The Winter’s Light: Winter Solstice Approaches [Poem/Liturgy]

20191210 THE WINTERS LIGHT WINTER SOLSTICE APPROACHES REVISITED

The season of winter is upon us and almost half way through. And, Winter Solstice approaches. And, I love it. The cold, the dark, the freshness of it all, and hopefully, some snow. This time is a liminal time, a time of myth and ‘magic’, and so my encouragement is for you to pause, draw aside, use your imagination, and let those ancient whispers from yesteryear permeate your very being.

Poem and video follows.

As you contemplate the season, join a group or arrange something by yourself to celebrate the Winter Solstice (called Alban Arthan in Welsh, ‘the light of winter’) you might find the following poem – penned a few years ago by myself – an aid to your meditation, or you might use it as liturgy.

The poem is followed by a video link to Seattle Unity Church who used the poem last year, and so you can hear the poem read by Scott.

Winter solstice approaches.

The day is over, and night comes early.
Orion is higher in the sky now,
and imaginations are unshackled.
Above us the gods of yesteryear move across the heavens.

The trees are sleeping.
Deep roots are dreaming.

The silvery December moon rises
and the face that smiled upon the Birth,
of yesteryear, also smiles on us.
Above us Rhiannon advances.

The trees are sleeping.
Deep roots are dreaming.

Wise ones seek the Truth,
and beings of light, lit their Way.
Angels? Fae? The Watchers? Elementals, The Others?
And, about us unnamed, invisible Companions guide us still.

The trees are sleeping.
Deep roots are dreaming.

We dance together in the dark,
as the Circle turns, and yet
we dance joyfully and with purpose.
We celebrate the season, that is.
And, around us, in the darkness
we ‘see’ the Friend at work.

The trees are sleeping.
Deep roots are dreaming.

And yet in the darkness,
there shines a Light.
And, in remembrance, we light this festive candle
to the Sun of Righteousness.
And, we declare to all, near and far;
peace and hope, light and love
be to you and yours.
Now, and forever more.

The trees are sleeping.
Deep roots are dreaming.

Winter solstice approaches.

My friends at Seattle Unity Church read the poem as part of their Christmas celebration last year, and if you want to hear it read (extremely well by Scott, starting some forty seconds into the video link) – highly recommended – please click here.

The blessings of this awesome season be to you and yours, Tadhg.

 

20191210 THE WINTERS LIGHT WINTER SOLSTICE APPROACHES REVISITED

 

Cosmic Christ[mas]: Poem

20191205 COSMIC CHRISTMAS REVISITED

I love this time of the year. It’s getting much colder – below zero degrees Celsius in London, and the nights are getting longer. Sunset is now much earlier – about 3.55pm in London (and 3.44pm in Scotland) and over the next couple of weeks the sun will set a few minutes earlier as we move towards the Winter solstice.

My ‘inner child’, never very quiet, goes into ‘overdrive’ at this time of the year. The veil between Here and There, The Other ‘thins’; it’s a liminal time; the nights are longer and stories abound – but in many cases we call them evening movies on tv.

It’s a time of myth and story, of ‘earthy’ food, and drink, and revelry; of communion with families and others; and whether we believe wholeheartedly or ‘romantically’ in the fae, elementals, angels, woodland myths, those ancient stories of the Christ-child etc, no one can deny that this is a ‘magical’ time of the year, a profound season when we remember great events, and pause, ‘look up’ and gasp in awes at all that is!

With that in mind, some time ago I wrote the following poem:

Into the void
His word went forth.

What was not. Is!

Light and life accompanied His utterances
and in response, nature danced in the song of creation.
He formed the man of clay, and the woman who is the mother of all life.
And they, too, danced in the light of the morning.
Night has now come, and is far spent,
and the man and woman crane their necks and gaze upwards.
And their words go forth into the vacuum, that is space.
‘Is anyone out there? ‘.

Out of the void another sound is heard.

This time, a baby’s cry echoes in some dim and dusty street of old.
And in the darkness of the world, words of hope are once more heard.
‘My children. Did you think I would leave you as orphans to stray in the night?
I am with you, evermore! ‘.

Wishing you and those whom you love bright blessings of this wonderful season. Tadhg.

 

The Telling Place: A Review, An Invite

20191121 THE TELLING PLACE 1 2018 AND 2019

‘What is the one message that only you can give? It’s your story’. J R Rim

It was a cold, dark, December’s evening. The café had shut to the general public an hour ago, and a few changes were made – a few festive lights added, a few unlit candles placed on tables, a few symbolic items, ‘tools’ or conversation pieces were placed on the tables, and food was placed on the corner table – in anticipation for the Telling Place event 2018 (and so, if local, there will be another this year, so do please read on… but please read on anyway as it was a wonderful event).

Ah, the Telling Place event: a place of myth, ‘magic’ and imagination.

‘Every human is an artist. And this is the main art that we have: the creation of our story.’ Don Miguel Ruiz

The clock chimed 6.45pm and the doors were unlocked, and within minutes several people ambled through the door, out of that cold night, and into a café that was warm, bedecked with Christmas lights, albeit rather subdued lighting, and expecting the unexpected. The café can hold about twenty people and it soon filled up with expectant ‘adventurers’

“Welcome. Welcome to the Telling Place”, Tadhg said cheerfully.

The ancients knew the value of story-telling, when they met together at Telling Places. There, fragments of memory were woven together, and ‘bits’ become ‘whole’, and all added to the complete story. Everyone was included. Fragments of memory, separate and ‘isolated’ were re-membered. The opposite of dismembered. ‘Re-joined’. Put back together again. And in community, too.

