Archive for the ‘Lughnasadh’ Category

The Feasts of Lugh   Leave a comment

Our Vermont seed group, the Well of Segais, met for Lunasa yesterday at Mt. Ascutney State Park. And Down Under, it’s Imbolc, the feast of Brighid — a parallel deserving meditation on its linkages and subtle connections.

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Ascutney summit parking lot — looking south

The haze of August already lies on our hills. Here’s a shot from the car as I drove north along Rt. 91 toward the park. In a state of so many hills and higher peaks, Ascutney doesn’t immediately claim particular status. (At 3130 feet/954 meters, it’s the second-highest peak in our county.) But begin the ascent to the summit, and if the pitch of the climb doesn’t clue you in, you pass into cooler air about halfway up — a most welcome change in the heat of the last several weeks.

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We held a quiet, meditative ritual in what has become our favorite location, in a grove next to a pavilion overlooking a valley to the north. A couple arrived midway through our ritual, and settled into the pavilion to talk quietly, just as we were saying “each person here is a blessing”.

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Lugh swims into my awareness this time of year, around his harvest festival — I honor him as I would a majestic tree. “Believe” in Lugh? Standing under the branches of a tree, belief in that tree is a strange thing to concern oneself with. Instead, I prefer to inhale the scents of the grove around me, noting the evergreen cones on the ground, feeling the shade against the summer sun, hearing the birds in the branches.

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A sometimes-frantic concern with what one believes, or should believe, belongs to other paths — it needn’t trouble Druids, unless they find value in it. There is much more to explore that meets us halfway, rather than folding our thought into shapes that may or may not have any connection to what is already all around us, shapes prescribed by those who came before us, because they arose from their lives, experiences which need to be tested, along with other such legacies, for their applicability to us today.

The “apparent world fades”, whispers the ritual. “With the blessings of earth, sea and sky”,  we “cast aside all disturbing thoughts” and attend more carefully and lovingly to what is going on all around us. (Billboards proclaim, “God is still speaking”. Druids strive to keep listening.)

Belief can be a useful tool, and indeed it does shape our experiences, along with much else. But it is so often subject to change, to distortion, and to incomplete knowledge — as exhibit A, witness the political landscapes these days in so many nations. Wisdom, though harder to gain, has proven more trustworthy as an aid to living my life. (Discerning the difference between them, and living from it — ah, there’s a journey worth anyone’s dedication. Let’s meet there!)

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What Lugh has to say to me, or I to him, may manifest in ritual, or before, or afterward, in my interactions with those I celebrate with, meet at the park entrance, on the road, at the gas station on the way home. Meanwhile, festival communion is our ritual, a priming for honing the attention, for honoring the day and its gifts and our lives.

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Steps on .7 mile/1100 meter footpath to the Ascutney summit

In Vermont, Mt. Ascutney seems a fitting place to honor Lugh and his festival, a place of heights and vistas, a place of green quiet and perspectives, in keeping with his attributes as a storm god and warrior, with links to Mercury and Apollo.

Lugh “has several magical possessions,” notes the Wikipedia entry. “He wields an unstoppable fiery spear, a sling stone, and a hound named Failinis. He is said to have invented fidchell (a Gaelic equivalent of chess), ball games, and horse racing”. His Welsh counterpart is Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the “fair-haired one with the skillful hand”. In Welsh tradition, from his mother Arianrhod he receives a tynged, the Welsh equivalent of a geis, an obligation or prohibition, a taboo linked to one’s destiny. His story, along with Blodeuwedd, comprises the second and third branches of the Mabinogi.

All these details suggest directions for possible Lunasa rituals and activities.

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I arrived early before our ritual gathering, partly to check on locations and partly to re-visit the “sleeping dragon” stone along the footpath to the summit.

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True, without that near-horizontal gouge suggesting a closed eye, the stone might not evoke the name I give it. But as far as I can tell, the gouge is natural, a result of the stones tumbling about each other that make up the summit and its paths.

Below is the “slab” indicated by the sign above — the camera foreshortens the dimensions of the sheet of broken stone that extends over 100 feet/30 meters up the mountain.

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Sometimes a place with dimensions of its own, not immediately convenient for humans, is a helpful reminder and subject of meditation. The slab, like the slot, requires effort to navigate successfully.

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I’ll close with this meditation, plain water after the potent mead of ritual. VT poet Charles Butterfield writes in his poem “Matins” of the natural world:

it is enough to know
here is something
that does not require
your presence
but of which nevertheless
your presence is a part.

