Gathering Space for Easter Part Two: April 6, 2021
Under a light cloud, hurried along by a fresh breeze off the Atlantic, we come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona.
The moon is waning to a narrow memory of her Paschal fullness, the temperature barely above freezing.
Our hearts lift in a joyous lightness as we see our Gathering Tent, still in place. This is not an evening for sitting outdoors.
Each of us is carrying a tray or basket or covered plate of Easter baking. The clink of bottles suggests someone has brought wine.
The celebration of Easter continues.
Inside we greet our companions, already carefully seated at a distance of two metres/six feet apart around the lighted fire pot.
As we select a silk cushion, Colleen comments that soon these lovely comfortable works of art will be stored away;
soon we’ll be holding our gatherings outdoors.
“Don’t forget we’ll be sitting on our colourful Communion Quilts when that happens,” Colette reminds us.
Mary Ellen stands now and says, "Last week Cynthia brought us a poem about Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the Risen One.
Tonight I’ve brought another poem by Jan Richardson about Mary Magdalene's experience of Easter Morning.
Jan begins with the moment when someone whom she believes is the gardener speaks to her:
Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for? (John 20: 15)
You had not imagined
that something so empty
could fill you
and now you carry
like an awful treasure
or like a child
that curls itself
within your heart:
how the emptiness
will bear forth
a new world
you cannot fathom
but on whose edge
So why do you linger?
You have seen,
and so you are
You have been seen,
and so you are
There is no other word
There is simply
There is simply
Mary Ellen has a photo for each of us to take home.
It shows the statue ccreated By Elizabeth Frink that stands in the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral in England:
Mary Magdalene is striding forth to take the good news of the Risen Jesus to the apostles.
“I have some music for a Sacred Dance on my ipad,” says Shirley. “It’s Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia sung in Italian by the group: IL DIVO.
After this reflective dance, we begin the Easter Feast.
Gathering Space for March 30, 2021
The Paschal moon is two days past her fullness. Winds off the North Atlantic do their best to disperse the cloud cover,
allowing brief glimpses of her radiance.
We come into the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery, our hearts lifting to see our Gathering Tent still in place.
The evening air is chill at 8 degrees Celsius, 47 degrees Fahrenheit. And those clouds look ready to release cold rain.
We hurry inside out of the wind, choose a silk cushion and sit down.
The fire pot is lighted at the centre of our circle. As we take our places and greet our companions.
Tonight we will celebrate Easter in poetry, in song and dance and later there will be a feast of food and wine
already set on the long table that rests against the wall of the monastery.
Cynthia stands to begin our celebration: "I’ve brought a poem by Jan Richardson that was written as a blessing
for Mary Magdalene, the first person to whom Jesus showed himself after the Resurrection:
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” John 20:16
The Magdalene’s Blessing
You hardly imagined
everything you ever loved
suddenly returned to you,
looking you in the eye
and calling your name.
you do not know
how to abide this hole
in the center
of your chest,
where a door
and swings open
at the same time,
turning on the hinge
of your aching
and hopeful heart.
I tell you,
This is not a banishment
from the garden.
This is an invitation,
This is your life
calling to you
from a place
you could never
but now that you
have glimpsed its edge,
you cannot imagine
choosing any other way.
So let the tears come
let them go.
Let this blessing
gather itself around you.
Let it give you
what you will need
for this journey.
You will not remember
the words –
they do not matter.
All you need to remember
is how it sounded
when you stood
in the place of death
and heard the living
call your name.
(Jan Richardson in Circle of Grace)
While we are quietly taking in the wonder, the power of these words, Cynthia passes around the circle copies
for each of us of the painting by Sieger Koder inspired by that first Easter Morning:
Now the music begins, calling us to dance. What a great way to warm up after sitting still.
Music We Dance… until the Easter Feast begins.
Gathering Space for March 23, 2021
As we come into the Garden beside the ruins of the 13th c. Augustinian Nunnery on Iona, we stop outside our Gathering Tent to gaze upwards. The waxing moon looks down upon us with an intensity that makes the breath catch in our throats.
“Mother Moon,” Clara says. “I wonder if she’d like to join us this evening.”
“The moon is an image of the Sacred Feminine,” Kate comments. “She’s light in our darkness.
"Sometimes she is herself wholly dark. The dark feminine.”
The ruffling wind rises, stirring the chilly air. If it were summer, even late spring,
we could stay outdoors, hold our gathering here under the Moon’s benevolent gaze. Reluctantly, we go inside.
We join our companions who are already seated around the lighted fire pot.
Kate speaks to us: “Just now, outdoors, we were looking at the moon. Tonight her radiance brings us joy but we know her light is not always with us. Like the Sacred Feminine, the moon too has her dark side. I've brought some writings to share with you on the Dark Feminine. The first is from the Jungian writer Sylvia Senensky. This passage is from her book, Healing and Empowering the Feminine:
We have come to a time when we can no longer remain silent. We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine to know our own darkness and the profound richness of all dark places, even when they are laden with pain. Through her we know the mystery of existence and the sacredness of the cycles of life. We learn how important the destruction of the old ways is to the rebirth of the new. When she steps into our lives and awakens us, we can be shattered to our core, and we know, as we see the tears streaming down her face, that she too is holding us in her compassionate and loving embrace.
We need to know her as the source of life in the material realm, and to know her sorrow at how we have so unconsciously set out to destroy her...our Mother Earth. She is calling upon us, each in our way to do our inner work, to become her allies, to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet. This is the lesson of the Feminine we all need to remember. We need to honour our earth and all creatures, human and other, that she supports. We need to nourish ourselves, each other, all children, and the unbelievable creative potential within each human being....As we come to a place of love and compassion for ourselves, our struggles, and our own vulnerable humanity, we will at the same time begin to kindle a similar compassion for others. Love attracts love. If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy, our actions will begin to mirror our feelings. We will come home to ourselves.
There is a time of quiet as we allow these words to resonate within our hearts. After a time, Kate continues:
"I invite you now to join with me in a contemplative practice that I engage in each morning, sitting in quiet stillness.
"I invite you to become aware of your breath, gently breathing in the healing sacred Breath of the cosmic Spirit of Love,
sending it forth as a transformative healing for the whole world.
"Let us together hold this intention as we stay focused on the Spirit's Breath -- in and down through the chakras --
and out to wherever the Spirit desires to move with her healing presence and benediction."
In the stillness, we spend time allowing the Breath of the Spirit to move in us, through us and out to the world.
We continue this practice for fifteen minutes.
Now Kate speaks once more: "A prayer arose from within me as we engaged in this breathing together.
I would like to share it with you:
I sit in this gathering space
in silence and thanksgiving
aware of Wisdom's sacred Presence.
She wraps me gently in her cloak of knowing
assuring me again
that Love holds this pregnant universe
in compassionate, creative embrace,
that Hope awaits with outstretched arms
expectant hands cupped to receive
the promised new birth.
In silence she offers me her cloak of knowing
inviting me to remember
her constant Presence and her gifting
of Creative Love and Expectant Hope.
Who else would like to share with us a prayer, an image, a poem, a thought
that arose for you during this time?
You may share your response on our facbook page or in an email to our Communion.
Please send this in time for next week's posting, before March 30th.
Gathering Space for March 16, 2021
Though the days are growing longer as the Equinox draws near, a cloak of darkness covers the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on this moonless night. Peering out from the drifting clouds, the distant stars gaze at the clusters of women, warmly wrapped against temperatures not much above freezing, as they hurry towards the Gathering Tent.
