Tag Archives: John O’Donohue

Cosmic Reverence

 

Today it is a delightful late-summer’s day here in the Ohio River Valley.  I have the windows thrown open for fresh air and the sun is shining brightly in an uncharacteristically blue sky.  (usually August is Smogust.)

I’ve taken this day to attend to a final few veterinary well-visits for our menagerie (weeks in the doing of it), as well as to attempt a bit of wordsmithery here on the blog.

In the midst of all of this normalcy, I am finding it difficult to put into words a most liminal day earlier in the week.  For on this past Monday, myself and a few fellow intrepid souls took to the backroads on a Quest for Totality.

We had heard that many folks would be traveling en masse to see the spectacle that was to be the Total Eclipse of the Sun 2017.  As our plans came together rather late, we opted for One Big Day of travel to and fro and knew we were in for an adventure.  I packed a picnic lunch and many jars of tea and set off in the wee hours of the morning to gather my friends for the day.

I’ll admit to experiencing some trepidation regarding the notion of standstill traffic….

We careened along carefully chosen backroads in Indiana and Kentucky, through national forest lands and in and out of mist-laden farm country.  The phrase ‘over the river and through the woods’ comes to mind.  And we found it beautiful.  There was to be no traffic, thankfully, at least on the way down.

The journey was quiet and filled with interesting stories and conversation.  We did not need the radio on, so satisfied with each others’ company were we.

The sun did rise eventually, and the miles did pass.  Each seemingly unaware of what was to come on this momentous day.

We had our star charts, and an idea of where we might need to be to witness a total eclipse of the sun in our region.  And so, we drove and drove, perhaps a bit farther than some as we opted for west, then south to avoid the crush of sun-seeking humanity.

Eventually, we arrived in a small town called Marion, Kentucky.

There were signs for a municipal park nearby and so we followed them and found ourselves in a delightful setting.  Enough fellow sky-watchers to feel a sense of human-camaraderie for the Big Event, and yet enough private green space to feel centered in the scope of what was to come, just by ourselves.  We had come prepared for reverence.

We ate our lunch together on some sporty bleachers and watched those with large telescopes prepare.  We celebrated the tail end of our meal with the most delicious brownies ever.

  • 1 (15.5 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp oil (I used coconut)
  • Maybe around 1/4 c peanut butter (a nice blob in any case. This is optional though.)
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1/4 c plus 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Semi-sweet chocolate chips for topping (optional- but…)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 f
  2. Add all ingredients into a blender (except for the chocolate chips). Blend it till all the beans are blasted apart. Batter will be a bit runny.
  3. Lightly grease an 8×8 baking dish and pour the batter inside.
  4. Top with chocolate chips or nuts
  5. Bake for 25 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean if you poke it
  6. Cool for 30 minutes before cutting and serving. This is so it doesn’t fall apart when you cut it.

But I digress.

After lunch, it was TIME.  We heard it announced that It Was Starting.  And sure enough, when we glanced up at the Sun with our special glasses, part of it appeared to be missing.

This was a relatively slow process actually and so we took turns monitoring the Sun being shadowed by the moon and spent the in between time tending to our sense of the Divinity in it all.

There were crystals to charge, prayers of thanks to offer, bundles to smudge, bless and wrap for sending along to the nature spirits and the Otherworld.  We burned incense which had been given to Justin and Megan  by our dear departed friend Cindy, and we shared stories of her generosity and her most artful life.  (as for me, Cindy is who first lent me a flute to see if I might like to tackle this most difficult instrument.  I am forever grateful.)

We struggled to get our normal camera gear to cooperate in these difficult and potentially harmful conditions while we attempted to document the undocumentable.

I was so tickled to be with friends who are at once practical and spiritual in their endeavors.  I maintain that my Irish music friends are the deepest and smartest people I know in my lucky life.

Soon, it was clear that Totality was nigh.

this snapshot, used with permission, is by Natalie Coleman

And so it was.

I took a picture and then took my glasses off to merely witness.

As totality had approached, all of the things that were supposed to happen did so.  The light changed, the birds rested and dogs howled. As the darkness took hold, a cheer went up from our fellow sky-watchers.  The tree-frogs and crickets began to sing.  Street lamps turned on.  And, possibly because we were in Kentucky, gun-shots were heard off in the distance as well.  I suppose we all celebrate things in our own way.

There are times in our lives when the universe seems to hold its breath for a few moments.  If we are fortunate, and if perhaps we have taken the time and care to be paying proper attention, we can catch a little whiff of the Otherworld in these auspicious times.  

