Friday, 17 September 2021

Feather on the Breath of God - a reflection for the feast day of St Hildegard of Bingen

“Listen; there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honour. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God.” Hildegard von Bingen

Today is the feast day of Hildegard, the day she died in 1179. Hildegard was born in 1098 in the Rhineland area of Germany. During her long life she ran two abbeys, wrote nine books, in which she recorded her visions and her holistic healing system, composed over 70 liturgical songs, undertook several preaching tours, and wrote over 300 letters to leading political and religious figures of the day. In 2012 she was made 'doctor of the church' by Pope Benedict XVI, one of only four women to hold that title.

“The Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth. He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

The Jewish Study Bible commentary on this verse reads,

“Here, man has a lowlier origin than in the parallel in 1:26 – 28. He is created not in the image of God but from the dust of the earth. But he also has a closer and more intimate relationship with his Creator, who blows the breath of life into him, transforming that lowly, earth-bound creature into a living being. In this understanding, the human being is not an amalgam of perishable body and immortal soul, but a psychophysical unity who depends on God for life itself.”

Hildegard's version of this text, from her own vision of creation, is even more earthy, 

“With my mouth I kiss my own chosen creation. I uniquely, lovingly, embrace every image I have made out of the earth's clay. With a fiery spirit I transform it into a body to serve all the world.”

Hildegard had a very strong sense that a human being is “a psychophysical unity who depends on God for life itself.” She had a very strong sense of the sacredness of the body and the earth, and of the whole of life being held in divine love. 

In the West, we are used to thinking in a dualistic manner – body and soul, mind and matter, but in Hebrew, the word 'Ruach' in Hebrew means breath, wind, and spirit. It refers to things both physical and more-than-physical, the tangible and the intangible, which are all part of the same reality. 

The breath, which is in a very physical sense our life-force, is both tangible and intangible. We feel it but we cannot see it – unless it's a very cold day! Most of the time we are unaware of our own breathing – it is something we do automatically.

Over the last 18 months the airborne transmission of coronavirus has made us all painfully aware of the negative consequences of the fact that we are all breathing the same air. Yet our shared breath is also a sacred sign of our interconnectedness. I would like to invite us into a conscious, sacred relationship with the breath in our own bodies as the life-force, our connection to the One Source of Life we share. 

To feel that I am a 'feather on the breath of God' – that I am supported and directed by the Source of Life, I need to give myself space to tune into it. One of the best ways I have found to do that is to rest my awareness in my heart-space and feel the calming rhythm of the resting breath as the life-force moving through my body, and through the world. 

The Sufi scholar Neil Douglas-Klotz, in his wonderful book, Prayers of the Cosmos, writes about the many layers of meaning in the Aramaic Lord's Prayer. For each line of the prayer he suggests some accompanying body prayer practices. I opened the book at random the other day and read, “While lying or sitting, return to the peaceful place inside creating by feeling your heartbeat and breathing. As the medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen said, everything may be felt a “feather on the breath of God.” A lovely moment of synchronicity. 

Hildegard says that prayer is “breathing in and breathing out the one breath of the universe.” What does it feel like in our bodies when we breathe as a sacred act, when the breath itself becomes our prayer? Breathing in and breathing out the one breath of the universe.

Breathing in peace, breathing out love...

Breathing in love, breathing out peace..

“The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God.” 

In the 12 step programme for recovery from addiction, an important step is to place oneself in the hands of a higher power. This involves letting go of the illusion that we ourselves are in complete control of everything in our lives. I struggle with letting go of control. Over the last few weeks I have been taking lessons from my dog in living more in the moment, rather than over-thinking and over-planning everything. It might sound quite trivial, but just going for a walk without planning the route in my head in advance and allowing the spirit to guide us (or to be honest, mostly by the spirit of the dog, because she's usually a few yards ahead of me) has been a revelation. After all, dog and god are the same word, just spelled differently!

“The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God.” 

In her book, A Retreat with Gerard Manley Hopkins and Hildegard of Bingen, Gloria Hutchinson invites us to consider the question, “At this stage in your life, do you experience yourself more as a “feather on the breath of God” or a stone at the bottom of a pond?” If I'm honest, some days I am a feather, some days I am a stone. The tides of the spirit have their ebb and flow. Some days I feel weighed down by my troubles, some days I feel light and spacious and airy.

On the good days, while I might not have Hildegard's visionary certainty of divine dependency, I can certainly relate to the feeling of being upheld by a love greater than myself – a love that flows through me and through us all, when we are, in the words of our hymn, “servants of life and clear channels of love.” It is in the connection of heart to heart, in human acts of love and compassion that I experience divine love and compassion. 

Hildegard wrote, “The marvels of God are not brought forth from one's self. Rather, it is more like a chord, a sound that is played. The tone does not come out of the chord itself, but rather, through the touch of the musician. I am, of course, the lyre and harp of God's kindness.”

Perhaps another word for God's kindness is grace. Grace is a word I had some resistance to for a long time. I associated it with the line from the song, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me." Saving, wretch, none of that computes with me. But a couple of years ago I had an experience that changed my perspective.

One Sunday morning I was on my way to church when I came across an accident. A woman had been knocked down by a car whilst trying to cross the road at the four banks. She was lying face down on the tarmac. Her shoes and glasses had come off and were lying on either side of her. The young woman who had been driving the car was sobbing uncontrollably. A young man was phoning an ambulance. A woman was yelling for help. 

The woman yelling for help and I talked to the woman who had been knocked down and ascertained that the car had hit her arm, and she had banged her head falling, but was otherwise unhurt. We managed to get a scarf under her face, very gently, to make her more comfortable. It was raining so I put my umbrella up over her head. I picked up her shoes and glasses, and put them in her handbag. 

Other passers-by began stopping to help. Someone found a blanket in the boot of their car to cover her. Someone else turned out to be a counsellor, who began comforting the driver of the car. Two other passers-by turned out to be doctors, who took charge while we waited for the ambulance. 

