Much has been written about the last breath, but not much about the first. Recently, I happened to listen to a re-broadcast of an episode of NPR’s Radiolab on “Breath.” It began with an explanation of the ingenious, miraculous first breath in which we transition from water-dwelling beings in the watery womb to air-dwelling beings outside in the world. In the water-dwelling fetus, the lungs have no function. Instead, the fetus gets its oxygen from its mother through the placenta and umbilical cord, the oxygenated blood flowing directly from the right to the left chambers of the heart through a hole — the patent foramen ovale — bypassing the lungs that in fetuses are filled with water. But in the split second of that first breath, the umbilical cord shuts down the flow of oxygenated blood and the patent foramen ovale closes, requiring that the once water-filled lungs now be filled with air. The right and left sides now forever closed off from each other, from now on, the oxygen-deprived blood that flows into the right side of the heart must be pumped out of the heart into the lungs where it is enriched with oxygen, and then returns to the left chambers of the heart where it is then pumped to every tissue in our bodies. That first breath enables the continual flow of in-breath and out-breath, for most of us, about 500 million times in our lifetimes. I will never forget that first breath of my own child as he came in to the air-breathing world. That first cry remains, and always will, the sweetest sound I have ever heard. Aware now of all that happens with that first breath, I am filled with an even deeper awe.
By breath, by blood, by body, by spirit, we are all one.
The air that is my breath . . .is the air that you are breathing. And the air that is your breath . . . is the air that I am breathing. The wind rising in my breast . . .is the wind, from the east, from the west, From the north . . . from the south; Breathing in, breathing out.
So begins singer-songwriter Sara Thomsen’s song, “By Breath,” bringing together many elements I’ve been pondering in the last several days – breath, air, wind, spirit.
The following poems were written after making a decision to move into an apartment for the winter, and then struggling to understand what went wrong. Instead of community I met with hostility, and as we know one breeds the other, and for a time I got caught by my shadow too.
Called home out of necessity and need, the longer I stayed the harder it was to leave even when 16 feet of snow crashed down from the roof blocking the entire front of my house. ‘The Peace of the Wild Things’ is in my blood and as hard as I try, I can’t seem to make an adjustment to living in a town where crows and men rule, and birdsong is absent though migration is under way.
In the 1960s and 1970s, American-born Genevieve Vaughan was living in Rome with her husband, philosopher Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, and their three daughters. When Rossi-Landi, using Marxist models, began to write about language as a form of “exchange,” Vaughan was inspired to articulate her alternative theory based on the idea that language was developed and is learned through the gifts of the mother to the child. From that beginning, Vaughn developed an alternative theory of culture based on what she calls the “gift economy.”
As it is March, and March is a month for me that is always devoted to celebrating my Irish roots and women, my Herstory Profiles will be on a few exemplary women from Ireland: Brigid (Irish Goddess and Catholic Saint), Margaret O’ Carroll of Éile (Paragon of Leadership, Strength, and Compassion), and Mary Robinson (Historic Leader, Activist, and Humanitarian.)
One day, during a holiday at the home of Italian friends in the province of Lazio, some forty-five minutes by train from the centre of Rome, I experienced a powerful impression of the Sacred Feminine. She came to me in the Vatican of all places, centuries old male stronghold, and power centre of the Roman Catholic Church.
Even more surprisingly, her presence was more prominent in the Sistine Chapel, the Pope’s own place of prayer, where Cardinals sit in all male conclave. But there she was, shining through the restored colour on that famous ceiling through the brushstrokes of Michelangelo. I was picking up loud echoes immortalised for centuries through his art, tuning into the soul of the artist, seeing his inspiration in terms of angels speaking in colour and light. But then he was called after an Archangel whose name means Who is like God. God is creative, He created heaven and earth according to the scriptures, but now it was looking like She might have created it with him. Somehow over the years in Christianity, the real Sacred Feminine has been hidden away, negated, turned into a virginal statue with little visible life energy from earth.
My movie SCAVENGE FOR YOUR LIFE. I’m so thrilled to be nominated and to WIN! Thank you!
In the year 2050—and here we are, right? Am I right? Right!
SCAVENGE FOR YOUR LIFE. In the year 2050 when we are lucky to have this beautiful theater in downtown Los Angeles.
Here we are! I mean…we are eating and drinking in the gorgeous ambient light of street lights! And first, I want to make sure to thank and appreciate all the efforts made here to create this stage on the site of the former Dolby Theater!
