I have this super clear memory of sitting with my family in a pew near the front of the Catholic church in my grandma’s town, attending Christmas Eve mass. The church was so tiny and narrow that my mom, dad, brother and I filled a row.

The memory is of looking down at my hands, with which I’d recently started to feel the flow of energy, and thinking, “No. That’s crazy. You’re being arrogant. You don’t have anything to say about God or religion or the soul. And if you did, no one would want to hear it. So make like an organ and pipe down.”

Ok, I was a little liberal with the recreation of the inner monologue here. But the key word rang out so clearly in my head that its echoes are still quietly reverberating today. “No.”

The funny thing is, I DON’T remember what insight I’d thought I had, and had wanted to share, before that voice shut me down so tidily. What I remember is how the No had the weight of certainty on its side.

I also remember that it was dark outside the stained glass windows. And I remember how I used to feel, standing outside at night in the winter when it hadn’t yet snowed, standing on a hillside in the heart of a Pennsylvania town that was so small, the glow from porch and street lamps stayed in pools on the ground and the sky remained untinted with light pollution – truly black.

I could feel the soles of my feet connecting with the earth, right through my socks and shoes. My scalp tingled and my skin sparkled and I could almost see energy arcing between my palms when I held them apart.

I interpreted this within the cosmology I was making up for myself, a sort of pagan-inspired universalism. I called the period between the fall equinox and the end of the year “the Gathering Together of Power.” I imagined magic condensing out of the cooling air like fog appearing on a window. I pictured the earth drawing its energy back into itself, down from the grass stems and tree trunks it had animated through the last season. The nights felt crisp and full.

I felt solitary but connected.

Now it’s that season again — it’s the beginning of the time when static electricity zings through the air and composting leaves release their pungent mystic gases and the stars sharpen their points. And again I’m thinking of things I want to say, and again a malignant voice, a voice that is part of my own mind, whispers, Put it away. Close the drawer. You’ve got nothing to add here. Go do something else.

But this time there is another voice, one that’s been slowly awakening over the course of this year of exploring self love. And she doesn’t say no.

She says YES. Yes. Let it out. Say whatever you want. Nobody has to care. This spring arising needs to flow.  This time say yes. Say yes. Say yes.  

Shrine to the Blessed Mother down the hill in my mom’s backyard

Membership Sunday 

Last weekend I took time out from a women’s retreat I was attending in the mountains to be at Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality for Membership Sunday. Then I stopped at a picnic at the Gender Identity Center to do a set with a newly forming choir before driving back into the mountains to help make dinner, participate in a badass equinox ritual and MC the camp talent show. I got up early and went to bed late and it was just an intense day, full of action interspersed with long solitary car rides. And in the midst of all that, I became a member of the Althea Center.

My relationship with that place has been evolving since the beginning of the year, when a weekly Sufi study circle I belong to started meeting there. My group had been seeking a “home” in Denver for a while, and the people at Althea had told our search committee that they had all this space that they wished would be used by diverse spiritual communities. Multiple organizations with different perspectives but common purposes – supporting people in their journeys of spiritual growth – sharing a large old building that looked like a Greek temple and had been built in 1906 by the metaphysical Church of Divine Science – well, that sounded good!

The hardwood floor of the room we’d contracted to meet in, a library-slash-classroom, ended up needing major repairs, and the church, or rather the congregation, had to raise money to pay for it as they went. So for the next several months we bounced around from room to room (of which there were many). Once a month as part of our regular cycle of classes, I lead a chant night, and each month it was a mystery as to where we would sing.

Sometimes we were in an area at the back of the sanctuary with blue carpet, big armchairs, and vast accordion doors that stretched across the whole back of the large hall, but never quite clicked closed.

My favorite, though, was when we met to sing in a little alcove with a rickety table at the end of a hallway of tiny meeting rooms. There was a square window with no curtain or blind that could with effort be opened onto a city alley below. The walls were yellow and there were not really any decorations. It felt old and worn.

This is a quality I love so much in buildings, perhaps especially in churches. It takes me back to St. Joseph’s basement where I performed in a children’s Christmas pageant in a quilted bathrobe, and to my dad’s UU fellowship that had its sanctuary and office-slash-library in the rooms above a rural community theater – where I hung out while my dad was in board meetings, where I took an early stab at novel writing, where I first encountered Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. 

The Althea Center IS old. It was the “mother” church of the Divine Science movement and has been a place where mystical and progressive and metaphysical spiritual perspectives have found a welcome since 1898. It’s fascinating to me to think of the teachers who have spoken there over these years, perhaps some of the people whose ideas influenced people like Sam Lewis, who originated the Dances of Universal Peace, my encounter with which has transformed my life in every possible way.

