“Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved? I roused you under the apple tree; there your mother conceived you; there she travailed and brought you forth. 6Set me as a seal over your heart, as a seal upon your arm. For love is as strong as death, jealousy as unrelenting as Sheol. Its sparks are fiery flames, the fiercest blaze of all. 7Mighty waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If a man were to give all the wealth of his house for love, his offer would be utterly scorned.”
- Song of Songs
O you lovers that are so gentle, step occasionally
into the breath of the sufferers not meant for you.
- Rainer Maria Rilke
O how far I have to go to rest in you, in whom I’ve already arrived.
I only wish it were over, I only wish it were begun.
- Thomas Merton
This week, I recorded a version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, (also known as Veni Veni Emmanuel from the O Antiphons), and I did a little digging into the history of the piece.
I knew only a little about it, until I investigated. Quite probably to the dismay of nearly all high church organists across the world… I don’t have a degree in music, or history, and didn’t grow up in the richness of liturgy (I grew up in the richness of gospel roots music… so I’m not complaining.)
While I may not have the academic prowess for church music, whenever I spend time with the layers of it, I am often disturbed by depthless beauty, in that untouchable place in my heart.
Regardless of our knowledge of the history of this hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel has visited most of us in the form of the Great Longing, at least once. So it peaked my interest to learn that the most common melody, was originally a 15th century funeral chant called Bone Jesu Dulcis Cunctis. No wonder this melody has always carried a mysterious, alluring, spirit within it! (As my spiritual director told me, when we were preparing for me to give birth to my first baby in her home: "the only greater honour for me, would be for someone to choose to die here".)
The original burial procession lyric calls on the Angels, Michael and Gabriel, on John, Peter, Paul… on Gregory, Bernard, Francis, and incants the names of Mary Magdalene, Agnes, Martha, Katherine, Clara his Peaceful, Elizabeth and Christina. And the chant ends with “libera me”. Liberate me. Rescue me.
How many death marches, took place to this melody? How many mourners, poured out these blessings of liberation, to wish well, a dearly departed, friend? How many chanted this dirge, as they ached to embrace their beloved one last time?
What is Advent? An onset. An arrival. Not a departure.
So why does this dissonance feel so fitting?
I think it has something to do with what Martin Prechtel calls “grief and praise”, or what Anne Bronte called “mirth and mourning”.
I once read an article on the power of a good pop ballad. One of the most imperative elements is the dissonance of musical notes that otherwise ought not to be played together. Played at the right time, and held or sustained, they strike the heart chord, and stir in us the Unnameable Ache.
Maybe this most famous of Advent hymns got it completely right. The melody needed centuries of dancing as a dirge clown... of being tasted, bittersweet, by the tongues of bereaved lovers... of sculpting the shape of a life, by cradling it in death... before it could be midwifed into our anthem for the anticipation of the Great Birth. The tune needed vast, repetitious, exposure, to love’s strength, before being initiated into the swelling belly… the song of life, increasing.
We live in tired, discarnate times. We have even forgotten the laments the old wives used to sing, as we enlightened ones, half-heartedly said good-bye to our own inspirited bodies. They haunt us still.
But hark now hear! I see these days as an Advent of the Advent. We are yet being formed from this earth, "where infinity collides to give birth". Our memory of how we are made, is refocusing, after a long, blind, fluorescent, groping, through the too-bright halls of certitude.
May the story of this carol attend to our bodies, as we enter into the Advent season.
May it remind us that Love is the fiercest blaze of all.
No matter how aseptic we've tried to make the world, the birth waters are flowing, and will unmoor us... just as love always has.
“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
- Annie Dillard
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
- Jesus (Matthew 6: 19-21)
Whereas security in an interest-based system comes from accumulating money, in a demurrage system it comes from having productive channels through which to direct it - that is, to become a nexus of the flow of wealth and not a point for its accumulation. In other words, it puts the focus on relationships, not on “having”.
- Charles Eisenstein - The Ascent of Humanity
“Just as life does not end with adolescence, neither does civilization’s evolution stop with the end of growth.”
- Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics
“Kingdom of Heaven” - in Greek it is actually “Kingdom of the Heavens” - is all too often misinterpreted as the Kingdom of the future, of the next world, of the afterlife. For Matthew, “Heaven” was simply a euphemism for “God”, the Dwelling used interchangeably with the Dweller.
- John Dominic Crossan, God and Empire - Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now.
