thanksgiving, at least here in the United States, as well as a conversation around the meaning of that "First Thanksgiving" and our relationships with the Indigenous people of this land. There is much to wrestle with.

The nights are darkening earlier and we notice a chill in the air, even here in the Sonoran Desert. In the mountains and across the northern parts of the globe, the scent of ice and snow reinvigorates our senses and reminds us of cozy childhood evenings and Yuletide dreams. No matter our religious or spiritual heritage, there are memories of gifts and light and new hope that is born at the end of the calendar year. The Wheel turns. We grow older. Sometimes we forget the power of that innocent hope. At this time of year, we can be reminded of it; it can be reborn in us, if we let it.

If there is anything Americans -- and many others around the world -- can use right now, it's a newborn hope. Let's let it be born in us!

Let us birth a new hope.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Walking on Air...A Lesson Learned Past Midlife

Salt River Canyon -- One of the roads I won't be driving myself.
I have to start with this: I am afraid of heights. Honestly, I've actually held my children back from the wall overlooking a beautiful canyon because I couldn't handle the strange sharpness in my heart that I felt when they ventured too close to the edge. Now, mind you, I've hiked some pretty good trails, but when they would get high on the side of a mountain, I would hug the rocky mountainside as if it were my mother. I'm not a screamer, nor have I ever refused to hike the trails because of the height. I also believe that I have enough faith to know that most of the time, no matter what my fight-or-flight response is telling me, everything will be alright. I have, however, refused to drive certain roads. Sometimes, I've just been a passenger in a car on one of those roads and decided I'm never, ever going to be behind the wheel on such a treacherous highway. However, I've even promised never again to drive a road that I've successfully managed, with a lot of prayer and white knuckles. The point is, of course, that heights bother me. Big time.

Salt River Canyon
Now, once upon a time when I was a young 20-something in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, I had the opportunity to rappel. As the Secretary for the Security Police at the 104 TFG at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Massachusetts, I was invited to join the SPs on their obstacle course, which included jumping off a 60 foot wall. In retrospect, I'm not sure I realized the wall was part of the course. I didn't want to be the only one from my unit who didn't do the course, so I accepted the invitation. Twice, I geared up with ropes and caribiners, leaned backwards off the wall, and slid down the rope to the ground below. I realize now that I was able to do it in spite of my fear because I was too proud to give in to my fear once I had accepted the challenge. So, I did it. I never planned to do anything like it again, unless I was faced with a life or death situation in which the only chance of survival required rappelling.

Then I turned 60. Now, there have been two milestones that have taken me by surprise. Turning 50 was the first. After my 50th birthday, I began to find that I was much happier in my own skin than I had ever been before. I relaxed and became a generally happier person. I became less fearful in many ways. The decade after 50 was filled with new experiences - commuting from Arizona to California for seminary; ups and downs in my discernment of ministry, which started in the United Methodist Church and ended up in the Universal Anglican Interspiritual Church; reconnecting with an old friend and discovering we were both in love and getting married. By the end of the decade, I had changed careers in my "day job," entering a field that had never even been on my radar. Yet, with all the new experiences, I had not yet truly been challenged. Rather, if I had been especially challenged, I either did not recognize the opportunity, or I turned away in fear.

Sixty happened this year, and it has already changed me. This is how.

I recently accepted a new position in the company I have been at for the last year and a half. With the new position, I became a member of a team that I had only been connected with in an ancillary fashion previously. Last week, our supervisors scheduled our quarterly staff meeting at a place called The Main Event. After the staff meeting, we were able to play. A few of my coworkers played laser tag. Most of us bowled. I bowled. But before the bowling was the true adventure. You see, they have this thing they call the Gravity Walk. It's a series of ropes and foam walkways that hangs 15 feet in the air, above the video games. When I first heard about it, I thought it might be one of those rock climbing walls, and I told myself I would try it. When I saw what it really was, I way I can do that. I stood by a table sipping a glass of water thinking about it when all of a sudden I heard myself telling a coworker that I was thinking about doing the Gravity Walk. 

