Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Day 2018

Concept: Ian Ridell, Art: Kimberly Debus

Seventh Principle of Unitarian Universalism



Art by Mare Cromwell
RESPECT FOR THE INTERDEPENDENT WEB OF ALL EXISTENCE OF WHICH WE ARE A PART

What did you do today that connected you to the earth?
What did you do today that you can point to and say: “That was the seventh principle at work in me”?

Gaia


When I think of my relationship with the earth I think of Gaia. Gaia is the Greek word for the goddess who is the earth, but what I’m talking about is Gaia as the idea, put forth in the 70’s, that the entire ecosystem of earth is one being. A being that is made up of rock and plant and animal. A being that breathes and lives. And we humans are a part of that being.

Process theology tells us that everything is made up of many other things. And that all of these things aren’t even things, they are processes. The planet is a collection of many processes, just as each person is a collection of many processes. And there is really not much distinction between the process that is one of my cells and the process that is the earth or even the solar system. We are all containers of many other things. The chalice of the earth contains us, just as we contain myriad forms of life. The earth is a green growing container, a chalice, if you will. And so are each one of us.

Have you seen the video going around the internet that is narrated by Julia Roberts? The visual is fly-bys of these spectacular places on our planet: orange and brown desert canyon; frothy white jungle waterfall framed in deep green; stark pale blue arctic ice floe in endless sea… In it Julia is the voice of Gaia, and Gaia is reminding us that she has existed before us, and will exist after us. She doesn’t much care if humans make ourselves extinct. She doesn’t need us. She is so much bigger, so much more, than an earth lifeboat for humans. We need her.

This can come as a bit of a shock. Or it can help us to feel our dependence, and our connection, with the natural world. Indeed, our oneness with the natural world and all that makes up the earth.

Viriditas


The other concept I think of when thinking of our relationship to our earth lifeboat is the idea of viriditas. That idea that the divine is the greening life-five was articulated by Hildegard von Bingen. “Hildegard of Bingen”, also known as "Saint Hildegard" and "the Sibyl of the Rhine" lived from 1098, to 1179, in Germany. She was a Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, and visionary who wrote theological, botanical, and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems. She is considered to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany.

A cornerstone of Hildegard's spirituality was Viriditas, or greening power, her revelation of the animating life force manifest in the natural world that infuses all creation with moisture and vitality. To her, the divine was manifest in every leaf and blade of grass. Just as a ray of sunlight is the sun, Hildegard believed that a flower or a stone was God, though not the whole of God. Hildegard celebrated the sacred in nature, something highly relevant for us in this age of climate change and the destruction of natural habitats. - The definition of viriditas or "greenness" is an earthly expression of the heavenly in an integrity that unites dualisms.

Mandalas


One of Hildegard’s spiritual practices was to draw her visions. We, in this modern world, call them mandalas. Just like the mandalas created in India and Tibet, her mandalas were visual patterns that represent the cosmos metaphysically, spiritually, or symbolically.

When you truly believe in and value your relationship with the earth, or God (and for Hildegard those were the same) you act on your spiritual connection. The Church of her era was rife with corruption and sexual misconduct. While many men held back from protesting, fearing the repercussions, Hildegard decided that she would take on the mantle of reformer. Although St. Paul had forbidden women to preach, Hildegard embarked on four preaching tours in which she delivered apocalyptic sermons to her male superiors, warning them that if they did not mend their ways, they would fall from grace and be toppled from their seats of power.

Nor did Hildegard enjoy a quiet retirement. She took in and nursed a man who had run away from fighting in the crusades, and when he died she buried him in the churchyard. It is hard for us UUs to imagine, but giving this Christian burial to someone who rejected the command to fight in the crusades didn’t sit well with the powers-that-be and she and her nuns were collectively excommunicated. The excommunication was only lifted a few months before Hildegard's death in 1179.

Acting on Your Spiritual Direction


Hildegard didn’t just pray with words. She lived her belief that every person was sacred, that her love of Viriditas must be expressed, that the church, her communities, and yes, the whole world was worth her time and energy, risk, and commitment. What does your relationship with the earth, or the divine ask of you? We need to listen to our heart songs, our earth songs, the voice of viriditas, the sacred, and we each need to find our own spiritual direction, a direction that lives our love for our world.

