A Mass of Humanity

The church was as lovely as I have ever seen it.  A wall of poinsettias was set before the altar.  Evergreens glowing with white lights were draped in red ribbons were tucked in every alcove.  The music was perfect – a soloist accompanied by the harp and the piano – and the priest, a retired bishop, was all that you want a Catholic clergyman to be – thoughtful, appropriately self-deprecating, smiling, kind.  It was Christmas morning.

The homily made me ache for Moira, who was at home with my mother (the family splits into the Midnight Mass crowd and the morning church folk – this was the first time in a long while that I had to be in bed by 9:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve).  The bishop spoke of how all families change for the better with the addition of a little baby.  He assured the half-full church that he knew we’d all be wondering what a celibate knew of such things, but he had an understanding of human nature and heavenly nature that made up for the fact that he was only and observer of earthly family dynamics.

And then came time for the Creed.  My husband and I launched in, both muttering the words by rote.  I wondered how they echoed in his agnostic heart as I wondered at how easy it was to say I accepted in one version of One God and One Lord when, in reality, I lived a very different theology, finding gods and goddesses all over.

I watched as the bishop as he dug inside his robes for a handkerchief.  Without breaking from the prayer, this unselfconscious octogenarian wiped at his nose before the entire congregation.  As I began to smile broadly at this perfect display of humanity in this midst of all that godly talk, I realized we were on the bit about Pilate and Christ’s suffering.  The words were so automatic, the idea of crucifixion did not even register.  I was half in the moment; my focus on the fleshy plane, not the pious one.

When I finally wiped the grin off my face, I looked around at the other pews.  Earlier, I had been pitying the kids who had been torn from their toys and stuffed into new clothes to stand around listening to an old man, who no matter how endearing to the grownups, could never be more fascinating than Santa’s loot.  One girl, about seven or eight, wearing a headband that kept slipping onto her forehead and a crinkly dress that left her nowhere to put her hands was fidgeting as the long prayer droned on.  Her father, whose perfectly gelled hair and flawlessly pressed jacket could not make up for a severe, pock-marked face, looked down to her with a warning glance, his mouth still moving with the story of the religion.  The look worked and she resumed staring at the carpet.

One prayer, two human stories out of hundreds that were acted out while those familiar words flowed forth.  For all that it is easy to talk about the tyrannical dictates of the hierarchy and those endless rules and regulations that stifle the spirit, there are always the stories that you come in with, the humanity that you can hold dear even when you are acting according to the script of the mass.

I still stood on the outside looking in, but it was important somehow to take in not just the religious theater, but the movement of all the extras as well.

The Christians and the Pagans Sit Together Round the Cradle

Moira’s christening is set for next June.

Just three years ago, one of the many reasons we refused to marry in the Church was the requirement that we at least promise to raise our children in “the one true faith,” but those concerns faded last month when I took pleasure in asking my grandfather if we could have the baptism at his church.

Boughs of our Christmas tree are bending under the weight of a choir and a half of angels.  Our living room is decorated with not one, but two nativity scenes.

The trappings of the season, just to be expected in the homes of even casual believers to be sure.  But for me, the angels are there to represent the little girl who has been deemed our “Angel Baby.”  The figurines of the Holy Family are representative as much of the Christmas story as they are our new little family.  Images that are incontrovertibly Christian have essentially been co-opted to fit the shape of our family and our lives.

Do we all do this to a degree?  Finding our home in a religion, in a set of beliefs, in a path of any sort because they add depth or help to make sense of our experiences?

A year ago when I wrote in this space nearly every day, I often sounded like a lapsed Catholic working her way back to the fold.  After attending a nightmarish Easter mass celebrated by a priest who used the pulpit to wag a sanctimoniously admonishing finger at the unusually full pews, that crest of interest in my childhood religion receded once again.  I resumed my safe distance from the religion I have ignored or actively renounced for nearly half my life.

During my pregnancy, I had a few isolated pockets of spiritual lucidity (the rest was a bit of a fog in which I felt completely unable to organize my closet enough to get dressed, never mind my thoughts enough to write coherently) and in that time I felt much more drawn to the powers of a universal Mother than the specifics of Christianity.

