Standing in the Depths by the Little Church in the Mountain

Foundations

The bone-filled catacombs of St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna. Vestibule at Windsor Abbey. National basilica in Washington, D.C.  Rowdy jam sessions at American and Missionary Baptist Churches.

I love these churches. I don’t always love what they stand for, but I love the reverence they are filled with, and I especially love the stories that they tell.

But none of these churches compare to a certain little shrine carved into a rocky cliff-side in Northern New Mexico. You might miss it if you didn’t know where to look.  The ground is rough, the sun hot, and when you visit, you will surely return with ankles covered in dust from a red dirt road.

I like to imagine the first moment it occurred to someone to make this shrine. Who was it? What was their name? A natural hollow in the face of the rock, perhaps by starlight, or firelight, or by the changing light of the seasons, was enough. Take some small tools in hand, a modest hammer and chisel perhaps; for the volcanic tuff across the valley, a simpler implement would do just fine, like a spoon. But go to work, scrape a little off here, a little there, and then smooth it until the hollow is deep and well-rounded, like the curvature of a big belly. Soon you will have the protected, safe space needed to make a home for a loving image of power and grace.

Every time I visit the shrine it is different. People leave their marks, their little touches. Someone has left money. Someone else has left flowers or removed old ones.  Photographs are left. Names and dates are etched into the sedimentary rock. Traces of countless untold stories are braided together into this space.

Carved into cliff and mountain, there is no pew here, no enforced silence. A great part of the charm, I think, is its informality, its improvised, unplanned character. More likely there is the basso beat of a low rider or pickup truck spraying gravel along the dirt road. Folk shrines like this one so often feel closer to the heart, to what a human being actually feels about the sacred and profane – not what we are led officially and symbolically to feel.  Beyond the official channels, there is a living poetry of human thought and feeling, a great simplicity and ineffable complexity to what we actually feel about the sacred and profane that resists easy formulation.

You can find some the best handmade, homespun, precious prayers in places like this, and their holiness is full-bodied and low, down to the ground, so that they might hear the words of even the smallest ones.

Folk shrines are not an exception to this part of the country, and they certainly were not invented by Christian folks. Perhaps no more evidence is needed than to go across the valley to see the cliff dwellings in Bandalier Canyon. But wherever we look, folk shrines in natural places are the norm for fragments of pre-modern life-ways that still remain today across the globe.

Look anywhere and you will find them. All lands have been graced by these handmade churches of stone and tree, river, and wind if you know where to look. Even the ancient Greek peoples of the Pericles’ Athens made informal folk shrines to the gods, goddesses and other semi-divine beings, places of power woven into the interstices of the natural landscape. Everywhere you turn, there would be a sacred center touched and memorialized in the plane trees and the rocks.

What do folk shrines remind us? Old ones have become such a part of the hills and forests, that they seem to have grown out of them. They make the hills hillier even, and the trees just a little greener. The marks and inscriptions left by countless unknown people are little messages to the next who come along: take heart! We were here. And yet there is a gleaming something that reminds us, that while we are in the world, having grown out of it, we are nevertheless not entirely of it. There is a little swerve, a little swing to the left, a powerful something that is free.

To be in the world, not of it, is like going out into the ocean, deep enough that you really feel the pressure of the water on your body, you feel the pull and push of the tide and yet, you stand your ground, you stay put, firm in this place that is your own. It requires strength of body and mind – an understanding of the ocean currents – not be pushed or pulled in this or that direction.

Then the tide’s strength and roar can so much that it overpowers you and you find yourself swept along once more – going in a direction you had not planned on, carried by a borrowed momentum and not one that comes from your own desire and choice. You get swept along and then the momentum slows, and you drift until something snags you, or you snag it, and you grind to a halt with wet hair and muddy feet, take a breath and get your bearings once more.

In life, we lose our footing and get carried away by the current. What really happens in those moments?  As I understand it, what happens is that we forget, we forget our own true innate holiness – that we are infinitely more than ourselves, and deeply rooted in a great, unfathomable mystery. We forget that inner swerve and swing which is somehow free from all circumstances – but which is something shared by all creatures. We forget too that we are born not to one world only, but two – a practical here and now, and an enchanted dream realm of then, now, and forever.

I was asked the other day what I mean when I say that I teach sacred arts to soulful seekers. Fair question. I’ll put it this way. If I could have one wish granted, it would be to see more cliff-side churches, more votive candles in limestone nichos, impromptu shrines in the trees and the rocks. Because these are shrines not just to the holy; they are sanctuaries to human vulnerability and strength, to memory, to our stories, and to the radical reverence found within and not away from the life we live and the land we live it upon.

