Water from Brigid’s Well

On our way from the west to the east of Ireland, we stopped in Kildare, the town which was home to St. Brigid, one of the patron saints of Ireland and, according to the stories, an abbess who founded a monastery in 5th and 6th century.  Many stories link her to the older goddess Brigid, goddess of smithcraft, poetry, and healing.  We had read that there were two Brigid’s wells in Kildare–one now designated for the saint, and a pagan well still associated with the goddess.  Apparently, the pagan well wasn’t advertised, but we had read that it could be found near the parking lot of the Japanese Gardens/Irish National Stud.  So we set out to find it.

St. Brigid's Well, Kildare

St. Brigid’s Well, Kildare

On the way, close by, we saw a sign for St. Brigid’s well and found that one.  People come to the Brigid’s wells for the healing properties of their waters, and so we touched the water and asked its blessing.  The well is shallow, about a foot deep, and is spring fed. We left a coin in the water along with our wishes. It is said that this well, too, may have ancient connections to the goddess Brigid, incorporated into Celtic Christianity as St. Brigid.  There are other Brigid’s Wells all over Ireland.

Then we went on to the Japanese Garden, and searched around the parking lot, but didn’t see anything.  We went inside, and had a lovely lunch at the restaurant there.  Afterward, we asked a man at the ticket counter about the second Brigid’s well, and he told us to go around to the other side of the parking lot, behind a little wooden gate.  So off we went, and we found it.  Totally unmarked on the outside, but set into a lovely little paved area, with a half circle of stone wall opposite that could be used as seats.  Nearby, people had left ribbons on the branches (we saw those at the other well too).  It was intriguing to Margy and I that these ancient sacred sites are so hidden in plain sight.

Brigid's Well, Kildare

Brigid’s Well, Kildare

I felt so delighted and awed to be in this place where healing waters have been flowing since ancient times.  Margy and I drank a little water, and took pictures, and absorbed the magic all around us.  Then, an unexpected encounter–I was down on the stones next to the well, with the camera, and Margy was on the stone pavement above, holding my backpack, and she leaned over a little, and suddenly my metal water bottle that was in the open pocket of the backpack fell right into the waters of the well.

Into the Well!  Photo by Margy Dowzer

Into the Well!
Photo by Margy Dowzer

Those of you who know me know that this water bottle I carry has its own sacred role in always reminding me of the holiness of all water.  When I saw it there on the bottom of the well, I remembered that I wanted to take some of Brigid’s healing waters to bring home with me.  Was Brigid herself reminding me, and making a personal connection to us in this way?  I have celebrated her holiday in February for many many years.  So, I leaned in to scoop it out of the well, and then emptied its water into the nearby plants, and filled it with water from the well.

After that, Margy and I sang some more songs, sent healing wishes to all our friends back at home, and left our own ribbon on the branches hanging over the well.  If I may, I also send healing energy to you who are reading this.

Helpers for Finding Our Way Home

Cardinal

Margy Dowzer Photo

There are beings all around us who want to be called upon, who want to help us in this work of returning to wholeness, this work of finding our way home. I have shared stories of a few of the beings who have helped me. The bright red cardinal singing its beautiful song. The four directions beech tree. The waters of lakes and streams. The ground, the very ground we walk upon, that holds me when all around me everything is falling apart.

Now that I know about the mycelial network, the ground feels more alive to me. But it was always true that something happened when I sat down upon the ground. If I sleep on the ground for a longer period of days, there is a glow that surrounds my body. I remember this from my time at the Women’s Peace Camp, where I was living in a tent for four months. I felt alive in some new way that I began to miss when I went back inside an apartment in Chicago. I forget it easily, but I feel more alive when I am outside.

Jesus has been such a helping presence too. First in my childhood and youth, when he was the one who loved me and who called me to the path of love. But even later, when I was leaving Christianity to follow the path of the Goddess, Jesus was a guide and a friend. If we can experience the divine within every being around us, the theological questions about Jesus seem less of a quandary. People have been asking, over the centuries, Was Jesus a man or a God? I would answer, Aren’t all of us both human and divine?