‘We keep stories alive because to re-member is to put broken pieces back together. We keep learning from stories how to make things whole.’ Mark Nepo

The ancients, those Celts and Druids, ancient Hebrews, Christians, and others, of old, knew of the benefits of stories. They would regularly meet around the village fire, in the evenings and tell stories that were, perhaps sometimes of individuals around the fire, or of ancient heroes and their ancestors, or of stories of cosmic proportions eg creation stories and/or of the tribe’s origin.

But, what about us? In this part of the twenty-first century there is a great need for that kind of event, and this Telling Place fulfilled that requirement wonderfully.

“Tonight, is a time of listening, a time of sharing a story (whether something from your own life-story that is not too personal and which can be shared), or a story that you have heard and which means a lot to you. Stories of dark and light, endings and beginnings, down and up, of people and places. Stories to make you think. Stories and a few activities, yes a few activities that you will be invited to join in, that make you go ‘oh’, or ‘awwww’. Stories of  myth, ‘magic’, and imagination.”

But, there’s more.

“There will be stories about myth – those fictional and some-times factual foundational accounts on which we base part or all of our life. Stories about ‘magic’. Not the conjuring sort of magic, but the kind that some would call a numinous event, a peak experience, a transformational event. Come expecting to be changed. And, there will be stories of the imagination, and here there may be some pleasurable and non-cringe-making activities you will be invited to take part in. More will be explained as the evening goes on.”

“But, for now relax.”. A short time was given over for people to amble and introduce themselves to four other people in fifteen minutes – no mean feat – as they tucked into some delightful food from the smorgasbord and filled their glasses with various chilled fruit juices. Everyone talked enthusiastically. A hub-bub ensued, sounding rather like the friendly drone in a bee hive.

‘The imagination of early childhood has no limits. This is why children are fascinated by stories. A story has permission to go anywhere….The child rarely experiences the story as an observer. The child enters the story, it experiences the drama from within.’ John O’Donohue

Now back at their tables, everyone settled down. Tadhg explained as he went along, and opened the Telling Place officially.

A candle was lit, and in doing this simple ritual, Tadhg explained that it was as though we had been pulled out of physical time, as a group, and  into sacred space-time, and were propelled back in time to engage with the Ancestors in story. Or, was it that they had joined us? Or was it more than just seeming so? Was it happening in actuality? However, we understood it, he explained that this was to be a meaningful time of remembering.

I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing happens! Nothing…Silence…Waves…

Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

Juan Ramon Jimenez

“This remembering”, Tadhg continued,  “is called anamnesis: a remembering that makes the original event present to the believer. In a very real sense, ritual negates time and space. The Passover Seder, for instance, starts with the question, ‘How is  this night  different from all other nights?’ Ritual, then, brings the participant, that’s us, into that timeless realm of the sacred in which the time and space that separates us  from the original event, or which separates us from the Other, just disappears.”

“It’s not just remembering. It’s a re-experiencing and a re-connectedness to that former event – in this case story and the Ancestors. Anything less that that, is merely mimesis, an imitation or re-enactment. This is more”

Several people shared stores. Two shared stories from their own life, stories of challenging times and of overcoming. Two other shared stories, fables, that had meant a lot to them and which were well received by all. The evening continued well, with each person giving support and praise to others, as well as receiving it. It was so uplifting. Awesome.

Tadhg lit another candle.

At this point he explained that, at the end of the year it was a good time to review the positive and the not-so-positive events of the year, and to deal with them. He suggested that each person takes two pieces of paper. One would, if that person so wished, would be displayed on the wall later and would contain one or two positive highlights of the year. It would be a form of written gratitude to the Source of All. The other piece of paper, would be private, and would highlight negative points and negative thoughts and actions that had happened during the year. People wrote feverishly. A few minutes later each person put the gratitude sheet on the wall; each person took the sheet of negative thoughts and actions and, at Tadhg’s suggestion,  symbolically dealt with them by placing them into the shredder machine.

Tadhg said a few words…ensuring that that negativity was truly gone! Dealt with. Gone for good!

‘You are the fairy tale told by your ancestors.’ Toba Beta

More stories were shared. Tadhg lit another candle, and talked about remembering those who had gone before us – to remember them with joy. He talked about how our ancestors would have used this time to celebrate the lives of the Ancients, and of Modranicht, called  “the Night of the Mothers” or simply “Mothers’ Night”. Everyone had been asked to bring a copy of a photo of a deceased relative that they wanted to honour, and some also shared stories – many quite witty stories that made many smile, and all uplifting – about loved-ones that had passed-on.

Later, Tadhg lit another candle. This time, as some time had elapsed and the evening was drawing to a close, he asked each person to close their eyes, to meditate, and to use their imagination.

“If you would, imagine that this room is filled with your Higher Self, or an elemental, a goodly spirit, an emissary from the Source of All, from the Universe, an angel or fae perhaps. Don’t worry about what they look like but imagine they have a message for someone in the room – not you – but for someone else, and it’s one word, or two, but no more than three, and it’s uplifting. “

As people thought deeply, used their imaginations and opened themselves up to the Other, the haunting melody of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ by Enya played in the background.

‘The sacred soul delivers the message of life.’ Lailah Gifty Akita

“You can imagine them speaking this to you” , Tadhg said, “or writing it down, or them giving you a book with this word or words as the title. Now, when you have it, open your eyes and write it down on a piece of paper.”

Everyone wrote something, and everyone shared the word, two or three, not knowing who it was for. Although Tadhg said those present may want to share any word spoken that was relevant to themselves, others, he said, might just quietly like to ponder upon a word heard that they felt was relevant to them, quietly in their heart.

The event closed with the extinguishing of the candles, as Tadhg explained that each of us were now moving back into mundane time. He suggested we all stand, and applaud – applaud each other for making the evening such a joy, applaud the Other and The Invisibles present for being present, and applause as a form of ‘grounding’.

One by one, people left. That evening tears were shed, smiles were witnessed, and many were transformed. Each had had an encounter with the Other. In the distance, as car doors opened and closed, the hushed whispers of ,‘See you at next year’s Telling Place’, could be heard.’

