Magic in the midst of illness

Woke up to a misty morning on this new moon day, and started reading my journal from the last new moon until today. It is a ceremony I honor each new moon, and it is a way for my life to teach me.

I was struck by some passages from the time of Halloween/Samhain, that special time of connections to the ancestors. Because of chronic illness and its deep fatigue, I haven’t felt very spiritually focused lately, not much energy for deep ritual. Plus in COVID times, we don’t have our seasonal gatherings either. But it seems like the ancestors and spirits are reaching out to me nonetheless.

I did manage to cook salmon and potatoes for dinner on Samhain to honor some of Margy’s and my various ancestors. I listened to Quebecois music while doing dishes, and drank East Frisian tea. During the night of the full moon/blue moon I suddenly woke at 4 a.m. and saw the moon shining brightly outside my window. The next day, I saw a cardinal–my healing messenger bird–at the bird-feeder–the only time I’ve seen one there all this season. I was watching TV a couple days later and stumbled upon the movie Coco, which (despite its flaws) got me into the mood of Dia de los Muertos.

Marigolds growing self-seeded in our garden strip near the road.

I was looking for things to watch on our Roku and stumbled upon a series on Canadian Rivers. The best episode was on the Moisie River, or Mishtashipu in the Innu language. I had first learned about this river from Innu people who were fighting to protect it from a hydrodam planned by Hydroquebec. They won that fight, partly because there were also rich white people trying to protect their own salmon fishing. It was beautiful to see the river, and to listen to the Innu people who call it home. (And by the way, the word-segment “ship” in Mishtashipu is a cognate to “sip” in Passamaquoddy, which means river. I feel happy to know that.)

All these little threads meandering unexpected through my days, pulled from me this prayer: “Ancestors, are you reaching out to me from the other side of the veil? Even though I have so little spiritual concentration or focus right now? I open my heart to your presence.” I remembered magical moments of other times when I felt the presence of spirit close by. When my Innu ancient-grandmother, Nukum, first appeared, holding a bowl full of the universe. When I was able, despite all odds, to find the grave of my great-grandmother Claudia in Ottawa. When I was sitting right next to my dad as he took his final breath on this earth.

At the tiny headstone of my great-grandmother Claudia.

During those Samhain days, I was also working on a testimony about my family’s role in colonization. I was feeling the weight of the ancestors–the migrations, the wars, so much. I was feeling overwhelmed by that weight, I was feeling that I could not carry that weight, or imagine ways to find healing for this aspect of my heritage. I feel weary even from the weight of my many living relatives who seem trapped in a cult of lies, there is much estrangement between us. And so once again I reach back to spirit kin.

Finally, I hear: “You don’t have to carry the weight. Let go. Remember trust. I am here even when you cannot hear me, in this dark night of the mind and body. You are already in my hands. It was never a question of guilt or innocence. It was always about love. It is okay to trust my love. Breathe in love.”

And so, today, day of the new moon–this new moon which is also considered part of the time of closeness to the ancestors and spirits–I let myself hear those words again. There is room for magic to intervene, even in the midst of illness and fatigue, even when I cannot dance or sing or build a fire. And I am filled with gratitude.

Grounding

Range Pond October 1

A shift has happened in my spirit, and I feel grounded in a way I haven’t felt for several weeks. I’m not sure why, but a few things have happened this week that might be related.

Three days ago, after windy rain, the power went out about 9:30 in the morning. Happily, I’d already eaten breakfast and installed a new shop light in the garage. (As a friend framed it on Facebook one day, it was a project that took two months and fifteen minutes.) So I took a short walk and discovered a few blocks away that a tree had fallen on some wires. It might be a while. I had an appointment to pick up groceries from the store, but also happily, when I called, they said it would be okay to wait until our power was back on.

Waiting for the next several hours, I noticed that my mind was in a kind of tormented withdrawal from its usual access to constant stimulation. No social media (saving my phone battery for more important things), no book to read (saving my phone, etc.), no television shows. Not enough energy to do a project. A really uncomfortable stillness. Margy and I ate lunch on the patio, and I noticed it was much easier to deal with my mind outside, so after lunch I pruned out some raspberry canes. Finally, the electricity came back–and then it was groceries to pick up and process.

Two days ago, in the morning I facilitated a very productive meeting of our Decolonizing Faith Project. We are moving toward completion of a Zoom version of our workshop for faith communities. That felt good.

