This year, the Epiphany illuminated something new for me in how I consider the story of the Magi. So I didn’t dissect it piece by piece to ascertain exactly how it might have unfolded. I didn’t consider the issues around timing, or how exactly the star brought them precisely to the manger’s location. Instead, I experienced it as a metaphor; a metaphor about the power of an open heart and the accompanying willingness to seek for truth.
The Magi were in all ways outsiders. They were astrologers who studied what we might well view as magic these days. They were not grounded in the religious scriptures of the day, nor were they religiously prepared for the concept of a messiah. And yet, it is these three men who traveled from distant lands and followed a star to see what it had to reveal to them. Clearly, they represent all of the “them” we see as “us”. Certainly, this is what is most significant to ponder in heart and mind.
Herod heard the news and started figuring out how best he might preserve his power leading to the slaughter of innocents. And the religious leaders and institutions of the day, the learned ones, seemed to have closed hearts and minds. Closed by the idea that they held the absolute truth. Closed by years of holding authority and the habits of not listening to others. And perhaps most frightening, closed in ways that led to collusion with Herod’s self-serving preservation of the status quo.
The deep significance of this for me is the chilling reminder that preparation is no guarantee that I will be ready; in fact, preparation might blind me if I prepare too much according to my own ideas. The ideas informed by my feelings, attitudes, biases, values, and assumptions. I must remain sensitive and aware that these ideas flow out of my strengths and my limitations. I must learn from the Magi who followed a star that there is no substitute for listening with an open heart.
“This is the leap of faith and trust that I and others must make in order to communicate even a bit of the Great Truth to which we each have our own limited access. Spirituality is whatever it takes to keep your heart space open.” Rohr
As Advent flows into Christmas, I have had the sweet and moving companionship of a doe that rests in the woods just at the edge of my yard. I noticed her one morning and then again one afternoon; eventually, I came to look for her each day. She simply rests, peaceful yet alert seemingly, contemplating my home. Initially, it struck me as a lovely, serendipitous encounter with nature. Eventually, she began to feel much more like a kindred spirit who visits to both offer her spirit to me, and receive my spirit in return. As a spiritual director training in a Franciscan program, I am open to experiencing Spirit in all of creation. This sways me, nurturing the sense that Doe and I share a ‘sense of sorority’ with all of creation and the creator. ‘Praised be You, my Lord with all Your creatures’ – St. Francis of Assisi
It is not the first time on my spiritual journey that I have encountered the deer. On several retreats, deer and I have crossed paths. A quick search on the web reveals that the deer symbolizes: Gentleness; Ability to move through life and obstacles with grace; Being in touch with inner child, innocence; Being sensitive and intuitive; Vigilance, ability to change directions quickly; Magical ability to regenerate, being in touch with life’s mysteries. All in all, a nice assortment of life skills and spiritual literacy! Seeing her, feeling her presence emerges as a natural moment of grace for me. A tiny experience of unity and connection with all around me delivered to me by a doe.
With my new appreciation for the doe in heart, I am able to rest with her as she lingers near me. Perhaps we will welcome Christmas together. All I know is that her presence heightens my awareness – my reverence for nature – draws me into the moment here and now with the divine, and models the patience and perseverance that is Advent. So, as Christmas arrives, my spirit longs to resonate with belonging to the moment when everything fits … and all we hoped for is present – perhaps this is what it is to know the fullness of time. “spreading the knowledge of God like a sweet smell everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14)
“How we spend our days is, after all, how we spend our lives.”
Summer in my life is very much a space in-between. My husband works in an independent school whose schedule shifts to accommodate the summer months when school is not in session. My fourteen-year old daughter delights in the completion of her freshman year and a few months to re-focus her attention inward. And I, I cross a threshold into a space where I dwell in the fullness of all I have gathered this past year imagining where it all leads me next.
I sense G*d’s spirit and presence all around us in what I hold as the sacred rhythm of ‘unbroken dailiness’. Simone Weil observes, “Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty, and ready to be penetrated by the object.” And so it is that I endeavor to enter the precious space in-between, open to learning how to see, how to hear, how to feel and how to be with my own authentic life.
May I enter all the sacred spaces of life, the nooks and crannies and crevices of my world with an open mind, open heart and humble sense of wonder at all that is!
June 1st is my maternal grandmother’s birthday – nana to me. Coincidentally, and unbeknown to me as I named my son Justin, it is also the Feast of Saint Justin. The serendipity of these details in life is hugely appealing to me and generates a strong sense of kinship. A sense of belonging that transcends the linear measurement of life and provides a wonderful sense of the eternal in, through and with my relationships.
As a committed contemplative, I contemplate daily where I sense a similar feeling of kinship. As I begin contemplating, I hear in the quiet the wind against the windows, birds in the trees, the wind chimes outside; and then, the sound of my own inward and outward breathing. It seems to whisper Yaweh – ya on the inhalation and weh on the exhalation. My body awaits -resting in silence, and I unite with my heart’s language of love radiating – expanding like an echo in a cave. I have the sense of image and presence, an infusion of Spirit, connection …and I open to receive it.
I feel a profound sense of gratitude. I experience a strong sense of consolation that tempts me to cling and again, I let go and hold it lightly. I notice that my breathing tempo slows ‘my whole self’ down. I notice that I feel at peace. I notice that I feel open to all that might unfold. I notice that my mind occasionally tries to get in on the action and as I gently accept that and return to whispering ‘Yaweh’ and breathing, the sense that all is well expands within me.
At the heart of the experience of contemplation is really a language of silence that is somewhat indescribable but known. I feel at rest, that I am being gently held and cared for. I have a big desire to enter deeper into that gentle embrace like snuggling into my nana’s Irish sweater. It becomes like a mantel lovingly worn by one who has gone before me that nestles around me as if to say … Be still and rest here where we will mind you and be in you, through you and with you. I notice that at such moments time is irrelevant – almost liminal.
Come away to a secret place and rest for a while Mark 6:31
It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen. ~ Oliver Wendall Holmes
Nature presents herself as a charming cantor inviting all who have ears to listen and enter the sacred space of worship always present around us in creation. Recently, I listened to the Exeter river that runs behind my house for half an hour. I heard birds, cars in the distance and wind in the trees and the sudden movement of woodland critters. The longer I sat there, the more things I could hear. The river flowing as it traversed rocks or fallen trees; burbling water against the edges of the riverbed shore; and rushing of air as it passed me; the trees creaking as they moved with the wind. The experience was calming and refreshing. I felt renewed as I rested in the sacred rhythms of the river. I feel my spirit flowing en tandem with the water.
I began to notice that I felt more aware, more peaceful and present. I also noticed that the ability to connect with what I heard and experienced intensified as I closed my eyes to just listen and didn’t rely on sight at all. The inward sensation becomes a feeling of resonance with what I hear; a sense of communication between the river’s sounds and myself. The flow, burble, rush sound happy and content to me and convey a powerful sense of aliveness or ‘life’. Also with my eyes shut I felt together with what I heard whereas with my eyes open I felt more separate or a part.
One day a week my now eight-month old grandson joins me for the day. Together, we take walks, garden and otherwise enjoy being outside together. I take great delight in noticing how sensitively he expresses his awareness of creation. His stillness in the face of it all, his attraction to certain sounds or views, all generate a sense of our primordial/familial belonging to the natural world. I hope and pray that our days in nature will nurture his unique G*d seed and inspire him to care for his world as for himself.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting / over and over announcing your place in the family of things. ~ Mary Oliver