When I returned home from church I had a flash of clarity. Grace was at work that morning at the crossroads. Something awful had happened, but all the right people came to the right place at the right time to help transform it by their acts of love and compassion. In the words of the song, I “was blind, but now I see."

Sunday, 4 July 2021

Unbecoming: Reflections on the Spiral Path of Solitude

"The path of awakening is not about becoming who you are. Rather it is about unbecoming who you are not." Albert Schweitzer

A few days ago, meditating on Chapter 11 of the Tao, I was reminded of conversations when you learn more from what is not said than from what is said. And I began to reflect on the value of empty space in my life, 

“A wheel is useful, because of the hole at the centre of the hub. A clay pot is useful, because it contains empty space. Doors and windows are useful, because they are gaps in walls. The value of what is there, lies in what is not there!” Tao de Ching Chapter 11, translated by Timothy Freke

As restrictions are relaxed, the roads are becoming busier with cars, the streets are becoming busier with people, rush rush rushing about. I am very happy to be able to gather together with more people in person again, but my thoughts are also drawn to how to maintain a sense of spaciousness as life becomes fuller.

I can only speak for myself of course. Different people have had very different experiences of the last 15 months. If you work in the NHS I very much doubt there has been much spaciousness in your life. Some people have had too much spaciousness imposed upon them by losing their jobs. I am very lucky that I have not had to face that kind of void. I am lucky that I do not live alone and I live with someone I love. I have spent more time in my own company over the last 16 months than ever before in my life. 

Sometimes being alone has felt like loneliness and sometimes like solitude. What's the difference? I found this explanation by writer Kent Nerburn helpful,

“Loneliness is like sitting in an empty room and being aware of the space around you. It is a condition of separateness. Solitude is becoming one with the space around you. It is a condition of union. Loneliness is small, solitude is large. Loneliness closes in around you; solitude expands toward the infinite. Loneliness has its roots in words, in an internal conversation that nobody answers; solitude has its roots in the great silence of eternity.”

In reflecting on my journey with solitude I resonated with Maya Luna's poem, The Path of Unbecoming, which includes the lines, "Some walk the path of Unbecoming. They are traveling the road Backwards, Seeking the core, What is basic and essential, What has been there all along."  

In March 2020, my experience was shared with many others – in lockdown, the fabric of my everyday life unravelled in an instant. At first there wasn't much in the way of spaciousness and solitude – I was so busy trying to harness technology to help keep community connections going online – learning how to use Zoom, setting up WhatsApp and Facebook groups, and starting my thought for the day emails.

Then my husband went back to work in June and suddenly I was alone most days. I am just over the line from extrovert to introvert – I find being with other people both energising and tiring. I was used to being able to arrange my life so that I alternated between company and solitude, both in small doses. And then I had the added complication of post-viral fatigue, which meant that everything was much more tiring than it had been previously. I found the intensity of Zoom both uplifting and draining, and I had to start rationing my participation in Zoom meetings.

For most of my life, my pattern has been to fill space as soon as it appears, to say yes to every invitation, to avoid the void. My working life has been one of endless 'to-do lists', driven by a self-worth grounded in doing rather than being. Slowly but surely, I am unravelling this pattern, and others that began in early childhood, unravelling the layers of false identity and the stories I have told myself about who I am that I now realise are untrue. This kind of awakening isn't a spontaneous experience, it's long process and not a linear one.

Writer Angela Dunning says, “We tend to assume that shedding our skins is a one-time process. That when we’ve done it once, that’s it; we’re done. In truth, shedding our many layers of beliefs, behaviours, habits and defensiveness practices built over the decades, especially those developed from our earliest traumatic experiences, takes a long, long time. It is a slow, infinitesimally gradual process as we painfully remove one tightly wound skin after another . . . . If we can accept this then we can ease up on ourselves and we can sink into a lifelong journey of release and growth. At times it feels like we’re making no progress. But in fact, when we look back with self-compassion we can see just how far we have come. Yes, there's probably still a long, long way still to go but that’s the point: it’s the journey of a lifetime to become who we truly are. To remove our many skins of pretence, falsity, protection and harmful self-beliefs and behaviours is a slow, gradual revealing of our true, fullest rainbow colours once more.”

The deeper I go into the heart of solitude, the more my sense of a separate self dissolves into the awareness that we are all One. It is hard to put it into words, this experience of the double spiral of the spiritual journey – inwards and outwards simultaneously – discovering the divine in the innermost emptiness of the self and in the world. Thomas Merton, who combined the spiritual path of a Trappist monk with Zen Buddhism, wrote of his mystical experience at a Buddhist shrine in Sri Lanka shortly before his death, “everything is emptiness and everything is compassion.”  

In Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics, Mirabai Starr writes about Rabia, the 8th century Sufi mystic, "At the end of her life, Rabia attained a state of no-self, and all her striving dripped into the sands. “What is the secret?” the people wanted to know. “How is it that you have met the Beloved and dwell with him here?” “You know of the how,” Rabia said, “I know only the how-less.”"

I am not Thomas Merton or Rabia. I have not attained a state of no-self. But some days I get glimpses of the freedom of emptiness that Rumi wrote about, "For years I pulled my own existence out of emptiness. Then one swoop, one swing of the arm, that work is over. Free of who I was, free of presence, free of dangerous fear, hope, free of mountainous wanting."

I have found a kind of freedom in the restrictions. I have had the opportunity to reflect on what is core and essential for me, and what is not. 

As well as being US Independence Day, today is the anniversary of Transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau moving into his log cabin in the woods at Walden Pond in 1845. In Walden he wrote, 

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

I am not quite in a log cabin in the wilderness, but I do now lead a very simple life. My mornings start with a simple body prayer and singing meditation, followed by thought for the day, and then I go out for a run or a walk. I spend my afternoons and evenings at my desk, writing and in Zoom meetings, and increasingly now, thankfully, meeting people in person again.

Now that life has the potential to become more complicated again as we begin to return to 'normal', I want to hold on to the simplicity and spaciousness, to keep contemplating what is core and essential, to my life and to the life of our community.

