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.

 

The Elements: In Praise Of Fire

20190906 THE ELEMENTS IN PRAISE OF FIRE

Sitting by that hearth as a child I was mesmerised by the ‘ghostly’ flickers of orange, red and yellow as flames danced around the lumps of coal.

Occasionally a plume of blue or purple, ignited coal-gas, would prevail for few seconds and catch my attention. The coal would splutter, and shift, and settle as lumps of coal would disintegrate. The fire would hiss and crackle, and emit heat – so much so that, that, as I usually sat too close to the fire, one side of my face would be red for a while and hot, and the other seemingly cold. But, they were wonderful childhood memories of the hearth and of fire.

It is no wonder that the ancients and some today believe fire to be alive. The mythical and elemental salamander, often depicted as a typical salamander in shape, is elemental fire.

What follows, then, is research and words of liturgy (usually indented, below, that you might like to use and/or adapt) on the fascinating subject of the element of life-giving fire, that I hope with enthral you and inspire.

‘The most tangible of all visible mysteries – fire’. (Leigh Hunt)

Since the beginning of humankind fire has held many in awe, and much myth surrounding its ‘finding’ abound in many cultures. Remember Prometheus in Greek mythology who stole fire from the gods and gives it to humankind? Or the story of dragons, flying serpent-like creatures in many Celtic tales who gifted mankind with fire and with speech.

As regards fire, the rekindling of  fire in ancient times was problematic, and it was probably because of that that Abraham carried live coals with him when offering a sacrifice (Genesis 22.6, The Book). Others, especially travelling tribes would have done the same. In those times, sometimes, children were made to ‘pass through the fire’ as a sign of dedication (and not sacrifice) by some tribes.

In the beginning, some fourteen billion years ago, there was nothing. Then, about 13.8 billion years ago, the universe erupted into being and the temperature of it, for a brief moment,  was an astounding one billion degrees Celsius (though, it you still work in Fahrenheit then it was 1.8 billion degrees). Fortunately, it cooled down, and as we know from science energy is never lost or destroyed, but is changed, transformed, and so that energy is still around to day.

‘Fires from the beginning of time empower you right now – this instant. What you are thinking and feeling…is possible only through the cosmic fire. (‘The Universe Is A Green Dragon’, Brian Swimme)

The energy of the cosmos, from the Big Bang, continues. Not just in each star that we can see and not see, not only within the molten core of our home planet, but it is within each one of us, within everything that exists.

But fire is not always destructive and negative. In some cases, it is used as a purifying process or to signify truth, sometimes it is used to herald a theophany, and sometimes to talk about love and burning desire.

‘To love is to burn, to be on fire.’ (Jane Austen)

And, to ancient and latter-day Chinese people and those who practice Qi Gong, yang is the fire within and also the positive energy that circulates around the body, with its ‘chief’ organ being the heart.

It is no wonder that many cultures revere or hold a special place for fire in their community or home. Indeed, in many Celtic or Druidic ritual, fire is one of the main elements:  many face the southern compass point  in ritual to commemorate not just the season of summer, but also fire.

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. Tess Ward

The Carmina Gadelica – a compendium of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, literary-folkloric poems and songs, proverbs etc gathered in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1860 and 1909, and recorded by Alexander Carmichael Gaelic-– speaks of smooring the fire in the hearth.

Many translate smooring as smothering the fire before one goes to bed, but it really means subduing the fire when rekindling the fire was a challenge (but, please, do safely smother any fire you light at the end of each day or as necessary). Smooring in that older sense meant that embers could easily be kept and rekindled the following day, and according to Carmicheal the following prayer would be used when smooring (or maybe used by us as we smother a fire or candle flame after (ritual) usage.

I am smooring the fire
as the Son of Mary would smoor;
Blessed be the house,
blessed be the fire,
blessed be the people all.

(Carmina Gadelica, compiled by Alexander Carmichael)

Or

I will smoor the hearth
as Mary would smoor;
The encompassment  (encircling) of Bride (Bridget) and of Mary,
on the fire and on the floor,
and on the household all.

(Carmina Gadelica, compiled by Alexander Carmichael)

And so, that childhood memory of the hearth returns to me. Happy days. Ofcourse, the circle has turned many time since then. Endless smooring and rekindling has taken place, and those around the hearth in my childhood, then, save one, have ‘gone ahead’ and been transformed. But, the memories and good times, and their words and example remain. The words of our Elders and loved-ones, though they may not be physically present, can positively  burn within our hearts and rekindle kindly action within us, even today.

That ancient and noble fire of love and truth, of light and encouragement continues on, in you and I.