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Leaning Towards Lunasa   Leave a comment

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colors of Lunasa

In New England after the Solstice you feel the change: summer has — finally — settled in. No more chance of frost, it’s safe to leave the screened windows open at night for a breeze, and the fireflies are wrapping up their brilliant night-time light-shows.

We’re about three weeks away from the next of the “Great Eight” seasonal festivals. Even the name Lu(gh)nasa(sh) can feel like high summer — it drops the unnecessary weight of extra clothing (or letters in this case, with the Irish spelling reform around the middle of the last century). One advantage of the older spelling, of course, is its reminder of the god Lugh associated with the day — the name means the Assembly of Lugh.

The Celtic group Lunasa gains from its name as a celebration, a demonstration of excellence that was part of the original festival’s funeral games and competitions. The god Lugh mourned the death of his mother Tailtiu, and so established the Tailteann Games in her honor and memory. Historically the festival also celebrated the first fruits of the harvest — it’s the first of three harvest events, moving through the Autumn Equinox and concluding at Samhain.

You can find some of my previous posts on Lunasa here: 26 July ’18 “Fog-weaving with Lugh”| 23 Aug. ’17 including Dennis King’s Poem “Grace”| 5 Aug. ’17 on a small rite for Lunasa | 1 Aug ’13 including my poem “Assembly of Lugh”.

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Flavors of Druidry   2 comments

This is a brief post to celebrate flavors of Druidry elsewhere. Below, a shape of awen formed of human shadows — photo by Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes.

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Australian Druids just celebrated Lughnasadh, and Serpentstar, the free OBOD newsletter for Australia, has just published its most recent issue — you can read it online or download it as a PDF here. Lovely images and articles offer a glimpse of the Land and Druids Down Under.

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Cornwall actively promotes its language and culture, and that includes Cornish Druidry. Here’s a prayer to Brighid in Cornish, with an English version, from Trelawney Grenfell-Muir:

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Brigid a’n Kugoll, gwra agan kyrghynna.
Arlodhes an Eyn, gwra agan kovia.
Gwithyades an Oeles, gwra agan enowi.
Yn-dann dha gugoll, gwra agan kuntelles,
Gwra agan daswul dhe gov.

Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.

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Fog-weaving with Lugh   Leave a comment

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Mt. Ascutney, seen from West Windsor on a clear day.

Our local OBOD Seed Group is planning to gather on Vermont’s Mt. Ascutney for Lunasa in about a week, and so I scouted locations on the mountain this morning. We’ve had rain in Vermont since Sunday, so not surprisingly fog shrouded the crown of Ascutney, which stands at 3144 feet (958 meters).

Every leaf was dripping, and the blacktop glistened dully as I drove the 4-mile road to summit parking. When I arrived around 10:30 this morning, mine was the only car in the lot, which has spaces for 50.

If you’d told me that with climate shifts parts of New England are destined to become temperate rain forest, this morning at least I would have believed you. More likely we may well face sustained droughts here as elsewhere, but for now, Vermont lives fully up to its name of the Green Mountain state.

I scolded myself for not bringing my camera — next week will have to try to make up for the lapse. But it’s right I did not even try to capture in a frame what I saw and felt. Fern and myrtle, moss and emerald, shades of wet green I have no names for. Bird-calls sounded through the mist, and rivulets sparkled crossing the slabs of stone of the 2/3 mile trail and final 300 feet of ascent.

Fog-weaving at such times needs so little effort. The climb quickens the breath, and the cool air is lush with oxygen. Without the chatter of any human companion as a distraction, and with the fog collapsing the field of vision to just a few dozen yards in any direction, your attention narrows in on step after deliberate step. Light trance comes on like cloud itself. Without thought you can slip through to the “realm next door” between one step and the next, and you may sense the god dreaming on the peak. And rather than needing human action or imagination to weave or conjure vision, the fog itself curtains or reveals what is already there.

For some forty minutes I was alone on the mountaintop. Only on the last leg of the descent back to the parking lot did I meet another solitary hiker, rainjacket tied around his waist as we passed each other.

So did I “meet Lugh”? As a god of storm, sun and high places, he wrapped the mountain with his long arm, as one of his epithets, Lugh Lamhfada, names him. In such places and spaces, the ideas and doubts of rational consciousness don’t intrude. That’s for before, and after.

Even an hour later, with a second or third cloudburst filling the air with its sound, as I stepped out of the car in the parking lot of the medical office for an afternoon eye appointment, perhaps I didn’t “meet the god of storm”. But rain spattered my glasses, ran down my cheeks, wet my bare legs and left my feet squelching in sandals. I quickly pulled my raincoat around me and headed for the entrance.