Hildegard speaks for God, saying: "I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon and stars ... I awaken everything to life." -- Hildegard von Bingen, Liber Divinorum (Book of Divine Works)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Planning Programming for your Community?

Planning programming for the coming year? Here's three reasons you want me to visit your civic group, religious community, meditation or study group, grove, or coven.

Message

We can each find our soul's way to create love and justice. We are faced with a shrill political atmosphere, painful despair about our environment, and suffering, loss of rights and dislocation of values. We need the reminder that each of us is a gift, what we do matters, and there is merciful nourishment available to us.

Earth-relating Spirituality

Help your community with exploring gifts of Moon, Forest, and Bone: cosmic and scientific truths, insights from interaction with your place on this earth, and knowledge from heritage and personal experience. Strengthen the Earth-relating gifts already present among the community. I bring the joy of myth and the arts of song, storytelling, imagery, and ritual.

Praise

My presentations, worship services, learning experiences, and consultations are consistently appreciated. Leaders of religious communities value the opportunity to turn a time slot over to someone they trust, or to request a one-off or "pop-up" interim ministry. Women's groups experience connection and transformation. (See testimonials on my web site! amybeltaine.info)

How does it work?

West of the Rockies, I bring my own housing. I am available on site for several days for retreats, workshops, preaching, presentations, and individual or small group appointments.

I have an extensive catalog arranged by theme or by liturgical year. I invite your Programming, Worship, and Adult Ed teams to browse for what resonates! amybeltaine.info

Honorarium: Worship service or 20 minute-1 hour Presentation: $250 (+$50 for a repeat the same day) Learning experience: One hour ($150), Half-day ($350), full day ($550) Alternatively: $20 per person per hour. $25 at the door.  Housing: West of Rockies - Hospitality of your parking lot or a congregant's driveway for our little house. East of Rockies - home hospitality welcome. Travel: IRS rate from my last location. (negotiable) CUUPS consultations are free (travel/housing waived if already on site)

Who?


Rev. Amy Beltine, Spiritual Mentor: Inviting those who feel adrift to learn and live your gift. As a Spiritual Director, Amy witnesses the way for givers and justice seekers who dread getting out of bed to find their soil to root and thrive in, and their fruit to offer. Meetings are over Skype and in person using Physio-divina (Tarot, body prayer, etc.) She visits communities West of the Rockies offering presentations, retreats, and Sunday Services such as "Green Chalice", "Inanna Journey" and "Sacred Fool." Amy served as the president of continental CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) and is on the steering committee of UU Spiritual Directors' Network. Learn more at http://lAmyBeltaine.info.

Did you know?

I also offer Spiritual Accompaniment: helping people learn and live their soul's way.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Way-Finding and Physiodivina - The Fool

Wildwood Tarot

Happy Fools Day and Happy Easter!

This year Easter falls on the same day as April 1, also known as Fool's Day. I've been watching the conversation among the minister's I'm friended with on Facebook as they explore ways to address this odd combination. I'm not sure I see a big challenge. The way that Jesus taught involved commentary in the Stoic tradition which were designed to puzzle the listener and challenge them to think differently about something. 

This opportunity to look at life through fresh eyes is a function of the fool. The return of Jesus from the dead is both deeply meaningful in the vein of renewal, faith, new growth, and hope and a bit of a "fooled you!" joke on his followers. Again, not incompatible with the lessons imparted by the sacred fool. 

I posted last year about many kinds of sacred fools in cultures throughout history and how they can provide wisdom and help to us now. Right now I'd like to delve specifically into the concept of the fool as represented in phsyiodivina: objects such as runes, Tarot cards, and the natural world that invite us into wisdom from the divine. 


The First Fool



The oldest recognizable Tarot cards are the Visconti-Sforza deck. The "miser" or "poor man" card is the first card in the "trump" cards. Trump cards evolved from pageants and parades in medieval times. These parades included people dressed as popular concepts of the time and often represented a series of life conditions or the challenges of a hero's journey. 

