The Spiritual Mix: Oneness Across Faiths

Two and a half years ago my perspective on spirituality shifted dramatically to encompass a new world of faiths and possibilities. Unknowingly, I had been working the soil for this new flowering for some time, but it was at the Omega Institute’s Being Fearless Conference that I heard Caroline Myss and Andrew Harvey speak and everything changed.

Caroline Myss gave me a new window on my own Christian heritage as she introduced a full ballroom of people to their interior castles. Through her lecture I found the courage to to find solace in the wisdom of a saint for the first time. For all that I internalized my Catholicism, there were major aspects – namely the bits I now find most compelling, the saints and mystics – that were largely absent in the sanitized “Spread the good news: Jesus is love” catechism of the 1980s. I knew Myss’s work as a healer (The Anatomy of the Spirit had long been a bible of mine), and I was so thrilled to follow her on this new path back into my own history.

Andrew Harvey’s sessions interested me because the titles of his seminars mentioned the divine feminine. For all my goddess worship over the last decade, I was pretty sure that I had heard it all, but I could use a refresher. Hearing that familiar message from the mouth of a man would be an interesting new twist. Man, was I wrong! The world was turned upside down when the words of a Catholic saint offered comfort and the Great Mother, for all her power to nurture, was also the avenging Kali telling us that we had gone too far as we destroyed the planet and each other. Harvey helped pull my adoration of the sacred feminine into adulthood, stripping it of the girl power pablum I had needed when I first began to understand womanhood and instead offering a mature realization of the mothering nature of God and its essential relationship with the masculine principle.

Harvey is a scholar of the great world religions, and he also introduced me to the undiscovered territory of mystical Islam, Sufism, and the spiritual power of the poet Rumi. At an extended weekend workshop I attended shortly after that first conference, he gave the group Rumi’s own chant and offered it as something to “use at the core of our lives.” Having never found a Sanskrit mantra that really “stuck” in my yoga practice, I was amazed to realize that this little line in Arabic became a gentle, perfect hum in the back of my mind that I could call upon whenever I needed solace.

Reading Sister Joan Chittister’s blog today, I was immediately drawn in by the title of her post “A Glimpse of Oneness for a Change.” “Oneness” is such an important yet amorphous term – to me it means the understanding that every person who speaks to a higher energy with a pure heart is in fact communing with the same basic, omnipotent entity that can be called God or or Goddess or Spirit or Universe. “Oneness” is what gives me hope that there truly is a unifying principle in this world and that a greater, more compassionate global consciousness is within our grasp.

What really amazed me was that she invoked my own sacred mantra in the first paragraph of her post. Sister Joan talks about witnessing a zikr, the remembrance of God, not as a purely Sufi ritual but as a celebration of divine unity as “Buddhist monks, Jewish rabbis, Hindu swamis, Christian monks, Muslim imams, Indian Sun Dancers and lay practitioners of all the world’s great contemplative traditions” joined together to praise the Sacred. She was at a summit that happened in Aspen a few weeks ago, “Gathering Spiritual Voices of America,” organized by the Global Peace Initiative of Women.

As I move along my own spiritual path, still a magpie pulling wisdom from every tradition that will open its heart to me, I take great comfort in knowing that this desire to bring the kaleidoscope of religious perspectives together endures on a great scale. I seem to be a person who will never be tied wholly to a single creed, but I can pray to all of the names of God that I know that we can find a true place of Oneness.

Saint Anthony’s Priorities

Rustling through my closet, both trying to organize things and avoid the chores in the kitchen in advance of the beautiful family invasion due in on Thursday, I marveled at the odd assortment of life’s detritus that has traveled with me. Expired student IDs from Galway, Halloween greeting cards, cryptic notes from my grandfather that were once attached to long forgotten newspaper clippings about libraries or the Hudson Valley. Memories, lovely and otherwise, enmeshed in it all.

