Last week, when I initially began writing my piece on grief deferral, much of the violence between the US and Iran had not yet occurred, but had just begun to arise.
Yesterday, as I encountered people, I could feel all around me that people are sort of soaked in the frenzy, even if they haven't been listening to the news.
Ironically, this week’s song, in the series on the album Sanctuary, is called Move Slowly, and is really about the tenderness of healing circuitously, and not trying to attack healing as something to achieve. As James Finley says, “it is necessary to go out into deep water because that’s where the pain is, but in order for it to be safe to do that, it’s so important first, to learn how to float in shallow water. Because to learn to float in shallow water, is to learn to be vulnerable and safe at the same time.
But here’s what is so very challenging about that. We have to find time for healing. We have to find time for our practice. James Finley often likes to say, "It would be so easy to be a mystic if we didn't have to live our life." And he also likes to quote the contemporary Zen master Katagiri Roshi, by saying, “It would be so much easier if we were asked to live a simple life in a simple world, but we’re asked to live a simple life in a complicated world.”
But I have seen this what "move slowly" can look like in action. One time, when James Finley and I were working with some tech people for something, one of the people we were working with had a very anxious, intense presence, and was visibly and chronically stressed out. I have never witnessed such a contrast between two people in my whole life. Being the contemplative pipsqueak that I am, I was (and still would be), nearly caught up in the tidal wave of stress, as I have been at times when I didn’t know where to turn as a mother, during an intense toddler tantrum. But I looked over at James, and there he was, gently grinning, sitting there as though there might be some massage therapy music playing. And he looked at the tech person with unwavering, but totally sober, enduring love. I was witnessing the great art of what it means to be a true contemplative. James was not, by any means, “spiritually bypassing”. On the contrary… he was bearing witness to the incarnate nature of the frenzied person, and the incarnate oneness between the two of them, without invading, or abandoning him (or for that matter, being invaded or abandoned, himself).
At the time, all I could see was the contrast. In all my readings and heart comprehensions about the “unitive way”, I had never been so close to what unitive consciousness looks like, lived out, until seeing this sort of violently scattered person, not being able to sway the presence of infinite love being channeled through this unassuming man with a cane.
And we all completed the task at hand, and I was changed forever by bearing witness to the subtleties between the lines.
James and I worked a lot together for about three years. Of course, we found out that neither of us are perfect. I gave him quite a bit of technological support, and at times he would laugh and say of computer related issues, “It’s enough to make the Pope swear.” Humour… yet another misplaced art form in our discourse today.
I relay these stories to you, because if there was ever a time to understand what “move slowly” means in a fast paced, complicated world, it is our present moment. How do we act in such a way where we are not emotionally swept up by the intensity of political tantrums, and reactivity, that could have dire consequences? For goodness sake, I am still learning how to do this as a parent. Intensity is... intense! But see, the catch with parenting is the same catch as elsewhere, how I react, is how they behave. Or as Krista Tippet so beautifully put it in her course The Art of Conversation, "the nature of the question illicits the nature of the answer".
Move Slowly is a song relating to the personal healing journey… but I am pulling out a lesson within it, that as we move slowly in the personal healing arena, we can treat it as a practice, to move slowly when we are faced with the intensity of the world. And to move slowly when faced with the intensity of the world is not the same as spiritual bypassing. It is about drawing nearer to the incarnate nature of the suffering at hand, and not being drawn in by the strong mob-like frenzy at the surface of things.
That we have no common ritual grief practices, and no initiation into adulthood (service of the community), we should really expect no more from leftover chauvinism, than what we’re seeing in the political sphere today. All it knows how to do is fight to win, even to the point of not understanding that win/lose at this point, is lose/lose. There is a term floating around today, that claims that even the 100 billionaires will soon realize that their win and everyone else’s lose, is really also a lose for them. And there is the potential for what folks are calling “omni-win/win”. But this will not come about through the frenzied energy of condescension. It will be more like the process of titration.