Moira will be counted amongst the Catholic branch of flock to please our families and to mark her arrival with a ritual, even if it is not exactly the ritual I believe best marks initiation into this life.  Because I intend to raise her with a respect for all faiths and the curiosity to find whatever path to Spirit calls her by name, I have a couple of options.  I could leave her to be a religious tabula rasa with no ties to a specific faith and let her make all of the decisions when she is ready.  Or, I could  give her the same start that her father and I had and allow that to be one step along a journey that could bring her closer to the teachings of Rome or just be one ceremony among many in a seeker’s life.

Like superimposing the trinity of my own little family onto the family in that manger 2000 years ago, I am sculpting the Catholic traditions to suit my own needs.  I am Catholic enough to feel a little bit guilty about bringing Moira to an altar to have promises of single minded devotion to one version of God made upon her behalf.  I am still a little sad that a tradition as rich as this one is still not “enough” to satisfy my spiritual inclinations, but I think teaching her to find the Divine in all beings and help cultivate in her a true sense of compassion for all the world with counterbalance these little transgressions against a creed that is not my own.

My first departure from Catholicism was through paganism, which was the most rebellious, individualistic path I could imagine.  Now, I know that the two are far from antithetical and that both paths inform who I am now though neither shall ever define me.  Still, adherents to both views think they are forever living at opposite ends of the spectrum so much of the time, unless you are having a Christmas-Solstice dinner with Dar Williams…

Ash Wednesday in the House of Christianity

The cross, with which the ashes are traced upon us, is the sign of Christ’s victory over death. The words “Remember that thou art dust and that to dust thou shall return” are not to be taken as the quasi-form of a kind of “sacrament of death” (as if such a thing were possible). It might be good stoicism to receive a mere reminder of our condemnation to die, but it is not Christianity.

Thomas Merton

dsc00665I attended an ecumenical Ash Wednesday service this evening. The program they passed out gave us Merton’s introductory passage to glimpse what Christianity was not. As I stood in a chapel I had last entered when I attended a Rufus Wainright concert (not exactly a journey into the sacred as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John might have it), I came to realize how much I have to learn about what Christianity is.

Sure, I’ve got the basics down and I understand what it was to be raised a Catholic kid in the 80s. But for all my reading, it was not until I watched a sparsely attended ritual held together with a crazy quilt of readings and quotations that I was able to look through the windows of Christianity in a new way and realize, despite its many doors, it is still just one large house.

Though I now have a smudge of ash upon my forehead, I did not remember the significance of this temporary mark when I decided to step in after work. I am sure that I knew once, but it was not the sort of information I ever had to retain. All I knew was that it made sense that I was in that chapel. I needed a place for quiet contemplation to mark the day and the remnants of my own history and the power of ancestral memory set me comfortably enough in the Christian fold.

Perhaps it was because I am not a student, but for all that I had the credentials of a Christian, I still felt like I stood outside and looked in the windows of their ritual.

This is not to say that I felt alienated. In fact, I felt the complete opposite.

I was amazed to realize that the sentiments included in the Litany of Penance so closely echoed untutored words I have whispered into my own soul. The language, that I know a younger, more recalcitrant version of myself would have found debasing, felt necessarily humble and honest. The professed admissions of failings and the hunger for reconciliation at first seemed too heavy a cross to bear, but then I realized that I force myself through such rigorous self examination all the time. And I am much less forgiving of my own sins than God promises to be…

Yes, it all made sense, and the prayers rang true.  Enough of me was at home there.

dsc00383But still, a portion of me observed from outside this house of Christ. That part of me stood rooted into the earth and felt the rain fall upon my face and trusted the sun would come out to dry me in time. I was able to love everything marks this first day of Lent because I know I am welcome in that building, but am comforted to know I can still step away in order to speak the language of a Yoga Sutra or an Arabic mantra.