As life begins to change rapidly again, I would like to invite us to keep reflecting on what is core and essential to us  – as individuals and as a community. And, as we may often learn more from what is not said than from what is said in a conversation, perhaps also to consider what is missing, and who is missing from our community? Whose voices are not being heard?

Unbecoming: Trail Mix for the Non-Linear Path by Monica Rodgers,

"A recipe to untangle the threads of what is not you, to reveal: the true YOU.

1 1/2 Cup Questions

2 Cups Curiosity

1 Cup Noticing

1/2 Cup Courage

1/2 Cup Self-Compassion

A Heaped Tablespoon of Humour

2 Teaspoons of Rest

1 Teaspoon of Woo-Woo

A Splash of Wonder (add to taste)."

Monday, 28 June 2021

Theodore Parker and the arc of the moral universe

"May we join the human race in daring to live in the prophetic spirit: seeking inspiration like the seers and sages of this and other lands, judging the past as they, acting on the present like them, envisioning a new and nobler era of the spirit.

May we have communities for the whole person: truth for the mind, good works for the hands, love for the heart; and for the soul that aspiring after perfection, that unfaltering faith in life, which like lightning in the clouds, shines brightest when elsewhere it is most dark."

Words of Theodore Parker

Theodore Parker was born in 1810 in Massachusetts, the youngest child of a large farming family. He trained for ministry at Harvard Divinity School, where Ralph Waldo Emerson's Divinity School Address made a big impression on him. Emerson was one of the leading lights of the Transcendentalist movement, whose members saw the divine as immanent in nature and emphasized individual freedom of conscience. Emerson's remarks in his address doubting the veracity of biblical miracles were deeply shocking at the time and led to him being denounced as an atheist. He was not invited to speak at Harvard for another 30 years. Parker would go on to be even more controversial. 

Parker's life was marked by grief and sadness. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was 11 and he'd lost his father and 7 of his 10 siblings to the disease by the time has was 30. He was unable to have children with his wife, which caused them both much pain. Throughout his life he maintained a deep and abiding faith in a God who was a personal all-loving presence and immanent in everything. His faith led him to speak out against injustices. He campaigned for the abolition of slavery and for women's suffrage. His words and actions inspired Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. He died in 1860, aged 49, from tuberculosis. 

The inscription on his grave reads, “Theodore Parker, the Great American Preacher. Born at Lexington Massachusetts, United States of America, August 24th 1810, died at Florence, Italy, May 10th 1860. His name is engraved in marble, his virtues in the hearts of those he helped to free from slavery and from superstition.”

In his autobiographical work 'Letters on Experience as a Minister' Parker recalled the following experience from when he was about four years old,

“One fine day in spring, my father led me by the hand to a distant part of the farm, but soon sent me home alone. On the way I had to pass a little pond-hold, .. where I spotted a little tortoise sunning himself in the shallow waters .. I lifted the stick I had in my hand to strike the harmless reptile, for although I had never killed any creature, yet I had seen other boys out of sport destroy birds, squirrels and the like.. but all at once something checked my little arm and a voice within me said, clear and loud: “It is wrong!” I held my uplifted stick in wonder at this involuntary but inward check upon my actions... I hastened home and told the tale to my mother and asked what it was that told me it was wrong? She wiped a tear from her eye, and taking me in her arms said, “Some men call it conscience, but I prefer to call it the voice of God in the soul of man. If you listen and obey it, then it will speak clearer and always guide you right; but if you turn a deaf ear and disobey, then it will fade out little by little, and leave you all in the dark and without a guide. Your life depends on heeding this little voice.” 

The day after I had my first Covid vaccination, I wasn't feeling up to doing much except reading. So, as a lovely treat to myself, I decided to read out loud the first sermon that saw Theodore Parker in trouble with his Unitarian brethren, 'The Transient and Permanent in Christianity', delivered at the ordination of Rev. Charles Shackford in the Hawes Place Church, Boston, on May 19th 1841. It took me 1 hour and 20 minutes! If you have a spare 100 minutes sometime you read the sermon here.

Acknowledging that my necessarily concise framing cannot possibly do the depths of his thinking justice, I shall do my best to give you a short summary of the essence of the sermon:

The doctrines and outward ritual forms of Christianity, along with belief in the miracles in the Bible as literal truths, are transient and therefore unimportant. The permanent truth of Christianity lies in the ethical teaching of Jesus, as recorded in the sermon on the mount and his parables. Everyone has direct access, as Jesus did, to oneness with God, as an inner guiding light for life.

An extract from the sermon reads, 

“Real Christianity gives men new life. It is the growth and perfect action of the Holy Spirit God puts into the sons of men. It makes us outgrow any form, or any system of doctrines we have devised, and approach still closer to the truth. It would lead us to take what help we can find. It would make the Bible our servant, not our master... It would make us revere the holy words spoken by "godly men of old," but revere still more the word of God spoken through Conscience, Reason, and Faith, as the holiest of all... It would have us make the kingdom of God on earth, and enter more fittingly the kingdom on high. It would lead us to form Christ in the heart, on which Paul laid such stress, and work out our salvation by this. For it is not so much by the Christ who lived so blameless and beautiful eighteen centuries ago, that we are saved directly, but by the Christ we form in our hearts and live out in our daily life, that we save ourselves, God working with us, both to will and to do.”

Now this may not sound very controversial to us today, because eventually these ideas and those of Parker's contemporaries in the Transcendentalist movement became accepted in Unitarianism, and we are the heirs of those ideas today, but at the time his sermon caused a huge storm. He was ostracised by the Unitarian establishment, who, considering him at best an embarrassment and at worst a dangerous heretic, advised him to withdraw from the Boston Association of Minsters. He refused, on the grounds that the Association had no right to censor its members. However, it soon became too difficult for him to maintain a Unitarian pulpit and, with the help of friends in the transcendentalist movement, he started his own independent congregation, the 28th Congregational Society of Boston.

