Monday, June 27, 2011
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
During the last session of our retreat, we were asked the question, “What am I taking away from my experience of the Pilgrimage for Change on the Island of Iona?”
After meditating on this question, I realized that the teachings of John Philip and Ali Newell have given me a clearer language to speak about the ongoing spiritual transformations I have had ever since I had a moment of awakening on a cold winter morning in Sedona, Arizona in January 2005. My mother and I were on a Pink Jeep Tour, where we visited beautiful rock formations and admired the many majestic views of Sedona's National Park. When I was resting with my back up against a tree, I felt something akin to an electrical current going through my body. For a split second, I was not part of this world, but had a glimpse into something much greater than this world. Naturally, this experience shocked me and scared me, but at the same time brought a feeling of great peace and deep love.
Before this experience, I was at an all time spiritual low: both of my parents were dying, I was becoming a workaholic, and I was struggling with being an openly gay priest in the Diocese of Louisiana. In short, I was not taking care of myself, resulting in my losing a spiritual center. But that moment of energy was a starting point of God's magnificent grace working a new thing in me, which I've only come to piece together in the past few weeks. Since that experience in Sedona, I have grown in my knowledge and belief of God’s healing presence in nature. I believe that tree which provided me rest was part of a strong, spiritual vortex that helped me to connect with the creative, life-giving energy of the universe (God). Since then, I have been able to stretch my mind and deepen my faith in Christ by engaging with the living presence of God in healing prayers, in further exploration about our theology of the sacraments, in some reflective work around quantum physics, and in pushing myself to see the living Christ in others and to be the living Christ for others. In due time, I would like to write about all of this in a book. But for now, I can tell you the time in Iona has allowed me to see these abstract pieces of my life as part of a seamless whole, to begin articulating these thoughts in a cohesive way, and to connect with others and talk about these experiences using Celtic spirituality as a guide and inspiration.
In Iona, we began to explore the notion that a new Pentecost is coming to the Church--a new working of the Spirit for justice, wholeness, unity, healing, hope, and holiness. I feel called to be a part of God's new work. This week in Iona has given to me:
- A renewed sense of my vocation as a priest in the Church.
- The empowerment to be a leader and teacher of a vision for this new Pentecost in the Church where we will focus on our unity and what brings us together instead of what divides us. I look forward to speaking more for unity as a matter of justice rather than just for the sake of unity.
- A commitment to use my new voice in order to speak the truth in love to the world and church about the deep need for peace, where all are invited to graceful engagement in what unites us as people of faith and of God’s creation.
- A greater appreciation for the beauty of the earth/world, especially around the San Francisco Bay Area, and a yearning to spend more time connecting with that beauty every week in new and exciting ways as part of my weekly devotions.
- A greater love, admiration, and appreciation for the work we are doing together at St. Aidan’s.
As I board my plane to make my way back to San Francisco, know you are in my hearts and prayers. Thank you for this profound, wonderful opportunity. I eagerly await the opportunity to be with you all again!
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Today John Philip Newell offered a teaching on how we can deal with the brokenness in the world. Mystic Julian of Norwich centered on the image of Jesus being handsome- not pretty- Her vision of him was one of both joy and suffering at the same time - A life who is totally alive to the gift of life but also aware of the brokenness and sorrow in the world.
St Columba talks about praying until the tears come, both joy and sorrow because when we weep something essential is stirring in us.
We meditated on looking suffering right in its face at the same time looking at the beauty of creation in its face.
I wrote the following poem today as I reflected on the joyful and sorrowful experiences we have shared as a family at "The Camp" on False River in Louisiana.
Near the lakes edge
She looks out over the deep
A view of peace, beauty, light and spirit
A view of chaos, pain, darkness and death
Two views of the same vision
Goodness and suffering
Side by side
Top by bottom
Spirit whispers in her ear
“All will be well”
“All will be well”
Two sides of the same place
Beauty and brokenness are now one
Her outstretched arms rise over the sacred deep
God holds her up
The beauty of her smile
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
A group of us decided to take the local boat to Staffa from Iona on the first free afternoon of our pilgrimage. It was a 45 minute ride over rough waters and gusty winds.