Other faiths’ houses of worship do not offer the organic comfort that the Catholicism of my heritage does, but their traditions still offer sweet succor for the soul. Sitting in the warm embrace of Christ I was able to understand that every moment is sweeter when I can embrace all spiritual possibilities. Churches, mosques, and temples – they are a collection of neighbors’ homes planted in a circle on God’s beautiful green earth.

Recovering Buried Mythologies

Some of the sage advice that my most exquisite energy healer offered when I visited her in the midst of my 10 day long battle with depleted energy and sinking spirits was quite simple:

Just relax. No stress. No contemplating. No conscious creating. Just watch the equivalent of Oprah and seek out as many comedies as possible. You need to laugh.

peneloperococo_hcI tried really hard to comply. I watched a lovely fairy tale of a movie, Penelope, that was full of eye candy and clever enough allegory. I began reading a book called Rococo and am loving my time with an interior decorator from New Jersey who’s transforming his childhood church. Each reminded me of aspects of my own story, but neither demanded that I deconstruct my reactions or analyze their greater significance.

But I couldn’t turn off my brain completely. I was drawn under the spell of a novel that was far from funny and couldn’t be construed as light. It drew me into the shadows of my past. Not necessarily into black, frightening corners, but more to the mesmerizing shapes that fill the walls of a firelit room.

For all that I wrote a college entrance essay in which I declared my ambition to be a “professional Irish person” (oh, it was cheesy, but it got me in!) and have a couple of degrees in the literature from that little country, I have sort of lost track of that passion. I ignored much of the rest of the world’s wisdom as I immersed myself in the hills and the fog of a small corner of the world. To make up for lost time, I since dedicated myself to a whole globe of knowledge and have largely forgotten about Ireland.

confessionsbigMostly, I picked up Confessions of a Pagan Nun because I felt I owed it to my seventeen year-old self to read a book about a druid who comes to live in an early Christian community dedicated to tending the flame of Goddess/Saint Brigid. A “translation” of a (fictional) newly discovered 6th century manuscript? I cringed at how painful it might be to observe a modern novelist mix English and Irish, Christians and Druids. The part of me that longs to love fantasy but knows my literary snob is much too outspoken figured that Kate Horsley’s book would be a brief experiment that would send me back to the bookshelves as soon as I had the strength to get off the couch. (By the way, oh those lovers of fantasy, I welcome a comments section full of well-written recommendations from that genre!)

It was beautifully crafted and compelling and reminded me that though it may be a time to “put away childish things,” there is also a lot of wisdom to be found and a great many new discoveries to be made if I look back at passions from half a lifetime ago.

Myths are something that inform our lives in everything from collective memory to vernacular expression and metaphor. We are generally unaware that myth lurks at the edges, coloring societies and individuals. A past, back to the age of “once upon a time” or as recent as Kennedy’s Camelot, always haunts and enlivens us.

A delicious bit from Kate Horsley’s Confessions of a Pagan Nun that most appeals to my look back upon the stuff of my own founding mythologies:

I began to accept the limitations of my life and the alteration of my aspirations, an acceptance that younger women consider weakness and surrender. But I found the limitations I accepted, as youth and its dreams fell away, composed a narrow and secret passage leading to an expanse of space and liberation I have not realized existed. I began to prefer peaceful surrender to noble battle, for in peace is and internal freedom one never has in war, though sometimes warring is essential for external freedom.

Tossing Aside the Halo

Sister Mary Epiphany has left the building.

img_2031By that I do not mean that I am making a departures from being the Girl Who Cried Epiphany. Instead, I am giving up on my bid for sainthood.

This whole awakening to my true self and realigning with my spirit has been a long time coming. There has been time to consider the girl I was and the woman I started to be. There has been anger at the mistakes I made. Fortunately, it has taken some time, but I have come around to forgive a lot of those failures and cruelties and misjudgments.

In this whole process of eliminating all of the static that was sidetracking me from really figuring out what I wanted from life and what I was meant to do in my time on the planet, I forced myself into a type of penitence that was probably more extreme than the modern Catholic Church would ever have asked from me.

I lavished my energy on trying to undo the wrongs of the past by looking as benevolently as possible on my present. A good plan, for certain, but the way I was going about it all was rather exhausting.

