Saturday, October 17, 2009

Walking into Darkness

It is the twilight of the seasons, when we slip betwixt the worlds of light and dark, day and night, warmth and cold. The Sun rises and set slower in the sky, the days grow shorter and the shadows long. Winter looms. We are at the cusp of darkness and soon there we must walk. It is a passage we hope to come through renewed, a passage not without risk.

“Hold on, hold on, through the darkness, until the dawn.”
~ Starhawk

We shape this seasonal pause into celebration, the public Halloween and the pagan Samhain, Mexico’s Day of the Dead and the Hindu Divali, all festivals of lights and ancestors, all observances of the eternal soul, the radiance within. The holidays occur on or around the New Moon at the end of the harvest season, halfway between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, in the deep and mysterious sign of Scorpio.

"Though my soul may set in darkness it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too dearly to be fearful of the night."
~ Sarah Williams

More than the waning light and chilling temperatures that bring us cozily together, Divali celebrates the divine light that emanates from within you, that shines from your eyes, radiates from your heart. Here on Earth we make manifest the light, to subjectively perceive our true nature as an expression of the immanent and transcendent reality, the universal Atman, the oneness that makes us whole.

“It’s the blood of the ancients, that flows through our veins,
And the forms pass, but the circle remains the same.”
~ Ellen Klaver

Loss runs like a river through our lives, the shadow companion of our earthly journey. Many are the influences that touch our path – family, friends and fleeting encounters; teachers, leaders and distant heroes. Those that have physically passed on live within us and we pass that influence on to others in an unending chain. In this season of the crone, we especially remember those who lived long lives, seeking their strength and wisdom. Step into the darkening night, speak their names and hear their reply.

“Om, ga-te, ga-te, para ga-te, para sum ga-te, bodhi svaha.”
“Go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond, and establish yourself in enlightenment.”
~ Heart Sutra translated by the Dalai Lama

In these unmoored moments of seasonal twilight, the illusion of time loosens and we slip past the veil to know not only our ancestors, but the oneness of all life. Feel yourself a part of the eternal web of soul spirits. Look to the night sky, the season is right. Reach into the dark, weave your ties tonight.

for Happy Shel Weisman, and Teeny Girl, Max and Flo

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Seeds of Abundance

for Autumn Equinox 2009

It was one of those brilliant autumn in days North Texas. The strident summer Sun had mellowed to just the right brightness, yet it was still t-shirt weather warm. The August doldrums had moved off and there was a breeze again. My husband Scooter and I were driving down country roads looking at rural land. Clean green air streamed through the open windows of the car.

Pleasant enough, but even so it was just one cattle farm after another, enlivened only by the dark wash of trees along the creeks and gullies. The constant grazing of cows had tamped down the grasses into obedient shortness, a palatable sameness. The fields were forever juvenile, the grasses never allowed to seed, without potential, without hope, thwarted lives kept in constraint.


Then we came around a bend to see the sharp vertical plumes of a native prairie grass, brushy bluestem, the rust-colored filaments shining gold in the sunset glow. We had to pull over and stare. Decades ago the landowner planted Bermuda, a tropical grass, on top of the native prairie. The aggressive grass dominated the land, making a monoculture that was good for cows and bad for everything else.

Then the owner went away, and the animals, too. Neglect was all nature needed. The native seeds still remembered, even though it had been 50 years, and the bullish brushy bluestem is always one of the first. Seeds are the memory of plants. From the dark silent rest in the dank soil, bluestem seeds still yearned for their original prairie days, struggling to the surface to pierce the Bermuda and find the light.

We fell in love with the land that day and convinced the absentee landowner to sell. We stripped off the Bermuda cover and replaced it with native grasses and wildflowers. Compared to the surrounding lands, it’s a riot of waist high strappy leaves and fall seed flumes that strive even higher, and rowdy with a variety of life -– birds, butterflies and a myriad of unseen rodents and rabbits. Yet even today, it’s adorned with the yellow autumn blooms of goldenrod, a forb we did not plant, whose seeds languished in the soil until they remembered, too.


On this planet life is dependent on plants. The greenery here creates most of the air, much of the soil, and anchors the entire food chain. Compared to the huge biomass and energy value of plants, we animals are stowaways. We live on a plant-et. Everywhere but the desert and arctic, plants are busily, rampantly, enthusiastically and luxuriantly procreating. Their sole purpose is to transform the Sun’s endless energy through photosynthesis so that they can grow, mature and cast seeds to the winds.

