All posts for the month April, 2012

Terrible Beauty

Published April 13, 2012 by ireneglasse

My family didn’t really discuss religion when I was a child.  I was baptized Presbyterian, and when I was a tweeny we went to a nice church, but our attendance there had more to do with community than faith.  The church had a wonderful youth group–I’m still friends with several people I met there.  That lack of familial theological discussion left me free to figure out my own beliefs in my own time and space.  And for that I am incredibly grateful.

Today, I’m thinking about my first glimmer of Deity.  Specifically being aware of that higher power, and perceiving something of its nature.

When I was 13, one of my close friends at school and church passed away from leukemia.  It was my first ‘big’ death, my first encounter with the incomprehensible finality our bodies are subject to.  I remember the shock, and the inner silence that for me accompanies grief.  I’m a chatty creature–even if my voice is silent, chances are my mind is still blathering on about something.  But when I grieve, everything gets very quiet inside.  I feel a slow, dull ache in my chest, and a hush that mutes the rest of the world.  It’s as though that pain is able to somehow turn down the volume on reality.  As though my heart doesn’t so much speak as silence.  And in the stillness, I feel.  And I grieve.

Shortly after my friend’s passing, I was sitting in math class, looking out the window.  That silence had taken up residence again, and I was having trouble getting my mind to lock onto anything but the pain inside me.  My gaze was drawn to a sapling outside the window.  It was early in the day, and the sunlight was tracing patterns on the bark.  The sky was a perfect, crisp winter blue behind the brownish-gray of the branches.

As I sat and stared out the window, I wondered how something could look as beautiful and perfect as that tree while I was in so much pain.  The sudden perception of that dichotomy seemed to open a window inside me.  The concept expanded in my mind to more than a sapling and my own grief.  It came to me as a single force–an all-encompassing Power that was at once creator/destroyer, growth/entropy, joy/pain.  And two specific words echoed within me: the phrase that I have used ever since in my private thoughts about Deity – the Terrible Beauty.  For me, Deity is not a set of polarities that pull on us.  It is One that surrounds and permeates us.

Again, today, my soul aches with fresh bruises.  My thoughts have gone quiet, and I lose track of time, sitting in silence.  Outside, the colorful sunlit riot of Spring is in full force.  The trees are newly clothed in flowers and fresh, delicate leaves.  Tulips and daffodils turn their bright faces to the sunlight; birdsong is everywhere.  Here, on this interconnected web, friends offer up love, comfort and solace.  And that outpouring of compassion is as beautiful to me as sunlight on branches.

And within me, I feel that dichotomy again.  Pain and love.  Sorrow and gratitude.  Life and death.

The Terrible Beauty, in all its horror and magnificence, shines in my inner silence.  I feel it within me, see it everywhere.  And though I grieve to feel such pain, I rejoice in the beauty that comes with it.

For me, the balance is worth it, and inspires reverence for the joys as well as the sorrows. And for that, most of all, I am grateful.

Lunar Labyrinths

Published April 7, 2012 by ireneglasse

In Pagan practices, the full moon means many things.  Abundance, spirituality, peak psychic ability, fertility, a good time for magick…depending on the Tradition you get your information from, almost everything has been ascribed to the full moon at some point.  To me, though, the full moon most means Mystery.  Something about that silvery light sets the subconscious to dreaming.  Things are possible by moonlight that are not in the revealing light of day.  We can be more truly ourselves, casting off some of the masks we layer on in order to fit in during our daytime lives.  Our truths are easier to manage in moonlight.  With our faces dimly lit, we feel more free to share, to feel.  We wrap ourselves in that chiaroscuro shroud and suddenly connection is possible–with our friends, with the Powers, and perhaps most importantly, with ourselves.  We’re more willing to step into Mystery, to allow dreams, to listen to what our inner voice has to say.

The lifting of barriers that occurs in moonlight is part of why I feel full moon Labyrinth walks are so powerful.  The Labyrinth, at its most potent, enables us to find our center.  The Full Moon, at its most potent, allows us to tune out the chaos and noise of our normal lives and tune in to Spirit.  To combine the two is to truly set the stage for revelation, healing and connection.

Strange things happen on the Labyrinth, especially in moonlight.  We find ourselves walking with old friends or family members who have passed beyond the Veil.  We suddenly see a simple solution to a long-vexing problem.  We gain surprising insight into relationships.  Without warning, we realize where the real problems are, and are shown a path to take in order to work on them.