I will say here, I think it is especially hard to move slowly with the task of healing, when there is the additional daily pressure of being constantly held suspect, or racially profiled. Trying to find safe spaces just to be imperfect, are hard enough to find, without having the insidious nature of racial profiling being added onto the perception of who we are. That being said, some of my greatest teachers in this art form of moving slowly amidst the fray, have been especially, indigenous elders.
Move Slowly is about learning to be safe and vulnerable at the same time. That’s the personal part. But how that looks in the collective part is, it that Move Slowly is also an energy thing. It is about having daily practices that build our “count to ten” muscles, that keep us from spending all of our energy, on half-baked reactions.
I’ve sometimes been asked why I don’t speak out about this event, or that event, and why I do about others. Firstly, sometimes when I do speak out, I regret how I do it later, because I did it in a way that unleashed my reactivity… and wow… does that ever bring on the reactivity in others and it feels like such a waste of precious energy! Secondly, I spend a significant amount of time reflecting on where to place energy, because energy is powerful, so I can always tell if I spoke out in a way that was immersed in wisdom.
In Richard Rohr’s now classic book The Naked Now, he says, “this ability to stand back and calmly observe my inner dramas, without rushing to judgement, is foundational for spiritual seeing.” And he also says, “the most amazing fact about Jesus, unlike almost any other religious founder, is that he found God in disorder and imperfection - and told us that we must do the same or we would never be content on this earth.”
When I listen to the song Move Slowly, and apply the Big Picture to it, that is what I hear. What I see, is James Finley being present with the disorder and imperfection of a hyper-stressed out young man, and bearing witness to what was incarnate in him, just as he was.
It was the presence of real grace.
But we all have to start somewhere.
So… slowly… safely… and onward.
"I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell."
- Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets
"The unwillingness to grieve makes people search for someone upon which to project blame for the feeling of loss they bear."
- Martín Prechtel, The Smell of Rain on Dust
“The war in Vietnam is America working out its own neurosis.”
- Thomas Merton, audio talk to the Gethsemani novices, on Sufism
I think it is safe to say that the shadow side of globalization has struck first. And maybe that is always the way of it. That change comes when we are thrown into crisis. Coalescing will come when we realize we don’t want 40 of the richest to be coalescing alone.
There are between twenty-seven to forty-six million slaves in the world today. And that doesn’t include people drowning in the impossible game of interest-bearing debt, who buckle under that system, and go out and buy things for themselves, and their kids, made by those slaves.
I speak of this, because I believe the reason slavery still exists, and the climate crisis exists, is because we have been collectively defering the grief that is ours to grieve, onto the next generations, for many generations. But I also believe there is a direct lateral impact from unhealed wounds, and ungrieved loss, and that lateral impact enslaves today.
I have met beautiful, well-meaning men who immediately put a mock look of strength on their face when they speak of a soldier’s duty, no matter how he or she might be trained to kill whatever is in front of them. A child. A grandparent. All’s fair. This entrainment of setting a courageous jaw, came from years of wondering if they might be one of the drafted. And some of them were the drafted.
The personal and collective woundedness and grief we all carry is the elephant in almost every room, whether the room is full of corporate CEOs, or anarchists, or grandmothers quilting blankets in church basements.
Many people alive today posture themselves to hold back any grief tide, because the way we are marked with strength, is through our ability to get through our spouse’s funeral without crying. But really, getting through the funeral is also about not allowing the flood gates of all the deferred grief to be opened.
The same goes for the grief that might come if you are of white settler descent, and really understood the oppression your ancestors experienced… and then caused on others… in the story of leaving the "settled" old world, and “settling” the “new” world. To comprehend in your heart, the gravity of the situation, would open generational wounds. Because to weep about one thing, is to weep about another. Many of us would rather get defensive and say things like "we've all had things to deal with", or "I lost a lot as a kid too and you don't hear me complaining." Well, maybe finding someone to "complain" to, might do some good.