‘I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?’ Zhuangzi

[Another Telling Place event is planned for Saturday, 14 December 2019 in Fulham, London (starting at 7pm and finishing at 9pm. And, you are invited. Suggested donation is £10, but no one should be deterred by a lack of funds. Come anyway! If interested or if you require further information, please contact Tadhg by 1 December by email: tadhgtemp@gmail.com ]

‘Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilisation, no society, no future.’ Elie Wiesel

 

The Night Of Long Shadows #1: A Service For The Bereaved: Thoughts

20191027 THE NIGHT OF LONG SHADOWS 1 THOUGHTS

Christmas is coming closer. For some, it’s a time to celebrate the coming of the Christ, the wonderful time when we remember the Universe incarnated at Bethlehem, when we exchange gifts and sing cheerful carols, and more. To some friends, especially those of nature or earth-based beliefs it’s a time to celebrate dark and light, death and new life, of renewal and balance: equilibrium.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
and heav’n and nature sing. (Christmas Hymn/Carol)

It is with the former, mainly, in mind that I write this. Those who celebrate Christmas as part of their faith or, like me, as part of a blended-faith, can find Christmas, in some instances, a tough, sad time. For them, the season seems lopsided. I do believe my Wican, Pagan, and Druid friends do much better at getting the balance just right and of honouring the ancestors, and I am the richer for their company and wisdom. For others, it’s…..well, it’s lopsided.

In what way lopsided? Well, the commercialism of Christmas doesn’t help. Buy this for your mum or dad, here’s a great gift for your daughter or son who will love this, and hey, don’t forget the grandparents! And, in churches, hymns and songs laud the baby in the manger and welcome shepherds and kings like.

But, the reality is, that at every Advent church service, in every choir rehearsal, and at every Christmas Eve candlelight service, there are people who are deeply hurting and in pain, whose lives are in great turmoil, and who are seeking help or answers. Even surrounded by our candles, poinsettias, the delightful laughter of children, and the great joy of the Christmas season, I do believe that we do not adequately consider those among us who cannot enter fully into the joy of the season. And, outside, cheerful parties abound at work, at home, at local pubs and clubs, and on tv just seem to make the exclusion worse.

But, what about those who, this Christmas, perhaps like last Christmas, look around and notice the spaces in their family and friends? To them, it is lopsided, exclusive, and can be a tough, solitary time.

‘You don’t know who is important to you until you actually lose them.’ Mahatma Gandhi

For some, Christmas can be a time when the loss of a loved-one can be most profoundly felt. Ofcourse, during that season such people, like myself, will be happy and socialise, and enjoy the company of others.

‘I enjoy Christmas immensely as a Christo-Druid (or is it a Druidic-Christian), but there is also a sense of loss.

I am an ‘amphibian’ at Christmas. Celebrating the joy of the season, the razzamatzz, and the growing number of younger family members and friends is wonderful, and by nature I am a positive person. But, I also look around at the gaps. Having grown up, in my teens, twenties and thirties, with seven pairs of aunts and uncles for instance and a myriad of other family, all but one couple of aunts/uncles have passed-on, as have both my parents, and that can be heart-breaking  at times.’ Tadhg

But sometimes, just sometimes, and perhaps on one occasion over that period it would be comforting and energising to have some kind of formal ritual or service to commemorate those that have passed-on, to remember them, and have something where we can be true to our feelings without being morbid or morose, to acknowledge our loss, draw strength and to move on.

With that in mind, and right near Christmas is the winter solstice, there is the idea of just such a celebration for the bereaved. The Night Of Long Shadows.

Aptly named, The Night Of Long Shadow can be held at that time of the year when many celebrate the darkest and longest night of the year, and it takes into account that many feel as though they are in darkness when it comes to emotions of remembrance, but there’s more.

‘The death of a beloved is an amputation.’ C S Lewis

What would a service of The Night Of Long Shadows look like?

With songs and words that draw alongside those who are bereaved (whether recently, a year or more ago, or some time ago) there would be a time of honest appraisal of feelings, a period of reflection, a time when the bereaved could say or do something or sit and listen. The event would be short (and not more than fifty minutes) . Maybe a few tears would be shed. There would be an opportunity to ‘tell it like it is or feels like it is’ by those who attend (if they wish to), and for those leading, they would then move onto the part of the ritual or service that would instil hope with words and actions – I love ritual, and sometimes simple ritual-actions can take us to a much deeper place than words.

Such a ritual or service can interpret the ‘shadow’ in the Night Of Long Shadows as the comforting shadow of good memories (or the mere shadow of not-so-good memories) that we might each share of those who have passed-on.

And/or it can refer to the transforming work of renewal and growth that takes place in dark places, such as a seed buried but about to sprout, or a baby growing in the secret place of its mother’s womb. It is with that in mind that we can learn a lot from our brothers and sisters who uphold a nature or earth-based belief.

‘We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world – the company of those who have known suffering.’ Helen Keller

A service of The Night of Long Shadows, would earnestly and honestly draw alongside the bereaved, hold space for them, support them, listen to them, give some kind of encouragement and be there fore them. There is no quick fix in this kind of ritual of service. How could there be. In many cases it is beyond us to fix many things, and especially this! But, we can be there for others, and through ritual and prayer, blessings and la time of tea and coffee after, be inclusive and supportive.

