At Cnoc nan Angeal Or Sitheon Mor: Lift Your Heart Into The Wind

20180219 AT CNOC NANA ANGEAL OR SITHEON MOR FOUR MONTHS ONIt is difficult to believe that it was four months ago that I was on the Isle of Iona, the Isle of Druids, an island frequented by Columcille, also known as St Columba, over a millennia and a half ago.

With a longing to go back there, I set foot on Iona after a long gap of many years, and it felt like a home-coming. The desire to go there, was not a superficial visit to mark it as one more item ticked off my ‘bucket list’, but I believe the response to a deeply-ingrained inner longing etched onto the fabric of my soul. Have you been so called?

And on, or about this day four months ago I was walking around a grassy mound near Iona’s south-westerly beach.

This mound probably some fifty feet across and thirty feet high, is easy to overlook. And yet, it is so significant. It is known as Cnoc nan Angeal or The Hill of Angels, and to some it is also known as Sitheon Mor or the Hill of the Fae (the Fairy Hill).

However we view it, whatever we call it, it is a place of deep connection, another ‘thin place’ on an island that is itself a ‘thin place’.

I walked around the base of this mound, for no other reason than to ensure that, having entered the paddock by climbing a small fence, that I wasn’t sharing the field with a hefty Angus bull that might become angry at my intrusion. I was safe. There was no bull.  And knowing that, I climbed the small hill, paused and could then go ‘deep’ into matters spiritual and inhabit the place. What a privilege we all share.

‘…a ‘thin place’, the palpable presence of the Other in this place, time or event’

Columcille, it is said, often climbed this small hill to commune with angels. Others before him stood on that very hill-top, where my feet now pressed, and spoke with elementals, the fae and others. It is a place of energy and light, a place where the unexpected can occur, and if a place can exude peace and love, then Cnoc nan Angeal or Sitheon Mor can.

But, why was I standing there?

A Calling! A longing to do so, an echo from some distant land that I used to know, and to which I will return. We will return. Within each of us there is a longing etched into our very souls, woven into the very warp and weft of our being. A longing of self-discovery and transformation, a longing to know our true identity, a longing to ‘find’ our task in life, a deep longing to ‘be’.

‘We are homesick most for the places we have never known.’ Carson McCullers

This longing is there in all of us. Maybe it is buried under the weight of many years of material living and busyness. It’s time to revisit that longing. Such longing may be long-forgotten, bedazzled by the ‘bright lights’ of self-imposed habits that now seem to be ‘creaking’ or collapsing. The longing is still there. Can you hear longing, deep within you, calling out to you?

As I stood, four months ago, on that hill top where Columcille stood, I heard the wind and the birds, the nearby sea pound coastal rocks. I felt the wind, and rain and sea-spray, and then there was nothing. No-thing. And yet, everything! Without the need for dictionary or translator, as I stood there, windswept, alone (or was I?), and I was immersed in the song of the ages, and my soul sang back!

Perhaps, communing with angels or the fae or others, at that location (and indeed everywhere else), isn’t about hearing an audible voice or receiving a memorable instruction, but maybe it’s about being true to that calling, and true to ones innermost self?

‘You were created to be free; within you there is deep freedom.’ John O’Donohue

Four months ago I stood atop that hill, but not without some effort. Could it be that we need to ‘work’ at spirituality. Not in the sense of doing this or that to earn ‘points’, but in the sense of opening ourselves up to the moment, to surrender (and that’s not a word that many like), and to have a certain intentionality to enter into that moment. At other times it may take trauma or calamity to ‘open the eyes of our heart’. Other times, it may be purposely drawing aside. Then, we step out of our daily, materialistic, mechanical routine, and in doing so, we, at least for a while, enter into sacred time/space, and ‘be’, and encounter our longing, and recognise it as a dear friend.

‘Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.’

(David Whyte, The House of Belonging)

On that mound, I ‘returned’ to the beginning, and in the cold and the rain, the wind and salt-spray, the notion that I had been here (you have been ‘there’) all the time embraced me like a warm hug. It felt like a palpable hug. An angel? An elemental? A fae? I didn’t need to know. I didn’t want to know. To be there was sufficient. I can live contentedly with mystery knowing that, even if I am unaware, it is unfolding. That Which Is Larger Than Ourselves has our best interest at heart.

As I sit here typing now in hindsight of what happened all those months ago, and as you sit there reading this, are we all not ‘already there’? Isn’t longing knocking, still? And yet, there is ‘room’ to take hold of it, embrace it, dwell fully in the longing that longs to be known? Be aware.

‘Longing is a constant companion…It often comes in a dream. It may call from the trees outside. It often quickens at the hearth within our homes, and beckons us to come closer.’ Frank MacEowan

Oh, it was easy to scale that small hill, tick the box of ‘seen it, done it, and go onward….’, but isn’t there a wonderful need for all of us to pause and let the longing in us to be recognised, develop and come to fruition? Just ‘be.

Pause. Relax, and let that which is deep within ‘speak’ to you. The words may not be audible, and you may come in the form of a dream or an impression, a memory-flash, an indescribable yearning for that which is Other; and it may be immediate or it may ‘unpack’ itself over a number of days; or it may even be an inclination that becomes more noticeable over time as you look back.

‘If you think you’re hearing something
And you can’t think what it is
If you feel a quiet longing
Lift your heart into the wind.’