The healing path is a personal path, but it is also a collective one. We owe it to future generations to do the work, because this is a holistic problem. Our own personal healing, if it really is healing, always moves into the Larger Picture, and becomes about cultivating and giving the gifts that were being held back by the flood gates keeping the grief in.
I believe their are many healing paths. Indigenous practices around the world show that healing can be an embodied, musical, rhythmic experience. My husband was a part of a grieving circle that helped him grieve immense loss. I too have sought ways to heal in nature, as well as with therapy, including support groups.
The album Sanctuary is an album that explores the healing path from both a depth psychology perspective, and a spiritual perspective. It is a distillation of James Finley’s thesis on spirituality playing a role (for those who wish it to) in depth psychology, as a healing process. The album takes gentle steps, in a sequential way, and has been a worthy companion for many. It by no means should take the place of a therapist, or a circle, or other healing modalities you might put your trust in. We have always said, it really is simply a musical companion that some will find helpful.
I made Sanctuary because of my own healing pilgrimage, that I’m still on. I also made it because I wanted to capture James Finley’s work on healing in a musical medium. He is one of our great contemplative teachers, and is one of the great Wounded Healers alive today.
I also made Sanctuary because of the bigger picture I have presented to you here. Doing grief work, and doing healing work, is ecologically responsible. If it is true healing, it will also flow into healing the problem of racism. Having attended Truth and Reconciliation Commissions here in Canada, I know how powerful grief work and healing can be, when it comes to finding one's self very close to the fissures caused by domination of other people. It is profoundly tender work, and I don’t think I would have been ready to really listen to the stories I heard from indigenous people, if I hadn’t done some healing work in myself already. In other words, I think healing is also important so that there are enough listeners to hear and bear the sorrows caused by our nations.
Hippocrates said that “all healing begins in the gut”. And he meant that we need to eat in a way that we have healthy digestion. I would add, that we need to grieve in a way that, over time, we are able to have a healthy flow of holy tears.
Maybe world peace would be possible if we weren’t so spiritually, emotionally, economically, and physically, constipated. (I really mean that.)
Many people think that healing isn’t for them because they have a roof over their head, or they misinterpret what emotional sobriety is. But healing is for everybody.
I was once told by a healer, that the inflammation I suffer from in my neck, is carried 17 generations back through particular family members on one side of my family. I hadn't told her, but the very members she mentioned both have neck problems. I am learning more and more, that shame is a shallow game. To make peace with my ancestors is the deep game.
It might seem insurmountable, the healing that needs to be done. But as James Finley says, “little, by little, by little, breath, by breath, by breath”.
This is an imperfect patchwork quilt that we are all a part of. Our imperfection is our beauty. And what I mean by that is, perfection stands in the way of healing. Wholeness is not perfection. We can be a hot mess, and still be utterly whole in our brokenness.
But we can never attempt to be perfect and grieve at the same time, because perfection is a sort of violence we do to ourselves, when we don't know what else to do.
So... gentle now... this first song is simply about wondering where to start. Be respectful of yours and other's tender edges. And if you never have, perhaps there is a therapist, an al-anon group, an AA group, a healing circle, waiting to hear your story. Which is, a part of the great Story. Which needs healing.
I won't write much for this very last Sunday of the first decade of the 21st Century.
I will just say this:
Thank-you, to all who have read Sunday Song and Rumination, and listened to the weekly song. I've been doing this since September 2018, and I feel much closer to you, because of it.
We've been mostly hanging out between the earthy, the toothy, and the seedy, and the Christ we find therein. Sometimes, we've been reaching out to the lofty, cosmic, starry night, that renders us so deeply insignificant, that we feel honoured to be here. (Interesting that "render" is a part of "surrender".)
