Category Archives: Epiphany

weaving a new year

What is it about early January and especially the Feast of the Epiphany that sends us into the heart of our lives with questions? What is my deepest desire for this New Year? What star am I to follow? How can I, like Brigid of Kildare, FOCUS on what matters most? And this year a new question rises with urgency: While the Corona Virus continues to bring suffering and death, how may my life offer compassion and light to others in the midst of planetary darkness?

Artwork by Jan Richardson

Even in lockdown, even in these times when we are limited in our contacts, the primary commitments of our lives remain. Yet that are as well so many paths opening for our engagement: a multitude of ZOOM courses, summits, gatherings, many with a spiritual focus…If you find it bewildering, you are not alone.

When the snowfall on New Year’s night finally created a white wonderland around my home, I paced out a snow labyrinth, rudimentary, with three intersecting spirals. I walked it, holding my confusion, asking, “What am I to do? How am I to choose among so many activities? Where shall I focus my energy? What is most important in my life?

When I reached the heart centre of the labyrinth, I stood listening, still unsure, but as I walked out an answer arose, so simple I might have dismissed it… the labyrinth itself showed me. Choose from your heart centre. What do you love most?

Suddenly it was easy. Inside, I drew a labyrinth with three spirals: in each one I printed one of the tasks of my life that I do out of love.

These three involvements will shape my days, have already begun to do so. 

And so we take up our task once more. We sit down at our looms and choose the coloured yarns for the weaving of a spirituality for our time. We know what we are about, our hands are strong, supple, as we select the shades, the textures, the combinations that harmonize best. We include the dark threads as well as the golden, the soft fibres as well as the tough. We know this weaving requires it all… the warm rose madder of love, that stretches across the universe for three trillion miles in a NASA photograph… the gold of wisdom, polished to glowing through times of suffering and loss… the deep purple threads that remind us that 96% of the universe , including ourselves,  dwells in darkness… invisible threads of beauty wind themselves into the spaces between the weaving: music, song, dance, poetry, stories, the threads of the relationships that give meaning to our lives… and our weaver’s shuttle moves with ease between ancient wisdom, and the edges of mystic knowings of today’s physicists.

As the ancient weavers worked at their looms, they created and shared stories that wove meaning through their lives. The fragments of these tales that still remain reveal their ways of knowing… their understandings of love, of wisdom, of darkness, of suffering. Listening to these tales while we do our own weaving lends enchantment, as well as clarity.

Here is an old Scottish tale: “The Stolen Bairn and the Sidh.” It is a story that never fails to inspire me anew to commit my life to what matters most.

By the fireside of an ancient gypsy woman, there sits a young woman, barely twenty. Exhaustion and grief have bowed her, stolen light from her lovely sea-green eyes. For weeks, she has been wandering the moors, knocking on every croft door, walking through towns, seeking everywhere for her small son. His father is dead. The little boy is all she has left in the world and she loves him desperately. This gypsy woman, known for her deep wisdom, is her last hope.

The old woman stands, takes a handful of dried herbs from a cauldron at her side, throws them on the fire. After studying the dim patterns of smoke, she reaches for the young woman’s hand, and holding it between her two gnarled ones, she speaks gently: “Prepare yourself for great sorrow. Your child has been taken by the Sidh, the fairy folk of Ireland, into their Sidhean. What goes into the Sidhean seldom emerges.”

The young woman begins to weep. “I may as well die, for without my child, I have nothing to live for.”

“Do not despair. I see one hope. The Sidh have a great love of beautiful things; yet, for all their cleverness, they are unable to create anything, so must either steal or bargain for what they desire. If you could find an object of immense beauty, you might be able to bargain with them to regain your son.”

“But how shall I get inside their Sidhean?” the woman asked.

“Ah,” said the gypsy. “You shall need a second thing of great beauty to bargain your way inside.”

Then the gypsy woman gave her directions to find the Sidhean, blessing her with a protection against harm by fire, air, water and earth. The young woman slept deeply that night. When she wakened, the old Gypsy woman and all her people were gone, and the place of encampment was an empty field.

The young woman drank water from a sweet stream, ate some bread given her by the gypsies. Then she lay in the grass and wept. How could she do this impossible thing that was asked of her? After a time, the flow of tears dried, and a light wakened within her. She thought: “ I shall need not one but two things of incomparable beauty.” She set her mind to remembering all the lovely things she had heard about. Of all, she chose two: the white cloak of Nechtan, and the golden harp of Wrad. 

With sudden clarity, she knew what she must do. She stood, began walking towards the sea.

She clambered among the rocks at the shore, gathering the down left by the ducks. And the blessing of the gypsy protected her from harm by the waves, the wind, the sun’s fire and the sharp rocks.

She sat on a large stone to weave the down into a cloak. She cut a strand of her her hair with a sharp rock. With it she wove a pattern of fruits, flowers and vines through the hem.  The cloak was so beautiful it might have been a white cloud fallen from the sky. She hid the cloak behind a gorse bush, then walked the shoreline until she found  a frame for her harp, a fish bone just the right size and and shape. With strands of her hair, she made the strings fast to the frame, then tightened and tuned them. The sound of the melody she played was so lovely that the birds of the air paused in mid-flight to listen.