Later that day, Margy and I decided to go on a rare outing. We took a drive to search for beautiful autumn color, and found our way out to Range Pond, about forty minutes from where we live. (And by the way, for those who aren’t from around here, I don’t know why but Range Pond is pronounced Rang Pond.) I took my shoes off and waded in the still warm water, delighted to watch the sun ripple off the sand. Sun, water, trees: a healing balm for our souls.

Yesterday morning, after a long night’s sleep, I woke quite early and was writing in my journal, surprised at how peaceful and grounded I felt. I remembered–and this is key I think–I remembered that throughout my adult life there has never been a time I did not hate the atrocities committed by our government. (Wars, empire, ravaging the earth for profit, oppression of people of color, you know the list.) Yes, lately, those atrocities have intensified. But I had protested every administration, and realistically, felt little power to stop those atrocities.

I also remembered that when I was part of the Catholic Worker movement, I learned that resistance can take the form of personalism: we attempt to live out our values personally, and in community–we fed the hungry, housed the homeless, welcomed the “stranger.” We treated all people with respect, and practiced peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. We also protested, not merely to try to change the government, but also to keep clarity in the values we affirmed.

And I remembered that that has always been my own best path of resistance. (That’s why Margy and I chose to green our own living situation, to plant a garden, to learn to more deeply love the land we are living on.) When I was active as the minister of a congregation for many years, I needed to widen my perspective, to hold and affirm many ways of living our values. But now that I am retired, now that I am chronically ill, I am coming back to the core of my own journey. And it is okay to do what I can, and not to be tormented by what I have no power to change.

So all of that was grounding my spirit as the sun was rising yesterday.

And then, later, I did check Facebook, and saw everyone posting about the president getting a positive test for COVID19, and speculating about whether it was true, and what it might mean. And I really do honor the angst that people are feeling about the state of our country, and the election coming up, and the possible undermining of democracy, and so much more. But this time, I didn’t lose my balance. I didn’t get hooked into the chaos. I remembered that I don’t have to loudly condemn every atrocity or agonize over all the pain that I cannot alleviate. It is not a moral necessity to be panicked and despairing over all the evil in the world.

I remembered my own path, my own calling, the small ways that I can live into a vision of mutuality, of respect, of healing. I am writing to help myself remember, for those times that I forget again and again. And perhaps to help you remember your own calling, if you have forgotten in the midst of these strange times. May our many small actions be joined together by the great Mystery into the beauty that is possible.

when it seems like too much

In the midst of this intentional time of rest and healing in my life, I have been gardening, as I am able.  Sometimes even the garden needs more than I have to offer.  I have days when I feel overwhelmed by my own lack of knowledge about how to care for the trees, how to deal with challenges to them, how to help them thrive.  Margy reminds me that it is a learning experience.

Peach Tree SoresSo the latest “too much” were these sores on the peach tree trunk.  Our friend Mihku noticed them, and suggested they were peach tree borers.  The usual remedy is to cut out the wound with a knife and poke the caterpillars manually. But I couldn’t seem to find any clear culprits, and truthfully, the trunk is so small, I was afraid to do too much.

I researched what I could on the internet, and in my Holistic Orchard book.  Sometimes that is overwhelming, too–to read about everything that can go wrong. Beneficial nematodes were mentioned as a possible solution for peach borers, but the only options for purchasing online were in sizes meant for an orchard, not a solitary tree.  I did find a product locally with Bt in it, but that was said to work better on leaf and surface eaters, rather than trunk borers.  Perhaps it is just me, or perhaps it is these times, with the overlay of such despair growing in so many realms, but this problem just felled me, sent me to my bed.

Eventually I did get up again.  I prayed for the tree. I prayed for help.  I consulted my spirit stone, a beautiful rock with a hole through its center, that I use as a pendulum for guidance when I feel uncertain or overwhelmed. I pulled out some products that we use for the orchard, and consulted the stone about whether any of them might be helpful.  Then I noticed that the very simple label on the bottle of Neem Oil mentioned the concentration to use in the case of borers.  Okay.  The stone agreed.  So I made up a small quantity–1 teaspoon Neem Oil to 2 cups water, with some dish soap added as an emulsifier.  I also felt like adding a little compost, in hopes of introducing some beneficial microorganisms.  I washed the mixture over the trunk with a rag.