I’ve made the prayer to Saint Anthony my new mantra as I casually riffle through closets too new to have dark, concealing corners. That August morning we move in I know I made sure I put my hands on my grandmother’s jewelry. Now, the nice flat white box is somewhere quite safe, I’m sure. If we leave the house unlocked no thieves with a penchant for houses on winding country roads will be able to find this stuff. Of course, neither will I…

At any rate, I am a new but fervent believer in what seems like little more than a children’s nursery rhyme “Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, please come around. Something is lost that cannot be found.” I just love the way the reciter abdicates all responsibility for losing the treasured object in question and sort of indicates that a certain something wandered off like a naughty child on a busy train platform.

Once I lost a handwritten letter my grandfather had sent while he was on an Ignatian retreat. It was one of those letters that seem to have been written in a mythical bygone age when one could pour out his soul in scrawling script and theological discussions were the topic of the day. Foolishly tucked in a paperback, it vanished during a lunch hour I spent walking across most of campus. (Please note, I did not lose said missive, it obviously jumped from its place.) Two days later after ransacking house and car and office, I chanced a trip to the College lost and found. When the girl at the desk said, “oh, this letter?” I began to weep and blubber with gratitude and became more than convinced that only a being with some seriously divine status could have inspired someone to save this gem from the ubiquitous recycling bins and send it on its way back to me.

It seems that Saint Anthony sometimes makes his own decisions about what needs to be found, however. Tonight, in this box of mementos and junk I found two things that I never would have realized I needed to find: a rose quartz heart and a bit of tortured poetry.

I had received the heart at a ritual years ago and given it to my Nanna when she was battling cancer. Funny how my buddy Tony seems to think that I need to find the guidance of my other grandmother right now – not the one with the jewels, but the one whose heart I knew the best. I am thinking that Nanna is trying to tell me that I need to pass this stone on to my sister as she tries to heal her own heart from the loss of yet another loved one to that wicked, voracious disease.

The lines of poetry are written in blue ink on an index card, and I can only guess that I scribbled them down while sitting at a job that seem bent on destroying me, body and soul. One good thing about a job as a medical receptionist before everyone had internet on their office computers: I would spit language onto scrap paper rather than numb my addled brain with gossip sites and Daily Show clips. I cannot say much for the quality of the little rant, but it amazes me how much my life has changed in the last six years yet how some things have become so much more true than a lost twenty-three year old could have ever imagined.

—–
Spools of integrated soul
aching for reprieve, expression, air
[…]
Buried in verse, believing in my own mountaintop
even as I am entombed in these feet of clay
—–

I know I was given that crystal for a reason, so I think I must set about why I was sent a telegram from this younger voice of my soul…

Oh, and Saint Anthony, thanks for also helping me find something to write about tonight (the writer’s block had been killing me all evening!).


The Struggle with Humility

Stephan de PalyFor the better part of a year I have been working with Caroline Myss’s Entering the Castle, a refashioning of Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle. Part of me feels guilty about spending all of this time with this derivation of such a classic text, with all of its modern directions about “Soul Work” and journaling, but I have to trust my 21st century spirit and give her what she needs. Though I’ve had the original out from the library for ages (in the guise of two tragically plain looking volumes that hold 1960s translations of the saint’s complete works) I know that my chances of really reading unmediated Teresa is rather remote, while I know I will give time to the process as Myss lays it out.

Before you can come anywhere near the pyrotechnics of the soul that mark the mystic’s experience (and I use that term facetiously, knowing that a great deal of the journey to the Divine is rooted in silent communion rather than blinding visions and moments of levitation) one has to work with what Teresa calls the “reptiles.” These are the fears and hang ups and frailties that keep you from real communion with your sacred self. The reptiles are the petty shreds of the all too human preoccupations that keep us from embracing divinity.

Myss introduces humility as a necessary “quality of character” as one walks the spiritual path; understanding it builds the essential foundation as you journey upward to the turrets of the soul castle. She writes: “humility allows you to recognize an acknowledge all the positive qualities of body, mind, and spirit in another person”; “humility disarms the competitive voice”; and “humility enables you to understand another person’s motivations and to transcend any negativity.”