What songs, what words of acceptance and hope could be used, what structure would such a ritual or service take? That is for next time. Suffice to say, that I do believe there is a need, and am working towards such a ritual or service for the first half of December. If you could support that venture in prayer, good-thoughts or by sending light, or by sending suggestions, or by expressing a desire to take part or feel the need to attend such a ritual or service in in/near London (UK) because of bereavement, I would love to hear from you. It may be best one-to-one and so do email me at: tadhgtemp@gmail.com

We live in an age where the pace of life can be so fast that we lose or diminish the human touch. There is a great need at creating sacred space for people living through dark times. Such services, and the service of The Night Of London Shadows can fulfil such a need, and be inclusive, reflective, accepting of where we really are, and of holding out healing and hope. And, such a ritual or service is not the preserve of Christians or Christo-Druids or Druidic-Christians, but can also be used and adapted by my Wican, Pagan, and Druid friends, and others.

’Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about. Rumi

 

The Days Are Cold: A Winter’s Song/Poem

20191024 THE DAYS ARE COLD A WINTERS SONG POEM

The weather is changing. There’s a chill in the air. Even the rain, up to now intermittent, is different and lasted hours today instead of a small number of minutes, on and off. In the UK winter is almost here, and the Celtic Advent (16 November) approaches.

English skies, seemingly ever daubed with cloud, now change from white to a dark, brooding grey. It’s a time to reflect, and with that in mind, and in thinking of the approaching winter, I’ve penned some words that ‘fit’ to an old Scottish, traditional tune of yesteryear.

I like to sing, adapt words, use ancient tunes, and let my spirit dance to the Universe using words and tuneful sounds (or at least that’s the intention, but the Source of All accepts all that we have even if it’s not what some would call tuneful). I’d encourage you to do the same, that is sing with all that you have. Do feel free to use the song, below, in your group or individual times of ceremony as a song, or as a reflective (said) poem for the day.

The tune is  ‘The water is wide’ and an instrumental version to give you an idea of it, is here.  The ‘Water is wide’ is a A folk song of Scottish origin. The original lyrics and tune partly date to the 1600s and speak of an unhappy first marriage. I’ve changed the words to reflect the season of winter, but kept the tune which seems deeply reflective to suit the words of the newly-penned song and the season.

THE DAYS ARE COLD
A winter’s Hymn

The days are cold
And night comes soon.
The circle turns
As in days of old.
Nature does sleep
And the winds do howl
And my eyes do weep
Through the cold air now

The snow falls harsh
Upon the land
There is a light
Within and without
We raise our hands
To the source of all
And nature responds
with elementals call.

The days of change
Are here again
Our voices raise
To a loud refrain
We wish you peace
We wish you well.
All nature sings
Winter’s fare thee well.

In the link to the tune above, the tune starts at 10 seconds into the Youtube music and concludes at 51 seconds (and that tune is then used three times for the three verses above).

 

Lost In Wonder: Two Tales And An Exercise In Awareness

20191020 LOST IN WONDER TWO TALES AND AN EXERCISE IN AWARENESS

As you know, I love visiting far-flung corners of the UK, and there is nothing I like better than immersing myself in an ancient forest and getting lost – not necessarily geographical lost (though that happens occasionally), but lost in thought and awe, lost in imagination and the labyrinthine depths of the mind, and yes, lost in wonder, love, and praise.

And, yet we all seem to move too fast, and it seems the pace is quickening.

Travelling as I do, usually by car, I enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Therein lies a challenge. When I’m driving, and I promise I don’t ‘dawdle’, but being unfamiliar with the twists and turns of country roads I might drive a little slower. And I assure you it is only a little slower than the regulars who use that stretch of road. But, then I’m in ‘tourist mode’ and I like to imbibe the countryside, the changing colours of the leaves, and see herds of sheep all facing the same direction (and, why do that do that?), or just gaze and the undulating scenery (whilst being attentive to traffic conditions, of course). All this means that I might just travel a tad slower than the regulars who seem intake on tailgating me.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Yes, we  all (or many people, at least) seem to move too fast, and it seems the pace is quickening.

It was a cold, dark, grey, cloudy evening, with the wind howling around the chimney stack and making a ghoul-like noise. In north Wales the winds can be particularly strong and even more so in the valleys, as the mountain sides seem to act like a conduit funnelling strong winds into ‘smaller space’s and making for even stronger winds. But, I’m inside the Cottage, Ty Gwin, and now safe, comfortable and warm, and aged about seven years – and so this happened some time ago.

Earlier that afternoon my grandmother, wrapping herself up in many layers, gave me a wink which meant so me to do similar and join her on a ramble. I liked the mystery of not knowing of where we would be going, and so asking the purpose of the ramble just didn’t occur to me. And had I asked, I think, knowing my grandmother well, the answer would have been alluringly vague or cryptic.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

My grandmother was, then, very mobile, but getting on in years, and that on particular afternoon we seemed to walk and talk for about twenty minutes and then stop, and in silence just sit on a log. That happened several times over the course of the afternoon’s ramble, and then we circled back to the cottage early evening, where I could hear the wind picking up and making those ghoulish noises outside.

‘So, what did you notice on our jaunt this afternoon, little one?, she asked – always with a friendly, somewhat mystical, assuring, twinkle in her eye.

‘Well, when we stopped the first time, I noticed the horses in the nearby farmer’s field, and I heard some tractor noises in the distance, and I saw a bird fly out from a hedge, so it might have been a wren’, I replied.

‘Very good, and more…?, she said.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

‘Well, the second time we stopped, I noticed more mud on my boots so the ground was a bit marshy, and there was a bad smell of fox pooh, so there must have been foxes around somewhere’, I replied.

And without waiting, and being somewhat eager to please,  I went on and added, ‘And the third time we stopped, although I couldn’t see it I heard the sound of a Great tit’.

‘How do you know that’, she asked.

‘Ah’, I promptly replied,’ I remember you telling me that that bird sounded as though it was saying ‘Teacher, teacher’.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

She smiled, winked, and said, ‘Well done. Exactly right. And what did you notice when we were walking?’.

‘I thought about it for a few minutes, and I  said, ‘Not that much. I was trying to keep up with you, not stumble, not get mud in my boots and on my socks, and had to duck several times under branches’.

