Thoughts and Prayers: Footprints of the Heart

Learning and Community

M

iracles,

How do we heal?
What can the Sacred Arts teach us about healing?

As long as we greet difficult times and crises with the traditional “thoughts and prayers are with you” response, we have an obligation to express exactly how thoughts and prayers lead not just to action – which is the typical battle cry – but lead to deep, lasting, enduring healing.

How delicate we truly are becomes apparent when we consider not only the vast expanse of the universe we live in, but the tide the pressures, and even the dangers, of daily life.

Blaise Pascal, so long ago, trembled in complete terror at the the infinite without and the infinite within. Everything fixed dissolves. We are but fragile reeds, all too easily crushed by forces both external and internal.

That we can be hurt and that we are vulnerable in so many ways – body, mind and heart, even in ways we often aren’t always prepared to admit – cannot be denied, though it is popular to try, to claim loudly that all is well and proclaim “peace, peace” when in fact there is no peace.

While recognizing this fact of our existence – that we all have experienced wounds, that we all know what it means to feel broken – while acknowledging and even honoring it, the Sacred Arts perspective holds this knowledge in balance. Our struggles are one part of our stories; not the whole of them.

This is is what the Sacred Arts teach us. Take any practice of meditation or prayer, rituals and ceremony, any devotion to the movements of the body and spirit, any use of divination and folk practices of magic or storytelling. Look at Tarot or Astrology – for example – and consider the stories being told there, the situations unfolding.

Here is what you will find: just as we are delicate in ways we may not be totally willing to admit, we are also tougher and more resilient in ways that we also aren’t always prepared to admit, or in ways that we simply have a hard time seeing. There are possibilities – choices – we haven’t yet imagined, potentialities waiting for us in real life, here and now, like those newly discovered rooms and places that many of us come upon in our night time dreams.

We would like nothing more than to realize this about ourselves – that we are tough and tender, that we are broken and blessed – not either/or but both/and, and yet, it is so very difficult to see ourselves, to know ourselves, wholly. Much easier to flip through ideas and big abstractions, words and images, much easier to misjudge where the broken places and the blessings that emerge from them show up in our unique and particular lives.

The Sacred Arts are not treasure maps where X marks the spot, nor are they a labyrinth where there is one way in and one way out. Rather, the Sacred Arts are like the pilgrimage pathways that can be found world over – they are knowings, they are practices, they are prayers poured out straight from the soul that give us the needed support as we go about literally re-membering ourselves, re-membering all of our parts, re-membering that every wound also calls forth a medicine.

There is not “one pathway to rule them all”, not a one-size-fits-all method, but many related, complementary mutually supportive pathways, woven together by each living soul. Maybe they are woven neatly, but often they are not. The stories, songs, poems, dances, rituals, wisdom books, prayers and blessings, the clothes and fabrics and foods, the architectural dwellings, the divinations and the magical ways and means, all serve to help us make those discoveries for ourselves, in our own time, out of our own raw and direct experiences of life – and this is what, at bottom, matters most.

That is to say – it is not “thoughts and prayers” that matter so much. It is your thoughts and your prayers, and their ‘metabolism’ within the horizon of your own life that matters. The specific ways you think and the ways that you act on those thoughts. The ways that you pray (with a reminder here that prayer was never meant to be uttered in an abstract, passive and impersonal voice). When understood in this way, your thoughts and your prayers are part of the blessing that come out of your particular wound. They are part of your medicine, and we are all a little bit more healed when they are shared. The actions that come from them inspire and help others find their own way.
Hearts heal differently than bodies. This shouldn’t surprise us because our mind and heart follow somewhat different pathways than our beautiful bodies do. This difference is precisely what makes ‘heart and soul’ healing so difficult to achieve – especially if we are locked into a single way of looking at the healing process, abstracting from the physiological processes of the body. It is why, when I write about healing, I also write about wholeness and holiness – they need to be kept together.

It is also why so many of our collective efforts so often come down to so many unsatisfying remedies and palliatives that never work – rationalistic ten step programs and three steps to happiness. We’re groping in the dark here. Mystery does not operate according to blue prints and soul tends to ignore the best laid plans.