It’s written in a bit of a self-helpy way, but all of these things seem really quite wonderful and I can certainly get excited about the positive outcomes engendered by embracing humility and shifting the way I relate to others. At the same time, I do not think I had ever thought about the concept of humility before I picked up this book; it certainly was never a quality I strove for. What does one think of besides kids who grew up in tiny houses (humble beginnings) and someone forced to eat their words (humble pie)? I, like so many others, was raised to be an achiever; you have to sell your skills and make sure that all of your accomplishments were recognized and applauded. Putting others first all of the time is a good way to be labeled one of the “nice” girls in class, but it is not how you get to be known as interesting or clever.

I have an awful lot invested in being considered interesting and clever, so the realization that my wittiest lines so often come at the expense of others has been a vicious reptile to wrestle with. It is this resistance to letting go of what I tend to see as hallmarks of my personality (rather than banal cruelties) that has kept me in this first mansion for months, knowing that I must go back and peel away endless layers of resistant false self. So many corners of my being are shocked to learn that the goal is recognize myself to be a humble servant of God.

That really is the ultimate goal: to figure out how to act humbly on this earth with all that you meet so that you are prepared to approach to Divine with devotion unencumbered by the petty mandates of the ego. At this point I am willing to declare it a worthy enterprise, but it doesn’t seemto be a quality that contemporary living has prepared me for. I have some more work to do so that I can fight the belief that I will need to wear a sign that declares “I’m not being shy/dull/retiring, I’m being HUMBLE!”

And so I close another entry, wondering whether I am transgressing the humility code as I hope that people find my words intriguing enough to have reach the end…

Imbolc and Revising My Sacred Calendar

Sacred PathOn this unusual solitary Sunday I found myself in in a noontime twilight when I yearned to fill fruitful hours with reading and writing and meditation but instead wandered between rooms, giving a few minutes to a novel before remembering I had left a cup of tea steeping in the kitchen a half hour before. Though I often resist the wisdom that tells me to pull on some boots and get outside, I looked out to the melting snow and realized that I had to leave my cocoon.

I was tempting nature to glitter through its bleak February palette with unmistakable manifestations of the divine even as I consciously settled for the mundane beauty that is a false spring: forty degree sunlight air hanging over mud and snow that will invariably freeze in a few short hours. Really, this is how I gaze upon life much of the time – resigning myself to reality but coloring it all with a sense of hope I am sometimes unwilling to admit. As you will see from the picture above, this ended up being a much more sacred journey than I might have expected; it seems that there in fact must have been some magic delighting in the sunshine.

Gradually I was able to release the expectation of revelation and even stopped chanting the vaguely frenetic mantra that was intended to shape this tramp through the woods into a productive walking meditation. I pulled back the layers of ego until I was simply a woman on a path on a warm winter day. Soon, I started noticing sounds beyond those of the crunching ice and the squelching muck beneath my galoshes. I pitied myself and the wonder of the earth for a while; our perfect communion was marred by distant shots from the gun club and the low hiss of the thruway – destructive neighbors that I so rarely acknowledged. For a time I let these impostors excuse my neglect of the natural world: being outside barely worth it when any signs of wildlife that hadn’t been hunted or pushed into oblivion by human incursion were drowned out by all that human noise. But eventually even those pretexts melted away as I watched blue jays chase one another from birch to birch and realized that the little movements at the corner of my vision were due to an underbrush alive with busy squirrels. All of my intentions of really being present in nature were forgotten in the act of actually being there.

Everything I “should” have been thinking about melted away under the flame unmediated experience. My thoughts turned to flowing wax that was free to drip through my consciousness to form new shapes, loosed from their old forms and patterns. Finally my sense were opening wider so that I remembered to take a deep breath of the sweet fresh air. It tasted just a little like spring, and I remembered that in Ireland the weather had seemed to turn at the first of February in celebration of Imbolc.Brigid

That is when I stopped to stare dumbly into the middle distance. It was February third and I had not even thought of the festival of Imbolc, Brigid’s Day. For so many years the feast of goddess/saint whose image I had worn around my neck had been deeply important to me, marked by rituals both public and private. I remember so clearly the first Brigid’s Day of the millennium when I hung my cloak out in the damp Galway night so she could pass by and bless it.