I’ve been thinking about these connections since I started attending the eclectic Sunday morning services at Althea, which happened when out of the blue I got an email asking me if I might be interested in sharing some interfaith songs and chants there. Seemed their previous song leader had left and someone (a member of the aforementioned study group who helped organize our rental of the space) had mentioned to them that I might be able to help out. I was utterly thrilled at the invitation. I led a couple of chants one Sunday in May and it seemed to be mutually agreeable so I’ve been going back ever since.

It makes me nervous, getting up there with what I consider not the best guitar talent, and I feel very conscious of my imperfect playing, especially with such incredible musicians as play there. The church website advertises the Sunday service as having “world class music” and they are not kidding – though I read that and think, “Everyone but me, of course.” It’s an extra bonus and source of inspiration for me that I get to hear these awesome classical (and sometimes New Age) musicians play each week. And somehow I, with my little acoustic guitar chant singalong, am part of that.

It’s a lesson in getting over myself, all right. If I succumbed to shame and hid away whenever I felt embarrassed about my playing, it would all be over. But it is such a dream come true to be able to actually share the type of music that I do, which is so quirky (and, I often feel, dorky, though I nonetheless am compelled to do it almost without ceasing) with people who seem to find it helpful in some way. It’s shocking to me that I could ever find myself having this opportunity, and I keep thinking that they’ll soon be tired of me and my mistakes and that will be that, but I am so grateful for each and every chance to share this music in this space with this community.

That’s part of why I chose to become a member of the Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality last weekend. There’s also the way the church supports and encourages the arts, especially artists and groups from marginalized communities; the way it opens its space for all kinds of conferences and real, in-depth conversations about the critical issues facing our nation and world today; the way it puts the guiding principle of oneness into action, the kind of action that makes things better.

I thought this part of the membership ritual perfectly captured the essence that I love about Althea. People who were joining the church each lit a candle on a table at the front of the church. But the candles weren’t new candles that all looked the same. They were every different kind of candle in every condition of prior use and semi-meltedness, some practically straight and some bulbous or gnarled. They were all different heights and the long stove matches we were given to light them with didn’t reach down neatly to the burnt wicks but left black marks on the white wax sides.

To me it was like – Look at this motley crew, so quirky and so loved. Each member empowered to give their gifts in full acknowledgement of their imperfection – their uniqueness. It’s such a great vibe and I’m honored and delighted to be a part of it.

So I feel like when I completed that little ritual of joining the community, a door quietly opened somewhere in me. And I am very curious to see where it leads.

Looking up, looking out, looking beyond.



Empty yourself of that wrenching wail
that rises in your heart
and fills the abyss within you,
pour its screaming music
into your work, spill it
from your footsteps,
and, pressing your ribs together
squeeze its last rich drops
out into the art piece called your life.
Only then will peace
dark and still and ancient
whisper the cosmic secret of love
to your soul.



These Guys

Earlier this summer I tried on a sundress with a pattern of roses intermixed with human skulls. It was SUCH a cute dress, with vibrant neon colors and white accents on a black background, and I thought it looked good on me too. But the pattern hung me up. I imagined myself wearing it and people asking me, Why are you wearing a dress of skulls? I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to respond. The skulls seemed too powerful and magical for me to just wear them as a fashion accessory. (I’m really not that punk.) So I left the dress on the rack, a little wistfully, wishing I COULD have found a reason to make it mine.

Well, I guess skulls must be trendy in some circles because after that day, I started noticing them hovering around me – a lot. And as with so many things to which I’ve responded at first with an emphatic no – I found myself beginning to whisper – Yes.

Finally, one day in the bead store when I was Shopping With A Mission for a specific project I was working on, These Guys – brightly colored skulls carved in magnesite – captured my attention, and I decided the, shall we say, skull archetype must have some medicine for me right now, because they caught my gaze and would not let go.

What’s different now from the beginning of the summer? I’m conscious now of doing shadow work. I’m going underground to struggle with those aspects of myself I don’t normally want to face. And I’m dragging back into the light the gifts that I’ve disowned out of fear of rejection.

When we strip away all the elements of our lives in an effort to discard those that no longer work and rearrange those that remain in a hopefully more functional way – my partner, who studies the shamanic traditions, calls that skeletalization. That’s the short code for what I’m doing these days.

Suddenly Mr. Skull seems like he might have a relevant place in my life after all.

So I bought the colorful string of skulls that felt so beautifully heavy in my cupped hand. Without even taking them off the nylon string they were displayed on, I tied them around my rear view mirror. Now everywhere I go they are nodding and grinning at me and looking out in every direction (some of them upside down) and I feel surrounded by a lovely skully energy that’s somehow so deeply loving. I feel a sense of protection on my journeys to the underworld of my own being.

I call them “These Guys” and I quickly came to think of them as my friends.


Here’s what the book in the store had to say about the mineral they’re made of:

“Recognize non-beneficial thoughts/ideas, revolutionary ideas via imagery, passion, heart felt love, cell purification, disorders of convulsions, bones, teeth.”


I stand prescribed. Thanks, guys!