And so we run. And in our culture this often looks like forgetting. It sounds like the banal “thoughts and prayers are with the survivors” that lacks all teeth, all presence, all gravity. It looks like getting really pissed and angry and righteously indignant and then getting tired and then moving on, until the next trauma emerges, be it personal or political or global, and we go through the whole cycle again.

All too often we never stop fleeing from our private sufferings, never stop reaching out for healing in systems and life-ways far away and apart from our own – sometimes even avariciously grabbing them long before they are ever freely offered. We gain as much distance as we can from our scars and brokenness, from our raw experiences, and we learn to cover up and distract ourselves in a thousand different ways.

But, as they saying goes, you cannot outrun yourself. To flee from what hurts is also and at the same exact time to flee from what can be healed. It is a betrayal of self and soul and it does not make for easy sleep or better living. Certainly it does not make a future that knows more in the way of healing, wholeness and holiness and less in the way of suffering, brokenness, and diminishment.

Our thoughts and our prayers. The expression has become a trigger for so many because it sounds like mere pablum. And yet. When you take the time to speak to people who live close to the marrow of life, you will also find that in the deepest shadow what carries through is exactly thought and prayer – perfectly aimed, correctly tuned, full of fierce passion and deep wisdom. What can illuminate our way so that we have more of the second and less of the first?

We might turn to the image of the Sacred Heart for help. Here we have the familiar heart symbol, but there is a fountain of fire pluming from within the heart’s division, the heart itself is encircled with lines of radiance, with barbed wire, with rose thorns, or sometimes wings. When we see it in its radiant glory, we may easily forget that the shine and radiance is that of a heart and spirit that has been to hell and back.

In image and imagination, every possible wound has been inflicted on the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart speaks to the scarred heart, pierced by a thousand swords, cut by a thousand pieces of glass, wrapped in rusty barbed wire and a crown of thorns; and sometimes, at first, we think that those scars are something to hide from the world, something to keep quiet, to keep covered up. In our modern parlance it has been dragged down, shot up, bruised, dented, banged around in all manner of ways and yet…still keeps on ticking.

Where does it get all that power from? From what or where does it arise?

See for yourself. Sacred Heart speaks also to the scared heart, afraid because we know we can be harmed, frightened of our worst dreams coming true, scared that the wounds we are asked to face cannot ever, really, be healed. Experiencing the traumas to body and spirit that cut so deep, the ideas that bind us to a limited view of life and love, the habits that keep us from not just living life, but living life well, we are afraid that we will only ever be broken.

Sacred, scarred, and scared heart teaches us this then: the way to strengthen your thoughts and prayers into something real, something lasting, something that actually will bring healing is nothing more than to really learn to bear witness to what is broken, in the full knowledge that the blessing can and will be found.

Not either/or but both/and.

Buddhist traditions (like all spiritual traditions) also have their own Sacred Arts practices, and tell the same story: the radiant lotus blooming out of the muddy murky depths. The suffering of our lives and the deepest well-spring of joy and peace are not two separate realms or fundamentally different things, although they may appear to be. Our challenge is to face our own tendency to always look away, in the other direction, far away from that ‘muck’, for our joy – oh god anything but the muck! – and, in so doing, cut off the real sources of joy in our lives.

The Catholic tradition reminds us that to the Sacred Heart, what we call broken shards and scars are for it the crown jewels which bedeck and bedazzle.

And the Sacred Arts remind us that Thoughts and Prayers are not weak or insipid or pointless so long as they come from your own rich soul soil, for then they reverberate with effective power, opening blessing ways that come from within the heart of sorrow and the deepest wounds.

This is not an easy teaching, and I’m afraid many will find it hard to stomach. I would like nothing more to to tell you that there is a silver bullet formula, an easy five step program, and that when you learn magic, a simple magical spell will solve all of your problems in a flash.

Ah, but then you would never come to be reminded and to discover your own bone-deep knowing what real magic is, and that it is here, in your life, and it has been waiting for you, all along.

And if I insisted that it’s to be along a single path, why, you will have been misled along a fruitless direction and would consequently never come to know what gifts you truly do have in this life, and moreover why it is we have the Sacred Arts in the first place to lead us forward along the footprints of beauty, power, wisdom and grace towards thoughts and prayers that usher in real healing and enduring change.

