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Dreaming the Spiral in Charlottesville

This is the sermon I offered at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Charlottesville, VA on February 25. 2018 

This is the 8th year I have had the pleasure of visiting Charlottesville to present the Women’s Dream Quest and the 2nd year I’ve spoken to you all. I take this as an honor, an opportunity to tell the story of what the women have been up to over the weekend and an opportunity to tell the story of the themes that are often mysterious and only experiential. I believe that it is a time when the experiences of the inner heart should be proclaimed in the service of understanding and healing. It is certainly time when all that is feminine is rising.

As I prepare this sermon, it is days after the last unspeakable school shooting, it is months after I watched your beloved community—one of my homes in the the world—become the target of brutal, cynical white supremacists and Nazis. We all know how this has happened. And we know that we need something to move us from despair to action– something to engender hope.

My work is about the interior life, the world of archetypes, of labyrinth walks, of gathering women and men together to enter into their hearts. Over the past year and a bit, it has also been about helping to order the increased chaos we are all living in. It is the dark opportunity of this time, to plumb the depths of the human shadow in each of our individual psyches as we watch the enactment of the national shadow on the political stage.   It is an opportunity to heal what needs to be healed.

The theme of this year’s cycle of Quests has been Dreaming the Spiral. The theme came to me from the dream time as it always does in December 2016. I immediately thought that we would need this sort of perspective in the Questing season, 2017-18 . Looking at the world as a linear progression just wasn’t appropriate. Even Dr. King’s arc of history didn’t supply the correct geometry. One of the ways that can help us keep hope alive is to consider the spiral.

Spirals live everywhere in life, from our inner ears to the unfurling of ferns, from nautilus shells to the shape of galaxies. They are seen in art from as far back as 10.000 BCE  and are an important focus in Celtic Culture and the Indigenous cultures of the Americas. Our own beautiful labyrinth has a spiraling theme. We know in personal growth work that we revisit issues again and again through life, but if we are aware, we notice that we might be on the next rung of an ascending spiral of our soul’s life.

Spirals also describe descent and often the vertiginous feeling we have when life flows out of control. If we notice where we are on our personal spiral at any given moment, we will have the gift of context and perspective and the deeply intuitive knowing that we are still part of the whole dancing cosmos.

Spirials describe the wheel of life, the ongoing flow of the seasons, the movement that characterizes life as we know it . For that reason it seems archetypally feminine, intuitive, changeable .

I took that sense along with another notion I have of the sacred feminine– that it is both particle and wave. Not only is the sacred feminine embodied in the hundreds of female deities of the world traditions. It is also a wave through history of the values of receptivity, inclusivity, nurturance etc– a wave that exists in the consciousness of men as well as women.

So when it came time to create a ritual for  Dreaming the Spiral, it occurred to me to bring both the wave and the particle to the party.

Imagine this: First in the nave of Grace Cathedral on the stone labyrinth and then on the canvas labyrinth in your hall, we laid out a spiral of rainbow scarves tied to each other. We looked at the spiral as representing the wave of the sacred feminine. And then we called the particles– 5 archetypal deities and one surprise to dance on  the spiral, music carrying their message. We chanted to them, sending our prayers.. It is a feature of several of the traditional deities that they come swiftly when they are called. And we all know that in these extraordinary times, we need their help.

We are all going to enact this part of the ritual in a few minutes, but first I would like to introduce the archetypal goddesses and tell their stories.

I must say the first line of this chant came to me when I was doing a labyrinth ceremony on the beach in Pt. Reyes CA while the air was still full of the smoke from the Santa Rosa Fires. This plea kept running in my mind: Mary, turn the hearts who’ve turned to Hatred…… This is my beloved Mother Mary, Guadalupe, Black Madonna of Chartres, the most revered female in Christianity and Islam. For over 1000 years people have called her name in the mantra like prayer, the Hail Mary.

