Friday, 28 December 2012

Re-drawing the map

As the Christmas season moves on, I feel it's time to begin some thinking about my spiritual 'map'. What I mean is that over the last six months or so, many of the things I've been using as pathways for my spiritual journey have begun not to lead anywhere - or, at least, not anywhere useful.

In other words, I'm finding that many of the things which spoke to me, moved me, got me excited no longer do so.

So much of what we do in church life is beginning to feel frustrating, or unnecessary, or trivial, or empty. So many of the words we use sound hollow, too lofty and not of this wonderful created world. It's time to make it all sing again.

And so I think it's time for some reviewing, just to get things a bit into focus for myself. I feel that I need to draw, to write, to think, so that I can see what practices, rituals, thoughts are now resonating with me.

It feels like time to begin to look for new paths, new life, new ways.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Advent Darkness, Advent Light

Advent is the season of darkness. Throughout the four weeks of Advent, we speak of darkness gradually giving way to light; we pray that Jesus the Light of the World may come to us once more; we sing of the Light of Christ shining into the darkness of our hearts; we light candles amongst the holly and ivy of the wreath as a visible sign that we anticipate the coming of Light into our world.

And, of course, as we make our journey through the Advent season, we mourn the loss of natural light in the world outside. We rise in the dark, we come home in the dark, we climb into bed in the dark. Our minds and bodies sometimes forget whether it is seven o'clock in the morning or in the evening, so similar is the level of darkness outside the window. We see less by natural light - the world seems dulled, almost like a theatre backcloth than the real thing we knew in spring and summer.

Perhaps there is also in Advent a feeling of emptiness - a feeling that, below the surface of the pre-Christmas busy-ness, nothing is growing. A feeling, perhaps, that our reserves of energy are low, that our defences are shaky. Certainly at this time of year we are susceptible to attacks on our immune system. Illness and darkness make us aware of our vulnerability, our human frailty. 

But perhaps there is some meaning, some wisdom in this darkness and emptiness. Perhaps this is where we are meant to be at this stage of the Advent season? For we are creatures of flesh and blood, creatures of this earth - maybe the key lies in knowing how to adapt to this time of year, how to align ourselves with the seasonal changes we experience, and how we can learn and grow from them? Perhaps the darkness of this time of year is given that we may learn to still ourselves, to take shelter, to learn patience and, as we wait for the light to return, to reflect. 

This is the point in the year when the light begins to grow around us. The Winter Solstice, which occurred a few days ago, marks the point in the natural cycle of the year when the days begin to grow longer and darkness gives way to natural light. For us who anticipate the festival of the birth of Christ, the re-birth of sunlight points us to the greater miracle of the birth of the Son who is the Light of the whole world.

But at this stage of the Advent season we are not quite there yet - there is another part of the journey to travel. In today's gospel reading we watch Mary, the God-bearer, hastening on her journey to her cousin Elizabeth's house. She makes this long trip on foot, over rocks and stones across the countryside, in the heat of the sun. Mary is not anxious or over-protective as she brings forth the Holy Child, she is embracing life. She does not seem to be worrying whether the way is too hard. Rather, she seems to draw strength from the soft light which glows and grows within her, enriching her soul. Everything else is in second place. 

Perhaps we can allow our emptiness and darkness to enrich us and to speak to others. Perhaps, like Mary, we can stop worrying for five minutes about trying to make everything perfect, and give ourselves a chance to receive the Light. For the true Light, that gives light to all people, is coming into the world. Let us offer our hearts as a hearth and home for that light to burn within us.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Two days to go...

...until the Winter Solstice. Although, actually, I won't be celebrating it until Sat 22nd, with my Forest Church Group.

This time last year, I guess I'd barely heard of the Winter Solstice, let alone the other seasons of the Celtic Year. A lot has changed in 12 months. I'm beginning more and more to set my spiritual compass by the changing seasons and the observation of Celtic rituals.

So, I'm looking forward to Saturday, and to marking the point at which the darkness begins to give way to the light - Christ, the Sun, the Spring, the Fire. As a Winter Solstice ritual hymn says:

Long Is Our Winter, Dark is our night, O come, set us free, O Saving Light!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Saint or santa?

Happy St Nicholas' Day! Patron saint of children, 4th century bishop of Myra (now in Turkey) and legendary benefactor of the poor, Nicholas forms a link between the early Christian Church and our Father Christmas. To find out how, go here.

The St Nicholas Center website is a good source of info, and also images. Two of my favourites are these.

