Category Archives: spiritual
It’s not been a “holly jolly” kind of year. In this season, the struggle to maintain without being overwhelmed can be particularly difficult. Some of it is of course the darkness. For those of us who live in more extreme latitudes the difference in the length of days between midsummer and midwinter is considerable.
North of the Arctic circle (or South for the Antarctic) We have the land of the midnight sun. At the summer solstice the sun never sets. That means at winter solstice it never rises. Think about that for a minute. A day where the sun doesn’t rise. It’s kind of creepy.
I will tell you truthfully that even here on the 45th parallel there are winter days when it’s so dark and overcast it feels as though there is no sun. The snow helps. It reflects what little light there is and bounces it so things seem brighter. The holiday lights help. They add not only brightness but a little color to the black and white photo landscape.
The darkness can also be emotional. Birthdays during the season that get “lumped in” with everyone else’s celebrations can be great. They can also build a lifetime of resentment. A death during the season can bring people together. It can also be a wound that gets reopened every year. Being overwhelmed with Christmas Cheer, especially when that’s not part of your religion, can be an opportunity or an oppression.
Then there is the demand. There is a huge demand on time, both socially and for many people, because of year end, on the job. If you work in retail or in the food industry you can wave goodby to days off for awhile. There is a demand on the pocketbook. All that socializing costs, as do the expected gifts. When the bills are already scary this time of year can be devastating. Despite all the seasonal sales, somehow it seems that expenses still go up and up.
I lean heavily on just do it. Daily Practice becomes focused on small nitty gritty things. Cleaning up the kitchen before I go to bed is not always easy, but better to do it than not. Making my bed in the morning when I get up (even if I might want to go back) makes it less likely that I will go back. Even paying the bills is better than the alternative.
So I put my head down and write the blog, clean the kitchen, make the bed. I make the phone calls and appointments. I meet the obligations and shop the sales with an eye on my budget. I put in a few extra hours where I can hoping for some extra padding on the weekly income. I wait in eager anticipation of the Solstice. Because after the longest night each day has a little more light.
The temperatures are dropping and the wind is gusting. The cold and damp are fitting for the season, they set the mood. There are ghosts walking.
I am at that age where parents die in clusters. This is the way of things, of course, but that doesn’t make it easy. I worry about my own parents as they approach their “end years”. I see that gradual decline isn’t so gradual any more. It’s getting harder for them to keep up, to get by, to get things done.
This year in particular I find myself trying to offer comfort to friends whose loss simply can not be consoled. Grief comes in waves, it takes its own time. Those “stages” are neither sequential nor independent. They can come in any order, repeatedly and sometimes all at once. And I take those phone calls. I listen. I witness. Sometimes that’s enough.
I’m looking for comfort too. I want to escape in a good book. I want a fire in the fireplace. I want a pot of soup on the stove. For my ancestors those things were just part of the days. Now I can go to the grocery store and buy mirepoix, precut and measured. (I didn’t, but I can.) Bone broth is on the shelf in boxes because much of our meat is already removed from the bones. Soup is no longer the ever present cauldron, but a can in the pantry.
Baking is part of that comfort factor as well. A good bread, warm from the oven, and I can feel myself relax into the smell. Pop-up biscuits from the refrigerator case do not elicit the same affect.
There is no time for this kind of comfort in most of our lives. We rush through our days, rush through our meals, rush through our grieving and just “get on”. Perhaps the most important part of this season is to make a point and take some time. In most of the U.S. we have an extra hour coming to us this coming Sunday. How are you going to use it?
I love this time of year. I like the cooler weather. I like wearing sweaters. I like the light and the colors in the leaves. Fall harvest has me making soups and baking.
I struggle at this time of year. I have serious mold and dust allergies that always gets worse until we have a good hard freeze. The temperature swings (I live in Minnesota. It can be 35F one day and 80F the next) are tough to navigate. I cherish the sunshine and dread the days getting noticeably shorter.
There is so much to do at this time of year. I need to bring in the plants and repot. I need to get ready for Halloween (both trick or treat and the Sabbat). I need to swap my closet and bedding over to the winter wear. All I want to do is curl up in a blanket with a good book and a warm beverage, or maybe take an outing to the movies.