‘Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames’. (Rumi)

 

The Elements: In Praise Of Water

20190816 THE ELEMENTS IN PRAISE OF WATER POEM LITURGY

It’s been warmer than usual in the UK, and yet today and tomorrow the forecasters predict that over that short period we should expect a month’s rainfall, if it were a ‘normal’ month.

We take it for granted, misuse it as though we have too much of it, and yet without water life on this planet would perish. Another sobering thought, as take clean water for granted, is that two billion people are without clean water, and, sadly, each year 320,000 children die because of that.  If ever there was a need to consider giving a small amount of money to water aid charities (if able), then now is the time. But, whatever we do, you might like to consider the following as a poem, a prayer offering, or as part of your liturgy for the environment.

The following was written some time ago by me:

Water.

The vast oceans, which sustains life on Earth,
which move at the behest of the moon,
the rolling tides that contains a myriad of sea-life, from plankton to the behemoth,
that which quenches the world’s need,
and from which all nourishment is assured,
acknowledgement is given.

From clouds you pour out rain upon the Earth, and enrich it.
Mighty lakes appear from which  ancient forests of growing trees are fed,
and daily bread is produced for our table.
An abundance for many,
and a veritable gift from the Great Water-Giver.
Bountiful.

It soothes and it heals.
For when an angel’s wing sweeps
across the surface of the Pool,
then healing takes place, and there is restoration.
Health-giving.

It’s cleansing power, daily, washes the body,
and restores vitality.
A clean start. A refreshing start. A new start.
All is washed away.
And, in it celebration commences,
in appreciation, in sport, in swimming and in children’s’ play.
Joyfulness.

It quenches the soul, it nurtures the spirit;
and from those who are aware,
springs of sanctifying water flow,
and outward pour,
to friends, to enemies,
to those near, and to those far away.
To all.

Water.
Whether we have much, or little,
may the words, “Come, all. Drink. Share”, be on our lips.
Praise to the Great Water-Giver.

 

Ebb & Flow: Celtic Poetry, Liturgy, Words To Ponder Upon

20170724 EBB AND FLOW CELTIC POETRYIn life we witness and experience the great circle – the ebb and flow of the Spirit. In this world, and indeed, in this life all is in a state of flux. Everything changes. Therein lies hope. It’s summer. The circle turns, and it will soon be autumn and then winter. The circle turns, still, and winter becomes spring and so on. Ebb and flow. The following can be a(n enacted) poem, or liturgy for a ritual or service, or words for you to ponder upon in solitude, in gratitude of nature’s bounty and the Great Provider behind it all.

[Facing east]
Praise to you, Oh Supplier of air.
The wind rises as a mighty tempest and powers weather systems
and, yet as a gentle breeze, it moves leaves along the path.

Ebb and flow.

[Facing south]
Praise to you, Oh Provider of fire.
The fire scorches the earth, from which new life emerges
and, yet as small and humble flame it gives heat and light to all.

Ebb and flow.

[Facing west]
Praise to you, Oh Bringer of water.
The great seas maintain the planet’s life-equilibrium
and, yet in our homes it provides our daily, individual and essential needs.

Ebb and flow.

[Facing north]
Praise to you, Giver of earth.
The earth provides vast fields for the seed, from which nourishment grows,
and, yet  it is a reminder of the great circle of life, and death, and new life.

Ebb and flow.

Liturgy For Alban Eilir, The Spring Equinox [Monday, 20 March 2017]

20170316 litrugy for alban eilir EPHEMERAIt’s now only a short time until the Spring equinox happens, 20 March – that time when day and night are of equal length, and thereafter we move slowly toward summer when the sun climbs higher and days lengthen even more. In Wales Spring Equinox is a ‘magical’ time, and is known as Alban Eiler, which means, quite aptly, ‘the light of the earth’.

To celebrate this wonderful event, here’s some words that you might consider using and/or adapting as a Liturgy For Alban Eiler, for your own celebration

Earth Blessing:

(Facing east)
Blessed be the One who crosses boundaries,
who is evident in the lengthening day,
in the turning of the Great Circle, and
who is felt in the soft, refreshing Spring wind.

(Facing south)
Blessed be the One who is evident in the colour green,
Viriditas,
who makes plants grow and flower,
and the trees to prepare for blossom, and
who warms the earth as the sun rises higher in the sky.

(facing west)
Blessed by the One who causes nature to stir from her sleep,
who waters the earth, and calls to the deep,
and the deep joyfully replies and springs to life, and
who changes the slow, icy brooks into life-laden babbling streams.