As I rise at 5:30 each morning, my spirit reawakens in a between-the-worlds realm of absolute beginnings. For those few minutes of quiet and slowly revealing dawn light, I revel in mystical newness, endless possibility, a horizon that is only the future. By 7 am, when I can hear cars on the road and see television screens through windows as I walk to work, normal, plodding space-time has taken over, leaving just a shimmer to linger in my memory.
I remember living all day with this feeling of being at the very beginning of my world when I was a young child and everything that I did and thought was for the first time. I believed this sense was lost forever when I was later taught by society, as so many of us are, that I was only the tiniest, most ordinary mite in a world already built many eons ago by people with a much brighter genius than me.
And then, on my 25th birthday, I heard Merlin Stone speak about When God Was a Woman. As I truly envisioned the Divine with a female face for the first time in my life, I felt a joyful excitement as if I had been transported back to that first second in human history when the insight dawned that a sacred presence exists within ourselves and all of creation that is unseen, but real, and that it can be expressed and shared. Because I had never been taught about Goddess or how to interact with Her, I was able to discover and act on what I knew intuitively within myself about Her in a way that was completely my own. With great fervor I began my own individual journey of the spirit and found that this exhilarating profound newness never left me because the territory I was exploring was completely unfamiliar to me in my own experience.
Night becomes day, winter becomes spring, children become adults who become elders who become ancestors – transformation is a theme that appears again and again in our myths, legends and natural world.
But transformation is not easy as it requires us to let go of the old, the comfortable, the familiar and make way for the new and unknown. We can look to myth and legend with their many instances of transformation for guidance through these difficult moments.
Historically they used the Eastern flyway but were extirpated by hunting… a slow recovery is in process and the stately Sandhill cranes are once again returning to breed in Maine… so far only birders have been keeping track of their numbers but these majestic pre-historic birds have haunting cries that are often described as bugles, rattles, croaks and trumpets and can be heard 2 -3 miles away. They also utter sounds that combine a kind of brrring in unison. Their impending arrival next month calls up a chant I love…
“There’s a river of birds in migration, a nation of women with wings. There’s a river of birds in migration, a nation of warriors with wings.”
I remember the chill that crawled up my spine as those words seeped into my body all those years ago… I wept, not knowing why.
My recent discovery of Marija Gimbutas on Youtube rekindled my admiration for her work. In her slide-lecture “The World of the Goddess” Marija Gimbutas allows us to follow the line of reasoning she used to decipher the “language of the Goddess” in Old Europe.
Careful attention to her lecture shows that Gimbutas did not close her eyes, dream, and then attach her own ideas and intuitions to the artifacts she later discussed. Rather, she catalogued groups of images with similar symbolism and used her knowledge of nature (what does a water bird or an owl look like?) and folklore (she collected thousands of songs connected to the agricultural and life cycles in her native Lithuania in the 1930s) to unlock the meaning of ancient symbols.
For almost 35 years nature has been my sacred place. As an 8-year old, I started to pray to Mother Earth even though the protestant tradition in which I grew up only recognised ‘God the Father’. I went outside in my inflatable rowing boat to seek solitude (as an only child in a quiet family!) on a small island in the lake of our local park. I practised rowing and walking quietly to not break the sacred silence. I collected herbs to brew infusions in my little thermos flask with boiled water brought from home. I sung to the moon, and danced my love for all creation back through my moving body. Over the last 15 or so years, I spent many days and nights at Neolithic monuments, dreaming in ancestral burial mounds, time traveling in stone circles in Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, England, Ireland and Brittany. This nature-based practice evolved naturally, and later incorporated my training with the Scandinavian Centre for Shamanic Studies and the School of Movement Medicine. Nature is where I reconnect most easily with the Sacred, and listen to the whispers on the great web of life in which all of nature is a great teacher. Nature, for me, is a strong place of prayer, solace, awe, reverence, gratitude, joy, guidance, reconnection, healing and transformation.
Like most Taylor Swift fans—and anyone who’s tuned into a pop station on the radio recently—I’ve been listening to (and loving) the song Lavender Haze from Swift’s latest album Midnights. The chorus: “I feel the lavender haze creeping up on me / Surreal, I’m damned if I do give a damn what people say / No deal, the 1950s shit they want from me / I just wanna stay in that lavender haze.”
