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Practice – Spirit, Within and All Around

Spirit-from the Sacred Elements MandalaSpirit.

The indescribable. The ineffable. The untouchable.

I try to grasp it in words, but they seem poor tools for something that dwells in silence.

I think back over my life to instances when I felt something greater than myself, of which I was still a part.

As a child, I felt it in church, in the hush of a great domed interior space, where colored light played through the stained glass windows. A shaft of light filled with dust motes seemed perhaps the light of God, as he was explained to me in Sunday School.
But later, seeing immense rays of light radiating from behind a sun-rimmed cloud brought the same feeling, of awe and wonder.

So God must live in the world of nature, clouds, and light?

Back in childhood, the church offered other sublimity – the scent of flowers being arranged in the sacristy by women’s hands; the great resonant chords of the massive organ; the sound of so many voices singing together. I would shiver at the vastness of my feeling.

But later, I brought flowers from my own garden into my house, and felt the same thing as I lit a candle on my hearth altar. I sang with a theater full of Revelers, or in a circle of women in a yurt, and felt the same thing. And now I thought of the indwelling Presence that I could feel at these times as Goddess.

These are all experiences of worship. Of devotion. So does Spirit arrive when we make a space in this way? When we quiet and clear and wait? Sometimes. Sometimes not . . .
Spirit seems to arrive at times we connect with others, with any living creature, human or animal or plant. Or even with any element, dirt or breeze or rainbow or river.
Within and all around us. This was the merest way to describe it for my Five Sacred Elements card in 1999.

So . . . Deity? Visitations of a goddess or a god? In dreams. In half-waking states, seeing a dark figure watching me sleep. In the hands of a massage therapist, imaging or imagining that I am held in the hands of the Mother, cared for and watched over.
In visitations with animals – the deer when my mother died. The bat when my father died. The bobcat on my 60th birthday. The cat of my heart when he would offer me his love and care.

Before great vistas. The long valley in the Samarian Gorge where I could have gazed all day. An early religious experience of nature.

Being in creative flow, feeling touched and filled by a divine heart at one with mine, enabling the enchantment of making, in an exalted state. In poetry, in tarot cards, in music, I find a lot of my spiritual life.

I read and ponder other’s words for recognition of the same in myself. How do I experience the sacred?

Long ago I accepted that the sacred is here in my daily life. Not only in feelings of transcendence or greatness beyond. At the edge of my understanding. Those times are threaded throughout my life like a never-ending spool of spiritual awareness and awe and longing.

But there are other times when I sense in a flash the awe of existence in a moment, in the mud of life, in the purely ordinary.

I seek the “liminal” moments at dawn and dusk. Magic hour, it’s called. I escape the house and the consuming details of life to gaze at the sky and envelop myself in the golden light.

Light again.

I’ve felt it in a circle of beloveds, sharing our joys and sorrows, as we listen and speak, I might feel a presence, an encircling attention that is born of connection.The Beloveds. The Divines. The Goddess. The One. The Source Beyond Source. The Greater-Than. The something larger than ourselves.

The feeling breaks through during the passages, the transitions. Birth. Death. We like to think we are accompanied by a caring deity, who we call by this name or that.
It may be simply the accumulated resonance of all the lives that have come and gone before us. This is the great soup. A nicer way to think of it is the vast fabric of life, of consciousness, of shared experience.

Just as all the four elements represent parts of the world that are beyond our comprehension or control, the fifth sacred element, Spirit, is the connecting sense that living things have for one another and for our world.

This is our heaven.

We feel lucky to be “visited” by this feeling, and we call it Deity. In a dream, in a touch, in nature, in our own deepest yearnings.

We seek, we glimpse, we yearn.

And when we feel ourselves to be a part of something vast and larger than ourselves, we feel a sense of rightness, of belonging. We are right with our world in that moment.

I began with pantheism – the finding of deity in the natural world, and I think many do this. Being moved by the beauty or intricacy or “big magic” of a place – the Samarian Gorge, Yosemite, the Pacific Ocean – this is easy to come by. Sunsets, beautiful clouds, grass waving in a meadow. Light, stars, moon.

Staying with the natural world has been the safest way to involve my family or others whose paganism I am unsure of. Drawing parallels from the lessons of nature to our own lives is profound and often helpful. There are times when we have circle that I spend much time on the elements, or ask others to add in. And touch on Deity only briefly, with a word or two at the end. I don’t linger there, for everyone has their own idea or experience – and this I say. Or they are flat out uncomfortable with it. So I glide over it.

So . . . pantheism is good, but the fact is, I love stories, and the goddesses and gods are all about stories. I approach these in a similar way to being widely-read in many literatures. The stories of the Bible never landed with me. The commandments troubled me. I saw graven images everywhere – crucifixes, statues – so did not understand the Thou Shalt Not. Not to mention war.

And many years later, I began to read stories of goddesses, across all time. And for the first time, I felt an answering resonance. The stories were many and varied, but they clicked something alive in me.

At our women’s retreat, twice yearly, we chose a card from the Goddess Oracle to be with us for the next half year. In this way we learned so much of the different aspects of Goddess in our lives.

Only rarely have I felt an indwelling presence. Presence. But I invoke.

Sulis in the therapy pool. Brigid at my hearth, in my studio, in my tears. Sedna in my troubled relationship with my father. Demeter in my troubled relationship with my daughter. Sarasvati in my writing. Kali as I clear, cleanse and burn. Cerridwen in the cauldron of change. Oshun in my beauty. Aphrodite in my marriage bed. Hecate in my decisions. Bast in my communion with cats. Lilith in my fierceness. Inanna in my underworld trials. Mary in my mother love. Athena in my justice-seeking. Nimue in my spellwork. The Ancient Mothers in my body, and in my body of work. The Sheila-na-Gig in my vagina surgeries. Kamui Fuchi at my ancestor hearth. The Cailleach as I age. Laverna as an outlaw with a pregnancy. Seshat while I write the stories of the dead to keep them in memory. The Fates at a deathbed. Gaia – everywhere.

Spiritual practice is just that, a practice. It is simply an honoring and a centering. A checking in with myself, the directions and the elements. A prayer to Spirit by whatever name I am using that day. And a preparation: laying the altar, clearing the ground, showing up. Like any creative work, the practice is simply there and if spirit, or flow, or inspiration, or an inspirited feeling appears, I am ready. I have made the house, the body, the mind, the heart, clean and uncluttered for a moment or a space of time. And if nothing else happens except for drawing a deep breath and folding my hands or lifting my arms, I still feel whole and holy for a moment before my day or my night.

The prompt was to present how the elements of earth, air, fire and water, and the fifth sacred element, spirit, play out in our lives.