Music for the Holidays

Very belatedly I’m listening this evening to two of my favourite holiday CDs. Because of the upheaval in the house I’ve not had the chance to do so before now.

The first one is Celtic Christmas II, a collection put out be Windham Hill in 1996, and which I have listened to for the past twenty years now. This music takes me through two turbulent decades of my life beginning with the year I graduated from seminary and my mother died, encompassed my dream job as worship administrator at Trinity Church in Boston, through a marriage and two divorces, eight moves, one emigration, and, finally now, to my settlement in the UK.

I can see all the events that are part of this process without closing my eyes. Music powerfully evocative in this regard. Some of the music of Enya does the same for me, taking me over the same years, though not in the contexts of holidays.

The power of sound to tug the heartstrings, amazes and humbles me. The way melody can harness emotion and then release it in floods of tears or gentle sobbing, leaves me weak. Love. Loss. Pain. Joy. Emptiness. Fear. Hope. Yearning. All these emotions follow the tracks of this CD and the one that I will play after.

The second one is Celtic Solstice by Paul Winter and Friends. It came out in 1999 and was recorded on the longest night at the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City, where I was baptised. It is still available and has some lovely tracks on it. This CD evokes different emotions connected with the place it was recorded, different memories and a longer history encompassing the first 45 years or so of my life and then tucks it into the Pagan context in which I now frame my spiritual practice and path as a Druid, which I have travelled for past 18 years.

Again, the images of my experience dance in front of me and envelop my awareness when I hear this music, so different from the first.

I tend to settle into a deep place of reflection between the Winter Solstice and January first. I review what I have done, and not done, achieved and not quite gotten done or not done to the best of my ability. I give thanks for the gifts I have received. I mourn the losses and rejoice in the births of new experiences. I review and then let go where appropriate. I take the lessons and release that which no longer serves.

This year has seen my second divorce. It has also seen me settled not only in the UK, but with a wonderful new partner and a new life with him. In the Autumn I managed to reconnect with my brother after trying for nine years, after my settlement paperwork came through. We aren’t close really, but at least I know he’s out there. Recently, it has seen as well my reunion and reconciliation with a friend whom I thought was gone forever after seven long and arduous years for both of us. The stories of which are unfolding in emails between us and bringing us tears of joy and sorrow for each other. And because we are separated by an ocean the deep yearning we each have to see each other and hear each other’s voices, and to one more hold each other in the embrace of forgiveness and love, which never parted from either of us as it turns out. The former can be done by technology, the latter will have to await her visit within the next several years.

So, the music I am listening to touches me on many levels and across and through so many layers of my life and my living. I listen and remember. It is an exercise in anamnesis. In unforgetting. In opening my heart to joy and sorrow. Opening my soul to its past. Letting the notes of the instruments wash over me and the words sung take me back gently, so that I can move into the future more whole and with a measure of contentment.

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Remnants of My Love

From paranoia to delusion,
to ill made choices
life changes made from a place
of psychological disintegration.

What now remains?

Face like thunder,
a storm waiting to break
the inertia of self-indulgence,
denial held and truth avoided.

Heart like flint,
sharp knapped edges,
shards piercing ever deeper
poised to destroy the essential self.

Soul like ash,
encased in ice unmelting,
frozen solid unable to blow free
for the phoenix of the self to be reborn.

Only these and my compassion,
and the remnants of my love.

A Personal Revolution and Advolution

Okay, I never thought I would be doing this again.

Changing my diet was not in the plan. It’s not about dieting, it’s about diet. It’s about how I choose to eat. About what I choose to eat when I am in charge of what I eat. Not about how I eat when I go to someone’s home and they prepare a meal with St Hidegard’s most important ingredient – Love – and serve it to me. Not necessarily how I eat when I go out to eat, which admittedly is not very often; but how I choose to nourish my body when in my kitchen and cooking for me. Not even what I might cook when I have friends over who do not eat as I eat – I would cook for them, to present food they would enjoy.

So, what is the big change. Well, it’s partly a revolution and partly advolution: A revolution (turning back) because I was once a vegetarian: and an advolution (turning toward), because it’s nearly vegan, which is a new thing. That I could not have dreamed of a month ago, actually not even the vegetarian part either.

The whole what to eat thing has been a real issue for many years, off and on, now and then, over and over. I have learned a lot in the past year reading various blogs and other sources of information about the state of the normative western diet, which is becoming more the global norm or aspiration: Lots of meat. Meat from beasts that are fed inappropriate feed, antibiotics and on land that was once rainforest or other sensitive land. I have thought about this state of affairs and think that it is not a sustainable way of being in the world. I have thought this. I have not been pressured to think about it, and in fact have resisted for a long time because it seems to be a badge of some sort indicating spiritual superiority by some pagans. It, like paganism, can be a way or rebelling against the mainstream, and it is likely that a few folk do this, even if they might not be aware of their core motivation.

I was a vegetarian for several years in San Diego. It’s sort of something one did out there. It was partly a revulsion at the meat packing industry and partly an act of rebellion. It was the most radical thing I did as a twenty-two year old, besides stopping going to church that I did for quite a bit longer. At that time there was not enough money to make it work, but I stuck to my guns until it became untenable.

This is different. It’s part of a more general awakening for me. It’s part of a newly heightened awareness. It’s part of a deeper sensing of the life and lives around me. It isn’t necessarily a practical decision. It’s not done to show I’m a better pagan than I was three weeks ago. It’s a decision, a path I have been led to and know it’s right to follow. As all this revealed itself, I did not think about whether I was going to be a long term vegetarian. Now I know.