There’s also the food issue. My body wants to eat more. I’m not hungry, as the post-bariatric pouch won’t allow that. It’s not even head hungry. It’s more like hunger in the bones. My genetics expect a winter and have kicked into survival mode. I can tell I’m not getting enough protein, even though my diet hasn’t really changed. It’s another push and pull.
This year it seems I’m especially aware of the paradox of the season. As I struggle with balance in my own life I become more alert to the push and pull around me. I recognize that I can allow any of these things to buffet and batter me, throwing me off course. I can also simply acknowledge them and let them wash over me. There is a peace in simply appreciating the variety of moods the season brings.
So I do small things. I get apples and squashes for baking and decorating. I tidy the house. I pick up a few things in the yard as I walk by. I’m playing the grasshopper, not the ant. I’m not ready for winter. I am simply trying to be present in each day.
This weekend I had the honor and privilege to officiate a wedding. The best part was that the bride was one of the girls my daughter grew up with. It is a joy to see them “all grown up” and functioning in the world as strong, competent women.
We were lucky to live in a neighborhood with natural boundaries. Many of the residents grew up here and came back to live in their parent’s homes. There were a lot of kids my daughter’s age, and she knew them all. Because of the natural boundaries my daughters childhood was a lot more like mine than many of her peers. The kids ran freely through the neighborhood all summer long. They were back and forth between houses, cutting through yards and “exploring” in the overgrown “woods”.
The girls formed close ties, and maintained them into their adulthood. The one whose family moved away came back for the wedding. The one who is a little less socially inclined drove in to town. The one who got married first (at the Justice of the Peace) found a sitter for the baby so she could party with the gang. This was an EVENT, not to be missed.
The bride was determined to have a great party. As the maid of honor, my daughter was very involved, so I’ve been hearing stories since the date was chosen. The bride invited people to come in costume. She had her dress specially made to her specifications and assigned each bridesmaid a color/character. She kept the guest list under 100, just the right people. She was also pretty serious about the marriage thing.
I take the responsibilities of being a minister seriously. Vows are a big deal for me and the words spoken in sacred space carry weight. I had several conversations with the couple, not just about what they wanted in a wedding, but about their expectations of a marriage. I made sure they knew what they were going to promise before they had to stand up and make those promises.
I haven’t performed a lot of weddings, but I’ve done more than a few. The thing is when I get asked it’s usually because the couple’s beliefs don’t quite fit into a standard religious framework. They want a ceremony, a ritual, a rite of passage. They don’t want a church, or a synagogue or a stranger. I’ve had a bride and groom hand me a ritual they wrote and ask me to do it. I’ve had a Wiccan wedding in my tradition’s circle. I wrote two for myself. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked to do something that is open enough for the couple but that won’t offend the more traditional family.
It was a rite of passage for them, but it was also a rite of passage for me. These are the girls I watched grow up now building lives of their own. The officiant at a wedding blesses the union and then sends the couple on their way. That’s what the Moms (and in the bride’s case her Dad) are doing as well.
Facebook has exploded with photos, meme’s, commentary, and disgust at what happened this weekend in Charlottesville. I’ve got friends, People of Color, who are triggered. I would be too. Free speech is one thing, but Hate Speech is not protected under the 1st amendment and this entire rally was about Hate specifically directed at People of Color. They should never have gotten a permit under that premise. Even allowing the ACLU supporting their right to march, they should have been shut down as soon as they showed up with torches and weapons.
The meme’s that truly twist my gut are the one’s that compare the police responses. Charlottesville vs Ferguson (actually, according to some eye-witness responses I’ve read the most aggressive police actions in Charlottesville were against the unarmed counter-protestors.) Charlottesville vs Standing Rock (When the Nazi’s showed up armed where were the high pressure water hoses (in freezing temperatures) and the rubber bullets?). Most terrorist acts in this country have been committed by alt-right, white, males. Why aren’t we more afraid?
Well, some of us are. The problem is that most of the “authority” in this country is also white and male. I guess it’s harder to be afraid of someone who looks like you. People of Color know. None of them are surprised by the way things went down in Charlottesville. Women know too, but we’ve been taught to stay silent, to accept that ‘boys will be boys’.
