Hearth and Home Vol. 10 ~ Does Anyone Here Speak Sumerian?

Ceremony and Ritual

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he Sumerian-inspired subject line of today’s Hearth and Home is brought to you by my seven year-old son, Jasper, who has been availing himself to my Sumerian dictionary. Yep, you heard that right: Sumerian. Like from ancient Sumer. Actually the text I have is more than a dictionary: if you want to, you can learn how to read Sumerian cuneiform, based on scholarly reconstruction of archeological findings. It’s a solid tome, and, you know, practical if you want to learn Sumerian. He has plans for this book, he is going to try to cram it into his bookshelf so that it magically becomes his, that’s right, the bookshelf in the picture – do you think there’s room?

Who in the world would want to learn Sumerian? NO ONE speaks or writes Sumerian anymore. It is truly a dead language, written and spoken. And yet this very fact is what makes languages like Sumerian so attractive to some people (and certain 7 year olds).

Y’all should have seen J as he tried to wrap his head around the fact that Sumerian is dead. The notion that a language could be dead is actually what brought cuneiform to life for him, lighting the whole thing up like a Christmas tree. Now there are scraps of paper with cuneiform marks all around the house. (One of the groupings of marks he copied, means “liberty”, according to scholars, and Sumerian is the earliest known written language with this concept.) So this ancient, dead language is now the coolest most relevant thing ever, and Jasper has decided he wants to become an ancient culture detective (as he calls it) and find out what really happened to the people who spoke Sumerian.

Oh, and also: he does not quite believe us about the whole “dead language thing” because he woke up last Saturday morning asking who in the household speaks Sumerian. He is pretty sure one of us is holding out on him. Maybe it’s the baby.

I love everything about this. I love the fact that my 7 year old chooses to spend his Saturday morning delving into a magical script from a faraway time and land. I love the fact that he is so sure someone really does speak Sumerian somewhere, and I love the fact that he might just be right…maybe somewhere someone does after all.

Jasper’s tenacity (around ancient languages and generally speaking) is a study in belief. The belief that he has access to this knowledge and that this is appropriate – that knowledge should not be jealously guarded under lock and key or held only be a few. The belief that if he practices at something long enough and diligently enough he can begin to make headway with it. And the belief that there is magic…in old books and ancient languages and everywhere around us if we know how to look. This has been the theme for our family this year, ever-present magic and the fact that while the extraordinary is most definitely part of the everyday, we still have the privilege – and challenge – of dealing with the everyday.

This month ‘the everyday’ beyond the usual work load looks like wrapping up presents and picking out gifts, decorating the tree, and sending out Christmas cards. I unashamedly and unabashedly love Christmas, Solstice, Yuletide, and the Omen Days that come after. I love it all. I love the sparkle and the color and the corny music. I love the excitement of the kids. I even love the pangs of sadness – the way that I miss by best girlfriend because when we lived in the same city we did our Christmas cards together. And the way that I miss my grandfather who loved this time of year above all others. I adore the stillness and the quiet of the cold air and the sparkling stars.

We often hear it said that the holidays are hard. And they certainly can be. But there seems to be an expectation that they should not be so hard…that everything should be happy and joyful and perfect. To my mind this expectation is rooted in the forgetfulness that the holidays are in fact HOLY days.

Genuine holy days are days pierced and crowned with the qualities of wholeness and healing, and holiness – truly beautiful and magical things. But these magical qualities are no more free of the hard and the tough than the phrase “happily ever after” is meant only for fairytales. Never in my experience has the magic of the truly holy turned away from the incredibly hard. Always it has made room for and embraced it.

This means of course that the genuinely hard times are never far from holy, wholeness and healing – even if it can feel like sometimes they are, even if the grace and freedom you seek feels a million miles away.

I tell my students that what keeps us steady in the face of the hard is our daily practices. These practices change as we do. They morph, they transform. But if we commit to showing up with them, they in turn commit to us and give us a steady foundation from which to work, live, and simply be. These days my practice begins at 4am when I get up before anyone else to take care of all of our animals.

