When I first heard Mary Gauthier sing this song live, I was a 25-year-old know-it-all, playing alt-country music on the festival circuit. I had heard the recording, and had loved it from the start, but when I her her perform it, I knew it was a timeless song, and that she would be an iconic legend of a songwriter in her lifetime. I didn't know-it-all back then (nor do I today), but something I did know, was that I was right about this song, and about Mary.
If ever there was a song to sing, as we stand in the midst of a Great Turning, trying not to let fear get the better of us, on the brink of the most strangely charged US election in history, it is this one.
It is a song that cries out for Jubilee.
Cynthia Bourgeault has one of the keenest eyes for etymological nuance (and nearly... pretty much everything else), and she teaches that the word mercy is rooted in the word commerce, or merchant. Meaning, exchange. So when I sing this, I hear her words "mercy is not something God has so much as it’s something that God is." (Read her book Wisdom Jesus... please!!!)
The story of severance, or separation, that is trying to end, (but also scrambling to remain), is one that would have us think we are separate from mercy.
If only we knew we were swimming in it.
How much more mercy we might offer, and how much more we might receive.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
May we be merciful now, in these coming days and weeks.
And may mercy flow like wine at a wedding feast.
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This week, for a number of reasons, I felt it would a good connecting thing, if I went live on Facebook.
It was a precious time with a lovely group of people from around the world.
Some people aren't on facebook so I made it available on youtube as well.
There is a Latin term that was mostly adopted by the early Celtic Christians that is hard to define. The word is peregrinatio.
Peregrinatio sort of means, "to leave one's homeland and wander for the love of God".
In Esther de Waal's classic book, The Celtic Way of Prayer, she tells a story of three 9th century Irishmen, drifting over the sea in coracles... without oars.
Although my pilgrimage to Iona had a distinct destination, and was a return to ancestral homelands, much about the journey, spiritually speaking, was a treasure hunt that required my heart to be profoundly set adrift in an oarless coracle. It still is. At this very moment, I am moored to my unmooring, while in the very same breath, returning this week to my fidelity to a sacred schedule, after being thrown off course these past number of months. I've been struggling to sleep, my eyes like frenzied, empty, sockets, partly thanks to my 4-year-old, but also because I have been drifting in the modern sense. Too much stimulation. Modern drifting is not the same as being adrift on a pereginatio, a wandering pilgrimage for the love of God. Modern drifting allows all the bells and whistles to speed up our monkey brains, so we can avoid the Great Ache, the longing for the Beloved, while perhaps only gazing at suffering through the lens of click bait.
It felt appropriate to begin a new practice at our farm, in this week that I am releasing this remarkable song written by Mike Scott and originally performed by The Waterboys. We got our candles out, and are allowing the natural rhythm of sunlight and darkness to guide our day. I recently read that darkness causes a natural release of melatonin, and so instead of having our electric lights on in the evening, we gather around our wood cook stove with a candle or two, and tell stories. Then we pray from the Carmina Gadelica "kindle in my heart a flame of love, for my friend, for my foe, for my kindred all."
The rhythm in this song reminds me of the natural rhythm of a day. For the percussion, I mic'd the plywood floor of my studio and connected a stone from Columba Bay, Iona, to an antler bone from this farm, on these Anishinaabe lands.
While I sang it, I held a stone from Columba Bay in each hand, that I had bathed in Brigid's wellspring. It felt like all the things I had said or read, about the universal Christ, were incarnating in the elements I held in my hand. And why not...? Columba called Christ, the Lord of the Elements.
For me, this song is a symbol of ancestral recovery, but it is also a symbol of peace for the whole world. When I returned from Iona last year, one of the first songs I wrote was White, White, World. A lament. A confession. And as I move forward... just expect that I will be journeying in these realms of paradox. What I might call "confessional ancestral recovery"... the deep work that must be done in tandem. Uncolonizing myself from this wasteland in search of the secrets my ancestors long to whisper to me. Tuning my becoming to the great Mystery. While simultaneously aiding/getting out of the way, of those groups who are currently emancipating themselves from this hostile/civil system/wasteland that has held them hostage for so long.
So this week, in the midst of the near desperate madness of these political times, I invoke the Deep Peace. And I daresay, the deep peace will always be paradoxical, because God is an anthem for equity.
Having spent the past 3 years becoming more aware, and then raising awareness about land justice, this song really hit home to me, the great imbalance we face today.
Something all the great poets and mystics have in common, is their awareness of the connectedness of all things. I think Johnny Cash was having a very heartfelt, human moment, and a very mystical moment, when he wrote this song.
Hildegard of Bingen said, "God has arranged all things in the world, in consideration of everything else."
And Black Elk famously said, "Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves."
We are at a critical point in the human story, and in turn, because of our impact on it, we are at a critical point in the story of the earth.