"You'd think they'd look up now and then," a young star mutters. "I'm giving them my most radiant shimmer."
Inside, the circle of women forms around Elspeth who has returned as she promised to reflect on the story of Etain.
Once everyone is settled, Violet lights the fire pot, and speaks:
"Remember the caught-breath silence in our Gathering Tent last week as Elspeth ended her tale of Etain?
Then our storyteller added that Etain's tale is seen by some as a metaphor for our time, telling how the feminine aspect of God,
the goddess, has been transformed by treachery into something else, blown by sea winds, drowned, swallowed and finally rebirthed.
"I invite you now to speak of any signs you see within your own heart and spirit, among your friends, family members, and across the planet that suggest a transformation, a new birth in spirituality is about to begin."
Colette speaks: "I had a dream. In this dream I was in a learning situation within a small group. We’re receiving a teaching about the amygdala which is part of the brain (related to memories, emotional reactions, trauma and fear as I later found in my research).
"In the dream the question I pose is “what does it look like?” In response to my question I’m shown a serpent head and neck. The rest of its body is a braid (like Brigit’s braid). Then in the dream I ask, “But where is this situated in the body?” The answer I’m given is that it’s not situated anywhere in particular in the body but that it’s an energetic reality (that courses through one’s whole being I conclude). I am in total wonder at this response.
"This dream came associated with another dream that pointed to woundedness of the feminine immediately followed by symbols of transformation and healing, alchemy. After such rich readings on the Divine Feminine, the Sacred Feminine relating to the symbol of the serpent and the beautiful drawing of Brigit and her braids what a delightful revelation, gift. I remember: the Sacred Feminine wants to be embodied, come through me, us. And so She is."
Elspeth speaks: "Ah, Colette. Thank you for this beautiful sharing of your dreams and your further reflections on it.
I too have found that it is in our dreams that the Sacred Feminine, the Goddess, makes herself known to us."
Anne Kathleen speaks: "After hearing Etain's story, I remembered reading a book called Women of the Celts by the Breton French writer Jean Markale. He writes of the buffeting and banishment of the feminine, and her amazing rebirth.
I brought his book here tonight to read a section:
Within the patriarchal framework (goddesses) were often obscured, tarnished and deformed, and submerged into the depth of the unconscious. But they do still exist, if only in dormant state, and sometimes rise triumphantly to rock the supposedly immovable foundations of masculine society. The triumph of Yahweh and Christ was believed sanctified forever, but from behind them reappears the disturbing and desirable figure of the Virgin Mary with her unexpected names: Our Lady of the Water, Our Lady of the Nettles, Our Lady of the Briars, Our Lady of the Mounds, Our Lady of the Pines.
But in spite of the veneration accorded her over the centuries and the public declaration of successive dogmas related to Mary, the authorities of the Christian Church have always made her a secondary character, overshadowed and retiring, a model of what women ought to be. Now the pure and virginal servant of man, the wonderful mother who suffers all heroically, she is no longer the Great Goddess before whom the common herd of men would tremble, but Our Lady of the Night.
Yvette speaks: "I was very touched by Kate Fitzpatrick's writings on the snake emerging from her old skin as a symbol of new life, and of transformation. I read it at a time when I saw new skin emerging under an injury.
"I have a piece by Thealogian Carol Christ on this theme: St. Brigid’s male counterpart, St. Patrick, was said to have driven all of the snakes out of Ireland. This legend reiterates the Biblical association of snakes with evil and temptation. In Old Europe snakes were symbols of life and regeneration….In driving snakes out of Ireland, St. Patrick… was re-enacting the myth of slaying of the Goddess.
"Kate Fitzpatrick tells of a workshop she led called The Power of Serpent Rising’. She writes: I felt the first resistance to the work on St Patrick’s day as the old saint’s spirit lashed out against the possibility of snakes being awakened again in Ireland. This work with Serpent was very powerful. In preparation for the workshop I found I had to sit in silence for long periods of time and hold absolute stillness and breathe very consciously. In this practice I felt the power of Serpent energy in my body as a vital force. She brought her gifts of healing, transformation and a sense of balance of all opposites…I trusted the ancient priestess spirits who came to guide the work with Serpent. Their connection to Brigid as an archetypal feminine energy started to show itself. "
Elspeth speaks: "Thank you for these powerful words and insights. Pay attention to your dreams as Colette did,
and to your life experiences as Yvette did, as well as to what you come across in books or poems.
"May I close our time together tonight with a poem by Nicola Slee:"
You think she has left
But she has not. She is resting.
You think she has gone underground
But she has not. She has veiled herself.
You think she is powerless
But she is gathering her power,
Drawing it back to herself from where
It has been dispersed, scattered.
You think she is not speaking
Only because you do not
Hear the language of her silence.
You think she is alone
But she has never been.
You think she has lost all her names and seasons
But there have always been those who have kept her ways.
You think that the pattern is broken
But see, she spins the chaos into waves and whorls
You can’t yet decipher. Keep looking.
She has never left, though you couldn’t find her.
It is we who are returning.
Gathering Space for March 9, 2021
It's early evening on Iona as we walk towards our Gathering Tent in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. In this second week of March, Brigid, as promised, is breathing life into the mouth of dead winter. Those of us who have made the imaginal journey from Canada and the United States are enchanted. The warm spring air, 51 degrees Fahrenheit, 11 Celsius is a gift from the goddess. Cynthia finds it refreshingly cool as Australia’s summer wanes. An added gift is that the skies are clear, giving promise that the moon in her last quarter will be rising to bless our gathering.
As we approach the tent, we see a woman just ahead of us, about to go inside.
It’s Ellyn who recognizes her first. "That's Elspeth! I hope she has a story for us."
Inside, as we gather around the fire pot on our large silk patterned cushions, we see that Elspeth is already seated,
smiling at the familiar faces around her.
Mary Teske lights the fire pot, while Clara welcomes Elspeth: "We’re happy you’ve come to join us this evening, Elspeth.
"Have you brought another tale of Brigid?"
Elspeth speaks: "I know you’ve been reflecting on Brigid in her Cosmic Presence through the luminous writings of Kate Fitzpatrick.
You know by now that Brigid has many facets, as both saint and goddess. The story I have for you tonight is an ancient tale,
believed to be perhaps the earliest story of a sacred feminine presence in Ireland. It’s a love story: "the Wooing of Etain",
a very long tale. We would be here past midnight were I to tell it fully. So I’ll just give the beginning in the ancient way,
as it was translated from the Irish by the writer Ann Moray in her book A Fair Stream of Silver.
Then I'll tell the rest of the tale as briefly as may be.
"The story begins at the time when the Tuatha de Danann, whom Kate Fitzpatrick mentions in Cosmic Brigid,
were driven into hiding by the Milesians who conquered Ireland. Here is the tale:
In the early days when the children of the Goddess Danu, the Fairy gods, were defeated by the Sons of Mil,
they agreed to make their vast and beautiful dwelling places inside the mountains and under the rivers and lakes of Ireland.
The High King of the Fairy gods was the Dagda. He played upon his wooden harp to make the seasons to follow one another.
He commanded the winds and the rains and the crops. His people called him “the good god”.
"According to ancient custom, the Dagda sent his son Angus mac Og to be fostered by Midir, the proud Fairy King of Bri Leith.
Angus’ companions were thrice-fifty of the noblest youths in Ireland and thrice-fifty of the loveliest maidens,
and for all their great number, they all lived in one House. Their beds had columns and posts adorned with wrought gold
that gleamed in the light of a precious stone of great size, brilliant in the roof at the centre of the House.