She smiled an even broader smile, let out a small laugh and said, ‘That’s fine, little one. It’s usually when we stop racing around that we’re more observant, anyway’.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

That was many years ago, but more recently I heard this (anonymous) story: It is said that a man ventured into the most remote part of Africa, and was only accompanied by paid porters. They each carried a machete as  they made their way through the thick undergrowth. Their aim was to keep going at any cost. If a river appeared and several did, they would cross them in the shortest time possible. If there was a hill and there were many, they quickened their pace so as not to waste a minute. But suddenly, and without warning, the porters stopped. The explorer was nonplussed, and very surprised. They had only been walking for a few hours. So he asked them: ‘Why have you stopped? Are you already tired after just a few hours walking?’ Then one of the porters looked at him and explained: ‘No sir, we’re not tired. It’s just that we have been moving so quickly that we have left our soul behind. Now, we have to wait for it to catch up with us again.’

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

We do all seem to move too fast, and it seems the pace is quickening, don’t you think? If you can, my encouragement to you this week, is to ‘gouge out’ some regular time when you can slow down, or even stop and rest even for a short time. I know it’s not easy, but working around work, and busy schedules and other commitments my encouragement to you (and me) it to take (more) time to stop and stare, and to really appreciate our local (rural or city) environment, and truly appreciate the life around us and within, and the opportunities we have to be in awe of nature and the Source of All.

 

(All indented phrases above are from the poem ‘Leisure’ by the Welsh poet W H Davies. The ‘Guardian of the Forest’ sculpture, in the header photograph, is one of about ten sculptures situated in Thetford Forest UK from October 2019 for the next few months).

 

The Peace Of Wild Things: An Encounter In Thetford Forest

20191013 THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS AN ENCOUNTER THETFORD FOREST

I’m in the depths of Thetford Forest. Some distance behind me is the hustle and bustle of a myriad of people near the visitors centre, using the café, experiencing zip lining or bbq’ing. But for those willing to venture away from the ‘near wild’, the voices in the forest call out.

 ’Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth… they preach… the ancient law of life’

As I pick my way through the damp forest – yes, although the rain is light it has been, and still is relentless – I am surrounded by wonderfully tall, sky-hugging lowland pine trees, some less than two feet apart from its neighbours. The sun is still high in the sky, but it’s shrouded by the trees, and so I’m walking in a twilight state, and so am being careful with face-high branches and twigs as I weave left and right.

The going isn’t that easy. The mud sucks ones boots down and makes walking laborious, and moss, like a green carpet, underfoot and dead, wet leaves give an alternative challenge, that of accelerated locomotion just when you didn’t expect it. Sometimes, my ambling though dense forest alternates between ‘clod-hopping’ and sliding all over the place. Not a pretty sight, but I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought. I am life from eternal life’

The forest is alive. Even in mid-October animals scurry this way and that in the undergrowth, birds fly overhead, and there’s that wonderful pine, tree, somewhat dank undergrowth smell that is fascinating, distinctive and refreshing. I can’t resist but to frequently, look around, inhale deeply, and find some excuse to sit on a fallen tree. Yes, I know it’s wet, but I’m ‘armed’ and wearing a waterproof kagoule and waterproof trousers. It’s bliss. There is no such thing as bad weather: just inappropriate clothing.

And there, standing in the distance, obscured by undergrowth until I move closer, is Venus. The artist will tell you that this is a human-height sculpture placed in the forest to show off the skills of human ingenuity. The ecologist would encourage you to note the sculptures  ‘skin’ of forest colours, to denote life, and in this case to promote the idea of nature-appreciation, reforestation and more. But there’s more.

The forest is alive. And just as a bird might make a nest, a beaver make a dam, and a Fox make a lair, and  we would call it natural, so too, these sculptures evoke a deep spirituality that is, perhaps, natural for humankind. And so, it is fantastic to see the first sculpture of about ten.

It is almost as if the forest is pressing in to get a closer look at what humankind has done here, and it is a acceptable. Surrounded by elementals, dryads, some would say forest angels, there is a presence here, in the forest. And this sculpture ‘fits in’ perfectly.

 ‘A longing to wander tears  my heart when I hears trees rustling in the wind…’

And so I move on, exploring the forest. Something like a bright orange light, just for a split-second catches my attention to the right. I turn my head in that direction,  look intently, but… nothing. Nothing but dense trees and fern. A trick of the light? A reflection on the side of my glasses? Or the beckoning of a Guardian of the Forest? Whatever it was, it has got my interest and I move in that direction.

Ten minutes later I’m still walking and there in front of me are two more sculptures: David and Daphne.

‘When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me…Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent’

The two magnificent sculpture: David (as in, David and Goliath), and Daphne (who, and those who remember their Greek mythology will know, was turned into a Laurel tree, but Apollo made the tree into an evergreen tree thus conferring immortality upon her.

I sit here,  mesmerised at the two sculptures. Two thoughts  in my mind: David faced his monster and prevailed. Daphne succumbed and gave her life, and yet even then became immortal. Who says the forest cannot teach us anything? I may not have heard an audible voice as I sat on a wet log, but I do believe an elemental, a dryad, a fay, or an angel whispered into my  ears words too deep to hear as sound, but penetrating deep within the labyrinthine ‘corridors’ of the brain, where mind, body and spirit meld. Of course, you would expect me to say that: I’m an animist.

I spent another couple of hours moving through the dense undergrowth and tall trees, and encountered all the sculptures carefully placed throughout the forest, some ‘hidden’ so that only the most adventurous would find them, and reap the reward of encountering these Guardians of the Forest. As above, so below.