The cards that evolved from that community pageantry begin with the fool card. The fool card carries many meanings and is depicted many ways in the decks that emerged after that first one. The sense of the person who has nothing but the (minimal) clothes on their back is often a part of the meaning of the card. 

The hero's journey begins, ultimately, when we are born, and at birth we own nothing and have little idea what will unfold in our lives. Pure potential, innocence, and surprise... Over the years the idea of the fool or the beginning of the journey has been depicted various way by various artists.


The Court Jester


Renaissance images of the fool card in the Tarot, from France, depict the court jester. This fool was responsible for speaking truth to power and keeping the ruler he served honest. Sometimes I wish that there was an official court jester at work in American politics. Perhaps comedians such as Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee are the modern Jester. 

During this period the Tarot was used as playing cards (the modern playing card deck began to be used.) and the traveling Roma began to offer divination services that included use of the Tarot.


The Golden Youth


In the 40s and 50s individuals and organizations in England doing research into occult and symbol systems developed Tarot decks. The most well known decks are the Rider-Waite and the Thoth decks. The Rider-Waite deck was adopted by many as a definitive interpretation and in a way it stalled creativity with the images used in Tarot.

Perhaps this codification by members of the Order of the Golden Dawn is where the ideas of Tarot being related with devil worship got started. Some of these people were engaging in what they called witchcraft or kabbalah or other practices that were frowned on by the church. 


"Book of Thoth" by
Aleister Crowley and
Lady Frieda Harris


For me that doesn't invalidate the interesting things they did with symbolism. The poor jester became a young person with no possessions about to step off a cliff. 

The fool as a leap of faith is a great metaphor for every person who is about the embark on a new venture. We have hope and trust, and we move out into a new landscape. Often we select certain items to take with us that we think will help for the projects ahead, sometimes we feel woefully unprepared. 

I'm reminded of the photo of my niece on her first day of grade school. She has a brave smile, a small backpack and is about to embark on a new adventure. 


Rune of Self

The rune "Mannaz" from proto-Germanic old anglo-saxon means "man" or "humankind." The rune represents the self and self awareness. When working with this rune you are advised to know yourself and be aware of your place in the world. You are also advised to look to your relationship with the divine: the divine within and the divine as encountered in the world. 

Mannaz resonates with the fool concept: we come into this world naked and without tools or knowledge. We just have our selves, alone. We carry this self as the most important tool for the journey. I am reminded of the wisdom that 'you are sacred, you are a blessing to this world when you are born. You only need to exist to be of worth.' You do not need to do anything more than "be." 


Revival and Renewal



The late 60's and 70's saw an explosion of people working in interesting ways with archetypal images and mythological symbols. Tarot was re-imagined and artistically played with to reflect feminist, new age, Jungian, and other new ways of understanding the world and our selves. 

Interpretation of the symbols on cards broke away from the old Rider-Waite depictions and meanings. Psychedelic cards and esoteric cards competed with animal cards and angel cards.

The idea of using the Tarot for personal psychological and spiritual exploration became more common. Though many who describe themselves as psychics did Tarot readings as a part of their psychic readings, there was a new understanding of how we, as human beings, respond to imagery with insight and even transformation. You don't have to be psychic to find meanings in the images and stories contained in the cards, just like you don't have to be psychic to find meanings from a Rorschach inkblot test. 

This time of renewal in society, of openness and transformation was a sort of "fools" time. Experimentation, hope, trust, and adventure were the rule of the day. 


A Feminist Fool



Thea's Tarot (Papercuts)
The New Amazon Tarot
As people became more focused on personal development in the 80s Tarot became one of many tools used by gurus, self help advisers, therapists, and supportive friends. At the same time, more creative decks continued to be developed. 

During the 80's I was coming out as a Lesbian, discovering the long history of women's community and encountering the divine feminine. Tarot cards helped me to more deeply explore the wisdom available from spiritual teachers and traditions that had been suppressed by centuries of patriarchal hegemony. 