What does it mean that I had been thinking of how to make Lent more meaningful but had not remembered what I had always considered what I thought to be the most important day of the Celtic year? I have been so disconnected from the relationship of time and nature that I don’t even know if Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow (just Googled it, he did). As I began walking again I marveled at strange new focus my awareness has taken – Catholic traditions treasured over pagan rites? Who was I? I mourned a bit for all it seems I have forgotten.

But then I realized how artificial our calendars are, how arbitrary our scheduled holy days. Certainly the winter solstice is a moment in time, but unless you are standing in the inner chamber at Newgrange how can you know for sure? When celebrating Brigid’s qualities such as fire and home and healing and poetry, does the divine care if we are off by a day or two? After all, time has proven to be a plastic thing when we remember that the Church imposed December 25 upon the newborn Jesus.

After that walk through a wintertime awakening, I am feeling graced with a deep peace to realize that I remembered Brigid not Bandiabecause I turned the page on the calendar, but because I heard the whisper of the earth.

Beyond All Separation: The Birth of the World

Image AfterStill taken with Rachel Naomi Remen‘s interview on Speaking of Faith, I want to share her description of the “Birthday of the World”:

In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. And then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It’s a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It’s the restoration of the world.

And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. And that story opens a sense of possibility. It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you, that’s around you.

In the last few posts I have spent some time examining my relationship to organized religion (well, to Christianity and Catholicism really since that is my only valid reference point). A story like this makes it all the more clear that the separations that are necessities of the labeling and packaging a belief in God are truly irrelevant.

This myth from the Jewish tradition is new to me, featuring terms I have never heard, but that does not make the tenets of its vision any less relevant or awe-inspiring. The story acts as the poles of the tent that support the beautiful blanket that is the belief that God dwells within all of us. I am building my life around such a belief, but never had the chance to describe this unifying light to myself with images I could understand.

Initially I was attracted to this part of the interview because Remen said, “We are all healers of the world.” It is through my desire to be a healing force in this life that I became attracted to matters of the soul in the first place. The sense that this practice of restoration is a global project and an imperative of the human race inspires me to live with a sense of purpose I have only just begun to explore. The theological questions of whether we are on a trajectory to return a perfect time before history began is best discussed at another time; for now, this tale can simply be a new way to experience the present.

Even if one wants to find fault with organized religion or at least remain an outside observer, one vital and enduring benefit of entities like a local parish is the sense of community that such places provide. We know that we need such a sense of connection to feel whole and recognized. This story gives us a way to understand all people as members of one spirit community populated with everyone who is responsible for making this a better existence. Certainly one can feel the loneliest in a crowded room, but perhaps drinking in this story fully can dispel some of that sense of alienation.

Healing Through Questioning

Listening to the podcast of American Public Radio’s Speaking of Faith the other day, I was introduced to Rachel Naomi Remen, a doctor who has pioneered the “integrative medicine” movement that pulls the modern medical establishment’s attention to the mind/body connection. I was reminded yet again that holistic healthcare is actually considered quite radical in most circles and that many well meaning doctors have been (and continue to be) surprised by the fact that a person’s experience of her illness is as important as the clinical symptoms she may demonstrate.

The airing of this radio show is yet another instance in which the Universe seems to be conspiring to make me think about wellness and infirmity, and the place of health and illness in my own life and the lives of those I touch every day. When I was trapped on the couch with another sprained ankle last week, I plunged into a bout of self pity while speaking to a friend, listing all of the ways that my body has betrayed me over the last handful of years, including six months when I was reduced to debilitating exhaustion most of the time due to a nexus of calamities. She suggested that I might be taking good enough care of myself that none of these health issues became insurmountable, long-term issues. That is a nice thought, but I really think that I am being taught what it is to be temporarily unable to meet the days’ challenges so that I can allow that knowledge to become empathy that will eventually be transformed into the power to help others heal. These days, I am working on developing my sense of perspective on the moments when my body does not perform exactly as expected, hoping to realize that I should just be overcome with gratitude for all that she accomplishes each day.

