Saturday, December 9, 2017

Magnificat



MAGNIFICAT 

What shall I do
with this quiet joy?
It calls forth the expanse
of my soul, calls
it forth to go singing
through the world...
to rock the cradles of death
gently and without fear.. 
to collect the rain
in my spread hands
 and spill it
like laughter...

Calls it forth
to bear into this world
a place
where light will glisten the edge
 of every wing
and blade of grass and
Shine 
along every hair on every head..
Gleam 
among the turnings of every wave.
Glorify
the turning open of each life,
each human hand.



from "Magnificat" by Christina Hutchin
My soul magnifies God.
Luke 1:46

*

The Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth is closely connected to the canticle 
of the Magnificat that she sang on that occasion.

*
Painting "The Visit" by Dorothy Webster Hawksley, (1884-1970)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Beyond the Blue Seas


“Beyond the blue seas, and beyond the high mountains” is the stirring description which carries us to the world of Vasilissa the Beautiful and the witch Baba Yaga: perhaps the Russian equivalent of our “once upon a time” phrase. Vasilissa the Beautiful follows much the same themes as our own Cinderella: a story involving a cruel stepmother and stepsisters whose exploitive coldness must be contended with, a pure and beautiful young woman who arouses the stepmother’s jealousy, and the hag Baba Yaga.

As with so many of these stories, Vasilissa’s tale endures because when we read it we sense deeper stirrings of themes to which we feel powerfully drawn. Is Baba Yaga merely a one-dimensional forest witch… or does she perhaps offer us lessons for our own lives? True to tradition, Baba Yaga is grotesquely ugly, with straggling hair as white as death and whose face seems more to be a leathery mask of wrinkles. She has at her command the powers of magical flight. The fence which borders her house is made from human bones, and upon each fence post rests a human skull with brightly-glowing eyes.

The setting has all the spine-chilling attributes of a storybook evil witch, but can we really consider Baba Yaga herself to be ‘evil’? In the story she actually provides Vasilissa with the means to overcome the wicked stepmother and stepdaughters by giving her one of those fiery-eyed skulls. When Vasilissa carries the skull back to her own home, the glowing eyes burn up the tyrannical stepmother together with her daughters, and she is freed to claim back her own life.

So Baba Yaga is perhaps neither strictly ‘good’ nor ‘evil’ in any clear-cut sense, any more than a tornado which destroys a community with its ferocious power can be considered as having done ‘evil’. A torrential downpour of rain might relieve a long period of drought, but the rain is not ‘good’ in any moral sense. The forces of nature simply are. 

Unlike the stepmother, Baba Yaga feels no jealousy towards Vasilissa’s great beauty. She cannot. To Baba Yaga, her own hideous appearance is simply a part of who she is, just as Vasilissa’s beauty reflects her pure soul. We would say that Baba Yaga owns her own ugliness. But what of Vasilissa? Her encounter with Baba Yaga has worked its own changes upon her as well. Baba Yaga has long left behind any need to feel ‘beautiful’. She is who she is. Baba Yaga’s true power has been to liberate herself from herself.

In her turn, in putting up with such cruel treatment in her own home for so long, Vasilissa, by being too submissive and servile, has in a sense kept herself captive. Baba Yaga’s gift to Vasilissa has been to awaken her to her own strength. Vasilissa returns empowered. In a sense the fiery-eyed skull is a mere prop, a showy trick which distracts from what has really taken place. It is the transformed Vasilissa who does the real vanquishing, and it is the transformed Vasilissa who now is free to claim her own life back.





Illustration by Forest Rogers


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

When I was the Forest


When I was the stream, when I was the
forest, when I was still the field,
when I was every hoof, foot,
fin and wing, when I
was the sky
itself,

no one ever asked me did I have a purpose, no one ever
wondered was there anything I might need,
for there was nothing
I could not
love.

It was when I left all we once were that
the agony began, the fear and questions came,
and I wept, I wept. And tears
I had never known
before.

So I returned to the river, I returned to
the mountains. I asked for their hand in marriage again,
I begged -I begged to wed every object
and creature,

and when they accepted,
God was ever present in my arms.
                                             And He did not say,
“Where have you
been?”

For then I knew my soul - every soul - has always held
Him.

*

Meister Eckhart 
(1260 – 1328)


Monday, October 30, 2017

Autumn Alchemy


The air is very still. Around them the trees perform their autumn alchemy, transmuting their leaves into gold against the gold of the late October sun: gold against gold. Together they walk between the trees. Hand in hand, as always. They do not speak. Words would add nothing to their togetherness.

