Spiritual sustenance, naturally.

Archive for January, 2010

Depths

A number of years ago I attended  a gathering with Jean Houston. She talked about the special social responsibility of people over fifty years of age, because elders have a life-time of experience and have “access to the depths.”

What depths are these? I think of the Underworld, understood in many ways by different cultures. In myth, the Underworld, or Otherworld, is sometimes a place one travels not just after death, but during life. It is very dangerous, and sometimes beautiful. Time has a different quality there; many years can pass in the outside world while one is entranced and / or challenged in the Otherworld. If one is able to return to this life again, it is with a gift or gifts, which are to be shared with others.

As people who have experienced the depths of life, those over fifty who approach life consciously can see the larger picture. We have visited the Underworlds of life, and returned after those experiences of profound loss and grief, the “innering” work of depression, or deep pain; we have explored the Otherworlds of enchantment, beauty, grace and joy.  As pilgrims returning from the depths, we can bring forward new ways of being in our world, new possibilities.

Many systems are in transition now: planetary, political, personal. Think of the “transition” phase of giving birth: the time when you want to call the whole thing off because it is all too difficult and overwhelming. That phase arrives just before the final stage of birthing, the breakthrough, when we push new life into the world. This can be the birth of ideas, creativity, and action. The elder years present a time for a different kind of birthing.

Accessing the depths requires inner space, a cultivation of imagination, and a small community in which to share, nurture, and celebrate the process of integrating our Underworldly and Otherworldly life experiences. You may already belong to a circle of friends which serves this growing-edge purpose.  Elder-wisdom. It’s a powerful time to be coming of age, drawing strength and knowledge from our depths, moving into the wisdom stage of our lives, and sharing those gifts.

Ireland

A quick note before we leave for Boston to pick up our daughter who is flying home from Ireland:

The beehive huts at the top of Skellig Michael;

the dazzling blue ocean;

the Western cliffs;

the mist filled, mossy woodlands;

…the monastic ruins.

They are calling.  I’m eager to hear about my daughter’s Ireland adventures. Someday I will return to that magical place.

The Path of the Mystic

Do you like categories? Do you enjoy taking psychological – personality-type tests? Are you ENFP? Where are you on the Enneagram?  On those types of tests, I usually come out in the center between two choices, and I have a very hard time with black and white answers. My world has more colors than that. I’m not big on such tests, but I had to take plenty of them in seminary.

Well, that said, on a lark I took a Spiritual Types Test from the Upper Room website, and my result was Mystic. I’ve posted a version of the result below.

You are a Mystic, known for your imaginative, intuitive spirituality. You value peace, harmony, and inner silence. Mystics are nurtured by walking alone in the woods or sitting quietly with a trusted friend. You may also enjoy poetry, meditation, wordless prayer, candles, art, books, and anything else that helps you connect with the Sacred.

Mystics experience the holy best through rich images and symbols. You are contemplative, introspective, intuitive, and focused on an inner world as real to you as the exterior one. Sensing the divine in life is more important to you than speaking to God. Others may attribute human characteristics to God, but you see God as ineffable, unnamable, and more vast than any known category. You are intrigued by this mystery.

Mystics want to inspire and persuade others, and need to live lives of significance. At times you push the envelope of spirituality, helping the rest of us imagine who we might become if we followed your lead.

Sometimes you may feel a bit guilty about your need for solitude and silence. If so, you probably have bought into the American myth that says being alone and doing nothing is lazy, antisocial, and unproductive. Stop it — now. Give yourself permission to retreat and be alone. It’s essential for your well-being.

On the other hand, don’t get so carried away retreating that you become a recluse. That only deprives the world of your gifts and deprives you of the lessons that come from being with others. Some Mystics may have a true vocation for solitary prayer, but the rest of you need to alternate retreat time with involvement and interaction.

Definitely! Retreat time alternated with action! The other types mentioned at the Spiritual Types site are The Lover, The Prophet, The Sage. I could discover parts of myself in each of the descriptions. Maybe you will, too. Have fun with it!

Into the Wild

In the film of The Fellowship of the Ring, when the Hobbits asked Strider where they were going together, after they left the inn called The Prancing Pony, he answered, “Into the wild.”  In that tale they went off the path, across wild country to avoid confronting the evil dark riders.

My forays off the path in the wild have not been nearly that exciting (there was one close encounter with a low-swooping owl at dusk – hardly a dark rider, but it got my attention). I could probably think of other outdoor adventures.  But the wild part of my mind, my inner life, is another story: it feeds my imagination. “Wild” can mean many things. Right now I think one of the wildest places on the planet (in a sad and tragic sense) is in Haiti: the wildness of catastrophe.

