New Year Meditation-Madonna Lily

 

New Year Meditation- Madonna Lily

This meditation is intended to help review the year that has just passed and prepare for the new one about to start. If you are a regular meditator, go through your usual routine of preparation. The fragrance for this meditation is that of the lily so if you are lucky enough to have a bunch of lilies to hand, place them somewhere close so you can inhale their lovely scent. This is not essential to the meditation but may help if you feel the need.

Find somewhere quiet and comfortable and sit down. Make sure your back is straight and your legs are uncrossed.

Close your eyes and breathe in slowly. Hold the breath for a moment and then let it out again slowly. Do this a few times until you feel calm and centred.

You are standing in an ancient building. The stone flags beneath your feet are worn to a sheen by generations of feet that have walked upon them and the walls are thick. The few windows are small and set quite high in the walls and as your eyes get used to the dimness, you see that you are in a tiny church or chapel. It looks to be at least a thousand years old and you are the only person present. Here and there, clusters of candles burn, giving a glow of golden light. The scent of lilies is heavy in the air and arrangements of the flowers are stationed around the church. Facing east, you see that the altar has a simple pottery vase containing a few stems of lilies, illuminated by the group of beeswax candles nearby.

As you walk towards the altar, you see a casket standing on trestles in front of the altar and you realise with a sense of shock that you are here for a funeral. The casket is open and as you draw near and steel yourself to look, you see that it is empty. This is the funeral for the year that has just passed, your year and you are here to review its life in its entirety. Next to the casket is a bag, and you reach inside. It is packed with snapshot photographs, each one representing a moment, a day, a memory from the year that has passed. Some you smile at, some you feel tears welling up. One by one, gaze at each photo and allow yourself to remember, but without judgement. When you feel ready, drop the photo into the casket.

When each photo reaches the floor of the casket, a transformation takes place. Each memory changes into a precious stone, a jewel. The bright joyful memories become stones like sparkling diamonds or light blue sapphires or golden amber; the darker, more painful memories become jewels like polished onyx, blood red rubies or perhaps sapphires so deep blue they seem almost black. Observe each memory as it is transformed; some may surprise you what they become.

Once the bag of photos is empty, look closely at the jewels that now cover the floor of the casket. Give the casket a little shake and see how the stones shift around and make patterns. They seem to form groups of related memories, and it seems also that the darker stones give the lighter ones a deeper shine and the lighter ones make the dark ones sparkle. You can still identify which memory is which; if you wish, you may pick a few up and examine them more closely now they are transformed.

The time has come to say goodbye and you must shut the lid of the casket. As you do so, you see now that it is not a coffin as you had thought, but rather a treasure chest made of polished cedar, with a domed lid carved with beautiful patterns. Take the chest now and carry it towards the altar. You will see that the altar bears symbols that are special to you, and you feel happy to place your treasure chest of memories beneath it. It will be safe here and you can revisit and ponder the meaning of your treasures any time you choose but now it is time to go.

Walk back down the nave. The worn stones under your feet feel comforting but you have a sense of emptiness as one so often does after a funeral. The old year is gone and the new one is yet to begin; you are suspended between times now, just for this short time. It’s a little uncomfortable because now you are starting to worry about what the new year will bring.

Close to the door there stands a great stone basin, a font of immense antiquity. The carvings around the bowl of it are worn but you can see patterns similar to those on the lid of your treasure chest. On the rim, flanked by groups of candles is another vase of lilies. You can smell their sweet fresh fragrance and as you watch, some of the powdery red pollen spills onto the surface of the water that fills the font. The powder spreads out and you watch fascinated as the play of candlelight and reflections make pictures come alive in the water and you realise that you are seeing scenes from what the new year may bring. Watch, but without judgement or attachment; these are things that may happen. Nothing is certain yet. Just as the previous year had good and bad in it, so too will the next one.

The great battered door, armoured with blackened iron swings open a little and the breeze scatters the pollen and the pictures cease. You walk towards the door and glance back. At the altar, the lilies still glow golden in the light from the candle flames and your treasure chest nestles beneath in the dancing shadows. The water on the font ripples with the wind that enters and shakes the flames like leaves on a tree and you know it is time to leave this place.

Outside, you can feel the changes that have taken place and the first rays of light of a new dawn turn the sky a heavenly pink, and you know that this new day heralds a new year full of joys and sorrows, and you step forth, determined to understand the treasure in both.

