Thursday, April 29, 2010
/mer kyoŏ rē ul/
1. (of a person) subject to sudden or unpredictable changes of mood or mind: his mercurial temperament. Or (of a person) sprightly; lively.
2. of or containing the element mercury.
3. (Mercurial) of the planet Mercury.
Mercurial is a word that came to me in prayer early this morning and it seemed to fit perfectly how things have been going for me this month, the Mating Moon. The weather is mercurial, my interests and moods are mercurial and even the planets are feeling mercurial with the second Mercury retrograde of 2010 (see this old post from Riana at These Days in French Life to read about Mercury retrograde). Just the other day someone quoted me the old phrase attributed to the Chinese: "May you live in interesting times."
Part of the mercurial unpredictable changes are changes for the good. Two weeks ago I was gearing up to write a cheery blog post about how lovely spring is. We were enjoying some fantastic weather, the flowers were blooming and I was feeling on top of the world. For a couple days in a row we had sunsets like I haven't seen since college. Ashland, the town I went to school in, is in a Northwest-Southeast running valley with beautiful summer weather. In the summer the sun sets at one end of the valley turning the sky fantastic shades of sherbet orange and pink, possibly with gold and silver clouds. Actually, my favorite thing to do was to hike up into the hills on the south side of town and watch the eastern sky as the sunset. I’ve never seen that color purple anywhere else on heaven or earth.
At the very beginning of this month I was watching for the new crescent moon and was treated to a special alignment of the moon and Venus. I have a scene quite similar to that tattooed on my arm – a sight I saw watching one of those lovely Ashland sunsets. My tattoo is of Venus right above the new crescent moon but this month Venus was below. It was still a special (I feel like every conjunction of the new moon and Venus is a special gift for me), and combined with the orange sunsets and apple blossom scented warm air made me so happy.
Photo by fdecomite
I was also feeling really great and grounded in my spiritual practice. After Easter I had focused on calling more pagan forms of divinity in my evening prayers. A sweet mother goddess is one of my favorites to ask for help from, but a young flower goddess and a fiery warrior goddess are others that have pressed themselves into my thoughts this month as well. I’ve also had visions of god as rain and waves and sand. I was feeling surrounded by love and like my feet were on the right path.
But mercurial means that everything isn't always rosy and sweet. Sometimes the clouds roll back in, it storms and hails and the temperatures drop back down to 45 degrees and you feel like you want to crawl under a rock. I have been feeling led to explore my personal boundaries in terms of emotional openness and connection with other people lately, which can be a very scary thing for Virgos like me. I was exploring old fears and adult coping mechanisms (a term that gets a lot of bad rap - but we have to cope!) and it all seemed to be going fine until the lessons became practical and not just theoretical. I had a couple bad days at work where I felt like I couldn't help but be sucked into or react to other people's emotional states. It sucked.
Yesterday I spent some time writing in my journal about all of this emotional stuff I've been experiencing this week. Just the other day I came across the website of Sybil MacBeth's book Praying in Color. She uses doodling as a contemplative prayer to spend time in the presence of god when words are inadequate or hard to come by. Words are relatively easy for me so journaling can be a similar process and in that session I had some insight.
The hard stuff this month seems to be the death before the re-birth kind of hard stuff. It feels like the razing of an old building so a new home can be built, or tilling soil so new crops can be planted. I'm still on the right path - this is why that warrior goddess with her double edged axe, the labrys, came to visit me. She came to guide me through this time, or maybe just to do some hacking at my "stuff".
Photo of the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco
This is the first step in hearing the lesson of the Mating Moon. In order for new stuff to be born the old stuff has to break open and let the universe in to fertilize it. A bee can't get into a flower to pollinate it until it breaks out of its bud. A baby can't be started in a mother without the intrusion of the penis and sperm. I don't yet know what the new stuff is, or how far into the process we are, but I know G!(d)dess is with me, and she has good things in store for me. Life really is a conspiracy to make me wiser, happier and a better person.
