My three-year-old grandson, Cole and I were sitting on our back porch swing enjoying a lovely Spring Day. A light breeze was blowing. Puffy white clouds were playing in the big blue sky above. Surrounded by a green yard with flowerpots pouring out their blooms. Butterflies flitting around, dipping into the fragrant flowers. Tall old pine trees offering their shade and wind songs.
“Cole, look at the clouds. I see the shape of a dog. What do you see?”
“I see a dragon.”
“Oh yeah, I see that too. I wonder what other shapes we can see.”
“I don’t want to do this anymore. I just want to look at God’s bootiful world.”
And we sat in silence, gently rocking back and forth on the swing. Feeling the warm breeze and seeing the beauty all around. I was reminded of how Wisdom shows herself in unexpected ways, through the words of a child, through the “bootiful” world, through quiet space to listen deeply.
“I’m stuck,” I said.
“How so?” she asked.
“Well. Our church decided to offer several Easter services, but they’re all going to be inside with masks and the social distancing thing. So, you have to sign up for tickets. I got online too late and there aren’t any seats available. There is going to be an outside service, but it’s simply a streaming of the inside service. I guess I might as well stay at home and watch it on my computer.”
“You could try going somewhere else.”
“Wouldn’t be the same.”
“What is ‘the same’?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I want some things to be the same! Isn’t that okay. Something—like Easter—must be the same as it always has been.”
“Okay smart ass, what plans do you have for Easter?”
“What you mean, nothing? Aren’t you at least going to watch a service online?”
“Damn you. You always talk in questions, riddles, and circles. Don’t you ever have a straight answer for anything?”
“Easter Sunday morning, I am going to do the same thing I do most every Sunday morning.”
“Get up before the sun rises. Journal my dreams. Make coffee. Read. Write.”
“Don’t you go to church? Or at least watch church online?”
“Surely you read the Bible on Sunday morning. For sure on Easter morning.”
“What’s wrong with you. I thought you were a priest.”
“What does that have to do with my Sunday mornings?”
“God, you’re infuriating!”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be.”
“You’re not much help. I’m more stuck now than I was before this conversation began.”
“Okay, let’s start over. You’re frustrated because this year your Easter is going to be different.”
“Yes. And we can’t have our normal big family gathering. Well, we’re not supposed to. But we are, kind of. Not everyone is going to show up. Truthfully, we told those who aren’t vaccinated that they shouldn’t come. Then we had a row because they told us they had decided not to ever get a vaccine. They told us we were being judgmental and overly cautious. It just turned into a mess. I just want everything to go back to normal! I don’t care anymore!”
“I hear you. Change is always hard. The more significant the change, the more intense the loss, the deeper the grief.”
“I don’t have any grief. No one in my family has died. Things will go back to normal!”
“I might suggest that for more than a year, your experience of normalcy has been lost.”
“And I might also suggest that there is a potential loss of what you want to be normal. Potential loss creates ambiguity: no one is sure what the future will look like. We have been confronted every day with ambiguous loss. The potential for grief appears to weigh heavier than the certainty of death.”
“Don’t give me any of your academic bullshit.”
“You are grieving the possibility that somethings will never return to normal.”
“That’s not true.”
“Everything can be true and false at the same time.”
“That’s definitely not true.”
“They’re two sides to every coin.”
“We’re not talking about coins. We’re taking about My Easter!”
“Okay. In the Easter story, what’s the opposite of death?”
“I might suggest that resurrection is the opposite of death. Death is a part of the life cycle. Life begins at birth and ends at death. So, the opposite of the life/death cycle is resurrection.”
“Is this more of your theological rigmarole?”
“No. It’s about your stuckness.”
“I don’t get it.”
“In order for someone to experience resurrection, or rebirth, they have to first die. In your case, in order for Easter to be Easter, the idea of Easter has to die in order to be reborn, resurrected. Your experience of Easter, your idea of normalcy, has to die. Once that idea has died, a new normal will be resurrected.”
“I don’t want a new normal. Resurrection means Jesus came back to life. He returned to normal. There. That’s true. Your theory is false. And NOTHING can be TRUE and FALSE at the SAME TIME! You’re wrong! And I want MY EASTER BACK!”
“Indeed, you do. I guess now’s not the time to suggest that the myth of Easter and the theory of evolution are different stories of the same archetypal narrative?”
“You’re infuriating. It’s a wonder I keep talking to you. I gotta go. Oh yeah, can you pray for my brother. He may have cancer. You do still pray, don’t you?”
“I’ll pray for your brother. And I’ll send you both some energy.”