Seeds. If you went outside and dug up a square inch of soil, put it in a sheltered place and gave it light and moisture, it would sprout from seeds contained in the soil. If you cut down those tiny plants, seeds would sprout again, and again, over and over for 60 years. Only after many decades would the bank of seeds held in that small square of soil be exhausted.

Now that’s abundance. Plants make far more seeds, and berries and fruits, than they need to reproduce, more than the birds and bugs and animals could ever eat. Plants make seeds for the life of it, because reckless fertility is what they do. They concentrate the energy of sunlight and make it tangible in seeds, giving totally without thinking of reward, without possession or attachment to outcome. Plants live to give and give to live. The lesson of plants is clear: creative fertility is the overriding principle of this planet.


Consider the sunflower, its radiant yellow petals framing a center packed tight with the familiar grey seed. The seeds swirl out in a parabolic spiral, Fermat's spiral. The spiral’s dimensions reflect the Fibonacci numbers sequence, the basis of the golden ratio, a formula of height to depth and width that underlies much of classical painting, sculpture and architecture. Math and light, beauty and biology, all simply to make a seed.

Every seed is both a completion and a beginning. The grasses in my meadow pause at the climax of their process, seed plumes flush in the autumn sun, shining in potential, radiant in maturity, proclaiming a life well lived. Then they release their seeds into the wind, water and soil, confident that whatever may come, however many years may pass, they too will rise to remember the Sun once more.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Solstice Sun

We face the Sun, the warmth caressing our faces carried by particles of photons, vibrating intensely from the heat, that bounce and ricochet off our skin until the photon’s light and heat is exhausted, prostrate on the surface. The sunshine dance.

Streams of photons erupt from the Sun, propelled by solar wind at the speed of light, to dance upon the magnetosphere in aurora borealis glory, filtered through the ozone layer, until 8 and 1/2 minutes later just the right amount of light and heat comes through.

The sunlight heats the oceans, causing the contrast with colder seawater to stir currents that move the mighty oceans. It heats the air so that breezes move from where it’s hot to where it’s not. It warms the soil so that seeds may unfurl, pierce the surface into plants, so that roots may extend downward to the dark. Sunlight equals movement, movement equals life.

The photons shower down upon the plants, whose cells churn with photosynthesis, taking the nuclear immensity of the Sun and breaking it down into the cellular reactions, where it fuels the plants who exude the oxygen that enables us to live, creating in the process more than six times the energy humanity consumes every day.

Feel yourself at this moment as a photosynthesis engine, taking in the energy of the Sun that came to you from 93 million miles away and moving it through yourself to create even more energy, the energy of creativity, the energy of intelligence, the energy of love.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Prayer Tree of Spring

In my backyard, there is a tree that blooms. When we moved here many years ago, it was lost in the darkness of oaks and cedar elms that grew to tower over it. An odd scrawny tree with tough green skin like a succulent instead of bark, it bore tiny round leaves in sets of three and nasty two-inch thorns. Later we found out it was a trifolate orange tree from China, brought back by the traveling businessman who built the house.

Almost imperceptively it grew, slowly edging around the eave and up toward the sunlight. I fertilized and watered it, took care of it in every way. And it took care of me. My life had shattered and everything seemed lost. Inside the windows overlooking the tree lay my husband recovering from a series of back operations. I held out hope for the tree, hope for us, and waited.

Almost a decade passed. His back healed and my life regained its meaning. One fall, we were surprised to see a few pecan-sized oranges on it, bitter fruit, all seeds and pulp. The next spring we looked for flowers and were rewarded with a few white blossoms the size of a small pea.

But it wasn't until a statue of Kwan Yin was placed beneath its boughs that the tree truly bloomed. The Chinese goddess of compassion sacrificed her place in Shinto heaven in order to feel the pain of earthbound humans and help them to transcend.

On this spring day, flowers bedeck every branch, beckoning of fruit to come. Dozens of colorful ribbons flutter as well, each one tied with prayerful intent by visitors. The Prayer Tree.

Planted in the 1950s, the trifolate orange lived for decades before going through a period of extended darkness. Then in just a day, everything changed. Someone cared. It took years to rebuild, years when it seemed nothing was happening, but the blooms did come. Now it is not only reborn, it is deeply sacred, a living altar to the prayers of humans and a testament to faith in life.

With its thorns and flowers, its history and the people who hope for its peace, the Prayer Tree evokes a quote by Thornton Wilder: "Without your wounds, where would your power be? The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and bumbling children of Earth as can one human being broken in the wheels of living. In love's service, only the wounded soldiers can serve."