Then, when the weather is favorable, I go outside in my pajamas, with a thick blanket and wrapped up in a coat, and I lay down under the stars. It is dark and cold. The neighbors are mostly asleep (and my neighbors know that I am a bit touched and seem to be OK with that), the wind is usually blowing gently at 4:30am, I listen. I’m watching the stars in part because I am preparing to teach my most ambitious astrology course yet in the New Year. But I am also simply being with the sky and the earth and the air, saying an intentional hello to these elements that surround me all of the time. With so much happening, with so much busy activity, these few minutes of star and moon bathing seem to add hours on to my day.

My practice is also all of the daily stuff. Watching Heath as he begins to eat solid foods…zucchini is a yes, bananas are a yes, as is spinach; green peas he is not so sure about and green peas and rice will earn you a Paddington Bear-esque hard stare. Listening to Jasper play piano at his winter recitals and play basketball (he is learning to catch the rebounds) and loving the way his little brother smiles at him as if he is the very sun itself. My practice has also included the fun of snuggling with my love, diving into Grey’s Anatomy – yes we just started, and yes it is so fun – and figuring out how to bend time and space so that my lover has time to draw and sketch and create the gorgeous art that our homes and lives are filled with.

Business is a practice for me too. I love my work so the scheduling and the follow up emails and the readings, the lighting of lunar lights and the teachings – all part of the practice. First writing and then shepherding the book into this next phase has been a new set of practices I have become familiar with.

At the end of November I got to speak to the publicity and marketing team in charge of my book (we have decided that when we meet in person it shall be over margaritas) and we have devised a very sophisticated marketing strategy…would you like to know what it is?

Write a good book.
Tell your community about your book.
Create an actually useful and awesome bonus when people pre-order the book.
Whip up some fun ways for there to be more time and connection within the community without outsourcing everything to social media or a keyboard…so simple, yet pretty revolutionary stuff huh?

Amidst a sea of bad marketing advice this certainly feels revolutionary. And then there is my publisher and my team, and for us it all comes down to integrity…write what needs to be written, share what needs to be shared, make it worthwhile and let your community know. As Emeril says, “Bam!” I’ll be sharing loads more about the book in January so stay tuned for that but in the meantime I hope you do what the title advises and make some magic for yourself this season.

And on that note, I want to share one of my favorite little tricks for creating some sweet magic in your home. It is the holiday season and some of the tough stuff that we encounter happens in our own families, yes? We can all use a reminder to speak with more kindness and compassion, to listen with more mercy, and to check our snap judgements at the door. One of my favorite magical tricks to inspire this behavior is to fill the sugar canister with whole vanilla beans, one for each member of the family. As you place the pod into the canister, name it for the family member and bless them with the following blessing:

“May your season be full of love, warmth, and kindness for yourself and for all you come into contact with.”

Of course you can also utter a blessing straight from your heart.

When you bake with the sugar or add it to your tea or coffee, it will call to mind the sweetness that you have wished upon yourself and everyone in your family. Want another little home sweet home enchantment? I’ve got one right here. And for those of you who have asked me about the lunar lights for 2019 – they are open through today so get in on it! Beautiful blessings of this holy, hard, and yes, magical season.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Protected: Balancing Acts

Ceremony and Ritual

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What are your favorite ways of celebrating the Equinox?

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Magical Missive: How to create an Ancestor-informed Tarot Reading

Divination and Dreams

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ow is the time of year that many of us feel drawn closer and closer to the liminal, the medial, all that is ‘betwixt and between.’

For my part, I have found that the period roughly from Samhain (pronounced Sowen) on October 31st until New Years Eve on January 1st is a pause between the old and the new. For me, the time between the ending of one year and the beginning of a new year, is like the time between conception and birth, the space and pause between breathing out and breathing in. It is a time for gathering the internal resources to be able to truly call out, proclaim, celebrate or welcome the new year.

