Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Fire of Transformation.

The 4th of July weekend found me taking care of outdoor chores around the house: painting the part near the roof I totally forgot to cover last summer, trimming overgrown trees, weeding the garden. And the biggest task-cleaning the garage, that necessary catch-all, filled with empty cartons you plan to use some day to mail holiday gifts to faraway loved ones, shelves of seasonal d├ęcor in wild array precariously balanced among empty mason jars for canning, and bins and bins of stuff and things. All of it amid sawdust and spider webs. It made me realize how sentimental I can get. Keeping things I don’t need or even like, merely because of who gave them to me or where I got them in the first place. It was time to get ruthless. And I did. I made a pile to give to Goodwill and an even bigger pile to recycle and toss.

Then I came upon the bin with my old tax returns. Remembering how my accountant advised keeping them for seven years, I happily realized I could eliminate this bin altogether because it held returns starting in 1997. The thought of spending that much time placing them page by page through my little home shredder daunted me. So I decided to burn them.

Out came the big cast iron cauldron I use for seasonal Sabbat celebrations in my back yard. I soaked the lawn surrounding it with the hose on this hot, dry day and using some of the small, brittle branches from this mornings’ butterfly bush trim, I ignited a flame. Pulling up a lawn chair I began to feed the fire. Worksheets, copies, records of expenditures, ‘97, ‘98, ‘99. Notes from my accountant about the difference between a SEP and a SIMPLE, mileage, write off categories 2000, ‘01, ‘02. Check book registers, reminders of supplies bought for this conference, that workshop, the other ceremony, ‘03, ‘04, ‘05. Gaia’s Temple 1099’s, two year comparisons, envelopes of receipts, ‘06.  Flames flared, smoke billowed. I watched as the cauldron filled with ashes, witnessing the great transformation that only fire brings. 

  Oh, if only I could burn away my past mistakes this easily. The harsh words. The unkind actions. The unconscious gestures of overblown ego that caused rifts in cherished friendships. The misunderstandings that resulted in painful loss. Oh, if only the fire could take my blunders and faults, consume my regret and shame and sorrow, and transform them into something useful, like these ashes that will be added to my compost pile. If only I could be similarly transformed so that I could accept the error of my ways and forgive myself. 

Before long, years of financial detail had become nothing more than ash. I sat there watching the smoke rise and the fire die down for a while and it occurred to me that perhaps, in some parallel way, I had burned away some of those old mistakes. My heart and soul have been slowly composting them and, like these ashes that will amend my soil and keep the slugs off my zucchini and lettuce, those past mistakes are serving to support my growth now. I feel wiser for sure, more patient, less angry. I feel I have nothing more to prove and that takes the bite out of my words and the sting out of my actions these days.

By late afternoon, when the cauldron had sufficiently cooled so I could return it to its place in my beautifully cleaned and organized garage, I felt free. Granted, it doesn't reach the magnitude stated in the Declaration of Independence, but in my own small way, my personal fireworks let freedom ring.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Circuitous Path

The small town of Chartres, about 40 minutes outside of Paris, is darling, quaint, and old. You see the cathedral immediately, looming as the tallest building for miles. There are no words to aptly describe this medieval church. Therefore: immense, intricate in detail, magnificent in design, and stunning with stained glass, will just have to do. Despite the transit strike, I managed to catch a train and arrive by 1:30 on a Friday, the only day of the week the famous labyrinth is open to walk.

I am a labyrinth junkie, and have been lusting after this specific one for a very long stretch, having walked its replica many times. I love how labyrinths are metaphors for the womb of the Great Mother Goddess and one walks it as a way of initiation, a way of rebirth. Enter knowing what you wish to release, walk the path shedding it like a serpent’s skin. In the center, pray, set intention, offer gratitude and return spiritually reborn.

Of course, in the Catholic Chartres Cathedral, there is no talk of the Great Mother Goddess. The informational poster tells of the Bishop who stands in the center tossing a ball of yellow wool to pilgrims standing at the edge on Easter, creating a "festive and rhythmic dance". There is a small nod to the origin of this spiritual model, to Ariadne’s thread that led Theseus to the center to kill the Minotaur. But that is another story. Today I feel no resentment for the co-opting of this ancient practice. Today I feel nothing but gratitude.

This day is auspicious for more reasons than just that I attain my long awaited goal as one of the thousands of pilgrims who have come here to walk this circuitous spiritual path over the centuries. Today is also Friday the thirteenth and a full moon. The next time the moon is full on a Friday the 13th will be in 2049. I’ll be 90.

