Sacred Soil

I take my little bucket of uneaten organic vegetable odds and ends out to the small compost pile behind our garage, and when I inhale the sweet, earthy aroma that is filled with molecules of transformation, my eyes close in gratitude, in a visceral sense of connection to the blessed earth. These are the bits of food I didn’t ingest through my mouth and yet I ingest them through their process of decomposition, their journey from one form into another, and it’s exquisite.

The steep, treacherous slope a few feet away tumbles and tangles itself down into a ravine, all the loose detritus from above dancing wildly if often slowly until they rest in the dark hollow and unfold into myriad forms of new life. Some of the bare slopes that surround me have been stripped of their deep rootedness until gravel is a hard, unstable topping where earthworm-enriched soil once lived and breathed beneath nurturing trees in community.

How can I give some new life to the hills? Being in this moment of sacred experiencing, I find I can return some bits of nourishment into the land, into the space where Spirit dwells. I can become part of the turning, the process of transformation into sacred soil, into the vibrant life and vitality of our Earth Mother.

Pausing, I feel TildTe, Goddess of this place we call home, watching … I feel her smile and nod from the swaying tree branches overhead and hear: every little bit is welcome.

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Original Blessing

IMG_0955Did you know that Christianity has an entire perspective of path-working that celebrates and esteems Original Blessing rather than Original Sin as its foundation? That it focuses upon creation-centered spirituality rather than fall/redemption? Many spiritual or religious traditions approach the Divine in this way, but until later in my life, I had no idea that it also existed within the Christian worldview.

The Reverend Matthew Fox’s books on the subject are intriguing, stimulating, and enlightening, as well as being enjoyable and easy to read. And he’s been sharing his thoughts and beliefs on Original Blessing for forty years. There are more benefits than we can initially imagine when we flow within this wellspring; it is unifying and filled with compassion and awe, rather than punishment and fear.

The concept of Original Blessing and creation-centered spirituality taps directly into the lives and beliefs of many of the Christian mystics, from Saint Hildegard of Bingen to Meister Eckhart, and to modern believers such as the Society of Friends.

Questioning

TwoButterfliesByKerry

© Kerry

It is common for us to question the truth of something we have not individually seen, known, realized, experienced, and/or felt. On the flip side, to the other extreme, we often place experts on pedestals, and assume that because those persons know a lot about a subject, then they know everything about it, which is not true because it is impossible to achieve that level. Nevertheless, we can respect what the person does know – we do it all the time, from science to religion to medicine. I’m pointing to this human tendency for questioning what someone else knows, for one reason in this moment and that is to ask: how many of us believe, in our deepest selves, that those persons referred to as mystics actually became one with the Divine? Do we believe their stories or do we think they were crazy, deluded, etc.?

A woman named Evelyn Underhill wrote, in 1911, of her own explorations into the world of the mystics and mysticism. We allow for the knowledge of so-called experts in many areas of life, from doctors to inventors, from adventurers who climb mountains to explorers of the Amazon, so why not also for those who dare to explore the invisible realm of Spirit? The single, most powerful difference between the preceding, however, is that all those other experts likely had companions who could confirm or deny their experiences, while mystics venture alone. Underhill said in her book:

“[Mystics] should claim from us the same attention that we give to other explorers of countries in which we are not competent to adventure ourselves; for the mystics are the pioneers of the spiritual world, and we have no right to deny validity to their discoveries, merely because we lack the opportunity or the courage necessary to those who would prosecute such explorations for themselves.”

Many if not most of us have experienced momentary glimpses of the beyond or brief ecstatic relationship with the Divine in one form or another; we’ve felt, perhaps, something that could lead us to relate to what a mystic saw or felt. At the same time, very few of us ever devote the majority of our time and lives to furthering this relationship, this union. So, why do we question the veracity of those few people’s experiences who do go that extra mile? Is it because “there is no trustworthy standard by which we can separate the ‘real’ from the ‘unreal’ aspects of phenomena”? Is it real or imagination or hallucination? How can we know? Underhill continues with thought-provoking ideas, that mirror some of what scientists are saying today, when she writes:

“We have no reason to suppose that matter, space, and time are necessarily parts of reality; of the ultimate Idea. Probability points rather to their being the pencil and paper with which we sketch it.”

As I get older, my mind becomes more flexible, allowing for greater possibility of all that I don’t know and may never fully comprehend. I’m more than willing to give Mystics the benefit of the doubt, with the qualifier that they – as do we all – filter whatever they have perceived through the lens of the era and religious (or other) belief system in which they are existing. None of us can remove ourselves from the time, place, and culture in which we are situated during a particular event or on-going experience. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make the experience unreal.

Underhill’s book, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, is complex and I don’t want to take anything away from her by making it appear that this subject can be simplified into several pithy quotes or remarks. My hope is that something here may stir the reader into explorations of their own, in some way, shape or form, that will lead to inner growth and greater manifestation of Love in the world.

A Mystical World

Rain 083018There is a line I love from a song by Carrie Newcomer – “We Were Sleeping” – that says “the blessed rain, falls like grace, without regard to wealth or race.”

We are receiving torrential rain today, a blessing always needed these days as a hot dry summer gradually transitions to autumn. The little hill in front of our house has a miniature waterfall that’s been created from all the water that’s pouring down, nourishing and cleansing. Rain is a miracle we can see and feel, hear and taste. But more than that … the Infinite pulses within every droplet, carrying songs of the Divine.

There are deep and empowering messages embedded within the roots and flowers of mysticism. As a primer on this topic, I’ve been engaging with the classic work by Evelyn Underhill: Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (a 400-page tome, first published in 1911, and in its 12th edition by 1930). This is truly a remarkable book.