A large number of my ancestors understood October 31st to mark the end of the calendar year. Feasts were prepared and ancestors were consulted as tribes and communities prepared to enter into the dark season of the year when faeries, ghosts, but also miracles and saints were believed to walk among the living. Across an ocean and in a new land, another group of ancestors marked January 1st as the beginning of the calendar year – and handed down a number of revelries, divinations, and charms to celebrate and validate the transition from old to new.

What I have found is that my ancestors, though they came from many different parts of the world, spoke many different tongues, and all looked different (from each other and from me), also each had an understanding and insight that has been handed down from one pair of hardworking hands to the next until it was given to me. Part of that understanding is how to work with and view this particular time of year.

The nature of this time of year is liminal. If we know how to attune to it, we find ourselves able to concourse with a realm beyond time and beyond space. As such it is the perfect opportunity to do what so many cultures and tribes and peoples from around the world have done and continue to do – speak to the Dead, the Invisible, the Unseen, with an eye to the Living. The ways of doing this are myriad.

Here is a simple divination I performed this year in consulting with my own Beloved Dead, and I thought it might be of use for some of you.

Build an ancestor altar, and devote your time and loving attention to it.

I started by building our ancestor altar. The process commenced at the beginning of October right after Michaelmas. On the evening of November 1st we prepared the traditional foods and drinks that our beloved ones loved in life, and offered them up along with plenty of incense and candle light to help our old ones find their way to their temporary home. That first night we sat quietly together and remembered our beloved dead. We spoke to our little one who is four and who naturally understood that the hot chocolate and pan de muerto were supposed to be shared among the living and the dead. I thanked our ancestors for watching over us and guiding us throughout this past year and for being the strong shoulders upon which I stand. In this first night of bittersweet celebration there was no asking, but simply offering up good things and saying thank you.

Before the sun rises, get your cards, ask for assistance and get down to business.

On the morning of November 2nd I got up bright and early before the sun rose. I fixed a cup of strong coffee and chocolate for myself and offered one to the ancestors and then I sat down with a couple of talismans, my prayer shawl, and my cards to get down to business. I blessed all of the ancestors and then asked them to assist me in getting information for my family to better engage with our next year.

Major Arcana

Begin with the Major Arcana. Because this is a family matter, I pull cards not only for myself but for my loved ones too. This and one other time of year are the only times when I divine for our entire family.

Pull one major arcana card for each family member you are going to read for. The question that I hold in my heart when I do this is: what do I most need to know/what does X most need to know as we head into another year?

Remember that the major arcana cards are invitations. Ask yourself: Does the card present energy and understanding that you want to step into or is it something that you need to step out of?

For married couples you may pull one major for each individual and then a third for the relationship.

Minor Arcana

Then onto practical matters. Traditionally divination, especially at this time of the year is meant to be practical and concrete. So I turn my attention to the minor arcana.

After pulling the minor arcana card, I pull four more for each person I am reading for. They are laid out in a line and are read as first, second, third, and fourth quarter of the upcoming year. This allows the cards to be taken on their own but also placed in context so that a story can be told with them. If there is a card that needs more explanation then pull a fifth card to attain that information.

Don’t forget the BIG questions!

Finally, if there are BIG questions that the entire family is concerned with – projects, endeavors, big choices, you may ask about them directly and pull one card (I pull from the minor arcana with an eye to practical wisdom) for each question.

In my own practice, the divination lasts as long as the sun has not risen. Once the sun is up the session is over. I make a note of the cards I received for myself and for anyone else who wanted me to read for them, and then I go back to sitting with my ancestors, thanking them for the presence and their patience with me.

On the night of November 2nd we will have a final celebration where I will make more foods that are beloved by our way back people, load up the altar with more offerings, and then on the morning of November 3rd we will prepare to say farewell, for now.