Parker took the teaching of Jesus to “love your neighbour as yourself” very much to heart. His God was the God of Universal Love, who saw all people as equal, and he lived out this truth in his life. Parker's definition of democracy as “government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people” during a speech at New England Anti-Slavery Convention in Boston on 29 May 1850 was paraphrased by Abraham Lincoln is his Gettysburg Address in 1863. Lincoln couldn't quite commit to Parker's radical vision of equality and removed the “all” from his speech.

Parker embodied the maxim 'deeds not creeds'. His actions expressed the deepest values of his inner spiritual life and in courageously speaking truth to power he became an inspirational model of the prophetic Unitarian minister for the generations that followed in his footsteps.

Almost all of the social justice work of Unitarians can be traced back to Parker, from gender equality and racial equality to penal reform and education. His rejection of the authority of the Bible and Christian tradition also laid the groundwork for the evolution of the Unitarian movement into a pluralist movement that recognises and values truths from many different sources. 

In our emphasis on freedom of conscience and shared values rather than beliefs, we are the inheritors of Parker's convictions that the heart of the spiritual life lies in ethics rather than doctrine, and the importance he placed on personal integrity. 

In a sermon published in 1853 he said, 

“Never violate the sacredness of your individual self-respect. Be true to your own mind and conscience, your heart and your soul. So only can you be true to God.”

The 28th Congregational Society of Boston soon grew so large that they had to meet in the Boston Music Hall to accommodate all the 2,000 people who flocked to hear him every Sunday. Among his congregation were women who became leading lights in the fight for equal rights for women, including writers Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women), Julia Ward Howe (who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic), and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (author of The Women's Bible), who called his services “soul-satisfying.” He was one of the first Unitarian ministers to refer to the divine as feminine as well as masculine, something that we may take for granted today, but again this was unheard of amongst male Protestant clergy of his time. He invited women to speak from his pulpit and supported women's rights, working with other reformers to campaign for changes in the laws regarding property and divorce.

Parker also took a very active part in the campaign for the abolition of slavery, preaching vociferously against the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required that all escaped slaves, upon capture, be returned to the slaver and that officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate. With members of his congregation, he formed the Boston Vigilance Committee, which helped hide escaped slaves. He harboured some of these fugitive slaves in his own home, writing his sermons with a pistol on his desk, in case he needed to defend his house-guests from capture. He was indicted several times, but never convicted. As a result of the work of the Boston Vigilance Committee, from 1850 to the start of the American Civil War in 1861, only twice were slaves captured in Boston and transported back to the south. On both occasions Bostonians staged mass protests. 

Parker knew he was on the right side of history and that slavery would eventually be abolished. In a sermon published in 1853 he said, 

“Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.” 

One hundred years later Martin Luther King Jr. would use the phrase, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” in several speeches, as he continued the fight for racial justice.

Sadly, Parker did not live to see the emancipation of slaves as a result of the American Civil War. He wore himself out with hard work and stress, was forced to retire from the pulpit in 1859, after suffering an attack of bleeding from the lungs, and died a few months later in 1860. In his farewell letter to his congregation he wrote, 

“I hope that you will not forget the contribution for the poor, whom we have with us always. I don't know when I shall again see your welcome faces... may we do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, and his blessing will be upon us here and hereafter, for his infinite love is with us forever.” Amen.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Being branches of the tree of life

 “I waited for the present season; that … I might lead you by the hand into the brighter and more fragrant meadow of the Paradise before us.” Cyril of Jerusalem, 4th Century

Many ancient cultures have legends of a land of peace and plenty, free from suffering and strife, and a great tree, which connects the worlds of the living, the dead, and the gods – know variously as the world tree, the cosmic tree, or the tree of life.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, whose creation stories were based on those of the older Sumerian cultures, the tree of life is located in the Garden of Eden, which was translated into Greek as paradeisos, from an old Iranian word referring to the walled gardens of the first Persian empire.

“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.” Genesis 2:8 - 10

In Sumerian legends, paradise was known as Dilmun and was thought to be located on a mysterious sacred mountain to the East. It was a place of fresh, flowing waters, thick forests, and beautiful gardens, without conflict, disease, hunger, or sorrow. Genesis places the Garden of Eden in a mysterious Eastern location on the earth.

What meaning might these legends have for us today? The myths and stories that have grown around these archetypes reveal much about how human cultures have understood human nature and our place in the cosmos. 

In Christianity, the legend of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden has been used to justify much oppression – women are still suffering from the legacy of Eve being painted as the villain of the story of the Fall – when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and were banished from paradise.

The story inspired St Augustine to develop the doctrine of original sin, which has been used to wield the weapon of guilt ever since. And our culture has taken literally the invitation in Genesis 1:28, “Be fertile and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

And yet, despite all the problematic elements of this story, I still feel it has meaning for me today. I interpret the Fall story in psychological terms - the knowledge that Adam and Eve obtained from the tree was the development of the human ego, the illusion of separation that causes us to live as though we are separate from the Creator and the rest of creation, separate from Nature and from each other.

The early Christian church taught that, through the resurrection of Jesus, and the blessing of the Holy Spirit, given to the disciples at Pentecost, God had restored harmony to the world and humanity was returned to paradise. The Christian community sought to embody this restored paradise. Their central ritual was a celebration of the abundance of earthly paradise – a communal meal in which all shared in earth's bounty. Rich and poor, male and female, master and slave ate together, a radical equality that was deeply subversive in the Roman Empire. Christians dedicated all their material belongings to the community to be held in common. The walls, ceilings and floors of their sanctuaries were covered in images of paradise – lush green meadows, blue skies, the tree of life in the centre, filled with sheep and the figure of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, tending the sheep.

The imagery of the tree of life from Genesis reappears in the last book of the Christian New Testament, “Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of the city, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22:1 - 2

In Saving Paradise, Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker examine the rituals, images, and theology of Christianity, to show how the emphasis shifted over time from paradise on earth to a focus on the crucifixion. 

