It’s also funny how I can be all “I’m definitely not celebrating Easter” and then end up more fully immersed in the holiday than I have been for years. I think the Friday night zikr just put me in a contemplative space about Easter and got me thinking once again about the Easter rituals’ significance in my life. Death, forgiveness, and resurrection — rebirth into a new life. At home, we started calling it “New Beginnings Day.”
Taking in the rays of light after the Easter sunrise “Resurrection and Renewal Dance” at Starhouse on the canyon rim above Boulder this morning, I felt like I’d been through a journey this weekend, going into my shadow places of guilt and shame and sorrow — of perceived separation — and coming out cleansed, my heart washed and rinsed and wrung out hard. I felt the clean of garments pounded on the river rocks.
Ouch. But whew. I’m so happy to be cleansed.
At choir last week our director to introduced a new song that goes like this:
Create in me a clean heart And purify me, purify me Create in me a clean heart So I may worship Thee
And one person standing near me said she didn’t like it: “Don’t we already have clean hearts?”
I didn’t disagree: I think we do have inherently pure and perfect hearts, and mostly these days I prefer to honor other people’s perspectives. But I also think that for myself at least, it’s a grace well worth asking for. There are things I hold in my heart, by means of which I keep myself from knowing and living in the full presence of the Divine. I DO want to call on a higher power to help me create a pure heart in myself and to help me release what doesn’t serve me, what prevents me from growing in joy and love. That’s the rebirth and the recommitment I feel and hope for myself this Easter.
Guess I’m not done with this holiday, after all. I may resist — but eventually I get where I need to be.
Careful of the cactus!
Standing stones, shadows, and sun rays around the Starhouse–and look, a little patch of snow!
Yesterday some of my students came to class in costume. With a few of them, I wasn’t quite sure if they were dressing up as somebody or something else, or if they were wearing an extreme version of their own true style — if those sunglasses, that muscle shirt, that fringe was what they would be wearing every day if it was socially allowed. It made me think, I wear my costume every day. Tonight I get to put on my real self’s clothes.
I drove up to Fort Collins with a few friends (now that I live in the city, I can carpool!! Much excitement!!) to attend a Samhain celebration that included both ritual and Dances of Universal Peace. Oh, it was lovely. The facilitator asked all attendees to wear black. Although we were all invited to invite in loved ones who had crossed over, and this aspect of the holy day is the one that was most explicitly talked about, when I saw all those sisters and brothers dancing in unison in all-black sacred attire around a black-cloth-draped altar that really looked a lot like a cauldron, I felt most strongly connected to the starstream of my anonymous spiritual ancestors — pagans of ancient Ireland and Rome, blood-related to me or not — who have ever celebrated this, or anything like this.
Throughout the evening I kept imagining what it was doing outside — the wind blowing leaves, clicking along the concrete sidewalks and down the roads; the energy zapping back and forth across the sky. As an adolescent I called this season between October and the New Year “the gathering together of power.” I could feel it, though I didn’t know what it was or what to do with it. I wouldn’t say I know those things now, but maybe I’ve developed a closer relationship with the mystery since then. It’s sweet. And wild.
Here’s a poem from the faculty reading I was part of this week. I wasn’t sure what it would be like, reading without the usual academic costume. It felt lighter than I expected.
“On the Cusp”
On the cusp, the world changing so quickly
or seeming to change around me, and I with it
know I am changing –
I am running both backward and forward –
Caught up in the spinning she tells me,
Abandon everything you have tried before.
Carefully reading the signs with eyes growing accustomed to new light,
She says, Those fables suited earlier times
when humans needed myth to shroud and disguise the Truth
so what they feared could sneak like a beautiful thief
into their hearts, to steal away their fear itself
and leave the jewels of faith behind.
Now we are grown, or part-grown anyway, enough to let go of the precious lies of childhood.
We must gird ourselves, be scientists, be brave,
take the laws of the Universe into our own hands now
and wield them without sentimentality to carve our way through to Love.
My soul, yearning for freedom, terrified of missing the chance to be
released from its captivity behind my questioning, worrying, analyzing mind,
like a soldier, rises at this reveille and scrambles to attention
gamely to follow the new orders –
but even as it leaps headfirst into the new day
there falls from the blankets the relic of the beloved saint
scent of the temple incense still clinging
much folded, much handled, and tearing at the edges,
but tightly grasped in sleep:
the letter from Home – the promise of reunion.
Though our memories of that time retreat more rapidly than Avalon,
and the great Teachers’ voices dim with distance
still I pick up the fragments they drop as they speed away.
In the palm of my hand the pentacle still glows with inner fire.
The crescent in the night sky still cups wisdom secrets
that may be poured out in crystal drops to the thirsty.
In poems, in spells, in gospels, beneath the tapestry of words
that decorate and hide, the Truth still whispers into the ear of the seeker.
Not every herald carries the Queen’s message.
For every true word that is spoken aloud,
songs beyond number are murmured by spirits
that fade from our senses and blend almost into silence.
Those ancient roads have not ceased to exist
but only made themselves hard to find.
Don’t be fooled: the signpost is not the road.
We will all arrive at the same place in the end
but some will see more beauty along the way.
Tonight I had a very happy experience: I paid my dues and became a registered, active member of the Leader’s Guild for the Dances of Universal Peace! 😀 😀 😀 I confess that I have officially been in training since January of 2012 (yep pretty much exactly a year ago) when I asked Timothy Dobson to mentor me, but have not felt like I could afford the dues until now. (My mom gave me the money as a Christmas present. Thank you, Mom!!!)