Every now and then one of them stops to read a text on a stone, out loud, but softly, while the other waits quietly. And then they walk on. Sometimes the woman bends over as if to brush away some leaves from the stones, and only then they let go of each other. Many of the texts they know by heart, but every now and then they discover a new one, and pause to read it with great concentration. Their bodies stretch forward, and quietly they read names, dates, wishes for peace: gestures of a love which endures long beyond the dates on which they were inscribed.

Sometimes the effort needed is too much for them. Then they speak in turn, each one carrying the words forward to the end of the inscription. The rhythm of the one glides effortlessly into that of the other, as if one voice only is speaking. But a beautiful text they read together, simultaneously. The woman now and then shakes her head compassionately: "So young still, so very young." "Come", says the man then. And at another place they might just nod, or agree together: "Yes, yes, that is a wonderful age!"

Their bench is occupied. A woman, middle-aged, alone. They greet her. "Good afternoon madam." But the woman does not respond. Her head is lowered, sunk deep in her own thoughts with a resigned finality. She hardly seems to notice them as they walk past her. They walk on, a little taken aback, to the next bench. There they rest.

A bird starts singing its evening song, sitting in a tall tree which bends over a new grave. The song sounds so full of life. In the distance a church bell starts ringing, almost as if in response to the bird’s own cadences.

"That late already? Come, we’d better go now." Hand in hand they walk back between the trees, past the woman on the bench. She looks up at last as they approach her, grateful to have the cemetery to herself. Grief is, after all, a private thing. High overhead a formation of geese is flying. Winter is nigh.




Thursday, October 19, 2017

Are We Still or are We Moving?



Are we still or are we moving? Even when our senses tell us that we might be keeping perfectly still, we know that we are moving, both with the Earth’s rotation through its cycles of day and night and with the movement of the Earth itself as it swims through the dark ocean of space. But to our ancestors these movements were unknown, unrecognised – and unthought-of. In those distant days, before science started to tell us otherwise, stillness was simply stillness.

But let us put science aside. If we are still, are we still moving? Supposing that we are lying ill in bed with a fever? Just as a burning fever is necessary before the healing can occur, we sometimes must undergo a critical turning point where we are turned around, inside out, undergoing a radical shift, to face a truth within. In life it is often suffering that leads us to open doors within ourselves that we probably would not have opened had we not first experienced this suffering. The suffering creates movement: a movement towards a process in which true healing can begin.

Our ancestors might not have been aware of the Earth’s movement through space, but movement for them came in other, perhaps more richer forms. For them, movement was a process: that sense of a journey which moves ever inwards and outwards once more. In mystic - and mythic - terms, a journey towards a centre is also a journey towards an edge, and it is this paradox which finds its most powerful expression in the form of the labyrinth.

And yet, such a paradox exists only in our everyday material reality, and is seen as being paradoxical only by our everyday senses. Once we are in the labyrinth and we walk the winding path which leads us inexorably towards the centre, we enter a timeless mythic landscape. Such paradoxes will then become meaningless, and the centre which is also an edge becomes a reality: a revealed truth. The labyrinth is a three-dimensional lesson offering a great and simple truth: that a movement – any movement – is a movement towards stillness, and that movement and stillness are themselves an eternal dynamic between action and rest.

Are we still or are we moving? We follow the winding path within ourselves and discover at our innermost centre, at the very core of our being, not the confines which we had imagined, but new infinities offering a true healing of the self.








Friday, September 29, 2017

Saint Michael and the Dragon


When the Saint George of legend valiantly sets out to fight the dragon and rescue the fair maiden, the king’s daughter, he not only accomplishes his mission; he also supplies us with a powerful archetype of the bold knight and the damsel in distress. But: ‘as above, so below’ is the dictum at the cornerstone of Western mysticism, and so we might expect to find Saint George’s bravery mirrored by events in the heavens.

Today, September 29, we celebrate the feast of the archangel Saint Michael, whose name means ‘the one who is like God’. The principal task of Michael is to fight against evil, and evil in Western tradition is personified by the dragon. According to John of Patmos, the author of the Book of Revelation, this battle between these two ultimate adversaries took place in the heavens. John gives us a stirring account of the conflict: Michael and the other angels fight against the dragon and its accompanying demons, “and the great dragon, that old snake… was conquered and thrown out of heavens into the deep.”