The air is cool within the stone walls of the capacious cathedral. The labyrinth is situated just a few yards from the huge wooden doors that serve as entrance. Chairs have been moved away to reveal the yellowed marble blocks that form it’s shape, the path delineated by dark brown stone. I notice that many people are barefoot as they walk, and immediately decide I must do the same. This is uncharacteristic of me. I never go barefoot. I was raised to keep my shoes on, that shoes off only happens when mourning the dead. Then, as a dancer, I was particularly protective of my money-makers so I continued to remain thus accustomed and don’t do anything barefoot except bathe and sleep. But now I know I will cast my sandals aside.

I stand nearby taking in the scene.  People from all over the globe are walking the labyrinth; every color skin, every age from infants in arms to elders using canes. I observe how one person stands in each of the six petals of the central rosette while one person stands in the middle. When that person steps out, everyone moves one petal clockwise as the next steps in. It is beautiful, seemingly choreographed so that the central person is held sacred and witnessed by the others in their moment at the core of the mystery.  I am savoring my anticipation in a way one can only do when they know its gratification is about to occur.

At the entrance, I wait until the person before me turns the first corner before entering. And then, after all these years of yearning, I take a deep breath, bring to mind my intention to let go of all unfinished business about being an artist, and step in! The marble is cold beneath my feet. With no callouses to shield them, I feel every crack in the uneven slabs, every small speck of earthly accrual.  I walk slowly, consciously, one foot carefully placed before the next, listening to the  hushed voices echoing off the cavernous walls like low and distant thunder. I imagine my fears, my self- imposed limitations, my infernal impossible rules dropping off my shoulders, spilling from my heart, flying out of my head. When I get toward the center, I see that now several people are crowding around the rosette and I hear myself worry, “That’s not how it’s supposed to go! It should be one person on each petal. They are not following the rules and it’s almost my turn.”

It does not escape me that everything that happens on a pilgrimage is part of the spiritual lesson. This worry about how it’s supposed to be done, this internal cry to control the situation, this mental invasion of my soulful experience is exactly what I need to become aware of as I reach the center of the labyrinth to meet my Goddess. And then I hear Her as clearly as if She says the words out loud.

“Art breaks the rules, Judith.”

Laughing inside, I step into the center as I turn to face the directions and Her insight fills me. It’s time to break these old rules that I have been slave to; that being an artist is somehow shameful, frivolous, unworthy. I slay my monster, my Minotaur, at the core of my unhappiness. My heart trills fervent thanks as I stand where I have longed to stand, in the center with my Goddess.  Walking out, I feel giddy, delighted, excited. Soon I find my pace once more, stepping in sync with my breath.  All too soon, I exit the labyrinth, the soles of my feet grey with the dirt of thousands of shoes, hundreds of years, the remnants of prayers uttered for centuries.

The thing about a pilgrimage is that every step of the way is part of it. It doesn’t happen when you arrive at the destination, it is happening all along the way.  Almost from the moment you decide to do it. A pilgrimage needn’t be an ordeal, but it often is.  There is something about leaving on a quest away from all that is familiar for a holy purpose. It means leaving your comfort zone, staying with and enduring uncertainty. And then it is immense gratitude for the friendly Frenchman who helps you buy the correct train ticket for the last leg of the trip, stepping out of the norm in your tender bare feet, hearing the central message that changes your life.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Author, Author!

The email notice I’ve been waiting for arrived this morning. It read “Books can now be ordered via the Print Corner tab in the Project section. Thanks!” That meant only one thing. My book is published!

I tell you there were times I thought I’d never write those four words and have them be speaking truth.

The journey from an idea to where I sit now at the end of the day my first book is published has been a circuitous voyage, full of fits and starts and triumphs and lag time. I’ve learned some things; about myself, about technology, about social media, but mostly about faith.  The liar I was as a child pays off now as a storyteller. Computer programs are only difficult until you learn them.  Social media doesn’t have to invade your privacy.  And faith is mysterious. Because at the center of all the uncertainty that swirls through one’s mind, at the core of all the questioning that shakes one’s soul, in the depths of all the doubt that burdens one’s heart during a creative process, there is a quiet place that hangs onto a vision so loyally that nothing touches it.  I say this like I knew it all along. But I only know this now. When I was throwing in the towel, not only on my book, but on myself as an artist, somehow my faith remained. It had to have. Otherwise I would not be where I am right now, having crossed the threshold from being a writer to being an author.

This was taken at least ten years ago. Talk about keeping the faith!

It’s been a whirlwind of communication since the moment I read that happy email: phone calls, voice messages, emails, fb and twitter posts and responses, all of them sweetly congratulatory. 

In between I walked in my garden, thanking Mother Earth for all my good fortune. The neighbors' cat came to meet me. She stretched and purred as I scratched behind her ears, both of us getting our fill of kitty and human love in the afternoon sunshine. A very satisfying day all around.

