Tag Archives: earth

The Northern Hemisphere’s Jazz Funeral

"Let the dead things go."

I was 26 years old before I experienced my first fall.

My husband and I were newly arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was starting seminary at the Episcopal Divinity School. I’d lived my entire life up to that point in Arizona. Fall for me, up until then, was random flashes of bright yellow aspen on mostly conifer-covered northern Arizona mountains.

Fall was threads of deep crimson maples in the alpine canyons surrounding low flat khaki-colored desert.

Fall was a solitary maple in front of the Tucson library, gloriously orange and red and gold for one week every year. I would walk out of my way just to look at that maple.

Clearly, I had no idea.

My first New England autumn amazed me. Fall in New England was an Arizona sunset at tree-level – crimson and gold and bronze, intensified and reflected in all that water everywhere. Fall was a sunset spread like frosting over the landscape.

New England’s fall was big and bold, brazen and boisterous.

Fall in New England was intoxicating.

Fall in New England was also confusing. It was so beautiful, and it was so clearly a dying.

I sort of wanted Fall to make up her mind: be breathtaking, or be sad. But not both.

Now, I more often understand that paradox is a hallmark of holiness, and I don’t try so hard to make things either this or that.

Christine Valters Paintner, of Abbey of the Arts, beautifully expresses this paradox:

“At the heart of autumn’s gifts are the twin energies of relinquishing and harvesting. It is a season of paradox that invites us to consider what we are called to release and surrender, and at the same time it invites us to gather in the harvest, to name and celebrate the fruits of the seeds we planted months ago. In holding these two in tension we are reminded that in our letting go we also find abundance.” 

Here are two poems for fall.

FALL SONG

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

~ Mary Oliver  (American Primitive)

 

A NECESSARY AUTUMN INSIDE EACH

Inside each of us, there’s continual autumn. Our leaves fall and are blown out

over the water. A crow sits in the blackened limbs and talks about what’s gone. Then

your generosity returns: spring, moisture, intelligence, the scent of hyacinth and rose

and cypress. Joseph is back! And if you don’t feel in yourself the freshness of

Joseph, be Jacob! Weep and then smile. Don’t pretend to know something you haven’t experienced.

There’s a necessary dying, and then Jesus is breathing again.

Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up

where you are. You’ve been stony for too many years. Try something different.

Surrender.

~Rumi (Coleman Barks translation)

 May we be grateful for our gifts, die where we need to, and allow ourselves to be ground for next year’s wildflowers.

Lectio Divina and Lectio Terrestris

Lectio Divina on the trail

Downed Tree on the Horse Lake Trail

What is Lectio Divina?

Lectio divina, literally “divine reading,” is a traditional method of contemplative prayer which commonly uses a sacred text as a starting point. Lectio divina springs from Jewish haggadah, a process of heart-centered interaction with scripture.  The 4th and 5th century Desert Mothers and Fathers seem to be the earliest practitioners of Christian lectio. The method was further refined by later monastic writers, primarily Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century and the 12th century Carthusian monk Guido II. In modern times, Lectio divina has made its way out of the cloister into the more public prayer lives of lay men and women.

Lectio divina is a simple method, composed of four “movements”: reading (lectio), reflection (meditatio), listening (oratio), and contemplation (contemplatio). Lectio is a process of moving from the surface meaning of the words, slowly going deeper and deeper into one’s own heart and the heart of God, which are one and the same, it seems.

Entire books have been written on lectio. (see, for example, Christine Valters Paintner’s Lectio Divina.) I’ve been using lectio by myself and with groups for some time now – not always with scripture. In fact, hardly ever with scripture. We use stories, poetry, memories, and natural objects such as sprigs of sage and pieces of our local volcanic rock. Birds are especially good lectio fodder, for me.

Lectio Terrestris

It’s this use of the natural world as a sacred text that I’m finding most profound these days. Belden Lane in his Backpacking with the Saints calls this sacred reading of the landscape “lectio terrestris.” The process is the same: simply noticing what’s around me (lectio), reflecting on what I notice and narrowing my focus (meditatio), listening to what the object of my reflection may be saying to me (oratio), and finally sitting with what I heard (contemplatio), which never fails to surprise.