Darkness is Uncreated Light

 

Darkness is uncreated light

 

The last few weeks have been a hard time for me; physical health issues following an operation a week before Christmas became compounded with my cycle of spiralling through periods of low and high mood, and came to a head on Christmas Eve. For days I sat and read through tweets and Facebook status posts about how excited everyone was and all they were doing and felt dislocated and isolated. It had been a close run thing that I was able to be at home for Christmas; the post operative infection was near to sending me back to hospital to be tied to an IV drip of antibiotics. But the collective excitement and frenetic happiness that the outside world seemed to be presenting to me did not cheer me. In fact it just brought home to me quite how false most human celebrations actually are. What is at the core of them may not be false but not that many get to the core. The tinsel and the cake are just external manifestations of that core and mean nothing in themselves(except perhaps calories and expense.)

On Christmas Eve, it started to coalesce into a painfully clear-eyed understanding of the whole concept of depression. The essay I wrote at that time may be posted at some stage; a few people have read it in its current form but since the overall theme was written from a place of immense pain, I am not certain it would benefit many to read it as is.

The nub of the essay was that depression is a product of the removal(whether willing or not) of the usually unseen barrier between true objective external reality and the reality that lives inside our minds. This is something that happens at times of great grief or disappointment in particular. When someone dies, we cannot pretend(at least, not for long) that they are still with us; when we fail to get the job we were sure was ours we cannot carry on as if we did. Other triggers are common; how we look, our talents and skills, our relationships and so on, often do not match what we have in our heads. Clinical depression is often described as being a result of chemical imbalances in the brain but even this is not being backed up by conclusive research. Not to mention the whole chicken and egg conundrum: which came first, the imbalance or the depression?

I spent much of Christmas Eve either crying or fighting tears. This isn’t that unusual; when I have been in this space before, for the same reasons of the veil between the realities being suddenly absent, it usually takes going through the pain to come out on the other side. The fact that it was Christmas, the time when everyone is meant to be happy smiling bunnies, was at once a major contributing trigger to the epsiode in the first place and at the same time, something that just added continuous fuel to the pain. I know I was ill, feverish and in pain, and anxious, and that this was probably why it happened then and not at some stage in the future when I cannot hold the dark matter of reality apart from the marshmallow world of sweetness inside my head.

But there were things to be done and I did them. My husband put up the Christmas tree and the decorations and as I looked around the house, transformed from its workaday look, a tiny feeling of release began. OK, so the two realities didn’t match; but for a while, it simply didn’t matter as much. Christmas Eve picked up slowly. I managed to eat a little. I felt a tiny bit better. And when Christmas Day dawned, I was weary but all right, and the day had a quiet holiness about it and as a family we had a good day. Boxing Day we went to visit my family, about two hours drive away, and stayed there till yesterday afternoon. It was fine, pleasant and good to be with people I loved.

Last night, as I was trying to settle to go to bed, I picked up the prayer book that sits by my bed. I do not have a regular discipline concerning either prayer or prayerful reading; I sabotage myself every time I have tried for the last 30 or more years. I figure that I need to follow the flow of my life, not something dictated by another person. The book is the Celtic Daily Prayer, a book from the Northumbria community in the north of England. Look them up if it interests you. I probably dip into this book a couple of times a week, and usually find that the words move me. The words for Christmas Day sprang off the page for me:

Do not be afraid to walk in darkness for I am uncreated light. I will cause you to look on darkness and not be afraid.

It speaks of several kinds of darkness but the last lines of the passage carried most power for me:

The darkness of despair and unanswered questions may require that we reach out and hold His hand in the darkness, even by faith, and just keep on walking.

In the end, surviving depressive episodes for me have to be about keeping on walking, holding a hand that is unseen and unfelt and having faith that however alone I feel in it, there truly is One who is there when nobody else can be.

 

Reindeer-totem of endurance(and winter)

  Reindeer: totem of endurance

 

I have long had a fascination for reindeer; my favourite Christmas present last year was a rather wonderful book called The Real Rudolf(a Natural History of the Reindeer) by Tilly Smith. This is a book for true enthusiasts like me and highly recommended if you wish you seek more information about this amazing deer. Mankind has had an association with the reindeer(also called caribou) since the Upper Palaeolithic era but the date for domestication is hazy. It certainly goes back many thousands of years and continues to this day. In recent history Swedish furniture giant Ikea was pressurised into removing reindeer meat products from their Swedish food shops, citing public outcry at eating Rudolf! I did rather enjoy their reindeer salami and am at a loss to understand the problem.

Reindeer are some of the most appealing deer, and have the most incredibly soft and warm coats. Indeed, externally, the only part of a reindeer not to be covered with fur is their eyeballs. There is another feature that is unique to reindeer and that is the antlers; females and young grow antlers just as the males do. The purpose of the antlers is that of giving everyone literally a fighting chance of getting sufficient food to survive. Bulls(males) shed theirs first, allowing other reindeer to compete for food. The last to lose their antlers are the pregnant cows(females). So the chances are that Rudolf and the other reindeer pulling Santa’s sledge are not only likely to be all ladies but all mothers-to-be!