Still points in life are found in the usual, expected places – the moment a baby is born and draws it’s first breath, or at the bedside of a loved one in the process of a peaceful passing on.  I’ve witnessed a fair number of both of these scenarios and for a time immediately following these life changing moments, the world doesn’t seem quite it’s usual self.  There is a palpable divinity in everything somehow.  It is as if a veil is lifted for a time and we are Reminded.  In a more reverent and perfect world, perhaps we could feel this in the day-to-day, yes?

I find it difficult to express the Otherworldliness that this eclipse provided our merry band of sky-watchers.  The mere shift of the light was the very same I’d heard described (but never quite witnessed) in all the stories of Faerie-land.  Time stood still.  We marveled and wept at the cosmic beauty we had the great fortune to behold in this very moment.  Life itself is a miracle really and moments such as this remind us in a way that is nearly heart-breaking.  

I could go on and on.  But it is difficult to convey.  Perhaps Annie Dillard says it best in this quote from her article from 1982:

“Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”

I have seen partial eclipses in my lifetime.  But this was an altogether different animal indeed.  I will go so far as to say there was before, and now there is after.  There is a sense of feeling one’s place in the cosmos.  My friends and I are already plotting the best situation for April 8, 2024.

When totality had passed, and we once again had to don our viewing goggles, there was an indescribable sense of glee in all of us.  We danced and cartwheeled and made music and laughed.

As if we were under some faerie-land intoxication.

Perhaps we were.

We continued to watch the sky for awhile after totality as the chunking out of the sun is truly miraculous to watch.

And after a while we settled in for a bit of a nap.  All of us feeling we were under some sort of spell.

This is where it came to me that we had witnessed one of those liminal moments.  Like a birth or a death, or the moment you know you’ve met your beloved – there had been a shift, a change, and none of us would ever be the same.

Eventually, the heat and the ants let us know it might be time to pack up our things and begin the journey toward home, which suddenly felt so very far away.  But we still had each-other, and this amazing shared experience.  And thankfully, a well-timed cup of coffee on route through Kentucky.

We did face some traffic on route home, which alas, gave me some comfort.  In this day and age of cynicism and sarcasm, reality tv and ‘fake news’, the path of red tail lights on the highway informed me that much of humanity still holds wonder for the Great Beyond.  We still wonder at that which we cannot altogether explain.  The astronomers give us the timing and the maps for witnessing, but our souls show us the way into the cosmos.

In the beginning was the dream…
In the eternal night where no dawn broke, the dream deepened.
Before anything ever was, it had to be dreamed…
If we take Nature as the great artist, then all presences in the
world have emerged from her mind and imagination.  We are
children of the earth’s dreaming.  It’s almost as if Nature is in
dream and we are her children who have broken through the
dawn into time and place.  Fashioned in the dreaming of the
clay, we are always somehow haunted by that; we are unable
ever finally to decide what is dream and what is reality.  Each
day we live in what we call reality, yet life seems to resemble
a dream. We rush through our days in such stress and intensity,
as if we were here to stay and the serious project of the world
depended on us.  We worry and grow anxious – we magnify
trivia until they become important enough to control our lives.
Yet all the time, we have forgotten that we are but temporary
sojourners on the surface of a strange planet spinning slowly
in the infinite night of the cosmos…
[…..]
There is no definitive dividing line between reality and dream.
What we consider real is often precariously dream-like.
Our grip on reality is tenuous…
Excerpt from Eternal Echoes
by John O’Donohue
May you take the time to journey toward cosmic wonders in your lifetime.  May you see these wonders in your day to day, even in the simple changes in the light of day….

 

 

 

 

Goldening

There comes a time in late August, every summer, where I take note of a slight shift in the light in and around things.

This is a visual thing, having nothing to do with temperatures, which at this time of year in our Ohio River Valley, tend to be a bit stifling.  But this goldening is not due to heat, rather more to the timing of things.

The school buses are making their routes now around the neighborhood and all things garden seem to be leaning less green, more gold.

Along my runs, the light has a certain slant to it that I love.

By night, even if it’s hot outside, I crack the window, just a bit, to hear the crickets and tree frogs sing.

I am not prone to being hermetically sealed indoors.

I’ll admit to having this blog post brewing for days now, but to being a bit tangled up inside my heart about ‘what to write’ and  ‘how to put it’ and ‘shouldn’t I just be painting?’, while none of these question/options seemed to fit.  The world, (this country specifically) is going mad of late and to respond off the cuff doesn’t seem enough.  To not respond is even worse.  And so, in typical slow-cooker fashion, I have been mulling it over.  And over.

I so admire the microwaves in our modern culture.  The JK Rowlings of the world who are so quick witted and can take down nay-saying haters in a heart beat with a single tweet.  Alas, I am not cut of that cloth.  I am a slower cooker, a crock-pot, one who stews.  Someone who mulls over things and then re-mulls again in the wee hours (this can be a tortuous prospect).  But eventually, I’ll occasionally put my two cents in if I feel strongly enough and many times, my commentary is late to the game.  But here it is anyway.

