These are stories about the spiritual journeys of our Associates. Hopefully, they will inspire you….
Here are some of the stories:
Joy and the Bango
Grace can happen in any number of ways.
Some twenty years ago, I attended a weekend retreat run by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist called “Blowing Zen: Meditating with the Shakuhachi.” Dating from the eighth century, the shakuhachi, or Zen flute, is made from bamboo root and was used as a weapon as well as a musical instrument by mendicant monks who wandered the countryside seeking enlightenment.
I sat on my Zen pillow, eyes closed, listening to the mournful tones of the flute (If you want to hear a shakuhachi, here is a link to a brief YouTube video), mingled with the sounds of wind and rain and wind chimes. As I focused on my breathing, I suddenly realized:
I want to learn to play the banjo!
My first teacher was from West Virginia. Let’s call him Gid. He smelled of pot and body odor and said things like, “Hey, Man! What’s happenin’?” His three-month old daughter (“Man, was she a surprise!”) slept in a guitar case beside us. Gid started me on what’s called claw-hammer style banjo, where your right hand is supposed to come down on the strings and hit the head of the banjo, almost as if knocking on a door. Gid wasn’t much concerned with hitting the right notes as he was with establishing a rhythm. “Bounce, bounce!” he’d shout, “Keep that rhythm going!”
I loved it.
And I still do. I guess because I’m totally focused, completely in the moment. Keeping what’s called the “bum-ditty” rhythm becomes a kind of mantra. Jamming with a group of old-time musicians, I go into a “zone,” where nothing matters but the music. At the same time, the bright sound of the banjo provides a balance in the day for someone who spends much of his time alone in front of a computer screen, often writing about grief and loss, or sitting in silence gazing at his navel (although I prefer the term, omphaloskepsis).
First made from an animal skin tacked over a hollowed half of a gourd, with three or four strings stretched over a planed stick, the “banza” or “banjar” came to this country from Africa with the slaves. So the banjo has its roots in sadness and loss, which makes it appropriate for a grieving parent like me. Yet it can blossom in spontaneity and joy. In fact, I don’t think I ever knew what joy was until I began whaling away on the banjo and discovered that unlike simple happiness or contentment or pleasure, joy contains the element of sadness, of longing.
Which is what I think the Christian writer C.S. Lewis meant when he defined joy as “an unsatisfied desire, which is itself more desirable than any satisfaction.”
I wonder if he ever played a banjo.
What is God?
God is a fleeting event that happens to me. It is a rising up from dull, habitual, over and over mind routine into a journey of boundlessness, abundance, safety, protection and new possibility. This protection, where no harm can come, is a place where new doorways open in my heart and there is only freshness and light. It is a place where transformation incubates. It is the gift of new direction for an old problem, of alternative ways for the worn-out emotional strategies that have carved deep ridges in me, the gift of spacious emptiness where crowded psychic clutter and dust once lived. The experience of God is the movement out of my “same old, same old” to an undiscovered path that flows like a meandering mountain stream. It is a soft landing. It is the light that stirs in my heart, breathing cool breeze into stale patterns of behavior. This gift of spaciousness is not aloneness, it is communion, “with union.” God is vibrant life where there was once stagnation. In God, my rigid, dry and brittle heart turns supple and absorbent. God is freedom to create, freedom for change, freedom to emerge. The fuel behind this momentum is mighty and mysterious, radiant love. It is a love that is barely knowable, incomprehensible, beyond understanding. It is more vast than the clear night sky and the canyons and ocean depths. It is love that is unbreakable, unmovable, unquenchable, through all time and space. This love in God is as close as my breath and a healing adhesive balm on my soul.
“Never fall in love with a pot until it comes out of the final firing.” This was the first advice given to me when I began making pottery. Much can happen to a pot from start to finish. The soft clay handle of a newly created mug may droop under its own weight. Once it dries the mug becomes very delicate and may be easily broken. When the mug goes through the bisque firing it may distort. In the final glaze firing the reliably bright turquoise glaze may turn into a dull gray or may run off the mug and cause it to stick to the kiln shelf. Or the funny little distorted gray mug with the droopy handle may turn out to be your favorite piece.
A Passion for Nature’s Invitation
the questions by this state’s gorgeous natural settings. I love the cabin and
studio that Heather has blessed with her loving gifts of design, art and gardening.
Each day when I walk along our bubbly stream flowing into the beauty of Green
Lake, my heart sings. Not a day goes by when I don’t lift up my spirit to the sky
and thank my creator for blessing me with such an incredible place for my soul to
grow. We currently have purple plums, apples, blueberries, tomatoes, blackberries, hummingbirds, dragonflies, sun rays through the evergreens, flower
blossoms of every color, an old potter’s wheel, and quail weaving through the
garden. Currently, I am building another labyrinth that stretches through our yard
with Heather’s landscaping skills adding beauty to an already incredible space.
One of my passions is to gaze into the ‘outer’ world of nature and discover what
questions God has for my ‘inner’ today. Nature has a way of opening my heart to
truly listen and, if I am lucky, I hear the questions rising from the spirit of place. It
is good to have a place and to feel that I belong within it.
|Marty, Eli and Maya|
The Center Still Holds
As a seminary student, I spent a considerable amount of time treading water in the theological deep end, trying to understand God’s proximity in loss and the meaning or purpose of suffering. As you might guess, this was no intellectual exercise. In 1967, the wrongful death of my three-year-old sister, a consequence of parental neglect, unleashed a torrent of events that sent my older brother into a death spiral of addiction that took his life twenty-five years later.