Not only did these decks re-imagine ways of presenting evocative images, but they even changed the shape of the cards. Round cards allow the interpreter to imagine more nuance in a reading. My favorite interpretation of the "Fool" card is "Trusting OnesElf" which is a wonderful play on words. Trust, trusting your self, and trusting the playfulness within are all great interpretations. 

The Mother Peace deck's fool card emphasizes this playfulness and trust. 

The fool card invites us to trust the divine and surrender to the flow of our lives. 


The Fool's Year


There are many times when my life went through a "fool" period. One year my grandmother died, my spouse asked or a divorce, my eyesight almost failed, I lost my job, I graduated from grad school, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and I moved across the country. 

The fool cards from all my Tarot decks provided me with help to make sense of the many things I had no control over. I felt like I had stepped off a cliff (maybe, pushed?) and was just amazed that I was still there after months of feeling like I was in free-fall. 

The only way I got through it was by surrendering to the events around me and continuing to bring my full self to the joyful and the painful changes in my life.


Nature



Rumi Card
Goddess Card
As I move through the world there are many things that also teach me the lessons of the fool. My soft-eared beagle, cajoling me for a treat by being silly and cute is a manifestation of the trickster God. The tiny bird in the bush outside the window, braving the coastal storm is a representation of  surrender to what is. The polar bears remind me that each thing is sacred, just because it is what it is. The young people leading #BlackLivesMatter and #NeverAgain movements show me what stepping off of a cliff to follow a dream looks like. They inspire me to do the same. 

As I find my way by living it, I look to myths, symbols, images, and stories to help me stay nourished, in flow, and connected to the sacred. Physiodivina helps me. How are you in a time of the fool? And what can the fool offer to you right now?

---------------
Reverend Amy helps those who feel adrift, or dread getting out of bed, to learn and live their gifts. Learn how Amy can help you find your way at amybeltaine.info.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Ostara: The Vernal Equinox

Folklore connects egg balancing to the 
lunar new year in China, the Dragon Boat Festival
 in Taiwan 
and vernal equinox in the US. 

Egg balancing can be done throughout the year
What do Carl Sagan, Merlin, and the March Hare have in common? What can the egg balancing trick teach us about living in this world?

"Ahhhh, Spring: a heart lifting in hope and a shoe squishy with mud."

On St. Patrick’s day I think about the wisdom contributions of Celtic people. One of the most famous Celtic sages was the Welsh wizard, Merlin.


Merlin

During WW I, T.H. White, an English author and Naturalist living in Ireland decided that war is one of the worst evils human beings visit upon one another. He wrote “The Once and Future King”, the story of King Arthur. In the book the bumbling wizard named Merlyn advises the young Arthur and teaches him about using strength and wisdom in service to peace.

Merlyn turns Arthur into an ant, and then into a goose. As an ant he experiences life in the totalitarian state, obeying orders. As a goose he feels the wind in his face and the mud under his webbed feet. He feels the camraderie of the whole flock flying together. Merlyn is teaching him ethics, and politics. He learns that structure is important but so is freedom. Both/and.

The Vernal Equinox

We are creatures of the land we live on. All during the short days of winter our rational minds know that the sun will return. But there is something deeper that despairs, yearns, and suffers in the dark. At its worst it is diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s cure: the return of the sun. Our climate, the land we live on, tempers the way we think of what is holy. It determines, even in cities, many of our habits and rituals. The natural cycles are in us.

March 21 is the Vernal Equinox. The mid-point between Winter and Summer, and the official first day of spring. This is the time of the emergence of green. We are tipping over, from the fallow death of winter into the exuberant spring. This is a time when we see the holy in nature. As Hildegard of Bingen said: “God is Rich and Green and Juicy!”

Photo by Hawthorne Post

In New York, each year when the cold snow had ended and the first gentle spring rain began to fall, I would set down my computer and run out into the street. I’d breath in the fresh scent. FEEL the warm rain. And LAUGH! This spring I’m watching my beagle roll in the grass, four paws waving in the air, with a grin on his face. And I find myself transfixed by the sun on the camellia buds and the tiny green leaves just emerging from the plum tree branches that just a day ago looked dead.