Peach TreeSomehow, calling for help from the Spirit, and then taking one small step to do something got me going again.  It might not work.  The tree is so beautiful and healthy, and has grown so well this first year, that it would break my heart if it is killed by this wound.  We’re not a big orchard.  Each of our trees is precious and the only one of its kind in our yard.  I had also recently purchased some tall stakes, so I staked the tree (not yet in the photo) and also put up stakes for the mulberry tree, the apple tree, and created a border of stakes and string for the raspberry bushes, which are growing fruit now.

I know so little about how to care for the trees, the plants, the creatures of this yard, this small circle of the earth.  Meanwhile, we human beings are doing so much harm to all beings, and it may be too late to heal.  Meanwhile, the powerful seem bent on destruction and abuse and greed.  Meanwhile, so many wounds everywhere coming into the light.  I don’t seem to have any answers these days. I am trying to be quiet, to attune to the deep River of Life, to stop pushing, acting, deciding… I am trying to wait for the River to move me.  I am trying to learn how to care for the garden. I am reminded of some verses from the Tao Te Ching (translation by Stephen Mitchell.)

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

May the River of Life have mercy on us.

Hoya Plant

Hoya Plant pre-blossoms

It has been many years since our hoya plant has blossomed.  It is a great and easy plant to care for.  I have had it since I lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan around 1979.  My partner at the time, Gary, and I inherited the plant from the collective who had lived in the house before passing the house along to us.  We became a Catholic Worker house, and offered hospitality to homeless families.  In 1983 we moved to Chicago and took the plant with us, and when Gary and I separated in 1985, I eventually ended up with the plant, and have moved it with me ever since.

One of the names I learned for the plant was “Widow’s Tears.”  When it blooms, the flowers have a sweet nectar that falls from their center.  That name had an emotional resonance for me when Gary died in a car accident in 1988.  Just after I learned about his death, the plant began to bloom.  That blooming became one of several signs that touched me with Gary’s presence following his death.  It is hard to explain, but it comforted me, it felt like a gift he had sent to me from beyond.

So this week, the hoya started to flower again, with two little umbrellas of florets beginning to form waxy pre-blooms.  And this week, I learned that my dad, who has been in a nursing home for almost a year and a half, has taken a turn for the worse, and has slept through the last two days.  A priest who is a friend of the family came today to pray and anoint him.  My sister Julie has been the primary support person for my mom and dad since they moved to West Virginia in 2005.  Most of us live at a distance.  A few of my siblings have visited in the last couple weeks, and I will fly out on Monday.

Life is mysterious.  They don’t really know what will happen next.  It is possible he will rally, but it is starting to seem more likely that he is preparing for the transition into death, which for him signifies going home to eternal life.  I asked my mom to hold the phone to his ear so I could speak to him, to tell him I love him, and I was coming on Monday, but I am with him in spirit, so whatever he needs to do will be okay.  Which is true.  And there is something about the hoya plant blooming that comforts me today, alerts me to the mysteries beyond life and death, and the bonds that unite us across many divides.  May all of us be held in love.Hoya Plant bloom

Healing Waters

Healing Mineral Waters Jemez Hot Spring

I am on retreat with my friend in Albuquerque, and we started off by visiting the Jemez Hot Springs, and soaked for an hour in their healing mineral waters.  All of our tensions floated away, and our bodies and souls felt renewed and relaxed. I loved that we were under the watchful arms of an ancient Egyptian river Goddess.

My intention for this time of retreat is to re-emerge myself in Spirit after a long hard winter, to prepare myself for the transition ahead as I retire this summer from my work as a parish minister, and venture into the next phase of my journey.

Times of big changes are liminal times, sacred times, but perhaps also times of anxiety and danger.  I want to stay true to the leadings of my body and spirit that have brought me to this crossroads.  One of those leadings came from the weariness of my body, its chronic illness and auto-immune flare-ups that left me bedraggled and exhausted. I know it is time to stop pushing it so hard.  How fitting for my first day here to bring my body to these healing springs.

I am also already absorbing so much nurture from deep conversations with a sister in spirit who understands the call of ministry and justice, and who understands the lessons of the body, the lessons we learn from limitation and illness.  I am nurtured by this sister traveler into the country of elderhood.  River Goddess

 

Pray with Water Protectors Today

The Water Protectors at Standing Rock have called for a day of prayer today.  The Governor of North Dakota and the Army Corps of Engineers have given an eviction notice to the Oceti Sakowin camp that takes effect 2 p.m. today (Mountain Time).  They have said that everyone remaining in the camps will be arrested. You can call the Army Corps at 202-761-8700 and demand an extension. But also–Pray!  The people in the camps have been cleaning up the camps from the aftermath of the blizzards in December and in preparation for spring flooding.  In a video released Monday, women said

“After the deadline for February 22 at 2pm, we are all at risk of facing arrest, police brutality, federal charges and prison time.”  “In the history of colonization, they’ve always given us two options. Give up our land or go to jail, give up our rights or go to jail. And now, give up our water, or go to jail. We are not criminals.”