The telephone called me inside. I have a standing date with my mother every Wednesday. I blurted my good news right away and she made me howl with laughter when, after expressing her happiness and pride, she said, “Who would of thought the little baby who used to sit in that cardboard box would end up publishing a book?”

 I guess I am part cat after all. Purrrrrrrr.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Symphony of Peace Prayers

This morning I was privileged to offer some words of wisdom and a blessing as one of four spiritual leaders at the Symphony of Peace Prayers Ceremony that originated in Japan, and was performed here in Seattle. This beautiful ritual included a procession of flags from one hundred and ninety four countries around the world. Audience members became flag bearers and in doing so, everyone in the room had a role in the ceremony, a true community event. As each flag was carried to the front of the room, a candle was lit and a prayer for peace in that country and peace on Earth was spoken in unison. Flag after flag, prayer after prayer, our hearts opened. Here's the piece I shared with those who had gathered,  and now I share it with you: 

Good morning. I am Rev. Judith Laxer and I am the founding Priestess of Gaia’s Temple, an inclusive ministry that fosters love for the Divine Feminine by honoring nature and the qualities of relatedness and compassion. 

Relatedness and compassion are two qualities that, when active, cannot exist in the same time and space with war and conflict. When we remain mindful that the Earth is our mother and that she is alive and sentient, like our birth mother is or was, and she knows what is happening on her and to her, our treatment of her transforms. We cease to think of her as merely dense matter meant to be used as a resource. And so we stop fighting for those resources. We take better care of her because we recognize her as a conscious being, like ourselves. We are not separate from her. We are not separate from nature. Our callousness about what is happening disappears and our compassion fills in the space where it once lived, because we come to understand that we are also not separate from one another.

To better understand the feminine principle of reverence for nature and the practice of compassion and relatedness, I ask you, if you will, to imagine a world of women leaders. Just for a moment, imagine our world where the leaders of most, if not all, countries are women. 

In this imagined scenario, we might ask ourselves: 
do we think we’d be fracking the earth for more fossil fuel? Do we think we’d keep arming and sending our children into battle? Do we think we’d keep poisoning the land and water and air with pesticides and herbicides and chemicals, simply because they are left over from the last world war?

In our relatedness, in this awareness that we are not separate from one another, we raise our consciousness and come to realize that peaceful ways and means are wise.  The principle of relatedness is beautifully brought to bear here. If the Earth is our mother, than we are all her children. No matter where we live, or what we do for a living, or how much money we make, or who we chose to love, or which Goddess or God we worship. We remember that diversity is not only crucial for the health of the collective, but it brings so much beauty and strength. Not to mention keeping us from becoming bored.

As we gather today in a symphony of peace prayers, the harmony I’d like to add to our collective music is one in which we remember that the living Earth is our Mother, and we are all connected. In remembering this, we know that the best way, the necessary way, the most beautiful way to conduct our thoughts, our actions, and our lives is peacefully. When we strive to become peaceful within ourselves and act from that place of peacefulness, when we release our judgments, and our resentments, and our righteousness, we will be the agents of peace in the world.

So my blessing is simply this: May all of the children of Mother Earth awaken to our relatedness. May compassion for one another fill our hearts to overflowing. May be choose to live wisely in peaceful ways and means. And may we remember that love is always the answer.  To everything. Blessed be.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

Beltane Morning

It’s a simple thing, really. Not hard to do or remember. And yet the effects run deep and contribute to the magick of the day. Wash your face in May Day’s morning dew.

Each year on Beltane morning, I go outside in my back yard and find a patch of lawn that the sun has not yet dried.  Crouching down, the dew is cool. I swipe my hands across a swath of grass and moisten my face with it.  If any part of me is still sleeping, this encounter is a sweet and crisp wake-me-up.  The breeze further chills my damp skin and feels astringent. I imagine it does what Pagan lore tells me: I am made beautiful by following this ritual tradition.

Later in the day I get ready to leave for the Beltane ritual. I observe my face in the mirror. The usual critique about how I look begins in my mind's ears, but then I remember this morning and it stops before taking hold. Today I am beautiful because I am cleansed by the magick of morning dew. I still wear lipstick and eye shadow to the event. Color is one of my sensuous delights, after all. But this night I forego the foundation make-up I usually wear to give the illusion that my skin tone is even. The glamour is working and I throw caution to the wind, pin a flower in my hair and give myself a dazzling smile. I have a date with the Goddess!

I gather with others around the Maypole. We are here to celebrate our sensuous natures, to honor the union of our Goddess with Her God, and to weave magick into our lives. Diana's Bow smiles down at us during the after-ritual feast.