The connection of reindeer to shamanic wisdom is ancient; carvings and cave drawings go back many thousands of years. Indeed, reindeer are known to eat the hallucinogenic fly agaric fungus,

 and their urine, still full of the properties of the fungus has been drunk by shaman to induce trances. Reputedly, this sort of trance has a flying element to it, linking again to the story of flying reindeer. Drums made from the skin of reindeer have been considered highly powerful tools in working with the Otherworld for the purposes of magic and healing in this one.

Animal Spirits suggest various attributes for allying with a reindeer totem:

  • Connection to home over long distances
  • Power of wandering
  • Protection while travelling
  • Social skills
  • Retention of ones power in group situations
  • Ability to go long periods in the dark

 

On a personal note, I own a drum made with reindeer skin, as well as a reindeer skin that is one of the most warming and comforting items I have ever known.

While the song Rudolf the Red-Nosed reindeer has only been with us since 1939, the association of reindeer with this time of year is probably far more ancient and I can think of no better ally for getting through this dark, cold time than a creature who is so admirably suited to surviving the harshest of harsh conditions.

Solstice Prayer

 

Solstice Prayer

 

Breathe in; the moment has come

To hold your breath within your heart.

Silence, while the light becomes so still

You can hear the tiny cracks as dawn breaks.

This moment, the light has travelled far

And pauses before starting that slow return

Growing greater by minute increments

Invisible at first but sure and steady

In the agonising climb to another height.

Like a pendulum, the year has swung,

Reached that still point of lowness.

The rising sun weak with worn gold

Shot through with crimson blood

Peeps above heavy clouds and

The moment passes, as always,

And we breathe out, knowing that

The darkness is turned away.

 

 

An Advent sermon

This is sort of a guest post, if you like. As you may know, I have been in hospital, having an operation. There were complications but I am home now and ok. Mostly anyway. I won’t bore you with details. 

 The following is my husband’s sermon for tomorrow(today when you read this). Even if you are not a believer, or you belong to another faith, please do read it, as I think the central themes are relevant to many people. I believe in peace, in people of all races and faiths getting along and realising we are all one family. (It’s also his birthday tomorrow too, so Happy Birthday dearest!)

Matthew 1.18-end : 18 ¶ Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

For the last three weeks we have been looking backwards to God’s promises to us: The hope of the Messiah given through God’s messengers. Today, the 4th and final Sunday of Advent the story focuses on the celebration that is less than a week away. Our readings speak of God’s love for us – of how he promised us through the prophet Isaiah that a virgin would conceive and bear a son whose name would be known as “Emmanuel”, God with us – and how this special child would save and deliver his people.

In our Gospel reading, we are told how that promise came true through Mary’s child and we are told how Joseph, out of his love for God and his obedience to God, took Mary for his wife and did all that the angel commanded him to do. And it’s because of Joseph’s obedience that Jesus had a home and family.

And then there is that reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. That reading is just Paul’s introduction, he sets out his credentials as an apostle. And then there is a greeting: To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Scripture is eternal, passing the bounds of space and time. So to all God’s beloved in Corton: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is how our passage from the letter to the Romans ends. But like Advent that is ending, it sets the scene for the riches to come.

So Grace to you .. and Peace.

Peace… That is something that seems to have been far from me this week. Work has been incredibly busy and I’ve been coming home glassy eyed from staring at a computer screen without a break. My brain seized solid with mentally jumping from one topic to another. A seized brain might not be very active but it certainly isn’t at peace.

Then there’s been the worry. The worry of Viv going into hospital. I know it’s only a small operation. In at 7am and out the same afternoon. But it’s still an operation, Viv will still be hurt and I can’t do anything about it. Nothing but ‘be there’ and do the things that she can’t until she is better. We worry about those close to us. And logic can barely scratch the surface of that worry and fear.

I know God is with me, with Viv. I know His presence all of the time. It is comforting to but I still worry and fret. What if?… what then?…

What then – well the snow comes in drifts making the 6.30 drive treacherous, but at least the concentration keeps my mind of other things, the other what ifs…

We arrive safely at the hospital and slither gracefully, or not so gracefully into the warm. We arrive at the department and a grey exhausted night shift nurse welcomes us. You could see the pause while her tired brain takes in that new patients have arrived. You can see the effort as she reaches down past her feet to summon up a tired smile that starts at the corner or her mouth and finally reaches her eyes.