Angus was leader of them all, for the beauty of his form and face and for his gentleness. His days were spent
in the Playing field, in feasting and tale-telling, in harping and minstrelsy, and the reciting of poetry,
and every youth was a chess player in the House of Midir of Bri Leith.
"Angus stayed with his foster father for nine years, and then he returned to his own sidh, Brugh on the Boyne.
"So we have met some of the main characters in the tale," Elspeth says. "A year after Angus had returned
to his home on the River Boyne, Midir paid him a visit. It was the Celtic Festival of Samhain and Angus had invited
many friends to a great celebration. There was riotous, joyous, battle play and Midir, watching from the sidelines,
was hit in the eye. The Dagda's physician healed him but Midir was angry and demanded compensation
as was the law in ancient Ireland.
"Angus agreed. If it is in my power, he said, it is yours. What is your desire?
The hand of Etain who is the gentlest and loveliest in all Ireland.
And where is she to be found? Angus asked.
In Mag Inish, in the North East. She is daughter of the Fairy King Aylill.
"Then it shall be so, the Mac Og said, and at the end of the feasting he set out over the soft, cloud-bright fields
of our many-hued Land, and came to Mag Inish, in the North East.
"Aylill demanded a high bride-price for his daughter as well as commanding that Angus clear twelve fields in his land
and cause twelve rivers to run through them, all before the next dawn. With the help of the Dagda his father,
Angus accomplished all this, and giving Aylill coins in gold and silver for her bride price, took Etain by the hand
and brought her to his home on the River Boyne.
"And the ancient manuscript says, Midir made that company welcome. Etain looked into Midir’s eyes,
and that night she became his bride. For a year and a day, Etain and Midir stayed with Angus celebrating their wedding,
enjoying the harp music, the feasting, the fine wines and the chess games played for precious stones.
"When it came time for Midir to return with Etain to Bri Leith, Angus drew his friend aside. He warned him
to take great care of Etain for, he said, Your wife Fuamnach awaits you and she is a treacherous woman.
The warning was timely for that very night after their arrival, Fuamnach came to Etain's chamber,
struck her with a rod of scarlet quicken tree, and left her as a pool of water on the floor.
"But Etain was so lovely, so filled with joy that the water dried, curled into a brown worm, and from it Etain rose
as a purple fly of wondrous size. The manuscript says, (S)weeter than pipes and horns was the sound of her voice, and the hum of her wings. Her eyes would shine like precious stones in the darkness, and the fragrance and bloom of her would turn away hunger and thirst from anyone around whom she would go, and the spray that fell from her wings would cure all sickness.
"Etain longed for Midir. As soon as her wings dried and became strong enough, she flew to find him.
"He knew her at once, and she accompanied him everywhere. He would fall asleep to the humming of her wings.
"Soon Fuamnach discovered the joy of the lovers. With a powerful spell she banished Etain from Ireland
putting on her a curse that she must fly over the sea without respite, for seven years. If she touched on any bush
or tree or blade of grass she would be blown more fiercely out over the sea.
"At the end of the seven years, exhausted, blinded by her weakness she flew back to land and by chance came
to the home of Angus on the River Boyne. Angus knew her at once and built for her a glass bower
which he filled with healing herbs and fragrant flowers.
"But Fuamnach had been searching for Etain and when she found the bower and saw the kindness Angus was showing to Etain
she was furious. She went to Midir and deceitfully urged him to invite Angus to visit him at Bri Leith.
"As soon as Angus had gone, Fuamnach upended the bower, and put a second curse upon Etain
of seven years of flight over the sea without rest.
"When the seven years ended, Etain almost paralyzed with exhaustion, flew into Ulster and landed on the open roof
of the house of Etar. As she gazed down at a great feast below her, she lost her footing and fell into the wine goblet
of Etar's wife, who unknowingly swallowed the purple fly with her wine.
"Etain was implanted in the womb of the wife of Etar and born nine months later. The child was so astonishingly lovely
that the besotted parents named her after a Fairy princess: Etain.
She had no memory at all of her former life.
"In time Etain, the daughter of Etar, grew into a lovely young woman. Word of her beauty and goodness reached Eochaid,
High King of Ireland. He was seeking a wife, for his people had refused to pay taxes to a King who had no Queen.
"Eochaid wooed and won Etain, and she brought great joy to Ireland when she came to live with the King at Tara.
"One evening as Etain was walking on the hill of Tara, a strange warrior approached her. He shone with the radiance
of the setting sun, and told Etain he was her husband and her lover, that he had been seeking her for a thousand years.
"Etain turned away and would not look at him. Midir pleaded that she come with him to a wondrous land where
Warm sweet streams flow though the land,
the choice of mead and wine,
stately folk, without blemish…
We see everyone on every side,
And no one seeth us…
"But she would not lift her eyes to him.
Etain, would you come with me if your husband the king allows it?
"At this she looked into his eyes. Willingly, she said.
"A year passed and on midsummer morning, as Eochaid stood on the terrace of Tara, a strange warrior appeared,
his shield catching the sunlight so that it dazzled the king's eyes.
"I have come to play chess with you, he said, and immediately a chess board appeared, all of silver
with jewels glowing at each corner. The chess pieces were made of gold by the finest artificers in all of Ireland.
"On the first two mornings, the King defeated the warrior at chess, and each time received the winnings,
amassing fifty horses, fifty red- eared cows and fifty young boars as well as swords with hilts of ivory, silver and gold.
"The King's foster father saw these riches and learned of the strange warrior who could enter locked gates,
but could not win at chess. Take care you lay heavy burden on him next time, his foster father cautioned,
for this is a man of great power.
"In the third game Eochaid said the loser must clear the rocks and stones from the hillocks of Great Meath,
and the rushes from the land of Tethba. You must cut down the forest of Breg, and lay a causeway
over the Great Bog of Tavrach, and all this you must accomplish in a single night.”
"Midir asked only that no one be out of doors until dawn when the work would be completed.
"Secretly the king sent his steward to spy on the work. The steward returned at dawn to report that he had seen magic done,
that all the fairy folk of all the mounds in Ireland had come with great blue fairy oxen to assist Midir.
"Suddenly Midir appeared. He was filled with wrath that he had been spied upon. The King, not wanting to show he was afraid,
agreed to another game of chess. This time he asked Midir what the stake would be.
That the loser give the winner what he desires, Midir said.
"Eochaid agreed. Midir won, to the King's great surprise.
I could have defeated you long before this had I chosen, Midir said.
What is it you desire? Eochaid asked.
My arms about Etain and one kiss from her lips.
"The King thought quickly, and then said: Return in one month's time and you shall have what you desire.
"As soon as Midir left him, the King summoned his greatest warriors from across Ireland
and set them in two rings around the outer and inner courts of Tara.
"One month later the King and his household were feasting, guarded by the men of strength and hearing
against the man of magic who was to come.
Midir suddenly appeared in their midst, radiant in his splendour. The whole court caught its breath,
and in the pause, Eochaid welcomed him.
Here is how Ann Moray writes of what happened next:
“What is pledged to me, let it be given to me,” Midir said.
“I have given the matter little thought,” said the King.
“What is promised is due,” Midir said.
Etain was silent, and her cheeks were red as the scarlet rowanberry, and then, by turn, white as snow. "Do not blush, Etain,” Midir said to her. “I have been a year seeking you with gifts and treasures, the richest and most beautiful in Ireland. It is not by the dark magic that I have won you.”