A friend and I would discuss the differences between necessary venting and soul-sapping complaining. I would see her point about how repression is a really bad thing, but I was pretty convinced that I had to mind my manners and police my exclamations of frustration as much as I could. I had years of snarky negativity to make up for. It was time to start accentuating the positive and willing the negative into oblivion. No matter what I was going to clean up my act and letting the universe know that all along I had secretly been a compassionate, tender person trapped under a brash and bristly exterior.

Of course, it was impossible to be so unbearably good all the time. Invariably, the angst would bubble forth and I’d end up feeling so damn guilty for getting lost in the crusade to find my inner bodhisattva. Not only was a mean and dark-tinged person, I was also lousy at being a good person!

(No worries, I am quite aware of the ridiculous nature of these extremes. It just seems I have to walk through these sudden fires to learn my lessons all too often!)

But lately, I realize that some things are just, well, true. It is still more than true that everyone is carrying around her own universe and that infinite galaxy of experience deserves honor. But, it is also true that sometimes people are uninspired or lazy of bigoted or just plain nasty.

dsc00207Recognizing that every unique snow flake of a human being who crosses my path may not be pleasant or kind doesn’t have to lessen my commitment to spreading love and light. Instead, it offers a much needed reality check. And beyond just recognizing that some people are not fulfilling their potential as bearers of similar light, I am now allowing myself to admit that I do not have to like them or excuse them.

I have found great freedom in just being able to say, “Yeah, well, we know he’s always been arrogant and dismissive. So what?” I think that it is ok to recognize something like that and then just move on, incorporating that knowledge as necessary so the job can get done and the day can still flow along.

When I got tangled up in delusions of grace, trying to look with my benevolent, saintly eyes on all of the ugliness in the world, I was left feeling too unmoored. I was not living fully in reality when I refused to admit that sometimes I got angry and sometimes things were unfair and sometimes people were disappointing.

So, I think I will probably lose my place on the ballot to be voted the next Saint of the Hudson Valley. But hey, the angels just might be ok with occasionally letting my otherwise kind heart tell it like it is…

Setting My Own Theological Table

As I tumbled through the last half of Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, I simply couldn’t believe that I was finding the book to be so compelling. Was I really enjoying and recommending a novel about Jesus written by the Vampire lady?

Had I become so confused as a reader and a seeker that I totally forgot my literary and spiritual convictions?

For those who have only gotten to know me recently through these online epiphanies, it may be easy to shake your heads and declare that the lady doth protest too much. She should stop marveling over her newfound appreciation for Christianity and just, well, appreciate it!bk-christthelord

For those of you who know me offline, you may be wondering what new sparkly has got my attention this time and inquire what the next spiritual tangent might be. That is for those who have already wrapped their heads around the idea that I am pretty taken by whole spiritual quest thing, of course.

As bizarre as it seems to me that I should devour this book, an even more dramatic twist in the road of life must have brought Anne Rice to write this series about Christ. The Catholic school girl turned long time atheist who gave us the vampire that would be brought to the big screen by a blond, fanged Tom Cruise? Yeah, I guess Rice’s journey is probably more unusual than that of a young woman whose search for connection and identity brought her in a few meandering circles.

One reason I am not only fascinated by Christianity itself, but am also fascinated by my own fascination is that I never thought I would get to this place. This personal journey and the desire to discuss it publicly is all so contrary to my days of unabashed witchery and rejection, heresy and petulance. In many ways, I fear my attraction to the 2000 year old stories that have grown into the religious organizations I still hold at arms’ length. I worry about what it means to watch my rebel’s resolve fade away.

Of course, making peace with Christianity is it own kind of rebellion for me. I dash the expectations of those I met in Samhain circles (and trust that they will love me anyway). I confound the family who had resigned themselves to the Pagan in their midst and probably set them wondering if we will finally have our marriage blessed by the Church (no!).

If I am really willing to embrace what I worked so hard to deny even as I worked toward my diploma at a Jesuit university, what else is shifting in my life? Suddenly I realize the foundations that I thought I would build my life upon are much less permanent than I thought. Of course, it may just be part of growing up – realizing at 29 that you would never wish to be the person that the 19 year old version of yourself expected to become.