A Personal Example of Lectio Terrestris

Here’s an example of my latest lectio terrestris experience. My husband and I were hiking into the Cascades last week, to one of our favorite high mountain lakes. We’d been anticipating the trip for months, looking forward to when the snow had melted enough for us to go back. However, before we were more than a mile up the trail, two things became apparent. The mosquitos were hellacious. And the winter’s heavy snow had brought down lots of trees. We were climbing over and crawling under logs every hundred yards, it seemed, for five miles, all the while swatting mosquitos and cursing. When we finally got to our lake, mercifully breezy and exposed enough that the mosquitos abated, I stuck my feet in the water, pulled out my journal, and proceeded to lectio. This is sort of what happened, in four movements.

  1. Lectio: What I notice is lots of downed logs, many mosquitoes, high wispy clouds in a blue blue sky, warm sun on this rock, and my feet in the cool water.
  2. Meditatio: I’m going to focus on the logs, because that feels right. I feel a tug there.
  3. Oratio: I hear the downed trees saying that dead things fall on the path and create obstacles. They’ll slow me down and divert me. They don’t need to stop me. Being stopped by something that used to be alive but is now dead and in my way isn’t necessarily a given. I can choose if I’m going to be stopped. I can figure out a way around the obstacle.
  4. Contemplatio: So… what are the dead things that I’m letting stop me? Old armor, needing to be right, wanting to be perfect and always adept, either/or binary thinking, self-criticism, fear, and my stories about my personal history…. I can choose differently.

I saw those downed trees differently on the way back.

Lectio always surprises me. Always.

Horse Lake

Horse Lake in the Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon

 

Groundhogs and Goddesses: Reclaiming Lent

Groundhog!

Groundhog!

Groundhog Day

Celebrate this unlikely oracle,     this ball of fat and fur,              whom we so mysteriously endow with the power to predict spring.                                        Let’s hear it for the improbable heroes who,                      frightened at their own shadows,  nonetheless unwittingly work miracles.

Why shouldn’t we believe
this peculiar rodent holds power
over sun and seasons in his stubby paw?
Who says that God is all grandeur and glory?

Unnoticed in the earth, worms
are busily, brainlessly, tilling the soil.
Field mice, all unthinking, have scattered
seeds that will take root and grow.
Grape hyacinths, against all reason,
have been holding up green shoots beneath the snow.
How do you think spring arrives?
There is nothing quieter, nothing
more secret, miraculous, mundane.
Do you want to play your part
in bringing it to birth? Nothing simpler.
Find a spot not too far from the ground
and wait.

~Lynn Ungar

Happy Groundhog Day! Today is also the Feast of the Presentation and Candlemas. Yesterday was both Imbolc and Brigid’s Day. February 1st and 2nd are thin places in the year’s cycle, rich with ancient energy. The Celtic Goddess Brigid comes together with a pesty rodent, Jesus’s presentation in the temple, and candle blessings at a party that celebrates lambing and other signs of Spring. Rock on!

Imbolc is one of the Celtic “cross-quarter days.” Cross-quarter days occur halfway between the sun’s solstices and equinoxes, and Imbolc is the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The ancient festival’s name probably comes from the Old Irish for “in the belly.” Imbolc celebrates lambing time, so it’s a party focused on gestation and birth, on literal and figurative new life.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 10th this year. The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word for Spring and shares a root with “lengthen.”

Many of us who grew up in a Christian tradition, if we celebrated Lent at all, focused on it as a time for giving something up. “What are you giving up for Lent?” was the question heard on the playground and in the lunchrooms of my childhood. If we were told why we gave something up for Lent, the reason was usually tied to our sinful nature. Lent was a time to try to rein in our sinfulness before Easter, to prove ourselves worthy of God’s gift of salvation in Jesus.