But to begin the New Year, I am going to delve into something a little different. I had a conversation when on Iona, about healing and grief work. I don't think we're going to lead our children in the pathway of real righteousness without it. In other words, as I consistently quote Thomas Merton speaking to his novices: "the war in Vietnam is America working out its own neurosis." In other words, no matter where we are from, if we're farming out our grief, avoiding our ancestors, avoiding the part we've played, we're not really doing the work we were put here to do. A part of our agency is our healing, and the development of our wisdom, so we know how to die, and live.
So, for the beginning of the New Year, we will be doing a fresh walk through the album Sanctuary- Exploring the Healing Path with James Finley.
Many have written to me, saying this album has journeyed with them, through the valley of the shadow of death. I thought it might be a good thing, to revisit it. And to introduce it to new ears. This album in particular is one I would pray could be heard by every ear who needs/yearns to hear it. It is the distillation of James Finley's life's work as a depth psychologist, who has the eyes of a contemplative Christian master.
I delight in the thought of serving you, and being with you, in the New Year.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky.
You are beloved. You are the wild. You are in Christ. Christ is in you.
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I’ve only come near the edge of believing that there is no God a few times. I’ve sometimes asked in prayer, “are you heartlessly indifferent?”. “Are you just not involved?” “An “absentee landlord”, as Al Pacino said in the film Devil’s Advocate?” Many of the people I know, who adhere to a sort of scientific materialism, that there is no inspirited nature to the universe, are doing this because they have big hearts, and a deeply implanted sense of justice, and can see that if there is a God, why is pain a part of the deal?
This past week has been a hard one for me. I’ve struggled with cynicism. And have been weighed down with my own problems, but also have been feeling the weight that so many carry at this time of year. Some long for idyllic family times, and have no one to sit down at a meal with. Others who have family, also long for idyllic family times, but in reality, sometimes the siblings have stopped talking to each other, or there is some expectation that just isn’t met in the way the day transpires. It can feel a bit depressing sometimes… that our only options are to either be disappointed, or to protect our feeling of disappointment with cynicism. And we fail to recognize, that there is power in being still present, as we invoke holy observation, of ourselves, and of others.
Also, whenever cynicism is near, I know it is because I’m trying to protect myself, and I’m running from some form of grief. That I’m fearing the release of Holy tears.
The truth is, there are times when all of us, to whatever degree, think that God is indifferent. Watching us with some feigned involvement “from a distance”. And partly, the reason for that is, because any kind of unknowing is disquieting, even when, if we really think about it, all the most beautiful things in life, require not knowing. So… what if God IS indifferent, but in a Holy way? We Christians proclaim the incarnation, but we rarely ever take it to its fullest meaning. Because its fullest meaning scares us. That God as Love would bubble over as matter, as all things, and unmoor into the vulnerability of being, is such a tender thought, that our fear of real intimacy pushes it away.
So, here we are… it’s the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we’re approaching the birth of Jesus now. Within the context of sacred scripture, and our own life, how do we choose to frame Christmas?
What if we were to say, that God, through Mary’s consent, chose to outpour a new evolutionary level of consciousness - a sign, that we, and the whole earth, the whole universe, really are the garments of Christ. That is, we are deeply involved in an evolving story of love.
The trouble with saying that is that this kind framework, or revelation, has to come through our poverty. And what I mean by poverty, is: living fully, with sober suffering and joy. Cynicism keeps me treading water at least. It keeps me from living a false joy. And it keeps me from utter despair. I hover in that mode, in the hopes that I’ll find room at the Inn, so I can stay even just a little bit “comfortably numb”. It keeps me protected from intimacy with my friends, and my beloveds, because all intimacy is a mirror for the Intimacy at the heart of the whole universe.