All of this is merely meant to be an introduction (that I will surely explore later) to a passage included on the program from Remen’s book’s Kitchen Table Wisdom:

The most important questions don’t seem to have ready answers. But the questions themselves have a healing power when they are shared. An answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering. Life has no such stopping places, life is a process whose every event is connected to the moment that just went by. An unanswered question is a fine traveling companion. It sharpens your eye for the road.

At this moment, this quotation gives some shape to my thoughts about what I talked about yesterday, my struggles with conforming to the fullness of any particular church. I think one of the elements of the Catholic Church that I grew up with that leaves me so conflicted is that claim to the Truth with an absolutely knowable capital “T.” I am still in a place of delicious, torrential questions. Perhaps the reason we have religion in its modern sense is to find solace in a monolithic entity that seeks to comfort its flock with creeds and commandments and promises of the ultimate wisdom. The only answer I have received to all of my questions so far is that this is not my path.

From my reading of the Christian mystics I know that the tradition that has its most obvious manifestation in the one-way communication of Sunday mass (all priestly answers, it seems), also has guided centuries of questing souls who have interrogated issues more deeply than I can possibly imagine. I am just left to wonder how to reconcile these two expressions of communion with the divine.

Reconciling, ever reconciling…

Sneaking into Jesus’s House

St. Patrick'sMy husband and I were honored to be asked to be the godparents of two of our friends’ children. We felt comfortable with the broad spectrum of such a role from giving the best birthday presents to offering counsel, spiritual or otherwise, especially in matters they didn’t know how to talk to their folks about. The family sent us a lovely bottle of wine the other day, which only upon closer inspection proved to be less of an early thank you, and more of a way to soften the blow. Enclosed in the box were two innocuous looking sheets of paper – contracts from the Episcopalian church that asked us to affirm our allegiance to Christ and his Church and assure that the children regularly take part in public worship and personal prayer. Personal prayer I have covered, but the rest… Well, the concerns about the above mentioned elements pale next to “I share regularly in the worship and the ministry of my own Church. I live a life in harmony with the Christian faith an the responsibilities of my own Baptismal covenant. My priest/pastor has seen this statement and affirms its accuracy.”

What does it mean that my mind was instantly whirling with ways to beat the system? I was applying the same sort of creativity one must take to traffic court when she is trying to talk her way out of a speeding ticket she almost certainly deserves. Can my mother see the priest at our church from home, where they still attend, and mention that we have been doing a lot of traveling (untrue) and have not had a chance to settle into a parish but that I fulfilled all of the requirements once upon a time? Can we make an appearance a few times at a local church and grin and bear it until we get these pieces of paper signed and then never be seen again?

It is not even the last vestiges of Catholic guilt that make me feel horrifically devious as I try to think of a clever way to prove we are card carrying members at a local house of (a Christian) God. One can laugh about such things if she did not respect so much of what those places stand for, and if she did not feel a deeper sadness at the inability to join one of them.

I don’t think I have ever been to a non-Catholic mass, so I cannot speak for the Anglican service, but I when I attend church a few times a year due to family obligation, I am always so troubled by my my incapacity to recite the Creed. “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God…” “One holy, catholic and apostolic church…” Perhaps I am missing something, but I cannot make these statements work with my conviction that all true faiths that seek unity with the divine are essentially working toward the same place, simply using different symbols and vocabulary. One cannot claim primacy and still respect other traditions as equally valid – can they? I spend much of my time in beseeching prayer asking whether this is supposed to feel right, if I can love Thomas Merton and Teresa of Avila and feel so conflicted within those walls.

This happens at the same time that I am just beginning to understand what it might mean to worship Jesus, though at this point I am still trying to get comfortable with saying His name. Actually, Gartenfische‘s post simply entitled “Christ” helped me to begin to understand that Jesus is in fact a figure with whom I can feel a deep resonance. It figures, she is talking about a Hindu’s love for Christ. I find I can get a better perspective on His greatness through the writings of other faiths – they do no assume the ingrained belief that is meant to be second nature to a confirmed Catholic.

We have until June to sort all of this out; with the speed that spiritual developments seem to be spinning through my life, I cannot say for certain that I will not have befriended a priest or found peace with a local parish, but at the moment, that doesn’t seem all that likely.