“I will not go with you, Midir, unless the King releases me to you,” Etain replied.
“I will never release you,” Eochaid said. “But as for this stake, I willingly allow this warrior to put his arms about you, and to kiss you, here in the middle of the Royal House, while the hosts of Tara look on.”
“It shall be done,” said Midir, and he took his weapons in his left hand, and with his right arm he held Etain round the waist, and as he kissed her, and kissed her again, he bore her away in his embrace, through the skylight of the House.
The men of Ireland rose in shame about their King, and he led them out in hot pursuit. But Eochaid, High King of Ireland, and his hosts, saw only two snow-white swans in full flight over Tara.
There is a caught-breath silence in the Gathering Tent as Elspeth ends her tale.
"This is a tale of great wisdom and some see it as a metaphor for our time, for it tells of the way the goddess
has been transformed by treachery into something else, buffeted by sea winds, drowned, swallowed
and finally rebirthed. Some even see that the time predicted for her to be reborn
from the womb of this present darkness is coming near.
“I invite you to think about these things. I shall return next week to hear your thoughts, your imaginings,
your desires, dreams and hopes about this rebirth.
"But now, as the moon has risen on this almost- spring night, let’s go outdoors to enjoy the beauty."
And so we do that, promising to have a response to the story's themes by next week.
Gathering Space for March 2, 2021
Under umbrellas and rain hoods, our bodies bent like trees in the stiff wind, we make our way across the open space of the garden of the ruined 13th c. Women’s Monastery on Iona. Though the temperature has climbed above freezing, our Gathering Tent is a welcome promise of warmth and shelter. With a quick shake to remove rain from umbrellas and raingear, we open the tent flap and go inside.
Blinking to remove drops of moisture from our eyes, we gaze with gratitude upon the tall white candles that stand in silent greeting around the periphery. They suggest a medieval castle, rather than a canvas tent. Many of our companions are already seated on the large embroidered cushions that surround the flaming fire pot.
We join them, greeting our friends, exchanging small bits of news, asking about loved ones who are ill,
expressing our joy at being here once more.
When the murmur of voices, like the poet Yeats’ “bee-loud glade”, finally stills, Anne Kathleen speaks:
“One of the first commitments we made when we joined the Communion was to a daily contemplative practice of our own choosing.
A practice can sometimes become routine, even stale and lifeless. Yet it is an important daily time of clearing space,
allowing us to focus, to prepare our hearts to be “a cup to catch the sacred rain" as poet Christin Lore Webber describes it.
“Tonight Jean Houston will lead us in a contemplative practice of finding a lake of light within us.”
We turn to look at Jean, who, seated within our circle, begins to speak:
Please begin by breathing slowly and deeply; slowly and deeply;
slowly and deeply. Continue doing so…
In the quiet of the breath, I invite you now to begin to imagine that within the center of your mind
there is a quiet, calm lake, and it is a lake of light—serene, peaceful, placid, in the center of your consciousness.
This quiet lake of light . . .
… and as you breathe in, the light grows. And as you breathe out, it contracts.
But now you find that you’re able to be with the light in a playful way so that as you breathe in, the light expands, it grows brighter. As you breathe out, it moves through your entire mind-brain system and illumines that mind-brain system--that whole beingness. So, inhale and the light becomes more intense, expands, becomes brighter; exhale, it is dispersed to all parts of you, all parts—atoms, molecules, cells, neurons, the structures of your brain, mind, even now the whole body, the brain that hangs down through every part of the body, receiving that light.
Inhale, the pool becomes intense, expansive. Exhale, the light particles, the photons, move out throughout your brain and body, filling your heart. Inhale, it becomes brighter, more expansive, richer, lovelier.
It is a loving light filling your heart. Exhale, these particles, these parts of loving, living light,
move through your whole body, your entire being.
You find yourself in a vast sea of light. You are there in the fathomless depths of that oneness which is light. And the light that is embedded in you burns deeper and brighter because you are in that field of light. You are in the field—the quantum field—that banishes all the negative, all the old things that you no longer need.
You are also in that quantum field where all new possibilities exist.
And from this moment forth, if you choose, it is never, ever going away. If you choose, you will always have access to your beingness of light. And it may even be that an emotion so sweet, so lovely, so beautiful—pure love and compassion or just sure delight of beingness—fills you now.
You are also the light that moves the sun and all the stars. And, being filled with light, you can say in your heart’s mind, in your mind’s heart, “I am a being of light. I love the light. I serve the light. I am illumined, sustained, supported by the light, and I support and sustain the light.
"The light, which is also love, and I, are of the same essence.”
And it seems to you that within this great sea of light, which is you, which is the quantum field of all possibilities, which is the light, which is love, this essential nature dwells in you, calm, serene, centered, illumined, sustained and sustaining the universe, always there—although it may be that before this moment you never knew it was there, sitting perhaps like a Buddha in the center of your very being. Full of light and yet no one thing
and now discovering in the light the pattern of your own possibilities emerging from the light.
You may see or feel what is emerging of these possibilities, these new ways of being, but also placing there some intention you have for your life; some dream or desire, placing it in this field in which your dream,
your desire, your intention, is taken up in the interdependent co-arising so that your intention is made clearer.
It may grow or change as you feel and observe it in this vast sea of creative, fertile light.
Observe it now as it begins to take on the qualities, the very form that you intend. It is partnership in creation—
your desire, your intention, and the cosmic response. Watch now. Feel now as it grows in clarity,
in manifestation, as it is remade, improved, deepened in the quantum field of all-becoming.
And do that now. I will be quiet for a few moments as you do that now.
But always remember that you are made of light. You are of the same essence as the quantum field of light,
wherein all thoughts, all dreams, become reality.
On each of the days to come, practise being the light as a joyous experience that you look forward to engaging in. You’ll begin to find yourself filled with luminous joy, and you will also discover how radiant will become your intentions as they move to manifestation.
Following these words, Jean remains within our circle, and for a further time of quiet, we continue the meditation.
Now weaving through the stillness, there is a steadily growing drumbeat, joined by the high songbird-like notes of a flute.
One by one, we rise, seek a clear space somewhere in the tent. Joy is rising within and around us.
Sitting still is no longer an option! We dance.
(mp3 attached to email) "Dance with Me" by Carmel Boyle
I waited in the shadow of the light
Looking down the corridor of life
Afraid to place my feet upon the floor
Yet knowing love was just beyond the door
I closed my eyes
Invited love to touch my very core (x2)
And then a vision came before me
And the angel said “Come”
I lifted my eyes
The angel said “Flow”
I just let my heart go
The angel said, “Dance with me”
My spirit seemed light and free
Lost to music from above
We danced our way to love
Staying with the memory of the dance
Still brings a glimpse, that sacred glance
Knowing now the door is open wide
The gift of love is growing deep inside
I closed my eyes
Inviting love to touch my very core (x2)
And now a vision comes before me
And the angel said “Come”
I lift up my eyes
The angel said “Flow”
I just let my heart go
The angel said “Dance with me”
My spirit seemed light and free
Lost to music from above
We danced our way to love (repeat)
Gathering Space for February 23, 2021
Since Brigid’s Day, we feel the breath of life in the mouth of dead winter. The evening sky holds light longer,
the morning dawn comes sooner. Yet it is fully dark as we make our way just before eight o’clock
towards the Gathering Tent in the garden of Iona’s Ruined Nunnery.
Inside, the light of tall candles, placed around the outer edges of the room, softens the gloom.