Releasing that cynicism in a form of tender grief, and tender laughter, always leads me to the stable, where Christ can be born. See the tricky part is, that God resides in that place in us where the grief is. Which is exactly where the joy is. And whenever we’re running from the slow, precious tenderness of grief, or likewise don’t allow joy to flow, is usually when we get hung up on trying to find room at the Inn, where we all think God is supposed to be. It’s easier to believe God is born at the Inn, because the Inn is superficial. We tell ourselves, “maybe there isn’t a room there, but maybe they’ll just let me sit at the bar, if I can look as though I played by all the rules and did everything in the correct sequence”.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about the incarnation, it is always through very joy-filled moments of poverty. Meaning, it is when I realize I’ve got nothing left to give, and can still sense my belovedness, when I become quieted enough to realize that I am either a part of the flow of love, or I am a rigid clog in the arteries of love. And either way, my pessimism has no power over the final outcome of the Coalescence at work. Still, is that really the way to live my life?
I have this little song that says
“we are Bethlehem
we are Mary’s “yes”
The angel choir sang of this kiss
That God is woven in with this”
But to realize this, it is almost always in those moments, or even long years, when we are bewildered by, or are suspicious of, the Silence of God.
The bewilderment hopefully causes some break in the armour, so we might allow ourselves to glimpse at… ourselves… because all along, God has been in there, closer than we are to ourselves.
And likewise, sometimes it feels like God isn’t with us, because there is no room at the inn. Like we’ve been forsaken and turned away because we don’t fit into the business as usual. We missed the memo, and are doomed to peer in through the window, watching all the folks who did it right, getting their golf clubs ready for the caddy to cart off to the pitch.
But the truth is, we are all finite. We are all vulnerable. And that is what makes us touchable. Huggable. It is how we are able to share the sign of peace with each other. It is where love is enfleshed, and live out.
We struggle with the notion that the Divine, the Source, this all encompassing Love Supreme, who some of us call God, is unmoored, outpoured into reality. IS reality. And that somehow the Christ child was born here, into the revealing truth, of who each of us are in our poverty.
The Silence of God is our center, and our circumference. It is the Holiest indifference. The absence we think we feel, is really more like being eclipsed, because of how overlapped, intertwined, interwoven God is with all of this.
Sometimes I am awestruck at my own devotion to this idea of Inclusive-Incarnation-as-Reality. Sometimes I am afraid it is true, simply because it might not be true. And often in those times, I run in fear, away from possible joy, and from the hurting it causes in my heart. And in those times, again, I try to find room at the Inn, where at least there, I think, I will be cushioned from being vulnerable, and from unknowing, and from having to wonder. There at the Inn, at least they won’t ask me to unmoor, like the God I intuit, is always unmooring.
But look at what is happening somewhere over yonder. Get up, put your coat on, go outside, breathe in the scent of animals, kneel in the straw. There’s Silence, and then birthing moans, and then Silence, in your ears. And God plunges into life, as vulnerable and precious, as any baby ever born. And the echo of Mary’s song is there. And she and Joseph sing the stories of their people. And someone already wants him dead, because it is too good to be true.
Teresa of Avila said, “the feeling remains, God is on the journey too.”
Thomas Merton said, “for the world and time, are the dance of the Lord, in emptiness” - and he said, further along in his passage, “yet the fact remains, we are invited to throw our awful solemnities to the wind, and join in the general dance.”
Jesus said, “I and the Father are One”.
Jesus also said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
And what that means is that Christ has been born in your stable, too. And mine. It IS too good to be true, and yet it is true. Which is why it hurts to be human. But in those moments when we resist the flame within the flame in our own hearts, are the moments when it burns. And I confess, I’ve been feeling pretty burnt lately. I’ve been running from the freedom of my own poverty, that allows me to join in the general dance.
Over the next few days, as we each do Christmas how we do Christmas, join me in taking the time, to sit, or kneel in the stable. And I mean, imagine going there in your heart. It is there that Christ will be born, as a sign, that neither cynicism and nihilism, or their opposites, ignorance and bigotry, have the final say in who we are.