That was it. She said, "We're doing it!" and we were off. Signed up, suited up, and standing on a ledge 15 feet above everybody else. Like the 20-something me who jumped off a wall because I said I would, I found myself walking across the first rope and stepping on a landing where my coworker waited for me.This second leg of the walk was harder. I stood on the landing, looking at the next step and thought "there's no way my foot will reach that spot." I stood there, pondering this space where between the landing where I stood and the foam walk seemed enormous and all I could see below was the floor. I was determined not to turn around. I stepped...onto the rope...and then onto the foam step. Each bit of the walk was different and posed a different challenge. Each time, I had to tell myself to take the step. Take the step. Even walking sideways on only a rope, holding on to one rope hanging from the ceiling, grabbing another as I stepped along the rope. I did it! I made it all the way around the Gravity Walk. All the way around, down the stairs, unburdened of my gear, and walking out, I said, "I'm going to do that again! Not now, but soon." And I will.

Me, 15 feet in the air!
What I learned is this. Walking the rope is a perfect metaphor for making decisions through life. Each new step is filled with trepidation and possible danger. Yet, if you take the step, even if you take a half step onto the rope and another half step to make to the next destination, you'll get somewhere. Turning around won't get you anywhere. Only facing the fear and making a decision to take a step will get you anywhere.

It isn't much. It seems a simple lesson. Yet, it's a lesson I had not truly learned until now. I've forged forward in many ways in life, but most everything that has happened in my life is something of an accident. I either made a decision without much thought, or I made no decision at all, and whatever would happen, happened. Now, I realized how much may have been different if I had not lived my life dictated by my fears. I think I was given an important message from the Divine, to be honest. A message about my own life.

From 60 onward may be the final part of a life on this plane of existence, but it need not be the end of my life yet. There is no need to let fear cripple me. From now on, I will be brave. I will courageously face whatever is before me, and decide for myself what step to take.

From now on, I am on an adventure!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Yearnings of a Priest/ess

There is this strange emotion that I feel when I see people on television shows and movies sitting in a church having private time with God. The old churches, the stained glass, the cross...

The faith so deep, so pure. I feel the emotion and I wish that I had that kind of faith.

And yet, I know that I do have this faith. This deep faith that is in the God in whom these people seek solace. I know this God.

What I see portrayed in these faithful characters is a quality that makes me a bit jealous. That quality is a simple faith. It's a faith that is not encumbered by politics. Yet, oh how we know the church has been encumbered by politics for so long.

When I see the people in India at the temples, bringing offerings for puja, dancing joyously playing instruments and singing chants, I feel joy and a sense of loss, as if I were missing the kind of celebration that they bring to their worship! I see the people and I feel the emotion and I know that I feel the same, that I know their God, for theirs is the same God in whom all other people find such deep and profound faith.

And this faith, too, is a simple faith, without prejudice, without politics. Yet we know that this religion is political, too.

When I read the words of the Buddha, and those of his followers from both the past and present, I feel a sense of peace. I feel wistful that I do not have such profound peace in my soul. I feel this, and in a moment I recognize that I do have this sense of peace. And I know this relationship with All That Is, and it is simple. Without politics.

When I read the words of Jesus, I know that his Way is also simple. It is simple to love. Yet we who choose to live in Love are faced with politics every single day, for those who work against such simplicity are powerful. We are forced to make Love political.

Yes, my faith is easy, but the way I live it out is not so simple. I find my religion to be filled with various reflections of God. Goddesses, Gods, Prophets, Seers, Bodhisattvas. Stained glass and brass bells, crystal bowls and crystal stones, crosses, pentacles, and ankhs... So many different ways to reach across the span between this world and the next, between the veil of our living and the veil of the Otherworld, between awake time and dream time. So many ways to pray, and so many ways to meditate.

So many ways of ritual, so many ways to hear the Voice of God.

Sometimes I yearn to sit in an old Cathedral alone in the silence and feel the Presence of God, as if I knew no other way.

Sometimes I want to dance on a path of flowers and cry out, Shiva! Shakti! Ganesha! Give me a boon!

Sometimes I yearn to stand alone in the storm and call Kali! Freya! Give me strength! Give me power!

Sometimes I dream of walking alone in a velvet cape, casting blessing-spells. I, the local Witch, with familiar cat at heel, calling upon the ancient Gods of her Celtic and Nordic past.

Always, no matter what name I call, no matter what I pray for, I know that I will be answered by the One Who is All That Is. The One with no name, Who is the Universe, Who is the Quantum, Who is only One. The One Who is neither male nor female. The One Who has no name, but Who has all names.

Because of this, I cannot have a regular church. Because of this, I cannot have a building where I go each week to preach and serve. Because of this, I am a priest without a home, finding ways to serve in the community and providing Rites of Passage and prayers of many kinds.

know this, and yet sometimes in my heart, I simply want to don a stole and stand before a congregation and praise God by all Their Names!