At the centre of the open space the firepot burns, within a circle of large soft cushions.
Taking time first to greet our companions, we make our way into the circle, each choosing a cushion whose pattern
or colour or fabric draws us. Once everyone is seated, silence rises, bathing each of us in its calm, in quiet.
At our own pace, each in our own rhythm, we begin to breathe deeply.
Colleen stands to lead our ritual:: "This evening our Reflections are about longing. Here is a 17th c. Welsh poem
about the Human desire that haunts our lives:
What is longing made from?
What cloth is put into it
That it does not wear out with use?
Gold wears out, and silver wears out
Yet longing does not wear out.
The moon rises and the sun rises,
The sea rises in vast waves,
But longing never rises from the heart.
We take time to let the words and images of the poem echo and re-echo within us.
Colleen continues: " Let's ask ourselves: What is the deepest longing of my soul?
"Think of the Medieval Beguines and their twofold longing: for the Beloved of the Soul and for ways to be a sign of love
to the people around them. These same desires are so beautifully echoed in our own Communion of Creative Fire.
"A famous Beguine, Mechtild of Magdeburg, wrote The Flowing Light of the Godhead , an account of her mystical experiences.
"Mechtild’s prayer-poems written in the style of the courtly love poetry of the troubadours are expressions of longing:
Lord, you are my lover,
My flowing stream,
And I am your reflection.
"Mechtild’s writings are in the form of dialogues where the soul (herself) speaks with God and hears a response.
"In this exchange we hear both the longing and its source:
Love me intensely,
Love me often and long!
For the more often you love me, the purer I become.
The more intensely you love me, the more beautiful I become.
The longer you love me, the holier I become.
And God responds:
It is my nature that makes me love you often,
For I am love itself.
It is my longing that makes me love you intensely,
For I yearn to be loved from the heart.
It is my eternity that makes me love you long,
For I have no end.
"This evening, Noreen will read to us an expression of her own deep longing: "
Noreen Muldoon, CSJ, North Bay
Within our darkest night
You kindle a fire
That never dies away…
You kindle the fire…
“There is a deep, powerful, and attractive energy that pervades all of life, matter, space and time.," Noreen begins.
"There is also a fire that never dies and this fire comes always bearing gifts.
“My inner work is to savour and to discern where this fire is leading and what gifts are being offered.
Teilhard's " Diaphany of the Divine" artwork by Sister Marie Celine, CSJ, London ON
"This allurement shapes me by the daily beauty which calls and beckons me onward.
"Frequently, I give abundant thanks to be in the company of other like-minded seekers who recognize
the need for support and enlightenment as well as their own inner longing.
“I have received much help in the form of intellectual insight, clarity, prayer, and encouragement from the various
reflections and readings. I go with joy daily to join my companions on the holy grounds and chapel at Iona. Together we pray,
as many have done before us, for our world, for our planet’s healing, and for our own ever-unfolding sacred narrative.
"We feel the grace, or dream which fashions us.
“I walk in gratitude for the gift of being a member of the Creative Fire Communion. My prayers, reflections and ministry
have been enriched and enlightened. I feel deeply the desire to be the cup that holds the rain, or the bowl,
which Christin Lore Weber speaks about in her beautiful poem. I desire to look at the universe with the eyes of a lover,
and to be alive with the Holy Presence at the heart of all that is. Someday I hope to echo Rumi’s wonder-filled exclamation:
“Is the one I love everywhere?” I long to put my heart at the service of love. This is the call of the universe and my personal call.
"Belonging to the Communion has supported and assisted my desires.
“May the Holy Fire, creating anew, find me open, present, faithful and engaged in this sacred calling as a member
of the Creative Fire Communion. Thank you to each of you who have assisted me to feel my life with wholeness and for deepening my love and reverence for the universe’s story, the planet’s well-being, and my growth in evolutionary consciousness.
May we always see anew and with gratitude the landscape of our life.”
We thank Noreen for her words that so aptly express and reveal the fire of her heart and soul.
Noreen’s openness inspires others among us to speak of the longings of our heart. After a time of listening and speaking
we sit in stillness, allowing the Love we each long for to rise within and around us.
Our mysterious flute player begins a melody of such joy and beauty that without a word being said we stand
and begin to spin and spiral until the Gathering Tent resembles a galaxy of whirling planets.
At last we collapse laughing on our silk cushions.
“Doesn’t Hafiz have a poem about dancing?” someone asks.
“Yes, Carol answers. “I know some of it by heart.”
O keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From your prayers and work and music
And from your companions' beautiful laughter
And from the most insignificant movements
Of your own holy body.
Now, sweet one,
Cast all your votes for Dancing!
Gathering Space for February 16, 2021
We approach the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona, relieved that the rain is holding off. The young moon, slim as an eyelash,
does her best to offer light to the snowdrops and crocuses. A salt-drenched wind off the North Atlantic speeds us on our way to the
Gathering Tent. Once inside, we seek out our favourite large silk embroidered cushions and begin to form a circle around the fire pot.
Earlier today, we each received an email, unsigned, with this intriguing message:
Poetry Reading in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery
Brigid is known as the Patron of poets. The ancient poets of Ireland were tasked with calling the community to integrity. Tonight in our Gathering Space, I invite you to read a poem from any poet, of this time or the past, whose words touch you and call our Communion to integrity. Write you own poem if you feel inspired, as they did, spontaneously, out of your own deep knowing. Here is mine:
spun like spider’s web
from inner longings.
It stretches out among us,
criss-crossing in elaborate elegance
creating a fragile place to hold our dreams…
Somewhere a Holy One might rest.
In the centre of our circle, where the fire pot waits patiently for its lighting, a large open basket holds sheets of vellum, inscribed with what look like poems. A sign above the basket reads: “Take one if you haven’t brought one.”
The basket is soon empty. While Heather lights the fire pot, we each silently read what we have randomly chosen. Now the poetry readings are about to start….
Colette begins: “This poem is by Rainer Maria Rilke, written to a God of future times. It is mysterious, yet strangely comforting. “
The God That is Coming
You too will find your strength.
We who must live in this time
cannot imagine how strong you will become –
how strange, how surprising,
yet familiar as yesterday.
We will sense you
like a fragrance from a nearby garden
and watch you move through our days
like a shaft of sunlight in a sickroom.
We are cradled close in your hands –
and lavishly flung forth.
Carol speaks: ”The poem I chose is from the Terma Collective. It challenges us to choose what matters most: “
What in your life is calling to you?
When all the meetings are adjourned
and the lists laid aside
and the wild iris blooms by itself in the dark forest.
What still pulls at your soul?
Mary-Ellen reads next: “In this poem the Sufi Hafiz invites us into wildness:”
Leave the familiar for awhile
Let your senses and bodies stretch out
Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadows and shores and hills.
Open up to the Roof
Make a new watermark on your excitement
Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
Upon our intimate assembly.
Change rooms in your mind for a day.
All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire
While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of
Patty speaks of her choice: “This poem by Mary Oliver reminds us that we are part of one another and our lives are interwoven with all that lives.“
Poem of the One World
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water
and then into the sky of this
the one world
we all belong to
sooner or later
is a part of everything else
which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself.
Yvette speaks: “This poem by Denise Levertov speaks to me about trusting what we hear in the dark
so that we might share it with others in the light.”
Writing in the Dark
It’s not difficult.
Anyway, it’s necessary.
Wait till morning, and you’ll forget.
And who knows if morning will come.