Underhill writes:

“This “real world,” then, is the result of your selective activity, and the nature of your selection is largely outside your control. Your cinematograph machine goes at a certain pace, takes its snapshots at certain intervals. Anything which goes too quickly for these intervals, it either fails to catch, or merges with preceding and succeeding movements to form a picture with which it can deal. Thus we treat, for instance, the storm of vibrations which we convert into “sound” and “light.” Slacken or accelerate its clock-time, change its rhythmic activity, and at once you take a different series of snapshots, and have as a result a different picture of the world. Thanks to the time at which the normal human machine is set, it registers for us what we call, in our simple way, “the natural world.” A slight accession of humility or common sense might teach us that a better title would be ” our natural world.”

Thus, what most of us perceive is simply our human interpretation, rather than so-called reality.

One of the most tragic developments in modern times is having turned most religion into a dry-as-dust text-based view of the Divine (that which is ineffable, transcendent and immanent). No wonder so many people are seeking alternative paths into the sacred, into spirituality, indeed, into mysticism – most religious organizations with their excessive dogma and literal interpretations have had the mystic marrow sucked out of their bones!

Underhill says:

“How, then, may we knew this Life, this creative and original soul of things, in which we are bathed; in which, as in a river, swept along? Not, says Bergson bluntly, by any intellectual means. The mind which thinks it knows Reality because it has made a diagram of Reality, is merely the dupe of its own categories.”

Another view on the mystical is through the works of Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee. His most recent video – Spiritual Life: Miracles & Magic – is an absolute treasure:

13th Century Women’s Communities

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Beguinage (Wikimedia Commons)

Researching the Middle Ages and Catholic mysticism, I came across a remarkable thing: the Beguines, groups of women devoted to furthering spiritual development for themselves (and others) while also living and working in the 13th Century world (the same time period in which St. Hildegard of Bingen lived). Further, the women were self-supporting in their intentional communities and weren’t controlled by the Church to the extent that nuns were. Sometimes the group was small, several women sharing a house (the original use of the word “convent” as in assembly), while at other times they created an entire “city within a city” that was called a “Court Beguinage” where often hundreds of women would live and work together, providing an infirmary and other services, including education for children, to the indigent of the larger city. I had no idea! I find it almost unimaginable that Medieval culture allowed for this to happen! Brilliant!

These communities were highly fluid, and welcomed women from all walks of life who wanted to commit themselves to spiritual inner work and remain interactive outside their walls. Once accepted into the convent or Beguinage, they took vows somewhat similar in many ways to nuns except that they could also leave at any time. At this period in history, monasteries required nuns to provide a dowry; many women were devout but had no dowry or money and the Beguinage offered a wonderful and rewarding opportunity for them. Acceptance into the group was based upon consensus, and it was relatively rare for a total stranger to join “until they were known and had become friends with the beguines.” The property of the convent or Beguinage was owned by the women, not by others, and they transferred it to other Beguines.

If you’ve become curious, I highly recommend the book The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women’s Movement, by Laura Swan, or this 1990 article in the New York Times “Ancient Beguinages of Flanders.” There are some lovely photos of the Beguinages in Ghent HERE.

Ownership

We don’t own the Divine. The systems and religions and practices we build create systems of belief, usually based upon what some human said because that was their experience of the Divine. And this can be an exquisite, vital beauty in our world, but none of us possesses exclusive rights to the infinite manifestations and incarnations of the Divine. Humans have been warring for thousands of years now based upon belief systems, upon mental constructs that if we conceive the Divine in one way then all other people must be wrong. The Divine is LOVE … can you hear her cries? I can.

 

Self-Contained

LadySlipper3rdFound061403c_2In continuing my study of Saint Hildegard, Mary Queen of Heaven, and the Catholic Church – and admittedly I am not an adherent of this particular faith – I find the complexity of the story fascinating, and its changes from century to century mind-boggling, to say the least.

Most students of history will attest to the fact that, in ancient times of the word’s origin (it’s concept), the word “virgin” defined a woman who was, in essence, self-contained — it did not mean a woman who had not had sexual intercourse.

This ties in with a beautifully written paragraph – about Eve and Mary – in Barbara Newman’s book Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine, which states that:

“No theme of Mariology is older or more universal than the contrast of Eve and Mary, a topos that dates back to the second century. Irenaeus, one of the first theologians to develop this theme, observed that ‘the former was beguiled into fleeing God, the latter was persuaded to obey God, that the Virgin Mary might become an advocate for the virgin Eve. Through a virgin, mankind came under the bondage of death; so also through a Virgin the bonds were loosed, and a virginal disobedience was balanced by a Virgin’s obedience.’ For the Greek father, the contrast between the two virgins had as yet no sexual connotations.”

This is pretty powerful stuff when putting history in context. It means that in the century when Christianity was being birthed as a religion, virginity was not a sexual term. So, Mary could simply have been a strong, independent, self-contained young woman whose belief in her spiritual path led her to accept the prophetic vision of becoming the mother of a son who many believed would be the incarnation of the Jewish God.

Newman continues the above paragraph with:

“But the Augustinian ethos, linking original sin with concupiscence, led to a practical redefinition of ‘obedience’ and ‘disobedience’ in terms of chastity and lust.”

So it wasn’t until the 4th Century that the reformed Augustine, later canonized (having lived the first part of his life loosely, including “parties, entertainment, and worldly ambitions”), began to assist in shifting the term “virgin” around within Christianity.

Imagine what it must have been like for Mary, imagine the pressure she was under.

Thankfully, there is a lot of research now to turn to that addresses the cultural lives of women in history (and in prehistory), which is marvelous.