Swift uses the phrase “lavender haze,” as she explains in an Instagram video, to refer to an intense feeling of being in love, complete with an “all-encompassing love glow.” Presumably in contrast with the “1950s shit” people want from the narrator of the song. From the other lyrics, we might assume that this “1950s shit” includes people’s constant barrage of questions about whether or when the narrator is going to become her lover’s bride—because, of course, “The only kind of girl [people] see / is a one night or a wife.” No other options.
Part of what poetry does is to give us the world around us seen with a clear eye, without judgement or preconceptions. You are stating just what is, but always with a foot in both worlds, always seeing the mundane in its place in the universal. In “The Earthen Cloak,” I was blessed with the hospitality of a Quaker friend who guided me through a hidden graveyard deep in the woods, where Friends had chosen to be buried under trees and amid rhododendrons, leaving a legacy of their own love of the Earth. (It’s legal to be buried “straight into the ground” in North Carolina, without a casket but often with a shroud.)
There are some books which you just want to sit with, underline, read leisurely, and let sink deeply into your soul. This is one of those books.
Iona Jenkins has led a fascinating life as a Labyrinth Keeper, artist, spiritual seeker (among many other things). In To Sing with Bards and Angels, she delves into her Celtic ancestry as a poet to captivating result. I can deeply connect with her journey as I imagine many others will as well.
This book is filled with Jenkin’s stories of the experiences she has had while walking the spirit pathway. Most notable and the major theme of her book describes her encounters with an ethereal light being she identifies as an angel. Her guide appears in moonlight and its form and words fit within her cultural beliefs as to what an angel is. I love that she notes that she views her guide in this manner because of her own expectations. Her openness in allowing for other interpretations provides a permission structure for anyone reading and/or on their own spirit journey to understand such experiences in their own way whether it be angelic, otherworldly, imaginative, dreamlike, mythic or manifest in this reality.
Elvis Presley (1935 – 1977) popularized the song “In the Ghetto” written by Mac Davis in 1969. The following TikTok video, featuring an artist with whom I am not familiar, is better—in my opinion—than any other rendition I’ve heard. Such depth! Such raw passion! Such strength! Such vulnerability!
Without thinking I threw the old seed into a bag of moist liverworts that I would be looking at under a powerful microscope with my scientist friend Al in a couple of days. I have no idea why I added the seed. The scarlet runner was one I kept in a winter bouquet that I had recently dismantled. The purple and rose bean had to be four or five years old. It would not germinate now …
Imagine my astonishment when I opened the bag in the lab. The bean had sprouted! The fat twisted root was hunting for earth. Carefully I re – wrapped the bean and put it in a little container until I could get home and plant it, but not before we looked at it under the microscope. More about that later.
Most archaeologists and visitors to museums assume that when they see a horned bovine, they are faced with the image of the male God or the image of the bull sacrifice. In the minds of many, these two are one, as we have been taught that the male God who was the consort or son-lover of the Goddess was sacrificed. Yet horned Goddesses are not infrequent in the history of religions and Hindus still revere the sacred cow.
Cattle have played an important role in human life from the beginning of agriculture. Cows provide milk which is also turned into butter, cheese, and yogurt. Most of the young males and some of the females are killed for meat or leather, while a few males are kept to impregnate the females. Though the “raging bull” is the lens through which most of us think about mature male bovines, I have been told by a friend who raised cattle that in fact bulls are for the most part gentle and even sweet–though of course they are also potentially dangerous.
This week’s Torah portion is a double one, Vayak’hel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1 – 40:38 and Exodus 12:1-20). Vayak’hel covers the construction of the Mishkan, or the temple that traveled with the Israelites while in the desert, and Pekudel outlines the requirements for Pesach, particularly the sacrificial lamb, the blood on the doorposts, and the requirement to eat unleavened bread. For this post I will focus on Vayak’hel as it is the only portion that makes direct mention of women. It reminds us of the ways in which religion and religious institutions would not be possible without the contributions of women.
Vayak’hel centers on the construction of the Mishkan beginning with the general assumption that everyone (here men and women) will donate the items needed to construct the Mishkan. The text also contains verses in which women are specifically mentioned. They donate their gold jewelry (35:22) and mirrors (38:8) as well as spin wool and linen into yarn to be used for the Mishkan’s copious amounts of curtains (35:25-26).
The new podcast seriesThe Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling is a deep dive into some of the most contentious ideological conflicts of our age through the experience of the world’s most successful author, a woman who has been vilified and physically threatened and whose books have been burned by both right-wing Christians and, more recently, by her detractors on the liberal and progressive left.