(Cyndi Lauper, Kindred Spirits)

 

Mysteriously It Flows: A River Poem In The Style Of A Cyrch A Cywta

20180215 MYSTERIOUSLY IT FLOWS

I love poetry, and as you may know those ancient Celts and Druids, and others had a respect, fascination and deep reverence for nature that is often missing today. Though there are many latter-day Celts and Druids and others, that are keeping this deep appreciation for nature alive, in a myriad of wonderful ways.

One such way to do this is though poetry.  And, yes, I’m back in London and only just 200 yards from the mighty River Thames, and so here is my poem of profound respect to that wonderful river, the life-blood of London, and its metaphoric relationship to us.

Mysteriously it flows,
through the great city it knows.
Freshwater to sea, it goes.
The river, meand’ring, prose,
resembles the soul, God knows.
Yet the soul often forgoes
the delight of just being
the light it overshadows.

Poems, depending on their rhyme etc are known by various names – who can forget the iambic pentameter? And the abovementioned style of poem, in Wales, is called a Cyrch a cywta (pronounced kirch-a-choo-tah).

Essentially, the Cyrch a cywta is a awesome poem consisting of a stanza of eight and with each containing seven-syllable in that line. The first six lines and the eighth sharing the same rhyme, and yes, you’ve noticed the seventh line (still with seven syllables) doesn’t have to rhyme like the others.

But, ofcourse, I can’t end this article here, and so would suggest two things: Firstly, to commend you to be aware of nature around you – even in the city – and to cherish it and give thanks for it in some way; and secondly, why not write you own Cyrch a cywta style of poem as an act of gratitude for something, or as a challenging exercise or just for fun (or for all three)? And, should you have a river nearby, you could even use this particular poem as part of your liturgy of thanks, occasionally.

 

Everything You Wanted To Know About (The) Gean Cánach

20180209 EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE GEAN CANACHI’m back in north Wales, and it’s twilight, that time of the day between daytime and night-time, a liminal time, a state when unusual things can happen and can be witnessed by those who are aware.

Sitting in the garden, mesmerised by the play of sunlight on distant mountains, watching them grow ever darker from the base upwards, as the light fades, it’s easy to enter that blissful, relaxing, ‘magical’ waking-dream state.

In the distance a combination of bird and other animal sounds can be heard, coupled with the sound of the babbling brook nearby, and the intermittent sound of the wind as it changes direction. It howls and almost sounds like music, and with crows cawwing it does seem like the occasional intelligible word can be heard as if spoken by someone unseen.

‘Beauty surrounds us, but usually we need to be walking in a garden to know it.’ Rumi

I’m sitting in the garden, and it’s now quite dark, the wind continues to gust from different directions, it’s getting colder and those music-like, word-like sounds, just below the intelligible level continue, too.

There is an ancient story (originally from Ireland and Scotland but one that has been taken to heart in this part of Wales) about the Gancanagh or Gean Cánach (an ancient Irish term pronounced gann kanna). As this music-like, word-like sound, carried on the wind, draws me into it, it does seem as though it might be the Gean Cánach.

There are two ways of perceiving the Gean Cánach.

To some the Gean Cánach is an elemental, one to wary of. As I sit here, the Gean Cánach, should one be close, is nothing to be feared, at least not by me. In ancient story the Gean Cánach is said to frequent mountains, hills lakes and lonely glens and use his wit, charm and ‘magic’ on women and rob them of their innocence. He was (or should it be, is) the original smooth-talker, and indeed Gean Cánach means ‘love-talker’. This elemental’s exploits have been written about over the centuries….but we move swiftly on. Ofcourse, some exaggeration may have crept into this myth over the years, and so do keep an open mind.

‘Hello, sun in my face. Hello you who made the morning and spread it over the fields…Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.’

Mary Oliver

As I sit here, in a dream-like, blissful state, I dwell on another use of the word Gean Cánach. Today, most of us would know what we mean if we described someone as genius. It is ofcourse a person who displays exceptional intellectual ability, or excellent creative productivity. That ofcourse is a modern, albeit ‘lighter’ understanding of the word. Go back several thousand years and to be a genius was to be ‘inhabited’ (in a nice way) by a guiding spirit or a (minor) deity who was sharing their knowledge, wisdom or creativity with that person. So, there are two ways of perceiving the word genius.

There is another way, perhaps more acceptable to some, and much more ‘usable’ of perceiving the Gean Cánach.

In this modern sense the Gean Cánach is ‘love-taking’, praise poetry (or other words) that we might use in gratitude of others, or indeed of nature, or life itself. This interpretation I like very much and it is usable on a daily basis, giving us the foundation of a good spiritual practice.

Frank MacEowan in his book ‘The Celtic Way Of Seeing’ writes about this. It is a deep and thoughtful process, a meditation practice of reciting simple ‘love-talking’ or gratitude poetry, and to make it so ‘real’ that we become part of it. We become the poem.

‘From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise’

Psalm 8.2a The Book

And, as I sit here, and it is darker, still, but I can just make out the mountains in the distance, trees nearby, the rustling of animals, birds in trees, and hear the wind howling and see low clouds moving rapidly across the sky overhead, I use that form of ‘love-talking’ or gratitude poetry, an example used in Frank MacEowan’s book (and formulated by Tom Cowan).