So, Saint or Santa? Or, perhaps (and, why not?) both?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Hand-made wisdom

I've recently become aware of the writing of Glennie Kindred, whose website is here. In an article from her website, Glennie describes herself thus:

I write and illustrated books on Earth wisdom, Earth cycles, Celtic festivals, trees, herbs, hedgerow gathering and cookery, creating our own ceremonies and alchemy. I am interested in taking old knowledge and creatively applying it to our lives today. I believe that as we heal ourselves and our relationship to the Earth, we add to the healing of our world.

I recently bought her wonderful book The Earth's Cycle of Celebration and have just ordered Creating Ceremony from Glennie's website. The books are hand-lettered and -illustrated, and have a great beauty and love about them. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Beautiful creation

I wanted to post a picture of my sister's new tattoo. It was built on top of an existing piece, which Clair was never entirely happy with.

However the tattoo artist, Charlotte, has created something extraordinarily beautiful from that original starting point. The work was done at the Ink Shack and took about two and half hours. The result is stunning, as you can see for yourself.

Celtic Blessings

I received my Celtic Wheel greetings cards today - they're really beautiful. They're designed by artist and illustrator Samantha Symonds, whose site you can check out here. To see Samantha's cards, go here.

Along with the cards, I also received a lovely note from Samantha thanking me for my order. The card bears one of her own designs called Oak Moon. I've added the card to my prayer table to help me to celebrate this mystical season.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Any yoga in the future?

I was browsing on Elephant Journal yesterday, and came across an article on the future of yoga. It said:

Yoga is tonic for the world’s ills.

Yes, I agree with that! But the article went on to ask:

But who among us is studying yoga in the depth that the last generation did? Not me. Who is stewarding the roots of yoga, which are about “stilling the waves of the mind,” as Patanjali puts it? Is meditation a part of your typical yoga class?

And then reminded me (because I get hooked by the adverts every time..!) that:

yoga isn’t… yoga pants. It’s not young models exercising with pastel backgrounds before they get back into their SUV and pop by Whole Foods to grab some quinoa for their 1.8 children.

So, the article ended by asking:

What is yoga?

1. Yoga is a spiritual path. Yoga is about becoming a more fully present, genuine, compassionate person.

2. And, yoga is—for those who don’t want to become happy holy spiritual types—a physical exercise that will—as a pleasant side effect—open up your mind and heart so that you, yes you—are a better businessperson, saner lover, better parent, more focused athlete, relaxed child.

Ending with a challenge:

In just 10 years…who will present yoga in depth? And who will learn it?

...will you or your favorite local yoga teacher accept this important challenge and responsibility—and study, practice and teach yoga’s roots?

I would love to do this: to take up the chance to study yoga in more depth, and to help to offer it as a life-long practice (physical and spiritual) for all. So my next question is: how do I make it happen?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Samhain - Summer's End & The Sacredness of Place

The Samhain ritual is a celebration of circles - the circle of sacred space which is created for the ritual; the circle of life which is recalled as we honour the departed; the seeds of hope which are planted for the next cycle of the year.

It is also a time of letting go, of casting into the Samhain fire all that has nourished us in the past but now no longer brings growth or that which shackles us to the old year or binds and limits us.

Also, as I celebrated Samhain, I was keenly aware of the way in which the ritual forged a connection to the earth. As the sacred space was woven we honoured the energy of the Life around us, in the place where we all stood:

Here in this place we honour muntjac deer, robin and squirrel;
Magpie and owl, fox and badger, blue tit and chaffinch
...the mighty cedar in whose shade we meet...

Throughout the ritual I felt that what we were celebrating was rooted in that very place, in that garden, amongst those trees, with that group of people. As I reflect on the celebration I am aware of the intimacy of the ritual and of the way in which it drew on the experiences of those who were partipating in it.

And although I had met the majority of the group only half an hour earlier, I felt a belonging and that what we were doing together mattered. This resulted in a connection and a rootedness which I find so often sadly absent from our weekly celebrations and services in church. Is this because our Anglican rites fail to take account of who is present, of the holy place in which we are meeting, of the connections we have to one another?

After the celebration was complete, we took refuge from the cold and gathered indoors for the gorsedd. Again, the power of this came in the meeting and sharing of those who were present. Poems were shared in celebration of the Earth, sacred songs were sung and drums were played. As the first fire of the season leapt in the hearth, a sacred rhythm drew us together and, again, a connection was made - the sacredness of the place.

Before departing, we shared thoughts about the next step for this gathering: should it be made public, an open invitation? Or is the gap between this group and traditional Church too wide for many to easily move from one to the other? I am still pondering this and I have no answers. However, I feel clearly drawn to this path of celebration and wonder if, for some at least, it may be a new route (?root) on the journey of life and faith.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

October - Summer's end & the gateway to winter

The world changes as October unfolds its mysteries. Seven o' clock in the morning and seven o'clock in the evening are both equally dark. We rise from sleep and wonder if it is still the night before. And under the shelter of woodland trees it seems never to grow light at any point in the day. We take a step back in time at the end of the month as we put back the clocks by one hour - lighter in the mornings for a while, but darker in the afternoons.