Our hope beyond all hope did come
To call us each and every one
To the surface of our consciousness
God dwells within, and always has
As I write this, it is December 14th, which is the feast of St John of the Cross.
It is fitting that this is so. I am struggling today. I'm sure you have those days, too.
Sometimes it is hard to believe that God made a world for us to share in, and give back to. In many ways, our farm feels like that. But even our homestead and family has struggled this week. I'll put it this way - installing a thermo-syphon system into your wood cook stove while attempting usual life with small children, has been a great lesson in energy, and entropy!
Anyway, I’m lamenting a bit today. In this hemisphere, we are entering into the short days. I love the darkness. I love the stars. The moon. (I howled at the full moon this week, at midnight, no less). But the cost of hoping for racial equity, of hoping for the commons to be raised from the dead, can be so great. Some weeks are like that. I know in some ways it is my ego holding on too much. And in other ways… it is simply my heart breaking for the many who suffer needlessly throughout the world.
So, in case you’re struggling too… as Rilke said, “just keep going, no feeling is final”.
I could use that encouragement myself.
I wrote this little lament today… as a balm… as a child’s cry… as a confession… that I’m feeling sad, and anything but unwavering, in my faith. One thing I do intuit... is that this lost feeling is deeply incarnated. It is a part of the process of allowing the great Navigator to gently take over the helm just a little bit more... and a little bit more. So that the subtle perceptions that engender real nonviolence can find stability, (in the midst of the malaise). And, it is important to go easy on myself, because the malaise is a symptom of my inner struggle with the moral neutrality of disturbances that create change, (or bring us to rock bottom).
With gentle, tender, difficulty, here are the vulnerable lyrics of where I'm at this week. Maybe you're there, too. It is so interesting how some of us encounter sadness as we hope.
Today I want all the answers
I don’t want the mystery
I just wanna know
Is this going somewhere good?
Is this going somewhere good?
You can say it all happens for a reason
But tell that to the child
who's crying in the cage
“This is going somewhere good, child”
“This is going somewhere good.”
The best things in life are free
So we replace them
How could that be something good?
How could that be something good?
These are very good
All these things are very good
I know if I had all the answers
I would kill the mystery
And I would think I know it all…
But is this going somewhere good?
Is this going somewhere good?
Can we take it somewhere good?
I’ve always loved the term “Jesse Tree”. It is poetic and strikes at the heart level, and reminds me of the tree of my own ancestors and how graced I am to be here, living a life, for however long that is. So I’m not going to knock this reading. I am however going to point out that the lineage of the mother Mary is also important to mark, when we’re looking at the lineage of Jesus. (In some ways, Joseph has taken the back seat in this story, and the mother Mary has gotten the lime light… but let’s face it, history is full of attempts to erase the image of Mother Mary… and I would say, the lack of attention to Advent has been an attempt to forget her willingness to be a channel for the Holy One.)
I was recently told, by a great advocate of the Advent season, that she saw an Advent calendar with a picture of Santa holding the baby Jesus. Now, I’m not concerned with identifying as a persecuted Christmas celebrator. But I am concerned about the deeper story of how the women in all of these stories are erased, by all political sides, most of the time. Its very insidious. Even what appears to be for a good reason sometimes, getting rid of all feminine symbols is still keeping things where they’ve been for so very long... a place where a vast part of the world’s voice is muffled. A place where the story is only told in part and the scales weigh toward one end, and the vast spectrum of people leaning toward the other end, are erased.
In other words, don’t mess with the mother.
So today I’m going to focus on what we might see as the musical, spiritual lineage of mother Mary.
One of my favourite Old Testament scholars, Walter Brueggemann, has dedicated most of his life to understanding, to really reading, the prophets. He has given us some very useful language, by coming up with terms like ‘prophetic imagination”, (one of my favourites).