(facing north)
Blessed be the One who speaks to the earth,
and from decay new life immediately appears,
who showers the earth with rain from your storehouse of abundance, and
who blesses the earth, which, in turn, blesses us.

(facing east)
Lord of the elements, ‘Three-Personned’ God, we praise you.

For Personal Renewal

Lord of Springtime, Lord of All,
refresh us and awaken our senses.
Cleanse us inwardly,
and dispel the dust of resistance and old habits,
and fill us with your love and grace,
that the blessings you give us, we can give back to you
in eternal praise.

End Of Day Liturgy

Praise to you, Mother-Labourer of All,
who has birthed all creation and who re-creates.
I/We rest now with you,
Maker and loving Sustainer of all your children, and
I/We ask you to enfold me/us,
and all those on my/our heart/s.
Amen.

The Elements: Air: A Word Spoken In Season…

20170307 a word in season CELTIC THOUGHTIn this season, spring, air is the remembered and celebrated element. Something so invisible,  so powerful, sometimes so forgotten, and yet so vital for our existence.

Here’s a few thoughts about air from a Celtic, Christian (Celtic), Druid point of view.

So, take a breath, maybe a deep breath through the mouth and hold it for two seconds, and then release it. Maybe, do that again…and then return to normal breathing. We often take breathing for granted, and yet that simple exercise is such a momentous thing to do. Air. Dare I call it a miracle?

Air. There is power in breathing.

‘Spoken words have power beyond measure.’ Debasish Mridha

When we’re sad our breathing becomes heavy, and we emit heavy sighs. When we’re joyful we can laugh so much that it seems our lungs will burst or we’re likely to hyperventilate and get giddy. When fearful, we hold our breath and concentrate on listening to the environment. And, when we’re about to do something hard or spectacular we take a long deep inhale of a breath as if to prepare ourselves. Breathing then, and in the short exercise above, is a kind of prayer, a celebration of life, an exercise in ‘being’ and a thanksgiving of (and for) the gift of life itself.

Air. There is life in breathing.

In one of my tribes’ stories, it is often said that Moses timidy got the better of him, and he  never asked the Source of All his (or her) personal name, but that the Source of All was gracious enough to reveal it. Over the centuries that name, being so special was never uttered in full, and so we’re left now with the (usually unpronounced) name YHWH (and which, when you add vowels, becomes YaHWah (pronounced ‘yah-way’) for those that want to pronounce the name). Scholars, however, were quick to realise that the letters YHWH represented breathing sounds, aspirated consonants. Add some vowels, and you get the name YaHWeh. But, ‘breathing’ consonants.

‘Breath is the finest gift of nature. Be grateful for this wonderful gift.’  Amit Ray,

So, could it be that the name of the Source of All is the sound of breathing? I will be more emphatic and say…

Air. God’s name is (the sound of) breathing.

I have stood in Clackitt’s Wood and between tall high-rise buildings in London and with the air quite still at ground level, have heard the wind skim and distort the tops of trees, and over those trees and those tall buildings  heard the wind ‘groan and moan and wail’. Power.

Some years ago I was on a school’s governing board, and coming late to it, I was (as were other governors placed on a subcommittee, too), put on the ‘Exclusions sub-committee’. Along with two other governors I herd my first case of a very young student who had been excluded and through this ‘hearing’ the school was frantically trying to put into place measures to ensure the pupil got ‘back on track’. The childe sat in the chair, as her parents told the governors, ‘It’s a pity she’s not as bright as her sister!’. I watched as those words took hold, saw the child’s head droop, shoulders curl as her ego reeled from that ‘battering’. (Negative) Power. I’m happy to say the governor chairing that subcommittee gently rectified the situation, encouraged the parents not to be so negative or compare that child to anyone else, and ‘built up’ that child’s confidence, and I’m pleased to say that measures put in place led to that pupil returning to achieving good things. Power.

Air. Words have the power to ‘crush’, or ‘build up’.

What we say does have an effect. We can use our words, in relating to others, to ‘crush’ their ego, or encourage and ‘build them up’. Of course, I’m advocating the latter. In our rituals (and our ceremonies etc) whether in a group or alone, our words have energy, and do make an impact. In that sense this can be a cautionary word, to be careful in uttering negatives.

‘When you realize the awesome power of words, you can change lives.’  Tammy Kling

However, I like to think of it as an encouragement for us to utter positive words – whether in a group or individual prayer, ritual or ceremony, or whether we’re talking to friends, families, strangers or whoever we encounter. I’m advocating, that we use words of encouragement, or even a blessing (and we’ll look at that word, blessing, in a few days) toward others.

Air. With a word of command the universe sprang into being.