In love and blessings,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

The Story Is Not The Struggle

Lunar Letter

D

ear Miracles,

Every descent into dark and scary places, every journey into the Underworld involves finding the right medicine, a medicine that can be retrieved and brought back into daily life where it may be put to good use.

Like Inanna or Ishtar, Dionysus, Jesus Christ, Persephone or San Juan de la Cruz, we will choose to harrow hell in order to find healing, wholeness, and true, bone-deep, holiness.

So we go, we go to the crossroads and then we descend down into the belly of the world where we are asked to see not with our eyes but with our hearts, minds, and physical bodies. We learn to see a crisis for what it really is: a choice. And to make that choice wisely and descend into the unknown is often the hardest part requiring the greatest courage

As I see it, many of us, many of you, in our own ways have agreed to this task. We have signed up to look at our own scared and scarred places, and many of us again, through various activisms, have signed up to confront the shadowy realms we find in our neighborhoods, our schools, our communities, our regions, and our countries.

Yes, we say again and again: yes! We will go into the unknown places, and we will do the hard work!

And we do. Bless us and all that we are. There are so many of us, far more than I think are typically recognized or acknowledged.

But in the doing and confronting, in the healing and the dealing, in the hard truth-telling and the brave action-taking, we often forget that the struggle itself is, after all, not the story. The struggle is only one part of a much greater tale. The end, the goal, is the gleaming treasure, the victory, the cup of blessing, the medicine that restores life, not merely the struggle, the bitter, the challenge.

The Underworld in the old stories is traditionally understood as the most dangerous realm not because of what you encounter there. Every demon was, after all, once upon a time, just another angel. No, the Underworld is the most dangerous realm because it is the place that will trip you up and keep you stuck, mired in a swamp of your own waste.

This is why Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell is not the hottest part of the Inferno, but rather colder than cold, frozen in place and time, still and deadly. It is what can happen to each of us as we confront our shadows. We can remain locked in a never-ending struggle, like the figure Sisyphus in the old Greek tales.

But hear this: our lives are not meant to be lived as one eternal and exhausting Sisyphus-like struggle. The underworld, also traditionally known as the realm of illusion, has pulled one over on us, so that every victory we accomplish is not met with a period of peace and rest as it should be, but instead is met with yet another crisis to solve, another journey to go on, another descent ever deeper this time, to make.

Does anyone else feel stifled and even hopeless by this scenario? So what can be done?

The answer is clearly not to go back to the surface and become satisfied with superficial answers and options to tough choices.

No, the answer is found when we look again to the ones whose footsteps we first followed: Inanna or Ishtar, Dionysus, Jesus Christ, Persephone or San Juan de la Cruz. Descent is followed by ascent. We go down so that we might come back up to the topside world, changed and carrying the needed treasure, the life-saving medicine.

Or, if that seems abstract I would say this: in every cave and every underground place physically in the world, you go down far enough and you will hit water. Even and especially in the most dry, deserted, heaven forsaken places this is true, go down far enough and you will find water, you will find life. And when you do finally find it, the water surges and springs up through bedrock and shadow, through cave and root systems it springs up, enlivening and enriching everything it touches until it reaches the surface where it flows and nourishes all creatures and the land upon which they live. The spirit of this life-saving medicine we seek works for us too in just this way.

Even in the places receiving the least light, places which leave us feeling most terrified, most empty, most bereft.   Even here, if you will go down far enough, you will find a well of water, a well of life, that given half the chance will spring up, healing what is hurting, mending the broken pieces, calling forth restoration and carrying you back up through the shadowlands into your one, blessed life.

You and I, all of us, have what it takes to confront adversity or necessity. Go down far enough and you’ll find it too. Necessity, once known as an ancient and powerful Goddess, demands from us our most creative and inventive aspects, makes us stronger in ways that matter, and provides the occasion for betterment. She is a whetstone against which we sharpen our minds, a deep note with which we may attune our Souls.

And so for those of you who feel the weight of crisis after crisis, who feel it is always a struggle, always so hard, and rarely getting easier I simply say this: there is a well, deep within. It is time to dig down let it spring forth!

In love and blessing~

Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Never Give In!