I will hold the images and messages received in the early morning divination close to heart and mind over the next two months. I will dream, peer at the upcoming astrological transits, tell stories, remember stories that were told to me, go for walks with my beloved, laugh with my little boy, and listen above all. I will listen as the sun dips lower earlier, the wind caresses leaves and bare branches, and the squirrels with their mouths full of pecans scurry across our rooftops. I will listen to the ones who have gone before me and who see beyond me, and a little bit each day I will weave the story of my next year into being, carrying it with me wherever I go, listening and participating in other traditions of spying signs and celebrating the unseen, and preparing for all of the gatherings yet to come.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Mommy Magic: 8 Ways to Celebrate the Day of the Dead with the Whole Family

Ceremony and Ritual

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or soulful seekers who wish to honor their Ancestors and Beloved Dead at this time of year and who also have young family members who may be frightened by some of the more macabre images running rampant, it can often feel like an either/or situation.

Either you give in to mass market Halloween trappings and squeeze your more soulful work and offrendas in sideways or you go all out in creating your ancestor altar and alienate your children in the process because really, why do you have to be SO weird?

Growing up in San Antonio and the Southwest where we celebrated Dia de los Muertos and honored our Ancestors before it was cool, the idea of hiding your practice away from your family members or not involving your younger family members in the celebrations strikes me as a bit odd.

After all, for millions of people world over, Dia de los Muertos (and the many other names it is known by) is a Feast Day during which we honor and commune with our Beloved Dead. We remember the loved ones (including animals) that we have lost – especially those we have lost in the past year – but we remember by having a party and of course we want to include our children in the festivities; this is a family affair!

The Feast Day/family celebration atmosphere often gets lost in translation when we talk about this holiday – there is more of a focus on the somber and scary and less of one on the bright, colorful, cheer that we experience when we take special time out of our day to honor the ones who have gone before. But I’m here to tell you that the Ancestors LOVE a good party and they love it when the little ones participate too. So here are some ideas to get the family party started:

1.) Make sugar skulls. There are molds that come complete with instructions and there are even kits. Traditionally the skulls are decorated with brightly colored icing and colorful pieces of foil. A piece of foil is affixed to the top of the skull’s head and you can write down the name of the ancestor you are honoring.

Of course, you’ll want to make a few extras so that the kiddos can nosh away. Traditionally you would take these skulls and offer them to your ancestors at the gravesides on November 2nd after taking a bite from each of them so that, for another year, the person named lives within you too.

 

2.) Create an Ancestor season tree. A season tree is an idea I got from a Waldorf craft book years ago – the general principle is that you place some bare branches into florist foam that is nestled into a pot, sprinkle dirt over the foam (plant some wheatgrass seeds in the dirt if you are really ambitious) and then decorate the tree as the seasons change with appropriate items.

The ancestor tree is very similar but on the branches we have affixed pictures of our ancestors. Near the bottom of the tree we start with the oldest ancestors and then move up in chronological order, the crown of the tree can feature pictures of current family members. This is a great craft that also segues naturally into discussions of family trees.

 

3.) Build an altar. Kids love altar building for the most part. A traditional Dia de los Muertos altar is established in the living room or the dining room where much of the family congregates naturally. Choose what ancestor(s) you would like to honor and remember that it is perfectly acceptable to honor a deceased pet. Decorate the altar with paper flowers, sugar skulls, and your ancestor tree. Make beeswax candles with a kit like this to light upon the altar. Include foods that the people or animals loved in life and objects that you inherited from them upon their passing.

You can also incorporate seasonal themes into this altar – our Dia de Los Muertos altar always has a pumpkin or two on it! Paper or cloth prayer flags and some fresh flowers, especially marigolds, are all traditionally included too.

 

4.) Bake some pan de muerto Day of the Dead Bread – it is delicious.

 

5.) Put the Feast back into feast day! Create a dinner on October 31st or November 1st that honors the traditional food ways your family’s ancestors practiced. This is a great project that you can actually start early in October – get your kids to do some research into who their way back people were, where they lived, what crops they grew and what animals they domesticated. Many of the deepest rituals happen around food.

 

6.) Go visit the graveyard together. Demystify places of death by going to visit them together in broad daylight. Graveyard are fascinating places for children and in my experience, children are much more frank and understanding about death then they are given credit for.

 

7.) Speaking of graveyards, here’s a bonus: read the Graveyard book together – perfect for the season!

 

8.) And if you are in the mood for a family-friendly film about this time of year, I cannot recommend the Book of Life highly enough!