Much of Jesus' teaching was about resistance to the empire of domination. The early Christians were pacifists and were often persecuted by the Roman empire. With the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christianity in the 4th century, empire and the Christian religion began to merge. Over the next few centuries, the Christian church became more enmeshed with empire and, by the middle ages, had begun to sanction violence and domination in the crusades, and the colonization of indigenous lands and peoples by Europeans. 

Paradise was no longer imagined on the earth, but was equated with heaven, the realm of the righteous in the afterlife. The communion feast had become a re-enactment of the sacrificial death of Jesus, which was now seen as atonement for sin, a theology created in the 11th century by St Anselm. Christian imagery began to reflect its theology of sacrifice, death and judgment, and crosses and scenes of the crucifixion and judgement day came to dominate church art. 

Brock and Parker traced the appearance of the first crucifix to the Rhine Valley in the 10th century, an area that had been subject to a brutal colonization by Charlemagne, over three decades around the turn of the 9th century. The Saxon form of Christianity blended the Christian story with their earlier pagan practice, honouring Jesus and Thunor and Woden, in sacred groves of trees and around holy springs. 

The Frankish empire, led by Charlemagne, invaded Saxon territory, cutting down their sacred trees and deforesting the countryside. They forced the Saxons at sword point to be baptized into the Frankish Latin version of Christianity. The Saxons rebelled, but ultimately lost the wars. Their descendants carved that first image of Jesus on the cross and joined the first crusade. The tree of life had become the tree of death.

The story of the destruction of the sacred Saxon trees made me sad. And yet, there was a hope in it that I held onto – for the spirit of the sacred trees hasn't died – it lives on in the people today who view the earth and all life as sacred. Paradise is the earth, and the tree of life can be, as we heard in Revelation, 'for the healing of the nations', if we take to heart its lessons about interconnection. Recent research has shown that the existence of the 'Wood Wide Web' – a forest is a vast network of trees, fungi, plants, and insects, in symbiotic relationship, operating more as one organism than as a collection of separate entities. 

Brock and Parker invite us to reconnect with a vision of community as earthly paradise. They write, “We come to know the world as paradise when our hearts and souls are reborn through the arduous and tender task of living rightly with one another and the earth. Generosity, non-violence, and care for one another are the pathways into transformed awareness. 

Knowing that paradise is here and now is a gift that comes to those who practice the ethics of paradise. This way of living is not Utopian. It does not spring simply from the imagination of a better world but from a profound embrace of this world. It does not begin with knowledge or hope. It begins with love.”

I like to think of paradise as another name for the beloved community – let us be about its work of love. Let us value the individual gifts we bring to benefit and bless the whole. Let us practise radical hospitality, honouring the inherent worth and dignity of everyone. Let us resist the forces of oppression and domination that try to separate us from each other. Let us work for justice and peace. Let us water the tree of life that shelters the whole community of every living being of the earth under its lush green canopy. Amen.

Monday, 5 April 2021

Practising Resurrection: A Reflection for Easter

“Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.” Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

“Love's Hurricane has come! The whirlwind of Knowledge has arrived!
My thatched roof of Delusion has been flung to the four directions!
My hut of illusion, so carefully crafted, has come careening down! … 
With contemplation and clear devotion, the Holy Ones have rebuilt my roof.” Kabir, translated by Andrew Harvey in Turn Me to Gold: 108 Poem of Kabir

 “From this place of transmuted pain we cannot help but act as a force of love and healing in the world. It begins with saying yes to the terrible blessing of death.” Mirabai Starr, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics

You may be accustomed, as I admit I was, to thinking of Easter as a single day and the resurrection as a single event. However, the bible stories relate that the resurrected Jesus appears to his disciples not just once, on Easter morning, but multiple times over several weeks. In the traditional Christian Church calendar, Easter isn't one day, but a whole season – 50 days, to be precise. 

As the Earth resurrects in riotous Spring glory, what does it mean for me to practise resurrection in this season? What could it mean for us as a community? What might it mean for us as a society? As life starts to open up again, what may we open our hearts to?

There is no resurrection without death. The season of resurrection starts with “saying yes to the terrible blessing of death”, in the words of Mirabai Starr. If I were to think about this past year in terms of the Easter story, it feels to me as though we have been through a year long Easter Saturday – dead to our old lives, waiting in the darkness for new life to emerge.

The old familiar structures, securities, certainties, have gone. Like Kabir, I feel like my houses of delusion and illusion have come crashing down. I can no longer maintain the illusion that I am in control of anything except myself. I have had to really accept that everything is always changing. I am in a continual process of letting go of my attachments to the way I think things should be and my expectations of what the future holds. There is sacred healing in surrendering to the Great Mystery, in staying in the cloud of unknowing long enough to get wet through.

Carolyn Baker, in her recent book written with Andrew Harvey, Radical Regeneration: Birthing the New Human in the Age of Extinction, says, “the only sane response to the death of certainty is to practise being present to life from moment to moment. This does not mean ignoring the future or failing to connect the dots of the present with those in the future. What it does mean is committing to practicing presence while being awake to predicament.” 

Practising presence while being awake to predicament. This is my commitment this Easter - to remain present to what is and not to shy away from looking into the shadows.

Many spiritual elders think that humanity is currently going through a global dark night – not just as a result of Covid-19, but with climate catastrophe, mass extinction and economic breakdown. All the old certainties are falling away. Some have used the word 'apocalypse' – which is usually used to refer to the end of the world, but literally means 'unveiling' or 'uncovering'. 

We are seeing all the inequalities of the systems of domination that rule our world being unmasked – inequalities such as systemic racism, lack of access to vaccines for refugees, mass job losses being experienced by those in lower income brackets, and the world's poorest countries suffering most from the effects of climate change. 

In the UK Unitarian movement a few historians are engaged in revealing the full picture of the legacy of slavery in our movement. Whilst many Unitarians campaigned to abolish slavery, there were more Unitarian slave traders than there were abolitionists – and many of our chapels and churches still benefit from their money. 

These are hard truths to face. It is not always easy to know how to act on them, but together we can work through the muddle and the mire, if we are willing to commit to being open to what emerges. 