As we approached Staffa I was truly floored by it's size and majesty. As you approach you see the detail of the basalt columns and the magnitude of them, atop the mushroom that is the land mass. As you are looking at the island you'll see the basalt black Fingals Cave.
Staffa is an island about 7 miles north of Iona and is well known for the presence of Fingal's Cave. But apart from that, Staffa is a remarkable little island. The island was once inhabited in the 1700s by as much as 16 people but nowadays seabirds and tourists have taken over their place. Staffa is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Staffa, an entirely volcanic island, is probably best known for its unique geological features.
Fingal's cave itself has a large arched entrance and is filled by the sea; however, boats cannot enter. We walked to the cave overland, where a row of fractured columns form a walkway just above high-water level permitted us exploration on foot.
Anyway, if I could say that there is only one downer about going to Staffa, this was the amount of time you get on the Island. It is literally a feast of nature and you only have 1 hour to cram as much as you can in during that time... I think I'll have to rethink this for my next visit and ensure I travel in a way that means I can stay for longer... I loved laying in the grass soaking in the sun and the wind.
I rest on the earth
with a mattress made of grass
I connect with the Source of all that is and has being
Wind sweeps around me
Colors of purple, emerald and blue appear under my eye lids
The flow of God runs through me
Birds sing with joy
Flowers sing with joy
I sing with joy
Gratitude for the Wild Goose!
Monday, June 13, 2011
do not let us be tamed
to a life made only
of straight lines.
May we also travel
like the geese,
sharing the load
enjoying the lift,
– from 'Still travelling' in Tell Me the Stories of Jesus by Janet Lees
Saturday, June 11, 2011
After two trains, an overnight in Oban, two ferries, a bus ride, and a nice, long, uphill walk to our hotel- We reached our home for a week on the island of Iona at the St. Columba Hotel. This place emits the coming together of heaven and earth, also known as a liminal or "thin" place. Our group of 22 pilgrims met for the first time and had a glorious dinner before evening prayers and chants.
Our retreat leader, John Philip Newell, led us with prayers and music in the evening from his CD "Chanting for Peace" and new book "Praying with the Earth". The focus of the book and CD is aimed at ways we can pray for peace with phrases from the Quran, the Hebrew Scriptures, and the teachings of Jesus. This is a way of further opening our hearts to the longings for peace that are deeper than the fears and misunderstandings that divide us.
Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of Pentecost with the Iona Community before we set off for a hike to the north beach for a prayer walk. Come, Holy Spirit!
to the field of love
to the land where forgiveness and right relationship meet
we look, O God, with longing for earth’s children
with compassion for the creatures
with hearts breaking for the people
and nations we love.
Open us to visions we have never known
strengthen us for self-givings we have never made
delight us with a oneness we could never have imagined
that we may truly be born of
You makers of peace.
(from Praying With the Earth by John Philip Newell)
Friday, June 10, 2011
After a few days in Edinburgh my friend Hannah and I are about to make the journey to the sacred island of Iona where we will spend a week for the 'Pilgrimage for Change' retreat with J. Philip Newell.
Iona is one of the most venerated places in Scotland. It receives its renown as it was the base of the Irish Christian missionary St Columba, who in 563 AD landed on the island with twelve followers and settled there.
Today, Iona remains a symbol of religious change. In 1938, George MacLeod founded the Iona Community, as an ecumenical Christian community of “men and women from different walks of life and different traditions in the Christian church that is committed to seeking new ways of living the gospel of Jesus Christ in today’s world”. This community is a leading force in the present Celtic Christianity revival, which is affiliated with the Scottish Episcopal Church (part of the Anglican Communion). Though often labelled more “New Age” than “Christian”, that is of course largely what Celtic Christianity was: it took the existing Celtic tradition, and substituted the names of the old gods with a new name, Jesus. But it left all the old attributes of the ancient gods in place. Celtic Christianity was merely an adaptation of the local beliefs, not a break with the old beliefs. In fact, in the first few centuries of the Christian era, this was exactly the official policy missionaries were invited to use and it is one of the main reasons why so many “pagan” elements can be found in the Christian calendar and rituals.
That today Iona is peacefully reverting to the olden ways, may be a sign of a socio-religious experiment that can only succeed on an island… or a sign of things to come.
