Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. The word “epiphany” comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance.” Before Christianity, the word was used to record occasions when Greek gods and goddesses made appearances on earth.
Want a surefire, foolproof, 100% guaranteed way to be recognized as an incarnated deity? Follow these steps:
Be born a woman.
Make love at your most fertile moment.
Act as a hospitable vessel for nine glorious months.
Love the little creature that you have created with all your body, heart, and soul.
Leave aforementioned Angel Baby with a loving grandmother after she has been lavished with two and a half months of dedicated maternal attachment parenting.
Return within four hours to a child with eyelids slightly purpled and swollen from much weeping.
Hold her in your arms and offer her that sweetest mother’s milk.
When this child falls back in a delighted coma of sleepiest nourishment, witness the expression on her flushed face.
Realize that in this moment you will never be gazed upon with such devotion again unless you repeat all of the steps above.
On this Epiphany Day, I was a goddess at lunchtime. When the work day finished, I again burst upon the scene, a brilliant epiphany to behold. Tomorrow, the cycle shall repeat. For now, it is almost enough comfort to get me through these hours mother and child are apart…
Prayer is a word I have and flirted with and danced around and fled from. I used to worry about the term’s religious baggage. Also, I have worried that I did not know how to do it properly.
Now, I know that no tradition has a monopoly on prayer and I am aligning myself with God, not with a specific tradition when I talk about the practice. As for concerns about whether I am doing it right, well, I want to say I really don’t have time for that stuff any more.
Motherhood makes you appreciate each activity a little more because you have less time to spend on everything. Every breath in downward dog is deeper because you don’t know when a wail from the next room will pull you from the mat. Every chance you get to type with two hands because baby is sweetly sleeping in her sling is to be treasured and exploited fully. Even though a huge part of me is dedicated to simply experiencing Moira each day, the other side of that equation means that efficiency is more important than ever. This applies even to talking Goddess or God, or whatever I am calling the Divine on a given day.
Like I said, I do not have time to worry about whether I am crafting perfect prayers, I just have to unleash my soul’s dialog and hope the ideas organize themselves.
And yet, I am left to wonder, how literal is Spirit? What matters more, the intention of one’s petition or the way one words the prayer, the way one might craft them into mantra?
My deepest prayers as I look into my baby girl’s great blue eyes are that we may find a way for me to stay home with her full time. I always knew I didn’t want to be a working mom, but I thought that was because it would be too draining to do both and because I never liked my job that much. Never could I have imagined the all consuming love that would make being with my daughter a need not a simple desire.
And so I have found my days and nights filled with a constant refrain: “Please, please, please let me stay home with my baby.”
But then I wonder about how true “be careful what you wish for” really is. What if the Universe decides to answer my most fervent prayers through a lay off? You see, it’s economics that is keeping me at home, so not only do I need the courage to leave the security of my job, but I also need to find another source of income to make staying home the idyllic portrait of mother and child that I dream of.
In our media soaked age in which we are barraged by perfectly honed messages intended to convince us to buy something or vote for somebody, is God looking for us to be slick ad-men when we try to present our own petitions? Do I have to research the attitudes of the trget demographic in order to be understood? Do I have to add words about manifesting abundance and continued health to garnish my plea so that the Powers-That-Be get it right?
In writing this I am realizing how all of this heaven-bound wordsmithing may just be a way to distract myself from getting down to the business putting myself out there as a healer and a writer and an editor and a graphic designer. Maybe the desire to perfect my prayer presentation is more of an earthly imperative than anything else. If I can sell the divine on my plan to stay home, maybe I can convince a few mere mortals to help me achieve my goal. God/dess works in mysterious ways, no?
How much time do we waste obsessing over how we might bargain our way into an answered prayer when we’d be so much better off using that energy in active pursuit of our dreams and needs?
P.S. I do realize that pretending I know better than God about what is best or thinking the Goddess isn’t clever enough to figure out a way to keep mama and baby together smacks of foolishness and hubris, but these were just some thoughts along the way to remembering that to believe in a higher power is to allow Her to do her magic!
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…
Still allowing myself to be pulled in a million different directions as I try to balance my writerly instincts and my healer’s imperative and rollercoaster of marriage and our economic worries, I am feeling anything but aligned right now (my chosen theme of 2009). Priorities will have to shift and I will have to let some things fall away – at least for a little while.
In hopes of finding some guidance, I let my body unfurl in a few precious minutes of stretching this morning and then lit some candles and settled onto the meditation cushion. (My folks’ dog is back roaming her Cape Cod beaches, so I can finally set a pre-work rhythm for myself.)