‘Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.’
Mary Oliver

You might like to use that kind of ‘love-talking’, praise poetry. It’s simple, profound, and is a spiritual exercise to increase our awareness of nature around us (and which can be used in urban as well as rural environments) and of giving thanks. You don’t have to be an accomplished poet. Just speak from the heart. There is no right or wrong way to do this (because you are speaking from the heart, and you are the poem, too). One formula is to recite:

Beautiful is…beautiful too,….

So, an example of this might be:

Beautiful is the howling wind; beautiful too, are the racing clouds
Beautiful is the babbling book; beautiful too, are the nearby foxes
Beautiful is the mighty oak tree; beautiful too, is the green, lush grass

And so the ‘love-talking’, praise poem goes on, sometimes for many minutes as you and I might add more lines to the proceeding one, using the formula above, in describing what we see around us and give thanks for it.

Beautiful is the city park; beautiful too, are the bright red buses
Beautiful are the trees in the street; beautiful too, are the pigeons and sparrows
Beautiful is the mall music; beautiful too, are the people shopping

I heartily recommend this form of spiritual poetry, this deep poetic meditation, your words (as you perceive more around you) of gratitude to Nature, Life, The Source Of All. It is another ‘tool’ in your spiritual toolkit. Do try it, and let me know how it goes for you.

It’s now late. The weather has turned and it’s beginning to rain. I do love the rain and love walking in it, or even sitting as it falls on me, but, maybe, not tonight.

Beautiful is the soft, refreshing rain; beautiful too, is the roaring hearth fire.

 

Full Moon, Spring And Ribin Bhride

20180129 FULL MOON SPRING AND RIBIN BHRIDE

‘Blue moon you saw me standing alone.’ (Billie Holiday)

It’s Spring…..well nearly.

I know different parts of (even) the northern hemisphere may experience Spring in a number of weeks rather than in the next few days – such is the UK’s mild climate compared to other places – but there’s things are never exact, and traditionally on the wheel of the year the season’s change is celebrated as Imbolc or Brigid’s Day. So, whatever the weather, it’s time to celebrate Spring (in the northern hemisphere).

What follows is in two parts. Firstly there’s some awesome information about the upcoming full Moon – a ‘triple whammy!’ and a first since 1866, and secondly, there’s some wonderful ideas and words to assist you to celebrate Spring, Imbolc, Candlemas or Brigid’s Day on the 1 or 2 February.

Ephemera: The Triple Lunar Experience

In the small hours of 31 January, the moon will do something that it hasn’t since 1866. It will be super Moon, a blue moon and lunar eclipse – and all three will coincide for a rare and spectacular astronomical feast. And what a way to celebrate Imbolc, Spring, and Brigid’s Day, albeit a couple of days early – but who’s counting.

moon 18341965_1686669498015885_2704673373144549450_nOn January 31 the Moon will be a super Moon – meaning that, because its orbit around the Earth is not completely circular, but an ellipse, this time around it will be slightly closer to the Earth. If visible from your location, the Moon will appear about 15% bigger (and because of illusion, it will appear bigger still, if it’s low on the horizon) and about 30% brighter. That’s a super Moon.

In addition, this full Moon will be the second one in January, and will therefore as it’s the second full Moon in a month, it’s known as a Blue Moon – but it won’t look blue.

And, if all that wasn’t enough this full Moon will experience a lunar eclipse: those in western US, Australia and much of Canada, Russia and Asia will be able to see a total eclipse, whilst a partial eclipse will be see by those across the eastern part of the US, India, eastern Europe and Scandinavia. The Moon may look red during the eclipse.

A ‘triple lunar experience’, lies in wait for you – a great treat, the likes of which has not been experienced since 1866. More details and timings about this wonderful event can be viewed here.

Celebration Time
Celebrate good times, come on! (Let’s celebrate)
Celebrate good times, come on! (Let’s celebrate)
It’s time to come together
It’s up to you, what’s your pleasure
Everyone around the world
Come on!

(Kool & The Gang)

Celebrating Spring, Imbolc, Candlemas & Brigid’s Day

So, having outlined one way to celebrate Imbolc, Spring, or Brigid’s Day in an earlier article (see here), below is a practical suggestion to do, and an outline liturgy that you might like to use in part in your celebration (ritual), and adapt as required.

ribbons img_7932-mediumRibín Bhríde: How about participating in Ribín Bhríde (the ribbons of Brigid)?
Brigid was/is renowned as a healer, and this can be used as an enacted prayer. If you need healing or know someone who does, then cut up brightly coloured material (about half inch wide and about six to eight inches long) and tie a few ribbons onto small branches in the evening whilst thinking of the person who needs healing. Left there, the ribbons will catch the morning dew, and can then be lovingly removed over the next day or two.

And/Or…

Because Spring is the season that celebrates the sun climbing higher into the sky, and winter receding, it’s fitting to celebrate with the use of light and candles (hence, Candlemas for some). And so, at various points when using the material, below, you might like to lights a candle at the beginning, during or end of the following (or several candles if you use several of the pieces below).

Blessed be you, Light of Life,
Source of the sacred flame within each of us,
light which the darkness cannot put out.
I rise up with you this day/I rest with you this night.