“It is an attitude of scarcity, not of abundance, that has led to the depletion of our natural commons. Competition and the accumulation of more than one needs are the natural response to a perceived scarcity of resources. The obscene overconsumption and waste of our society arise from our poverty: the deficit of being the afflicts the discrete and separate self, the scarcity of money in an interest-based system, the poverty of relationship that comes from the severance of our ties to community and to nature, the relentless pressure to do anything, anything at all, to make a living.”
- Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics
As an Artisan in an egocentric world, you have no guarantee that society will welcome your gifts. It’s possible that people will look upon your innovations or your original voice as odd, irrelevant, or crazy, or perhaps as subversive or immoral. Or you might do your work in complete obscurity and frustration, at least for a while. You’re attempting to bring mystery, wildness, deep imagination, and praise of the sacred (the natural) to a society obsessed with security, comfort, material wealth and ownership of things. The culture you live in consists mostly of commodities and objects, while all things you encounter are entities and subjects.
- Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul, (The Artisan in the Wild Orchard)
Two weeks have gone by since I announced that I was opening my online store in the spirit of the gift economy. Meaning: all products can be purchased with the number zero, if that is the number a person feels is right for them, at their time of purchase. On the flip side, the products can be given more monetary value, if others feel at liberty to show how they value the music in that way.
I did not arrive at this decision overnight. It is definitely a part of a much bigger story, and one that is just starting to unfold.
Probably the greatest epiphany I experienced last year, coincided with rereading Cynthia Bourgeault’s The Wisdom Jesus, and the experience of building our regenerative farm. As we started to witness what farming and gardening like nature can do, it struck me how similar it felt when I read Cynthia’s words about Jesus’ “telltale sign of abundance”. This got me pondering what it would look like if all of our system designs, be they economic, technological, medical, were informed by the sacred geometry and flow of nature.
Read this remarkable excerpt by Cynthia in the chapter entitled, Kenosis, The Path of Self-Emptying Love:
"Ascent mysticism was very much in the air in Jesus's time as well.
Earlier in this book I spoke of the Essene community, that apocalyptic Jewish sect whose visionary mysticism and ascetic practices were probably the most immediate formative influence on Jesus. At the heart of the Essene understanding was a particular strain of spiritual yearning known as merkevah mysticism. Merkevah means "chariot," an allusion to the Old Testament story of the prophet Elijah being taken up to heaven in a chariot. This dramatic episode offered a vivid image of ascent to God, which the Essenes saw as applying both individually and for the entire people of Israel. "The end of the world was at hand," and all eyes were gazing intently upward as Jesus took birth on the earth.
To rise requires energy, in the spiritual realm as well as the physical one. And thus, the vast majority of the world's spiritual technologies work on some variation of the principle of "conservation of energy." Within each person there is seen to reside a sacred energy of being (sometimes known as the "chi," or prana, the life force). This energy, in itself infinite, is measured out to each person in a finite amount and bestowed as our basic working capital when we arrive on this planet.
The great spiritual traditions have always taught that if we can contain this energy rather than letting it leach away—if we can concentrate it, develop it, make it more intentional and powerful—then this concentrated energy will allow us to climb that ladder of spiritual ascent. This ancient and universal strategy is really at the basis of all genuine asceticism (that is, asceticism in the service of conscious transformation, not as a means of penance or self-mortification). And there is good reason for this: the strategy works.
Through the disciplines of prayer, meditation, fasting, and inner witnessing the seeker learns how to purify and concentrate this inner reserve and to avoid squandering it in physical or emotional lust, petty reactions, and ego gratification. As self-mastery is gradually attained, the spiritual energy concentrated within becomes strong enough and clear enough to sustain contact with those increasingly higher and more intense frequencies of the divine life, until at last one converges upon that unitive point. It's a coherent and powerful path of inner transformation.
But it's not the only path. There's another route to center: a more reckless path and extravagant path, which is attained not through storing up that energy or concentrating the life force, but through throwing it all away—or giving it all away. The unitive point is reached not through the concentration of being but through the free squandering of it; not through acquisition or attainment but through self-emptying; not through " up " but through "down." This is the way of kenosis, the revolutionary path that Jesus introduced into the consciousness of the West."
- Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus
What we see in Jesus is the giving of gift upon gift, and the receiving of gifts (some of them, sensual and extravagant, as with woman and the alabaster jar). Travelling without a wallet or a staff to generate the need for connection. Healing without asking for payment. Feeding thousands in the posture that there is enough to go around. Exorcizing the occupying forces of oppression (Legion), and awakening inspirited presence, instead of trademarking some drug to help the afflicted to blend in better.