Each day on Iona will begin and end with the rhythm of prayer and meditation together, either at the Abbey or elsewhere on the island. In the mornings John Philip will teach on themes related to the oneness of the human soul and the healing of creation, asking what sacrifices we are to make in our lives as individuals, as nations, and as a species, if we and the world are to be well. The afternoons will be given to hiking, conversation, and rest, and in the early evenings his wife Ali will lead us in embodiment practices of chant and meditative movement and further reflection on the way of transformation in our world. On at least one of the days we will walk the seven-mile island pilgrimage route together to reflect on the journey of our lives and universe. Wholesome breakfasts and evening meals, with provision from the organic gardens of the hotel, are an important part of our community life together.
Our leader and one of my favorite writers, John Philip Newell, is a poet, a scholar and a teacher. Formerly Warden of Iona Abbey in the Western Isles of Scotland, he is currently Companion Theologian for the American Spirituality Centre of Casa del Sol in the high desert of New Mexico. He is internationally acclaimed for his work in the field of Celtic spirituality, including his best known titles Listening for the Heartbeat of God and Christ of the Celts, as well as his poetic book of prayer Sounds of the Eternal. He is a Church of Scotland minister with a passion for peace in the world and a fresh vision for harmony between the great spiritual traditions of humanity.
It is not easy to get to Iona. We will take two trains, have an over night in Oban, take two ferries and one bus in order to reach this holy site.
Since being away from my last pilgrimage group in France I have been a little bit unsettled being a tourist in Scotland. I am ready to return to pilgrim mode!
You keep us waiting.
You, the God of all time,
Want us to wait for the right time in which to discover
Who we are, where we must go,
Who will be with us, and what we must do.
So, thank you…for the waiting time.
You keep us looking.
You, the God of all space,
Want us to look in the right and wrong places for signs of hope,
For people who are hopeless,
For visions of a better world that will appear among the disappointments of the world we know.
So, thank you…for the looking time.
You keep us loving.
You, the God whose name is love,
Want us to be like you –
To love the loveless and the unlovely and the unlovable;
To love without jealousy or design or threat,
And most difficult of all, to love ourselves.
So, thank you…for the loving time.
And in all this you keep us,
Through hard questions with no easy answers;
Through failing where we hoped to succeed and making an impact when we felt useless;
Through the patience and the dreams and the love of others;
And through Jesus Christ and his Spirit, you keep us.
(Prayer of the Iona Community in Scotland)
Monday, June 6, 2011
Aléynu L’shabéy’ah: It is Ours to Praise
Text by Marcia Falk, Tune by Ana Hernandez
It is ours to praise the beauty of the world, even as we discern the torn world. For nothing is whole that is not first rent, and out of the torn, we make whole again. May we live with promise in creation’s lap, redemption budding in our hands.
This is the song that I have listened to over and over again. It has truly helped channel the Wild Goose (Celtic description of the Holy Spirit). I highly recommend purchasing my friend Ana's CD, Eternal Spirit, online and listen to it daily. It can bring you to new places like it did for me walking the Labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral. Ana will be at St Aidan's on August 6 and 7 while I am away on Sabbatical.
"Your life is a sacred journey. And it is about change, growth, discovery, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous challenges at every step along the way. You are on the path... exactly where you are meant to be right now... And from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing of courage, of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity, and of love." - Caroline Adams
A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.
The labyrinth at Chartres was built around 1200 and is laid into the floor in a style sometimes referred to as a pavement maze. The original center piece has been removed and other areas of the labyrinth have been restored.
In walking the Chartres style labyrinth the walker meanders through each of the four quadrants several times before reaching the goal. An expectancy is created as to when the center will be reached. At the center is a rosette design which has a rich symbolic value including that of enlightenment. The four arms of the cross are readily visible and provide significant Christian symbolism.
Before walking the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral I meditate at the high altar for 15 minutes. I kneel before the altar at the crossing of this ancient place of worship with my hands in orans position, outstretched. My hands become warm. I feel comfort, a sense of floating, feeling an energy pushing me back and forth almost causing me to fall over. In this almost dizzy state I walk towards the labyrinth and walk around it twice in a counter clockwise direction before entering the sacred pathway.