It’s been a week since the horrifying events in Charlottesville, Virginia and I am as heartbroken today as I was when they happened last week.  Unlike some of my fellow middle class white friends, these marches came as no surprise to me.  In fact, the election of President Trump came as no surprise to me either last fall. (I mean, c’mon, I live in Ohio). I may be a white girl, but I grew up a poor white girl, on food stamps, raised by closeted lesbians, and let’s face it, I can still smell trouble when it’s brewing.  Our country has been a proverbial tinder box for awhile now, possibly since the election of Barack Obama, and perhaps it was only a matter of time before the white rage hit the stage.

The thing about being an artist, writer, thinker, dreamer in this world is that, much of the time, we must hold two ways of being at the same time.  On the one hand, it is my job to rise above the fray and make stuff and think up stories and paint pictures and play tunes.  To bring joy.  On the other hand, it’s often the artist-writer-thinker-dreamer types who forge necessary change in the world.  How to navigate?

On the Book of Faces the other day, an old friend quipped, ‘a lot of self-righteousness here on FB, overflowing, wallowing in it.’  While I had not shared much over there regarding recent events (#slowcooker), he may have been right to a certain extent in that the quick shares just didn’t go deeply enough.  I decided to opt out of that platform for a few days and do some deeper digging into what thinkers and writers were saying elsewhere. Here is bit of what I came up with along the way:

At our local art museum, there is a work I have visited a few times and plan to see more before it goes away again called More Sweetly Played the Dance, by William Kentridge.

While this came together well before the events of recent weeks, I feel to witness this work of art is to begin to take on part of the narrative going on here in our own country (though it hails from South Africa, where racial narrative is fraught with peril as well, different though similar).  The work is brilliant, and beautiful and really difficult to sit with.  It involves many senses and asks many questions.  And if you are in the Cincinnati area, I recommend spending some time with it.

The Southern Poverty Law Center posted their guide to navigating these tumultuous times (see link above) and there is a lot of good information there.  We can all start somewhere.

In Boston today, I am seeing reports that a hundred white supremacists are on the march, but in opposition, are 15,000 counter-protestors.  This gives me great hope.

As someone who likes to operate in ‘woo-land’ a bit (you know, magic and metaphysics, fairies, crystals, etc.) I think there is still responsibility in the day to day lives we live in ‘normal’ time.  Layla Saad of Wild Mystic Woman over on Instagram posted a very powerful letter on her website, the first part of which can be found HERE.  (second part is forthcoming).

She asks hard questions and asks those of us in any place of privilege to really question our place in this world and how we came to it.  I think it’s brilliant and well worth reading.

I could go on.  I like to think the good outweighs the bad in this world but perhaps that is my privileged perspective.  I think we must be diligent never-the-less.  History has taught us that the bad can come barreling at us out of nowhere if we are not watchful.

In yoga class yesterday, we talked of stress.  I made a light-hearted comment that the news is stress enough.  A woman in class remarked that there are ‘many sides’ (many sides?? seriously??)  to the news these days and we can not always believe what we see and hear there.  She left rather abruptly.  I wonder if she was a Trump-supporter perhaps.  I only know that I don’t watch commentary.  I read articles from good publications.  I watch and listen (even though it sickens me) to the statements of this current administration.  I make my own thinking from there.

I also attempt to move beyond the News of Now and steep myself in broader, bigger thinking.  I’ve been reading books and articles by Martin Shaw  which I love.  There is a really good interview with him on a new-ish podcast called The Lumieres Podcast.

We must feed our minds with good sentences.

John O’Donohue is another thinker whose words resonate just now:

OUR POWER TO BLESS ONE ANOTHER

In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well. It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. I believe each of us can bless. When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. Some of the plenitude flows into our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving kindness. In the light and reverence of blessing, a person or situation becomes illuminated in a completely new way. In a dead wall a new window opens, in dense darkness a path starts to glimmer, and into a broken heart healing falls like morning dew. It is ironic that so often we continue to live like paupers though our inheritance of spirit is so vast. The quiet eternal that dwells in our souls is silent and subtle; in the activity of blessing it emerges to embrace and nurture us. Let us begin to learn how to bless one another. Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to enfold you.

~John O’Donohue

And this from David Whyte:

VULNERABILITY

is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without; vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature; the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing our vulnerability we refuse to ask for the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.

To have a temporary, isolated sense of power over all events and circumstances, is a lovely illusory privilege and perhaps the prime beautifully constructed conceit of being human and most especially of our being youthfully human, but it is a privilege that must be surrendered with that same youth, with ill health, with accident, with the loss of loved ones who do not share our untouchable powers; powers eventually and most emphatically given up, as we approach our last breath.

The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant, and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.