From Arvol Looking Horse, last night:

Right away I woke remembering our history of abuses we have suffered from the continued need from Mother Earth’s Resources. My heart is heavy today, for what we are all facing together with tomorrow’s deadline in the removal of the Standing Rock’s Camps…
Because of the seriousness of this situation, I humbly would like to once again call upon all the Religious/Spiritual Leaders, URI and the People who traveled to Standing Rock’s sacred fire on December 4th. (Sari At Uri) Pray with us at your own sacred places for Mother Earth, her Mni wic’oni (water of life) and the protection of our People who are still at the Standing Rock Camps.

We also need to remember healing for those who are making these dangerous decisions that have only ended up abusing all life.

I too will stand in the sacred place with our Sacred Bundle to offer prayers – if anyone would like to join me by bringing offerings to the Bundle, they are welcome – @ 2:00pm mountain time on Wednesday February 22, 2017.

Please pray with us where ever you are upon Mother Earth.

Mother Earth is a Source of Life – Not a Resource.

Onipikte (that we shall live) ,

Nac’a Arvol Looking Horse C’anupa Awiyanka (Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe)

When I walk in my own neighborhood at dawn, I pray, and I come to this sacred place, the small brook that feeds into Capisic Brook.  On the walk, I hear and see the cardinals singing.  They are praying.  Back in my yard, I pray there, because this too is a sacred place. The crows are shouting to each other.  They are praying.  Let us all join in this sacred work, from wherever we are.  Water is life.  The Earth is our mother.  We are all one.

Capisic Brook feeder

[Capisic Brook]

Prophecy, #4

Another important aspect of communal prophecy is that those of us whose voices are often heard, who have the privilege that creates a larger platform, need to stop speaking sometimes; we need to step back and take time to listen to the voices that have been marginalized. We need to listen to those who are targeted, not merely to come to their aid, but to learn from them, and to take leadership from them. Indigenous people and other people of color have access to truths that mainstream American society may not be able to discern, or may choose not to notice.

For example, those who are new immigrants have valuable truths to share. I think about how so many newcomers to Maine survived in the midst of oppression and persecution in their home countries. They developed personal and communal tools that might be important for all of us in the coming months. Plus, they can observe truths about American culture that those of us who have lived in it all our lives can’t see.

Reza Jalali, a human rights activist and educator, and immigrant to Maine from Iran, gave me some hopeful insights when we were talking about the change in power in Washington. He said, “America has so many non-governmental organizations, like schools and hospitals and churches, and other voluntary associations. These are a potentially powerful source of checks and balances against the damage that the current administration may try to do. Other countries which fell to authoritarian regimes did not have this resource for resistance.”

I had never really thought about our associations and organizations as a resource like that. I had assumed that every country had such things. But someone who has been an outsider can see more clearly what we often take for granted.  Those who have been outsiders within our own country can best name what needs to be known.

I am reminded of a song by Holly Near, called Listen to the Voices. One verse goes like this: “Listen to the voices of the First Nations/Calling out the messages Of the earth and sky/Telling us what we need to know/In order to survive”

Native people have been on the front lines for many decades, even centuries, in the battle against corporate takeover of land and resources. When the people at Standing Rock tell us that water is life, and we need to protect the water, that is prophecy of the highest order. When they build a movement based on prayer and non-violence, we should be taking notes.

Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke has said,

My advice is: learn history. Take responsibility for history. Recognize that sometimes things take a long time to change. If you look at your history in this country, you find that for most rights, people had to struggle.

One of our people in the Native community said the difference between white people and Indians is that Indian people know they are oppressed but don’t feel powerless. White people don’t feel oppressed, but feel powerless. Deconstruct that disempowerment. Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you. Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.

To be a community of prophecy, to see what is happening, we must listen to the voices that are speaking the truths we cannot see ourselves. We must listen to history, we must listen to the earth, we must listen to people of color, and we must listen to the voice from within, the power in our spirits.