Fumble for the light, and you’ll be
stark awake, but the vision
will be fading, slipping
out of reach.
You must have paper at hand,
a felt-tip-pen—ballpoints don’t always flow,
pencil points tend to break. There’s nothing
shameful in that much prudence: those are your tools.
Never mind about crossing your t’s, dotting your i’s—
but take care not to cover
one word with the next. Practice will reveal
how one hand instinctively comes to the aid of the other
to keep each line
clear of the next.
Keep writing in the dark:
a record of the night, or
words that pulled you from the depths of unknowing,
words that flew through your mind, strange birds
crying their urgency with human voices.
as flowers of a tree that blooms
only once in a lifetime:
words that may have the power
to make the sun rise again.
Ellyn holds up her page to us: This poem by John O’Donohue is called “For a New Beginning”.
It speaks to me of the newness that we in the Communion seek:
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
We sense that we are filled to the brim with poetic thoughts. We will need to spend time with them on our own in our Sacred Hour.
For now, we need to stand, to move, to dance. Colleen has her ipad and finds us a song from Ireland: “I Hope You Dance”.
Soon our poetry reading has become a celebration of music and movement. Here are the lyrics:
I Hope You Dance
(Mark D. Sanders/Tia Sillers)
I hope you never lose your sense of wonder.
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed.
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance I hope you dance
Gathering Space for February 9, 2021
A sudden brisk wind off the North Atlantic sends the clouds scurrying. The sky is a black velvet cloak adorned with shimmering stars, and the steady glow of planets. These light our way towards the opening flap of our Gathering Tent.
Inside, our companions have already taken their places on the large colourfully patterned cushions. No one seems to notice us as we choose the last four, joining the circle. An explosion of laughter erupts. Seeking its source we follow the gaze of our friends, who are looking towards someone in the circle. It is Jean Houston.
Ahh, so that is the source of the laughter. Jean must have just told one of her favourite jokes. Jean looks up to greet us, responding to the question she sees on our faces. “The one about ET in Australia. You’ve heard it before.”
As the laughter subsides, Anne Kathleen walks to the centre of our circle to light the fire pot: “As you see, and have heard, we are blessed to have Jean Houston with us this evening. As you know, Jean is the one who imagined the Communion, inviting me to begin it.
"On February 11th, eight years ago, the responses arrived to the invitation I sent on Brigid’s Feast Day in 2013. Some of you here tonight were among the “first responders”: Jean herself was the very first, followed by Suzanne, Ellyn, Yvette, Mary-Ellen, Colette, Kate, Colleen, Adriana and Mary Teske. Others have come in the years since, some staying with us, as many here tonight have done.
“Last year, on Brigid’s Feast Day, while I was attending Jean’s Salon at EarthRise, at the Institute for Noetic Sciences in Petaluma California, Jean offered me her wisdom, her guidance, regarding our Communion. Jean suggested I write to you about our conversation. Instead, I've asked Jean to come here to Iona to speak with you tonight in person.
“Jean, will you speak to us now?”
Jean: You, we, are here tonight in response to a call. You may not at first have fully understood what you were saying, “yes” to when you responded, but you said it and the universe heard you.
I do not need to tell you how the planet has darkened in these eight years. We have lived through the good times. The great times are now upon us. I do not say this to burden you, to bring sadness or despair. For this is not a time for either. This is our time, and we have and shall be given all we need to live it magnificently.
I used to ask those who came to my Mystery School, “Why are you alive at this time in history? Did you put up your hand to go the bathroom when the 21st century was asking for volunteers?” Yet never doubt that you will be able to meet these challenges. And know too that you will, at times, be surprised by joy as we live into this new mystery.
Predictions are dire: unless the climate crisis on our planet is addressed and abated, there may be only some 150 million humans still alive by the end of this century.
Now I see you all looking at me like basset hounds so I want to offer you a poem of great hope written by Christopher Fry who lived into the early years of the twenty-first century:
A SLEEP OF PRISONERS
The human heart can go the lengths of God…
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul men ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
The enterprise is exploration into God.
Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake…
But will you wake, for pity’s sake?
The enterprise is exploration into God. This, dear friends, members of the Communion of Creative Fire, is your entrance cue. You have been engaged in this exploration, some among you for several years, and have listened and shared with one another what you have discovered.
What I ask of you now is that you make a deeper commitment to this work, what I now call Spiritual Artistry, not just for yourselves, not just for the members of the Communion, not just for those whom you love, but for the entire planet. Do not doubt that your strengthening spirit, your fiery intention, will have, does have, powerful effects on the entire ecosystem. Remember that we do not simply live in the Universe. The Universe lives in us.
I wrote the first Reflection for the Communion in 2013. I called it, “Communing with the Creative Fire of the Universe”.
Begin this new cycle of seven years in hope, with confidence. Live your commitment with a creative fire that moves you from walking to dancing, from speaking to singing, from smiling to laughing. Let the joy of what you have created among you rise in you to illumine your days with its growing radiance. I shall expect to look out of my window on the hillside in Ashland to see your light lifting from the horizon.
Feel the wonder and enchantment of what you are creating together in four countries on three continents! You are what is needed now. You have a place among the myriad enterprises arising around the planet. You are part of what I have seen in my travels, the Rising of Feminine Power, the crucial need for women’s gifts and perceptions if there is to be hope for the planet.
The Communion will last. I am certain of this. Rejoice that you have been called, that you have answered, and let your creative fire ignite the planet.
Dante wrote of “L’amor che muove il sole e l’altre stele” (“The Love that moves the sun and all the other stars.”)
I offer you a blessing written by the poet Rilke, speaking on behalf of Love:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose Me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give Me your hand.
In the stillness that follows upon Jean’s words, the music of a flute rises. Slow, almost uncertain notes soon become sure, as a melody entices us to dance. Dancing seems the only way to respond to the gift of Jean’s words, her contagious courage and joy.
Gathering Space for January 26, 2021
It is late January, almost the eve of Brigid’s Day, as we cross the frozen grass, passing beyond the snow-covered ruins of the nunnery on Iona. Though we look with longing at our Gathering Tent, already imagining the warmth inside, we have a ritual to perform first.
The evening is cold but comfortably above freezing at 7 degrees Celsius, 44 degrees Fahrenheit. Passing clouds allow Mother Moon, just two days before her fullness, to play hide and seek with us.
Each of us has brought a brightly-coloured shawl, or scarf or ribbon or cloth. Each of us is seeking just the right place to leave our treasure so that the dew of Brigid’s dawn may bless it. Some dry rosebushes are a possibility if we take care to avoid the thorns. There are places along the low ruined walls for some of our cloths. Just beyond the ruins, a few small trees hold out their arms invitingly.
Once all of our cloths have been carefully placed, we draw our coats, jackets, cloaks or wool shawls more tightly around our shoulders, aware that soon, on the Feast of Imbolc, Brigid will "breathe life into the mouth of dead winter".
Once inside our Gathering Tent, its inner walls hung with medieval tapestries that proclaim spring in flowers, birds, trees in full blossom, all woven in exuberant coloured threads. We begin to feel the warmth spreading from a hundred lighted candles, and something of spring awakens in our winter hearts.
Tonight we have come ready to celebrate a ritual to mark the beginning of a new year for our Communion of Creative Fire. Those who have brought the elements of ritual have placed bowls of bread, honey and milk on white cloths that cover long tables on the left side of the tent.
We begin gathering in the large circle, each of us choosing one of the silk cushions placed around the fire pot. On each cushion we see pages with brightly coloured images.
