It is cold, dark, and wet as I begin my journey around the cornfields. I am starting an assignment for my course on English Spirituality and Mysticism. “Spend at least one hour walking silently in nature. Reflect on how you experience (or do not experience) the divine or the transcendent in the natural world around you and in your body.”
I had hoped to do this practice in the Alice Newton Street Memorial Park. It would have been more wooded, and not around a large field. Yet I needed to fit it into a busy schedule that would have minimal conflicts with my work and family obligations which meant I would have to do at least part of the walk in the dark.
It wasn’t completely dark at the cornfields. In the distance were houses and streetlights and my eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light. As I walked, it would become light, hopefully, a fitting metaphor for the exercise.
As I start, I recite fragments of St. Patrick’s Breastplate and other journey-prayers from The Celtic Way of Prayer that we have been reading for the class. I like the idea of journey prayers. I like the idea of journeys. I like the idea of Peregrinatio, a journey with “no specific end or goal such as that of a shrine”, as Esther de Waal describes it. I like the idea of “The longest journey is the journey inward”, a quote from Dag Hammarskjold that de Waal talks about.
I think about my walk around the cornfields as a peregrinatio nested inside the peregrinatio of the class, of my current discernment journey, my journey inward, and my life; a sort of peregrinatio matryoshka.
I try to clear my mind, to walk as contemplatively as possible. It is still dark, and I feel the soft ground covered with pine needles giving way to the gravel path, softened by the rain. In the distance a car drives by. Overhead, I hear a plane. The world beyond the cornfields, even at this early hour is busy, and getting busier. It is the world of Martha. I am trying to walk with Mary and with Christ.
One section of the path around the cornfields is near a road with sodium vapor street lights. They shine through the barren branches of the winter trees creating complicated patterns that make me think of Celtic decorations. The words of William Dix in the hymn, “As with Gladness Men of Old” come to mind.
“In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light”
The light is reflected off of the wet dead leaves on the ground. Water. Reflection. I see this again, later, in puddles along the path, and I think of the reverence of water in Celtic spirituality.
It is peaceful in the cornfields. I am alone. It does not feel like a “voluntary exile...in imitation of Christ himself” that de Waal talks about. If anything, the busy world of Martha feels more like being exiled. The walk is an intimate time with God.
I pass the community gardens. They make me think of Crofters’ gardens, at least as I imagine them. Yes, this idea of the Crofters’ gardens is probably rooted in Celtic romanticism, grown out of nationalism, but that is part of my upbringing. I think of my own upbringing on a small New England farm and my idyllic memories of my childhood, ora et labora. The labors were those of a child during farm chores and the prayers were my laughter and joy.
My mother is now dead and my father is frail, yet the nature walk brings back those memories. Perhaps that is some of experience of the divine on the nature walk; being connected to the land, to history, to family. I savor the peace, the quiet, the memories, and the joy.
It is beginning to get light now. The sound of water dripping off the leaves after the rain is joined by the sound of creatures stirring. A bird chirps, but there is no sign of a wild goose. In the bushes there are other animals, perhaps more frightened of me, than I am of them. There is a mist over the field, and this too feels like Ireland or Scotland. The ground smells fertile, although lacking a peaty smell. A chill wind blows against my face, not a cold, biting wind, but refreshing. It is a reminder of God being well pleased with creation.
As a child, I often walked in the woods. There was always a sense of something out there. Spirits? Angels? What was it? The same sense is around the cornfields, especially as it becomes lighter and the mist more apparent.
In the distance the sirens of the volunteer fire department sound. It is time to end my walk, my reverie and to head off to work. It will be a busy day, but I head off to my tasks ahead reminded of God’s love during trying times.
I look at the questions of the assignment. “How does this experience help you understand the chthonic and panentheistic nature of pre-Christian Celtic spirituality?” “What new insight(s) into pre-Christian Celtic spirituality do you gain from this experience?”
Perhaps it is best summed up in the words of Esther de Waal in the introduction to her book:
“Here, instead, everyone sees themselves in relation to one another, and that extends beyond human beings to wild creatures, the birds and the animals, the earth itself.”
This week, I am setting out on a new journey. I am taking the online class English Spirituality and Mysticism at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. It is part of a larger journey of trying to make sense out of my experience of God at the ISM Poetry Conference: “Love bade me welcome”, which in turn is part of the larger journey of trying to find God’s will and meaning for my life.
One of the texts for this course is The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination by Esther de Waal. I’ve only read the introduction and the first chapter so far, but I’m greatly enjoying it, and thinking about how it, and the course will help shape my journeys. One quote from chapter 1, which is entitled Journeying puts it nicely into context, “The whole of life itself is for them a journey from birth to death”. The chapter spends a bit of time talking about journey prayers and journey blessings, spending a fair amount of time on St. Patrick’s Breastplate which I have always loved.
I write this all in the context of many journeys going on. Donald Trump’s journey to the Presidency. The journey of many friends to protests against things that President Elect Trump has said, the long foot journeys of two friends, one hiking the Appalachian Trail and another setting out to walk the Carmino de Santiago.
I pray for blessings on each journey that we all may act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
I've signed up to take the online course English Spirituality and Mysticism.
I've taken online courses in the past, but this is the first one that I'm actually paying for since I took Grief in the Family Context back in 1999.
Things have changed a lot in online education since 1999 and I'm looking forward to this class, especially because I'm doing a lot with online education for my job right now.
Anyone up for joining me?
Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Happy New Year. Recently, I asked my friends what they thought I should resolve for the New Year. I am facing great uncertainty this coming year, especially around my spiritual journey and our political climate. Will 2017 be a breakout year, in some unexpected way?
Kim, Fiona, and I have gotten tickets to go see Amelie when it opens on Broadway. So last night, we watched the movie. Will this be the year that I find an old tin box full of childhood keepsakes? Will it be the year that I set off to help others in my own quirky way? Will it be the year that I build up enough courage to let something truly wonderful happen to me?
I already have a wonderful marriage, a wonderful family, and a wonderful life (to bring in a different movie title), but is this the year that something gets added to that, in terms of life ambitions, the spiritual journey and the work (much more than my job), that I am to do?
I didn’t get a lot of responses to my blog post asking for suggestions, but one that did stick with me was a reference to #OneLittleWord. The starting point for me in thinking about #OneLittleWord is a blog post by Deanna Mascle whom I met through a community of connected learners. Last July, she wrote Write Your Future in #OneLittleWord.
What is my one little word? Perhaps, it stays with the blog post I wrote at the beginning of last year. Unexpected. 2016 certainly had some unexpected twists. It looks like more of the same may be in store for 2017.
Let’s hope for some unexpected joy this year as we, like Amelie, find the courage to let something truly wonderful unexpectedly happen to us this year.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Last week, I had lunch with a friend whose path to the ordained ministry was difficult. I’ve been having meals like this recently to seek a clear understanding of whatever ministry God is calling me to. At one point, she suggested that I go to some ordinations. I’ve been to plenty of ordinations in the past, but it’s been many years. She suggested that the sermons at ordinations might be particularly helpful as I try to find the ministry God is calling me to.
The idea was interesting, and this week there are three ordinations to the priesthood taking place in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. Yet it felt a little like the movie Harold and Maude, where a young boy and an old woman meet at funerals of people they don’t know well and establish an unlikely friendship. Would going to ordinations at this point in my journey be wise? Could I do it respectfully, focusing on God, our community, and the candidate for ordination?
All of these things were in my mind as I headed off to The Ordination of The Rev. Kim Jeanne Litsey to the Sacred Order of the Priesthood. I felt a little uncomfortable as I headed off to the church, but I knew that recently, the most meaningful events in my life have been when I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone. I prayed that God would bless the time for me at the same time as God blesses the time for Kim and the church. I thought of times in the past when I’ve been in the participant observer role and hoped for the best.
The service was at St. Paul and St. James in New Haven, CT. I have various connections to that church. I’ve been to meetings there for the South Central Region with a friend who attends that church. Another friend attends whose path has been intertwined with mine at a couple different churches, and two friends of mine were at this parish or its predecessor parishes during their thwarted journeys to ordination.
As I approached the church I saw a sign that said something like, “Diversity isn’t our idea, it is God’s idea”. It was a sign that made me feel welcome, feel at home. It is part of what I love about the Episcopal Church.
I sat in the back, out of the way, following the lead of Harold and Maude. I saw Bishop Ian and members of the Commission on Ministry. Did they see me? If so, what were their reactions? I hoped my presence wouldn’t be a distraction, so I kept my eyes downcast in prayer. Perhaps they were hoping my presence wouldn’t be a distraction either.
My memories went to ordinations in the past where people had attended intent on being a distraction, and speaking up when asked if anyone knew any reason the candidate should not be ordained. I prayed there would be no such distraction at this ordination.
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
One thing I love about ordinations is the music. St Patrick's Breastplate and Veni Sancte Spiritus are two of my favorite hymns and are often sung at Ordinations. At St. Paul and St. James they were sung as jazz renditions. It was beautiful.
St. Paul and St. James are just a few blocks down the street from Trinity on The Green, also in New Haven. St. Paul and St. James has jazz. Trinity as traditional Anglican music. It is another wonderful example of the diversity in the Episcopal Church. It is great to have the opportunity to worship God with beautiful music in many different styles.
The sermon was by The Rev. Marissa S. Rohrbach, a member of the Commission on Ministry that went to seminary with Kim Litsey. I first met Marissa, as best as I can remember, when she officiated at the funeral of my uncle-in-law. This was a few days before a discernment retreat where I got to spend a little more time with her.
Marissa told a story of when she and Kim went on a trip to El Salvador, and after a difficult trek in the jungle ended up at a hut drinking beer and eating plantain chips. Kim had brought the chips as snacks which ended up nourishing the whole group. Marissa spoke of this feeding of the flock in the context of how Kim will go on to feed her flock.
Sitting in the back, I ended up being one of the last people to receive communion, one of the last to be fed. Afterwards, I continued to be fed by wonderful food at the reception. I had originally planned on slipping out immediately after the service ended, but the food was in the narthex (that’s the back of the church for any of you who are not used to Episcopalian lingo) so I couldn’t easily leave without passing the food and I got drawn into several discussions.
I finally got home, much later than I had intended and pretty much went straight to bed. In the middle of the night, the dog awoke me scratching at the bedroom door, asking to go outside. I let him out and then had difficulty getting back to sleep. I spent time resting in a feeling of God’s overwhelming love for me, for all of us, on this the darkest evening of the year.
This blog post started taking shape in my mind and I knew that if I didn’t get up and write I would be unlikely to find rest.
I was fed a feast of God’s love at the ordination. I pray that The Rev. Kim Jeanne Litsey will continue to feed the flock in such wonderful ways and that my words may also help feed others.
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep…”