Sun on frozen pond

Portland Stands with Standing Rock

Standing with Standing Rock in Portland ME

Portland Stands with Standing Rock, Photo by Katrina Van Brugh

Sometimes our spirits know that we must go to another place to support the struggle to protect Indigenous rights and water. But sometimes our spirits tell us to stay put, and lend support from where we are, in whatever we can.  That is my particular calling in this moment, even though a part of my heart is out in Standing Rock every day.  But I was happy to stand in the rain on Saturday in Portland, Maine, with a few dozen people, including these young people from my congregation. Somehow being in the rain also felt right, because #waterislife.

This week many of my clergy colleagues have gone to the site of the camps, to bring a message of support, and I am glad for them to be there.  I am happy that our religious voices can be aligned with sovereignty and justice, after so much damage has been done in the name of the churches throughout the history of this land.

I am also glad personally to be following the spirit’s lead on this, because something is happening right now in our world which is deeper than politics, deeper than the divide between right and left, deeper than what any of the media are willing or able to talk about. It cannot be figured out by thinking or talking.  It is deeper than that.  It comes from the depth of the mysterious forces that give life, that sustain life, on our beautiful planet.

In a time of despair, that which can give us hope is often hidden from public view, bubbling up in unexpected places.  The energy and magic that is Standing Rock is not limited to that one place, but emerges wherever the people find our connection to the land, our connection to the water. Still, what is emerging at Standing Rock goes much deeper than I am able to fully understand, even when I open my heart to the mystery and the flow of it.  But every morning, I do open my heart to that mystery, and offer what energy and gifts I may offer to it.

The House Revisited

All right. I’ve just had one of the funniest moments in our search for greener housing. We went to see a house today, some things were good, but the layout seemed all wrong. And then we checked out the back yard, which was nice.  And then we looked in the small garage, and it was set up as a man-cave, with two big chairs and a television set and a refrigerator, and lots of junk laying around and an overpowering smell of cigarette smoke. Suddenly it seemed very familiar. Wasn’t there another house with a man-cave garage just like this one?

When I got home I checked my file with listing sheets of houses we had visited, and there it was; dated August 25th. We had already seen that very house. Yesterday it showed up as a new listing with the catch phrase, “back on the market,” and I never recognized it until the man-cave. Even our realtor didn’t recognize it at first. My only excuse is that I think we may have looked at it the same day as we saw the house with the beautiful window–so maybe we didn’t pay it much attention.

What is the moral of this story? Even the universe likes a good joke?

Turkey DSC00335

Red Haired Girls and Ring Forts

When she learned we were traveling to Ireland, a colleague recommended Patricia Monaghan’s book The Red Haired Girl from the Bog.  I read it over the last few months, and it was indeed a wonderful introduction to the myths and magical places of Ireland.  Monaghan feels like a true kindred spirit, finding the sacred in the land, and in the stories connected to the land in each place. She speaks about how rooted Irish people are to the places in which they live–they are indigenous to their own places.  Each place has stories that connect it to the near and distant past.  Even in the place names themselves are clues to the lives and lore back to times before history.

I have been exploring in my own life how to connect to the land, how to connect to a place, and her stories provide many inspirations for the process, though also reminding me of how shallow the roots of Euro-descent culture in North America.  Many of our North American place names also harken back to the peoples Indigenous to this place, and hold clues to the old stories of this land.

Yesterday morning, here in Ireland, I took a walk to a neolithic Ring Fort that is on this land at Ashley Park House, where we are staying.  They also call it a Fairy Fort, and the young woman who serves our breakfast talked about people’s superstitions about the Fairy Forts.  She said it was believed people used to bury unbaptized babies in those places, since they could not be buried in the Catholic cemeteries, and some people wouldn’t touch a Ring Fort unless it had been blessed by a priest.  I didn’t worry about that, but was very mindful and respectful of whomever the Spirit beings might be in such an ancient place.

This fort is covered in vegetation and beech trees were growing within and around it.  I took some photos but it was hard to capture the feel of it in a photo.  Imagine a stone embankment about 5 or 6 feet tall (but covered with soil and bushes and trees) in a circle maybe 80 meters in diameter.  I followed a path over the top of the embankment and down in to the middle.  This photo was taken inside the ring, looking over to the embankment.

I am here in this place, where none of my own ancestors have lived, with many unfamiliar plants and animals, but I do know how to give thanks for the sun, and touch the beech trees, and call out to the spirits as I walk around the circle.

Ring Fort Ashley Park

Ring Fort Ashley Park