I am super, super psyched. The main reason is that I will be able to access the database of Dance write-ups … at last! Up until now I have been gathering Dances here and there … sometimes quickly scribbling them down in the afterglow of a Dance evening, then figuring out the chords later; sometimes exchanging PDFs with other lovers of the Dances; sometimes pestering leaders to tell me the movements, or chords, or the rest of the words to Dances that spoke to me so deeply that I couldn’t go on without knowing how to play them and teach them and pass them on. These methods have given me plenty to work with over the past years, and there are several Dances of the collection gathered in this way that I am still learning. But I have been dreaming of being able to access the huge accumulated body of work that is the PeaceWorks database of Dances. I can’t wait to be able to immediately follow up with learning all the Dances that I feel a connection with, and find new ones to suit specific occasions. As I said: Really Excited!!!
This evening I was going through the folder of Dance write-ups and hand-written instructions (sometimes even hand-transcribed musical notation … though it was tedious, I actually had a beautiful time copying from the original Dance booklets at Hakim’s house in Florida … I felt a connection to the old Irish monks) in preparation for leading some singing tomorrow night. The Sufi Order in Denver just started this new monthly gathering called Heart Song: Sufi Singing and they invited me to contribute. I felt, and feel, incredibly honored and humbled to be called upon, but also deeply thrilled, because sharing this music is my passion. I really just couldn’t believe that they would ask me to contribute to the community in this way. I feel like … I want to do the utmost honor to my teachers by sharing music and leading singing in a way that creates an opportunity for the people participating to really connect with their hearts, to feel a sense of expansion and unity and the joy of praise. I know those are just some of the things that I get out of this form of music, thanks to the incredible spiritual musicians and song leaders whom I have been very privileged to be around. Part of me feels like it’s silly for me to think I could ever contribute anything worthwhile, and that my attempting to do so just shows my naivete, or perhaps my upstart-ness … I want to serve with respect for my teachers and with humility toward those I might lead, but of course I question the purity of my attitude. I’d like to say I know what an idiot I am inside … but sometimes I still surprise myself with new levels of idiocy. In the midst of this internal muddle about “how to be,” when I have a moment of consciousness I just try to get out of the way and let something come through me.
One of the songs I want to share tomorrow night is from the Dance called “Clouds” by Susan Sheely. This was one of the first songs I learned to play, back when I did everything on ukulele. I got to meet this amazing woman this summer, at “The Crestone Experience” Dance Camp. (She actually led a Dance playing the ukulele! ! !) I went up to her and thanked her for composing or bringing through this Dance, and this chant, which have given me so much heart-felt ecstasy. The best way I can put it is this: The mantra OM MANI PADME HUM is said to be untranslatable, though it uses actual words that gesture toward the concept of a jewel in the lotus heart; it is also said to contain and transmit the whole essence of the teachings of the Buddha. I feel something similar, though more personal, with this song, with or without the Dance. It is like the song carries the whole essence of Sufism for me. It’s like the song is a doorway into another plane of felt knowledge, of understanding beyond mental doubts, beyond explanations. The words are from a Rumi poem, one of Coleman Barks’ translations. Each line is repeated twice:
This is how I would die, into the love I have for you,
As pieces of cloud dissolve in sunlight.
La illaha illa’llah, La illaha illa’llah,
Hu Allah Hu, Hu Allah Hu
I looked and looked for a video of this Dance online, but couldn’t find one. I remember the first or possibly second time I experienced doing this Dance in Columbia with Hakim (going by Hakima then) leading — as I spun out singing “Hu Allah Hu,” I did feel myself dissolving into the light. As I waltzed with the new acquaintances who would become such close friends, my heart expanded far beyond its previous borders, to include everyone in the room, and the world beyond. That was one of the moments when I felt released from my usual mental background noise, and fully present with the Divine in myself and in everything and everyone else. That was when we Danced in the Unity Church hall, which I loved, with its shiny concrete floor and beautiful, dramatic, glittering felt wall hangings. For me, it was the beginning.
And I remember singing it again with Hakim this fall at Ozark Camp. We were gathered in the Healing Temple, people sitting all around the room on chairs and bunk beds and floor pillows because it was too cold to sing on the porch. It was late at night and everybody was finding their own harmonies. The music filled the room like a golden shimmer; the energy was tangible to a sensitive hand. My chest opened and my heart soared upward and I thought, This is where it’s at for me. Everything I need is in this song.
So it’s with great gratitude and honor especially to my beloved teacher and original mentor Hakim, and to all the teachers that I have had, that I go forward on this path, knowing that I have been blessed to sing with and learn from some truly, truly great leaders, with the real gift for drawing out people’s heart songs. I carry the imprints of these blissful and life-changing experiences within me and I hope that some of the energy of those times may come through what I offer. I think maybe it’s part of my ministerial calling, to lead and share and join in worship music. At least at this point in my life, it’s what I love doing most of all.
Okay, I will leave you with this video — it’s not the same as “Clouds” but this chant is another one that early on had the power to transport me out of my ordinary experience and into a more connected state — like maybe the song is the outlet that I plug my cord into … or is it the chord? Clearly I’ve stayed up past my bedtime writing this, so. Shakur Allah — the quality of Divine Gratitude — when we give thanks, we experience God within us. Sweet dreams!