When Winifred Gallagher wrote about her quest for a spiritual home, she described the essential spiritual practice of the Christian tradition as the practice of love for everyone. She commented that it seemed a lot easier to meditate for an hour every day, than to have to practice love for everyone—it was not an easy alternative. It has been a deep tragedy that Christianity has been used to foster hate and oppression. Jesus stays in my life as the teacher of love, the human example of what divine love looks like.

I want you to know that we are not alone. In this time of great challenges and transitions, there are a host of beings who love life and want to help us find another way to live. As we reach out to them, they are reaching out to us. I understand that every person will have their own ways of connecting to earth, to each other, to Mystery. The mycelial network might not be the thing that helps you to experience the connection between all beings. You might not resonate with Jesus or with trees. But I encourage you to find out what it is that does help you. In these times we need critical thinking and activism and also mysticism.

Just as we can now sit in front of a plastic and metal panel and communicate with people across the world, so there are technologies to communicate across species and across dimensions. The threads of life weave us together in ways we have barely begun to imagine. But I know this: we belong here together and we need each other now more than ever. Poet Barbara Deming wrote:

Our own pulse beats in every stranger’s throat,
and also there within the flowered ground beneath our feet.
Teach us to listen:
We can hear it in water, in wood, and even in stone.
We are earth of this earth, and we are bone of its bone.
This is the prayer I sing.

Green Back Yard DSC05265

I found God in myself and I loved Her fiercely

I am continuing in my series of blogs about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in honor of the anniversary of his death, April 4th. I am exploring what his life can teach us about the experience of the Divine Mystery.

I want to acknowledge that there are many people who do the work of justice, without relating to a God of justice. Their work comes out of a belief in human dignity and connection, and God has nothing to do with it, for them. And that is really fine with me. When we have experienced the connection we share with other human beings, I believe it naturally leads to a concern about justice and equality.

But for some of us, there have been moments when we were in despair about injustice, or afraid of what our truth was revealing to us, or ready to give up, like Dr. King had been in his moment of despair. And in those moments, we also felt a divine presence, a presence of courage and hope and strength, empowering us into transformation. This God may not have intervened to take away a difficult challenge, but rather enabled us to find wholeness and self-worth in the meeting of it.

For me, the divine presence gave me the courage to leave the church of my childhood, and leap into the unknown, to find myself as a woman, as a whole and equal person. When all around me the church was saying that women had their place, and it was not in the priesthood or the leadership, when I was hearing that women were weak and vulnerable and needed men to guide and protect them, something enabled me to reject that characterization, and claim fullness. Something I barely even had a name for—but it was a sacred power nonetheless.

Photo by Rick Kimball

Photo by Rick Kimball

For me, the risk involved imagining that God might be a woman, a Goddess. That I might be created in the image of that Goddess. And even though there was nothing in the Bible that described this Goddess, yet it was still the stories of the God of justice that led me out of those old male-dominant images and into new possibilities. As Ntozake Shange put it, “I found God in myself and I loved her fiercely.”

This experience in my own life became a window to understand, at least in part, the kind of transformation the slaves had experienced. How miraculous and lonely it could be, how long the journey, and how frightening the desert. But yet, something unmistakable like a fire to guide the way. It taught me that the divine is a power beyond institutions, beyond containers, yet able to be present in our lives—especially in those moments of transformation, when “the mighty are cast down from their thrones, and the lowly are lifted up.”

I do not ask that anyone believe in the God of my own transformation. It doesn’t work like that. But I do offer it to you as an option of hope. If you are going through a hard time, if you are discouraged, if you are seeking to follow the truth of your heart, if you are sore oppressed. If you are having trouble believing in your own worth and dignity. I invite you to call on that God, and see whether there might be a presence that can help you through.

God, if You are real, I need a sign

If we’ve never tried to make a spiritual journey, it can seem complicated and difficult, like me trying to make sound come out of a saxophone. But once you’ve found the music, it can be as simple as turning a dial. We learn to recognize the sound of the Mystery’s still small voice. There isn’t just one right way to do it. The practices of the religions of the world are all attempts to find a way to tune in.

We might take up serpents, or practice sitting meditation, but we don’t need to. We don’t need to call it God or Goddess, or Spirit or Mystery, or call it anything at all, though that can be helpful to some people. We don’t have to come up with faith we don’t possess or sacrifice our desires. Whatever is going on in our deepest heart can help. Even doubt or despair can call it forth. We don’t have to abandon our intellect, or be a perfect icon of virtue. But we do need to slow down, change our frequency. We need to pay attention. We need to open a channel or a doorway, invite a connection.