“Keep the energy to yourself. Can’t you simply say, yes?”
“Thank you. Later.”
Prayers can be offered by one or more persons. Whether we’re praying alone or with others, we are always in Circle with those we love, including the One who has countless Names: a few are, the Divine, the Beloved, the Beloved One, the Holy One.
(Bold said together if more than one person in the Circle)
Holy One, be present with us today. We ask that you walk with us through our daily journey. Encircle us with your presence; for you are our light in the darkness and our assurance in fearful times. When we are uncertain of your presence, we look for you in the rising sun, the changing moon, the singing birds, the gentle animals, the tree’s shade, for all of nature mirrors your calming love.
Holy One, hear our prayers and be present with us today.
A Reading--Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent and The World Wisdom Bible: A New Testament for a Global Spirituality, both edited by R. Shapiro, contain readings from many traditions, for example, you might use one of these:
Where can I escape from Your spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there.
If I descend into Sheol, You are there.
If I take wind at dawn and come to rest on the western horizon,
Even there Your hand will guide me;
Your right hand will hold me close.
If I say, “Darkness will conceal me, and night will hide me from You,”
Dark is not dark for You;
Night is as bright as day;
Darkness and light are the same. (Hebrew Bible, Psalm 139:7-12)
People were bringing even infants to Jesus that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (New Testament, Luke 18:15-17)
I am not talking of a reunion with the Beloved since I have never been away from the Beloved. (Unnamed Sufi poet.)
I am the same to all beings. I favor none, and I hate none. But those who worship Me devotedly, they live in Me, and I in them. Even the most sinful, if they worship Me with a whole heart, shall be considered righteous, for they are treading the right path. In them they shall attain spirituality, and Eternal peace shall be theirs. (Bhagavad Gita 9:29-31).
Silence following the reading—(start with one minute and slowly increase to five minutes. Set your phone with a gentle chime allowing your mind to rest into the silence.)
Following silence: A prayer for safety in uncertain times:
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And fire with all the strength it hath,
And lightening with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their paths,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness;
All these I place,
by the Divine’s help and grace
between myself, and the powers of darkness!
(slightly adapted from “St Patrick’s hymn before Tara.” Most likely a pre-Christian fragment; “Yeats the Poet” by Edward Larrissy, 24-25.)
Prayers and Intercessions
Beloved One, we thank you for your love and presence in our life, our home, our world.
You are the Beloved.
We love you for the feast that is life;
Friendships and laughter,
Intimacy and trust,
Moments of discovering deep truth,
Hidden potentials we never knew we had,
Serene beauty and rugged beauty,
The world you have crafted.
And the words, the sounds, the colors
With which people reflect and explore life.
You are the Beloved and we love you for not leaving us alone.
(adapted from “The Iona Worship Book”)
Beloved One, we thank you for your love and presence in our life, our home, our world.
Beloved One, we seek your guidance;
Through the troubling days we face.
We pray for our leaders,
Grant them wisdom.
For the uncertainty we encounter,
For the difficult decisions we must make.
Beloved One, we seek your guidance.
Beloved One, we pray for humankind.
For those who are suffering from illness. (Mention those who are on your heart)
And those who care for them. (Mention caregivers and medical professionals you know)
We pray for those who have died. (Mention those you know who have died.)
And those who grieve their loss. (Mention those who are grieving.)
For our health. (Mention your own name(s).)
And the restoration of health for all our planets inhabitants.
Beloved One, we pray for humankind.
Beloved One, we pray for Mother Earth.
To restore her wholeness,
To renew her well-being,
To refresh her air, her water, her plants, her animals.
Beloved One, we pray for Mother Earth.
Add your own prayers. What’s on your mind? Who is on your mind? What do you need?
We pray that the Divine will be present
In the darkness before dawn,
In the waiting and uncertainty
Where fear and courage join hands,
Conflict and caring link arms,
And the sun-rises over barbed wire.
We pray that the Beloved One is with us;
The Divinity who sits down in our midst to share our humanity.
We affirm a faith that takes us beyond the safe place
Into action, into vulnerability,
And into the streets.
We commit ourselves to work for change,
And put ourselves on the line,
To bear responsibility, take risks,
Live powerfully and face humiliation;
To stand with those on the edge,
To choose life
And be used by the Spirit
For the sake of the Holy One’s suffering world. Amen.
An Interfaith Prayer of Faith (adapted from “The Iona Worship Book”).