Annie Dillard’s piece of advice about writing has played a role in my commitment to showing up for songwriting (and writing every week). And I am beginning to see it on our farm, and in the way we are doing community, and certainly in economics. Reaching from across time, all of our prehistoric ancestors are singing to us, that this is, as Aslan might have called it, a “deep magic”, informed by the beauty of decay, and what we can’t bring with us.
What does this have to do with adulthood and abundance? Well, first of all, it is being clear about what kind of abundance I am speaking. It is really about creating systems that ask us to trust each other, and that teach us to share. This is not “manifest your own personal destiny” language. This is more about putting the spotlight on the guilt of our own abdication of serving the future.
This is why we see our children making statements that appear more altruistic and wise than many grown-ups. And we’re still so ready to abdicate being in service to our people, that we weakly say, “ah good, the children have got this”.
No. WE STILL NEED MENTORS AND ELDERS! But we, the mentors and the elders must take a fierce inventory of our lives. We are supposed to become mutual lovers of the earth now.
We grown ups are behaving like Flint, the chimp in Jane Goodall’s documentary, Jane, who was of an age when it was time to integrate away from his mother. Flint would insist on riding his mother’s back, and would insist on suckling. And when his mother pushed him away, he would cry and scream and show violence. His mother was getting tired, and he was getting too strong with his force. It’s like he had watched too many anti-aging commercials, and was in agony at the thought of getting older.
Charles Eisenstein says humanity is “entering a coming-of-age ordeal”. That it is time to view the earth as we would a lover. The parent-child relationship, is necessarily give-take. But at some point in adolescence, we fall in love, and lose our bearings, and, if given the right example, have to reorient ourselves into a more reciprocal mode of relationship, that is give-give.
The reason our children are protesting on the streets, is because they instinctively know it is time for people to fall in love with the earth at a reciprocal level. We need to show our love now. Not just receive love. Our receiving of our mother’s love has turned ugly, and has become a devouring force, which, let’s face it, ain’t cute anymore.
I like this idea, because real, grown-up love, carries no self-righteousness or possessiveness. It is about vulnerability, yes, and trust and service. It is about finding what Bill Plotkin calls our “delivery system” to serve the world, and having a sense of nurturing gladness for others, when they find theirs. It is not about quick solutions... it is about intimacy.
Most initiation rituals into adulthood, throughout history, have had something to do with fasting, and then upon arriving back (across the threshold), something to do with serving food to your people, before you break your own fast. It delivered the message that now is the time to be in service to the whole. (And that includes the future.)
To live in a grown up state of abundance is to recapitulate into a new kind of oneness with our planet.
It is about learning to mimic the way she gives.
In other words, there is a distinct difference between living in consumption, and living in abundance. We are behaving like our childhood gets to go on forever. It doesn’t.
We are a part of the life/death cycle, and to live abundantly here, is to savor, and to nurture, and care for each other, and our beautiful Lover Earth, and to pass back into her, as one of her dear companions.
Hoarding, or not knowing how to share, and saying “mine!” is part of building ego in early childhood, and with tender guidance, children learn that there is enough to go around. But it also depends on the system in which they are guided. To survive, the system we are in, desperately needs us to remain overgrown tantrum throwers. To continue, it needs us to be abdicators of responsibility.
As Iroquois Peacekeeper Oren Lyons says, "The Bill of Rights should have been the Bill of Responsibility."
How terrible that at the very time when the people’s story has reached the end of adolescence, we’ve almost all but lost memory of initiatory rites. We don’t know how to let this chapter die.
Anyway... this is why I choose to build my store within the gift economy… taking it to the symbolic level, and to the very brink of a sort of wild abandon… similar to a squash plant reaching out in every direction, recklessly offering sustenance. Modelled after the self-emptying path. And foolishly trusting that the wider ecosystem that surrounds me, and that I'm a part of, is also joining in the cacophonous throng of life.
May life live on.
New Monasticism, Indigenous Wisdom and Grief: how practice, truth telling and healing have changed my perspective of ownership
“The teachings of its founders notwithstanding, eventually the Church itself acquired considerable property and allied itself with imperial power. The teachings of Jesus became otherworldly ideals that were not seriously recommended to anyone, and the Kingdom of God was transported from earth to Heaven. This was a major step in the conceptual separation of spirit and matter that has contributed to making materiality, and especially money, profane today. Even more ironically, most people today who profess to follow Christian teachings have turned everything inside out and associate socialism with atheism and private wealth with God’s favor.”