Being Politically Correct takes a bad rap. But let’s talk about being socially correct. Let’s talk about being kind, civil, caring, thoughtful and considerate. Can we say, “That is NOT acceptable behavior.” when someone is actively trying to hurt someone else? Can we say, “That is a hurtful statement.” when someone says something that may not be intentional but is still not appropriate? Can we say, “Your feelings do not entitle you to hurt someone else.” when someone uses Free Speech as an excuse for Hate?
How often in my life have I remained silent when someone has spouted aggressive, hateful language? How often have I neglected to come to the defense of people I love, who society has marginalized? I have heard comments about People of Color, Gay people, Trans people, Disabled people, People of Faith and I have not always spoken up.
Small excuses lead to big actions. When someone is not called out, it gives them permission to continue. When no line is drawn there is implicit permission to escalate. What happened in Charlottesville is not acceptable behavior. Anyone who can’t see that needs to take a good look at why they support rude, hateful, hurtful, and inconsiderate behavior and recognize that it is supporting that kind of behavior that is truly evil.
In Frazer’s The Golden Bough there is some exploration of the notion of the sacred king. There are a number of components to this idea. One is in the Divine right of kings to rule, and subsequently that they are the representatives of the Divine on Earth. Then there is the belief that the kings are connected to the land. As the king succeeds the land thrives, as the king fails or falls ill the land is depleted. In a system that holds these principles to be true, the logical outcome is to demand the sacrifice of the king to relieve a drought or natural disaster. Frazer took that philosophy and connected it to the agricultural cycle of reaping and sowing – death and rebirth.
I came back from spending a long weekend on the land to see my Facebook full of images of our Secretary of the Interior assessing National Parkland for its value to sell to industry for development. Moving from visiting a Prairie reclamation project at the height of success to a clearly out of control consume and profit narrative was disheartening to say the least.
On the way home I noticed the corn was starting to come in from the fields. The corn harvest is the mark for me of the Lammas celebration, John Barley Corn is dead, long live John Barley Corn. This is the representation in Wicca of the sacred king mythology. The grain God is sacrificed to feed the people.
It’s been difficult to sort out the sacred from the political. Police are shooting people, healthcare continues to be threatened in spite of an overwhelming majority who clearly want to have coverage, and our sacred lands are being sold out from under us – again and still.
I see spiritual representatives from around the world being dismissed by Big Oil at Standing Rock. I see a spiritual leader in my hometown, trying to help a neighbor in distress, being shot by police. I see places that I’ve stood in awe of nature being looked upon as a feast for mining, logging and manufacturing industries.
Included in the sacrificial king mythology is the Arthurian story of the Fisher King. This is part of the grail quest. The sacred chalice, that has magical qualities including the ability to heal, is apparently in the possession of the Fisher King. The king has a grievous wound and is failing, as is his land. Somehow he doesn’t have the wisdom, moral integrity, or desire/belief to use the grail. Percival, who was raised by a single mother in the forest away from the society of men, sees the solution but fails (out of politeness?) to ask the question that will heal everything.
We need to ask the questions. We need to keep asking until we get answers that go beyond pats on the head and being told we can’t possibly understand. Why can’t we get along? Why does the notion of “equal rights” always seem to have an “except” clause? When and how much is enough? Who has the vision for our future? Does that vision include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? For everyone?
Previous blogs about the holiday season:
I’ve been listening to some of my friends talk about the notion of acknowledging “Today was a good day”. It’s something that one of them noticed in a series about living in Alaska. People, who are essentially living on the edge of subsistence, finish up their day with that little affirmation, “Today was a good day.”
We speculated about whether this is an Alaska thing. I suggested it might just be something that shifts when you’re living on the edge. I equated it to the Native American “Today is a good day to die.”
My friends are using this affirmation to see if it shifts their world view. They think it does. It changes the way they approach their days. It started me thinking about what makes a day a good day.
I’ve certainly had days where if I managed to get dressed or showered that was a good day. I’ve had days where just being alive at the end of the day meant it was a good day. I’ve had days where I’ve gotten all kinds of things accomplished be a good day. I’ve had days where I’ve been of service be a good day.
It’s interesting to me that there isn’t any kind of personal standard for a good day. I like that. I like that there is room for a good day no matter what kind of shape I might be in. I like that I can have a good day just taking care of me as well as having a good day helping out someone else.
In thinking about a good day there is something that does stand out for me. A good day is active rather than passive. I don’t mean that there needs to be a lot of activity. I can have a good day curled up reading. But there is a big difference between choosing to spend the day reading and sitting down for a break and having the day disappear.