Marketing was my thing in college. And my first professional job out of college was in Marketing at the Regional Headquarters of Canon in Dallas. And then my life took me out into the weeds: a marriage to an Airforce pilot following him to the snow filled tundra of North Dakota, the swamps of Mississippi, two divorces, four children, twists and turns and ups and downs all landing smack dab to where I sit in front of my computer at the moment outside of Huntsville, Alabama at 53 finally feeling like I’ve got somewhat of a handle on this crazy ride called Life or at least a better idea of how to buckle in and enjoy the ups and get through the downs.
The image of the baby born under the rubble of the earthquake in Syria has been haunting me. So has the image in my mind of her mother, giving birth to her baby while trapped after the building, where she, her husband, and their children were sleeping, collapsed. The baby’s uncle, when digging through the debris hoping to reach his brother and family, found the baby alive, her umbilical cord still attached to her mother. When he cut the cord, the baby let out a cry. Tragically, her mother had died after giving birth, as had her father and siblings.
In prisons in Canada and around the world, a large percentage of criminalized people, who are more often than not, victimized people, Indigenous people make up significant percentages. In a recent *talk I gave, accompanying Indigenous Elder and Artist Philip Cote, we addressed what happens when colonial narratives and patriarchal narratives collide. The result is that our worldviews are shattered. When our worldviews, which are our foundational way of meaning-making, are dismissed, denied, and in the case of cultural genocide: decimated, our heart health fails. Our bodies, our minds, our souls become disconnected become dissociated. Become imprisoned. Imprisoned in the figurative sense and eventually over time, in the literal sense.
Most of us are familiar with the mythology around oak trees. They are considered oracular beings in many traditions. The Druids considered them to be sacred, the Greeks associated oaks with Zeus –( patriarchy strikes as the ‘ king’ of trees). In Britain there was a goddess of oak trees….but in general oaks are considered to be male beings though they bear seeds and flowers on one tree.
Mighty male trees ? Nothing could be further from the truth in terms of behavior because oaks are found all over the world and in this country they are what is considered to be a keystone species. What this means is that oaks support and nurture an incredible amount of animals, insects and birds. A ‘ Mother ‘Tree in every way. We have four species in this country, one of which clones itself and behaves like a bush. It is believed to be about 1300 years old ( found in the west).Throughout the world oaks are also considered to be keystone species.
When I read Plato’s allegory of the cave as an undergraduate, I was told it had something to do with the idea that the “form” of a table is more “real” than the table itself. I must confess that I had no idea what this could possibly mean.
As a graduate student, I struggled with philosophical and theological ideas rooted in Platonism. Rosemary Radford Ruether named the flawed worldview created by a “classical dualism” that separates mind from body, spirit from the world, rationality from emotion, and male from female. Her ground-breaking essay “Mother Earth and the Megamachine” clarified the difficulties I was having.
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Now that my Animal Wisdom Oracle is out in the world I’m delving more deeply into the stories and legends associated with the animals I’ve learned about. Though many legends of animals are strongly associated with goddesses and gods, there are also many that focus solely on animals themselves. In both cases these stories help us understand our place in the world and teach about living in balance and harmony with all beings – a cornerstone of feminism and goddess spirituality.
As winter nears its end, I’d like to share my re-telling of a story with you about Crow. It comes from the storytelling tradition of the Lenni Lenape – a Native American tribe whose traditional territory spanned what is now eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, lower New York, and eastern Delaware. This is a different kind of crow from the one we know today. It goes like this….
My grandmother Clarine was an incredible human being. I absolutely could not be more proud to be her granddaughter. She started her first teaching position in 1927 at age 17. She met my grandfather in seminary; but despite her clear talent and call, the church apparently felt one minister was enough for the family and refused to ordain her. Undaunted, she famously wrote a one line reply to the bishop: Well, Moses got along fine without it, and Jesus got along fine without it, so I’ll be fine without it, too.
I spend a curious amount of time discussing, studying, and writing about polity – the structures and procedures of congregational/denominational governance (my previous post about communion reflects one kind of polity). Amid theological and sociological research about the decline, revival, or re-emergence of Christianity and the church, my research specifically focused on how emerging congregations organized and structured their decision-making processes. As a “body” – ecclesial, social, political – what are the new and creative ways that congregations structure and organize their collective living and relating?