At the start of the walk I begin to feel tension, worry about what sort of revelation will come to me. The first thing I do as I walk and pray is to unlock my jaw which is tight. I try to empty my head in order to be free of clutter. I shut my eyes as I walk only keeping them open a little bit so I can just barely see the path before me. As I walk closer to the center I once again feel comfort. I enter the center and five people are surrounding me in prayer as they stand in the rosette. I then join the others in the design. We stand in silence basking in the light and energy which is the presence of the Holy. After holy silence, each person surrounding the center enters the center one by one as we seem to pray for one another. We all seem connected even though we do not know one another. A deep sense of peace enters me and I begin to feel recharged. As I depart the center and walk the same pathway out I feel a cool breeze blow by me. I feel lighter. I begin to smile and am overcome with a holy giggle. Joy, peace, and laughter overcome me as I exit.
I had no major revelation walking and praying the Labyrinth, but I experienced the unconditional love of Christ. I felt the Holy Spirit enter my soul. I felt the peace that passes all understanding AND that is ENOUGH! Merci Merci Merci......
in a circle of safety
releasing my grip on my cares
and opening up inside,
dilated at the center of my soul. . .
not a hole,
a place of silence
a vacancy reserved for God
for spiritual communion,
an inner sanctuary
purified by the consuming fire
of the Holy Spirit
and what is left there. . .
etched in the center of my soul,
"I am with you, there is nothing to fear"
Friday, June 3, 2011
Thousands of years ago, Druids around Chartres held their ceremonies on this special hill which was sacred to them. Several churches and temples, whose remains can still be seen within the Crypt, had also been built there, before the cathedral dedicated “Our Lady” was erected. Special combinations of sacred geometry and the ability to redirect Light with specially alchemically designed stained glass allow Chartres Cathedral to be a place where the highest frequency energies of Creation are attracted and stored.
Chartres Cathedral is a spiritually powerful place allowing all to reach the comfort of a direct connection to God and God’s energy proving more or more difficult to connect with in our low frequency technology based society of today. I wanted to experience this connection with the Holy in the cathedral.
So a group of us decided to take the tour offered from a shop next to the cathedral to explore the crypt of the church. Unfortunately for us, the tour was only in French but along with our ticket we’d been given an info sheet in English.
Our guide led us to a locked staircase and we descended into the largest crypt in France. Predating the cathedral, its foundations are mainly Romanesque but its roots go back further. Before the first church was erected in the 4th century, it was a Druid site, believed to be a place of sacred energy.
Only parts of the crypt were lit. As we shuffled along down a gallery, our guide flicked lights on and off, stopping at points of interest. Whatever he was saying must have been entertaining because many were nodding and listening intently.
Not understanding more than the basics, I amused myself by wandering off a few feet like a dog on an invisible leash, poking my head into shadowy corners, past pale frescoes into barrel vaulted chapels, using my photocopied sheet as a guide while taking pictures.
I paid more attention when we went a few steps lower into a sort of crypt within a crypt – the St. Lubin Chapel – built after the Vikings destroyed an even older church in 858.
It felt like the bowels of the cathedral, with layers of history exposed.
Part of the ground is 4th century. Bits of masonry are Roman. Behind me, five niches set into a semi-circular wall might have originally been windows, but no one is sure. Near a massive round column, a jagged entryway ripped out of the wall by a 20th century archaeologist revealed an abandoned Carolingian passageway.
Moving away from the others I stood next to a ledge and breathed it all in, the still heavy air, the centuries of devotion. I could feel something powerful!
Back in the main part of the crypt we stopped at an ancient Druid well, nearly as deep as the cathedral is high, and where the Vikings tossed various martyrs. While many in the group launched into a spirited discussion, I strolled off with the vague intention of retracing the passage of the Middle Age pilgrims who would come to pray at a famous relic, the veil of the Virgin.
According to my info sheet, it was a very structured procession. The pilgrims entered the crypt from a north entrance along a very long gallery and circulated south from darkness to light. As I was starting out from the wrong end, moving from the light into darkness, it was very hard to see. I ended my walk at the sacred veil and put my head next to it where I felt God’s energy sweep through me. I also stood at the ancient well and connected with the energy emitting from the earth below. It is hard to describe what I experienced but I truly crossed a portal into the Sacred. I sing the words of the Song of Mary as I depart:
My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name;
And his mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of his mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.