Spring is the reservoir of hope. Enjoy this season with its abundance of metaphors to live by and have faith in the life force that infuses every leaf, every stone, every grain of soil. At my rural place, the front meadow is an artificial field of Bermuda. The imported grass was overseeded on this piece of blackland prairie over 50 years ago. Until the mid-‘90s, the meadow was pummeled regularly by livestock or cut for hay. Yet through the pale gold straw of last year's bermuda pierces the bronze stalks of bluestem, a native grass that flourished when buffalo grazed the land. For decades the seeds rested in the darkness of the soil. Then one spring, they sprouted.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Foolish Faith

March 18, 2009

It’s the very definition of insanity, you know, to do something over and again and expect that somehow next time will be different. Yet I don’t feel insane, I feel blissful. Once again I‘m trying to naturalize plants to the wild, restoring what too many cattle and too much neglect did to the land at Osage Moon.

There’ve been pockets here and there that made it, osage trees that sprang up where we tossed the wrinkled green balls of our barn bois d’arc, tiny patches of grape hyacinth I’d pocked beneath a tree, pecan saplings from nuts we scattered that the critters somehow missed. But there were also pond plants dug up by wild pigs and many a transplanted tree stomped by cows that invade from the neighbors’ land.

Yet here I am, risking the vagaries of weather and wildlife, blotting from my mind the plant toll of last year’s droughts taking obedient plants from my yard in Dallas and digging them into soil here that I’ve rejuvenated with compost and lava sand. Lovingly raised from seed, viney pigeonberry shrubs now flop and cover the ground with heart-shaped leaves and lovely red berries easy for ground birds to eat. Small turks’ caps, grown from seed gathered in my neighbor’s garden bed, promise a summer of audacious cardinal flowers and phallic yellow stamens.

Into the ground they go, in the shade fencerow alongside my rural cabin. Those plants themselves will someday be, like their city cousins, a nursery for seeds and berries. That fertile bounty will be wildscaped in the far reaches of the property, planted with the same foolish faith. Each garden bed, each hopeful plant, serves as a tiny ark, restoring species and diversity to this 75 acres of land.

My husband works in acres at a time, using the old Ford tractor to take out sterile Bermuda grass pasture and put in native grasses. Their unruly profile of strappy leaves and colorful forbs taunts the nearby submissive fields, clipped into hay or stomped by cows. Wave after wave of grasses ripen and shower their seeds, far more food than the wildlife could ever eat, fertility for the sheer joy of it.

What are we keeping it for, this 75-acre ark? To be ready for when all people come to their senses and live in cooperation and balance with each other, the land and its inhabitants? Or is it for that time beyond us? If humanity crashes and burns the planet and civilization fall into rubble, will this land be the seed from which nature reasserts herself?

Monday, January 19, 2009

“Axis Mundi:” a prayer for the inaguration of Barak Obama, January 20, 2009

I'm part of a panel at the Dallas Morning News called Texas Faith. Each week we reply to a question posed by one of the editors. This week the question was: "If you were delivering the invocation or the benediction, what would you say? Write a (short) prayer that you’d deliver if for some reason you get called to pinch hit for one of the named headliners." The question was made even more current by the controversy surrounding various preachers doing their thing at different inaugural events.

Most of the panel are preachers so this barked right up our tree! As someone who convenes the largest interfaith gathering in Dallas, Winter SolstiCelebration, the question truly resonated with me. Such an invocation must appeal to those who are religious, spiritual but not religious, and those not spiritual at all. A great challenge, but one I face every year. So I turned to that stalwart unifying metaphor, the tree.

Here’s my offering, called “Axis Mundi:”

Oh divine energy that breathes through me, be with us as we breathe deeply together [breathe]. May this divine energy infuse this day that celebrates how out of the many we become one.

The great Tree of Life has in its many limbs a diversity of leaves on a plentitude of branches, its crown of creation gathering the light of the life-giving Sun.

Unseen beneath the surface, a diversity of roots searches through the dark regenerative earth, gathering food and water so that the Tree of Life can reach ever upward for its dreams.

This light and dark diversity merges in the unity, the community, of the trunk, the many into the one pillar of strength. We are gathered together on this profound day as the trunk, the Axis Mundi of this great nation, bridging realms and bringing forth the goodness of life for all.

Let us always remember that this great Arbor Vitae comes from just a tiny seed, into the optimistic sapling that becomes a majestic tree. Thus we envision together does the dream we plant today.

Breathe deeply again with me [breathe] of the air that we all share, feel yourself grounded yet reaching toward the sky, knowing that the soaring unity of the trunk is where our strength resides.

Let the trees you see everyday remind you of this moment, this metaphor, and carry it with you, through hard times and glad, on our journey together to create a world of peace and harmony.