Mother God mandala created by Joanne Priest
My pilgrimage in Ireland this summer has been a “more than” experience for me. There have been many things I anticipated, which turned out pretty much like I thought. It was the third time to travel with a Vox Peregrini group on the Wicklow Way and to facilitate our Sacred Cauldron Retreat in Glendalough. There was a comfort in having those previous experiences, which gave me an opportunity to relax and enjoy the re-visiting.
And, there have been many more things which I had no clue were going to happen. Mostly those unseen things who were seeking me out when I least expected it… like delving deeper into my shadow places of resistance and judgment as well as opening up more to the “being” moments, which are never planned. I was learning in my alone time to be present to the Divine in me which took real focus to slow my busy, ego-driven mind down and deeply listen to my heart and soul.
Then, in the community of the Sacred Cauldron retreat, my alone work became “more than” as I opened my mind, heart and soul to holding sacred space with all the others who came to engage in their own pilgrimages in Ireland. When you sit in a circle with others and hold true to the practices of The Circle Way, the Divine is vivid and real in each of us and all around us.
Part of our work together was an invitation to explore and create rituals for our journeys. We were all in different places on our walks so the work became very personal and unique. Some were ready to engage in the design of a specific ritual and some needed more time and space to see what was meaningful for them. Those who created a ritual invited our community to participate and be a holy presence with them.
The rituals I was invited to be a part of moved me in ways I could not have imagined. I brought my own intention of being fully present in body, mind, soul and spirit. I felt pain for the past hurts, merciful compassion, hope for future possibilities, forgiveness, gratitude, and deep peace. I experienced openings in my soul that were hidden, bringing light and wholeness for my journey.
The pilgrimage of community opened my eyes to see the Divine in new ways and to know that I was seen by the Divine. I know that I am loved unconditionally. I am deeply grateful and will continue walking my pilgrimage… to see and be seen.
One of the Vox Peregrini hiker/singers made an interesting observation one evening after their hike. “It’s interesting to me that Gil, the introvert, is with people all day and Cathy, the extrovert, is alone.” This observation was one of those hmmmmm moments for me and it’s been playing in my head and heart ever since.
I’ve come to Ireland fully understanding and embracing what the “doing” of my pilgrimage would be and it isn’t walking. I’m very ok with that. As a matter of fact, I get great joy and satisfaction from helping others, planning and seeing a plan come to life, and being creative when the plan won’t work and needs some adjustments. I’ll admit that my ego loves to hear the “thank yous” and “you’re so wonderful” and “I can’t imagine how we would do this without you.” And, I believe all of this is also a part of the “being” of my pilgrimage, to see and be seen.
And then there is that moment, when Gil and all the hikers walk away and leave me alone. They’ll be together all day in the glorious, wild beauty of Ireland, meeting the challenge of long days up and down the mountains, carrying their packs and burdens, facing their fears and personal struggles, and when it gets too tough, someone is there to walk along side of them. And, they have no worries at the end of the day because I’ve traveled ahead in my little car and have everything ready for them so they can have a comfortable bed, hot shower, and good meal. They are having a common experience creating a bond among themselves which I’m not a part of… and that’s a bit painful for me. To be truthful, many times I get a bit teary-eyed and cry a little as I watch them walk away.
I’m alone all day with a drive to the next stop taking no longer than about 25 minutes and all the major arrangements were made months ago. I’m faced with just me…lots of waiting, thinking, what shall I do dilemmas with no one to talk to, which is a bit excruciating for an extrovert, think aloud person. Who has my common experience where I can create a bond with them? Who’ll walk along side of me when it gets too tough? Just me!
So this is where pilgrimage gets real. I must face me! All of me and listen to the fears I try to cover up and the feeling of loneliness I try to ignore. I’m trying to make friends with the critic that lives in me who points out all my faults and mistakes. The critic who re-plays last evening’s conversations where she tells me I babbled on about my day while all the others had so many more challenges and extraordinary experiences. I’m learning to lean into all of this…to feel deeply what I feel. I’m trying to learn from my critic’s voice but not let it consume my thoughts. I’m learning to say to her, “Thank you for your opinion, now you can be quiet and I’ll take it from here.” As I lean into this hard work, I’m finding that those fears can be eased and that I can be a very good companion to me. Part of my prayer in the morning is… “I welcome the compassion that surrounds me and the love in my heart.” I’m learning to embrace and integrate and make that a deep part of me.
To see and be seen is my intention…. I didn’t anticipate that the “seeing” would be to look deep into me.
“To see and be seen” Five simple words easy to say and deeply powerful to live into. I’m in Ireland and traveling with the 13 Vox Peregrini 2019 singers/hikers. Gil is the hiking support on the Wicklow Way trail and I’m driving a car from village to village, making sure all is ready for the group when they finish their day. My pilgrimage is a bit more unique than the hikers…beginning with driving on the left side of the road! And more times than I’d like, roads that seem only wide enough for one car, with two-way traffic. Here begins the “to see and be seen” in intense reality!
So how do I not get consumed with the doing and miss out on the being? Well, the beauty of Mother Nature in Ireland helps a lot. Cool breezes moving through the ancient trees and across the grassy, flower laden meadows, majestic hills with deep dark forests, misty rain off and on, and quiet places in the little villages all waiting for me to see…and breathe…and be silent without and within.
Every morning, I begin with this prayer to help me “see”…
This morning I greet Mother Earth and Father Sky and the life force in all creation.
This morning I greet the seen world in all its beauty and the unseen world in its mystery.
This morning I welcome the breath that breathes in me, the compassion that surrounds me,
and the love in my heart.
And I deeply desire “to be seen” by the life force in all creation and the unseen world in its mystery. I’m finding the “to be seen” in the trust circle gathering of the hikers after their walk. We offer the invitation (no requirement to attend) to gather in circle to listen deeply to each other and ourselves…no saving, no fixing, no setting anyone straight…holding space for the Divine to move within us and all around us…many times sitting in silence honoring its holy power for us. I feel “seen” here and I’m learning to carry that deep Sophia wisdom with me on my journey.
Every evening before I sleep, I offer this prayer to help me remember “to see and be seen”…
This evening I give thanks for Mother Earth and Father Sky and the life force in all creation.
This evening I give thanks for the seen world in all its beauty and the unseen world in its mystery.
This evening, I welcome the rest and restoration of my body, the quieting of my thoughts, and the wisdom of my dreams.
And the journey continues for there is much seeing and being seen to discover, especially within me!
Anybody who knows me would probably start laughing when I say, “Finding words is hard to do.” My pilgrimage journey in Ireland has brought me so many extraordinary experiences beyond words. However, I will try to offer a meager reflection.
I came with the intention “to see and be seen,” hoping Mother Earth would offer me a glimpse of Her wisdom enfolding from the depths within me. I gathered stones and rose petals and leaves and an acorn from an ancient tree who wanted to talk with me.
I offered them words of thanksgiving for their gifts of remembrance.
For the stones, remembering how ancient Mother Earth is and what beauty is revealed as we walk her paths. I was reminded that She needs our help to care for her with renewed reverence.
For the rose petals, remembering my Grandmother Chapin’s garden, which always had rose bushes. When I was an elementary school student, I would pick some of her roses to take to my teacher. Grandmother would help me wrap a wet paper towel around them and then some saran wrap to carry them to school. I think it helped me become the “teacher’s pet.” I’m going to ask my beloved daughter-in-law to help me plant some rose bushes in my garden. Maybe I could help Cole and Zane to offer a gift of beauty to their teachers.
For the leaves, remembering that life is fleeting and every moment counts because one day we have to let go and die… yet, every leaf I picked up had changed into some beautiful new color and offered nourishment for the forest floor. I was reminded I have a choice in how I live these final years, changing into beautiful new colors and offering nourishment to souls all around me… offering the abundant love I have so richly been given in my life.
For the acorn and the words of the ancient tree, remembering the wisdom within me like the deep roots of the great tree. As I keep seeing and feeling and imagining and listening, I grow my roots down into the rich depths of the soil’s moisture and expand my branches creating safe space for others and send out new leaves reaching for the sunshine of new life. The ancient tree has been battered by the storms, scarred and wounded, yet this sculpting has created a new face of rugged beauty within the tree, and so may it be for me.
Ah yes, I am seeing and being seen… I am called to love… with deep gratitude for pilgrimage as a way of life…
What is the ancient tree saying to you?
Every evening when the Vox Peregrini walkers gather at dinner, someone… or two… or three… graciously asks me, “How was your day? What did you do?” The “Perfect Judge” in my head screams guilty words, “Nothing… nothing to compare to the grueling, gorgeous hiking you have done. I just drove about 20 minutes and hung out…whoopee!”
So I take a deep breathe and say, “I had a lovely day of writing, and reading, and traveling to our next destination and making sure all is well for you.” Why do I feel guilty about that? I’m wondering if my “Loyal Soldier” (from Bill Plotkin’s book, Soulcraft) who works unconsciously to keep my “Wild Child” in check is working overtime?
What I hear from my Vox Peregrini friends is, “Thank you so much for all you are doing to support us, help us, and arrange all of this for us. Our accommodations are more than we imagined how good they could be.” I need to let my Loyal Soldier and Wild Child hear that… deep in my unconscious.
My lonesome road is not so lonesome any more… because I have a wise young pilgrim traveling with me named Morgan. She had the courage to say, “I can’t walk anymore.” If you could see her feet, you would know why. I admire her strength to take care of herself and ask for what she needs and graciously offer her help to my pilgrim’s way. She has provided ease to my negotiating the map and driving the Irish farm roads.
Today she sat with Gil as he bandaged and offering healing touches to many feet. She made a list of healing supplies he would need for the journey ahead. Other fellow pilgrims asked her if she could find some things that would make their walk easier. Then, we traveled to a couple of towns clearing out the pharmacies of all their 2nd skin!
I’m missing the walking…or truthfully, I’m feeling guilty about not walking. But if I were walking, none of the supplies, dinners waiting for them hot and delicious, rooms “sorted out,” taxis called to pick them up, carrying sandwich and snack supplies, and a very joyous face to greet them when they arrive would be happening!
I wonder if I am learning how to integrate my “Mary and Martha?” and make peace with the “Perfect Judge” in my head? Ah, my “Wild Child” is very excited about this transformational work… so I’ll keep “walking” and only stop to rest myself when the silver moon is shining about the trees.
This morning, the Vox Peregrini singers stood on the curving staircase of the Stoops Guesthouse B&B and sang “That Lonesome Road.” And I was moved to tears again. There is something deeply Divine going on inside of me through their music.
A memory washed over me as they sang. When Gil was President of Grand Canyon University, he provided the opportunity for vocal musicians to be a part of the President’s Singers choral ensemble. Keith Whitlock was the director and he auditioned sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses to be a part of this unique group.
One evening we were holding a dinner at our home for a group of supporters of the University and the President’s Singers were invited to sing for us (yes, they got dinner as well). They stood in the entryway of our home and sang their signature song, “In This Very Room.” They filled our home with their voices of powerful harmony. The sound radiated throughout the house and created a cocoon of serenity… and beautiful artistic expression. I was moved to tears then as I am now.
I always felt our home was uniquely blessed because of the President’s Singers music. When we sold it, I remember thinking that the new owners are walking into a sacred space… where there was quite enough love, and quite enough joy and quite enough hope and quite enough power to chase away any gloom. The beauty was I took that same love and joy and hope and power with me because today I remembered how I felt and how I was moved deep in my soul.
One of the Vox Peregrini soprano singers shared with me how meaningful it is for her to have ears to hear her artistic expressions in song. I wonder if this is a part of the movement I’m feeling in my soul? I wonder if the singers and I are creating sacred art together? I wonder what lessons in holy listening will I continue to learn as I wander down that lonesome road…
Today, I took this photo of 14 pilgrims beginning their hike on the Wicklow Way. They gathered in Clonegal, Ireland to head out over the mountains and valleys of Wicklow County. They will walk almost 100 miles in 8 days ending in Marlay Park near Dublin.
And they will sing… They are Vox Peregrini (check out their website voxperegrini.com).
Last evening at the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church choir practice room, they gathered for the first time to sing together… their first rehearsal… a capella. They heard a pitch and then just sang as if it was like breathing for them.
I had the privilege of sitting amongst them and listening… and it was glorious music swirling over and around and through my heart and soul. I had to work very hard to keep from crying. I knew if I let go, I would be sobbing. It felt like a deep cleansing and healing and opening up space in my soul.
How many times have I missed the opportunity to deeply listen to music? There is usually music playing at our home, in my car, at restaurants, all kinds of public places... at best it is just background noise.
What if I sat down and listened… don’t try to sing along… don't let my “monkey mind” run away with me… hear and feel and let my imagination embrace the music… and dance with it...
Dancing in my imagination is the beautiful ballad, That Lonesome Road, these singers will be memorizing to sing along the way…
“Walk down that lonesome road all by yourself.
Don’t turn your head back over your shoulder.
And only stop to rest yourself when the silver moon is shining high above the trees.
If I had stopped to listen once or twice,
If I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes,
If I had cooled my head and warmed my heart,
I’d not be on this road tonight.
Carry on… carry on…
Never run feeling sorry for yourself.
It doesn’t save you from your troubled mind.
Walk down that lonesome road all by yourself.
Don’t turn your head back over your shoulder.
And only stop to rest yourself when the silver moon is shining high above the trees.”
They are walking… I’m driving to meet them… down my own lonesome road…