Second, Great Mother Calm the fires, winds and seas-— this archetypal goddess precedes the patriarchy and is how humans related to the Divine throughout most of our history. Many of us tune in to this ancient manifestation of the female godhead. Pause for a moment and see who comes to mind and how you feel about her.

Third, Tara teach us wisdom and Compassion... Tara, the Boddhisatva of Compassion, refused her own enlightenment until all beings were liberated is known as the female Buddha. Like Mary, people in the East call to her for everyday prayers. She is common place and revered.

Then we chanted 3 times: Hear our Pleas, Hear our Pleas,

Opening ourselves to supplication opens our hearts to our needs.

Next, Kali speak our Sacred Truth to Power-– and here I am reminded of young Emma Gonzales who called out the hypocrisy of politicians beholden to the gun lobby with her fierce and tearful speech captured by CNN after the horrific school shootings. Kali, the Hindu Goddess sometimes known as the goddess of destruction embodies clear rage and the ability to stand against demons for the ideals of truth. She is fearless.

Next is Shechinah– the mystical indwelling presence of God from mystical Judaism. We chanted. Shechinah, dwell within the hearts of men. Certianly each man holds the feminine anima within him, just as each woman holds her animus

Then as I was searching for the 6th, it came to me to honor the innocent maiden who often accompanies the strongest woman on her inner journey.

We chanted, Sweet Maiden, hold us safe and strong and tender.

And then Love without End, love without End.

I’d like to offer up the chant to each of these archetypal beings in call and response fashion, but first I would invite you to close your eyes.  ( Here I lead the congregation in a relaxation exercise to visualized the goddesses and to come into a contemplative mood)

Mary turn the hearts who’ve turned to Hatred

Great Mother, calm the fires, winds and seas

Tara. Teach us wisdom and compassion

Hear our pleas, hear our pleas, hear our pleas, hear our pleas, hear our pleas, hear out pleas

Kali, speak our sacred truth to power

Shechinah, dwell within the hearts of men

Sweet maiden, Hold us safe and strong and tender

Love without end, Love without end, love without end, love without end,

Love without end, love without end.

May we reach out as we need to into the Great mystery and all to whom we pray to and may we continue to remember the spiral when it looks like we may be headed over the cliff or when we find ourselves contracted in despair.

Next year, I hope that I’ll be speaking in a new world, with progressive legislators in place – with the feminine rising.   I pray that the nation follows your lead here in VA in electing people of diverse and progressive perspectives. Aho, Blessed Be, Amen, Namaste.

Meeting the Ancient Stone Beings

I have been back just over two weeks from Australia.  I have been noticing the brew my psyche is preparing of my experiences.  I worked with 60 pilgrims in the land of the soul over the course of 5 different workshops and and then I met Uluru and Kata Tjuta, the great stone beings of central Australia.  I  feel something new in me and I would have to say that there is another note in the chord of my life–subtle, grounded, quietly joyful.

My friend  Marg and I made the pilgrimage to the “Red .Centre” after the Melbourne Womens’ Dream Quest.  We flew to the dusty town of Alice Springs and drove west out through the desert for 5 hours toward a simple resort 15 kilometers from the monuments.  Vast desert landscape met us and few other vehicles.  We saw just prickly desert plants, sun and blue sky. As we came nearer to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National park, the landscape changed.  There were more desert trees standing solitary witness and the atmosphere slowly became numinous.

We arrived just in time for sunset and joined the throng of  people from all over the world at a specially dedicated spot for viewing.  Mercifully the tour busses had their own vantage point.  It was a festive atmosphere.  I could hear Italian and German spoken in hushed tones .  What surprised me was how related I felt to the great sandstone being in front of me.  I felt joyful and friendly.  I quickly drew a small 7 circuit labyrinth in the red dirt in front of me  

It seemed a fitting symbol of the journey I had made to come to this Center and an homage to the wandering Aboriginal people who used to roam this land also coming to this Center.

Soon enough the light began to leave the sky and Uluru changed from a rather bright rusty red to deeper crimson.

