Rivers: Nature And Supernature. The Power & The Myth

20180908 RIVERS NATURE AND SUPERNATURE

Where is a body of water things happen. It’s not just that humankind sometimes uses oceans and rivers to (artificially) mark out territory at a superficial level, and things happen because of that. But, it’s deeper. There’s more.

As you know I’m in Hay On Wye, just inside the country of Wales, and chuckled to myself last evening as I walked the twenty minutes to the shop. To get there I crossed over a bridge over the small but vibrant Dulas Brook. It’s a wonderful Brook.

’It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things.’ Nicholas Sparks

Momentarily I stood there and looked down, and pondered the fact that half of me was in England, and half in Wales. I know, sometimes my inner child runs rampant – but, what not?

I was in no particular rush,  and so sat down beside the brook, away from the road, and enjoyed the solitude. 

Water, bodies of water, rivers and lakes have played an important part over the years in the belief system of many religions and faith groups. 

Millions of Hindus, with ashes over their bodies, plunge into the River Ganges in the hope that their sins will be washed away. The ancient Hebrews believed  that the Pool of Bethesda would heal them when it’s waters rippled declaring the presence of an invisible angel. And, many Christians bathe in the River Jordan for a blessing. The latter, ofcourse, use blessed or holy water in christenings and on other occasions when it is ‘flicked’ at the congregation. And, who can forget the old story, and one of my favourites, of dear Brigit turning bath water into beer!

’he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the [blind] man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam”. So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.’ John 9: 6b-7, The Book

Cleopatra, it is said knew of the healing properties of the water of the Dead Sea, and many today bathe in it, (or buy its water for home use) in the hope it will heal them (and indeed some say it may have some beneficial effect for skin ailments etc  because of its high salt content). But, there’s more.

Ah, water.

As I sat there and gazed into the Dulas Brook and with the sun setting, I wondered of the number of ancient Celts, Christians, Druids, Pagans and others that have done the same. Wales is that kind of place. It is a land of mystery and magic, where ancient voices can be heard in the wind and the energy of bygone ritual flows through the earth. Water, it seems, invited, and the Giver of Water moves through this land.

The ancients believe water could heal. And, at Buxton in Derbyshire is the ‘well’ that was flowing before the Romans invaded England, and which was used by Druids and others for healing. It was originally called Aqua Arnemetiae meaning. ‘the waters of the goddess who lived in the sacred grove. Know it is known as St Anne’s well.

Healing?

The ancient Celts and Druids told of stories where the Otherworld is reached by going under the waters, such as pools, lakes, or the sea, or by crossing the western sea. In Irish Immrama tales, a beautiful young Otherworldly woman would oftenapproach the hero and invite him to go away with her, as she sings to him of this happy land. He follows her, and they journey over the sea together and are seen no more.

A gateway?

Could Dulas Brook be a gateway to Annwn, the OtherWorld in Welsh mythology, that place of eternal youth and where disease was unknown?

The ancient Celts and Druids (and others) also believed that around water, such as lakes, rivers and brooks, elementals inhabited the area. Many still believe this today, and stories abound of good and not-so-good events around, or involving, water.

The spirits of watery places were honoured as givers of life. Sequana, it is said, seems to have embodied the River Seine at its spring source, the goddesses Boann and Sionnan give their names to the rivers Boyne and Shannon, and the ancient name for the River Marne was Matrona ‘Great Mother’.

Could there be a correlation between the River Lugg, just a few miles away, and Lugh? In the past I’ve dismissed it, but now I’m seriously considering the link.

It makes you think.

And, as I sat there gazing into the Dulas Brook I could see how water and the human imagination could ‘connect’ and deep thoughts take place. Ofcourse, many might dismiss such thoughts,  but what if imagination, like water, houses mysteries that defy rational explanation? What if we are surrounded my the miracle and magic that is water, but are oblivious to the fact?

Just a body of water? I would venture that when we gaze upon a lake, river or ocean there is much more than the eye can see. 

’Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’ Albert Einstein

 

 

In Praise Of Sister Water: A Westward Ritual

20180428 IN PRAISE OF SISTER WATERIt’s evening, and so like some I face the west in this simple ritual.

The four compass points, to many, represent the winter (north), spring (east), summer (south) and autumn (west); but in this ritual of thankfulness, north corresponds to the night, east corresponds to the morning, south corresponds to the afternoon, and west corresponds to the evening. It’s evening and so I faced west.

Ofcourse, some may suggest that a ritual of thankfulness for water is not needed, and all that is required is merely to set aside time to be thankful using thoughts alone. So simple. To me, ritual assists. In many cases ritual isn’t for some other cosmic power or elemental entity, but it is for our benefit. It is an aid to us.

How many times have I intended to set aside time for good-thoughts, and yet other events ‘crowded in’ and prevented me? How many times have ‘obstacles’ been placed in your way that stopped you from that special time of sending ‘up’ good-thoughts? How many times have our good-thoughts and prayers resembled ‘shopping lists’ or have been said at breakneck speed – we are all busy people, after all. And yet, ritual and liturgy have the power to slow us down, encourage us to ‘go deeper’, and to allow our total self, mind, body and spirit, to ‘dance’.

‘Any ritual is an opportunity for transformation. To do a ritual, you must be willing to be transformed in some way. The inner willingness is what makes the ritual come alive and have power.’ Starhawk

Never underestimate the benefits of ritual and liturgy.

No, ritual is for our benefit and important. In making that time different to other times, perhaps by wearing slightly different clothes, lighting of a candle or two, having special words that usher us into sacred time, into sacred space, we make an effort to step outside of mundane time. In purposefully doing things differently, however simple they may be, we declare our intentionality. And, that’s important. That Which I Bigger Than Us, I do believe, honours such intentionality.

The symbolism for the west, then, is water. From the UK perspective this is easy to remember as to the west of the UK is that great body of water, the Atlantic Ocean. And, so in facing west, I encouraged myself to give thanks for water.

We take water for granted, and yet 845 million people do not have access to clean water, and 2.3 billion do not have decent toilet facilities. There is not to heap guilt upon you and I, rather an encouragement to give thanks for what we have, (and later) to send out prayers or light-love or positivity etc to those who don’t enjoy fresh water, and perhaps to take a physical effort in contacting a water-aid charity to make a small difference.

‘I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.’ Matthew 25:35, The Book.

And so, I lit a candle. At the foot of the candle I had placed a small, white sea-shell representing the sea, and which contained a few teaspoonfuls of water. I gazed thoughtfully at the shell and the water; and the only thought that ‘bubbled’ up continuously was ‘thankyou’, and yet it was enough.

‘Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water who is so useful, humble, precious, and pure.’ Francis of Assisi

In front of me I had also placed a glass of cold, fresh water. I sipped it, slowly as a ritual act. Each little sip of water slid down my throat and was so refreshing. In my minds eye thoughts danced. I visualised the turbulent sea, clouds forming above it as the water-cycle played out, I recounted streams where I had walked barefoot in cool water, and times when I had got caught, unprepared, in a rain storm and could do nothing but laugh. Each sip of water produced a feeling of gratitude. With water we bathe or shower daily and are refreshed, perhaps we pour out a libation of water occasionally, and with water holiness is ‘flicked’ onto the faithful and places. It is a dynamic symbol of new life in baptism etc.

Having drank all the water, I stayed silent. In those next few moments I moved from gratitude to thinking of all those without fresh water around the world, and sent out well-wishes, good-thoughts, prayers and positivity to those in need and to relief agencies in the form of a visualised prayer to all near and far. Might you do the same in a similar ritual?

Some ten minutes later, I extinguished the candle, bowed to the west and gave thanks to the Great Supplier Of Water without whom life would cease. The ritual was over and I had left sacred space/time (or, do we ever really leave it?). The simple ritual had ended, but life goes on….because of water.

‘Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.’ Lao Tzu

 

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.

 

Reflections On A Puddle: A Quiet Teacher At Drws I Fyd Arall

20180125 REFLECTION ON A PUDDLE A QUIET TEACHER AT DRWS I FYD ARALLI am back in Capel Curig in north Wales for a while. I’m outside, and have walked the relatively short walk from my little cottage, Tŷ Gwyn (pronounced ‘tee gwin’, meaning White Cottage or White House), to an area that, for years, has been known to me as Drws i fyd arall. It’s raining hard – the ‘gift’ of storm Georgina that is sweeping across the United Kingdom.