~David Whyte

May we find ourselves vulnerable in these tumultuous times.

In coming days there is to be a great shadowing of our sun.  May we find secrets behind and within those shadows.

May we find ways of transforming the leaden weight of our current time into something more golden and worthwhile…….

I am preparing a fall show about which I am nervous and excited.  More on that soon.

Next summer is shaping up with a few announcements which shall come along soon.  Ginger Small is polishing her eclipse-wear and I hope to have a drawing to share with you tomorrow.

Wherever you are, keep your eyes on the stars and sky, but perhaps keep your hearts closer here to home, where we might all strive to make the world a better place.

Til next time……

 

 

 

A Pavilion Wedding in the Swannanoa Valley

As promised awhile back here, I want to share with you the story of a fairy tale wedding which happened this summer amidst the magic and music of the Swannanoa Gathering.  My summer friends, Ellen and David, who hail all the way from Massachusetts, and whom I only see at summer camp, opted to tie the knot amongst friends of the musical variety with the mountains of North Carolina as a back drop.

the happy couple

It was, in true south mountain fashion, a rather unpredictable day from the weather gods.  All day it rained and rained and we began to steel ourselves for the wedding to be a drippy affair.  Though we knew, that there was a pavilion to keep heads dry during the ceremony, a large hall for the ceili reception, and multiple tents for evening sessions. We certainly would not melt.  And besides, we had work to do that day which had little to do with the wedding.  We had new tunes to practice!!!

Work before play

 

A strange thing happened while we were in our afternoon classes however…. the skies began to clear, just a bit, and hopes began to rise.  The bride and groom went off to have a bite to eat, and to get ready for their magical evening and the rest of us gathered at the pavilion to begin arranging things…..

quietude before the blessed event

There were chairs to make into rows, flowers and cakes to welcome…

the bouquet The cakes were AMAZING

Champagne to open, of course.

Shiteloads of Champagne

And favors to welcome guests to the wedding…

Sweet favors to bring this season into next

Soon it was time for the processional.  The ‘Flute Cousins’ all played a gorgeous Scottish march called The King’s House.  This is one of those tunes that can give you goose bumps for all it’s soulfulness and it was the perfect choice for the event.

procession

The wedding itself went as so many weddings have gone since time before history.  There were lovely words and thoughts, tears and laughter amidst the solemnity of it all.

The ceremony

I was honored to be asked to read a poem called How Falling In Love is Like Owning a Dog, by Taylor Mali.  This was a great choice for Ellen and David as they love all creatures great and small, especially dogs.

reading the poem

The newly married couple shared their first kiss after the ceremony….

You may now kiss the bride

…and were ushered out with a flute arch….

recessional

And a wedding reel!

recessional musicians

Within no time, solemnity had shifted into raucous celebration….

mad session ensues

champagne

Which lasted well into the evening, first with ceili dancing and later, more music – on into the wee hours…. For that is what we were there for.

Sessions go on and on and on

Upon returning home from my summer’s travels, I began to ponder what I might put together as a gift for Ellen and David in honor of their big day.  And so I began to build a little painting.  Not so much of the actual way of things, but rather the feel of that magical afternoon into evening in the liminal world…..

How to build a painting

painting 1

I loved how the skies looked that afternoon when the clouds miraculously parted and the rains left everything clean washed and ready for celebration.

early painting detail

I enjoyed the way the pavilion looked before everyone arrived, but more especially after celebrating ensued.

painting detail 1

Folks milled through the misty evening, filled to the brim with love, music, and a bit of drink perhaps as well.  And the session tents around the campus were all full that night.

finished painting detail - the musicians tent

Here is the little painting born of a wedding celebration.  It’s not a big thing, only 9×12, but I think it will be well received as a reminder of not only their wedding day, but also of the magic of the gathering in general, to which we all look forward to throughout the rest of the year.  Many congratulations Ellen and David!  May blessings abound.

Pavilion Wedding In The Swannanoa Valley

 

For Marriage

As spring unfolds the dream of the earth,
May you bring each other’s hearts to birth.

As the ocean finds calm in view of land,
May you love the gaze of each other’s mind.

As the wind arises free and wild,
May nothing negative control your lives.

As kindly as moonlight might search the dark,
So gentle may you be when light grows scarce.

As surprised as the silence that music opens,
May your words for each other be touched with reverence.

As warmly as the air draws in the light,
May you welcome each other’s every gift.

As elegant as dream absorbing the night,
May sleep find you clear of anger and hurt.

As twilight harvests all the day’s color,
May love bring you home to each other.

~John O’Donohue (To Bless the Space Between Us)

 

(wedding pics by fellow ‘gatherers’, Kate Bradford McFadden and Natalie Wurz, concertina snapshot by Tim Smith, and art by me.)