And there in the waiting room I sat damply, thumbing through a National Geographic magazine, gazing at pictures of endangered birds. I didn’t “meet” those birds, you could argue, and in a sense you’d be right, of course, yet light from images of them reached my eyes and brain, and I know what they look like. I can describe them to you.

I may or may not have “met Lugh”, but water from his storm, and a sense of his long-armed presence continued to accompany me after the appointment as I recalled the climb, and thought about him on the drive home. My clothes are wet, I stood on that mountain, and I can tell you what makes Lugh different from Brighid.

And I am content, “without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” * during such experiences — more than content — whatever I may think or do or say after them. And that proportion — a “during” that is different from a “before” and an “after” — seems to me a good one. Relinquish nothing, gain all.

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IMAGE: Ascutney.

*John Keats in his discussion of “negative capability”.

Colouring Outside the Lines   Leave a comment

“But what can we do?” people often ask. Whatever the need, the question is a perennially valid one. What action is best for me to pursue, yes. But also, what can I do before I act, before the main event, so to speak, so that I can choose more wisely how to act on that larger scale? The Hopi of the American Southwest use a ceremonial pipe they call natwanpi — literally, “instrument of preparation”. What can I do to make of my actions a natwanpi in my own life as often as possible? How can I act now to prepare for the next action needed? How can my deeds begin to form a shining set of links, not merely a random assemblage?

Philip Carr-Gomm writes,

Try opening to Awen not when it’s easy, but when it’s difficult: not when you can be still and nothing is disturbing you, but when there’s chaos around you, and life is far from easy. See if you can find Awen in those moments. It’s harder, much harder, but when you do, it’s like walking through a doorway in a grimy city street to discover a secret garden that has always been there – quiet and tranquil, an oasis of calm and beauty. One way to do this, is just to tell yourself gently “Stop!” Life can be so demanding, so entrancing, that it carries us away, and we get pulled off-centre. If we tell ourselves to stop for a moment, this gives us the opportunity to stop identifying with the drama around us, and to come back to a sense of ourselves, of the innate stillness within our being.

Of course, one key is to practice the Awen when it IS easy, so that it becomes a skill and a habit to draw on when “life is far from easy”. Right now I take this advice, pause from writing this, and chant three awens quietly.

After all, what good is any spiritual practice if it doesn’t help when I need it most? I find this holds true especially with beliefs, which is why so many contemporary people have abandoned religious belief, and thereby think they’ve also “abandoned religion”. All they’ve done, often, is abandon one set of perhaps semi-examined beliefs for another set they may not have examined at all. “Carried away, pulled off-centre” — we’ve all been there. But each moment, in the wry paradox of being human, is also calling us home, “back to a sense of ourselves”.

A few weeks ago I had cataract surgery on my right eye. I was surprised how the looming procedure, with its success rate of above 95%, kicked up old fears in me from the major cancer surgery I’d experienced a decade ago. Coupled with that was a series of dreams I’d had a few years ago about going blind. Altogether not an enjoyable mindset to approach a delicate procedure on the eyes.

But instead of the victim version of the question “Why is this happening to me?” I can choose to ask the curious version of the same question. Insofar as anything in my life responds to events and causes I have set in motion, it’s a most legitimate question.

The answers, I find, can be surprising.

I feared loss of spiritual vision, because I was drifting away from the other spiritual path I practice. This is clearly a cause I’ve launched. I didn’t approach the surgery as some kind of superstitious opportunity for the universe to “pay me back” for spiritual neglect, as if the cosmos operates like a sinister debt collection agency. But if I approach my whole life as an instance of an intelligent universe constantly communicating with me, my fears have a cause, and an effect, and my experiences will mirror all that I am and bring to each moment. Not out of some sort of spiteful cosmic vindictiveness, but because all things, it seems, prod us along the next arm of the spiral. We’re all part of the Web. The same force, I believe, that pushes up the first flowers in spring, in spite of the lingering danger of frosts, the force that urges birds to nest and hatch a fleet of fledglings, even though a percentage will die before reaching adulthood, is the same force alive in me and in my life and the lives of every other being on this planet. Even our seemingly static mountains weather slowly in wind and rain, frost and sun.

Christians focus closely about “being in right relationship” with God. Druids and other practitioners of earth-spirituality are likewise seeking harmonious relations with the world around us. Though a god or gods may not have exclusive claims on me, still, if one makes herself know to me, it’s not a bad idea to pay attention. Same with anything else that knocks for my attention — and deserves it. Day-to-day practice of an earth path like Druidry is an ongoing opportunity to seek out new kinds of harmony as well keep to ones I’ve tried and tested, an opportunity to balance claims of allegiance and attention and energy, to make good choices, and to stand by them as much as I can. (Of course I’ll mess up from time to time. Part of the fun is seeing if I can mess up in a new way this time, to keep myself entertained, if nothing else. Why hoe a row I’ve already weeded, unless it really needs tilling again?!)