(The Celtic Wheel Of The Year, Tessa Ward)

And/or…

….because we’re moving into the season of Spring (and the symbol of that is wind or air, and the dominant direction is east) you might like to use:

Still the Breath Divine does move, and the breath Divine is Love.

(William Blake)

And/or…

The secret life of Me breathes in the wind
and holds all things together soulfully.

(Hildegard of Bingen)

And/or…

Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
which fans your face on a sultry day,
the air which you breathe deeply, rhythmically,
which impart to you energy. consciousness, life.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.

(Celtic prayer)

And/or…

The soul rides on the feathers of the wind.

(Meister Eckhart)

And/or…

Blessings of wind be upon me.
May my sails billow wide,
May I breathe deeply the gift of inspiration,
May I be carried to the place of my resurrection,
May I be fully free.

(Christine Valters Paintner)

And/or…

Turner of the seasons,
Energy of the first flaring forth,
Source of newness and creativity,
Hidden activity in the darkness,
Align us with your budding presence
In this season of Spring.

Heartbeat Of The Seasons: Earth Rituals For The Celtic Year by Kathleen Glennon

Blessings of this season to you and yours, Tadhg.

[Many thanks to Pennie Ley for the use of the moon photo. Coprighted]

20180129 FULL MOON SPRING AND RIBIN BHRIDE

Time To Celebrate Spring: Imbolc, Brigid’s Day, Candlemas

20180127 TIME TO CELEBRATE SPRING IMBOLC BRIGIDS DAY CANDLEMASYes, it’s that time again. The circle, the wheel of the Earth continues to turn, and nature’s cycle ushers us, once again, into spring. It’s time to celebrate. Here’s some ideas of how to celebrate the event with a meal, ritual and words (liturgy). Really celebrate!

Event: Imbolc (favoured pronunciation ‘ih-mulk’), Brigid’s Day, Candlemas
Date: 1 or 2 February
Thought: ‘It’s the start of spring. Let’s celebrate’
Incense: Rosemary, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cinnamon
Decorations: Corn Dolly, Spring Flowers, St Brigid’s Cross, Candles
Colours: White, Orange, Red

Imbolc was traditionally a time of weather divination, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came out from their winter dens may, it is said by some, be a forerunner of the North American idea of Groundhog Day.

For others, this time of the year is known as Brigid’s Day (a healer, whose example to us today is one of unbridled hospitability), or Candlemas, a time of rededication and purity, and the lighting of candles. Nevertheless, however you regard it, it is the first day of spring, and time to celebrate.

Meal
And because it’s a celebration, what follows are a few ideas of things you can incorporate into you main meal of the day (or other meals, as you feel appropriate).

You might like to do the whole meal as an Imbolc or Spring celebration, or just one part of it. I’d suggest the latter, especially if this is the first time you specifically celebrate the event, and in any case, it’s usually the small things that are most significant. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate, expensive spread, after all it’s intentionality that is important.

pixabay imbolc bread 232On a number of occasions I’ve had a normal meal, and ‘focused’ on part of the meal to celebrate the event, and bought a special bread for after the meal. A remembrance of bread being a staple food, the Bread of life.

So, try something different, experiment by adding something to your main meal, say, that you may not usually buy.

Meal Preparation
Whether it’s a meal for yourself or a few others, too, preparation can be fun, meaningful and easy to accomplish. If you’re not usually into formality or table lay-out I’d suggest having just one or two additional elements.

Candles! I love candles, and I’d suggest the simpler the candle setting, the better. One candle, lit, on a table looks great. Go for ‘minimalist’ approach if you wish – it can, in many circumstances, make it even more meaningful.

pixabay candle ereeBecause the sun would still be low in the sky and light in the evening would be dim, and because early Romans believed candlelight would scare away evil, and because Jesus is the light of the world, candles were specifically used (for all or some of those reasons) at this time – hence in many churches they celebrate this time as Candlemas.

Later, as you gaze upon that lit candle, remember, the sun rising higher in the sky and Spring returning, new life, a ‘chasing away’ of the dark and light dawning, and ponder on growth, good things, and hope. Give thanks to the Source of All.

Nature on display! I really like those displays that contain berries and fir cones etc and they look great as a table display. Or, hwo about a small bunch of inexpensive spring flowers! Both can look great, and act as a great reminder of gratitude to the earth, to nature.

For this event, celebrate with foods that honour the earth, hearth and home, such as milk products vegetables, bread etc, and these are incorporated in the suggestions below.

pixabay man sun 4544Breakfast: Imbolc is about milk – think of baby ewes being born and their mother’s milk flowing to nurture them. It’s a time of fertility, new life. So, why not try something different, milk-wise to pour over your breakfast cereal

Whether you eat this meal focussing on Imbolc, or Candlemas, or with Brigid in mind, whether you eat it by yourself or with others, it’s a great way of remembering the bounty of the earth, all those that have been involved in bringing it to your table, and ofcourse it’s a great time of expressing gratitude to the Giver of All. Take time to ponder.

Words & Ritual
Throughout the meal, maybe between courses, or at the beginning and at the end, it’s good to pause, to give thanks. As you light the candle or gaze upon the lit candle, some may like to recite a poem or prayer at certain times. Here’s some words that you might like to use or ponder upon:

O most noble Greenness, rooted in the sun,
shining forth in streaming splendour upon the wheel of Earth.
No earthly sense or being can comprehend you.
You are encircled by the very arms of Divine mysteries.
You are radiant like the red of dawn!
You glow like the incandescence of the sun!