When we gaze up into the night sky it might seem a peaceful and orderly place. But appearances can be deceptive, for our telescopes reveal to us stars exploding with such violence that the worlds around them must surely be destroyed. The cosmos is itself a battleground, and reflects the epic struggle of the angels taking place on less visible planes. In John’s narrative Michael emerges as the victor of the battle against the powers of darkness. And so the celebration of Saint Michael on this day is a calling to us to acknowledge and recognize those powers which seek to unbalance the cosmic equilibrium, and each in our own way to strive against them, whether they be destructive forces in the world itself, or demons of a more personal nature with which we must do battle inside ourselves.

And so Saint George rides out to join battle with the terrible monster and rescue the fair maiden. The maiden is essential to the story, for she represents all that is pure and good: those qualities that must be guarded and cherished, especially in the face of evil. Saint George battles the dragon on earth as Saint Michael battles the dragon in the heavens. The one reflects the other, and although the outcome of the battle might at times seem uncertain, to fight and to strive for victory is all and everything.







Painting by James Powell

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

At the Still Point of the Turning World


To ‘stand in truth’. What this phrase means will be different for each one of us, for we all have our own personal truth. But beyond this personal truth, we probably feel intuitively that such a place to stand is a place beyond the habitual momentum which pushes us forward, a place which is, in T.S. Eliot’s phrase, at ‘the still point of the turning world’. We feel that this is a place of peace and sanctuary, where it is safe for us to let go of all those chattering voices in us that, perhaps for years, have told us that we are ‘unworthy’, or that we ‘cannot’, or that just give us a feeling that we are ‘not good enough’.

This place where we can ‘stand in truth’ is a place where we can dare to push off from to meet new challenges, even if we feel that our legs tremble with the effort. For this place invests us with the authority of our true Spirit. 
But where is this place to stand? Anywhere where we are, we only need to take one step inside ourselves towards it, and we are there. This is because it is a place where the universe wishes us to be. We only need to show that we are willing to be there, and it will rush to meet us, and allow us to ‘stand in truth.







Painting: The Pilgrim at the Gate by Edward Burne-Jones


Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Gentle Guide


As we travel through the landscape of our lives we must be willing “to go” where the Divine Energy takes us. Often, we must be pried out of familiar surroundings, security, comfort zones, and ego identities. The universe will move us: as old skins cannot contain new wine, and we find we are no longer able to live the old life we once found so secure. Once we arrive, temporarily to rest, with introspection we can then look back and say "Ah... now I see the workings of Wisdom in that journey." 
Sophia - Wisdom - always allows us time to get settled into the new skins, the new view, the new unknown. Her Spirit is a gentle guide, quietly leading, prodding, and moving us to a new heightened sense of awareness and a new view of our souls and the internal work that needs to be done.





Ink painting by Gao Xingjian

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Divine Bride


The return of Mary Magdalene into our consciousness can be understood as a collective necessity to revitalise our connection with Sophia: the intuitive or female way of 'knowing' and 'being' - knowledge which comes from the heart (see my earlier post "Sophia - The Breath of Life"). This 'wave of awareness' is becoming increasingly necessary to make it possible to integrate the presently-dominating male energy with its neglected female complementary Sophia energy. The return of the Magdalene therefore is not so much about the historical Mary Magdalene whose sandaled feet walked beside those of Jesus, but is more about the primal concept of the bride, who is the divine completion of Christ the groom.

Many of us now feel that the time has come to honour this 'holy union', because of our growing awareness that we need both male and female energy, on all levels of existence and of consciousness. We ultimately need a balance - a balancing of both male and female energies - to become whole once more. These are basic cosmic principles. Where only the sun, as a symbol of the male, rules, we find barren desert.

In our times we begin to hear the 'voice of the bride', the sacred aspect of Sophia. We must now also begin to listen by giving her back the role of Divine Completion and Partnership. In Christianity this completion lies enfolded in Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. In India in Shiva and Shakti.
Many such holy couples can be found in ancient religions, and all represent the life-force and the eternal return of Life. Divinity is not just an echo of a painting on a ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. It is everywhere. Each one of us enfolds something holy imbued by the Divine. And so the ultimate holy matrimony is present in every human being who unites him/herself with the spirit of its consciousness.