The tantrum throwing that we do, as the Great Turning asks us to (playfully) grow up, is possibly reaching its dystopian peak. And many of us mistake getting a wee bit uncomfortable, for suffering. Many of us think that what we hold as central, IS the center, and that our joy depends upon this center. But if Bonaventure was onto something - that God's circumference is nowhere, and God's center is everywhere, (Deus est sphaera intelligibilis cuius centrum ubique circumferential nusquam), then our idea of what is at the center, is simply our own paradigm.
The issues that we often blame postmodernism on (ie, cancel culture, free speech under threat, etc), are actually a result of unchecked white supremacy, and continuing domination, and land hoarding.
We are hardwired for seasons. These "postmodern" issues, which certainly have the potential to become very mutated, are a result of the blindspot that people in the dominant culture, (the center) have... and this blindspot thinks that any change is a slap in the face.
When was the last time any of us thought about that fact that many people are born canceled. That many people are born without the protection of mercy. And that we're all entrained to care, or give our pity, to those who have the highest place to fall from (when in fact, to fall from a great height, is often a hidden mercy).
If we were closer to our own initiatory backgrounds, we would see that dying to things, and passing them on, is part of the healthy human journey. Dying to one thing, opens another path, and if we're lucky, we get to die many times, until we're Elders.
I'm all about the radical forgiveness of Jesus... and/but... it's important to remember that a healthy human has seasons that ebb and flow. The death of something isn't necessarily something to pity. It could be transformational.
Do I pray for restorative justice? You bet I do. Do I like cancel culture? Not really. I don't think it is restorative. And I think it potentially threatens great art, where the Muses happened to visit a particular channel, who needed healing, and who hurt others.
Do I think victims need to put themselves at risk with their abuser in some twisted form of forgiveness? No. I don't.
I also believe that our very life is a Grace.
But maybe it's not about liking cancel culture for me... maybe it's about observing its roots, and why it is here in our midst. And... maybe it is about me trying to see where I am blind to the default cancelations our society sets up for many people, the minute they're born.
Until restoration begins to become normal, extended to everyone, instead of old Jim Crow, or old Colonial dude, sneaking around, making living life such a desperate thing, you're going to see a collective force, that will continue to cancel, because the tears are running dry. Women are tired of the pity being extended to rich boys who rape, whose lives "could be ruined" if they are punished. The kind of pity offered is not a grace to that young man. It is a curse. And the lack of care about the girl's future, after this has happened to her, is one of the various things the #metoo movement is trying to convey. She is inadvertently "canceled" by virtue of no one really caring about what happens to her. And if he gets her pregnant, well, watch out then. No mercy for that girl.
Instead of making restorative justice the waters we swim in... what we still have is this damnable ladder up against the wrong wall, and this disastrously tired template for who ought to get to climb it. And there's no room for dying, for sharing, for redistribution, for trusting... and so the divide ever widens. And if anyone "important" falls off the ladder, because of how many people they've hurt, we're supposed to invoke radical forgiveness for them, which is fine, but we certainly don't make a point of extending radical forgiveness to people for being poor. Imagine if we could grow up enough to stop saying "mine!", and collectively invoke the joy of Jubilee!
Today, I meditate on the parallel universe people can live in, even in the same town. If you're black in America, for instance, you essentially wake up every morning, living in a Police State. If you're a black farmer in America, odds are you don't own your own land because of so many "cancelations" built right into legislation. Here in Canada, the incarceration rate of black, brown, and indigenous people is deeply imbalanced, and the baked in assumption that the "white way" is the best way, is still holding on for dear life. It is still "central". And of course, the "white way" is usually deemed as the only way to be successful, but there are so many ways to be and live.
So how do we act in ways that can invoke the sentiment in this song? It reminds me again, of the Ark of the Covenant. The Mercy Seat sits atop this heavy symbol the Israelites carry around with them in the desert. And it is to "go before" the whole group. What this means is, that warriors, small children, pregnant women, elders, runners, able-bodied people, all travel at the pace of the covenant. It reminds them they are connected to each other, and to go on ahead and leave others out of the story is to break the covenant. It doesn't mean "don't shine". Shine!!! It doesn't mean, "don't be playful"! Play!!! It DOES mean, "don't dominate". It does mean, the Merciful Beloved is at the center... everywhere... including in you.
But you are not the center.
I am not the center.
I recorded this song, sensing that it is its own symbol of the Mercy Seat that goes before us, asking us to remember that what we do to each other, and to this earth, we do to ourselves.
Mercy will continue to be a theme in the coming weeks.
We must allow ourselves to be very disturbed.
Earlier this week I brought down the thunder on white supremacy and hypocrisy in a facebook post. The context of my rage, was certainly connected to the horrendously exhausting and traumatizing presidential debate, but also, closer to home, I was so shaken by the story of Joyce Echaquan, a mother of 7, who died this week in Montreal, while nurses shamed her, and used racial slurs, and swore at her while she was dying. This woman went on facebook live while she was dying, or we would never know that it happened.
In this video I speak a bit about how I know going deep is the wisdom, but there is a very fine line between going deep, and spiritually bypassing.
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.