In his 2001 book, The System of Anti-Christ: Truth and Falsehood in Postmodernism and the New Age, Sufi scholar Charles Upton wrote, “the specific spiritual practice of apocalyptic times is: To let everything be taken away from us, except the Truth.”

I have experienced this year as one when false layers have been stripped away. As well as the uncomfortable truths about the brokenness of our world that are being revealed to us, there is, I believe, another Truth, at the core of our being, a truth about our wholeness. This isn't a truth in the sense of something that can be fact-checked, but a deep, eternal Truth about the essence of life itself. To me, this Truth is that we were created in Love, we are Love and we are Loved, we are worthy of Love, Love is our purpose. Love literally makes the world go round - everything is connected, everything is in relationship. In essence, we are One.

There is a beautiful phrase that is repeated over and over again in the Hebrew scriptures to describe the relationship of Yahweh with His people – 'steadfast love'. I believe that we are all held in the “Steadfast Love” of the Divine embrace. I have felt this more and more over the past year, through all the chaos, this deep inner knowing that we are all, to use a Sufi phrase, the Beloved of the Beloved. And we can all be mirrors of this divine love. We have the potential to live lives of love and beauty, in harmony with God/Nature.

In his article, Covid-19 is a Symbol of a Much Deeper Infection - The Wetiko Mind-Virus, Psychologist Paul Levy suggests that Covid 19 is “a materialization in our world—a revelation —of the immaterial and heretofore invisible virus that exists deep within the collective unconscious of humanity, a virus of the mind—the Native Americans call it “wetiko”—that literally cultivates and feeds on fear and separation.”

This virus stems from the illusion of the ego that we are separate beings. It has infected humanity for a long, long time. It is behind the false separation of mind from body and humans from nature. I believe there is a vaccine for this virus – and the vaccine is Love, which transforms our separation into intimacy. The great Japanese Zen master Dogen wrote that “Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.”

Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker describe five levels or ever-widening circles of intimacy:
1. Non-duality – recognition that the One is living in you
2. Total communion – heart, mind, soul, and body, with another human being
3. Tenderness – radical, heartfelt compassion with all sentient beings and the practice of tender protectiveness that arises naturally from it
4. Creativity – the intimacy of pouring out our gifts in a vibrant, dynamic relationship with the world
5. Sacred action – action which midwifes the birth because it springs from the cultivation of the four other tantras that infuse and sustain it.

This Easter may we experience the resurrection of intimacy – intimacy with our true selves, with each other, with the interconnected web of being, with the Divine consciousness. The seeds of the new creation are hidden gems that exist within us already. During lockdown, many of us have already connected deeply with the truth that we are part of nature and not separate from it by spending much more time outdoors becoming intimately acquainted with our local wild places.

Wildness is one of the themes of Wendell Berry's poetry. Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front issues us with another invitation to “practice resurrection.” Or perhaps it is an invitation to practise insurrection – both resurrection and insurrection are 'rising up.'  Wendell Berry encourages us to rise up in resisting the forces of control and surveillance in modern life , to defy expectations by going 'with your love to the fields'. Could we resurrect an older way of being, closer to the earth? Could we remember that we are part of nature and not separate, and act accordingly?

Richard Rohr, in his 2019 book, The Universal Christ, writes, “In the resurrection, the single physical body of Jesus moved beyond all limits of space and time into a new notion of physicality and light – which includes all of us in its embodiment.”

We all participate in resurrection. Death and resurrection are within us around us all the time. We all experience many deaths and resurrections throughout our lives. We see them in the cycle of the seasons. Perhaps the most pertinent example from nature is the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly.  

Ferris Jabr, writing in Scientific American, describes the process, “First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out. But the contents of the pupa are not entirely an amorphous mess. Certain highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly or moth.”

Just as the caterpillar already contains all it needs to transform into a butterfly, so  everything we need for our own transformation, is already within us. What imaginal discs do I have available in my caterpillar soup to form me into a butterfly, flying free? 

Here's my Mad Farmers' Daughter Liberation Front Manifesto:
In the spirit of Kabir, rebuild the roof with contemplation, devotion and divine love
Release expectations and be open to what comes
Work on healing separation in all forms
Listen to the wisdom of the body
Nourish wholeness in communion with nature
Cultivate intimacy with all things
Commit to sacred activism – act from the tender compassion of intimacy for a resurrected life in which we love and cherish each other and all earthly beings.

In her 2016 article, Practice Resurrection: The Call of Easter, Christine Valters Painter wrote, “The resurrected life is at heart a great and mysterious process. It is not something we can understand on logical terms, it is only something we can live into and experience.”

This Easter, may we all live into and experience the resurrected life. May we be like the fox and practice resurrection.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Dwelling in the Desert with Mechtild of Magdeburg - A Reflection for International Women's Day

 “In the desert,
Turn toward emptiness.
Love the nothing, flee the self.
Stand alone.
Seek help from no one.
Let your being be quiet,
Be free from the bondage of all things.
Free those who are bound,
Give exhortation to the free.
Care for the sick, but dwell alone.
When you drink the waters of sorrow
you shall kindle the fire of love
with the match of perseverance -
This is the way to dwell in the desert.” 
From The Flowing Light of the Godhead by Mechtild of Magdeburg

During the short time I have spent with the medieval German mystic, Mechtild of Magdeburg (1207 - c.1282), she has taught me many profound lessons about what she called “dwelling in the desert,” lessons on simplicity, authenticity, truth, perseverance, compassion, justice, and love.

The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things.”

Mechtild's first lesson is central to the mystical experience – our oneness with God.

I who am Divine am truly in you. I can never be sundered from you; However far we be parted, Never can we be separated. I am in you and you are in Me, We could not be any closer. We two are fused into one, Poured into a single mould."

Mechtild's God wasn't 'out there' but is the eternal and abiding presence everywhere, “God says: Now is the time to tell you where I am and where I will be. I am, in Myself, in all places, in all things, as I ever have been, without beginning.”