There’s something about a good day that requires attention being paid to the day. A good day demands engagement at some level. Perhaps that is the change my friends are observing. By using the affirmation they find themselves paying more attention to their days. Being more appreciative, living in gratitude for each day, is certainly a positive life change.
Maybe I’ll give this good day thing a try.
Happy May Day! We’ve been having snow flurries, which makes it a little difficult to get into the spirit of the season. I suppose I could go on about the history of labor unions and all the benefits we take for granted because of the work that they did back in 1886 and beyond. But you all have Wikipedia for that.
In Wicca this is also Beltane and a celebration to bless the animals and the fields with fertility. Wicca tends to work with a male/female balance honoring the fact that union is how we all came about. In this day and age that makes much of our ritual look particularly heterosexist and decidedly gender binary.
The thing is that many of the Gods in the Pagan pantheons are rather gender queer. There is room in Paganism to express and celebrate fertility in many other ways. But working in a tradition, and a Wiccan tradition in particular means honoring and holding to rites and ritual formats that, when they were written, probably do have an intentional hetero-cis bias.
Like snow on May Day, the reality is often a lot more complicated than the theory. In Minnesota a May snow, or at least a frost is not at all unusual. Our “late frost” date is May 15th. But in Wicca, and through much of Paganism this is a festival about flowers and early fruits.
Traditionally, this festival is not a calendar based festival, but one that honors the actual season in the area. It is a time when the fields are ready for planting – not the same date every year at all. It is marked by the white blossomed trees (usually rowan) coming into bloom (also not a calendar dependent event.) In Minnesota this year we are having a remarkably early spring. The ground has been thawed for some time. In microclimate areas some of the fruit trees have started blooming. Historically that just doesn’t happen until mid May and even that is early.
So snow is unexpected this year and seems out of place. Our weather reporters carry on about “below average” temperatures. Technically that is true, but if you graph 100 years of spring temperatures and do the statistics you get at least a 15 degree standard deviation. That means that “normal” is plus or minus 15 degrees. To really be “below average”, remarkably warm or cold, we’d need to be outside of that 30 degree swing and we are not. At least not today.
I have actually put some things into the garden already. Cold hearty crops like radishes and peas. I did sprinkle some spinach and lettuce seeds and I’m trying my hand at carrots again. Tomatoes and basil are still a month out. The weather is supposed to get warmer from here out so I’m hoping to get back into the dirt later in the week. That will be a celebration in itself! In the meantime, I’ll just take things as they come and enjoy the cool while it lasts.
Previous Posts on May Day or Beltane:
Routines, we all have them. From the little rituals that get us going in the morning to the major cleaning, exercising, and vacation planning our routines help us get things done. The problem is that we can be assured that our routines will, at some point, be disrupted.
Disruptions come in many forms. An illness or injury can throw routines into a jumble. Taking a trip or having guests will put pressure on our schedules. Even something as simple as a change in the weather, or season, can throw a routine into chaos.
I feel as though I’ve been living in the land of disrupted routines. Even when I think I have a handle on it something else seems to rear its ugly head and throw me off my balance. I’ve been out of town (and not in a restful, renewing or inspiring way). I’ve been dealing with allergies (spring is early this year). I’m back into the remodeling project and even just planning has me throwing my hands in the air screaming.
I’ve missed two weeks of blogging. The first week I new I was likely to miss. Out of town and no internet handy it was unlikely I would get to it and didn’t make it a priority. The second week I was still reeling from the effects of having my routines disrupted, again and again.
I talk about Daily Practice a lot. Although Daily Practice can be part of the routine, I make a distinction for it. Daily Practice, for me, is a small action with a big impact. When I take up a Daily Practice it becomes a top priority, a commitment. Daily Practice requires an attention, and often an attitude shift.
In the crazy of my world, with my routines all a jumble, I hold on to my Daily Practice like a lifeline. I may not be as efficient, or effective, but I still do it. I may not manage to get it done in it’s “normal” timeframe, but I still do it. I may start with “oh shit, I have to do that.” but I do it.
This is one of the many reasons for taking up Daily Practice. Those small things can keep us going when we are physically, emotionally, and mentally out of sorts. They become a foundation from which we can build a new routine. They are a simple constant in an ever changing complex world.