Is there anyone out there who cares to vouch for the fact, if nothing else, I think about God an awful lot? Think I can just email the address of my blog to all of the local pastors and see if anyone can give me points (and a signature) for effort?

Life Changing Philosophy and Bumper Sticker Ethics

“Why do we have to spend our lives striving to be something we would never want t0 be, if only we knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we are made for?”

– Thomas Merton (quoted in James Martin’s Becoming Who You Are)

I read Martin’s slim book about the search for the true self this morning and was transported by Merton’s quote, feeling as if he were speaking directly to me as I try to sort out my perspective on occupation and duty on the one hand, and dreams and destiny on the other. My education and experience position me to continue to climb the professional ranks; the inherited family work ethic has generally lead me to follow this path without question. But now the questions refuse to fade into the background and the path looks like it leads to a thicket of doubt and mediocrity rather than an upward spiral to worthy achievement.

One of Martin’s central theses is that we are never alone in this search for meaning and identity. If you think your existential dilemmas are more harrowing than someone else’s, you’re probably just a touch self-absorbed. Trying not to assume that my current internal debate is any more taxing than other people’s, however, only makes the choice of what to do next marginally easier. I am certain that some of this could be chalked up to being a recently married college graduate in her late twenties who was raised to be believe that she was clever and accomplished and could have it all. That would really explain my predicament if I was wondering how to balance career and motherhood, but we are not even there yet. Right now, I am trying to sort out how to reconcile the pull of a full time spiritual, writerly life even though I think I cannot bear the guilt associated with leaving what, by all appearances, is a lovely job that compensates me quite well.

Being a Jesuit, Martin flavors his work with examples from the lives of the saints. That’s probably the best way to maintain some perspective and remember that my current crisis does not rank all that close to say, Thomas Aquinas (his family imprisoned him for two years in an attempt to get him to forget about running away to join the Dominicans). At the same time, articulating my desire to leave the 9-5 life behind seems like one of the most difficult things I have ever done – marriage was a simple “yes” in comparison!

As I try to employ this bit of wisdom from Thomas Merton, I admit I am reminded of a cute little slogan that graces the bumper of many a Subaru wagon around here:If it's not fun why do it?

To tell the truth, I have always sort of hated that sentiment (even if Dublin Mudslide is the best flavor ever). All I can think about when I see that line are all of the not-so-fun things that are quite essential – trips to the dentist and the dump, paying taxes, walking a dog on a dark, rainy night. Guess I am not such a crazy hippy after all…

But you do not have to look too far to realize that Merton was not giving us sugar coated philosophy when he talks about “what we are made for.” To follow his lead and question our current existences in an attempt to sort out whether we are striving to become something we don’t really want to be is not to choose a sundae instead of a salad, hedonism over maturity. It is an act of ultimate bravery that may take us outside of the expected social norms, but is the only way to fully understand your purpose in life. The question for me is to determine whether I actually have to leave the framework of my current occupation behind in order to discover what I am truly meant to accomplish in this world.

And maybe, just maybe, Ben and Jerry really wanted to say “If it’s not uniting you with your true self, why do it?” but it wouldn’t fit on the back of a Volkswagon.

An Adventageous Snow

http://www.imageafter.com/image.php?image=b3_landscapes016.jpg&size=full&download=noAfter a long drive home in the snow this afternoon I spent a while glancing through other blogs and websites as I waited for the plows to come by (only then would it make sense to shovel the driveway so my husband could park when he got home from work well after dark). Out of the tangle of ideas that flickered over the screen, one word kept rising to the surface: Advent. Even as my interest in Catholicism has resurged over the past year, I don’t think I even remembered that the Christmas season used to mean something other than the mall was open later and the cats would invariably get into the wrapping paper.

Glancing at my post from yesterday, I realize that I included a photo of a single candle flame and spoke of “inner light.” I am amazed both by the dancing, overlapping layers of meaning that flow through all aspects of this life and by my own obliviousness to a tradition that would have been interlaced throughout my childhood. The anticipation of opening another window on the advent calendar… Vague recollections of purchasing an advent wreath engraved with Celtic knots for a high school boyfriend’s parents… The circle of candles at the right side of the altar every December… I suppose because it is about celebration rather than deprivation, Advent was easier to forget. “I’ll give that up for Lent” has been a catch phrase for years (I generally stick to my grandmother’s abstention from watermelons), but Advent? That’s kids’ stuff.