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With Lunasa in the northern hemisphere comes Imbolc in the southern one. The ley lines linking the earth festivals around the world deserve my attention, I find, as much as the lines of connection between hills and wells, trees and stones on my continent.

So it is that Brighid of many skills, healing and poetry and smithcraft among them, pairs well with Lugh Samildanach, Lugh “equally gifted” in all the arts and crafts. Both at Imbolc with the kindling of a new cycle of birth and growth, and at Lunasa as first of the harvest festivals, we’re reminded of origins of the crafts of civilization. With human and divine inspiration and gifts supporting our lives, we draw our existence today. I eat because my ancestors tilled the earth and lived to birth and teach the next generation. I wear this body because spirit clothed itself in this form among all the other forms it takes. I peer out at the world and at all the other forms who are likewise looking at and listening to the ongoing waves of existence. From this perspective, how can I not celebrate in simple amazement?!

We’ve all felt those moments when life seems paradoxically dreamlike and marvelously real. Robert Frost, bard of New England and a Wise One I keep turning to for counsel, says,

Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes.
Is the deed ever truly done.
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Where love and need are one: how often do I separate them? Do I respect my need enough to love it, or truly need what it is I think I love? Can I align these two and make them one? Mortal stakes: is what I spend the greatest energy on actually contributing to life, my own life among others? After all, Druidry urges me to consider that each life is worthy and valuable, mine no more but also no less than others.

A Frostian triad emerges: There are three things fitting for the aspirant to wisdom — a seeking after unity of love and need, a work which is play for mortal stakes, and deeds done for heaven and the future.

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After the builders finished the weaving studio addition (visible on the left), they seeded the lawn with clover, and now we have a lovely nitrogen-fixing, weed-inhibiting perennial I refuse to mow. The bees have been loud and happy, cheering at my choice, and the crop will also hold down the still-loose soil against runoff, and help it firm up.

You can see, too, in the foreground the edge of the recent delivery of firewood I need to go stack.

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Honoring the Mundane   Leave a comment

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Lugh image found in Paris

One of the groups I gather with to observe at least some of the “Great Eight” festivals has been searching for a meeting place for our upcoming Lunasa/Lughnasadh celebration.

So, I ask myself, what does my teacher of Daily Druidry have on hand to show me this time?

Turns out, a lot. One member of our group whom I’ll call V has generously hosted our past three festivals in her spacious back yard.  From the Spring Equinox to Midsummer, she provided cooking space as well as an altar. And plates, cups, and tableware.

And, on more than one occasion, burgers and sausage to contribute to our potluck meals, and a bottle of wine, too. So it’s well past time for a change of host and venue, if only not to impose any more on V’s hospitality. Even though she was willing to offer her home yet again, this time for Lunasa. Until her life rearranged and changes blew through it — good ones! — and now she can’t host us after all (or attend).

So I pour a double libation to Mundana and Mundanus, twin deities of this world where we launch so many spiritual vessels, never noticing how our “ordinary” realities matter at least as much as any other.

As a for-instance: the day of ritual dawns on all-day rain, and we scramble to move indoors, or reschedule.

Or the quiet fellow who agreed at the last gathering to take on writing the ritual script for this one falls sick the day before, with just a skeleton outline he was waiting to complete with the adrenalin/awen inspiration of last-minute-ness, and so we scurry to come up with an alternative ritual, offer up energies to aid him in dealing with his physical reality, and ponder again the key role of those twin gods of the mundane.

Need a hull or anchor, a current or shore to set out from, wind in your sails, fire in your belly, water in your canteens or buoying you up, tide and moon and sun? Hail, gods of the Mundane! We honor and salute you, without whom this world cannot shape the Spiral, playing its part in manifesting anything at all in the world of form. Right and Left Hands of Spirit, we offer these gifts and salutations.

It’s fitting that Lugh whose festival is upon us bears the epithet Samildanach: “equally skilled in many arts”. The god stands out not for any particular excellence but for all of them.

And that includes — fully, rightfully, honorably, deservedly — the forms that Spirit takes in its guise as the “mundane”: the gifts of welcome, an open hearth, food and laughter and good company.

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“mundane” altar: stone (N), feather (E), candle (S), shell (W)

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Images: ancient three-headed image of Lugh found in Paris in 1800s.