I am finding comfort in this state of flux, however. The pendulum will swing again.

I will find a place for Mary and for Christ at my own eclectic theological table.

tugboat printshop, everystockphoto.com
tugboat printshop, everystockphoto.com

The table will be set under a great beech tree and we will break (gluten free) bread after saying prayers in Arabic and Sanskrit. There will be rosaries and malas and yoga and herbal tea. There will be readings of Rumi and Teresa and Ramakrishna. We’ll celebrate Christmas and Imbolc and learn about holidays I haven’t even found on the calendar yet.

There will be connection and communion and dancing, dancing ever onward toward the One Light.

Who would you invite to your own spiritual table?

Visions of Mary? What Are You Talking About, Woman?

In yesterday’s post about the way I have come to understand the connections between Christmas and the Winter Solstice, I mentioned that I have been having visions of Mary lately.

There was no simpler way to talk about how, while I am in meditation, I see images of an every changing woman who is named Mary and who gave birth to the child we have come to call Christ.dsc00983

Who do I think I am and when did I start having visions?

If I were better schooled in mysticism, I might have a better vocabulary for these exchanges that take place within my heart and head. Anything I have read has always applied to spiritual masters like Teresa Avila who levitated and could say without hesitation that they had been touched by the Divine. I am certainly not to be counted amongst such company.

In my healing artists’ classes we have talked about the images one receives when working on a client or just walking down the street. They seem unbidden these colors and pictures and emotions. They are bits of consciousness so foreign to our own way of knowing the world and so seem like they must come from an external source. Our intuitive centers must be so open that we are receiving messages from new sources all the time.

Or, these visions seem like such intimate extensions of our own souls that we are ecstatic to realize we are stepping deeper into our true selves. Such breakthroughs seem Heaven sent, such understanding a gift from God.

Either way, my classmates and I wondered about where these ideas came from. We worried that while in guided meditation we were just inventing our experiences, walking through the heady terrain our imagination rather than through the secret vaults of the soul. We were concerned that any guidance we received during a healing session was just judgment twisted into a therapeutic shape.

“I don’t have any intuitive power. I just make this stuff up!” we all feared.

And then our teacher offered a revolutionary idea: it doesn’t matter where any thing that dances through our minds actually comes from. If it was put into our heads, we must have been meant to notice it and experience it.

I see lots of holes in this theory. There are entire sections of the Vatican dedicated to determining whether people have had authentic experiences of the Virgin or whether they are charlatans with a crafty streak. The entire realm of faith is a dangerous dance between true relationship with God and the clouds of overactive cerebral cortices. Seers and liars – I think the two have become inextricably tangled in all too many ways.

dsc00637And yet, this explanation is most comforting to me as I try to describe my new understanding of the intimate relationship between the rhythm of nature and the traditions of Christianity. I am not begging for attention by talking about this new way that I see Mary. I am not hoping to be canonized and make New Paltz the next Lourdes.

I have been envisioning Mary and gaining new wisdom from these phenomenal moments. Am I placing a sacred face on recycled bits of knowledge I have gathered along my way? Perhaps. But, if in this dialog between Self and Soul one of the players is going to wear a beautiful mask, I couldn’t ask for more than to have her wear the sweet, complicated face of the Great Mother gliding across my inner landscape in shining blue robes.

What would it be like if we took our intuition and the images that appear to us a little more seriously? What if we stopped denigrating these experiences as mere trifles of the overindulged imagination?

How much could we learn – from ourselves, from the world around us, and, yes, even from God – if we close our eyes and allow ourselves to have a dialog with whichever wisdom bearers come to call?

Winter Solstice: Mary, Mother Earth, and the Stories that We Tell

In the end, all we have is nature.

My teacher offered this wisdom during my healing class a few weeks ago, and only by going in the opposite direction, by dipping into myth and stories and ideas have I begun to understand the profundity of this statement.