Soaked, I sit on a felled log. It’s still about half an hour before sunrise.

‘Drip down, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds pour down…’ Isaiah 45;8a, The Book

And I feel wonderful, expectant, in awe at the two, old, trees in front of me. I sat there looking at these two trees, so different to the others around them, as these two trees had grown in a way that they bowed towards each other to form an arch. As children we noticed this, and I and my friends had called these two arched trees Drws i fyd arall (pronounced ‘droo zi fid arrah’) which means ‘door to another world’. Such was the imagination of us children that we played endless games by jumping through the arched trees, and in our minds eye believed that we found  ourselves in strange new worlds. Star Gate, the tv series, was still many years in the future. We got their first!

For more about Drws I fyd arall in previous articles, see here, and here.

And, now I’m sitting in the middle of this delightful forest, in suitably rain-proofed attire, and though its cold and there’s a great wind – I’m protected from that wind by the high trees around me – but not so from the rain. It’s raining even harder, and I love it.

By my feet, raindrops converge into puddles, multiple puddles and some of them quite deep, and as the puddles fill up with rain some of them join together to form even large puddles around me; and for a moment I am mesmerised by the sight of the rain splashing on the forest floor and into puddles, and by the soothing, continuous, hypnotic patter of fresh, cold, wonderful rain.

‘If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.’ Loren Eiseley

As I gaze at the large puddle in front of me, joining with another, and then being  ‘syphoned off’ into a larger deep depression on the ground inches to one side, I spied that water takes on the shape of that which it fills, and reshapes itself umpteen times, yet it still remains water.

‘I find inspiration in the movement of water. Sometimes I think about the journey the water has travelled, reconnecting me to the larger cycles of nature.’ Janet Echelman

How we could learn from water. If you’re like me, it is oh-so-easy to take on board the opinions of others sometimes; to be caught off guard and to be affected by their bad words and actions, and perhaps want to metaphorically strike back; or be adversely affected by ‘bad’ situations. Water is not changed by what it fills. It changes shape, but remains faithful to its nature. It loses nothing. How we could learn from water.

‘I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.’ John O’Donohue

Mark Nepo talks of this sort of awareness of nature. He calls them ‘quiet teachers’, for that is what they are: nature opening itself up to human awareness for the connection, which surely already exists, to be made understandable (at least in part) to us, in a quiet, authentic manner

And so this puddle, this ‘quiet teacher’, a puddle at Drws i fyd arall taught me that water adapts to fill the ‘shape’ of its surroundings, but remains faithful to itself.

And, in a ‘flash’ as I sat on that felled tree, I realised that, as humans, we are should (or perhaps, are encouraged, is a better way of putting it, to) adapt to situations in our daily life, albeit some tough events, or situations brought on by ‘difficult’ people, and yet remain faithful to our ‘humanness’, our core. It is possible to adapt and not take on board the negative ‘stuff’ around us.

And then, I experienced another ‘flash’ as if lightning had filled the sky: it dawned on me – our body and soul may be seemingly affected, but the lesson of this ‘quiet teacher’ was that that need not be the case, but it came to me that our soul, our being, our very essence is never affected by it at all – we just think it is. There is something in us that ‘higher’, still. And from ‘that place’, a place of Love, we can have compassion on others, and bear tough situations come what may.

I had to sit on the felled log for some time to ‘unpack’ those two ‘flashes’ of thought(s) from Beyond.

‘…the work of compassion: to embrace everything clearly without imposing who we are and without losing who we are.’ Mark Nepouiet

Celtic Poem: Bach Ac Yn Gyflym [Revisited]

20170530 BACH AC YN GYFLYM REVISITED POEMI’m back in Capel Curig, the location of my north Wales ‘cottage’ in the wilderness, and have just walked to the far, northern end of the garden. It’s wonderful to gaze upon distant clouds, nearby trees, unbridled nature, rampant fecundity, lush mountains.