Hildegard von Bingen
English version by Jerry Dybdal and Matthew Fox

Or,

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

Song of Solomon 2:11-12 The Book

Or,

Praise to you, Oh Caring one,
nurturing, generous and milky kind,
yet defiant as the snowdrop in a cold climate,
feisty, pure and natural
with your white singular unbroken focus,
Maid-Mother to us all,
praise to you.

Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel Of The Year

Finally
Do plan a great event, enjoy it, and take your time. We all rush around far too much, and here’s an opportunity to slow down and appreciate the simple, natural things in life as we yet again mark the season’s change, and give thanks.

Wishing you and yours blessings at this time of Imbolc, Spring, Brigid’s Day and Candlemas. Tadhg

 

20180127 TIME TO CELEBRATE SPRING IMBOLC BRIGIDS DAY CANDLEMAS

 

 

The Curious Incident Of Brigid And The Bathwater: A Profound Story For Today

20180122 THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF ST BRIGID AND THE BATHWATER...The circle continues to turn. Imbolc, St Brigid’s Day, or Candlemas, as some call it, comes ever closer. Spring is in the air.

‘O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?’. Percy Bysshe Shelley

If we’re still in the season of winter, and we are (and, it started on 31 October, marked by the festival of Samhain, also called All Saint’s Eve by some, and progressed to its ‘height’ with the winter soltice, we’re now coming to the end of that season). Imbolc, 2 February (or a day earlier than that to some), marks the end of winter, and is the first day of spring.

‘There is a delightful phrase in Gealic, ‘Ag borradh’, meaning that there is a quivering life about to break forth.’ John O’Donohue

And, if today is anything to go by – it was so relatively mild, weatherwise – spring is here, or is ‘just around the corner’. I could detect a slight ambient temperature increase today, a change in the prominent wind direction, you could almost smell it in the air. Something had changed.  The circle continues to turn and this season is coming to an end.

And with 2 February in mind, our thoughts turn to Brigid of Kildare. Brigid is viewed in differing ways, by different people. To some Brigid is an ancient Celtic goddess. The goddess of fire. Indeed, a sacred fire burned in Kildare in ancient time, as was kept burning by priestesses. In this way it was thought herds would be protected and harvests would be plentiful. To others, Brigid is a saint, and at the time of Candlemass, candles are blessed (and lit by some), and Brigid is remembered as one who symbolises motherhood, new birth, the springing forth of seeds and, in the recent past, some would bless (even) agricultural tools on that day. It’s spring (or nearly, so), after all.

‘I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen’. Anne Lamott

Yes, you know I like stories, and here’s another about Brigid.

Brigid was known for her hospitality. For the weary traveller no expense was spared by her.

On one occasion, going about her day, she came across some very tired, hungry and thirsty lepers. The plight of those dear people had already touched Brigid’s heart, and she made them as comfortable as she could. She ensured that they had had some food, but were thirsty.

One of those near to Brigid came to her and broke the bad news news: there was no beer for those thirsty lepers.

Brigid was deeply concerned, and it is said, immediately sprung into action. At the back of some nearby buildings she found an old bath, full of dirty bath water. She put her hand into the bathwater and blessed it. As the attendant drew off pints from that bath they found that it had changed! No longer dirty bath water, but the finest, freshest and coolest beer you could ever imagine, which was served to all.

The lepers and others were delighted, and had more than enough to drink, and there was plenty of beer left over.

You will have to forgive me – flippant only for a moment or two – but isn’t Brigid the kind of person you would like at all your parties?

I know sceptics may ridicule the bathwater-into-beer story, but there are some deep and profound truths ‘buried’ in it, if we take time to discover them. The need to be hospitable, and the joy in being so. The fact that we live in a world of abundance. The ‘power’ that one good person has. The Universe (God, the Elements, The Source of All) is friendly. The power in a blessing etc. All wonderful truths that are ‘unpacked’ in this unusual and delightful story about dear Brigid.

‘Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems’. Rainer Maria Rilke

Spring is close. However, you view Brigid, it may be good to give thanks for her example, for this season of rest, to look forward to the coming season of spring and the springing forth of plants etc, for growth, and perhaps to light a candle. Fire, however, you view dear Brigid, is a worthy symbol of her, and the lighting of a candle on her day a notable action to do.

 

Brigid’s Cloak: A Profound Story For Today

20180118 BRIGIDS CLOAK A PROFOUND STORY FOR TODAYIt’s late. I’m still in London, but now things have settled down somewhat I’m able to slow down (even more). Earlier today, in a huge supermarket nearby I spied jars of Horlicks lined up at eye level, just calling to me, almost. I had never noticed them before. Horlicks, if you’ve never had it, is a delightful malt drink, usually in powder form and was something that many children grew up drinking. So far as I know it’s extremely healthy.

It’s even later, and I’m on an oh-so comfortable sofa, and having added hot milk to that Horlick’s powdered malt drink, it now resides in a cup just a couple of feet from me. Lights are low. And as I sip it, in my mind’s eye I am immediately transported back – memorywise – to my early childhood days. Amazing how a simple taste can remind us of past things and pleasant events.