Speaking into the times we live in, but also exhuming history, takes depth, texture, poetry, and vast imagination, or we create dead ends for ourselves. These dead ends fall short of the possibility of opening the closed system we’re in. We need straight shooters in this dance, but we also need the arts, those who tell the truth in slant, because I believe all dystopian possibilities arrive, due to the absence of the artists. The arts and cultural programming are always the first to be cut in school systems.
So with that… let’s look at a song… in particular, Mary’s Magnificat song… this is what Walter Brueggemann has to say about it:
“As a little child Jesus must often have heard his mother, Mary, singing. And as we know, she sang a revolutionary song, the Magnificat--the anthem of Luke's Gospel. She sang about neighborliness: about how God brings down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly; about how God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty. Mary did not make up this dangerous song. She took it from another mother, Hannah, who sang it much earlier to little Samuel, who became one of ancient Israel's greatest revolutionaries. Hannah, Mary, and their little boys imagined a great social transformation. Jesus enacted his mother's song well. Everywhere he went he broke the vicious cycles of poverty, bondage, fear and death; he healed, transformed, empowered and brought new life. Jesus' example gives us the mandate to transform our public life.” - from the essay The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity by Walter Brueggemann
I think we can arrive at comprehending what Walter Brueggemann calls the Liturgy of Abundance and the Myth of Scarcity, through many different channels, but the channel I have taken, is being able to see Jesus' abundance in our regenerative farm, and certainly as a mother. The other area I have experienced this abundance, or this Source, is in songwriting. When I show up for songwriting, I blindly grope around for awhile, and then fall into a deep pool, in over my head, in order to catch a quick glimpse with my heart, at some simple patch of flickering light, and pluck some graced bit of it, to bring it back out into our world, as a hope, or a truth. It is pure gift, but I have to show up for it.
I’m working on a new album right now, and am nearly half way through composing it. Often, my albums take about a year to percolate under the surface, as I ruminate on what I’m reading, and on the signs and symptoms of the times that we live in. Then they start to overflow into music. Which is happening right now. The album is about how Jesus’ miracles and his movement, was an Abundance Rebellion, that stood in a lineage that seems to be passed on by prophet mothers to their prophet children. From Hannah to Samuel... from Mary to Jesus.
And remember, Walter Brueggemann calls the Magnificat “dangerous”, and says that Mary’s son enacted her song well. Maybe that’s why we’ve tried to minimize the mother… some consumerist demonic force is making sure the mother isn’t on the Advent calendar or the gift wrapping, because she knew that what is really true, outside of economic paradigms, is that there is enough, and that we are not inherently selfish.
Along with the mother Mary, Mary Magdalene has been minimized, too. It is thought by many researchers that Mary Magdalene may very well be the mystery woman with the alabaster jar. It may have even been the same jar she brought with her to the tomb.
This jar is one of the most profound symbols that we have in the Christian Household, and yet it isn’t a precious symbol on any of our walls! It represents a God, who would pour out into creation, because the substance of Love has overflowed, and this love is so indiscriminate, that, as Wendell Berry says, “there are no unsacred places, there are only sacred and desecrated places.” And it represents the story of a woman, who really got what Jesus was up to… we might say she was anointing the outpouring one.
In the system of scarcity we currently exist in, it is so obviously a lie. Half of the food that is produced, is thrown out. And there are more seasonal clothes in landfills than there are on the backs of people who need them. We think there isn’t enough, but we’re wrong.
Mary the Mother knew there was enough. Mary Magdalene knew there was enough. And as Walter Brueggemann said, “Jesus enacted his mother’s song well.”
Just imagine the texture and the dynamism and the aliveness, when we bring not only Jesus, and his male disciples to life, but also the women in the story. If we allow ourselves to imagine their prophetic presence, and sense within the lines, that those women were integral to Jesus’ movement, this really means God is with the whole entire spectrum of who people are.
Now that, sounds like a Liturgy of Abundance to me.
There is enough love to go around.
There is enough to go around.
“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.