And so I called in guides and conjured up prayers and let the mantra begin to flow. I was beginning to feel something. Those elusive fingers of the divine were wrapping themselves around my all too distracted soul.
But I just kept chasing after God, distracted by the caterwaul of a black kitty on the other side of the glass door. With no dog to harass, she was again 100% interested in human companionship. For several minutes she wailed and then she unsheathed those claws and let them sink luxuriously into the fresh white trim of the door frame.
From a place deeper than my fragile meditative state, a voice burst from my belly: SHUT UP!
I swear the angel on my altar looked at me with reproach for bringing that sort of aggression to what is meant to be sacred space. And so I grumbled as I stalked across the room to let the plaintive creature into my cozy lair.
Purring louder than my heavy footsteps, Banshee (aptly named, yes?) danced over to the candles and seemed to warm her heart shaped face in their light. When I sat down she wrapped herself around my hands and climbed gently to nestle her head in my neck.
“Cats are the Mother with fur,” spiritual teacher and writer Andrew Harvey once said. I am more than a little inclined to believe him. Here I was, forcing myself upon the sacred, demanding guidance and solace, dictating that solitary silence was the way to get there. And there was Banshee, teaching me that I am not the one in control.
Again I am reminded that my spirit guides are not figments of an over-active imagination. They are breathing and purring and meowing beside me all the time. “Listen to me!” Banshee was calling. In all of this frantic madness to produce more and manifest more, I am seeking so desperately for clues and trampling every heaven sent sign in the process.
“Listen!” the little cat said, as she reminded me that she too is a child of the Goddess. Listen, she reminds me. Stop straining for that radio station just out of range. Stop and listen and realize the truest tune is what you’re calling interference.
There was a time when my spiritual life was anchored by two things: the moon and animals that had been killed by oncoming traffic.
Seeing a white crescent hanging in a blue sky would bring an unaccustomed smile to a face that was creased with worry over a life I could not figure out how to live. I’d whisper “Hi, Lady” and feel the glint of some divine power in what I considered a very bleak existence.
Catching sight of a crumpled, furry corpse would make me shiver in the way you might expect, but it also offered me my only experience of prayer. Again in a whisper I would say, “I commend your soul to the Goddess.” I’d drive on, convinced, at least for a few moments that a great, compassionate Being watched over us all, especially her most defenseless creatures.
I was in a relationship that dissolved my sense of self and power and I was working in a job that truly soul destroying experience. (If ever I weary of an idyllic college library, I need to remember the gigantic orthopedic surgeons’ office in a high rise; I’ve never met people so miserable as the female secretaries of all those male doctors.)
My boyfriend, whom I thought I had to love beyond all sense and reason, was a great guy – but just not for me. For all that he could not understand or reach me, he did have his own stores of wisdom as he tried to create a life with the very depressed woman who shared his home. I remember him saying that he wished I had a cat to come home to so that I could be able to look forward to coming home each night to a creature who loved me (he worked nights, so he was apparently looking for a four legged substitute for himself). As much as I yearned for a pet, I know I despised him a little for that comment and for leaving me alone so much that I needed to find friendship at the ASPCA.
Of course, looking back I salute him for being so right.
Each day I awake to count my blessings. A man I love with all the right mix of sensibleness and unreasonableness and everything in between. A pair of cats who greet me at the door and make me laugh every day and warm the bed each night. A clear, open sky full of the moon and the open eyes to see her. An awareness of the Divine in all things, not just departed squirrels and waxing celestial bodies.
I bask in the empathetic gaze of animal friends as well as the awesome, changing power of the moon and understand that hopelessness is a habit long outgrown.
And still, recognizing that I still greet the Lady when I see a smudge of white on the morning horizon or repeat a prayer over every departed animal, just as I did when my life was at its worst, reminds me that there is worth in every moment of life, even when it feels wasted and pointless. Back then, despite the thick fog of despair that was my twenty-third year of life, a connection to my true self still blazed forth.
I have never felt so distanced from that chain-smoking girl as I do now, but I must respect and remember that poor lost girl. She helped to create the woman I love to be today.
I honor the person I no longer have to be. She is every bit a part of me, just as the phases of the moon and a connection to animal life is a part of my every day.
Recognizing that even when life seems to be at its maddest, there is still a connection to true self. I feel so much closer to that and ususally laugh off my past as an unrecogniable dark period, but in fact, that woman created who i am now. Honoring her, just as I honor the moon and the animals who lost their battle with oncoming cars.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
And 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?