We are told to wait. So we wait, a small group of women with their husbands, boyfriends or ‘significant others’. All dazed, frightened and worried. All still a little cold with snow melting off our shoes. Then within 10, 15 minutes at the most, Viv and the other women are checked in and shown to their beds. And I, with the other men are kindly but firmly escorted off the ward. We’ll phone you between 1 and 3 to let you know you can pick her up. And the small group of us wander off dazed back into the cold and ice.

And Viv wasn’t home that night, there were complications, there always are. But she is home now. But I still need peace.

We need peace. I need peace.

Peace.

Peace is a key theme for Christmas. I decided to get the shopping in before Viv came home, while I could still leave the house unattended. And I found peace. I saw peace on Christmas cards in the supermarket.

I saw the word, and a dove or a mother and child, I stepped back to admire and soak up the peaceful scene …. and bumped into the basket of the person behind me; who bumped the person with the overfull trolley next to them. And the bubble is burst.

We talk about peace, we long for peace but we don’t seem to have a clue about how to go about getting it. So we spend and spend, and spend some more …. just in case. In case of what, I’m not quite sure.

We fill our baskets and cars with more food than any person can eat. We buy presents and so much more. We fill our homes and then go out for more.

I need peace, the people in that supermarket need peace, our world needs peace. Peace is an ideal and seems to stay just out of reach. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

I arrived home, I saw the sparrows on the feeders and chasing each other around. I saw the candle burning, a silent prayer for Viv. And peace came back. Well peace had never really left, I had just been too busy to notice God’s peace still there, waiting patiently inside. The peace amid the worries and fears. The peace that was stronger than the ‘what ifs’.

Peace snuck up on me, and tripped me up. And I nearly cried. I had an insight into what all this Advent preparation is all about. Why taking the time to prepare is so important and why rushing to get to Christmas too early, too quickly is so harmful.

I realised why the Peace was there. It wasn’t because I am saintly or special. But because I know lots of people who are, literally saints and they are with me every time I pray. And the peace was there because God was there, Jesus was there with me, through the Spirit. That peace was there all the time, I was just too busy to see it. That is what Advent preparation is for.

Advent is there so that we can spend time get close to God. Pondering God’s promises of Peace and Grace. Reading about the people of faith, hearing the Bible stories and prophecy. Considering again the possibility that hope could come through Mary, a young girl, saying Yes. Advent is about learning to trust God again, even though we can’t reach out and touch Him. We learn to appreciate the presence of God with us all the time.

Now I get uneasy with too much talk about Jesus as my friend. Jesus is the incarnate Word with, the one who was with the Father at the beginning of time. Jesus is our all powerful judge, the one more powerful than death, all death. Greater than time, the one who will return and end time. But at the same time Jesus can be like a close friend, I don’t deserve it, and never will, but that is one of the mysteries of faith: That the all powerful God can be baby, or stand beside us now in Spirit and surprise us with peace.

Its a gift. After all that is what Grace is – a gift.

So Grace to you .. and Peace. Because the hope of grace, is at the heart of our Advent preparations. Grace is a blessing undeserved. A gift, wrapped or unwrapped, that will arrive at Christmas.

Now I don’t know about you but Grace is what I need. I know myself far too well to think that I could ever earn God’s favour. It needs to be a gift or there isn’t much hope. But a baby born in 1st century Palestine was a gift. A gift from God that we find so hard to accept.

Going back to the pre-Christmas supermarket – we get a taste of grace, and think we can do the rest with tinsel and food and drink. And it is hollow at the centre, without hope. The hoped for joyful family Christmas ends in a fight, harsh words, New Year indiscretions and a year of painful recriminations.

So we have been given a gift – or lots of gifts – We have Advent as a gift, the preparation that makes it possible for the Christ to be at the centre of our Christmas. Without Christ there is only ‘mas’, a mass of people frantic and aimless, prodding turkeys and gathering sprouts.

So Advent is about preparation. Preparing ourselves for Jesus’ return. Or more accurately letting God prepare us. Then we will be reading to celebrate Christmas. A Christmas full of hope and joy and expectation. A Christmas with the Christ shaped hole filled with the incarnate Christ. Christmas, like a good cake can’t be rushed. It needs preparation, work and sufficient time. Time for the gift of Advent to unwrap itself and become part of us.

So use this Advent, what is still left of it.

I’ll end where I started, with the wisdom of St. Paul. : To God’s beloved in Corton: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ….. this Advent, this Christmas and Always.

In the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Prayer

“It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.”

Prayer is a simple thing, a holding of our thoughts and wishes like a handful of broken toys to the Eternal Father. It can be long and full of beautiful poetry or short and full of harsh, raw words. It can be in our daily acts of mercy and kindness, in our meetings with other souls. It can be in our  every breath and every word.

It can be as simple as lighting a single candle and pausing for a moment to reflect.

Light one for me today.