I’m reminded of a time, about this time of year, but many years ago. I was sitting in my grandparents’ cottage in Wales. I must have been about seven years old. It was late in the evening, then, and I had positioned myself, comfortably, near the hearth. The main living area of the cottage was partially lit and the fire’s orange glow bathed everything in a warm, restful, flickering, other-worldly light.

My grandpa had just given me a hot cup of Horlicks, as my grandmother started to tell another of her wonderful stories.

As I sip from a cup of Horlicks now, I’m reminded of that story from yesteryear – and it’s all the more poingnant as it was then coming up to St Brigid’s Day, and so it will be again in about two weeks from no. Some (myself included) call it Imbolc (pronounced various ways, but I quite like ‘ih-mulk’), and many call it (now) Candlemas.

As I sat there all those years ago, my grandmother told a story about Brigid of Kildare (in Ireland). The story went something like this:

Dear Brigid approached the King of Leinster with a request for some land on which to build her monastery. She thought deeply about the location, and felt led to build it in Kildare. There, it would be near a lake where water was available, and in a forest where firewood would be plentiful, and also near a large, lush area just right for the growing of crops. Self-sufficiency.

However, the King refused her request.

Brigid wasn’t deterred by his refusal. Rather, she thought about it, prayed about it, and made her request again to him, but this time she added, ‘I would respectfully ask the King to grant me as much land as my cloak will cover.’

Seeing her small cloak, the king laughed out loud, and then granted her request.

Brigid then removed the cloak that was on her back, and gave instructions to her four helpers each to take a corner of the cloak and walk in opposite directions – north, south, east and west. They did this. And, as they did this the cloak began to grow, and grow, and grow. It was soon the size of a large table cloth. And, they carried on walking. And soon it was the size of a living room carpet. And, they carried on walking. And, soon dear Brigid’s cloak had spread across many, many acres of land. She now had sufficient land to build her monastery.

The King was greatly dismayed, but also amazed at this seeming miracle. The King realised that this woman was truly blessed, and had great power. The King was impressed and supported Brigid’s work with money, food and gifts.

My grandmother ended the story, summing up that Brigid was indeed a clever woman, one in touch with great power from the Source of All (that which some call God), and that the story tells us that we do, indeed, live in a world of abundance, but sometimes we need to ‘see’ things differently, and trust in the timely provision of what we need.

That story of dear Brigid (St Brigid to some) made a big impression on me then and throughout the years: I believed then and still believe that we do live in a world of natural abundance and blessing, and Brigid and this story about her is one that we can take to heart and draw strength from.

 

Imagination: In Between Are The Doors…: A Thought

20180111 IMAGINATION IN BETWEEN ARE THE DOORS

‘The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.’
(Albert Einstein)

With the candle lit, and sitting crossed-legged, I waited. Eyes gently closed and breathing being slow but regular, I waited a little more. Slowly I started to relax and the sense of mechanical time receded into the distance. Intentionally, I moved deeper within.

Liminality approached.

Gradually my thoughts stilled – oh there will always be a stray or nagging thought, or two, or three, but the way to deal with them is to spend no time or energy on them, but to ignore them. If you pay heed to them, even mentally note them and ‘file’ them for later attention you have ‘stepped out’ of this special time of Encounter. Just let the thoughts go.

Liminality, the ‘threshold’ is the ‘gap’ between Here and There. It is a wonderful place, accessed here by the imagination, and sometimes unwittingly visited when we relax and daydream (or dream). It is a place of peace, power and potential. A place of Encounter.

‘You say God speaks to you, but it’s only your imagination.’ These are the words spoken by the inquisitor to Joan of Arc during her trial for heresy.

‘How else would God speak to me, if not through my imagination?’ Joan replied.

This time, one of many, I was to use a kataphatic approach. Using mental pictures and symbols, I imagined a spiral staircase ascending before me. It had a rich, red stair carpet that felt thick underfoot.

The event was a guided event but not directed – that is the outcome was not scripted, and in this way I was hoping for a word of information, of direction. Ofcourse, sceptics and those firmly entrenched in twenty-first century thinking will question this approach, but it seems to work, at least for me, and so I commend it to you – even if you try it only because you’re curious or you think it might be fun to do.

Did you know that Friedrich August Kekulé, the German chemist, told of two dreams he had at key moments of his work. In his first dream, in 1865, he saw atoms dance around and link to one another. When he awoke, he immediately began to sketch what he saw in his dream. In another dream, in which he saw atoms dance around, then form themselves into strings, moving about in a snake-like fashion. This dream continued until the snake of atoms formed themselves into an image of a snake eating its own tail. This dream gave Kekulé the idea of the cyclic structure of benzene.

And so, I found myself at the top of the staircase, and pushing the large oak door open, I was in the corner of a large room, a hall, a library, infact. Just the right place to find a word of guidance, information. I could smell the dust of old books and the smell the polish used on the two dozen long wooden tables, which spanned, almost, the breadth of the library. Books ‘hugged’ all the walls, and huge frosted windows high up, tinted yellow, let in the light. The room was bathed in an other-worldly sunlight glow, or warming yellow. My heart leaped.

To my left and about twenty feet away, sat three librarians . They were indistinct  and glowing a deep yellow. Angels? Elementals? Was this Library a representation of Heaven, The Other Place, or Caer Wydyr (the Glass Fortress, as they call it in. Wales)? Apart from those three librarians and me, there was no one else in the room.