One we recognize as our re-commitment form from recent years, the one with the image of women walking in a forest with birds in flight. But who has brought these other radiant images? Even as we wonder, we notice Corinne moving to light the fire pot, and Yvette coming to stand beside her.
Corinne holds an enlarged version of the second image:
Corinne speaks: “ As I was thinking of our communion, and of the commitment each of us will renew on Brigid’s Day, I chose this picture. The circle holds each of us: individuals, and yet one within the encircling light. We are like the jewels at each crossing of Indra's net: when one of us sings, the whole net vibrates. Our Communion holds the secret to colouring our life: a pinch of creativity, lots of laughter, a smiling dance with beautiful Souls. “ We gaze in wonder and joy at the image Corinne has created for us.
Yvette speaks:” I too have an image that speaks of our Communion and it led me to rewrite the words of our Commitment in a fresh way that echoes my experience and desires.”
Now we turn our attention to the page with Yvette's image and words:
In this image I see a many-colored cloak spreading through our Communion in the same way that Brigid spread a cloak across her land. Belonging to the Communion of Creative Fire broadens and deepens my spiritual horizons. The weekly reflections and online sharing support my desire to be in touch with my heart’s longings. My sisters in this Communion encourage and support a creative, alive, feminine spirituality needed for our times. I know evermore the treasure of walking the path of our Communion of Creative Fire.
To continue this journey with other women, I commit to:
*Live Openness to Sacred Mystery through a daily rhythm of contemplative practice including one hour each week devoted to reflection and prayer based on the kreativefire website Reflections and Gathering Space postings.
*Share insights and understanding through group emails and on our private facebook page that favor not only my self-articulation of spiritual meaning, but also affirm and encourage the inspirations, desires, and lived experiences of group members.
*Take Creative Fire into my daily life, ministry, and relationships by mirroring the joy, courage, and compassion
I receive through the Communion.
Signed __________________________________ Date _____________________
We take time to enter the beauty of this image Yvette has brought to us and to reflect on the wording of the commitment.
If this resonates with us, we have a choice to sign this form or the earlier one with the image of the women walking in the forest.
We make our choice, silently reading and signing our commitment, then placing our form in the basket beside the fire pot.
After Yvette and Corinne have signed their commitments and placed them in the basket, they move to the far right side of the tent to prepare for their role in a Ritual. Each holds one end of a braided loop, long enough to serve as a loose belt.
Corinne speaks: “This is called the Crios of Brigid. This evening it will be used in our ritual of Imbolc. Yvette and I will hold the braided crios high enough for each of you in turn to walk through it.
"As you have completed your own recommitment, move towards us in a line and prepare to enter the crios.
"Each of you will enter the crios three times.
"The first entry is a time to choose to let go of something in our life that no longer serves us and our commitment to the communion.
"A second time we walk through the crios thinking of what we are grateful for.
“On the third and final entry, we think of what we must now do in our lives: what call do we hear?
“When all but we two holding the Crios have passed through, two more women will hold it for Yvette and I to make our three crossings.
“Suzanne and Mary Teske will begin the threefold crossing, as they have another role in the ritual.
"As each woman completes her third crossing, she is invited to move towards the table at the back where bowls of milk,
honey and bread havebeen placed. There is a soft cushion where she is invited to kneel,
then raise her hands to receive the water being poured over them by Suzanne. Mary will offer her a towel.
"Then the woman will rise, walk to the table where she chooses a piece of bread from the bowl,
dips it into a second bowl of honey and into a bowl of milk. Then she consumes it, as a way of communing
with her companions on this sacred night when our commitments to the Communion have been received.”
As Yvette and Corinne stand in place, holding the crios, the ritual begins. Softly, as each woman makes her threefold crossing,
the others sing Starhawk’s song:
We will never, never lose our way
to the well of her memory
and the power of her living flame
it will rise, it will rise again.
After we have all completed the ritual, there is a flurry of preparations for the celebratory feast that follows.
Gathering Space January 19, 2021
The Communion Birthed and Growing
The moon above the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona is in her first quarter, swelling towards her fullness nine days from now. Her light reaches us from between the low clouds as we walk towards our Gathering Tent. The air is above freezing at 37 degrees Fahrenheit, 3 degrees Celsius.
We walk quickly, eager to see our companions, to exchange news and stories of the different ways each has found to live with the daily anxiety of the second wave of COVID. Our companions from the US have had a heart - wrenching experience of violence in their capitol in the days leading up to the inauguration of their new president and vice-president. Both those courageous and grounded humans were helping out at a food kitchen in recent days, a silent testimony to their determination to act out of love, not fear.
Ellyn steps forward to light the fire pot, and speak to us.
“We are just two weeks away from Brigid’s Feast Day, February 1st, the time when we are invited to renew, or to make for the first time, our commitment to the Communion of Creative Fire. Anne Kathleen wished to tell us once more the story of our Communion's beginnings and growth and to offer us some guidelines and suggestions for our preparation for the Commitment. There will be a ZOOM call on Monday February 1st so that those of who are ZOOMBIES may celebrate a Ritual of Commitment or Re-Commitment together.
"As her whole Province of Ontario is now under strict lockdown, Anne Kathleen could not join us here on Iona tonight. Instead she sent us a recorded message. It arrived as an MP3 on our computers or i-phones, as an attachment to our weekly Communion email.
“I invite us all to get comfortable on our cushions and I’ll play the recording from my I-pad.”
Recording: “The Communion Birthed and Growing”
After the recording there is a great deal of discussion and chatter until Elspeth arrives with Bridie bringing fresh scones, coffee and tea. After that, Ellyn’s I-pad bursts forth with the soundtrack from the WIZARD of OZ. Soon we are laughing and dancing to the “Yellow Brick Road”.
Gathering Space for January 12, 2021
It is the dark of the moon on this January night. The stars have their time of glory in the skies above Iona as we walk towards our Gathering Tent in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery.
The air is just a few degrees above freezing so we are eager to be inside the shelter.
Besides, Elspeth has promised to return with another story….
Some of our companions must have come early. The interior of the tent is alive with candle light. We each choose one of our favourites from among the forty large silk-covered cushions arranged in a circle around the fire pot. Elspeth is already seated, engaged in what sounds like a lively conversation with the women sitting near her.
"But the Cailleach is honoured among the Celts for her wisdom and her no-nonsense approach to life," Elspeth is saying, responding to an earlier statement.
"Wise maybe, but old and ugly! Who would want to live so long?" The speaker is one of our younger members, and she has supporters among much older women.
"I agree with you," says another. "If I could choose, I would prefer youth and beauty to all the wisdom in the world."
At this Elspeth laughs merrily. "Of course you would. Perhaps the wisest cailleach would prefer that as well, but life does not offer us such clear choices. We shall all grow old but growing wise is not assured… it takes determination, dedication and sometimes a long journey.
"If everyone is comfortably seated, shall we light the fire pot and begin? I have a story for you tonight about a woman younger than most of you who longed to become wise."
Elspeth begins her story and stillness holds us all. We are enchanted.
There was once a woman who was successful in all things. She had a kind partner, a loving family, and a craft for which she was justly famous. But still she was not happy.
“I want to know the Truth,” she said to her partner.
“Then you should seek her,” he replied.
So the woman put her house and all her worldly goods in her partner’s name (she being adamant on that point) and went out on the road, a beggar after Truth.
She searched up the hills and down in the valleys for Truth. She went into small villages and large towns; into the forests and along the coasts of the great wide sea; into dark, grim wastes and lush meadows woven with flowers. She looked for days and for weeks and for months.