Ostara

The March Hare. 
Illustration by John Tenniel
Throughout history we gratefully celebrate Earth's annual resurrection. Spring equinox is a time for joy, fertility and sowing seeds. In medieval societies in Europe, the March Hare was a fertility symbol -- this is a rabbit that is usually nocturnal, but in March when mating season begins, there are bunnies everywhere all day long. As if that wasn't enough, the males tend to get frustrated when rebuffed by their mates, so they bounce and run around like mad.

Ostara (1884) by Johannes Gehrts
Many modern Pagans use the word Ostara for the celebration of the spring equinox. Ostara is from the name of a Germanic goddess. Eostre was the goddess of the land, and farm, so she was celebrated as the days became longer, the chickens began laying eggs, and the cows started giving more milk. The depictions of Eostre are like the European paintings of maiden Spring. She’s a joyous woman, with flowers in her hair, carrying a basket of eggs and a bunny rabbit.

It‘s no surprise to find that the bunny brings Easter baskets full of eggs for children! It is no surprise the Christian resurrection story takes place in March or April and in the Jewish faith, Passover takes place as well. Passover, the celebration of the gift of life in the midst of horror and death. This is the season to celebrate the victory of life over death
.

Resurrection

Martin Luther noticed the connection: “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” Each tree, bush, and plant that looked dead all winter, has completed its hero’s journey and returns to the land of the living. Indeed, the whole earth is re-emerging from the harrowing adventure of winter.

Tajikistani Girls celebrating Novruz with wheatgrass sprouts
All over the world, people are celebrating the transformation into spring. Naw-Rúz is an ancient Persian and modern Bahai festival which occurs on March 21st. It is celebrated with many symbols indicating re-growth and renewal. The purpose is to celebrate the messages that spiritual teachers, such as Mohamed and Jesus, proclaim. Messages which bring us spiritual springtime. Some celebrations of Naw-Ruz include floating new sprouts of plants down a stream and doing Spring cleaning.

Earth and Sky

Merlin and the earth-based traditions advise us to look to nature and the behavior of the wild creatures for insights into our own nature. How we can become our best selves. I hear that same message from those who look UP, beyond our earth as well.

Earth and sky. Both/And.

Neil Degrasse Tyson says “We are all connected, to each other biologically, to the earth chemically, to the Universe atomically.”

And Carl Sagen: "The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.”

Beauty and love on the one hand, death on the other, skepticism on one side, openness on the other: an exquisite balance.

Kraslica is the art, in Slovakia, of painting eggs,
more commonly known by the Ukrainian name:
Pysanki. In memory of my Slovak grandma.
Photo by Luba Petrusha

Translated literally, equinox means "equal night." It is an astronomical term. Equal day and equal night. Both/And. We can’t have one without the other.


I imagine my grandparents on their farm in Upstate NY. Checking the root cellar and seeing that the jars and boxes of precious food are depleted… worrying. Checking the seeds stored and waiting… ready to plant to grow more food: the end, and the beginning, both together. Those seeds came from the death of the plants. Life can only return after the descent into death: Life and death. These opposites are both present at this time of year. Both/And.

Balance and Harmony

If we practiced this embrace of both/and, perhaps things that seem to be irreconcilable could co-exist with one another. We would appreciate the value each side brings. Western and Eastern healing modalities, both Muslim and Christian wisdom, both activists and mystics, both Black kids facing death and proclaiming #blacklivesmatter and White kids putting shoes on the capital lawn to represent those killed in school shootings... both/and.

Taking up both/and as a spiritual practice means taking the time to pay attention to how our lives are in or out of balance. It means paying attention to what is present and what is absent. It means welcoming the fallow time, and then welcoming the green growing times as well.


Tauʻolunga - Own work
I invite you to breathe with me. Breath deep.

Feel the polarities in this moment – Earth as our home is poised in relationship with the Sun. Feel for your own embrace of day-light and night-dark within, your own balance of old and new – this fertile dynamic of tensions. Both/And. Reach out and wrap your arms around it.