Lunar Letter

D

ear Miracles, crisis

If you ask me to pick a word that our culture both overuses and misuses more than any other word, I would choose “crisis.” The state of public education? Crisis. Unemployment numbers (regardless of whether they go up or down)? Crisis.

Corruption on Wall Street? Crisis.

Deceit and ineptitude in Washington? Crisis.

Western Culture and “the West” as well as Europe, Asia, Africa, and of course the Middle East? Crisis, crisis, crisis.

And those are just global considerations.  Let us not forget the whole host of personal crises to attend to as well: from food that is no longer actual food to marriages that fall apart, jobs that destroy our vitality, and children who shoot to kill.  To read the news and most non-fiction bestsellers in any given year is to come up against and lock horns with crisis over and over again. The word, and all of the weight it carries surrounds us, pours into our ears, sits on our tongues, and covers our skin in a fine film of fatalism.

Words matter. From the promises, prayers and spells we make, the names we call ourselves, to the stories we listen to and tell, words make up a big part of who we are and how we understand. Especially in the digital age.  For the soulful seeker, to reclaim certain words, to save them from misuse and overuse, is nothing less than to reclaim our own autonomy or sovereignty in the 21st Century. To my mind calling back our autonomy and sovereignty is one of THE goals for sacred arts and for education generally speaking. Sovereignty that is deep and rooted as the most ancient tree. Autonomy that stands and shines out like the clearest star. How do we make our way back to these things? One way is to begin with what is closest to us, the words we speak, the words we hear, every single day.

So “crisis” sells, doesn’t it?  As a consequence, we are left feeling that both our world and our personal lives are on the brink of some dire catastrophe all of the time. In that belief, that feeling, and that space we are at our most vulnerable. We are all too willing to follow the next shiny guru promising an easy and risk-free way out, the next celebrity, business, or literary trend that swears to have figured out the whole puzzle if only we will contort ourselves into stranger than fiction shapes and do/be/say/think in this one, exacting way, or happy to look for ways we can outsource our troubles and anxieties to someone or something else. In other words, it is when we are fed a diet of constant crisis that we are most likely to give up our sovereignty, lose our autonomy, and place ourselves in a position to be taken advantage of. In these moments we are thin-skinned or even skinless, tender, exposed and we want nothing more than to feel safe, protected, and secure once again.

But let me let you in on a little secret: crisis? It’s nothing new. We were on the brink of crisis a century ago in 1915 as Europe continued to be pressed in the vice of mechanized and chemical warfare. We were on the brink fifty years ago, twenty-five years ago and two thousand years ago too. Crisis, it seems is both something more and less than what we usually think. Like our shadows it follows us faithfully through the millenia. Perhaps it is time to get to know it, and in so doing call back our sovereignty and our autonomy.

The word “crisis” is overused but the word is also misused. Language is a living, growing thing, and if you look back far enough, you can uncover its essential root stock which, just as in the world of plants, often carries the most nutrition and medicine.  “Crisis” originally was introduced into English as a medical term meaning that protocols around diagnosis and treatment were at a crossroads and a definite decision needed to be made (one that would take other possible decisions off the table).  But the root of the word “crisis” is derived from a Greek word (over 500,000 modern English words derive from Greek!) and the root carries the meaning of decision, choice.

So it is that the word “crisis” tends to get our heart rates and blood pressures up, our adrenal glands pumping on overdrive, and our breaths becoming short and shallow.  But it should actually encourage the opposite reactions: concentration, focus, clarity, and the summoning up of all our intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual gifts to assess the situation we find ourselves in and then make the wisest decision regarding the best possible course of action. In crisis, there may be danger, but there is still hope. With intelligence, action, courage and patience, something can be still done.  But not only that, something will be done. To be in crisis too is to be at the crossroads, that liminal place where heaven and earth, this world and the imaginal realms, intersect, where everything is possible and all journeys begin.

The great question now, and it is one we will be unfolding over the next two lunar letters, is how the soulful seeker stands at the crossroads. What does she actually do at the crossroads, facing the crises so   interwoven in the fabric of any human life? Where does she go to find healing and wholeness, and how does she carry those gifts back into the everyday world?

And so the question to ask right now under the Full Moon in Aquarius on 1/23 is
What do you need to know to begin your journey?

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.