I will not demean this time of religious observance by drawing too many parallels to my own life, lest I seem to co-opt the anticipation of the birth of Christ only in order to explicate my own sense that I am waiting for something (something that is much less universal than the arrival of the savior, I must admit). Instead, I will simply celebrate the fact that the light that so eluded me yesterday and left me to see only the limitations of my situation has filtered down today despite the snow choked sky.

Two guys who jumped out of their pick up to push my less than intrepid vehicle up a hill. Enjoying a few hours outside of time when the world has to stop because the Mother declares it time to cover all of creation in a blanket of white peace. Returning to my sources of inspiration and finding them more valid and enlivening that ever.

Yes, it is indeed possible to believe that a light that is the presence of the Divine dwells within us all and can shine as brightly as one might wish – in fact, I think it just might be the only way.

Savasana, With Feline

Seamus in reposeSavasana, also known as corpse pose, is a pose of deep relaxation most often practiced at the conclusion of a yoga session. It is about letting go completely both bodily preoccupation and racing mind and simply observing and integrating experience into the being. Often savasana is called the most difficult yoga posture to master because we are so programmed to run from thoughts that disturb us and plunge back into the constant “loops of distraction“; witnessing the process that is our own being can be a scary thing.

Cats are masters of savasana. Though known for napping, I have witnessed our own felines spend hours with lids half open, never moving but somehow conscious of the world around them. Despite the strong winter sun streaming through the windows, or perhaps because of it, Seamus and Banshee spent a remarkable amount of the day curled up or sprawled out in complete peace (why they cannot seem to strike such poses while I am cooking dinner and constantly shooing them from the countertops is another matter…). Unlike other days when they do excellent impressions of downward dog right there with me (and leave lovely little punctures in my mat), both were motionless for my entire practice (thanks to another great podcast by Elsie Escobar) . Somehow Banshee seems to have radar that wakes her from deepest slumber as soon as I lie down on the floor; she found true bliss purring on my belly right before I started my final bridge poses. I decided to take this as a sign from the universe to embrace savasana a few minutes early – who can deny an ecstatic black kitty who has persevered in her loveliness (most the of the time) despite the addition of a twerpy little brother last month?

Rather than surrendering to the earth and allowing my practice to settle into my bones and my spirit, my mind continued to spiral. I considered how the beauty of this moment in which I enjoyed complete simpatico with another species was a blessing beyond measure; I wondered how long she might want to stay like this before I got cold or bored; I tried to use this time to meditate and enter my Interior Castle. Generally I pondered how this might be good blog fodder and enjoyed the warmth that was a perfectly contented cat.

Because I guard these solitary Saturdays with a calculating ferocity, I plotted how to maximize this enforced period of relaxation while I was beyond the reach of my computer or a book. It was becoming painfully clear that I was not embracing the spirit of corpse pose, though I am guessing if the dead do any thinking my brain will be more active than most. Instead, it seemed a good time to do some really deep thinking – about God, the nature of my existence, and whether my husband would mind vacuuming on his day off (I did it last week).

My mind drifted to more of the James Finley lecture on Meister Eckart I had been listening to that morning and I began to realize the impossibility and the absurdity of my task. Luckily there is a transcript of his talk: “Every idea of God is God, no idea of God is God, every idea of God is infinitely less than God even a true idea, even a revealed idea is infinitely less than God, and therefore to the extent we cling to any idea of God – clinging to that ideal thought is the obstacle to God.” Even if simply existing in the present moment in savasana is difficult, apparently it is easier that conceptualizing the divine!

In jest Finley also said,”We are not created by God to think about God, that’s why Jesuits were created.” That seemed to prove why I was drawn to Boston College despite my disinterest in the Church at the time – unknowingly I had surrounded myself with people like me who long to ponder the unponderable!