And then one day, atop a high mountain, in a small cave, she found her.
Truth was a wizened old woman with but a single tooth left in her head. Her hair was entangled in a crown of branches. The skin on her face was the brown of old parchment and as dry, stretched over prominent bones. But when she signaled to the younger woman with a hand crabbed with age, her voice was low and lyrical and pure and it was then that the young woman knew she had found Truth.
She stayed a year and a day with the older woman and she learned all that Truth had to teach. And when the year and the day was up, the younger woman stood at the mouth of the cave ready to leave for home.
“My Lady Truth,” she said, “you have taught me so much and I would do something for you before I leave. Is there anything you wish?”
Truth put her head to one side and considered. Then she raised an ancient finger. “When you speak of me,” she said, “tell them I am young and beautiful.”
When the story ends, we sit in silence, each one of us pondering its meaning for our lives.
After a time, Elspeth asks, "Would someone like to comment on this story?"
The young woman who had argued for the value of beauty and youth over wisdom speaks:
"As I thought about this story, it came to me that if the woman who is Truth had spent her days with proper skin creams and hair moisturizers, with exercise to enhance her body and every treatment to preserve her youth, she would still one day inevitably grow old, and no one would have travelled for weeks and months to seek her. Yet, because she grew into Truth and Wisdom, she had a gift to offer to others."
Another woman speaks: "I notice that even though she had become Truth and was sought out by others for her wisdom, the old woman still longed to be young and beautiful. So I guess it's not the longing which is an obstacle to wisdom, but rather where we put our energy."
Elspeth speaks: "Let the story settle in your hearts over the next few days. See if it has other insights and gifts for you. Now, let’s celebrate the young new year with cranberry punch and some of my own Christmas baking.”
Gathering Space for Epiphany, January 5, 2021
This January night on Iona in the North Atlantic is crisply cold, barely above freezing. The moon in her last quarter has parted the clouds as she would pull aside curtains, offering us her light as we come to the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery. Tonight we will celebrate Epiphany together, so some of us are carrying trays of Christmas baking, thermoses of hot cranberry punch, and small wrapped gifts that are meant to be symbols of light. The tent flap is held wide, making room for us and our many bundles to enter.
Once inside, we find places for the food, beverages and gifts on a long covered table on the far side of the tent. When we come to take our places in the circle, we see that the planning committee has already placed beautifully illustrated booklets on each cushion. We gaze at the artwork that adorns the cover page, and at the title below:
By Way of the Heart
We look around our gathered circle of beloved friends, emitting tiny pops of surprise as one by one we notice a woman seated among us whom we have not met. Mary Ellen stands to introduce our guest: "Tonight we are blessed with the presence of someone who has come to Iona, to our Gathering Tent, for the first time. Yet this woman is not a stranger to us, for her poetry has been inspiring our hearts and nourishing our souls for years. Our guest, who is a poet, artist, and spiritual writer, has been offering a yearly Retreat for Women's Christmas. Tonight she brings us selections from her 2019 Collection. Let us welcome our guest: Jan Richardson."
Jan begins to speak: "There is a custom, rooted in Ireland, of celebrating Epiphany, January 6, which brings the Christmas season to a close, as Women’s Christmas. Called Nollaig na mBan in Irish, Women’s Christmas originated as a day when the women, who often carried the domestic responsibilities all year, took Epiphany as an occasion to celebrate together at the end of the holidays, leaving hearth and home to the men for a few hours. Celebrated particularly in County Cork and County Kerry, the tradition is enjoying a revival... As the Christmas season ends, this is an occasion both to celebrate with friends and also to spend time in reflection before diving into the responsibilities of this new year.
"I am happy to be here with you women, friends drawn together in Communion around the Creative Fire of your lives, to offer you this time to rest, to reflect, and to contemplate where you are in your unfolding path. Mindful of those who traveled to welcome the Christ child and who returned home by another way, we will turn our attention toward questions about our own journey.
"To begin our time together, I offer you a Blessing poem which I call Constellation:
A Blessing for Women’s Christmas
Consider that the heart
holds its own constellation.
Consider that it has
a secret chamber
radiant with unspent light.
Consider this when you cannot find
that one star, that dream
that compels you to the road.
When every last thing seems
to have disappeared into dark,
consider that you cannot always know
how you bear this brightness
but that it holds you
and is not wasted
See how we share this sky,
how it stretches above us
beyond every border,
how every day
turns each of us
in steady revolution
through morning, night,
Or think of it like this:
that every heart is its own voyage,
sending its vessels out,
drawing them back again,
never by the same way they went
but still somehow making for
home, that place
that shimmers now in welcome
with all the gathered light
you had thought
you could not see.
There is a sacred silence as we ponder Jan's words. Then Jan invites us to read the four stanzas aloud, as a choir , with first the left side of our circle reading a verse, then the right, as was the way with the ancient nuns who once lived here on Iona.
Following this reading in choir, Jan invites:
"Consider what helps you put the pieces of your life together: the experiences you carry, the scraps of your story, the fragments that seem jagged and painful as well as those that you think of as beautiful. What response—in words, in images, in prayer, in movement, in stillness, in conversation, in solitude—helps you recognize and honor the pieces and put them together in a new way, making your path as you go?
"I bring you tonight a story of a woman who is well known to you through her writings, a woman who had the courage to tell us what she learned of Divine Love on her own life-path.
"On a day more than six hundred years ago, in the English town of Norwich, a woman walked into a cell attached to the parish church. She intended to remain there for the rest of her life. Her original name is unknown, and the cell where she would live as an anchoress—a woman devoted to a life of contemplation and solitude—no longer remains. It is likely that she took her name from the church in whose cell she lived: the Church of St. Julian.
"Nearly everything we know about Julian of Norwich comes from a manuscript she composed in her cell. In it she tells of how, at the age of thirty and a half, she became desperately ill. Just when she seemed at the point of death, her pain suddenly departed. As Julian continued to pray, she received a series of sixteen visions, which she called showings. These visions primarily are of Christ on the cross, who reveals the face of joy and love to her.
"Julian recorded her visions in a short text. Nearly two decades later, she wrote a longer text that incorporates the insights she gained through years of reflecting on and praying with the visions. Together Julian’s texts became the book known as Showings, or Revelations of Divine Love.
"In the final chapter of Showings, as she comes to the end of the remarkable work in which she reveals to us a God of endless mystery who knows and loves us in all our human particularity, Julian writes,
And from the time that it was revealed, I desired to know in what was our Lord’s meaning. And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning.
Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love.
Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never know different, without end.
Once more Jan invites us into silence to receive these words. Then she asks this:
As you stretch yourself into loving others, what becomes revealed to you—of them, of yourself, of God?
How has love challenged or changed what you know?
How are you opening yourself to its presence in your life?
After we have time to consider these questions, Jan says,
"I have one more poem to offer you before we begin our celebratory feast together:
Beloved Is Where We Begin
If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.
Do not leave
who you are:
named by the one
who has traveled this path
Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.
I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from danger, from fear,
from hunger or thirst,
from the scorching of sun
or the fall of the night.
But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.
I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.
I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
whisper our name:
The singing bowl tells us our reflection time is over, and yet for some minutes all is stillness as we breathe in what we have heard, felt, seen and understood.
Now it is time to celebrate with food and drink and gifts. We express our deep gratitude to Jan whose life is offered to others as a pathway to their own wisdom, as they recognize and learn to follow their own star.