Today I found myself reading an online sermon entitled “Finding Wild Space.” Because I’m intrigued by wild places, inner and outer, the title caught my attention immediately.  The writer of that sermon, Rev.  Anne Sutherland Howard, had a different take on “wild.”  She wrote, “Wild space is that part in each one of us that does not fit our consumer culture’s definition of the good life. Here’s how it works: Imagine a circle. Within that circle is the dominant cultural model: white, male, middle-class, heterosexual, educated, able-bodied, Western, successful. Now, put your own model of yourself over that circle. Some parts may fit, maybe almost all, some may be different. The part of us that falls outside the conventional circle is our wild space. The parts that do not fit may be obvious: race or sex or physical characteristic. Other parts that do not match up with the successful conventional model may not be so obvious to others: surviving the death of a loved one, a lost job, the struggle with addiction or depression, the vague disappointment about not “making it,” or our refusal to buy into the conventional model. Anything that causes us to question the definition of success is our wild space.”

This passage got me thinking about the choices I’ve made that may have made me seem less than successful, according to the writer’s definition. I’ve never earned very much money. I’m a woman. And I’m outside the conventional model in many life-style choices.  Yet living at the edge is where I’ve always been most comfortable. In that space, I am closer to possibility, creativity, and very interesting people and ideas.

What is your wild space? And what does it mean in your life?

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The entire text of “Finding Wild Space,” by Rev. Anne Sutherland Howard, may be found at Day 1, http://day1.org/1679-finding_wild_space . The passage here was reprinted with the permission of Day 1.

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Making Special

Deirdre's photographs may be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/superdewa/

Deirdre, a Facebook friend, recently posted this photo of a challah, which is a braided bread often part of the meal on Fridays in Jewish households. Looking at the photo, I can almost taste the crunchy crust and smell the delicious aroma of home-made bread. The challah was made by her daughter, Elisheva, age 11. On her flickr page, Deirdre wrote, “We had one [a challah] last night with dinner and one this morning as french toast. We are not religious, but we still usually have a special meal, with candles, wine, and bread, on Friday nights.”

Special.” The word jumped out at me.  Ellen Dissanayake, in her books What is Art For? and Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why, describes art not as a thing but as a process, the process of “making special.” She considers “making special” a fundamental human behavioral tendency along with speech and tool-making/using. She writes, “Moreover, one intends by making special to place the activity or artifact in a ‘realm’ different from the everyday.” (What is Art For?, p.92, emphasis in original.) Dissanayake also relates this aesthetic process of “arting” to human play, ceremony, ritual, and its importance to our human evolution. Sacred play.

Deirdre’s daughter’s bread was made for their “ritual” Friday night meal, and the wine and candles beautifully round out the specialness of the event, which is set apart from everyday meals. Warmth and beauty, connection and sustenance: the bread by which we live. 

The Year of the Barn

In seeking an indoor space for meetings, as well as a space to do my textile artwork, we have been working on the upper story of the old carriage barn. After replacing the roof, the first task was to clear out decades of accumulated stuff.

Next, we found that the sill had rotted, though the foundation was fine. So the sill and some of the siding were replaced, at the back of the barn:

And at both sides:

Windows were replaced in the lowest level of the back (the horse stalls), and added to the front and back of the barn on the top level.

Two windows, one at each end, will be added to the side walls on the top floor. The interior staircase is in place, and now insulation, electrical and interior walls are in process. When the indoor work is done, and the weather is warm enough, we’ll scrape, paint, and beautify.

Meanwhile, going through a lifetime of /stuff/ has been intense.  It has called for a life retrospective, which is appropriate, difficult, and liberating. “Let It Go” has been my mantra.

This is The Year of the Barn.

Simple Candle

Tonight, it is simple.

The room is quiet. I turn out the light. On the table is a beeswax votive candle in a small red glass candle holder. I light a match, which flares and crackles; I touch it to the wick.

Sitting on the floor with the candle on a table at eye level, I gaze steadily at the flame. The room has no drafts, so the flame is still. I gaze, and when the time feels right, I close my eyes. The flame remains, glowing on the inside of my eyelids.

I watch this inner flame. Thoughts arise; I simply notice them, and return my attention to the inner flame. When the inner image has finally faded, I open my eyes, blow out the candle, and relaxed, climb into bed. Tonight, it is simple.