Hands MJ DSC02028One evening, during my first year in college, my best friend and I were sitting in the quiet candlelit chapel of our campus. A few other people were also there, scattered about the pews. I remember feeling that we each seemed so isolated in our private meditation. I was moved to reach out and take the hand of my friend. Little did I realize, at that very moment, she had been wrestling with her own inner spiritual struggles.

Feeling a certain despair, she had just prayed, “God if you are real, I need a sign. It doesn’t have to be a miracle, I just need you to touch me in some way.” Then, I innocently took her hand, and it was the touch of God that she experienced.

Would you climb a mountain if you knew for sure that you could have a spiritual experience at the top? Would you go down into the river? Would you risk an invitation?

Experiencing the Mystery

I think back to the image of the radio waves that I have spoken about before. All the time, there is music moving through the air but we are unaware of it. However, if we tune our radio to the right frequency, we can suddenly hear the music. A whole invisible world opens up to our ears. In the same way, the larger reality, the Mystery, is already here, all the time. The Mystery is the unseen energy that connects and upholds all that exists. An even better image is wifi or a cell-phone. It isn’t just about hearing the voice of God, like music in the air, but also about our own voices being heard. We are connected. Someone, something, is paying attention to us, too.

We might think we are tiny insignificant specks of dust in a vast universe. Why would the Mystery want to pay attention to any of us, prophets or otherwise? I’m not sure, but I do know that there are moments when I feel paid attention to, when I feel connected. When that white truck took me to Massachusetts, I felt it. The Jewish religion has a belief that what we call angels are the manifestations of God into our individual lives. Not huge earthquakes, but a tiny whispering breeze that touches our hearts. A still small voice. Some call it synchronicity or serendipity. When I have opened my heart to the Mystery, the Mystery responds.

There is another part of the Elijah story that speaks to me. Just after Elijah heard that the queen was trying to kill him he went into the nearby wilderness. He prayed, “Yahweh, I have had enough! I wish I were dead.” Then he lay down and went to sleep. But an angel woke him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there at his head was a scone. It doesn’t say what kind of scone. Did they have cinnamon or raisin scones then? I like to imagine that if God was thoughtful enough to send a scone, it would be a favorite kind. The angel said, “Get up and eat, or the journey will be too long for you.” So he ate the scone, and then he was ready to make that forty day trip to Mount Horeb.

My experiences of the Mystery are like that. A little scone, so I have the strength to make the long journey.  Or a small bird.  Or a hidden chipmunk watching me on the path.Chipmunk in Log MJ DSC04989

The Limits of Mystical Experience

Rainbow in Branches DSC03269I come from a peculiar perspective on the topic of spirituality, because I grew up with a father who is a mystic. He later described to me his own pivotal experience of God. He told me he was lifted to a state of bliss that continued for two weeks. During that time, he could feel no pain, and he said if he went walking in the rain, he literally did not get wet. When he read the Christian scriptures, he was struck by the message that Jesus, who had been in glory with God, left that glory to become a human being. He felt then, that he too should let go of this heavenly state, and come back into the ordinary human world of suffering and joy, so he could be of service. And so he did.

When I was growing up, this God lived in our house like another member of the family. Learning to pray was like learning to talk—there was an expectation that someone was there listening. The other side of this story was that my father was far from perfect—he could be dogmatic about his experiences and beliefs, and critical of his children. He got angry and sad and frustrated and disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, he was and is a good and loving man. But once I grew up enough to form my own opinions, I realized that spiritual experiences were no guarantee of emotional compassion, or accuracy in the search for knowledge. Just because my father could have a spiritual experience, did not mean he was always right.

The biggest challenge for me in this regard came when my journey took a very different turn than my father’s. Our family had become involved in the Catholic Pentecostal movement, which in many ways was a very empowering and spiritually nurturing community for a teenage spiritual seeker. But during my last years of college, the Pentecostals were shaping themselves into a more institutional structure, and I found myself repelled by their hierarchical and sexist understandings of community. Where the Spirit seemed to be leading them was very different from where I felt the Spirit was leading me.