And then I headed back to the visitors centre, still with the hustle and bustle of many people enjoying the fruits and pleasures of ‘near wild’. I’m now sitting at a picnic table and am gazing back the way I had walked. Two hundred feet away from me, the ‘manicured’ grass gives way to the dense trees and I look on longingly, and yet I’m completely happy and satisfied. Green joy unbounded. It was a wonderful experience – to forest-bathe, to amble in dense woodland, and to encounter sculptures that evoke the deep spiritual centres within, and to meet…. well, to have met forest entities, known and unknown.

’Whoever has learned to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness’.

 

(All indented quotes above are by Herman Hesse, and from his book Baume: Betrachtungen Und Gedichte)

The Elements: In Praise Of Earth

20191002 THE ELEMENTS IN PRAISE OF EARTH

As the days shorten and nights becomes longer, we’re moving towards winter. Already in the UK mornings, evening and nights are becoming much, much colder, and the midday sun sits ever lower in the sky.

Winter is that time of nature’s rest, even death, and plants and insects die; and even then there is a paradox that life is ‘home’ and active deep in the ground, and some of it is dormant and ‘sleeping’ deep in the womb of the earth, the soil that we tread so blithely .

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

(In the bleak midwinter: Christmas carol)

As winter approaches, here’s a few words of a seasonal introduction; the primacy of story, memory and ritual at this time; a new song; and something for those of an inquisitive nature and interested in a simple but profound scientific experiment centred on nature at this time of the year.

STORY, MEMORY AND RITUAL

With naked trees and animals saving warmth and energy, and many species dying off for the winter (until a new generation emerges) there is a silence that descends at this time – a primordial silence.

Human voices can predominate as animal noises momentarily reduce, and it is no wonder in nature’s silence that our ancestors warmed themselves around tribal fires and recited stories of old.

‘The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.’

(Wendell Berry)

Many of those stories might have been tribal histories, and who hasn’t on a winter’s night, especially at Christmas and the New Year reminisced about relatives that have moved abroad or who have ‘gone ahead’ to that heavenly realm? It is a time of story and of memories.

The landscape, cold and bare, also shares its memories if we ‘look’ deeply. We might see a tree taller than it was, a plant thicker, and the ‘scars’ on tree barks, that still tell their story to those that stop and look. Nature has a memory.

Story, memory and ritual come to the fore at this time.

The following can be incorporated into your Samhain celebration. Samhain starts the evening of Thursday, 31 October and runs for twenty for hours (but there is nothing to stop you celebrating it over the weekend).

The following can be used at (or about) the time of the Winter solstice in December, too, or indeed at any time during the season of winter. Use the following, adapt it, enjoy it.

This is a time to reminisce, tell stories, to remember that death is part of the cycle and new birth is ‘on its way’, and it’s a time of celebration (and yes, even mirth).

Here, then, are some wonderful words that can be incorporated into your seasonal ritual/liturgy:

‘If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence, we could rise up like rooted, like trees’. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

And,

‘We come from the earth and return to it, and so we live in agriculture as we live in flesh. While we live our bodies are moving particles in the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other living creatures’. (Wendell Berry)

And

‘The vines that are tended by the Divine Gardener’. (Catherine of Siena)

And

Spirit of the Abundant Earth,
allow me to live in the knowledge that
I am of the earth, from the earth, and returning to the earth.
Blessings of the earth be upon me.

(Christine Valters Paintner, Book: Water, Wind, Earth & Fire, part)

SONG: THE DAYS ARE COLD (A WINTER’S SONG)

The following song can be sung to the old, traditional Scottish tune, ‘The Water is wide”, and hails from the 1600’s. If you want an idea of the tune, do check here. (The tune for each of the three verses below is a repetition of the first forty-seven seconds of the link’s tune).

The days are cold
And night comes soon.
The circle turns
As in days of old.
Nature does sleep
And the winds do howl.
And my eyes do weep
Through the cold air now

The snow falls harsh
Upon the land.
There is a light
Within and without.
We raise our hands
To the Source of all.
And nature responds
with elementals call.

The days of change
Are here again.
Our voices raise
To the loud refrain.
We wish you peace,
We wish you well.
All nature sings
Winter’s farewell.

Tune: “The Water Is Wide”
Words: Tadhg Jonathan

THE QUADRAT
FOR THOSE OF A SCIENTIFIC OR INQUISITIVE NATURE

If you want to get an overall view of what wildlife is present in your garden, local park or nearby wild area eg forest etc even at this time of year, either because of your concern about the biosphere, sheer interest in the local environment, or out of general curiosity and personal interest, then you (and any children) may be interested in making and using a quadrat.

’It is apparent that no lifetime is long enough in which to explore the resources of a few square yards of ground.’ (Alice M Coats)

A quadrat is a merely a hand-made frame, maybe made out of thin cane or similar, and is generally one metre square (three feet by three feet in size approximately), with the four canes tied at the intersections to form a simple square.

Once made, it is a great way to sample a large area by concentrating on a small area. On suggestion is that, once in an area of wilderness, you randomly throw the quadrat (safely and gentlt), and see where it lands. If you want more information about quadrats, please see here.

Then, depending on your time, you can have endless hours of fun surveying plants, wildlife and insect life within the randomly selected area of that frame.

The idea is to explore and catalogue so do be careful not to destroy anything, nor cause too much of an upheaval to that area as you gently brush aside grass and plants or dig a little (and if you, inadvertently disturb anything,  do ensure you return it to its former state as much as possible, so that no one would ever know you had been there).

You might like to take a pen and paper to record results, and/or a camera, too, to take a photograph of anything interesting. With that in mind you might also like to record the scale of something found so you might like to take along a rule(r) or a coin  for comparison sake and lay the specimen alongside it  or it alongside the plant etc – a two (UK) penny coin is 25.9 mm wide (so close to one inch you can call it an inch) as you photograph specimens.

Don’t forget this is an adventure, and experiment, and it is also fun and respectful of nature – so record only, and so, no take-away specimens, please.