(This idea of human sin is an outgrowth of a troubling and pervasive idea about Jesus called “penal substitutionary atonement” or “sacrificial atonement” that’s become the primary way we’ve understood Jesus and God for the last few centuries. The short form of this idea is that God sent Jesus to die for my sins on the cross, and if I believe in Him I get to go to Heaven instead of Hell. Ugh. There are other valid and more helpful, healthy ways to understand God and Jesus.)

What if we approached Lent through the door of Imbolc and Groundhog Day?

What if we asked, “What’s in my belly?”

“What’s asking to be born?”

“How can I nurture whatever this is and prepare for its birth during the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter?”

We don’t have to be churchy or penitential to find value in the ancient practices of a holy Lent. We have bodies and we live in them on an Earth that cycles, under a moon and stars that cycle. That means we naturally cycle – we have times of ebb and flow, times of rest and activity, times of retreat and going forth, times of dying and rising again.

We can reclaim the wisdom of earlier times that celebrated discernible lengthening of days, returning fecundity of Earth, softening and burgeoning forth of bodies and dreams.

We can ask ourselves what wants to be born, and then act to nurture emerging new life.

We can reclaim Lent.

Next week: a mini-retreat for going deeper into these questions.

The World’s Heart – A Mystical Camino Moment

On the Meseta, Day 22

On the Meseta, Day 17 (22 May 2014)

A chilly rainy day on the Meseta. May 22, 2014. Camino Day 17. I was walking by myself, surrounded by other peregrinos. Tired, cold, and wet.

Walking, and walking, and walking.

Then – the dawning awareness of a massive heart beneath us, in the Earth, supporting us and buoying us. Loving us. My heart was connected to this heart, as were the hearts of all the pilgrims around me. All our hearts were tethered to this one great Earth Heart.

Through this Heart we are all connected.

I’m connected, through this Heart, to the child atop the Mumbai garbage heap, to the American sex trafficker, to Donald Trump.

I’m connected, through this Heart, to all the woody green tree hearts, the flinty granite rock hearts, and the wild blue ocean heart.

I’m connected, through this Heart, to raven hearts, rattlesnake hearts, and otter hearts, too.

I think it’s probable that Earth Heart is connected to Moon Heart, Mars Heart, Orion Heart, etc. And that all those interstellar hearts are connected to Universe Heart. But I don’t have any data to back up my hypothesis.  😉

I think our connection to Earth Heart is what we call “God.”

This connection is how prayer works.

This connection is why my choices matter.

This connection is why I must heal what’s broken in me.

Because we’re all connected through this Deep Heart.

All of this is, of course, completely unprovable by any quantitative measure.

And I know it’s true.

Winter Solstice: Two Poems

Milky Way (I learn to paint stars)

Milky Way 

WINTER SOLSTICE 

Perhaps
for a moment
the typewriters will stop clicking,
the wheels stop rolling
the computers desist from computing,
and a hush will fall over the city.
For an instant, in the stillness,
the chiming of the celestial spheres will be heard
as earth hangs poised
in the crystalline darkness, and then
gracefully
tilts.
Let there be a season
when holiness is heard, and
the splendor of living is revealed.
Stunned to stillness by beauty
we remember who we are and why we are here.
There are inexplicable mysteries.
We are not alone.
In the universe there moves a Wild One
whose gestures alter earth’s axis
toward love.
In the immense darkness
everything spins with joy.
The cosmos enfolds us.
We are caught in a web of stars,
cradled in a swaying embrace,
rocked by the holy night,
babes of the universe.
Let this be the time
we wake to life,
like spring wakes, in the moment
of winter solstice.

~Rebecca Parker

STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING

BY ROBERT FROST

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Life goes in circles and cycles. Years go in circles and cycles. No need to be ponderous about this. Simply hold what your life brings each day and each night like you would hold a wild bird: gently, reverently, attentively, awestruck and breathless with wild wonder. Days will grow and nights will shrink from now through mid-summer, when dark will expand again and light will contract. That’s how it is on this round planet with a slightly tilted axis. That’s simply how it is. Cherish this long tonight and all the long nights to come. Soon enough sun’s time will come, with its burgeonings and its demands. Long days for getting things done are just over the horizon. Today, send blessings to what’s quietly, secretly happening in darkness.