My great helper through that time was a woman professor of the Bible, who taught me about scholarly interpretation of sacred texts and the dangers of fundamentalism. I have talked about that in another post.  But I learned, then, that we cannot abandon mind and intellect, as we search for spiritual experience. We’d like to think that people who have spiritual experience will be always compassionate and wise. But it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

Our experience of the larger reality, the great Mystery, is mediated by our human limitations and our human failings. We must keep our eyes open. Spiritual community can be used to hurt and to oppress, as well as to help and uplift. Spiritual conviction can be used for destruction as well as for compassion. Jesus once said that you can know a tree by its fruit, and the apostle Paul wrote, “The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” We too must pay attention to the fruits that are borne by spiritual experience.

Eventually, my own spiritual and intellectual journey led me out of Christianity, and I became a part of the feminist revival of the Goddess. On the one hand, it could be said I was rejecting everything my father stood for. But on the other hand, the essence of the gospel message—the message of liberation for the downtrodden—had opened a door for this next stage of my journey. And it was a similar journey to his—a journey of being called beyond the familiar, into a new experience of reality; a journey of trusting this inner calling and conviction more than outer definitions.

Even though my father and I are worlds apart in the details of our spiritual expression, we can still sometimes find a deep connection because of the inner core of our spiritual journeying. My relationship to my father teaches me about the complications of searching after spirituality as experience. We must trust our own experience, we must honor the experience of others, but we must weigh everything according to our deep values.

We Are a Part of the Watershed

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Analysts are predicting that water will be the number one political issue in the coming years. Just as wars are being fought over oil, so increasingly there are conflicts over access to water. The business solution is to introduce the “privatization” of water: the theory is that if water is a scarce resource, then the market should determine its price, and price will regulate its use. But citizen’s groups are fighting back to say that water cannot be commodified, because it is an absolute necessity for life. Rather, water must be recognized as a fundamental right and provided equitably to all.

The danger in the privatization of water is that it takes water out of its relationship to all living beings, and into the hands of a system which is set up to think only in terms of profit. Water is not something separate from us, something we have made, that we might think of it in terms of selling and buying. Water is in us and we are in water. We must think of ourselves as part of the watershed.

The water we drink passes through us, and is returned to the earth. When we open our hearts to the wonder of this cycle, we can begin to heal from the out-of-balance patterns we all have learned in our society. Weeping is a part of it too. The water of tears moves our grief, heals and cleanses, as water does, moves us on the journey. The cycles of water teach us that we are all related.

Each of us has a choice. Will we approach water as a commodity to be used, or as a blessing to be honored? If we acknowledge water as a blessing, we recognize its essential importance. Water is the mother of all life. There is no life without water. Whether we view it scientifically or spiritually, water is the womb from which all living beings have been born. We are made of water and we need the constant flowing through of water to remain alive in this world. When I made the conscious choice to regard water as a blessing, I decided to stop using plastic bottled water as much as I was able. I like to carry water with me, so now I carry tap water in a special reusable metal bottle. Anytime I drink water, I am reminded to offer thanks for the blessing.

All religious traditions have recognized the sacredness of water in some way. The old earth religions always revered a god or goddess of the waters—usually certain spirits were associated with salt water and others with fresh water. I learned about some of these water spirits from Mandaza, a healer from Zimbabwe who visited my previous congregation. According to Mandaza, the water spirits offer us healing and peacemaking. There are rituals for people to go into the water when they desire to be restored to wholeness or to find guidance for their spiritual journey.

According to my friend, gkisedtanamoogk, water is considered a Manito, a mysterious life force that has its own life. Water is also medicine, the most important medicine in Creation. The Wampanoag people know fresh water as Nipinapizek, and regard her as a grandmother. He wrote to me, “i think that we humans only exist because there is a significant number of people who remember to Give Thanks to all Those Ones who are the Keepers of Life, one of Those being, NIPINAPIZEK. May we continue to Give Thanks…..”

When I was growing up as a Catholic, we used to bless ourselves by touching our fingers in holy water. I associated it with purifying ourselves because we were in some way unclean. But now, the blessing of water feels more like remembering our heritage. We come from water. Since all water is holy, we are holy too. We are washed by water, we are restored by water, we are nourished by water.