No matter how you celebrate enjoy the season or as we say down here: Feliz dia de los Muertos!

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Three Ways to Release the Old and Call in the New

Divination and Dreams

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ear Miracles,

Winds blow across the land here where I live and the trees in our front yard are finally bare of branch. I can see various charms that I have hung up in their branches throughout 2015 – a scrap of ribbon here, a pine cone covered in birdseed and prayer there, a dried pomegranate left as an offering on Halloween, an old and twisted root tied up with yarn.

Over the next few days I will gather these little offerings given to the trees and taken out into the world by the winds. I will add them to a pile of petition papers and candle wax and a few other ceremonial items and then, as is our tradition, I will burn them in a sacred fire.

As they burn they will be joined by many of your own prayers and petitions — for all who are participating in 2015’s Banish and Burn ritual have sent in their own words and wishes of what needs to be released, let go of, and banished.

To banish something is not merely to get rid of it. To banish something is actually to honor it for the role(s) it has played in our lives and to release it, to let it go, so that it might be transformed by earth, air, fire, and water into something that is good and of use for others. This banishing, releasing and letting go is the first in a three step process that I work with every year as we move from the old year into the new.

 

The process itself echoes a process we see in ritual and ceremony throughout time beyond time:

First one must cleanse, release, let go, and rid themselves of what is no longer needed. Unhelpful and/or diminishing attitudes, beliefs, ideas, stalled out creative endeavors, relationships that keep trudging on in the same tired cycle, our inability to see as clearly as we might, to love as deeply as we can, to cultivate right relationship in all times and all places to the best of our abilities — these are some of the things we might let go.

Next, we set our homes in order. Many people take this literally – the New Year arrives and we clean out our homes, our cars, our closets, and our wallets. Floors, windowsills, and walls are washed so that our living spaces are not only physically clean, but spiritually cleansed too.

Another way we set our internal homes in order is through plotting out our year, making the first mark on the virgin page of that new planner or calendar, and getting our astrological dates lined up so that we have a good sense of what is happening and when it might happen.

Finally, we call in blessings along with the New Year. Our New Year’s resolutions are actually remnants of very ancient practices involving our ability to ask for what is most needed, desired, hoped and wished for and promising in turn to do our part to be blessed and a blessing in turn.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

What Winter Solstice Teaches

Prayer and Blessing

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ear Miracles,
A tiny musing on Solstice which is celebrated today and tomorrow throughout the world in many different and gorgeous ways. Now many of us are taught that Winter Solstice celebrates the return of the light and yes, this is true. But/and Winter Solstice is also the longest night of the year in many places, the night of deepest and most complete darkness.

In cold countries where at this time of the year sunlight is already at a much cherished premium, think about and feel into what this period of longest night is like. Longest night to feast, to make love, to look at stars and moon, to sleep and dream deeply. Longest night of liminal space and liminal time. And then the rising of the sun, returning of the light and how good and glorious those warming rays feel against face, shoulder, and skin.

But of course the sun does not return in full force on Winter Solstice or the days following. The ground in many places is still frozen hard and solid and will not begin to thaw for many months yet. Snow still lies in thick icing blankets on the ground and tree branches and roof tops, or here where I live and it is not so very cold, the skies continue on in their leaden gray state and the buds and blossoms for the most part stay hidden and curled up tight while the deer roam about nosing in the dirt for still-tender-from-autumn-acorns.

All of this is to say that we celebrate not so much or not simply a return on Winter Solstice but rather a nascent re-emergence paired with great endurance – for the sun teaches us endurance as it grows and waxes and strengthens throughout these bitter months and into its springtime adolescence and its summer time maturity. That endurance: new beginning followed by long periods of growth and strengthening is really what arcs across and through the land – a reminder, a returning if you will, we see painted in solar shine across the sky.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

This is how the sacred heart is born

Lunar Letter

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ear Miracles,

December 25th approaches closer and closer, a day much of the world celebrates as Christmas. For many of us, however, Christmas is a tough one. By the time it is over, who isn’t burned out on the whole thing? It’s not hard to see why.