’Our world is a web of interdependencies woven so tightly it sometimes becomes love.’ (Tim Flannery)

If you want to email me a copy of your notes and findings (with the date, time and rough location of the one square metre quadrat, I will most certainly be pleased to look at them.

For the mathematically-inclined, if you know the total area of the garden, park or wilderness area in square metres, you can, roughly, multiply your findings by that total amount to gain a rough idea of the numbers and variations of wildlife in that total area.

But, I find just checking and recording what is alive in that one square metre to be fascinating and profound! Have fun!

‘The land is a mother that never dies.’ (Maori Proverb).

 

The Soul’s Cry Or A Zen-like Experience At Sainsbury

20190926 THE SOULS CRY OR A ZEN LIKE EXPERIENCE AT SAINSBURY FULHAM

The last twenty-four hours has been a helter-skelter ride of events, and emotions, and confusion. And yet, the day has been an enormous learning-curve for me, and an encouragement to action. Isn’t that life? Living?

This is how it started.

In the early hours, and I know it was 2.22am for that was the time on the digital clock display, I woke up from an odd dream. I had dreamed that I was attending some kind of spiritual ceremony and had fallen asleep. Is it possible to dream of falling asleep within a dream? It seems so. The really bizarre thing is that as I fell asleep in that dream I woke up in reality. Having woken up for about half a minute, I then fell back to sleep and the dream commence where I had left it. Had I actually woken up? It is all so confusing.

‘Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night.’ Charles Fisher

But, it seems I had another dream just before waking up as the alarm sounded.

In that dream I was kneeling in front of someone. They were seated and I was kneeling, and blessing them by anointing their feet with oil. As I looked up, and looked over their shoulder, behind them, it was as if their life played out like an old home cine projection on the wall or as a series of black and white or sepia photographs – many showing tragic events in their life. The words ‘grief-bearer’ – someone who draws alongside those in great need, in times of grief and tragedy – sounded in my mind.

‘Am I a grief-bearer?’, I asked myself. It seemed like a deafening, ‘No’ resounded in my head, and it was clear that the person seated in front of me was the grief-bearer, and was in need of ‘shedding’ some of the grief that that person had absorbed from others.

‘… you are the Grief Bearer. You take some of the pain onto yourself when you enter in with a family. You take their grief. Some of it goes with you.’

‘I stopped for a moment. It is exactly like that. Some of the pain from each heart enters mine, and we carry it together. Every life I’ve had the privilege of honouring goes with me…both the gifts, and the heaviness. It is a rare gift to be seen and understood by another. And, I will be honest. Few people see me these days…few grasp the heart of what I do, and the consuming craziness of this calling.’

Kelly at Sufficient Grace Ministries.

I have no idea who this ‘grief-bearer’ really is, and recount the dream here and now only because it may be you? [Should you wish to reply to that question, please contact me one-to-one].

Later that day, just before lunch I did some shopping at a large, local supermarket.

Having gone to the check-out counter with the least number of people, I prided myself at being as fast at packing the items I bought as the check-out person was at scanning them. Witty banter ensued. I went to ‘drop’ my card on the card ‘reader’ as instructed, but it wanted me to ‘swipe’ the card. A feeling of dread made me almost shudder.

And, yes, for the fifth time in almost as many weeks, it bleeped, and up came the word ‘signature required’. I have to admit I was not best pleased. A line of people were now behind me and it was asking for my card, a signature and verification by the shop’s staffmember. I tutted (which is what we Brits do when we’re annoyed).

‘You know’, I said to the pleasant check-out person with whom I had exchanged a joke just seconds before, ‘All these people will think I have insufficient funds, and that’s not the case’, I said emphatically as I frowned. With a smile, she uttered words that I had said countless times to others, and which caught me by surprise. She said, ‘Does it matter what others think?’ Ofcourse not, I thought, smiled and suddenly felt buoyed up by her zen-like wisdom and warm smile.

‘When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.’ Maya Angelou

Still later, having gone home, unpacked the food, and hotfooted it to my favourite café I met some very good friends, and very soon we were talking about history and politics.

As usual, we didn’t see eye to eye, but we’re good friends. One person adamantly enforced their views, and rather like friendly ‘sword fencing’ I did the same as regards my view. They ‘sword fenced’ more so, and so did I. And so it went on.

I felt as though I was about to win an academic point, when it was as though I could look upon their soul. I looked into their eyes and  it was as if a mist cleared just for a moment, and I could see the ‘real’ them. I glimpsed their immortal diamond of a soul. And their soul was crying out.

Initially, I thought my responsive ‘sword fencing’ was the cause. But, it ‘felt’ deep down, that their ‘sword fencing’ was their soul’s cry for help and I had merely retaliated in kind, rather than respond deeply to meet their hitherto invisible and unmet need.

I felt a huge amount of anger. Not with them, but with me. How could I be so foolish as to engage in a friendly-but-deepening-verbal-argument when it was their soul calling out to mine all along? How blind could I be?

‘I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.’ Jana Stanfield

I now know that sometimes some people’s barbed comments, which may provoke us, may be (and usually is) their soul’s cry. My course of action to draw closer to them, lovingly, and to support them was affirmed.

And, that was part of my day – hectic at times, confusing at times, but wonderfully and humbly enlightening at other times.

The last twenty-four hours has been a helter-skelter ride of events, and emotions, and confusion. And, this is how it ended: in silent, deep meditation with the feeling that something had be ‘discovered’, and a work set before me. It seems to me that the more aware we are, the more we will notice these liminal openings, but in equal measure may become complacent about them and miss them at other times. And so, so great is the need for each other, for living in the world, for times of meditation, liturgy, poetry, story-telling, music, celebrating the seasons, and ritual, and a whole myriad of other ‘tools’ that encourage us to be still and go within, and so become more aware.