And it’s not going to be straightforward, which is where the vegan aspect comes in. I have turned up in the past nine months as being dairy challenged – it gives me a stomach ache when I use it, in tea sometimes it does and sometimes not, but it is not a comfortable feeling. At the local coffee morning they are now used to me asking for hot water. At friends’ I have lemon and ginger tea, which one uses and another has on hand for both of us now. At home I mostly drink hot water now, sometimes lemon and ginger or mint tea once a day. I also don’t eat wheat, but do eat spelt, rye and barley. I’m not celiac, but I do have issues with wheat. Potatoes aren’t good for me or maize, so I wouldn’t use those substitutes at home, but will eat goodies made from them (main ingredients in gluten free flour) by gluten challenged friends. Eggs are also off the menu at home.

Now the way so many animals are handled in the food chain isn’t healthy for them or us. Large operations. Much indoor living. Automated milking. How and over what distances they are transported to slaughter. As an aside it’s interesting that slaughterhouse isn’t used but abattoir, which sounds vaguely exotic for English speakers but means the same thing, though not so in your face. It has made these creatures into a commodity and I find that unacceptable. I don’t see the point of feeding cattle people food, maize to fatten them and a grain based diet, any more than making fuel out of people food. It makes no sense to me.

Do I think what I’ve chosen to do will change the world? Certainly not.

Do I want to go on campaign to make all my friends vegetarians? Of course not.

Will it change my relationship and responses to my environment and those with whom I share it? Most assuredly.

I do this because it feels right for me. And I know how right when I came home with two vegan cookery books yesterday to figure out how to get around not using eggs and dairy, and went through all the recipes I’d been saving, and never used, throwing out all the newly inappropriate ones. I still have cookery books though, which are easier to use and maybe in time I can learn to work around the new way I’ll be eating with them. They are ways to get ideas. When I might cook for non-vegetarian friends I will do so from my heart, though not necessarily a recipe.

It’s funny, odd that as I’ve been shifting to this diet over the past several weeks, using up food in my freezer, that when I cooked beef or chicken it had no taste for me. It was empty, null, void of flavour. It wasn’t really repulsive, but it was like eating nothing. I was still hungry after I ate it. With my renewed diet, I am full and satisfied. My tastes have shifted and that shifting was part of what marked the way for this change.

Preparing meals will require thought and forethought now. It will demand my attention more fully and that I take more time in planning meals and eating them. This is a good thing. It will mean learning how to make recipe for four to six servings work for only two, one for me immediately and one for the next day, if appropriate, or if not then just for one serving. It will involve maths – aaaagghhh! I’ve not had to cook with a calculator for a long time, nor with scales (except for baking).

It isn’t a path that is necessarily easier. For me though it will be better. Even if I had to rearrange my kitchen cupboards to accommodate the bags and tins that replace the food plonked in the freezer.

I consider this an adventure, a coming toward something, a way of being that feels right to and for me, not because I have felt marginalised because I was a meat eating pagan, not because it is a political statement. The something I am coming toward in the advolution, this turning toward and moving toward, is a more authentic expression of who I am in relation to the gods, the ancestors, and spirits of the land who uphold me.

The Embrace

Friday was a revelation . . .

I was walking to the weekly Coffee Morning at the local Methodist. I left early and walked the ‘back way’, that is on the footpath beside the fields. It was sunny and not too warm yet.

The birds were singing,

bumblebees humming,

and the scent of May flower

Mayflower 1                Mayflower 2

and the first gentle wafts of elderflower floated on the air.

Elderflower

All of a sudden I was swept up in the glorious feeling of joy and elation at being, at being alive, at being able to walk this path, at being able to see the beauty, at being aware of so much that I could not see, or smell but could perceive going on around me and beneath my feet.

I smiled. I nearly wept, as I am as I recall that experience — my eyes mist and misted over with tears.

Delight. Wonder. Enchantment. Love . . . yes love. Not the mushy kind we often feel for each other. But a deeper and more profound love, that of the Awen, the Source, the Knowers, the Patterners reaching out to embrace me. To hold me in their familiar and yet utterly different, I hesitate to say alien, embrace. Not the embrace of desire as we normally understand it, but desire nonetheless — the desire that I should know and feel the presence of that which flows through and enables all life and living, everywhere and everywhen. The desire that I should experience this in a new way, that I was ready to know and feel this, that I was strong enough, open enough, willing enough to take it on, take it in and be taken on, taken in by it.

It was a moment, broad and protacted, out of time. I still feel it in remembering. It is the most profound such experience I have ever had. And my response was gratitude. It reinforced my understanding that living the Druid path for me is in part about reverence and gratitude and humility. I was awed by what my senses picked up. The smallest thing had the greatest meaning. There was no insignificance anywhere. It spread out from me, the awareness. It was living through Aslan calling all being from himself at the creation of Narnia, standing beside him as life came to be. It is a passage I have always loved, and in some miniscule way lived with him in an instant. I was suffused in grace and bathed in wonder. Everything around me pulsed with life, I could almost see, and certainly sensed, felt the threads of the Awen weaving us all together — one being, one life, One.

The experience changed me forever. It renewed and refreshed and remade me. I do not have words, though I have tried to find some for this sharing. I was given this gift without nearly dying first, and I am also grateful for that.  I take nothing for granted, offer only gratitude.