- Charles Eisenstein - Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Society, in an Age of Transition
“The market system artificially creates scarcity by blocking the flow between the source and the consumer. Grain may rot in the warehouse while hungry people starve because they cannot pay for it. The result is famine for some and diseases of excess for others.”
- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
“The Lord our God has willed this earth to be the common possession of all, and its fruit to support all.”
- St Ambrose
“Authority is not given to you, steward, to deny the return of the king.”
In her book Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life, one of my favourite religious leaders, Sr. Joan Chittister writes,
“Benedictine spirituality, after all, is life lived to the hilt. It is a life of concentration on life’s ordinary dimensions. It is an attempt to do the ordinary things of life extraordinarily well.”
Our family follows a sacred schedule on our farm, that involves morning snuggles, porridge, and then chant and prayer, using John Philip Newell’s lovely little book Celtic Prayers from Iona. We have two “tea times” during the day, that require us to stop and let go of whatever we’re working on, to release our over attachments to our work.
The intention of our morning “offices” and the tea times, is to set a tone for the challenges of the day and to entrain a release of ownership over the land we live on and the contributions we make. Habitually chanting the Psalms has played a role in our ever-deepening journey of releasing the shame of the story of severance, and resting in these words of Presence:
If I ascend to heaven you are there O God
And if I make my bed in hell
Still you are with me
Where can I go from your Spirit O God?
Deepening this story of Presence, and connection, (instead of Divine abandonment and separation), has its fruits. But the fruits take time. I’ve now been either praying the offices or doing morning chants for about 15 years.
Some of the fruit of this discipline, is arriving in the form of how we view “our” land and how we view all of “our” resources.
Soaked in the enormous wisdom of the last brilliant lecture of Thomas Merton’s life, I am not upholding or proposing Marxism in this little reflection. But nor am I upholding or proposing capitalism as it currently is. I am suggesting that the fruits of an ordinary life that has monastic qualities and indigenous wisdom, may result in ways of seeing the land we “own” as land “entrusted” and is a part of me (and others), at a deeply cellular level. It may result in my seeing the music I make as a pure gift that I show up for. It may compel us to view the food we grow as a Sign and a Wonder, and the cow we milk, our precious Lady Susan, as a part of our family, and community.
This is not new thought.
And this is where the deepest work must happen.
The more I am drawn into the remembrance that we are “people of the gift”, the more I must face the story that robbed the world of this notion. We must begin to work with the trauma we all live under in different ways, as we dare to name the extractive, abusive nature of our civilization.
When we avoid this trauma, it is our own way of not opening the whole can of worms… because grief is like that… which is in part why we have the saying “grief upon grief”.
Our healing process can’t stay within the confines of our own nuclear self. If it does, we are simply healing within the framework of the trauma of the separation story we have used to build this civilization, and therefore, not really healing at all.
So this is the story I am in the midst of… and probably you are too. Placing our healing within the wider story, so that we become preciously aware of the connectedness of other’s wellness, to our own wellness. Placing property we own or exist on, in the Big Picture of Creator’s commons, and so to treat it and all its many creatures with tender respect, as though future generations are already enjoying the fruits of our labour. Placing our longing for intimacy and community within the scope of that longing being a sign of the hope of who we are.
With this telling of a very old story, (that I believe Jesus was telling), there is painful, hard work of admitting that conquest can never be a foundational basis for respect. But here we are, in the midst of this unravelling story, in which we get to do our part.
Here is a song that came out this week... I don't have a lyric video yet because I just finished the vocal before posting it. So listen by pushing play below.
People of the Gift
You don’t come from separateness
You don’t come from selfishness
You don’t come from greed
You come from wild, wild Holy Love
Wild, wild, Holy love
Wild, wild Holy love
My people of the gift
You come from earth, flesh and bone,
You come from deep birthing moans
The Mother’s deep well
And a sacred indwelling,
Of Wild, Wild Holy Love
Wild, wild Holy love
Wild, wild Holy love
My people of the gift
You don’t come from ownership
You don’t come from dominance
Your lust is a yearning
A great ocean churning
For wild, wild Holy love
Wild, wild, Holy love
Wild, wild Holy love
My people of the gift
My people of the gift
There is a popular term often used now by the Millennial and Y generations, that is hopefully the most indicative of the direction we are going.