‘The timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.’  Khalil Gibran

 

The Elements: In Praise Of Air

20190919 THE ELEMENTS IN PRAISE OF AIR

Air, I should explain, becomes wind when it is agitated. (Lucretius, On the Nature of Things)

Breath

There is a school of thought that says we each have a limited, unknown, number of breaths that we will take before we expire. And, by slowing down ones breathing, maybe with focused breathing, slowing exercises or meditation we can increase our lifespan.

Breathing.

Air.

It’s important to life and our longevity.

There is another school of thought that says by regulating our breathing we can place ourselves ‘in the way’ of the Divine, The Universe, the Source of All. Breathing has a natural rhythm of its own, and something we take for granted, but in hatha yoga this pause in breathing is called kumbhaka.

Kumbhaka, then, is the pause between inhalation and exhalation when the lungs are full, or between exhalation and inhalation when the lungs are empty – I prefer the latter. Then, in that pause there is no breathing. All things being well, the pause should only last for a few seconds – it’s not a competition to hold ones breath until one metaphorically bursts, but it is a gentle cessation of breathing for a short while, and then a return in inhalation/exhalation, ready for the next pause. In that way we ‘jump out’ of ordinary time for a split second and move closer. An ever-so important exercise that we can use in our own time ritual or group ritual.

Breathing.

Pausing.

Air.

It’s important to deep meditation and encountering.

Exhaling air we can speaks words of wisdom, and words of encouragement, and yet the same breath can be used destructively. I went on a march to Parliament – yes, I must be one of the oldest protesters around, but I felt so strongly about the case. A group of ten thousand of us chanted, ‘Save our democracy, stop the coup’, outside a prorogued (‘suspended’) Parliament. A positive, heartfelt response to a dire situation. At one point, heavily surrounded by police, a small opposition group of about forty fascists marched by. The jeered, they snarled, they pointed their fingers accusingly. It was as though a dark cloud of hate and confusion had closed in, almost. They chanted, ‘We’ve got a lamppost just for you’. Our words have consequences.

Breathing.

Air.

Giving our voice the power of positivity, and sadly, we have the option to be negative.

Also, lets not forget (though I’m a not-so-good clarinet-player and flautist), that with our breath, with air, woodwind musicians can make delightful tunes that can move us deeply within ourselves, and move us closer to the Divine.

The Druids, the Ancients, and other tribes (and ‘tribes’) knew of the importance of air to their lives, of breathing, and celebrated it in song, liturgy and ritual.

All praise be Yours, my God, through Brothers Wind and Air.
And fair and stormy, all the weather’s moods,
By which You cherish all that You have made. (Francis of Assisi)

Air, in Welsh is awyr (pronounced ah-weir, and preferably ‘rolling’ that ‘r’), can also mean sky, and was important to those Ancients, and to discerning and fellow ‘deep’ followers of today who revel in nature and the Spirit.

In ritual, many would turn to the east to celebrate or think deeply of air. To some it represents the intellect, is understood by the colour yellow, and others associate it with several constellations. To others it represents spring and life, new life. It is the only natural element that is invisible.

The letters of the Name of God in Hebrew are Yod, Hay, Vav, and Hay. They are frequently mispronounced as “Yahveh.” But in truth they are unutterable. Not because of the holiness they evoke, but because they are all vowels and you cannot pronounce all the vowels at once without risking respiratory injury.

This word is the sound of breathing. The holiest Name in the world, the Name of the Creator, is the sound of your own breathing.

(Rabbi Lawrence Kushner: Eyes Remade for Wonder)

Don’t you find that so profound and so comforting? That the name of the Source of All is the sound of breathing, and is on our lips constantly.

Ritual / Air

And, so there we were a few of us, Druids and Christo-Druids (or Druidic-Christians) deep in the forest at sunset, a liminal time. Part of the ceremony had us facing the four cardinal compass points in turn.

As we all face east, hands were raised in the orans position (ie  the position one would adopt, say, if someone was pointing a guy at you and said, ‘hands up’. Your hands would be about eight inches from each ear and at ear level, and that’s the orans position, and was used in antiquity in prayer, praise and blessing).

I recited a blessing:

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

Everyone responded with the word ‘amen’ or Awen’. Interestingly, I find that when I talk about the Awen to others, the Welsh word and notion for inspiration, the Spirit, I use a two-syllable sound, ie ah-wen. Here, in this ritual they and I, and for formal liturgy we used the more correct three-syllable sound ‘ah-woo-un’ to invoke the Spirit.

Later on, in unison, the group exhaled slowly, five times, and each time used the word Awen, this time ‘aaahhhhhhh-wooooooooo-uuuuuuunnnn. It was a wonderful and powerful expression of deep spirituality resonating though the ether.

At one point, one person was to be ‘commissioned’ into a certain role. Words were spoken, promises made and I reached out to touch that persons shoulder in mutual blessing and others did the same.

As I was leading this, I was in front of the person and gently got them to lower their head, and breathed on the crown of their head. It felt the natural and seemly thing to do, a good ritual of blessing, conferment and consecration.

Interestingly, shamans would do similar when healing others. But, it is something that many ancients did, and though it might seem odd to us, it wouldn’t appear so to them. ‘And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”‘ (John 20.22, the Book).

Shortly after, we all went home.

But, air is not just our breath, important though it is. It is around us and is witnessed as wind. Invisible wind, and yet we see and feel its effect.

Close your eyes and turn your face into the wind.
Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation.
Suddenly, you know you are alive.

(Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration)

Experience

A few years ago, I spoke about experience the blustery wind on that wonderful and remote island of Iona on the west coast of Scotland. The wind picked up on that Iona beach, and a storm comes ever closer.  I might like to think I am in control, but the weather doesn’t obey me, and the Source is not at my behest, either. It is easy to fall into thinking that, but the wind blows where it wishes. To read more of that encounter on Iona, see this link.