But at the same time the trees are bursting into flames of copper-red and apple-yellow, showing us a miracle which, even though we have seen it before, still turns our head as we wonder where these hues have come from. There is a sense in October of a world which we don't quite recognise.

Before the coming of electricity, this was a time to close down for the winter. For the ancient Celtic peoples, the end of October was the end of the old year, the new year beginning with the festival of Samhain on the 1st of November. As the new year dawned there was a sense of two worlds drawing together: that which had been and that which was yet to come meeting for a short time in the present. It was this time of year that the Christian Church made 1st November All Saints' Day and the following day All Souls' Day, when it was believed that our world and the next were brought together.

But we are always leaving behind the old and entering the new. The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a right time for each event in life - the season for one thing passes and a new moment comes along. The change of the seasons beckons us to a new stage of life.

The deepening of autumn into winter is an invitation to contemplation and silence. In this season, there is the opportunity for God, the Other, to call to us and to break into our awareness. It may be the a spider's web syrupy with dew that does this, or the russet blaze of the beech tree, or the chill blanket of the fog muffling all sound into silence.

October's autumn offers a doorway into a world which is far greater than the one which is visible, and the chance to hear a voice saying to us: All is sacred.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Praying the beginning

In preparing a service of worship for Sunday morning with the theme 'New Beginnings', I wanted to be able to offer a prayer for all those who are making a new start in some area of their life.

I'm currently exploring the work of Tess Ward, and her prayers for life's beginnings and endings, so looked in her excellent book 'Alternative Pastoral Prayers' for some help.

I was able to use parts of Tess's prayers for Coming of Age, Moving to a New Area and Retirement(!) in order to put together the following blessing:

N, as you set out on your journey
into this new beginning,
may God make clear the roads before you,
and greet you with kindness when you arrive.

May the adventure of this new beginning
call you to what needs to be left behind,
and the wild Warmth of the Spirit cherish within you all that should stay.

May this new beginning excite your heart and challenge you towards new frontiers.
May this adventure fit the rhythms of your soul,
drawing from you new ideas and a vision that will inspire.
May this new beginning be worthy of the energy of your heart and the light of your thought.
May your those you meet on your journey find in you Christ's love and understanding.

Go bravely, and greet each new horizon with trust and gratitude
and may God bless you on your journey,
and may the grace of the Spirit be upon you.

Tess, if you read this, I hope you don't mind my borrowing shoots and leaves from the lovely, life-giving plants you have grown! It is said that there are no new ideas...

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

September endings and beginnings

As I went into the garden a couple of mornings ago, I noticed that the brambles reaching in over the fence were full of ripening blackberries. It was about ten to seven, and all was still and quiet. This sign from nature prompted me to realise that the season is changing. There was something in the way the light fell, something in the temperature of the air, that spoke of the end of summer, and of the first dawning of autumn.

I always feel a sense of excitement at that first realisation that the one season is giving way to another; a sense of awe at the rhythm of the earth which is beating whilst you and I are occupied with the concerns of day-to-day living. There is something at work which is greater, older, more patient than ourselves. The blackberries were a small miracle which spoke of the energy of the earth, of its generosity and of its continuity.

The month of September is a gateway from one way of living to another. With the arrival of September, we realise that the carefree months of the summer are over, and that any plans we had for that season must now be put aside until next year, God willing. Although the leaves are still on the trees, the days are shortening, the sun's power is waning and our thoughts turn from adventure and travel to the securities of hearth and home. Our spirits are warmed less by the sun and more by the ripening and gathering of fruits and seeds.

But with every ending, there is also a beginning. September is the time for new voyages and horizons as the school year begins, young women and men set sail for university, college or employment. Young children leave the nest of home to learn to use their wings at nursery and playgroup.

In this season of letting go and turning inwards there is an opportunity for us to embrace new elements in our spiritual lives. What must we let go of in order to further ripen our relationship with God? What seeds do we need to plant into our spirits during these quieter months, so that new life may spring up with the new shoots of spring time?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Wisdom from the teachers

As part of my ongoing reading on the practice of yoga, I came across a wonderful book by Donna Farhi called Bringing Yoga to Life.

The approach of this book is very refreshing. Many yoga books take the approach that there is a perfect person who should become a yoga practitioner. Or that yoga is available to those who already have a perfect practice. Moreover, very few teachers make a connection between the difficulties and imperfections of life and yoga.