Mechtild found God everywhere she looked, and listened, in all of nature. “How does God come to us? Like dew on the flowers, Like the song of the birds! Yes, God gives himself with all creatures wholly to me."

Mechtild rejected the path of the ascetic – she refused to deny the body or disdain earthly life. Her spirituality was grounded in an appreciation of the holiness of the earth and all her creatures. “The manifold delight I learn to take in earthly things can never drive me from my love. For, in the nobility of creatures, in their beauty and in their usefulness, I will love God... This is why I bless God in my heart without ceasing for every earthly thing."

She tell us, “Do not disdain your body. For the soul is just as safe in its body as in the Kingdom of Heaven - though not so certain. It is just as daring – but not so strong. Just as powerful – but not so constant, just as loving – but not so joyful, just as gentle – but not so rich, just as holy – but not yet so sinless, just as content – but not so complete.”

Wisdom, Mechtild tells us, comes from humility, “The truly wise person kneels at the feet of all creatures and is not afraid to endure the mockery of others." Endure the mockery of others she did. She wrote, “My enemies surround me. O Lord, how long must I remain here on earth in this mortal body as a target at which people throw stones and shoot and assail my honour with their evil cunning?”

The second lesson I learned from Mechtild was as much from her actions as from her words. It's a lesson in authenticity, courage, and integrity. Whilst we do not know very much about Mechtild's early life, we do know that she came from a wealthy family. Compared to most people around her, her life would have been rich in material comforts. And yet she chose to leave this comfortable life, at the age of around 23, to move to the city where she knew no-one. She followed her calling and joined a Beguinage – a community of women who lived together, not bound by a monastic rule, but committed to lives of contemplation and caring for the poor and sick in the wider community, in which they supported themselves by the work of their hands.

As you can imagine, these independent female communities were not looked upon with favour by the ecclesiastical authorities of the time. Successive popes tried unsuccessfully to order their dissolution and then to make them submit to the authority of local clergy, rather than their preferred association with the mendicant orders of Dominican and Franciscan friars. They were often under suspicion of heresy for their mystical writings. Thankfully, Mechtild avoided being convicted of heresy, and her writings went on to inspire those of the more famous male mystics who followed her, especially Meister Eckhart and Dante. But some of her sisters were not so lucky, most famously, Marguerite Porete, whose book, The Mirror of Simple Souls, saw her burnt at the stake in Paris in 1310.

Despite the obvious threat to her personal safety of such a course of action, Mechtild was not afraid to criticise corrupt clergy in her writing. Eventually, threats from the church and her failing eyesight combined to lead her to retire to the safety of a convent, where she was better protected, but more confined. There, she continued to write and encouraged her fellow nuns to “preach boldly.”

Whilst we know deep down that we are always held in that Love which is so much greater than us, and trust that God is there for us, in bad times as in good, it is beyond human capability to sustain an awareness of God's presence at all times. We all go through periods of feeling lonely and empty, and Mechtild was no exception. 

Over the last twelve months many people in our society have been lonely and isolated. Mechtild knew loss and suffering, and learned the hard way how to “dwell in the desert.” Sometimes her pain was so great that she lost her intimacy with God, and she experienced a 'dark night of the soul.' She wrote extensively of her despair, 
“There comes a time when both body and soul enter into such a vast darkness that one loses light and consciousness and knows nothing more of God's intimacy... At such a time when the light in the lantern burns out the beauty of the lantern can no longer be seen. With longing and distress we are reminded of our nothingness... At such a time I pray to God: “Lord, this burden is too heavy for me!” And God replies: “I will take this burden first and clasp it close to Myself and that way you may more easily bear it.”

Eventually Mechtild came through her experience of the dark night of the soul, persevering through her suffering until her pain was transformed through love. She wrote, “From suffering I have learned this: That whoever is sore wounded by love will never be made whole unless she embrace the very same love which wounded her.”

From pain and emptiness, new life, new consciousness, emerged, as the healing actions that flow from love - compassion, and justice. In this beautiful passage she shares her manifesto of compassion,
If you love the justice of Jesus Christ more than you fear human judgement then you will seek to do compassion. Compassion means that if I see my friend and my enemy in equal need, I shall help both equally. Justice demands that we seek and find the stranger, the broken, the prisoner, and comfort them and offer them our help. Here lies the holy compassion of God.”

She encourages us to, "Heal the broken with comforting words of God. Cheer them gently with earthly joys. Be merry and laugh with the broken and carry their secret needs in the deepest silence of your heart.”

I am sure she has more to teach us in the future. So far, these are the lessons I have learned from Mechtild on how to 'dwell in the desert':
Find God in all things.
Embrace the simple, earthly life.
Have the courage to live an authentic life. Live your life's calling. Speak truth to power. Don't be afraid to defy convention.
Persevere through suffering. Trust in the transformative power of love.
Act from compassion to further justice; help build the kingdom of God here on earth.

And finally, Mechtild has these words for us about what we might expect at the end of our lives, “God says: Do not fear your death. For when that moment arrives I will draw my breath and your soul will come to Me like a needle to a magnet.” And, “When we get to heaven we shall find that there everything is held for the good of all in common.”
May it be so. Amen.

Monday, 8 February 2021

Brigit's Well: Going Back to the Source

 “Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

These words that Jesus says to the Samaritan woman at the well reflect the tradition found in the bible and in other sacred texts of expressing spiritual longing  in terms of thirst.  “Like as the deer yearns for the running streams so does my soul yearn for you my God, my soul thirsts for the living God,” says Psalm 42.  

As well as being a metaphor for the spiritual life, water is vital to our physical life. Life on earth evolved in water and it is still absolutely necessary for every life form alive today.  We all began life in the waters of the womb.  Two thirds of our planet is water.  Two thirds of our bodies are made up of water.  Humans can survive no more than one week without water.  

In the UK we rarely experience a shortage of water and it is easy to forget that water is so vital to life.  Most of us here are privileged to have ready access to a mains supply of clean water.  We probably take this for granted, but it is a relatively recent development. In 1936, when my grandparents moved into the farm where I grew up, their water supply came from a well in the field behind the house.  