The tides can be strong and the current overpowering. But the shrine in the mountainside continues to stand so that all might come, all might pray and bless, all might heal and weep, and on their ways back home with their dust covered ankles they remember, as do we, – we are in this world, not of it, not only.

What is your favorite shrine?

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

This is how the sacred heart is born

Lunar Letter

D

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.

How to honor the sacred + Blessed Michaelmas

Prayer and Blessing

H

e stands strong, firmly rooted in place, conferred with a sense of both gravity and purpose as he presses down on the Devil and brandishes his sharp and gleaming sword. Covered in full body armor, his face is cast down in concentration but also possessing something of Holy Mother – the strongest kind of kindness, the deepest sort of compassion. And then there are his wings, whether unfurled and pointed heavenward or down at his side, his wings remind us that in our hardest struggles we are never that far from grace, never too far from the breath of the Divine. This is an especially appropriate thought, for his very name means “one who is like God”, Archangel Michael.

When we honor Archangel Michael on his feast day of Michaelmas (September 29th) or any other day of the year, we often begin with the most basic questions: how do we honor this figure? How do we thank him for his aid and support? How do we request protection as we go forward through life? How do we say thank you? These questions are not limited to Archangel Michael; they are the exact same questions many of us ask whenever we are confronted with a Saint or an Angel, with a Holy Person from any tradition that resonates for us and that we feel connected to. We want to have a relationship with what is sacred to and for us, but how?

First, we pay attention. Look at an image, in this case the image of Archangel Michael. Even in traditions where images are forbidden you will find all kinds of secrets in ornately embroidered patterns of swirling and twirling calligraphies. Look at the image. Say the name: Archangel Michael, let it roll off of your tongue and hear it resounding through your ears. What do you see and how do you feel, right here, right now?

Next, learn the stories. Remember the stories. Share the stories. So it is that we remember first that he is much older than any one religious system or tradition and much greater than any dogma. Next we hear that stern-faced Michael has always been the one to stand for those that no one else would stand for; that no one else would stand with. We remember that he was called by and attended to the sick and the dying who everyone else was afraid to touch. Called on by women who were battered and broken and alone with children – outcast from their tribes, their cities, and their communities. Called too by various, deeply persecuted religious minorities beginning with the ancient Israelites who loved him so much that they composed hymns and beautiful poetry in his name and for his honor. If his serene in-the-midst-of-battle face confuses us, might it help to remember that long before he was a warrior he was a healer and that maybe, just maybe in every war-torn heart there is the deepest ability not only to be healed but to heal others? Does he seem more real now?

Finally we listen, for truly more than gold, sacred smoke, and fine food, the greatest offering we can make is our time, our attention. What does Michael, Archangel and Saint, brother and beloved, ask you?

Does he speak to you of will – that virtue that has been forged in the fires of your life and polished with your tears and prayers until it gleams as surely as his sword does with your keen-eyed ability to judge and discern correctly?

Does he talk of boundaries – honoring the ones that you have set for yourself and the ones that have been created by others?

Does he tell about how it is to go into battle and stand up for the ones who are unseen, unheard, and often without hope?

Does he whisper that above all else you must do this: protect and nourish all that is tender, vulnerable, and still growing to full maturity?

Often in congregations or in individual practices intense time of honoring and offering spent with a holy figure ends with feasting and merriment. The feast is a reminder that we are embodied and that our precious bodies need to be honored too — that “spiritual stuff” is decidedly immanent. The merriment affirms that we are among friends and families, and it is in our relationships where we put what we have discovered into actual, living practice. May we all feast well, be blessed, and be blessings in turn.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Ask the Question. Live the Answer.

Lunar Letter

ear Miracles,

Have you ever noticed that the simplest and most needful questions tend to be the ones we are most afraid to ask? We might shy away from asking them for fear of being regarded by others as not smart enough or ‘in the know’, for fear of being unsophisticated or lacking nuance, for fear of not fitting in, or for fear of not having the one right answer.

Or, what is perhaps worst of all, we might give up for fear that there might not be an answer at all.

Yes, it’s easier just to let go, and pick the low-hanging fruit, like the fox in the old Aesop’s fable, who convinced himself that he didn’t want the higher up ones anyway.