I was blessed with the most incredible, nourishing Winter Solstice I could have possibly prayed for. The snow continued to fall while the Christmas lights glowed all day in the cozy house. I had the luxury of spending hours in my sacred little room: lighting my Advent candles, meditating, drawing, writing, discovering new territory in the realm of spirit.

dsc01516

This December has offered me previously unimagined insight into the power of both the Solstice and Christmas.

For some time now, I have been experiencing visions of Mary. In them, she tells me that she is not just that silent, blue veiled vessel with the alabaster brow. She is the Mother who carried the weight of the world between her hips and who gave birth to a God. She is not some distant creature to be locked up in churches. She is a vital ally, a friend to all life. Mary is the supreme realization of the Divine Feminine.

Never before would I allow myself to get close to Jesus’s mom. A girl who got tangled up in all that Biblical stuff just because she was passively filled with angel dust? Not my style. Instead, I sought the Goddess in myth and legend, rock formations and prehistoric art. The statues of the blessed virgin that graced the churches I passed were just dull marble decorations that helped other kinds of people through their day.

But Mary has been insistent, and I realize how foolish I have been to refuse her. I now allow myself to drink deep her story.

Two phenomenal posts that I came across today, both based on today’s Gospel reading about the Annunciation, opened new doors of understanding for me: Christine at Abbey of the Arts and a blog that’s new to me, Magdalene’s Musings.

The more deeply I fall into the stories of the Annunciation and Jesus’s birth, the more overcome I am by their power. Suddenly it makes sense that these events would form the basis of a faith that endures 2,000 years later.

At the same time, my understanding of these miraculous moments is colored by the new “relationship” that I have with Mary herself. As she becomes something other than an iconic character for me, and instead emerges as a face of the feminine aspect of God, I realize how the stories that bind her to history are just that: stories.dsc01518

The time I spent soaking in Paganism and Celtic magic left me with a strong understanding of the way the Church strategically scheduled Christmas to coincide with a holiday as old as the earth itself: the celebration of sun’s return around December 21. The overlapping events and the connections between them are becoming increasingly clear to me:

The earth is tilting back on its axis so that the sun shines longer in the sky each day.

Mother Earth is offering up her Child, the Sun.

The Feminine Divine is making way in order to give us the Divine in human form.

Mary gives birth to the infant Jesus in a manger.

When I fully realize that the nativity story is not about shepherds and stars, but is instead a beautiful allegory for the cycles of the seasons, I arrive on a new plane of respect for Christianity and for all of nature. The interconnectedness of humanity’s stories with the basic laws of this earth make me stop and allow tears to fill my eyes for the incredible beauty we are all permitted to be a part of.

Did those events in Bethlehem really happen? I would not deny it. And if they did, I believe it was because God knew humanity needed to watch the power of his love enacted in human form. The passing of the seasons and the miracle of the earth’s rebirth of the seasons is too abstract a miracle for us to understand. What genius and power, to give us these holy beings, Mary and Jesus, to guide our story-loving souls.

solstice sun setI stood outside as the sun set on this shortest day, and I understood completely that the only sure thing is the natural world. The ideas, the living beings, the manufactured things, they will all fade away. Only the mountains and the seas, the sun and the moon will remain.

But still, I know I feel more connected to God and to the rest of this beautiful world better by holding in my heart these stories that we tell.

Can Somebody Please Get This Man a Priest?

My husband almost refused to sit with me to watch the movie we’d Netflixed last night. It wasn’t so much that he feared the dreaded “chick flick” (I am blessed with a man who wears his heart on his sleeve just enough to find his way through such films with no problem), it was just that he jokingly refused to watch me swoon over two of the tastiest men in movies – Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell.

cassandras_dream_1Cassandra’s Dream wasn’t exactly a great film, nor was it particularly uplifting. The men were pretty, but that didn’t really counterbalance the claustrophobic feel of the movie. I suppose the film was effective in that I was squirming along with the characters at the nearly impossible situations they created for themselves through greed and misplaced loyalties and a refusal to heed their own morals or instincts.