However, this is where Donna Farhi's book starts. She beings by drawing out the ways in which our life, with its failures and frustrations, becomes the starting point for a yoga practice. She writes:

Yoga does not pretend to be simple, quick or easy. It is a practice that takes into account the very messy and often complex phenomenon of what we call a human being and the equally challenging task of everyday living.

In essence, Farhi says that anyone can begin a yoga practice, and there is no other place to begin than where we are now. The first chapter of the book is titled We begin here. As she says later in the chapter:

Yoga does not remove us from the reality or responsibilities of everyday life but rather places our feet firmly and resolutely in the practical ground of experience.

Time to begin.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

A few answers

The answers to my questions about my Christian faith and yoga have come slowly (and there are still some I haven't found). Mostly, it has been a case of living with the questions, continuing to practice and to pray and talking to some wise friends.

For example, after I'd been doing yoga for about six months I went to visit a friend of mine who is also a priest and also practices yoga. I wanted to see what she had to say about this 'dual approach'.

I told her that I was concerned that practising yoga would cause me to lose my Christian faith, and that I would be letting God down by exploring yoga. Her response came in the form of a question that has stuck with me ever since. She said: Do you really think that Jesus would let you go just because you practice yoga?

After a few moments' thought I replied that, no, I didn't think he would ever do that. I felt that the Jesus I knew and loved would know that I wasn't trying to replace him - more that I was trying to grow closer to him in a new way.

And I keep coming back that question whenever I begin to doubt my love for Jesus: Do I think that he would abandon me because I follow the way of yoga too? Not in a million years.

But to hold on to that takes courage. Because it means moving away from an old way of believing (i.e. not having the courage to find my own way of following Jesus) and moving towards a new way which comes from the heart. And it means, for me at least, trusting Jesus more than I did before so that I can be the person I am now in his presence.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Not without its problems...

So discovering yoga (or being discovered by it) is the most significant thing that's happened to me in the last two years. But it's not been an easy journey.

I've had a lot of doubts and questions about yoga and about whether or not I should practice - a lot of things to work through.

The main issue for me has been the potential clash between yoga and my Christian faith. And because my faith is so much part of who I am and what I do, that's caused me to ask a lot of deep questions.

For instance:

Is yoga, with its roots in Eastern religious traditions, likely to take me away from my Christian faith?
When I do yoga, am I praying to a deity in whom I do not believe?
Am I serving 'two masters' - yoga and Christ?

And, perhaps most difficult:

When Jesus speaks of 'losing the self' how do I approach yoga's invitation to discover my true self?

But don't worry! There are some answers!

Friday, 20 April 2012

So what's changed?

What's changed?

A lot.

A couple of years ago I began to have the feeling that I was living most of my life in my head - an intellectual existence. My job (or, should I say, vocation) involves a lot of thinking, and planning, and words. A lot of meetings, deadlines, hours at the computer, time wrestling over the right phrase or the right course of action.

Not only that, but my vocation means that I was giving about 95% of my time to other people and I often felt that my identity was disappearing. Not good. Not good at all. But I felt so called to live that life.

So what to do?

I'd looked in passing at yoga a few times before: a flick through a yoga magazine, a browse on the web, just to see what the appeal might be. And the thing which stood out most clearly was that this was a way of life which wasn't located solely in the mind - the body and the spirit had something to say, too. And this was the missing bit. To get the balance I was so badly lacking I needed all three parts of being human - mind, body and spirit - to belong and exist together. It had to be yoga.

So since then I've done a year and half of classes, plus a daily practice. And I'm reading up on yoga theory and philosophy, too. And I'm seeing changes, little by little.

What I'm striving for is summed up wonderfully by yoga master Donna Farhi in her beautiful book, Bringing Yoga to Life:

When we are in full command of our physical, mental and emotional capacities and in complete possession of our self, we begin to live fearlessly and to open to new experiences, new possibilities, and new challenges.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Planting the first seed

It's been a long while since I wrote a blog, and a lot's happened since then. For example, I practice yoga now. Every day. In fact, that's probably the biggest thing that's happened to me in the last year.

And so, I feel that it's time to start writing again. Because it's not just straightforwardly practising yoga, as though I was just trying to get into shape (and at my age, that's an issue!). No, it's just as much about continuing to find out who I am and how I can relate to the world with integrity as my experience of life changes. And yoga is helping.

I'm no expert. I fall over in simple poses. I often find that I'm as inflexible today as I was yesterday. I find that a 20 minute practice sometimes feels like an hour and three quarters.

But I'm here, and I'm in for the long haul. I now find that I can't do without yoga. And I never thought I'd find myself typing that sentence.

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