A Holy Day

Nothing gets families together like Thanksgiving, Christmas….and emergency brain surgery. We got the call yesterday morning that my brother was in hospital with blood pooling in both hemispheres of his brain. It was, as a physician friend once observed, the kind of surgery they do with tools they buy from Sears. It was also the kind of surgery that saves lives. He has two more holes in his head than he was born with. And he’s alive.

We had not planned to all get together this Thanksgiving week. But we did. Some of us by throwing clothes in an overnight bag and driving for several hours. Others by phone from as far away as Peru. We spent no time discussing who would bring the cranberry sauce, wine, or olives.

On the drive home this afternoon I was reminded that amidst the crush of holiday shopping and planning, beneath all the trimmings, we often search for deeper meaning. Well today ray_of_light_through_cloudswas a holy day for our family. Today we found deeper meaning in our gathering.

At the end of this week we will, in smaller groups, get together again. And now we have something more to be thankful for. But the power of that holiday will never match the power of this holy day.

My brother. I know that as follower of this blog you will eventually read this post. So let me say yet again how blessed and grateful we are that you are still with us.


cursing stones croppedMay those who love us, love us
And those that don’t love us
May God turn their hearts
And if He doesn’t turn their hearts
May He turn their ankles
So we’ll know them by their limping.

May the curse of Mary Malone and her nine blind illegitimate children chase you so far over the hills of damnation that the Lord himself can’t find you with a telescope.

The Irish have long believed in the power of the spoken word. While they are well known for their blessings they are perhaps less well known for their cursings. And it’s a strong heritage. The stones in the photo are cursing stones on abandoned Inishmurray island just off the coast north of Sligo – one of two sets remaining in Ireland. And yes, that’s an altar they are resting on. Rotating a stone would invoke the curse and rotation in the opposite direction would undo the curse. If the curse was made falsely it would come back on the curser with a vengeance. From the number of stones on this altar it was clearly a popular ritual.

Cursing. It does come to mind as we step into the holiday season. Families gather together with a mixture of joy, anticipation, angst, and dread. The baggage of past years to be opened like Christmas presents. What also comes to mind is this blessing by John O’Donohue. A more gentle, gracious, and perhaps more effective way to work though these issues.

Though its way is to strike
In a dumb rhythm,
Stroke upon stroke,
As though the heart
Were an anvil,
The hurt you sent
Had a mind of its own.

Something in you knew
Exactly how to shape it,
To hit the target,
Slipping into the heart
Through some wound-window
Left open since childhood.

While it struck outside,
It burrowed inside,
Made tunnels through
Every ground of confidence.
For days, it would lie still
Until a thought would start it.

Meanwhile, you forgot,
Went on with things
And never even knew
How that perfect
Shape of hurt
Still continued to work.

Now a new kindness
Seems to have entered time
And I can see how that hurt
Has schooled my heart
In a compassion I would
Otherwise have never learned.

Somehow now
I have begun to glimpse
The unexpected fruit
Your dark gift has planted
And I thank you
For your unknown work.

Sacred Thresholds

Inis Óirr holy well copy


When I offer a guided journey there is often at least one doorway or portal in that journey. People are so conditioned to immediately step through, to step over that threshold. Yet I counsel them to stop there. To stand in that place and breathe. Between realms and between worlds is a powerful place.

In the thin and liminal places in Ireland, like this holy well in the Aran Islands, the invitation to touch that space between is implicit. In the portals and thresholds of our lives the invitation is present, but often not accepted.

We tend to the absolute, the concrete. The surety of black and white. Moving quickly from the unknown to the known. We are uncomfortable with ambiguity. Those grey places disconcert us. Yet it is in those between places that we can find such great wisdom if we, as John O’Donohue says, offer gracious hospitality to the liminal. Not stepping through those thresholds in life but standing in them. Even for a moment. To listen, to open, and to drink deeply from the well of our intuitive and sacred wisdom.


Artistry Of Soul

Waiting On ShoreWaiting On Shore. Rosses Point. Ireland.

Reflecting the anguish of a seafaring people who watched and waited for the safe return of loved ones. A history of courage and survival, of loss and grief. That we shall remember.

This statue and the famine graveyard gates pictured in yesterday’s post were designed and crafted by Donegal artist Niall Bruton. As is the way with so many Irish people the piper’s lament flows through his soul and his work. His jewelry is an articulation of Ireland’s very spirit: the liminal energy of shore and sea, light emerging through ancient carvings, seeds of cultural heritage carried on emigrant ocean waves. Three articulations that Niall created as rings I wear. Every day. That I shall remember.

The Piper’s Lament

famine graveyard1

Gates and plaque inscription. Famine Graveyard. Sligo, Ireland.