Was this a dream, a day-dream, a vision or the rambling thoughts of neurones ‘firing’ randomly in my brain brought on by the digestion of too much cheese? Or, was it a deep encounter? To consider that at this point would have ‘broken’ that ‘connection’ and allowed rational thought to overpower this experience. Right now, it didn’t matter to me. I was enjoying this experiential encounter.

‘There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.’ (Aldous Huxley)

I wandered around the Library, occasionally stopping and exploring the bookshelves to see if anything significant manifested itself. What was the word for me? Nothing. After what seemed like many minutes I found myself near the Librarians’ desk. One of them beckoned to me. Still indistinct, and glowing yellow, and without a word being spoken, I was handed a large, dusty, ‘dog-earred’ book. I took it, bowed (for some reason, but odd things like that can happen in such experiences), and turned to a long table behind me to explore the book.

I came into this liminal realm for a word of information, and believed the book would assist. As I was about to open it I was aware that the three Librarians were now behind me, peering over my shoulders. Benevolence. I was cocooned in the yellow glow they were emitting and a peaceful warmth like honey seemed to ‘pour’ over me. It made me laugh heartily for no reason.

I looked at the cover of the book, it read: The Count Of Monte Cristo. I had read that book at school many years ago, so it wasn’t on my mind and there was no reason for it to appear in this event, but this was a guided event, and not directed, and so events can seemingly take on a life of their own. But it it my belief that The Guide of All does permit encounters in this manner and prompts ‘from a distance, if ‘we have ears to listen’, if we are receptive. After all, Joseph was ‘spoken to’ in a dream. I have no doubt that the  Source of All speaks, similarly, today in dreams, in the physical realm, through others, through nature.

I gradually leafed through the pages of that book, and at page 12 I felt the Librarians draw back as though they had done all that was necessary. Near the very top of page 12, a word leaped out at me. ‘Patience’. That was my word. That was for me. I knew it. In the busy-ness of all that had happened to me over the last few months, and which was now (thankfully) drawing to a close, the word I needed was, that I was to have just a little more patience (and for a little longer).

‘Patience is not sitting and waiting, it is foreseeing. It is looking at the thorn and seeing the rose, looking at the night and seeing the day. Lovers are patient and know that the moon needs time to become full.’ (Rumi)

For that second time in that event I laughed inwardly. I turned to thank the Librarians. But, as soon as I had said the words ‘thank you’, I was ‘back’, and the Library had gone! The dream, day-dream, vision was gone. I was  conscious of sitting cross-legged in a dark room, and of the flickering candle in front of me, aware of mechanical time, and noticed now many thoughts crowding in. I had left that liminal experience, sacred time/space (and a type of ‘access’ I would commend to you) and was, indeed, back from that imaginal realm and firmly in the sensible realm (that is, this realm of the senses). Back, but different. Changed.

‘ Love is patient and kind…’ (1 Corinthians 13:4a, The Book)

Patience was what was commended to me, and a word that I took to heart, and would apply (more so) in my daily life. I extinguished the candle but sat there for some time, dwelling on that encounter which to me, (still) means a lot.

‘Imagination creates reality’. (Richard Wagner)

 

To Know The Dark…: A Thought

20180108 ENCOUNTERING THE KNOW THE DARKAnd so, having prepared the room for this ceremony – just me, this evening, I sat down on a cushion in the middle of the room. With the door slightly ajar and with my eyes now accustomed to the darkness, I could make out just a few things.

I lit the candle.

Such a small light, and yet its flickering light illuminating all the walls and the furniture in the room. And as the small candle flame flickered, so there was that ‘dance’ between light and dark. Sometimes darkness would move across part of the room, sometimes light, and seemingly in equal measure. No real competition. No angst. Just a natural interplay of light and dark, a paradox.

With the lighting of the candle I entered sacred space (and sacred time) and paused to Encounter.

‘Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again.’

(‘The Sound of Silence’, Simon & Garfunkel)

Oh, how some like the light. Oh, how some fear the dark. In many cultures and belief systems there seems to be a dichotomy between light and dark – one is liked, the other feared. And yet, ‘scratch’ a bit deeper and that dualism (so loved by the Greeks, and so (unwittingly) inherited by the West, dissolves.

Ofcourse, we can talk about being the dark, meaning ignorance; we can talk about seeing the light, meaning we now know something we didn’t formerly know. And, so in that instance it all seems easy to understand – but only because we have used light and dark in one way and as one metaphor to suit our purposes for that event. Life is much more complex. The universe is much more complex. Spirituality is…you get the picture.

The acceptance and meaning of light and dark depends on the circumstances, our use of them as metaphors, and the context. Be comfortable with ‘opposites’, with paradox.

For instance, it is in the darkness that wonderful things happen; planted seeds in the soil grow into might plants or trees, the baby in the womb is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ and develops, and the Source of All moves.

‘[God]… made darkness his secret place; his pavilion… were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies’.

(Psalm 18:11 part, The Book)

It is no secret that I love the great outdoors, and being from north Wales I am well-used to expect rain and storms. Did you know in the part of Wales I hail from it rains some 330 days per year. And I love it. Cold, and damp and raining and windy….are all wonderful weather patterns to me. For some reason, I feel an Encounter more in the storm and/or the night than on a bright summer’s day when the sky is blue and there is not a cloud in sight. Indeed some of you will have read some of my previous articles where Encounters or significant events took place in forests on sleepless nights – see here for an example.