My surprising revelation from last night involved a particular ceremony.  My work over the last year has been on developing more compassion for myself and others.  It’s a work in progress.  I still have good days and bad ones.  Overall I’ve moved forward–my expectations of myself are getting less absurd.  As a result, my ability to feel compassion for other people and their battles has increased.  When I moved through the Labyrinth, I focused on releasing the blocks that do not serve me anymore–judgement, needing to be right, fear, the need to control.

As I walked, as I released, I heard my own voice telling some of my students about a ritual.  It’s one I’ve recommended as additional homework many times over the years but have never actually performed myself.  In the ceremony, the practitioner sits before a mirror with a list of positive and negative traits.  They ground, center, and establish connection with the higher self.  One by one, alternating positive and negative traits, the practitioner says “I love you, ______, because you love helping people/can’t balance your checkbook/are open minded/are stubborn/etc.”  This helps the spirit heal from our societal need to compartmentalize and allows love for the self to become unconditional.

Once again the lines of that Leonard Cohen poem popped into my head–“There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”

And I found myself shifting from releasing my compassion blocks to releasing my little self-hatreds.  To letting go of how much I beat myself up for my flaws.  Instead I saw them as full of moonlight–cracks that make the surface more interesting.  Allowing the light to get in.

The Labyrinth takes us to our center, if we’ll let it.  And the full moon lights the way.

May this moon see new light spilled into your life.  May the Mystery find you, wherever you are.

Redstone Reflections

Published April 4, 2012 by ireneglasse

My best friend, her daughter (my Goddess-daughter) and mother (also a good friend) live in Arizona.  I live in Maryland.  This could be a real curse, but I’m lucky enough to see them once or twice a year.  Sometimes we decide to travel when we’re together.  This past visit was one of those times–we went to St. George, Utah, to spend a week hiking in the mountains.

I’m still trying to find the right words to in which to pour the experience from my travels.  As we drove, the low desert of Yuma gave way to ever-higher craggy mountains.  The colors shifted–a slow roll from browns and grays to burnt umber and rust red, and then again to the vibrant, bonfire colors of Southern Utah.

My mountains, the Appalachians, are soft.  They are ancient–the oldest range in the world.  The millennia have softened their edges and in those smooth hollows the cycles of organic life have turned countless times.  Earth now covers them, a host to an infinite bevy of trees, shrubs and other greenings.  Their bones only show in a few places now where their slopes and shapes were too sharp or too steep for the mantle of earth to take hold.  But mostly you see softness.  Curves.  And the rolling green cloak the earth supports.

To travel where I did is to spend a week with the spirit of Stone.  Raw and red, the sharp edges soar high above to scrape the sky.  Towers and twisting spires stretch dizzyingly upward, carved into soaring pinnacles by the unending flow of water and scouring wind.  The tiger striping of eons long passed show vivid on the flanks of those jagged peaks.  Voices echo in the narrow valleys, rebounding a sound or sigh upward into the desert sky.

This is Stone unblemished and given voice.  An unchained spirit, the bared bones of Gaia thrust upward in ecstatic dance.

Raw.  Naked somehow, and breathtaking in unfinished, unveiled reality.  The cloak of earth and green struggles to find places to settle–the dance of the mountains still shakes off the entropic shroud.

What did I feel?

Wonder.  The immensity of time and scale and distance.  The shock of color–red, orange, gold–and the perfect blue of the desert sky.

I marveled at the beauty, at the ferocity of those peaks.  I gazed in silence on sun-drenched valleys flanked by immense vermillion guards.

And words failed me.

They fail me still.  How can the bright blaze of those places find a home in language?  How can I capture what it is to feel gentle mist on my face as I stand behind a waterfall’s plunge over a blood red precipice into the pool below me?  These simple symbols cannot hold firm under the weight of red mountains dancing.

So many places sang that deep resonance of the sacred.  So many spaces called out for offerings, yet all I carried was my gratitude.  And my wonder.

During my stay, a snippet of poetry by Leonard Cohen appeared in my inbox:

“Ring the bells that still can ring.  Forget your perfect offering.  There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”

Apropos for such a place.  The splendid beauty of the region is the product of cracks, of weakness in the face of wind and water.

And so I write, words rising from the inner stillness like so much smoke.  An offering of language, imperfect reflection of the gift of Place; of Stone and Sky.

That’s how the light got in.