Close-up of Frieze in the St. Volusien’s Church in Foix, France

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Once upon a Time


“Once upon a time”. How familiar these words are to us, even though it might have been long years ago in our childhood that we last read them on the printed page. The words conjure forth a sense of events about to unfold for us, of ‘what is going to happen next’, and we know then that we can settle down and listen captivated to some magical story filled with heroic daring and romance. 

Beginnings are full of promise. They hold something that is at the same time majestic and delicate, grandly unfolding and yet also fragile. We might not always know what is to come, but that ‘not knowing’ is the very thing which creates a sense of tension. But because this familiar phrase finds its place at the beginnings of stories, and because these stories have already been written, we know that we are going to find out ‘what is going to happen next’. All that we need to do to find out what that something might be is to sit and listen or read further.

And so we accompany a little girl in a red cape as she goes to visit her grandmother in her cottage in the dark woods, or we journey with a mixture of courage and dread with Beauty as she nears the castle of the Beast. The variations are as infinite as the human imagination, and it is our imagination that defines these stories. 

But whatever their individual variations, these stories always begin with “once upon a time”. But so do they always end with another familiar ringing phrase as well. There waiting patiently at the end of the story like an old friend is the reassuring phrase: “…and they lived happily ever after.” Even as we experience all the adventures and setbacks with which the characters must contend along the way, we know that things will work out in the end because ‘happily ever after’ will be the story's concluding words.

Our life, as we know all too well, tends to have a rather different format from one of these stories. What our imagination cannot define, but only wonder about, is what has yet to be written down. “Once upon a time” could also be the commencement of our own lives, or of the coming year, or even of the day that is about to unfold, but whose events have yet to happen. We can guarantee that it will begin with this phrase. How our own story might end is less certain. Those words ‘happily ever after’ are so imprinted in our consciousness that they might lead us into a sense of false expectation, into thinking that this is the way that things ought to end. But perhaps the words offer something more significant than false expectations which might lead only to disappointment.

Perhaps these formulaic story phrases also offer us promise, of a sense that events are unfolding as they should, even if these events are very different from what we had imagined for ourselves. “Once upon a time” is always the beginning. And if we allow ourselves the space, and perhaps also the compassion and forgiveness for our circumstances, it is always possible that “happily ever after” will be the conclusion.






Illustration: Snowwhite and the Seven Dwarfs by Lidia Postma

Sunday, April 30, 2017

In the Heart of Heaven


Are you feeling restful? We usually take this question as meaning that we are being asked if we feel at ease and contented, if our thoughts are peaceful and untroubled. If all is well with us then it is nice to be able to reply in the affirmative. These are the states of wellbeing in our everyday world, but supposing that we alter the question slightly.

Supposing instead the question is: are you at rest within yourself? Now there is a deeper meaning implied: something which hints at a state of rest beyond simply ‘feeling restful’. The key word seems to be ‘within’. This, we sense, is something beyond feeling merely at ease about things. It carries the promise of a deeper world that is somewhere accessible: a peace beyond even ordinary contentment. But do we even have to feel good about things to reach this inner level?

Even when the ocean is a raging storm on the surface and great white-foamed waves are tossing and rolling, we know that deep beneath those waves all is calm in the depths, where the silent blue waters remain indifferent to the fury of the weather above. So perhaps it is possible that in our own lives we can reach this deeper peace, even when the events around us are filling our every thought with stress and confusion. The storm may rage around us, but these still, quiet depths within ourselves are always there and always accessible. But how are we to access them?

In one of the Gnostic texts known as ‘The Paraphrase of Shem’ the creative Light utters the mysterious phrase:


AI EIS AI OU PHAR DOU IA EI OU


This strange phrase seems to be beyond translation: unrecognisable as a known language, perhaps it is intended as a magical incantation. But in spite of this ambiguity we need not wonder about what is being said, because the following passage in the text gives us the intended meaning: ‘I am in great rest’, is what the Light is saying. The text further explains that in this blissful state all impurities are burned away in the presence of this purest of lights, and a state of rest like no other is offered.

Perhaps only in the heart of heaven is such perfect rest attainable, although we still may taste its sweetness, perhaps through the practice of meditation, or maybe we might use our own methods, such as listening to a favourite piece of music, or reading some choice lines of poetry, or being in a particular place where we feel contented and at home, whether in deep woodlands or by the sea’s shore.

Such places, such states, might seem to be a solitary activity, but always they are a dialogue, a communion with the Divine. In such moments, and without words, the Light is speaking to us, reminding us that even when we are by ourselves, even when we are only one, we still remain, and always will be, One.






Painting by Vasily Polenov