Our world doesn’t “do” depth well. On the one hand, we are flooded in all directions (earlier every year) by tinsel and commercials. On the other hand, attempts to restore the ‘reason for the season’ so often rest on surface interpretations of the old stories supported by dogmatic religious trappings. Those of us seeking the radical re-enchantment of our daily lives are not satisfied with surface tellings or interpretations of any tradition or any story, least of all our holy stories.

But just as we refuse to be satisfied with a dogmatic acceptance of holy stories, neither are we satisfied with the opposite: a knee-jerk rejection of those holy stories, a rejection which, in its own way, is just as dogmatic.

No, you and I like to follow a path of deepest affirmation, and we like to go deeper and truer into the heart and root of things in search of real insight, real medicine, real magic. In light of this, in this month’s Lunar Letter, I offer you a retelling of the traditional Christmas story, as I have received it from my own family and as I have struggled with it in my own life of soulful seeking and understanding.

And so now let us begin. Curl up, snuggle down, read the tale quietly or out loud to your best beloveds.  Our story begins not once upon a time but once upon all time – then, now, always…

 

 

I.

First, imagine the moonlight.

And the moonlight on the sand and how sand can feel so cold, colder than ice, colder than snow, when you are alone, in the desert, in the dead of winter.

This is the story of the time I found myself walking on a wild, untrammeled road. I followed no one’s footsteps along this road. For when it comes to the one unique path we all must sooner or later travel, the one we must bear sometimes and somehow in fear and trembling, what footsteps can we follow? Indeed we follow the path our deepest hearts reveal to us, no matter were it leads. There is no other way.

My footsteps fell hard and heavy on that cold moonlit sand. At first I could think of nothing but the moment we had received word from our dear cousin, word that the tyrant – that greedy madman – would soon arrive to destroy us and our new life. We had to flee at once, flee or die. There would be no time for good-byes. We needed to move in the dead of night to escape detection by the tyrant’s many spies. So we swiftly gathered our belongings, just enough to sling over the donkey without weighing it down too much, and we were out the door.

An old story, as old as the sand that I walked on, but it’s also in today’s news. Look and you will see. I held my breath for many miles, though my heart hammered wildly in my chest. One foot in front of the other, into that dark night we fled, endangered, unwanted, refugees.

And we didn’t look back.

 

II.

As it turns out, one foot in front of the other is not exactly exciting.

You easily get the hang of it. The hardest part is trying to keep the fear and the boredom behind you. But after trudging in the cold with my unborn baby and my beloved companion, the fear finally caught up with us, freezing the surface of our hearts like a frozen pond I had seen once long ago as a little girl. I began to wonder if it was all only a dream — the fire within, the angel’s iridescent rainbow wings, the call falling like life-giving rain.  I began to long for rest, for the deep dreamless sleep. Then I realized something had changed in the air.

“Wait! Is that smoke?” I asked my companion, deliriously. “Do you smell it too?”

“Yes!” he said.  “Yes, oh yes!”

The cold desert wind carried the sweet scent of wood smoke. Where there is wood smoke, there is fire, we reasoned. And where there is fire, there could be a human being, and, hopefully, a human heart. And sure enough, off in the distance, we saw a faint yet shimmering light, a light which was indeed a fire, a fire in a dwelling.

Our spirits mounted the sky and soared with hope. We clapped our hands. Would there be words of welcome on the other end of that fire? As we grew closer, we could see that the dwelling was made of earth and wood, and through the cracks of several shuddered windows, firelight glowed. The rich scent of cooking food, fat sizzling in flame, made my head spin with delight. At first the door opened a crack. And then the crack widened, and a burly man appeared, heavily bearded, with a fur thrown over himself to protect against the cold. His cheeks were red from honey-flavored wine. Beyond him, inside, we thought we saw several figures moving quickly around, disappearing out of sight.

“Excuse us, sir,” we asked, in one voice. “Is there a place here. A place to rest, to lay down, our heads, to bring new life forward?