Basically, two brothers from London agree to murder a man who threatens their uncle’s reputation and fortune. Colin Farrell plays the brother crippled by conscience, the one who turns to drink and drugs to numb the pain, all to no avail. He is coming apart at the seams. His fragility threatens the entire wicked scheme.

In spite of myself, I wanted these guys to get away with their crime, but at the same time, I wanted Farrell’s character to do the impossible, to become whole again.

The only answer I could come up with, as we watched the story unfold on our comfortable couch bathed in the glow of the Christmas tree, was that this guy needed to find a priest. The only thing I could think of that might make his soul clean again was some time in a confession booth and as many Acts of Contrition and Hail Marys as he could muster.

I have mentioned previously that I dance with my Catholic heritage, holding dear to the pieces that speak to me directly – my own vision of Mary, the mystics, the commitment to service – and yet, I definitely shy away from other aspects – Original Sin, patriarchy, the idea that it is the “One True Faith.”

Still, Catholicism seems to flow in my blood as surely as the prayers have been etched into my brain.

createsimaEven when I was furthest from my Christian roots, when I had run out of options, I found myself beseeching Jesus that I would do whatever he might ask, if only he could get me out of the mess I had made. I was twenty years old, alone in a Galway dorm room, trying to live through a case of alcohol poisoning so intense I would have been in an American emergency room in a heartbeat. A man I had been foolish enough to love decided to break my heart only after he had bought me one of everything they had behind the bar. Young, stupid, and scared out of my mind, I clung to my pillow and just repeated the Lord’s Prayer as my body shook and my head swam.

Far from my finest hour, and certainly one that I must cherish as a lesson and a warning. Only years later, when I have made my peace with Christianity, can I look back to that moment and understand the depths of my belief in the power of heavenly salvation and aid. It is definitely not something that springs from an intellectual place within me. It is from a visceral place, a spiritual place beyond words that makes me understand why people need faith and a religion upon which to hang those convictions.

What would a priest do for a guy who had committed such a horrific sin? My mind says, not much. My soul seems to think that he might be able to do something more.

I still pursue a path guided by the wisdom of many traditions, but it seems that when things are really dire my survival instinct takes me back to what I learned first.

Our Father, who art in Heaven…

Gospels and Advent and Oneness, Oh My

The Universe was pushing me along today, and I tried my best to let her take the wheel.

Maybe it was the hush of a Sunday morning, but I happened upon two blogs, Barefoot Toward the Light and Abbey of the Arts. Both offered wisdom about the Gospel reading of the day and reminded me that it is the first day of Advent.

At most, I can be described as a reluctant Catholic who takes small sips from the cup of her childhood religion. Googling the Mass readings is not something I ever thought I would do, but here I was today trying to track down this bit from Mark in which Jesus declares “Be watchful! Be alert!”

Both of the bloggers I mention above do more justice to these words that I can, especially Christine at Abbey of the Arts who gives us meaning of this short piece of scripture beyond its immediate warning to keep an eye out for the approach of God. She says:

In the invitation of Advent to prepare for the birth of God into the world, we are invited to awaken to the sacred possibilities deep within us, to shake off our slumber, open our eyes wide and discover the sacredness of everything we encounter.

I know that I have expressed similar sentiments many times, though not necessarily in the context of the birth of Christ.  Only by staying open to many masters, but never tying myself to any particular religious path have I felt the freedom to talk about how I have encountered the sacred.

In this same post, Christine at Abbey of the Arts also talks about the way that the perspective of Eastern religions inform the West, and vice versa and the power of inter-religious dialog to enrich all faiths. It is the same nurturing message I found in reading Joan Chittister’s words yesterday and that I have come to know as my own truth.

Again, I am stumbling across whispers of Oneness. The religion that was the foundation of my spirituality mixes with the explorations that have marked my adulthood and I learn once more that all roads to a great divine harmony – if only we keep our eyes open to see it.

* * *

I created a makeshift Advent wreath and placed it before my altar tonight. All of my hopes for light in this darkening time before the sun returns at the solstice suddenly had a focus in a single flickering flame.

Always we seek relief from the darkness, and ever we find the light. Where will you find the light to guide your way?