Sadly, 3 billion people across the world today still do not have access to safe water and soap for hand hygiene at home, a crisis that the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted. Our rivers and oceans are continually polluted with noxious chemicals, oil spills and plastics.  Due to climate change, population growth, and pollution, the World Health Organisation has estimated that by 2025 half of the world's population will be living in water-stressed areas. 

The United Nations has called for global investment in sustainable water infrastructure systems to enable recovery and build resilience for possible future pandemics, and is working on a plan towards the UN Sustainable Development Goal 6, “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” As individuals, we can help towards this plan by supporting their partner charities, such as Water Aid. These statistics are sobering reminders that, on the whole, humanity does not act towards water as though it is sacred.  It is time that we remembered that water is life, water is sacred.

The sacred nature of water is recognised by many spiritual traditions. The fact that life on earth began in water is reflected in our mythologies.  In Genesis, the creation of the world begins with God dividing the waters.  In the Norse creation myth, life begins when the two realms, Muspelheim, the realm of fire and Niflheim, the realm of ice, meet in the great void, Ginnungagap.  

Water is one of the four sacred elements of the western mystery traditions – earth, air, fire and water.  In Druid tradition the patron animal of water is the salmon of wisdom.  Water is associated with the West, evening, maturity and our deepest emotions. It is through the water of tears that we express intense sorrow and joy. 

Many of us have had cause to cry sacred tears in recent months. We have had to adapt to many changes and find the strength to keep going in the face of bereavement, loss, confusion, and separation. Water is a powerful metaphor for both change and persistence.  It is the most mutable element, it can exist as liquid, solid and gas.  As Lao Tzu said, “nothing is more soft and flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” Water is persistent. It flows around blockages and eventually wears away objects in its way.  Even mountains!  Most of the landscape of northern Britain has been sculpted by glaciers. We owe the beauty of our hills and valleys to the persistence of water. 

Our valleys are full of holy wells, often associated with healing through saints, and this harks back to earlier pre-Christian traditions linking wells to goddesses and local nature spirits. Natural water sources have been regarded as sacred for millennia.

Sacred water is often associated with healing, cleansing and blessing.  In Druid rituals a sacred circle is cast and then blessed with fire and water.  In Catholicism, holy water is important as a means for blessing people. Most forms of Christianity use water in baptism as a symbol of spiritual rebirth. In Hinduism, Indian rivers are thought of as goddesses and bathing in the Ganges is spiritually cleansing.  

Many holy wells in Ireland are dedicated to St Brigid. Both goddess and saint are patrons of healing. Many people visiting the wells leave offerings known as clooties – pieces of cloth dipped in the water of the well and hung in a nearby tree – in the hope of receiving a blessing or healing from the spirit of the well. The origin of this custom is likely to be an act of sympathetic magic – as the cloth disintegrates, the person's ailment is said to fade. The ancient tradition of blessing with water connects past and future in symbolic action. John O'Donohue writes, “When we bless, we are enabled somehow to go beyond our present frontiers and reach into the source. A blessing awakens future wholeness.”

Rivers and wells are often used as symbols of divine wisdom. In Norse mythology, the Well of Wisdom is guarded by the giant Mimir, who demands the sacrifice of an eye from Odin, the eldest of the gods, in exchange for a drink from the well. Odin gouged out his eye and dropped it into the well. In drinking from the well of wisdom, he exchange his outer vision for inner vision – he could now see how all things are interconnected.

In his book, One River Many Wells, Matthew Fox says, "There is one underground river - but there are many wells into the river: an African well, a Taoist well, a Buddhist well, a Jewish well, a Muslim well, a Goddess well, a Christian well, an Aboriginal well. Many wells but one river. To go down a well is to practise a tradition, but we would make a grave mistake (an idolatrous one) if we confused the well itself with the flowing waters of the underground river. Many wells, one river." 

We know that the underground river, the Source, is One and the Same for us all, but we all have our different ways of drawing on that Source.  We each have our own well, our own individual spiritual life. Perhaps you, like me, have had to dig deep into that spiritual life well over recent months. As Brid in Cathal O Searcaigh's poem, The Well, says, “Look for your own well, pet, for there's a hard time coming. There will have to be a going back to sources.”

As the first lockdown dragged on I began to feel that my inner spiritual resources were running dry. I began to feel a thirst for deeper connection to the living water of the Source. I discovered the importance of self-care and self-compassion in being able to offer care and compassion to others.  

A big part of this self-care is making time for my own spiritual practices, if you like the buckets that draw nourishing and sustaining living water up through the well from the underground river. For me, for example, there's a yoga bucket, a trail running bucket, a devotional singing bucket, a walking in the woods bucket, a body prayer bucket. Some of these are done alone, some in the company of others, mostly online of course, in present circumstances. I have been pleasantly surprised by the depth of energetic connection with others I have experienced in gathering together online. We may not be gathering together in exactly the way we would prefer, but we are making the best of the resources we have. May we all feel the divine spirit, the Source of all things, flowing freely through us, within us and among us, whenever and however we gather together.

I invite you over the next week or so to consider how you are tending your own well. Are you making space for your spiritual life? What are your buckets that draw up the healing water of the Source? Are they water-tight or do they need repairing? Perhaps some of them are worn out and need replacing? Imbolc is traditionally the time for Spring-cleaning, so try to make time to do a spiritual spring-clean this week.

From In Praise of Water by John O'Donohue,
“Let us bless the humility of water, always willing to take the shape of whatever otherness holds it,
The buoyancy of water, stronger than the deadening, downward drag of gravity,
The innocence of water, flowing forth, without thought of what awaits it,
The refreshment of water, dissolving the crystals of thirst.
Water: voice of grief, cry of love, in the flowing tear.
Water: vehicle and idiom of all the inner voyaging that keeps us alive.
Blessed be water, our first mother.”

Feather on the Breath of God - a reflection for the feast day of St Hildegard of Bingen

“Listen; there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearin...