I remember attending a church as a 19-year-old, where I sang on one of the worship teams. I didn’t fit in very well, (a bit of a hippie, really). It called itself a “seeker church” as many churches do, but even then, I found something interesting about the description. Namely, that the folks on the teams and many of the core attendees, saw themselves less as seekers, and more as space holders for a place in which seekers might find.
For my part, maybe why I didn’t fit in very well, is because deep down, I was a seeker, through and through.
Prior to that church experience, I co-formed a church with some friends, called The Church of the Wayward Brethren. The liturgy consisted of passing a bottle around on the beach of our local lake, and read the Bible. We thought we were pretty subversive.
Looking back, what unfolds in my memory is a sequence of trial and error attempts at going deeper without ever looking like I didn’t have the answer.
Then, eventually, came the “lucky dark”. And everything changed. I began to give myself permission to openly seek for Divine revelation. Which led me to the Christian mystics, which led me to practices within that lineage, like lectio divina, centering prayer, chanting the Psalms, walking with awareness of my foot arches, connecting with the earth.
Some of my most beloved teachers are so effective, because they have made it their life’s work to seek. And they aren’t seeking to be rebellious and irresolute for the sake of it. What they are doing is holding vigil for where resonance and the thrumming of the deep, is quivering, in no matter how unlikely a place.
For what might be seen, if we have eyes to see
Tasted, if we have tongues to taste.
Heard, if we have ears to hear.
Felt, if we are embodied enough for our arm hairs to bristle.
When Noel Keating approached me about recording a children's meditation album with him, he sent me his book, Meditation With Children. When I read the book, I was initially and utterly taken in by two things. First, that the many children introduced to centering prayer meditation authentically discover an interiority to themselves that is very mysterious and rather remarkable. Second, that Noel Keating is the type of grown-up who seeks… for those places or people who might reveal deeper revelations, that help us long for the great Mystery to come very near to us.
In Noel’s book, he includes the quote by Madeline Simon, that children are “born contemplatives”.
Her observation not only really struck me as something so very true, but made me see my children and other children I know, and my own inner-child, as little teachers, even as I must be the grown-up, and guide and care for them.
Yesterday, the Meditation With Children album launched worldwide on my website, so I’ve been pondering what is so resonant about the project, for me. I think it is that the album was made with a seeker’s vigilance, inspired by a book that was written by someone with a seeker’s heart, who sensed in the children that they too have seeker's hearts. And that although the album is a good resource for children, it also has something to teach grown-ups who are open to learning and trusting that revelations emerge out of unexpected places. And that meditation was the catalyst, and is for everyone.
The song for this Sunday, is Hope Beyond all Hope, from the new album, with new lyrics I wrote for the children.
I'm looking at the evening sky
Stars twinkle secrets through the night
This whole universe, (and you, and I)
Were born to breathe the breath of God
I've been seeing quite a number of folks speaking up about how it seems that the more actually loving we make God, the more heretical we sound.
It's really true.
As most of you know, my song The Heart of God did not arrive easily.
I wrote and wrote about the darkness and struggled to write about hope and resurrection for years. Partly because I was working out God's presence in this suffering world.
Sometimes I think the very reason there is so much suffering is because we're all afraid of a Deity who would order eternal suffering.
Our whole life is made up of building walls because we can't trust that intimacy could ever be safe. I just knew there was a pearl hidden inside Christianity, waiting to be mined and held to the light. It's why I could never just leave,
Easter Sunday has transformed into a very safe, beautiful place to reside. With almost none of the triumphant fireworks that once blazed across my guilt-ridden/washed-but-still-fear-ridden soul.
It is a day of infinite intimacy. An intertwined consummation. A feast that tastes flavours with aliveness and vigour.
As I write this, I have just found out about the Easter morning bombings of the churches in Sri Lanka... I am so sad from all the violence. Sitting in the great Silence, before I pray for the right words to share. May all the wise leaders of this world tap root into the Ancient Peace that showed itself in Jesus, as they begin to respond.
"Wisdom!", cries the Dawn Deacon, but we do not attend. (Merton)
"He was just sitting there- surrounded by the darkest, deepest, most alienated, most constricted states of pained consciousness; sitting, if we can imagine it, among all those mirroring faces of the collective false self that we encountered earlier in the crucifixion narrative: the anguish of Judas, the indecision of Pilate, the cowardice of Peter, the sanctimony of the Pharisees; sitting there in the midst of all this darkness, not judging, not fixing, just letting it be in love. And in so doing, he was allowing love to go deeper, pressing all the way to the innermost ground out of which the opposites arise, and holding that to the light."
- Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus
"Unless a grain of what falls into the earth, and dies. It remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
- Jesus of Nazareth, (and an initiation ritual for the Asia Minor Mystery religions)
Holy Saturday has been a strange, ominous day for most of my life. That blank hour after the funeral service and luncheon has ended and the last plate that held sandwiches just an hour ago, is put back in the cupboard. There is an emptiness and a strange relief, and perhaps a dread that all at once, we realize life will never be the same, but it will keep going anyway.
As a child, this blankness, was sort of how I used to see Holy Saturday. And maybe feeling a sort of contrived, sickly guilt and shame... attempting to sustain a longer note of conjured compunction that God needed Jesus to die for me.
But for me, Holy Saturday has recently changed into one of the most powerful days of the liturgical year.
Some of the great works that have awakened Holy Saturday in my imagination, is Cynthia Bourgeault's work on the Harrowing of Hell, in her books The Wisdom Jesus and The Meaning of Mary Magdalene. What she has called "The Vigil of the Heart of the Earth" – when Jesus descended into the heart of the earth, which later became translated as 'hell'. Her above quote is from the Wisdom Jesus, and she expands this in The Meaning of Mary Magdalene in a most remarkable way, implying that Mary accompanied him in the imaginal realm.
For some reason, whenever I read Cynthia's most cosmic, metaphysical writings, I feel much closer, even unified, with the earth, much more embodied, and more present here on this planet, ready to participate in the grounded dance of growing food and embracing my beloveds with vigor and joy. I don't know if that is her intention, but the teaching just does that for me.
I wrote this song Fear Not, Adamah, of the Earth for Advent... but if you look at it closely, it is also a direct commentary on Holy Saturday. A day which has begun to smell pungent and life-filled for me... like Mother Earth herself.
John Dominica Crossan's beautiful Easter videos have been helping to inform the way I "do Easter" this year. The new book he wrote with his wife Sarah, on the Eastern interpretation of the resurrection is a GAME CHANGER. In the Eastern tradition's iconic depictions of the Harrowing of Hell, you see Jesus holding both the hand of Eve and Adam. It is a collective (over individual) resurrection of past, present and future... because it happens in the timeless realm. To marry these images with Cynthia's gritty words of Jesus sitting as total and pure love, deepening love far beyond judgement and solutions, certainly brings some vitality back into Holy Saturday.
In this song, I used the name Adamah simply because I see us all as "of the earth" which is what the name Adam means. And the word "human", comes from the word "humus". In that light, the term "human being" really looks more like "incarnate soil". And now that we know a healthy gut microbiome looks almost identical to a microscopic photo of of healthy humus, it brings so much to life for me, on this day, when Jesus descended to hold vigil in the heart of the earth.
Born of flesh in that stable is a sign
And he will spread his arms to embody all of life
And sink down, down in the soil
And died, died like a seed
To show love's been in every vein
That ever flowed....
Rivers are veins. Roots are veins. We are a part of this intricate network of love here on this planet.
Really, Holy Saturday should be another "Earth Day" for all Christians. A time to commit and reorient ourselves to the health of top soil (reversing desertification), to the health of the waters, the air and all of life. To reconsider our stance on the urgency of an economy of destruction, over the urgency of Mother Earth's very survival and placing value in the arts and beauty. It is a day to honour the earth-based wisdom of our indigenous ancestors, who held a very special intuition about "the heart of the earth". It is a time to sit with Jesus, in that heart, beyond the bonds of our egos, dying as seeds, to bear much fruit.
I recently re-recorded the vocals for this song, to change out a couple of lyrics and sing with intentions for garden growing and participating in stepping more consciously into the great circle of life.
Listen to that particular recording right here:
Sustained in All Things may have been the hardest song I've ever recorded. But here's the thing. The reality of this recording is that I was in my 8th month of my 2nd pregnancy, feeling incredibly uncomfortable, and unable to sleep at night for various reasons. And my engineer was also dying of cancer at the time of this recording. A beautiful soul, with such a deep love for music.
James Finley, whose words are the lyrics to this chant, did not come to these words lightly. Suffering trauma as a child, he realized that somehow that trauma happened. And at first glance, to suggest there is benevolence at the heart of this world, amidst such abuse and injustice, is enough cause for us to die of cynicism.
This week, as Notre Dame cathedral burned, I wrestled with my feelings on the matter. At first, I thought, of course there will be rich people coming to the aid of this historic landmark. And then, I thought, how do I feel about that? For instance... I totally loved Gretta Thunberg's response and in many ways agree with her. I just wish we could cut the ugliness in the world first, and realize there's room for music, art, literature and beautiful buildings.
I have been pondering in my heart the life of Jesus over this season of Lent. In particular, looking through the lens of John Dominic Crossan's work, on Jesus' move to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He moved at the same point when in 20 CE, Herod Antipas built his city Tiberias, and renamed the Sea of Galilee, "Lake Tiberias". In this video, John Dominic Crossan shows the peasant fishing villages along the shores of the lake as being the home towns of most of Jesus disciples, including Mary Magdalene. He suggests that part of Jesus' move there was a food sovereignty movement over and against the commercial fishing power of the new city of Tiberias. This commercial trading power was destroying the peasant's way of life. Now, think of the story of the fishes and the bread and feeding all the people in an act of abundance. Think of the idea of being "fishers of people", in other words, to tell them of their inherent, abundant worth.
Here is where this chant Sustained in All Things gets even trickier. On the one hand, I want to be VERY clear, that we should not go seeking trauma in order to be spiritual. We cannot construct our own descent (but we can sure try). However, amidst the trials that life brings us, sometimes because we choose to stand non-violently in the way of injustice, in that context, what is it to realize that there is an endless source of love at the very root of who we are?
I am still torn about the wealthy coming to the aid of Notre Dame so very quickly. But I can't be either/or about it. I know in many ways, it represents collusion with Empire. But in many other ways, it is an example of something beautiful. When one annual military budget could end the fossil fuel age, empower all people the world over to feed themselves sustainably, and restore all the sacred architecture that has been damaged by fire or violence across the world, it is hard to not step into a deeper dream of abundance and out of this nightmare of scarcity. The nightmare of scarcity is why the sex slavery trade, the arms trade, and anti-aging are what "1st world" people spend most money on. The nightmare of scarcity is why arts funding, good, true, beautiful design, and libraries are always cut first... judged for being extraneous.
The dream of abundance is the dream that Jesus stepped into on this Good Friday. And sharing this dream of abundance is why he was executed. Trusting that what is true, is that there is more life than there is destruction. That love is more powerful than death ever will be. And that death, when placed into the cycle of life and renewal, can be remarkably abundant and generative.
So, it's hard teaching. But something I'll be pondering today.
"God protects us from nothing, but unexplainably sustains us in all things."
- James Finley, trauma survivor, depth psychologist, contemplative teacher, friend
Tonight, as I was tucking my children into their beds, I told them that tomorrow is Palm Sunday. My 5-year- old asked me if Palm Sunday was related to Palm Desert, because he was at the Palm Desert zoo once, and traces the roads to Palm Desert, on his atlas, with his finger.
I told them that Palm Sunday and Palm Desert both had Palm tree branches (and decided not to say anything about golf, or washed up Hollywood actors).
Then I told them that Palm Sunday was about the story when Jesus rides the donkey along the road as people laid Palm branches down on the road and sang “hosannah in the highest!”
But then I said, Jesus chose a little donkey to ride, so that all the people who weren’t as big or strong could see that Jesus knows everyone is important, no matter how big they are.
Our kids are really into the story of King Arthur, and how he pulled the sword from the stone when he was a little boy, even when all the big muscle men couldn’t do it. So my 5-year-old said, “Jesus riding the donkey and not a big, big horse is sort of like when Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, and a miracle happened right there in London, that a little boy nobody saw, and not the big guys, was the king.”
Then he said, “Sometimes it might be, like, a person who gets to drive a wheelchair who’s king or queen. Or like someone who’s really, really, really old. Or like a little girl could pull the sword from the stone, too. Not just all the big grown up ladies with long hair.”
Um… move over Alana. I’ll just let my son write the reflection this week.
In the spirit of those innocent words, I am going to share another song from the Meditation With Children album. This one is called Metanoia. Which is often translated as “repent”. But really, it means to “move into the larger mind”.
The line “move beyond what you first see” was inspired by the definition of the word "respect". Re-spect. To look twice. Which feels fitting for my son’s expanding awareness of seeing worth, everywhere.
As Richard Rohr so simply puts it: “how we see is what we see”. If we’re looking through eyes controlled by a mind that is disconnected from our heart, we begin to see only certain types of humans and other-than-humans, as having value. And we certainly fail to innovate in the direction of abundance and life.
A blessed Palm Sunday to you. With a special thanks to children’s imaginations, everywhere.
May we see abundantly.
There is a scene in the film Wild, based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, where the protagonist finally reaches the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail after a very confusing time of loss and addiction. She takes some steps on the path, and very soon after those steps, she looks behind her, and then forward, realizing how far she’s come to get to this point, but still how far she has to go.
I too took a pilgrimage once. After devastating blow, after devastating blow, I found myself in the refuge of a Benedictine monastery, next to a monastic library, finally reading all the books I had forbidden myself to read before that time. I told myself, ‘because they weren’t theologically astute enough’, but really it was because I was afraid of what they might open up for me. That the dam built on the flood of my own true soul would burst, and there would be no telling what would be left of the “me” guarding that soul.
On the grounds of that monastery is a very old tree by the river. And although I was surrounded by good grandmother energy with the all the sisters, I was trying to be a “good steward of my pain”, as Fred Buechner wrote, I think in his book, Telling Secrets. So after I was finished working on the grounds, I would climb that old grandmother tree, and let her hold me as I wept. She was very tender and had the natural and wise capacity to absorb my suffering and hand it back out to the Infinite. It was like her roots were drinking from the river, to absorb my austerity, and let it flush away into the great Wholeness that could bear it.
While at the monastery, as I struggled to make sense of all that was happening, I also began to make plans to take a journey by myself, from Newfoundland to New Orleans, looking for music that came more from life than from the industry of music, along the way.
Partly this pilgrimage was a way to reconstruct some semblance of an identity. But it was also a way to move the story forward. It was also a way to feel at “home”, because I had spent many years on the road by that point, that it was sometimes more home than home was in those years.
In some ways, looking back, it really was my own internal ancestral wisdom telling me it was time to become a grown up. But there was no one around that could name what I needed. A ritual. An initiatory ceremony, with elders that could sit with me in that liminal space with no answers. And in other ways, it was the distance I needed to give myself permission to name my own trauma and not to feel like I was letting people down no matter how guilty some people made me feel.
I had a very small amount of money, got in my 1996 Passat Wagon with a questionable transmission, and left Winnipeg one day, with really no farewell, and drove 4,222kms to reach my beginning destination at Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland. From there, I slowly continued south, for the next 6 months, all the way to Louisiana. Along the way I was the minstrel on a tall ship for two weeks, I worked on a farm, helped to scrape and paint a farmhouse, and played music with many people from all walks of life. I was in the heart of the Mississippi Delta at juke joints in the middle of the night. I slept in my car most of the time, or on beaches, or off the beaten path in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Identifying wholeheartedly with the Orphan archetype, so I could eventually come to parent her, like we all must do.
Inside, I could feel almost nothing. Looking back, I think it is because I was tired of feeling too much. Slowly but surely, I was healing, although at the time, it looked like confusion on steroids. I wonder sometimes how many of us would heal more deeply if we were given the gift of it all falling apart. To sit in the belly of the whale with all but a few left you might call ‘friend’. To give yourself the freedom to make mistakes, and fumble your way through.
This reflection is not going to culminate with an answer. It is not going to wrap up neatly. The song for today is about those times in life when there are no answers, but we find our footing one day at a time, in the process of healing and growing and letting go.
I’ll end with the spoken word in the song from James Finley:
There comes a time in this process, where a person comes to realize that it was just as bad, or maybe worse than they thought it would be, to go through all this. But they also know that they’ve come to a point where there’s no turning back. They also know that they can’t force their way to closure on their own terms. And therefore, I’m betwixt and between two worlds. I’m so grateful I’m no longer as confused and thoroughly lost in the suffering as I used to be, but oh how I wish, that glimmer of freedom that I see could be realized. It’s a time where I need to be patient and prudently courageous, and let myself transform one day at a time. This is where I really learn to trust that I’m on a path, not of my own making, and I’m being transformed in this.
Thomas Merton once prayed to God, “Oh how far I have to go to come to rest in you, in whom I’ve already arrived. I only wish it were over. I only wish it were begun.”
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.