Release your breath into it. Breathe in the light, swell with it. Breath out. Let your breath go into the dark, stay with it. Shift on your seat, from left to right, forward, back, feel your centre…breathe it in.


1st day of Falgun in Bangladesh Photo by Ibrahim Husain Meraj

In my part of the Earth, the cycle is about to tip into new growth, into the light. In the southern hemisphere the same balancing moment is about the tip toward dark. Feel the shift within you, see in your mind’s eye the energy ahead, the light expanding and contracting. Feel the warmth of it. Breathe it in.

Ahhhh. Spring: a heart full of hope and a shoe full of mud.

Come, Yet again, Come!



--
Join Amy's mailing list.




Blessed be.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Visiting the Goddess Temple North of Las Vegas

Every year we travel around the South Western United States. I preach each Sunday at a different UU congregation, offering retreats, and meeting with folks for Spiritual mentoring. This year we took a side trip to visit the Temple to Sekmet North of Las Vegas, NV.

I will share a bit in other blog posts about the visit to Sedona, Grand Canyon, San Xavier Du Bac, and other locations in this 2018 trip, this post is about Sekmet and golden hour in the Nevada desert.

You can learn about the founding, funding, staffing, and story of this temple from their web site.

Hawthorne and I drove up mid-afternoon on a late January day. It was breezy and low 70's. The sun was out (Yay! Sun! That's part of why we were down there... it will be GREY back home in the Pacific "NorthWet" until late Spring.)

Despite careful directions shared by the caretaker and priestess over the phone, we almost missed the exit. The temple is close to the Missile Test Site and Creech Air Force Base. Like Seneca Women's Encampment near the Upstate NY Seneca Army Depot, I expected a theme of defiance and opposition. I was happily disappointed! The Temple is not existing in opposition to the military. My sense is that though the peace of the land is a contrast, it is not defined by the military base and former missile test site near it.

We entered from the parking lot by the residences. Small house. Small trailer. RV with hookups... Cats! Right away a beautiful black cat came out to visit with Hawthorne. We were missing our kitty back in Portland. It took me a while to connect the obvious... Sekmet is a CAT Goddess. LOL How appropriate.

This site is well taken care of. It is the desert so the colors and landscape are a little strange to my forest-adapted Oregon-eyes. The caretakers were clearly giving it love: no trash, little signs of tending along the paths and in little shrines.

The grounds are minimally accessible to people who are mobility impaired. The desert actually helps in that respect, here in the Pacific Northwest mud and fallen trees are constant sources of obstacles.

The outdoor conference area looked well appointed and inviting for mild Fall-Spring days. And then the path wound around another corner.

A painting of Sekmet on the side of a shed was brightly lit by the lowering sun. 

Up the hill, a cob structure with interesting features invited us forward.

Inside the Goddess is represented by Sekmet, the Madonna, an Earth Mother and other smaller myriad goddess images. The ground was tiled with flagstone and colored rock and glass beads.

Inside, a fire circle is ready for rituals. Each stretch of chain protecting the fire circle represented a phase of the moon. 

The Madonna was present in many variations and meditation pillows abound. 

Standing inside the temple, reflecting on the earth goddess statue, I shifted from idle curiosity to a sense of deep appreciation and reverence. Peace moved through me and I paced slowly, meditatively around the fire pit enjoying the glitter of the stones and the details of the goddess figurines and statues. Incense invited me to move deeper into the experience and I lit some and knelt before the earth goddess receiving the opportunity to feel at one with the cosmos.

Another devotee approached and I put out the incense, drew some symbols I find sacred on the stone, and left the structure to face the sun. Time for the sun salute!

While the new arrivals got to work watering plants and neatening the space, I moved along the trail to enjoy a slow stroll through the labyrinth. 


Then, Oh! Delightful: a collection of shrines to the fairies and nature spirits!

Also on the grounds we saw a small performance area and a council circle. 

Parking near the temple was ample for large gatherings. Next time we are in Las Vegas we'll check to see if anything is planned and make a point to join with others to commune with the land and the peace and healing of the Goddess energy. Thank you Sekmet and the Priestesses of the Goddess Temple!

--
Add your self to announcements from Amy.