All visitors had to leave the park by 7:30 and so we humans made their way back to our accommodation in the resort.


Before dawn the next morning, we drove out to greet Kata Tjuta, Uluru’s companion .Again an international crew joined us, clicking and exclaiming.  As soon as the sun rose over Uluru and

painted Kata Tjuta with the subtle tones of sunrise, the other tourists left and we were free to commune and be in silence.

We next made our way toward Kata Tjuta and a hike into Walpa Gorge.  We walked up the gully, wild wind blowing through the only aperture in the wide open desert.  We encountered a lush river of green trees and shrubs nourished by an underground spring and protected from the harsh desert on all sides.  The Anagu people, the traditional owners of this country came to this spot as a pilgrimage.  Kata Tjuta is sacred to the Anagu men.

It became clear to me  that the shapes of the landscape and the fecundity of the gorge would remind any human of the sacred gifts of women. Perhaps Anagu men came here to learn.

Next we circumambulated Uluru.  I had brought a stone from Deer Heart labyrinth to leave as an offering.  I found the place that called and sat for a while connecting the two places and the network of labyrinths all over the world.

Everything about these places felt simple and primal.  I could imagine our long time ancestors listening to the landscape, going about their lives in a harmony that we cannot imagine in the modern world.  The harshness of the climate out here, the necessity of learning where and how to survive, the imaginal richness of the night sky and the parade of colors greeting the dawn and dusk all taught them how to be in right relation to Land and each other.

When we left the next day, I grieved.  I was touched to the core.  As we drove the 5 hours back to Alice Springs, there was a particular spot on the road where I felt the boundary of the pull of Uluru and Kata Tjuta.  It is for good reason that this place is considered one of the chakra points of our planet.  I felt gratitude for the attunement.

Coming back to my work and meeting with the next circle in Alice Springs, I experienced an increase in my ability to hold Earth  and more credibility to encourage others to feel our special human job of bridging Heaven and Earth while standing in love and awareness in the Circle.

Iona May 2017

Yesterday as I awaited a flight to Bristol from Glasgow, I spoke with a lovely woman from the Isle of Lewis about the state of the world. We were of the same opinion about materialism, the Brexit/Trump idiocy, the decline of the progressive worldview we had both thought sacrosanct, She asked me where I had been and when I said, Iona, her face softened and and she sighed. There are no words, she said. And I of course agreed. We also agreed that something of what the world needs is the experience every pilgrim to the holy Isle reports.

So I have a few words for this wordless experience. Getting there like a good labyrinth walk, was a shedding. Somewhere on the train or the ferry or the coach, I began to let go of being an American citizen. I let go a layer of being a recognized teacher, I let go caring about the weather, my myriad relationships, in short, many identities sloughed off. When I arrived, it was blessedly still and warm day. The light on the water, the blues of the sky and sea, the spring green emerging everywhere– all was a feast of the senses. Even the squawking rooks added to the bird song. Ah, I thought and felt, knew, this is Presence.

I tried to make sense of it… is it the ratio sheep to humans? the years of pilgrimage since St.Columba arrived in the 6th century? The presence of humans engaged only in art, gardening, prayer,service, sheep rearing and not the usual activities?

Unlike many sacred sites with strong stories, Iona’s struck me as beside the point of how it is there–how you breathe there, how near to your own light essence you become.

My most precious moments were walking the landscape, seeing the changing colors, smelling the big horned, caramel colored hairy cattle, feeling the rocky shore , contemplating the poignancy of lambs so alive . I prayed and meditated and played my flute, but beside those spiritual activities, or even in spite of them, I found a ground of being I met with great gratitude.

So the return, like the walk out of the labyrinth, necessitates some conscious resumption of the layers of the world. I am about to teach two workshops, I am mother, friend, therapist, wise woman activist in this world, I take those identities back, but deep inside, I know the stream of light I hold in my being has been strengthened and witnessed by this holy Isle,