I thought with rosy cheeks like his, he would surely have said “yes”.  But the man’s small eyes looked down at my belly, and then they fearfully darted to the left and to the right. He shook his head and muttered something of which I couldn’t make out because he spoke a different tongue. But just as quickly as he opened it, the heavy oaken door slammed shut, answering our question, leaving us to the desolate wastes outside. My beloved companion’s face became the color of ash and his brow darkened with rage and contempt.

“No! Don’t you do it,” I said, suddenly, discerning at once what he was about to do, and I gripped his hand, which was reaching for a sharp implement. “Don’t you dare. You think you are showing strength that way? Think again.”

“But how can he do that?” he said, jutting his jaw, grinding his teeth.  “How can he just shut the door on us that way? I’ll kill the bastard.”

“You can’t understand it,” I said.  “You can try, but it is dark fact of our nature. But I will tell you something, dear beloved, something I know for certain now. It is true we are now exiles, refugees, in this land. But I know one thing: I know how unbeatable the spirit within is. We are in truth built for rough terrain, you and I.  For where else but in rough terrain might we expect to find sacred heart?”

My companion sighed, and the light returned to his face, and he looked into my eyes finally. It was the familiar look of my constant companion, the man who refused to flee when so many others did.

“Where indeed!” he said, placing an arm around me. “Then come, we must keep moving.”

 

III.

In later times I would be known as Blessed Mother, Star of the Sea, Queen of Heaven, She Who  Carries The Light Of The World. But when I think back to that time, all of those grand puffed-up names make me chuckle a little.

No light tip-toeing demurely for this gal, who walked over rugged hills and sprawling seas of sand that seem to go on forever under moon and starlight. This girl didn’t walk on air, like a floating cloud, as I would be depicted in those marvelous Florentine paintings. No, she walked on her feet – her blistered, swollen, carrying a nine month pregnant belly, feet. And where was my golden royal train? Even though I was huge, heavy with child and all of the discomforts that come with the ninth month of pregnancy, in truth I was very small with the scent of sweat, exhaustion, the sour smell of rejection and fear.   But underneath all of that there was still the lingering scent of faith, of certainty, of energy and action.

Do you know I finally laughed, when we stepped into the barn? I did! Even after all we had gone through, I never expected it would be here that the sacred heart would come into the world.  I always thought there would be a shining palace, marbled, with stately grandeur, perfume-scented water running through the aqueduct-fed pipes and canals.  Even the trees and birds outside would bear the imprimatur of a stately cosmic royalty.

No, in fact, what we had was rather ripe, rather smelly, by contrast! Here was a tiny building, dark and dusty, with sleeping, shuffling animal sounds, scented to be sure with sweet hay, warm milk, smooth fur, but mostly surrounded by lots of very rich manure. As we bedded down in the corner of the barn, I saw the soft, drowsy, eyes of horse, cow, sheep and goat, eyes that sparkled like stars. It makes me blush and laugh again to say it now, but I heard the animals talking that night. And in this laughter, you know, that crazed tyrant who pursued us, who threatened to destroy us, that tyrant Fear Itself, was long-faded and long gone, utterly chased away.

Feeling the safety and the comradeship, the donkey immediately felt at home and nuzzled against the milk cow, whispering as it did so into her velvety ear.

“You know, dear cow, something very special will happen before this night is through. This one is a holy woman! You can tell. Look at her feet and hands!”

And the milk cow, nodding head up and down, lowed into the cold air.

“Yes, you are right. Oh, how wonderful. Here let us help her, she can lean against my side when the worst of the pain takes her and I can be solid and steady for her.”

Draught horse blew air out through his fuzzy, soft lips, and with eyes blinking, stomped impatiently.

“A child! A child! A living child! How special, how wonderful, we do not see enough children. I can stand still and strong so that she might grip my mane when the pain is at its hardest. I have heard the women folk say that pulling and stretching and pushing is what birth giving is all about.”

And the lady animals in the barn all nodded sagely and agreed that this was very true. The pig, with its very intelligent eyes and oh, so sensitive snout, began to push the leavings out of its manger, and carried one mouthful of clean straw at a time to create a soft bed.