No member of my immediate family ever attended religious services or talked about God. Many of our neighbors were devout Catholics and I wondered how they found the hope and consolation they needed by reading scripture or attending Mass. After years of resistance, I finally followed my longing and entered Bangor Theological Seminary. One day, while engaged with scholarly “conversation partners” in contemporary grief theory, I was blindsided by this passage from author Melissa Kelley. “The experience of loss,” she writes, “breaks our hearts and breaks our stories.”
Karen’s senseless death broke Phillip’s story. And mine. I struggle to live comfortably from my heart. My connection to all things holy feels tenuous much of the time. The slow process of healing plods along. At age sixty, I’m still relearning the world as it is now; not as it once was, nor how I wish it could someday be. There’s no triumphant ending here. But remarkably, through no effort of my own, the center still holds.
MPassion for Preserving Fruit
My Passion for Preserving Fruit
Have you ever walked into a kitchen and discovered the delectable fragrance of marmalade, chutney, jam, or preserves cooking? Forty-some years ago I had that experience entering the kitchen of a friend, who then taught me the process which gave birth to my passion for preserving. Over the years, I have become aware of the inherent spirituality of that process.
Yesterday I stood beneath an apple tree, and was awed by the abundance of attractive apples, which I could just touch and pick! I’ve had similar experiences with cherry, peach, pear, plum, and quince trees, not to mention blueberry, currant and gooseberry bushes (in Pennsylvania), grapevines, and rows of cranberries, rhubarb, and strawberries. Such varied and beautiful abundance of creation, gifts right there for me, my husband, daughters, and grandchildren to pick and enjoy!
As we bring our harvest into our kitchen, I consider which recipe to make, sorting through recipes from family, friends, and books. As I decide, I evoke that person or author and silently give thanks for the recipe which means so much to me.
Then my husband and/or I prepare the fruit. Just cutting into the fruit and seeing the
beauty of its fresh interior is a remarkable experience. As I gather the ingredients which
we have bought for a particular recipe—fruit (e.g. pineapple), liquor, nuts, sugar/honey,
and pectin (if needed)—I wonder if the people (refugees? immigrants? migrant
workers?) who grew, harvested and/or prepared the ingredients have been well-treated.
I hold them in prayer—as well as their/our government(s).
The exciting part follows: mixing the ingredients in a large pot and bringing them to a
boil. This requires vigilant awareness—literally living in the present moment—stirring
often to avoid anything sticking to the bottom of the pot. If the recipe has no pectin, the
ingredients must cook/simmer longer, until the liquid begins to jell. Trusting that the
jelling point has been reached is crucial. And, during all this cooking, the fragrance is
intense and mouthwatering! Ladling the preserves into the jars can be a bit challenging,
depending on the diameter of the jar. Cleaning off the jars is often when I get the first
real taste of the jam…and a sense of joyful union: taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound
(my husband’s “Mmmm…”).
To seal the jams, I use the old-fashioned method of pouring paraffin over their tops, or I
freeze them (if the recipe was no-cook). Then I make labels with different colored inks,
and store the jams in my precious antique jelly cupboard until the occasion arises to
share them with family and friends. I love to see their responses as they read the
labels, and I am filled with gratitude!
What the Northeast Guild Means to Me
by Ann Barry
Discovering this small initiative called the Northeast Guild for Spiritual Formation about fifteen years ago was an answer to a prayer for me. Since completing the Shalem program for Spiritual Guidance in 1999, I was hungry to learn more about the spiritual life and expand my relationships with like-minded spiritual seekers beyond my local community. Being able to participate in Guild programs on Mount Desert Island and stay at the Alcyon Center have deepened my spiritual awareness. I have been fortunate to take part in in many overnight times of Teaching and Retreat, and my prayer practice has deepened as a result of these opportunities. The Guild is also an excellent resource for new books and other resources that keep me abreast of the spiritual world. I have also appreciated the Alcyon Center’s hospitality for times of simple rest and personal renewal.
The Guild stretches beyond Mount Desert Island, bringing deepening opportunities to my local community in Brunswick. I became an Associate when Jeanne Tuttle and I began to offer a bi-monthly Quiet Day at my house. Jeanne and I also served on the Guild Spiritual Life Table and attended meetings with the Board of Directors. I receive loving encouragement and guidance for my small practice of Spiritual Friendship with several directees, and support for our local Peer Group Supervision group. Here in Brunswick, we also have a bi-weekly time of Silent Prayer which is open to all who wish to participate. In addition, a time of prayer and reflection is available via ZOOM for those who find it difficult to get to Mount Desert Island or who desire more frequent contact.
My time with the Guild has gone by quickly and my years are reminding me of the need to be less active. However, the Guild still has much that I will be able to take part in locally, such as contributing financially to the work of the Guild, praying for the Guild and its Associates, using resources suggested in the Newsletter, and participating in offerings locally and on the Internet. For example, Dennis Kiley’s online presentation this summer of an ecospirituality initiative “Nature Inspired Spirituality” will feed me for the rest of my life.
The Guild touches my life in some way every day. I know that I have a community that assures me I belong and that I have a place where I will be loved, encouraged, strengthened and blessed with gifts shared by all members. The journey continues…