Backstage Druidry   2 comments

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In the end we all do what we’re told. (It’s a backstage conversation.) We just differ on who we listen to, who we decide to heed. The cicadas from central casting announce August outside my window, under this overcast summer sky on a day of rain, and I sit grappling with this post. Somehow they’ll work their way in, because I listen to practically everything. Bards most of all, because they’re such electric company. Each cicada-Bard croons a Lunasa song, turning and tumbling toward the Equinox now, the days shortening at both ends, darkness nibbling at the warm hands of summer.

Do we really do what we’re told, and follow a script handed to us backstage? “No rehearsal. You’re on in 10 seconds.” Then Pow! Birth! And going off-script means following another script, the one titled rebel or train-wreck, fool or genius, or what have you. What do we have? “What is written is written,” runs the Eastern proverb about fate. “What can I say?” quips Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “I flunked the written.” So many scripts to choose, rehearse, try out. When we read for “human,” how many other lines do we forget? “I am a stag of seven tines,” sings Amergin, “I am a wide flood on a plain, I am a wind on the deep waters …” Memory and imagination, the same, or inversions of each other.

When poet Mary Oliver gives Bardic advice, “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it,” I want to shout “But attention and astonishment are both luxuries!” And they are: ultimate, essential luxuries. Yes, Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Writing teacher Robert McKee turns it around: “The unlived life isn’t worth examining.” Ouch! Take it personally like I do (though quickly I blunt the edge by applying it to characters I’ve written, all those understudies and stand-ins for my life) — take it personally and you may turn another way, determined perhaps this time to swallow life whole. This life is brand-new, never seen before. Old games, true, but new blood.

Backstage I overhear someone whispering, “Worry about living first, and if necessary, leave the examining to somebody else.” Is that meant for me?  “You’re on! Break a leg!” Is that meant for me, too?

Broken. Stuckness. Does it happen more to people who overthink their lives, who need to see where each footstep will land before they take a step?  Those who strive to word a version of their lives acceptable for a blogpost?

“When I am stuck in the perfection cog,” remarks author Anna Solomon,

–as in, I am rewriting a sentence a million times over even though I’m in a first draft or, I am freaking out and can’t move forward because I am not sure how everything is going to fit together—I find it helpful to tell myself: You will fail.

A soul after my own heart! Failure: our solid stepping stone to success. Because who IS sure how everything is going to fit together?

I have this written on a Post-it note. It might sound discouraging, but I find it very liberating. The idea is that no matter what I do, the draft is going to be flawed, so I might as well just have at it. I also like to look at pictures I’ve taken of all the many drafts that go into my books as they become books, which helps me remember that so much of what I am writing now will later change. When I am aware that my work is not as brave or true as it needs to be, I like to look at a particular photograph of myself as a child. I am about eight, sitting on a daybed in cut-off shorts, with a book next to me. I’m looking at the camera with great confidence, and an utter lack of self-consciousness. This photograph reminds me of who I am at my essence, and frees me up to write more like her. —Anna Solomon, author of Leaving Lucy Pear (Viking, 2016), in a Poets and Writers article:

No rehearsal — it’s all draft, to mix metaphors. And You will fail. But once you do the draft, paradoxically, it becomes rehearsal, revision. Re-seeing. We will look again in astonishment, memory or return, mirroring the same thing, and marvel differently. Our recognition when another tells the tale, when others speak for us because they can, they live here too, they see and speak our hearts’ truth. We know, partly, because of them. They’re versions of us, dying and being born together.

“When death comes,” Mary Oliver says in the poem of the same name,

like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut …

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

Oh, Mark Twain gathers himself to answer. I hold my breath. Maybe it’s both like and unlike anything you imagine. Can we fear only what we dimly remember? “I do not fear death,” Twain says. “I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Lunasa thoughts. The autumn in the bones and blood, while the young are dancing. Mead around the fire. We’re both grasshopper and ant in the old fable, gathering and spending it all so profligately. Expecting a pattern, a plan, we’re told to ignore the man behind the curtain. Sometimes there’s neither curtain nor man. Other times, both man and curtain, but as we approach, the spaces between each thread and cell, between each corpuscle and moment, each atom, have grown so large we can fly through appearances, into mystery, into daydream. Great Mystery drops us into the blossom before it’s open, we sip nectar, drowsing at the calyx, the Chalice. Mystery listens as the bees hum around us, gathering pollen. Stored up sweetness for the next season. To know itself, Mystery gazes from everything we meet, we see it in each others’ eyes, so it can see itself.

Attention, says Mary Oliver, attention is the beginning of devotion.

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Image: Oscars.

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