“I will let the new child have my manger as a place to rest its little head, on this soft straw that smells rich and sweet, in the exact same way we cuddle up our new born babies to keep them warm and clean.”

A golden-eyed cock and a line of fluffy hens that surrounded him with contented clucks raised up their heads.

“We will crow and cluck the news of the sweet child’s birth to the highest heavens! It will be the sweetest crowing and clucking you ever did hear!”

A goat stomped and butted her head, not wishing to be left out of the fun.

“I will share my rich milk with the new child and his parents, for they carry exhaustion in their bones and this will revive them.”

And a small lamb raised what sounded like a plaintive baa baa, but was actually saying,

“I will go out into the fields and find my mother the ewe and tell her so that she might tell the others and they might tell the shepherds to come and help us celebrate.”

The doves that lived in the rafters cooed to one another knowingly.

“We are in for a long night of it, let us make sweet and soothing music to aid these people in the work that is to come.”

And so it was that I heard each animal working out amongst themselves what part they would each play. And as the first wave of agony rolled through my belly and gripped my spine, I nodded my head, for I had a role to play as well.

 

IV.

 I hear that now we are taught that women forget the worst of their labor because of hormones or gooey baby gazes. I’m not sure about all of that, all I know is that I slept it off, falling into a deep and delicious sleep as soon as the Little Light of the World arrived and was put to suckle at my breast. When I finally awoke, I smiled and nodded, gesturing to the faithful grey donkey, the solid milk cow, the strong draught horse, the intelligent pig, bright eyed rooster and chickens, enthusiastic goat, devoted lamb, and gentle doves.

“Look, Yossef! We are surrounded by angels as soon as we entered the stable, they surround us still!”  I said to my beloved companion. He laughed and clapped his hands at my words. Then his look became somber.

“Miryam, there are several strangers outside who’d like to see you and the little one. They look familiar yet different. I’m afraid they…well, should I allow them?”

“Really, my love? After all we’ve been through? Of course.”  I shook my head. When will he ever learn?”

When they stepped into the stable, it was clear that none of them spoke our native Hebrew.  One of them sounded like a delighted goose when he talked. The other sounded like chirruping cicadas high in the trees at summer’s zenith, and the third sound like soft bells tinkling. I didn’t need to know exactly what they said. I could see it in their faces and eyes, and we recognized each other at once, all struck with wonder.

During our journey we had stopped at three places before finally, blessedly, arriving at the barn with the animals. We had been rejected and turned away three times by three men. Now those same men stood before me. And with tears in his eyes, the first – you know, the burly one – held in his outstretched hands gifts to us and in honor of the new child.

“I am sorry,” his eyes said. “We have wronged you. I know that now.  Please accept our humble gifts for you and this shining baby.” Yossef and I stared in amazement at the man,  at the fact that so closed and frozen a heart had melted in this way.

“Yossef, wisdom has descended upon these men,” I said, gesturing to all three. “They allowed their hearts to be pierced. Please make them a seat next to me.”

Now most stories say the gifts were frankincense, myrrh, and gold. But those would come later when the wonderful and wise magi who traveled from afar arrived. But I will tell you now, that the gifts of these wise men were not only the most meaningful, but they would prove most useful to us in the years to come.

What did they give us? Vanilla, and two foreign spices I can no longer live without. They called them “chile” and “chocolate”.  Have you heard of them? The vanilla was for warmth and compassion; but the chile was for spice and adventure, and the chocolate for the sweetness that lives hand in hand with the bitter. Let me tell you, in the days and years to come, we would needing a lot of vanilla, chile and, most of all, chocolate.

And so it was early, early in the quiet desert morning, moon gone to nothing, a few stalwart stars still shining bright in the just-coming-into-dawn sky. What better place than this, I ask you, could sacred heart come into the world? Coming into being, breathing in first blessed breath, among all of us together – creatures, companions and friends.

This, then, was how, one foot in front of the other, sacred heart is born. Then. Now. Always.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.