So this weekend I focus again on spring. Trees and flowers, bugs and beautiful sunsets. Full moons and crickets. What are you excited about this spring? What is hard right now? How has mercury retrograde messed with your life and your comfort zone?
Thursday, April 15, 2010
If you had been in the Garden Beautiful late one moonlight night, you would have heard the Lady Petunia, all dressed in a violet robe, tell such a wonderful story that even the dewdrops nestled among her leaves to listen.
"For many days the rose queen bowed her head and thought and wondered over this question. What could she do? It would be too bad if the baby seeds from none of the plants ever ripened or grew any larger, for not even a little seed likes always to be a baby. Then too, without well-ripened seed, soon there would be no flowers blooming in the Garden Beautiful—because there would be no seeds to plant.
" 'I know how trees ripen their seeds, replied the little breeze fairy.'They exchange their golden pollen dust with one another. I have often helped the wind blow it from one tree to another.
"And, indeed, they were very happy when they heard about it, and they began at once, and worked from early morning until night, storing away delicious nectar juice for their visitors, the bees and butterflies, whom they were expecting very soon.
" 'I’ll tell you,' said the little breeze, who lingered again by the side of the rose queen. 'Why do you not put out signal flags of red and blue and other bright colours? All of your flowers in the Garden Beautiful are dressed in white, and perhaps bees and butterflies cannot see white. Now if you will put out brightly-coloured signal flags, I am sure the bees and butterflies will come, because they like bright colours, and when they find out that you have made sweet nectar juice for them they will be only too glad to keep on coming. Try it,' laughed the little breeze, 'and while the bees and butterflies are busy sipping nectar juice, the flowers can be sprinkling golden pollen dust over their bodies and wings so they will be sure to leave some with every new flower they call on.
'"The fair rose queen laughed merrily with the little breeze, as he talked, and then she said: 'But wait; before you go, tell me, pray, where I am to get these brightly-coloured signal flags you speak of? I have none.'
" 'Oh, the sunbeam fairies can bring you every colour of the rainbow,—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet,' replied the mischievous little breeze, tickling her leaves into fresh laughter as he flew away.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
I wrote some last year about the various spring celebrations from all over the world that cluster around the Spring Equinox. Much of what we see in modern Easter celebrations - Easter bunnies leaving candy, hunting for dyed eggs, wearing new dresses and hats, eating lamb or ham, even the name Easter - come from pre-Christian European spring celebrations. Much like with Christmas, the expanding church in ancient and medieval Europe co-opted the local traditions and reassigned them meaning in the new religious narrative to get the cooperation of the masses. There certainly isn't any mention of Easter eggs or Christmas trees in the Bible.
This doesn't mean, however, that Easter is just a pagan celebration with some details changed. Unlike Christmas, in which I see more similarities between pagan and Christian celebration than I do differences, there is a truly different meaning behind Easter Sunday than behind pagan spring celebrations. Yes, both celebrate the re-birth of life through the divine, but Christ's re-birth means something different than Nature's re-birth does. It means salvation, and this is where things start getting sticky for me.
I chose to really immerse myself in Easter celebrations this year (well, maybe it was less conscious than all that - but I certainly was immersed in Easter). After rejecting the austerity of Lent for 39 days I participated in an interactive stations of the cross devotional on Good Friday, watched part of the Maundy Thursday Mass given by the Pope and both The Greatest Story Ever Told and The Last Temptation of Christ as well as played an angel in my Quaker Meeting's Easter Drama. All of this had the effect of allowing me time to really spend some time working with the meaning of Easter in my own life.