It’s there, in the garden, that there is a small, wonderfully inviting rivulet that flows unimpeded. Even if it is unheeded, it flows. It needs no human eye to convince it of its status, but when around, it does indeed invite all to look on in wonder. And, as you look into it in awe, it looks back in a similar manner.

Mirroring. ‘Connecting’. Oneing.

I call this watery friend, this rivulet Bach ac yn gyflym. Welsh geographical place-names are very descriptive, and it seemed right to call this stream by this name.  Its name means ‘small and fast’. Very apt. Very Welsh.

In this rugged, wild, grey-green place,
Bach ac yn gyflym, that ancient stream flows.
Downstream represents that past, of days gone by,
the old, the familiar and known.
It is an empty plate of cakes, just crumbs, now gone; it is yesterday’s meal.

This flowing water is time.

I surmise that you look upstream! Most do.
Upstream is unfamiliar.
It is tomorrow charging towards us and becoming ‘now’.
It isn’t red-shift; it is blue-shift.
It isn’t the past, it is the future.
It is potential, opportunity,
a ribbon of possibility reaching out toward us.
It is the unknown. A challenge. A risk. An adventure.

Time could be the harbinger of good or of bad,
however we define those mysterious words.
And yet Rumi’s wisdom of old, words of invitation
to accept those who knock at the door of one’s life echo loud.
For in playing host to all,
we may accept a benevolent ‘guide’ from beyond,
and grow in stature.

The flowing water is time.

As I stand motionless and observe, the water flows and yet so do I.
A body that ages.
A mind that thinks.
A heart that beats involuntarily.
A planet that spins. And one that orbits.
A solar system that moves.
Tempus fugit.

Everything is in a state of flux.

And so, like you, I look upstream.
Could this be Bach ac yn gyflym or even Pishon?
But, I crane my neck and look upstream,
for it is from there that the Spirit calls out to all of us by name.
The Bat Kohl whispers in the desolation, the forest, even in the city.
Her activity is recorded in the past, felt in the present, and reverberates to us from the future.

The flowing water is time.

Poem: Gratitude At Bach Ac Yn Gyflym

160826 gratitude at bach POETRY LITURGY

At the far end of my garden, in the wilderness of north Wales, well, actually just over the unmarked and unannounced boundary of my garden, is a rivulet. Hidden by trees and gorse bushes, it rushes by the northern boundary, invisible to all, except to me and a few locals.

It’s small and fast. Small. Yes, with a slight run and jump you can easily jump over it. Fast. Well, fast for it’s size. It’s so small it has no name, here, except the one I gave it. To me, this stream or rivulet, this small river (as it widens as other tributaries join it further along) deserves a name. It was here before I was born, from a time when the mountains were carved, and it will be here long after I’ve gone.

To me, this ‘watery companion’ is: Bach ac yn gyflym. Welsh geographical place-names are very descriptive, and it seemed right to call this rivulet by this name. It means ‘small and fast’. Very apt. A very Welsh name.

I was as at Bach ac yn gyflym earlier today, at mid-morning. It was hot. An unusually hot and glorious day, even for August. And sitting on the edge of the rivulet, alone but not alone, in the shade of aged trees, and dangling my feet in it’s coolness, I couldn’t help but write words of gratitude to the One who opens the fountains of the deep. I wrote:

River of all that is Holy flows from the mountain,
and passes me by.
What was parched, is parched no more.
And what was lifeless, now teems with life.
The earth is green by the handiwork of God.
Viriditas.
And, the beast of the field honour the Giver of Life, the dragons and the owls, also.

We look on in awe, and pause in wonder.

In entering the river’s flow, we become the river.
Immersed. Baptised. Anew. ‘Oneing’ with God.
In entering the river’s flow, may what we do flow from us like this river
so that we become rivers of promise to others.

We will sing as no one ever has, flowing onward to the Great sea.
Oh, that our lives would be carried along by the flow of water,
that we are not concerned about the twists and turns it takes,
but  be mindful of the joyful and onward journey to the Source of All.

Lord of the river, this refreshing, small and fast river, we give you thanks.

(Words also inspired by the works of: John O’Donohue, Rainer Maria Rilke, Julian of Norwich, Isaiah 43:20).