Could it be that when it is dark, wet, cloudy, stormy we aren’t distracted by the sun and the things that it encourages: sunbathing, picnicing, wonderful scenic walks – all good in themselves and to be enjoyed, but which may make deep Encountering difficult sometimes?

And so, having lit the candle, I waited to Encounter. In the darkness as well as the light, and maybe even more so in the darkness, I Encountered. With no visible distractions in that darkened room, I was alone with the Alone. And it was wonderful.

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.

(Wendell Berry, ‘To Know the Dark’ from The Selected Poems of Wendell

And then, wanting to go deeper, I blew out the candle flame. And paused for what seemed just five minutes – but when I checked afterward a full half hour has passed. In the darkness, I met the Friend. In the darkness, with no distractions, with no pre-conceived ideas or expectations, we can Encounter.

‘And the vision that was planted in my brain
still remains,
within the sound of silence’.

(‘The Sound of Silence’, Simon & Garfunkel)

 

Wisdom 2: Resources For Wisdom Day

20180105 WISDOM 2 WISDOM DAY RESOURCESThe 6 January, for some people (myself included), is associated with wisdom and the celebration of wisdom: a time to seek wisdom’s infilling, a time of gratitude, a time of pausing, reflection and meditation upon the theme of wisdom.

Here are some resources that you might like to use (and adapt as necessary) for your wisdom celebration (whether done individually, as a family or faith group etc).

Explanations precede the liturgy here, that can be said as invocations, prayers and blessings etc, but you might find that even the explanations can be recited (by the leader, or to yourself) to inform others of what is about to happen and why, and so may be beneficial.

So, here are some resources for you to use:

—o0o–

Wisdom is present throughout the universe. The Source of All is ubiquitous, and so wisdom is to be found everywhere. Indeed wisdom permeates every atom of the universe.

Wisdom calls out to all who would hear her
She cries aloud in the streets,
she shouts in the  marketplace,
she speaks in forests, mountain tops and valleys, and
she whispers to men and women, and to the children of mankind.
Wisdom calls out to all who would hear her.

Wisdom says, ‘I will pour out my spirit on you; to you will I make my ways known.’

‘When calamity strikes you, when anguish comes upon you, and when distress seemingly overtakes you, I will be there,’ says Wisdom. ‘My hand will be outstretched, and I, Wisdom can be found’.

Wisdom is better than choice gold. There is no deceit in her voice, nothing crooked in all her ways. All that you desire cannot compare with Wisdom. Wisdom says, ‘Look for me, and live’.

[With Proverbs 1:20–33 and Proverbs 8:1-11, the Book in mind]

—o0o–

A celebration or invocation wouldn’t be the same without the lighting of candles, the light of which reminds us of the elemental nature of fire, simplicity, the harking back to a former age, or focusses our minds on spiritual matters and sacred time/space. It ushers us into liminality.

And, so a candle can be lit just before you recite the phrase that relates to the earth, and then light another candle just before you recite the phrase that relates to the air, and so on as regards the other two elements. There is no rush – so do take your time, pause, and meditate (safely, with your eyes open – always conscious of fire safety), between phrases.

Wisdom from above, come to us at this time.

Wisdom of the earth, come and be the foundation upon which we stand.
Wisdom of the air, blow through us and dispel obstacles, and make way for the new.
Wisdom of fire, come and fill our hearts with wisdom that empowers and radiates.
Wisdom of water, flow through us to nurture us.

Wisdom from above, come to us at this time.

—o0o–

Perhaps, a time of prayer is called for. Below are sugestions of people and groups that you might like to pray for. If you have a form of words already for prayer you can add the following topics, and perhaps pause between each topic and think deeply and/or visualise the outcome.

However, you pray, it is intentionality that is important, so don’t worry if you don’t get it quite right (in the opinion of some).

You might like to prayer for

– the wisdom of elders, who grown older with poise, grace and dignity, and are there for others [you might know of some, and might like to name them]

– the wisdom and energy of those who seek to heal the earth [and you might say some names of individuals or charitable ecological organisations that deserve support]

– the wisdom of those who are in leadership at a local, regional, national or international level [and you might like to voice their names or the offices of leadership they hold, whether or not they maybe be your ‘favourite’ leader or politician]

– the wisdom of those who work with people to alleviate their suffering, poverty, loneliness etc [and if you know of individuals do name them, or name charitable agencies]

– the wisdom of tireless, quiet workers, who with joy spread wisdom throughout our society, in large and small ways – these may be people who are known to you, a neighbour, a school-teacher, someone who is their for you eg a family-member etc

– the wisdom of nature – of trees, animals, the elements etc, all of which are ‘silent teachers’ that  are faithful to the cycle of nature and which impart their wisdom for those willing to pause.

These are just a few suggestions – do add to them. If you don’t have a form of words for prayer then speak from the heart – and ofcourse, I hope that you would be doing that anyway. Ofcourse you are. But don’t hold back. It’s intentionality that is important, not whether you get the wording or pronunciation just right.

—o0o–

And, enjoy it, too. Be joyful. There is wisdom in joy. Blessings to you on Wisdom Day, Tadhg.