They were evicted from their ancestral lands, farms, and cottages. They starved although shiploads of grain were harvested in Ireland and sent to England. They ate grass when they were not allowed to fish or hunt. Theirs was a grim passage from rotting fields to odious workhouses to ignominious burial in famine graveyards.  Unnumbered thousands.

We remember their pain and anguish. We also remember the strong threads of faith, family, and fealty that were woven in their journey. They lost so much. But they never lost their allegiance to community, their love of the land, and the deep roots of their culture. This is their legacy and our heritage. We hear the strains of the piper’s lament and we remember them. In those strains we hear and remember the truth, power, and potential of who we are.

Circle Up

From sewing circles to drum circles our lives and language are filled with a consciousness of the round. A consciousness that echoes a time when our ancestors lived and worshipped in the round. We gather around the fire and in the coming weeks many of us will feast together around the Thanksgiving table and gather around a Christmas tree. We go around the corner and sometimes around the bend. Those things on our to-do list? We will eventually get around to them. Circle becomes an architecture and articulation of our lives.

It is also the nature of how we journey through life. From birthdays to seasons to holidays to anniversaries we travel through the cycle of each year and find ourselves back at the same point. Like the hours on an analog clock round and round we go. Sometimes it seems an endless merry-go-round. Sometimes we don’t feel all that merry about it.

The circle can be a shape in our lives but it doesn’t have to limit the shape of our lives. For with each turning of the wheel we never really return to the same point. In each turning we are changed by our life experiences and we arrive at a new place. Our circular travel becomes more like a spiral journey. As so beautifully expressed in this video it’s all how we look at it. And when we see that our lives hold the promise and potential for growth and evolution we shift both our perspective and our consciousness. We literally circle up.

Wounds Of War

VeteransVeterans Day. This day we set aside to remember and honor those who went to war and came back. Yet they never come back completely. Called by a great and worthy cause which is all too often wrapped in the shadows of lies, deception, and greed, they sacrifice their bodies, their minds, their souls, and their idealism. It is important we remember them this day and every day for despite all the waving of flags there is no glory in war. And we are all of us wounded by it.

I offer these excerpted words from John O’Donohue for the veterans of all wars. I offer them for all people touched by war – which is all of us.

When the pain takes you where you would rather not go,
Through the white curtain of yesterdays to a place
You had forgotten you knew from the inside out;
And a time when that bitter tree was planted
That has grown always invisibly beside you.

Only you know where the casket of pain is interred. 
You will have to scrape through all the layers of covering
Until your heart has wept its way to your true self.
As your tears fall over that wounded place,
May they wash away your hurt and free your heart.

I honor all victims of war. Especially my beloved husband of forty years who is a purple heart Viet Nam veteran and who created the artwork above. May the hurt be washed away. May hearts be free.

No Argument

In the barrage of diagnostic commentaries following Tuesday’s election there was one that caught my attention. Voter turnout across the nation was low. 85% of young people and almost that many working adults chose not to vote. The commentator speculated that with 95% of the economic recovery going to the 1% and with massive corporate money buying the election of politicians who align themselves with corporate interests…well it just seems futile to cast a ballot. Hard to argue with that.

I am reminded of when Jack and I sat on a hill looking across the river at the O’Brien inaugural stone where for centuries clan leaders were initiated. As it was for all clans in kingIreland, leadership was a sacred trust and leaders were held to the highest standard of moral code and conduct. They must be possessed of the noble qualities of hospitality, reputation, and dignity; righteousness and brilliance; generosity, geniality, and honor; courtesy and companionship; glory, bravery, and affection; beauty, prudence, and discernment; excellence, eminence, and gaiety. Above all they were to stand in and act from a place of right relationship with the land and the people. If they faltered in any of this they were immediately disposed by the people. No waiting for the next election. No accommodation for excuses, blaming, and false promises. No amount of wealth or negotiation could keep them in office. When the clan gathered to consider the matter of their king everyone attended. Not just 15%. The people held the power and their decision was both immediate and absolute. And it’s hard to argue with that.

Earth Dream

Microsoft Word - Earth Dream.docxAs we journey through this season of lengthening nights we travel confident that there is a light to be found in this darkness. We know there will be a returning of the sun. Yet the more important light to be found in this hidden night is the light we hold within us. The light of our divine nature.

Each year as the Earth journeys through her seasons she comes once again to this time of reminding us that new life begins in the womb of darkness. Each night at sundown our Irish ancestors marked the beginning of the new day. In this time of darkness, on Samhain (Halloween), they celebrated the beginning of the new year.

The darkness of this season offers hospitality to our journey of awakening. As we move from the stormy outer world to gather around the hearth fire, so do we step away from the storms of our lives to give quiet sanctuary to our inner life and light. We dream the dream, we vision a new story, and we incarnate the beauty, power, and potential of who we are as sacred people. This is the dream of the Earth