The story of Holy Week has been fascinating to me since I first learned about it in a college art history class. The story goes that Jesus entered Jerusalem on the Sunday before Passover and was welcomed by the citizens. They draped their robes on the ground so his donkey wouldn't walk in the mud and waved palm fronds to honor him. This is commemorated in the church calendar as Palm Sunday. Thursday of that week was Passover and Jesus met with his disciples for a Passover meal commonly called the Last Supper. This is when he told his followers to eat of his body and drink of his blood in remembrance of him and the practice of communion with bread or wafers and wine or juice was born. That night, as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas Iscariot betrayed him and he was arrested. The following day, Good Friday, he was beaten and crucified fulfilling the scripture and paying the price of fallen man's sin. After three days in the tomb he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Ritual celebrations that replay and symbolically show the meaning of a holy story are so attractive to me that I am almost willing to overlook my theological issues with the Passion story.
After a very brief mention of Palm Sunday at Meeting on Sunday the 28th I kicked off my Holy Week "celebration" by watching part of the Holy Thursday mass on EWTN, a Catholic television channel. I can see why the reformists of the 16th century "protested" against this kind of church - so much pomp, circumstance, gold, incense and robes. Catholic ritual is such a physical expression of faith that is so different than the expression of faith I am getting comfortable with in my Quaker Meeting. It is fascinating, though, and oh so delightful to my pagan sensibilities.
There are many fascinating traditions and symbols in the Easter Triduum, or three day period between Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday. The Holy Thursday mass includes the blessing of the host and then the host is kept in an "alter of repose" during Good Friday and Holy Saturday when no mass is spoken. Neither this mass nor the Good Friday service, which is not a mass end with the typical concluding words. It is not until the Easter Mass that the conclusion is spoken. In essence it is all one service that starts with the Mass of the Last Supper and doesn't conclude until Saturday night or Sunday morning with the Easter Mass. Hows that for symbolism?
On Friday I accepted the invitation in our Meeting bulletin to attend an interactive Stations of the Cross devotional at a local mega-church. I had been thinking about going to the Catholic cathedral to see their devotional but it didn't work out. Possibly, the Spirit was working to give me the best experience possible. The whole experience was rather intense - as it was intended to be. The church it took place at was so, so different than West Hills and that was at first disconcerting. The place has a coffee shop inside it! But the devotional itself took place in a small side chapel that seemed much more intimate. Like a traditional Stations of the Cross we physically moved through a set path marked with symbols of Christ's Passion from the Last Supper to his burial but this one was multi-sensory and quite physical.
The host church used the Scriptural Way of the Cross as the format and a wide variety of props to bring the process to life. They re-created the garden at Gethsemane with potted plants and a fountain, had a recording of a rooster crowing signifying Peter's denial and had real thorns and whips for us to touch. Some of the most moving pieces to me were the railroad spikes we could pound into a large stump to feel what it was like to crucify a man, mirrors to see ourselves and our family as Jesus saw us and a bowl of myrrh and aloe like that used to embalm his body. Any teacher wanting to use multiple learning styles could have taken a page out of their book - we were asked to read, write, empathize, draw, look, listen, smell and feel throughout the entire process. The devotional ended with a plate of bread and goblets of wine so that we could partake in holy communion with the sacrficed Christ (which I chose not to do.. more on that in a minute).
Easter Sunday at West Hills Friends was much, much more light hearted - as is appropriate for Easter Sunday. I played an angel in the original production of The Kingdom of God Comes At You At One Million Miles Per Second in which a number of preachers teach people the proper stance or pose to brace for impact. Finally Jesus shows up to remind folks bracing isn't the point, moving is. Any Easter service that includes very bad renditions of People Get Ready, 25 balloons and 8 bags of candy is my kind of Easter service. It was definitely a morning of joyous celebration and community.
So what did I learn from all of this Easter Stuff? Well, one thing I learned is that I have a deep appreciation for the solemnity of a real celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. It really is no laughing matter and not something to be celebrated in pastels and bunnies. Jesus of Nazareth died a terrible death. Crucifixion is a nasty thing - like many other nasty things we humans do to each other. If you believe in original sin and the need for a savior then the Resurrection of Christ is a big, big deal. It is, in fact, the deal.