Air reminds us to use our words wisely both in talking to others, to ourselves or ‘into the air’ in a solo or group ritual etc. Your words have power. Use wisely…but do use!

‘Words have magic. Spells and curses. Some of them, the best of them, once said change everything.’  Nora Roberts, Jewels of the Sun

Harmony Of The Elements: Celtic Thought

20170302-harmony-of-the-elements-celtic-thoughtAs we’re in the season of spring, the main element of our focus of this time is air. But, that’s not to ignore the other three elements – and apologies to those that hold to three elements in total (as I’m a ‘four element’ man in the main, though maybe in actuality I’m a ‘five element’ man, with the fifth being of a different order, but that’s for another time).

And, just for a few minutes, as I’ve had more opportunity to travel by bus recently – blessed be the #72 bus route – and marvel at the joined-up service in London, my thoughts were led to think of harmony, and especially about the harmony of the elements. Their connectedness.

For some time I’ve fallen into the habit of ‘dealing’ with the elements individually as the wheel turned and one season led into another, and missed out, I think. It’s easy to do. So, here’s a few thoughts about the presence and balance of the elements as it occurred to me journeying around London, today.

Of course, acceptance of elements within everything goes back a long way and permeates many cultures. Empedocles, the Greek philosopher, scientist and healer of the fifth century BC, believed that all matter is comprised of four elements: earth, air, fire and water. And, this was a common belief, upheld by ancient Celts, Druids and others, and (depending how you perceive things and the circumstances) by latter-day ones, too, and poets and story-tellers, also.

I can do no better than include, here, the words of Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, who currently lives in the Dordogne region of the south of France, who wrote:

‘If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper.

Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper.

When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist. ‘ Thích Nhất Hạnh

In that example, Thích Nhất Hạnh writes that in a sheet of paper, a newspaper that we might read on the way home from work, that their is a cloud ‘in’ the paper. And, also, their is the presence of the elements of: earth (in the form of paper from trees of the earth),  air (as trees ‘breathed’ that in), water (in the form of rain which fell from the sky and fed the trees), and fire (because it was the sun whose light and heat nourished the tree to grow tall and strong).

All elements are present in ‘things’, but maybe depending on the item, and/or circumstance, and/or our perception at the time, one comes to the fore. There is, therefore, a wonderful balance and equality (even an equality of deference at times) between the elements. All present. All working together. All in harmony. What do you think?

The Elements: The Wind Whispers

20170215-the-wind-whipers-poetry-and-liturgySince the celebration of Imbolc or Candlemas, usually the first few days of February, we’ve moved into the season of spring. Sometimes, local weather patterns prevail for a time to give a wintery feel, but rest assured spring is on its way. [Except for my antipodean friends. Sorry].

For ancient Celts, Christian Celts, Druids and those of many other ancient tribes, the cardinal point for spring is the east. So, my recommendation is that, for any ritual or recitation you make to celebrate the season, you face the east – unless you have a fixed custom, of course. For me, at this time, I like to start three compass/cardinal points ‘back’, and so as I work my way through a recitation at each compass point in a clockwise fashion, I end, for this season of spring, by facing the east. East represents spring time.

And the main element of spring is air/wind.

Here’s a poem entitled ‘The Wind Whispers’, about this season of spring and its main element:

– oOo-

I hear your voice on the sound of the wind,
and I hear you call out my name
deep within.

With no companion to my mood
I walk, but know
that in my solitude
I must bow to the wind that buffets me so.

Tonight was the first spring thunder
in the mighty rush of rain.
And the earth, like a child that knows her poems by heart,
declares, yes, that it’s spring once again.

And so I part the thrusting branches
and come  beneath
the blesséd and the blessing trees,
that look upward at God all day
and lift their leafy arms to pray.

Beneath a canopy of stars,
of broken branches showing the scars
of many winds and so much strife,
this is life.

Yes, the wind whispers to us all.
Its words carry across the tree tops, and it sings.
And, back comes the wind full strength with a body-blow
dandelion-pixabay-smalllike that of angel-wings.

Praise be to you my dear Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and now serene,
I hear your voice…and I hear you call out my name,
welcoming me, and those of my kin.

-oOo-

This is a ‘found poem. That is, a new poem fashioned from, and/or based upon the thoughts and words of others that have gone before. In this case, this poem written by me, was prompted by some great words penned by:  Rudyard Kipling, Sara Teasdale, St Francis of Assisi, Joyce Kilmer, Rainer Maria Rilke, Wendell Berry, and Douglas Malloch.

 

20170215-the-wind-whipers-poetry-and-liturgy