The word is ‘intersectional’. Or ‘intersectionality’.
This term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in a paper she wrote for the 1989 University of Chicago Legal Forum. In it Crenshaw points out what she calls the “single axis framework” that has been traditionally used for talking about discrimination. Without using intersectionality, Crenshaw concluded that, for instance, black women were essentially erased - between white women’s sex discrimination cases and black men’s race discrimination cases. Her work is about finding a prism through which we can see how one person can experience multiple disadvantages. I encourage you to watch Crenshaw’s very important Ted Talk here.
This word, intersectionality, is one we ought to be listening to, very deeply
Now, I am a 40-year-old cisgendered heterosexual white mom, so… there are many reasons why the word ‘intersectionality’ might never be on my lips. This word has grown in communities of colour, and the lgbtq+ community, and, in areas where particularly women of colour suffer, immensely.
So to be clear, I am not a scholar on race and feminist theory, but am merely longing to highlight the word, so that any of my listeners who are not familiar with it, can be made aware if its importance.
To be honest, if I wasn’t studying and practicing permaculture farming, I wouldn’t grasp the many ways intersectionality effects people differently. In permaculture, you are asked to consider and observe the whole web of life, which is why many judge this type of farming as impractical, or not plausible, seeing it as needing to have an acute awareness about everything.
Also, if I wasn’t a woman who knows what it feels like to be assaulted, ignored and belittled, the practicality of intersectionality might be lost on me, as it often is by the people least effected by it.
See, the problem with the word “practical” is that it is often used in spaces that don’t have to think in the long term, and, quite the opposite, are praised for the ability to procure short term success. Short term success thinking, breeds a lack of awareness of trajectories. In other words, cause and effect is not built into our current systems thinking. We can see this in shoddy design, and if we look long enough, we can see it in every single aspect of life. Especially in the realms of equality, agriculture, food, birth, shelter, education, health, culture, and death.
Intersectionality ought to even influence holistic design, because it would further limit the speed of mindless progress, and would require more consideration and thought about the future, and about the whole spectrum of the living community.
If John Philip Newell is right, that none of us will be well, until all of us are well, then Kimberlé Crenshaw’s intersectionality is the uncomfortable compressor that doesn’t let us squirm out of inequality so easily. We’re in this together. We can’t just skip on ahead and leave suffering behind us. It will never, ever actually work that way.
I’ve always been struck by the Ark of the Covenant story. That it was to precede the procession, as a signal for their movement forward. If you think about it, that means that warriors and small children and the elderly were made equal by the pace of the Ark of the Covenant. The Mercy Seat, the cherubim, the tablets, slowing down the accelerated trajectory of possibilities, so that wisdom might have the time to arrive and benefit the whole community.
It could be argued that today, climate change might be our Ark. That unless we unite behind the science, and pull on the reins of mass consumption, we will all perish.
I’m not a “denier” by any stretch. Our family grows our own food using carbon sequestration practices, we barely drive anywhere now, and if I fly somewhere to play a concert, it is a maximum of 3 times per year, and out of my concert earnings, we tithe specifically to indigenous food sovereignty initiatives to counter my travel. In a sense, we are climate activists, and I have been clear that I support Greta Thunberg’s movement.
That being said, what has been sitting a bit off for me, is that if we are to include wisdom in the conversation, we’d better be asking: who is in front of the science that we are uniting behind? And… we’d better be asking: if we course correct our human impact on climate change expediently (which is now required), who is being left behind?
I don’t believe technology alone will course correct the climate crisis, but I truly believe humility grounded in nature, will. But if it is to be humility, we can’t be acting out of self righteousness or fear. It has to be simply, because it is good.
There is some mystery here. Do you see it?
At the very point where we are being asked to be expedient, we are also being asked to be intersectional. To consider the whole web.
Mother Earth is asking for broad spectrum balance.
We are collectively reaching the very centre point of the symbol of the cross.
The cross hairs of expediency… and… justice.
Now is not the time for cynicism. Now is the time for the long game amidst acting now. An irony to be sure.
There may come a day, when land is valued by the earthworm count and the amount of carbon it sequesters. When women of colour aren’t experiencing such a prolific disproportion of discrimination. When land reparations brings diversity to stewardship. When all mouths are fed through an abundant gift economy and just charity. When we do what is good, with humility.
Meister Eckhart said, “if the soul can be free from all selfishness, it can shine like the uncreated God who made it”.
May. We. Be. Free.
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.