She placed the cloak around her, and carrying her harp, set out for the Sidhean.

A Sidh woman, arriving late, rushing towards the opening in the hill, saw her. Mouth agape, eyes burning with greed, the fairy gazed at the  cloak. A bargain was struck. The fairy woman allowed her to enter in exchange for the cloak. The other Sidh folk were so enthralled by the cloak the fairy woman wore that they did not notice as the young woman walked into the throne room and began to play her harp before the King. The king’s eyes grew wide in amazement, then narrow in greed.

 “I have many harps ,” said the King, pretending disinterest, “but I have a mind to add that to my collection. What will you  take in exchange for it? ”

The young woman said “Give me the human child you have here.”

The King whispered to his servants who brought a great caulron of jewels, which they poured at her feet. But she would not look. “Only the child,” she said. The servants came a second time with a cauldron of gold pieces. Again she did not look, but played on her harp a tune of such love and longing that the King was overcome.

The servants were sent out and returned carrying the child. When he saw his mother, he gurgled with delight, and stretched out his arms to her. Letting the harp be taken from her, she lifted her arms to receive him.  Then she walked with him out of the Sidhean.

Reflection:

How does this story speak to your own life? What is for you the one thing for which you would give all?

The woman created what she needed, two things of incomparable beauty, using what the seashore offered, and even her own hair… how do we create what is needed from the substance of our lives?

A New Year Companioned by Sophia

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A most unlikely place to hide a promise. But here it lies. Within the writings of a little-known first century Roman, Lucius Apuleius, whose character, a hapless magician, turns himself into an ass. He cries to the Goddess for help. Suddenly, shining like the sun, she is there. She rescues him, refers to her many names, then makes this promise: I am come with solace and aid. Away then with tears. Cease to moan. Send sorrow packing. Soon…shall the sun of your salvation rise…. Eternal religion has dedicated to me the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.

That darkness would envelop the sacred feminine presence, forgetting her many names, abandoning her temples, sending her into two millennia of hiddenness…

Well, almost, but not quite.

The light of the feminine holy, like the Buried Mother Moon of the old English folk-tale, would find a way to break through. The Shekinah of the Jewish Kabbalah, the Sophia of the Book of Wisdom and the Gnostic Gospels, Mary with her wonderful names drawn from the beauty of the planet: Mystical Rose, Star of the Sea, Our Lady of the Pines, of the Lakes, of the Mountains, Madonna of the Rocks… would find her way into hearts ready to receive her light.

We have been born into the time of the great recovery of ancient wisdom from story, myth, legend, from sacred writings, poetry, and ritual, from the peoples of earth-honouring religions: American and Australian Aboriginals; the Ancient Egyptians; the Celts. Within these rediscovered traditions, we find the presence of a Sacred Mother, a womb of life who calls us to honour the earth and all her living systems, to honour ourselves, to honour our bodies which are part of the earth. She calls us to accept the wisdom of the circle of life: its rhythms of dawn to day to dark to day; of spring to summer to autumn to winter to spring; of birth to life to death to rebirth.  She calls us by our true name as she invites into the adventure of life in a time when each of us is needed to live fully.

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She calls us into joy, through allurement to the hope, to the stunning beauty of a promise born in light. She reminds us that the universe herself is drawn, not through duty, despair, grim determination, but through allurement: the earth is allured to the sun, caught up into a dance of spinning wonder; the moon is allured to earth, circling her in ecstasy; the tides of the seas are allured to the moon, as are the cycles of women’s bodies. Each planet in our galaxy, like each of the galaxies of the universe, of the multiverse, twirls in a passionate dance of awe and delight.

Sophia calls us to awaken on this day which is being born from the womb of this present darkness. Her time is now.

From a Ritual for Epiphany, created by Kathleen Glennon in her book Heartbeat of the Seasons, (Columba Press, Dublin, 2005) I offer this chant/prayer:

Chant: The wisdom you desire will be given unto you. (Eccl. 6:30)

Dance of Wisdom

Wisdom of the Universe, come to me/us/all

raise hands over your head and bring down to your head

Wisdom of the Earth, come to me/us/all

bring hand upwards from the earth and bring to heart

Wisdom of the Ancestors, come to me/us/all

bow reverently

 For the following verse, extend arms upwards,

palms facing upwards and sway to the music

Wisdom of the maiden, come to me/us/all.

Wisdom of the mother, come to me/us/all.

Wisdom of the crone, come to me/us/all.

Final Blessing

May Sophia, the Wisdom of the Ages, the Wisdom of the Universe,

continue to journey with us.

May she meet us at our gates in the morning.

May she lie down with us at night.

May all who seek her find her.

May she bring the spirit of discernment into the lives of all.

May her company bring joy and happiness to all.  Amen.