Winter Solstice: Two Poems

Milky Way (I learn to paint stars)

Milky Way 

WINTER SOLSTICE 

Perhaps
for a moment
the typewriters will stop clicking,
the wheels stop rolling
the computers desist from computing,
and a hush will fall over the city.
For an instant, in the stillness,
the chiming of the celestial spheres will be heard
as earth hangs poised
in the crystalline darkness, and then
gracefully
tilts.
Let there be a season
when holiness is heard, and
the splendor of living is revealed.
Stunned to stillness by beauty
we remember who we are and why we are here.
There are inexplicable mysteries.
We are not alone.
In the universe there moves a Wild One
whose gestures alter earth’s axis
toward love.
In the immense darkness
everything spins with joy.
The cosmos enfolds us.
We are caught in a web of stars,
cradled in a swaying embrace,
rocked by the holy night,
babes of the universe.
Let this be the time
we wake to life,
like spring wakes, in the moment
of winter solstice.

~Rebecca Parker

STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING

BY ROBERT FROST

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Life goes in circles and cycles. Years go in circles and cycles. No need to be ponderous about this. Simply hold what your life brings each day and each night like you would hold a wild bird: gently, reverently, attentively, awestruck and breathless with wild wonder. Days will grow and nights will shrink from now through mid-summer, when dark will expand again and light will contract. That’s how it is on this round planet with a slightly tilted axis. That’s simply how it is. Cherish this long tonight and all the long nights to come. Soon enough sun’s time will come, with its burgeonings and its demands. Long days for getting things done are just over the horizon. Today, send blessings to what’s quietly, secretly happening in darkness.

Necessary Darkness

Milky Way (www.goldpaintphotography.com)

Milky Way 

The darkest night I ever spent was on top of Steens Mountain in the southeastern corner of Oregon, far from artificial light sources, hundreds of miles from any population center. The moon rose very late that night and the stars were absolutely breathtaking. I saw more night sky than I had ever seen — parts of the Milky Way I didn’t know existed, multitudes of meteors, and so many stars.

Many Western Christian churches celebrate Advent in the four weeks preceding Christmas. Most Episcopal churches carve out a solemn and simple space during this time, a sanctuary from the surrounding Christmas craziness. Typically you won’t hear Christmas Carols or see Poinsettias. Not yet. Most Episcopal churches are peaceful havens where the focus is on holy waiting – both for the return of the light and for the birth of a baby.

Many Advent prayers and hymns focus on the light, so much so that it seems to me we’re afraid of the dark. The collect (prayer) for the first Sunday of Advent contains this phrase: “… give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light …” I protest: “There’s grace and healing in darkness! Mary’s womb was dark! Darkness is necessary!!”

It’s also worth noting that many spiritual feminists and people of color hear the church’s plea for light as misogynist and racist, as women and non-White people have historically been denigrated, marginalized, and exploited precisely because of their perceived association with dirt and darkness in all its forms.

David Owen writes, in a 2007 New Yorker article about light pollution, that we actually make ourselves less safe when we artificially illuminate the darkness. “Diminishing the level of nighttime lighting can actually increase visibility,” he says. Among many other examples of situations where illumination creates blindness, he cites “criminal-friendly” lighting that’s so bright it turns everything around it into an “impenetrable void.” Much “security” lighting is anything but secure.

Owen, in the same article, reports that lighting our interior spaces disrupts our circadian rhythms, which affects obesity, sleep, and perhaps some forms of cancer. And lighting the outdoors harms our fellow creatures, especially migrating birds, insects, and sea turtles.

We used to watch our world get dark. We used to look at the night sky. Stars and the night sky have been an important part of becoming and being human. We’re wired for star-gazing. Darkness is necessary, and we avoid it to our detriment. Gestation and germination require darkness – the warm nurturing darkness of wombs, and the holy soil of Earth. Darkness is necessary for birth and renewal.

