Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On All Hallows Eve

Samhain is fast approaching. All Hallow’s eve, the feast that heralds the “dark-half”of the year. The bright season of summer has died, and we mourn as we face the approaching winter.

The autumn sun sets in streaks of gold and violet. Clouds trimmed in charcoal gray fall like a heavy curtain on the day. Herds of small, frightened creatures streak across the road in front of your car, stopping your heart for a second until you realize... they're only dead leaves whipped into a panic by the moaning wind. Clouds of blackbirds amass, streaming southward in undulating flight. Vines of bittersweet festoon bare branches with their garlands of red and yellow. Shadow beings move in and out of the treeline at the edges of the fields. The dying vegetation, the cinnamon smell of decaying leaves, and the bare tree branches like dead fingers, suggest that perhaps the author, Ray Bradbury was right: “Something wicked this way comes!”

Christian tradition marks All Saints Day, then a few days later, All Souls, a day of remembrance of those who have passed from this world. The harvest is in, the growing season ended, the leaves have died and fallen, leaving the trees bare. Long thought of as the season of death in many cultures, for the Celtic people, it marked the end of the grass, thus, the end of the grazing time, and so, the beginning of the slaughter. The people made great fires called bone-fires (bonfires) and burned the bones of the cattle on them. It is the harbinger of the Celtic New Year, the end and the beginning.

This is the time when the veil that separates the worlds is drawn back, and the inhabitants of the spirit plane and the faerie realm might move freely between them.

Once, long ago, I was a young girl balancing on the tightrope between the worlds of child and adult. I was almost too old for trick–or-treat; just old enough to be let out on Halloween night for a hour or two without adult supervision.
Giddy with freedom, I ran to meet two friends in the big field at the end of our street. On this All Hallow’s Eve, it represented a scary, yet safe enough place to greet whatever spirits might roam the night, as free as I was.

This field was a big part of my childhood. From preschool days, to high school, I wandered through it, my knees brushed by the amber grass. It was the staging area for neighborhood games of war, freeze tag and red rover. I also liked to sit there alone sometimes, thinking and watching the clouds form familiar shapes in the sky.
Tonight my two friends and I would go there to challenge whatever spirits might rise up to prowl the night.

Karyn and Pam were already there waiting for me in the darkness as I ran through the vacant lot and burst into the field. We passed around a cigarette, thrilling to the fact that we were almost grown, and out with no adults on the darkest night of the year, a night when evil might be lurking all around us. We spent some time gossiping as young teens will, and laughing loudly at our own jokes while the stars came out, and the night breeze ruffled the long grass around us. We plotted our route around the nearby housing development. Candy was for babies, but we would roam the neighborhood anyway, checking out the costumes and looking for our school mates.

Suddenly, there was a sound a few dozen yards away at the edge of the woods. Someone or something was moving through the leaves and into the field. I was suddenly frightened, not only of ghosts, but of some person with bad intentions. My parents had hammered it into me that there were adults that would harm a child, if they got the chance.
"It's nothing," said Karyn,"probably just some kids..." As I watched, the grass started to move, slowly at first, then faster, as if something large and low to the ground was moving up the hill, in our direction!

I was confused at first, because although I could make out the dim horizon, the shapes of the trees and the long blades of grass moving, nothing appeared to be moving them. There was a whispery sound as the tufts of grass shook and swayed. It was as if some invisible person was walking quickly through them, straight toward us! One of my friends gasped and that was all it took. The three of us ran screaming from the field and didn't stop until we were about a quarter of a mile away, back on the relative safety of the dark street.
"What WAS that?" Pam asked incredulously as we stopped and tried to catch our breath.

As I think back on it, I guess it could have been a big raccoon or opossum making it's way up the hill, hidden by the grass. But I prefer to think that perhaps it was a visitor from a different reality; a Samhain spirit or an Elfin traveler that passed through the thin veil into the dimension of living humans on that dark and shadowy Halloween night.

So light your jack-o-lanterns to keep the evil spirits at bay, and guide the friendly ones's almost All Hallows Eve.

Monday, October 19, 2009

See the geese...

I woke up today and found
frost perched on the town.
It hovered in a frozen sky
and gobbled summer down...
The warriors of winter
gave a cold, triumphant shout
All that stays is dying'
and all that lives is getting out
...See the geese in chevron flight
laughin' and a racin' on before the snow
They've got the urge for goin'
and they've got the wings to go
And they get the urge for goin'
when the meadow grass is turnin' brown
Summer time is fallin' down
and winter's closin' in.

-Joni Mitchell, "Urge for Goin'"

A few decades ago, Tom Rush of New Hampshire recorded my favorite version of this song, and for me it will always be the quintessential autumn song. It evokes all the melancholy feelings of watching nature sink down into hibernation for the winter. The wistful melody and beautifully spare musical arrangement complements the somber mood of the lyrics, setting the tone for late fall and early winter. It just makes you want to build a good fire, fill your mug with steaming hot coffee or tea, grab an old quilt and hunker down until spring. If you enjoy folk and progressive country rock, seek it out and give it a listen if you can find it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Grace and Guidance

Unless you believe that your life is an accident, that somehow a series of chemical processes is wholly responsible for your existence, you may from time to time seek Divine guidance.

I was raised Catholic and for many years, lived by the dogma and man-made rules that I thought defined my religion. It was not what you would call a “living” faith; more like an unpleasant obligation to fulfill. I didn’t get much out of it, and as I looked around me I saw that no one else seemed to either.

Eventually, I felt driven to embark on my own spiritual quest. Through my participation in twelve step programs, meditation groups, and the study of other religions, I gradually attained an awareness of a spiritual life I knew I had been missing. I was enlightened by the teachings of Buddhism and other eastern traditions. I learned from the Pre–Christian Earth mother religions and Native American beliefs. My spiritual life was enriched and informed by the writings of Khalil Gibran, Eckhart Tolle and many others.

The result of this search was that it brought me full-circle, back to the beginning and my own faith of origin, but I began to discern that there was a vast difference between reciting prayers and responses by rote and simply showing up at Mass each week, and actually attempting to live the faith, which is what I believe we are called to do.

I began to perceive that my God was not an old man sitting up on a cloud somewhere, but was more like a wind, moving among us, surrounding us and blowing right through us here on Earth. My God works in miraculous ways, through human beings. My God is loving, forgiving and welcoming. My God is part of me, and speaks from within.

In past times of indecision or strife, I have found myself either in church, or in seclusion at home, searching through scriptures, pondering the New Testament and the psalms, looking for a sign post on my life’s journey…which way to go? Looking back over my life, I see now with aggravating clarity, the forks in the road where I chose poorly. Hind-sight is twenty-twenty, as they say. Those were times when I depended on my own weak sensibilities and flawed judgment to make my decisions. I have come to realize, however, that there have been a handful of times, when I was so distraught and depleted that I asked for Divine intervention. In effect, I asked God to show me what the right decision was, or simply to make something happen with the caveat: “Your will, not mine be done.” When I look back now on the results of those times of “letting go and letting God,” I see with mild astonishment how right the path I chose eventually turned out to be. This is one way that I have come to experience Grace.