Rudolph Steiner speaks of how the Christian festivals fall a few days after the Earth festivals because we need to feel the "lower" energies of the earth before we can feel the "purer" energies embodied in the human realm and the angelic realm of Christian religion. When push comes to shove I am not a Christian. I don't believe in original sin, I don't believe in a fallen creation or a fallen man. I don't believe in the need for an external savior or any sort of intermediary between myself and the divine. I am too much of a pagan universalist for that. But I see the utility in working with these ideas. Over the last few days I have wrestled with such big ideas as the need for physical props in worship of a non-physical divine presence, my own fears and hesitations in life, why people perpetrate terrible crimes against each other and how I relate with other humans. I haven't come to good answers on any of those things, but I've had some thoughts, and that's the first step.
After my very long weekend of Easter Related Thinking I am spent. I have thought deeply and felt deeply. I am tired and feel overworked. My Easter Sunday ended with a fantastic steak house dinner with my dad that left me grateful for the richness, nutrition and elegance. It also left me feeling stuffed and in need of a few days of fasting to get back on track. That's the way I feel about thinking too. I some time for assimilation and digestion, I need a fast.
*Photos are all by Walwyn on flickr.com. They are pieces of art from French churches. Thank you for your contribution.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Cultivating an examined, Spirit filled life can thought about as like trying to grow plants. You and God both spend time cultivating the soil and you both sow seeds. What grows is a collaboration and neither parties are completely in control of the results. It is important as a gardener of plants make sure you spend enough working in your garden but it is also important to give the plants the time and space they need to grow. Sometimes you can't grow what you want and sometimes a weed pops up that turns out to be the most satisfying plant in your garden. You have to work, but you aren't in control of the results.
Listening to or reading the ideas of others is the equivalent of planting seeds in your spitirual garden. Other people's ideas can be the little kernals of thought that you grow a pearl of wisdom around or can be a window that lets you see truth where otherwise you just saw a wall. And you never know which seeds are going to be the important ones that grow big in your heart. In recent sessions of deep spritiual thinking I quoted U2, the Buddhist 8 Fold Path and Futurama, a satirical cartoon by the creators of the Simpsons. I have harvested rich spiritual fruit from the writings of Rob Breszny who is most well known for his syndicated astrology column, Free Will Astrology. Reading the lectures of Rudolph Steiner and seeing how people have worked with his ideas have also led to great thinking on my part, as have the writings of such diverse authors as Walt Whitman, Phillip Pullman, Jean Auel, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Quaker thought and Taoist thought deeply influence my spirituality as well as Wiccan and other earth based traditions. I wouldn't be where I am today spiritually without all these different seeds. My garden would not be as diverse and beautiful.
Seeds alone aren't enough to make a garden, though. I believe engaging other people with your ideas is the spiritual equivalent of tilling and fertilizing your garden soil. Over my life this has taken the form of journaling, late night conversations over a bottle of wine or bourbon, afternoon hikes with friends and more recently conversations during coffee hour at church. This blog is also a way for me to cultivate the soil of my garden through concious thought and the process of putting pieces together to make coherent sentances and essays.
Watering my spiritual garden and giving it space to grow through prayer and contemplation is a part of the process I am just now coming into concious appreciation of. I suspect I have always done it, unconciously, through letting ideas rest and meld but prayer is like watering your garden by hand, with little cups of water each day. It gives those idea seeds your concentrated attention and nourishment and allows them to grow to the fullness of their ability. Watering your garden by hand is also a time to really see what those little plants are doing and so prayer or contemplation is a time to allow the works of god/spirit/subconcious mind to come forward and show itself. Its amazing what you can see and hear when you stop doing and give the universe a chance to speak.
Just like I may never grow violets in my front garden there may be fruits or callings of the spirit that I will never cultivate. I will probably never be a monk or nun, but by putting the work into my spiritual garden I will find what I am here to grow. What seeds have been planted in your spiritual garden lately? How do you till your garden and water it? What have been growing good fruit for you? What is growing in your front garden that you never expected?