My family used to live in a suburb of Chicago, where only a smattering of bright, brave stars penetrated the “sky glow” of that city. Every summer we’d head north to Lake Superior on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And every summer, at least once, we’d see the Northern Lights. Our Aurora wasn’t the full-blown psychedelic light show of polar regions. Our Aurora was a shimmering and flickering magic dance of white light, arcing above the dark vastness of water, sporadic and ephemeral and enchanting. We only saw these Northern Lights because we were in a very dark place, sitting on the beach of that immense lake, paying attention.

My husband and I took in last fall’s lunar eclipse out among the sage and juniper of Oregon’s high desert. We perched ourselves on a ridge formed of lava. We watched the full moon slowly rise and then disappear as Earth moved between the sun and the moon. As the moon was eclipsed, more and more stars appeared. As the moon slowly reappeared, the dimmer stars began to wink out, one by one. Oh, holy night indeed.

Sometime in the next few weeks, the longest nights of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere, let’s go out to a dark place. Let’s dress warmly and take a thermos of hot chocolate and maybe a companion if they can be quiet. Let’s sit. Let’s settle into the darkness and just let it be dark. Let’s welcome the gifts darkness has to offer us. She’s waiting.

Gifts of the Dark

CandlesDear ones,

Today is the Winter Solstice, Midwinter’s Day, the longest night of the year. At 3:03 pm here in Oregon the sun will reach its lowest point.

If you live in the northern hemisphere, I’m sure you’ve noticed that it’s really dark these days. Dark and cold. Dark and cold and sometimes icy. And cloudy. And windy and snowy. Did I say cold? And dark.

Isn’t winter lovely? I mean that sincerely. Our days are short, our nights are long, and we are immersed in darkness.

Darkness is necessary for life and light. Seeds germinate in the dark. Babies gestate in the dark. Restorative sleep happens in the dark. The earth rests in the dark — caterpillars are resting, waiting to become butterflies. Leaf buds are resting, waiting to unfurl. Animals are resting, waiting for the sun’s return and the resumption of their forest revels.

Some ways to mark the Solstice and the turning of the year:

  • Give yourself the gift of time. Sit in the dark. Light a candle and simply be present to darkness.
  • Create a poem or piece of art honoring darkness and your human connection to this gift.
  • Choose a word or theme for 2015. The dark is the perfect place to do this. Some resources: Abbey of the Arts “Give me a word” is a series of twelve short meditations to help you dig deep and surface your word for 2015. Coach Anna Kunnecke’s blog on this topic looks at words from a different perspective.

The sun begins its slow rise now. Soon the days will be noticeably longer and the dark will dissipate. Let’s celebrate darkness, friends!

I’d love to hear about your word for 2015, and how you celebrate darkness, in the comments. More about words next week in this space.

Mountain Poetry

Siskiyou Mountains

The Klamath Mountains straddle the Oregon-California border, and are one of the wildest, most rugged ranges in the lower 48.

Fall in southern Oregon is magical. This year especially so. I’m grateful to be having abundant hiking time in the mountains that surround the Rogue Valley. Here’s a poem that describes the over-flowingness of mountain bounty, and its effects on my “bubble of a heart.”

Piute Creek

By Gary Snyder

 

One granite ridge

A tree, would be enough

Or even a rock, a small creek,

A bark shred in a pool.

Hill beyond hill, folded and twisted

Tough trees crammed

In thin stone fractures

A huge moon on it all, is too much.

The mind wanders. A million

Summers, night air still and the rocks

Warm.   Sky over endless mountains.

All the junk that goes with being human

Drops away, hard rock wavers

Even the heavy present seems to fail

This bubble of a heart.

Words and books

Like a small creek off a high ledge

Gone in the dry air.

 

A clear, attentive mind

Has no meaning but that

Which sees is truly seen.

No one loves rock, yet we are here.

Night chills. A flick

In the moonlight

Slips into Juniper shadow:

Back there unseen

Cold proud eyes

Of Cougar or Coyote

Watch me rise and go.

 

Link to the poem here.
My photo, taken October 18, 2013 in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest along the California-Oregon border.