But if we can’t even muster the courage to begin asking these basic questions at the roots of our life, then how will we ever get an answer? More to the point, if we can’t get at those questions properly, how will we ever find lasting nourishment for a life well-lived? This is not abstract, not ‘academic’. We feel the presence of such unasked questions as a lead weight on our tongues and hearts.

As I continue to send each of you a monthly lunar letter, I am committed in my own writing and teaching to point to sources and resources that can help remove that weight, or rather to transform it into feather or gold for all of us. I want to help foster a place for the simple and needful questions and for each of you, my courageous soulful seekers. I believe each and every one us has what it takes to reach higher and go deeper than we ever have before, to re-conceive and forge better ways of life for ourselves and our loved ones.

No, we can’t be satisfied with the low hanging fruit, especially those of us practicing the Sacred Arts. The sacro-magical work we do everyday is rooted in those perennial questions, the ones common to human beings, human voices and human action at all times and places. What else are we responding to in the work we do?

Our work and even our whole life is an answer to the questions we either did or did not have the courage to ask.

If we want to discover the sacred in everyday life, then we must ask the real questions, the authentic ones, the hard ones and we must live their answers, refusing to turn away even when it is easier to do so. So let us take courage, remembering that to have courage is literally to be heartened and of good heart. Let us ask, listen, and live.

Unfairness and injustice: Who doesn’t experience in different ways situations that are unfair and unjust? So what is the best way to respond to these situations?

Much ink and much blood has been spilled in the attempt to ascribe praise and blame in issues concerning injustice, a procedure that typically avoids confronting the deeper and more elusive problem about what justice is. But instead of saying it, for now, let’s try to show it. When I seek to understand justice, I am asked to look at the lives of people I know and love, together with the lives of people I have learned about and the stories I have heard. (For we learn so much from stories, yes?) These are stories about people who have encountered unfairness in their own lives, but who did not let it destroy or embitter them.

Let me share one such story from my own family:

A young boy from East Texas, forced to quit school and the education that he loved in order to help out on the family farm, grows into a man who teaches himself Greek and teaches his granddaughters to let nothing and no one come between them and receiving an education.

 

Here is another, just as true, about one of my beloved teachers:

A poor immigrant child who learned English as a second or third language becomes the precious storyteller and poet inspiring thousands to say beautiful and true things in as many languages and as many ways as possible.

 

And here is a third, again from my own people:

A businessman who loses an eye develops a deeper way of seeing so that he can see the young ones who want more and who are willing to work hard, and who can find the old ones who have been told that there is no place for them any longer, and in seeing them creates work, making possible a life that could not be otherwise.

 

Finally, here is one we have all heard told by now:

The daughters, sisters, mothers, aunties and uncles, fathers, brothers, and sons of those nine beautiful souls gunned down in Charleston can greet the evil they experienced, looking it in the eye and saying in the words of their faith and their tradition, “we can forgive and we can know mercy even when you do not.”

 

What are we seeing here? We are seeing the footprints of justice. Just behavior and right action have come to life. In each story, these people, perfect in their imperfections, were able to let injustice become a part of them, a brutal scar turned into blessed adornment. They let adversity make them better, stronger and braver human beings. In their lives, we see examples and guides, ones that we can follow each in our own ways, in our own situations. For these people are much like us. Their stories so similar to our own.

We are told, by the way, that this is not true. That one’s personal suffering and story is for one alone, that it cannot, perhaps even should not, be shared. But I say and see differently. I see that where two people have suffered, whatever the story and whatever the situation, they know one another, they recognize one another as kindred, and in so doing help each other heal.

When we ask the question and listen to the stories we find the answers. There IS an appropriate response to injustice, and people down the ages in many different walks of life have shown us this. It is one that carries much medicine, and one that speaks far and wide. And that response is to own it, call it like it is, and then to take upon our selves the great task of bringing justice to life.

As we make better choices, and love one another more deeply, and act with integrity, we bring justice to life, we bring fairness into the very places and the very times it is most needed. We find the blessings exactly in the most broken places, and we share them freely with one another, holding them in our beautiful, work-worn, hands, holding them up to our courageous, scarred and ever-blessed hearts.

 

(Listen to this lunar letter by clicking here).
Photo Credit: I cannot find the proper credit for this photo, but it is that of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, pierced, as all sacred hearts are by suffering and sorrow and all that is hard. Made stronger, as all lives are by those very same qualities.

 

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

A Ritual for Mothers of Lost Children

Ceremony and Ritual

M

other’s Day for all of the Hallmark-esque marketing and posturing, does celebrate a vital and often looked over presence — that of the Mother, Mom, Momma, Ma. For many women, the holiday marks a special day when they get to take a break and relax, and it gives their children and partners a chance to honor them in extra special ways. These are all very good things. However, a group that is often looked over not just on Mother’s Day but in general, is the group of women and men who have lost children.

One can be a mother of lost children regardless of gender, and the stories span the spectrum…from children who are missing, who have died in all numbers of ways, who are present in body but disconnected from hearth and kin. One can be a mother of lost children too if one wished to have children but was unable for so many reasons not to conceive or carry to term. Some mothers of lost children had to walk away from their child, not wanting to but not having, or seeing, any other choice. Other mothers of lost children made a conscious decision not to bring children into the world…but the decision was not simple or easy and it is not ever forgotten. Many mothers of lost children live in a hellish limbo, in countries around the world torn to pieces by war and poverty, by avarice and cruelty – in many cases these mothers watched as their children were forcibly removed, or worse, in front of their very eyes.

We tend to disregard or look beyond these mothers of lost children generally, for how does one speak, sit, listen to, comfort someone who has faced this greatest of all losses? It often feels too much to bear and that one’s lack of experience will show all too plainly — that we will do or say, think or act in the wrong way. Maybe so. Our attempts to comfort, to heal, and to bless are not always elegant, they can be clumsy for sure, but simply to decide to act in kindness towards someone, especially someone who has known such loss, is an act of healing in and of itself.

So for those of you who wish to celebrate Mother’s Day this year I have a ritual for you. It does not involve candles, incantations, or a beautifully decorated altar. You need only three things: a phone, the name of someone you know who is a mother of a lost child, and a phone number.

The ritual is simple: call up this person and let them know that you love them, let them know that you see them, talk with them on this day about whatever they want to talk about. Take a few minutes to do this. If appropriate let them know how they have been a mother to you or to ones you love. Thank them. Love them. Bless them in the ways you can. It matters more than you think and it makes a difference more than you know.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

For La Señora

Prayer and Blessing

L

ady of the stars, beauty bearing scars.

With mantle green and blue, and the form of mountain,

Rich red earth skin, from you all life fountains.

You carry our prayers, our loves, our fears,

Holiest of women, you carry our tears.

With work-hardened hands you heal,

the woman in the boardroom, the man in the field.

Mercy. Mercy. Mercy. Mercy, your words always say,

For I too know loss and there is a better way.

Our blood goes in the earth and our tears reach the skies,

As surely as night turns to day and death again to life.

Lady of the Stars, beauty bearing scars.

Holder of the Sacred Heart, witness to the soul,

with eyes that speak the truth and arms that know to hold.

Hold onto us and we to thee, until this world is covered,

in your love and deepest peace.

Amen

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

This is how we heal

Lunar Letter

N

o sooner did I start pondering this month’s lunar letter, than it occurred to me that healing would have to be its theme. For the Full Moon shines down on us from Pisces, and the Fish is the healer of the zodiac, ruling over the 12th house of our charts, the area where we confront once and for all the beliefs, traumas, ideas, and habits that cut, wound, and tie us down, leaving us feeling broken, scarred, and scared.

Healing is a word we bandy about with the best of intentions. How many times have we heard it said that we need to heal, or that we need to be open to healing, or that what is needed now is healing? All of that is fine and good, but we may wonder, after years of healing, and perhaps even after little or no results: is it even possible to heal? What does it mean to heal?

We might turn to the icon 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, and the heart is encircled with lines of radiance, 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, keep covered up.

The Sacred Heart speaks also the scared heart, afraid because we know we can be harmed, frightened of our worst dreams coming true, scared that the wounds Pisces asks us 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.

Fleeing from our pain, we will reach out for healing far away from the scars and brokenness, to cover it up, to be free of it. But to flee from our condition in this way is to flee from what makes us sensitive and alive, from what transcends and supports our own mortality. To the Sacred Heart, those salves and remedies for which we reach are a mirage: the greatest healing power comes from within the very darkness and brokenness of our condition, just as a lily flower blossoms from out of the muck. To the Sacred Heart, what we call broken shards and scars are for it the crown jewels which bedeck and bedazzle.

The Sacred Heart will not be covered up nor will it be silenced. Like a phoenix rising up out of the ashes, it shines through fear and a forest of scars and the clothing that we wear and the protections that we weave about ourselves. None of these matter to Sacred Heart for it is made to shine. And so it does. It shines out in radiant splendor, saying:

My blessedness is in and among the broken, ever, and always.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.