Deep Ecology, Holy Wild, Rite & Ritual

Participating in Enchantment: Redefining Magic

This post originally appeared on Holy Wild, at alisonleighlilly.com


After the flight two days earlier to Charlotte, NC, I’d learned one thing for certain: I was not a natural flyer. My first time in an airplane in more than fifteen years had left me feeling queazy and disoriented, retreating to the quiet sanctuary of my hotel room for an evening as I attempted to ground myself in a new landscape, a city hundreds of miles from my home in chilly, hilly western Pennsylvania. High-rise buildings, a depressing lack of trees and green park space, people walking around without jackets in early December… Even after that first evening, I’d spent the entire trip feeling out of sorts, cut off from my usual sense of place.

Now, I sat anxiously in the claustrophobic cabin of the plane, preparing for the flight back to Pittsburgh and worrying that I was in for another nauseating, jolting ride.

flysky-ShannonKringen

Susan Greenwood’s latest book, The Anthropology of Magic, was tucked into my carry-on. The text was academic in flavor as well as subject matter. It had clearly been written with the new student of anthropology rather than the lay magical practitioner in mind. A more accurate title for the book might have been “Competing Theories About Magic, And What It Really Is, In Anthropology” …but that would’ve been a bit cramped on the spine.

The text introduced a number of scientists and researchers who’d spent their long, distinguished careers studying the practice of magic and shamanic techniques in tribal cultures throughout history and all over the world. Some of the names I recognized from my college days studying comparative religions, but even still I’d often felt my head swimming as I worked through Greenwood’s arguments. I’d spent the past few days reading her intense (and sometimes convoluted) discussions of the myriad competing theories of consciousness, ritual, reason and myth that have been informing and shaping the field of anthropology for the past several generations.

This book wasn’t your typical Magic 101 how-to that many Pagans enjoy. Still, it held something immensely valuable for those seeking to deepen their understanding of magical work as a spiritual practice. It would take time, and some rigorous intellectual work on the part of the reader, but it would be worth it.

As our plane taxied into place on the runway, I took a deep breath and pulled out the book, flipping through the loose pages of notes I’d taken and thinking once again about the nature of magic…

flying-dowitchers-TJ-Gehling

The central tenet that Greenwood puts forth early in her introductory chapter, and returns to often throughout the text, is that magic is not so much something you do as it is a kind of consciousness. More specifically, magic is participatory consciousness: a consciousness of participation and enchantment.

For much of the book, in fact, Greenwood’s discussion focuses on mapping out the more widely-accepted theories of magic found within the anthropological community, and then illustrating how these traditional theories fail to speak to and reflect the essence of magical consciousness.

As a social science, the field of anthropology has tended to strive for standards of rational analysis and objective observation that have served the physical sciences well and proven invaluable in collecting reliable data from controlled experiments. This approach has led many anthropologists to view magic itself as a kind of failed science, an attempt made in ignorance to control and manipulate the forces of nature, acting on false premises about patterns of relationship and causality. Many anthropologists have therefore concluded that magic is the antithesis of religion (being more concerned with manipulative power than with worship) while at the same time viewing it as merely the embarrassing progenitor of “real” science, with no more to teach and nothing of relevance to contribute to the “civilized” epistemology of more enlightened modern times. Other theorists, such as Evans-Pritchard, have argued that while belief in magic may be ignorant, it is not primitive or inherently irrational. Far from it, such social groups as the Azande function with belief systems that are perfectly rational and internally consistent, albeit founded on a few basic wrong assumptions.

What all of these theorists hold in common, Greenwood argues, is their own fundamental bias towards the objective-rational approach of modern Western science, which renders certain key aspects of magic and magical consciousness practically invisible to study and consideration. Yet the human mind and the socio-cultural community function together in ways that are often subjective, nonrational and mythological in nature. Understanding the role that magic plays for individuals and their communities requires an appreciation of these aspects of human experience that cannot easily be reduced to rational analysis or dismissed as psychological quirks.

Rather than relying solely on the model of objective experimentation and data collection exemplified in the physical sciences, Greenwood suggests that anthropologists hoping to gain insight into the workings of magical consciousness must be willing to approach the processes of magic on its own terms, and to develop epistemological models that can integrate diverse kinds of rational and nonrational, objective and subjective kinds of knowledge in ways that inform and lend perspective to both. Greenwood herself lives up to this rather intimidating demand for a new generation of anthropologists. Her eloquent accounts of her own participation in magical and shamanic rituals as part of her participatory field research are arguably some of the most engaging and intriguing parts of the text, and they serve as indispensable illustrations of theoretical concepts that might otherwise be too abstract for the reader to fully grasp.

heron-taking-flight-Donald-Ogg

As a result of her participatory approach to research, Greenwood has clearly come to appreciate certain aspects of magic and its role in society that many anthropologists have until now largely overlooked. Picking up an old debate between the two anthropologists, Lévy-Bruhl and Evans-Pritchard, she revisits the possibility that magic is indeed a kind of consciousness distinct from that of logos-based reason so celebrated in the West.

At the time Lévy-Bruhl proposed such an argument, his theory was considered implicitly racist, demeaning those of “primitive” cultures as pre-logical and lacking the reasoning faculties of more civilized peoples. In response to this misunderstanding of his idea, Evans-Pritchard took on the task of proving that such peoples as the Azande were fully rational and intelligent human beings who were not somehow lesser than their Western counterparts, but merely different. An on-going correspondence between the two researchers continued to inform and clarify Lévy-Bruhl’s original theory, however, and Greenwood returns to his suggestion that magical consciousness is, though not degenerate, certainly a unique kind of consciousness distinct from and not reducible to reason alone. (Indeed, as her discussion of the experiment in which sugar-water was labeled “poison” illustrates, modern Western academics themselves are not immune to magical consciousness, even when their rational minds insist otherwise.)

What characterizes magical consciousness, according to Greenwood’s revised hypothesis, is a particular kind of participatory awareness. While traditional Western science relies on analogical reasoning in which participation is characterized by repeatable, controllable outcomes of physical reactions in order to predict similar future results, the analogical participation of magical consciousness is subjective and experiential, informed by culturally-shared myths and shaped by a sense of nonphysical interconnection between objects or events that share metaphorical relationships.

In traditional anthropological terms, this describes sympathetic and contagion magical practices — in which the similarity of ritual acts and objects are seen as being in meaningful relationship with those things they symbolize and/or imitate. Objects or people once in contact are understood as maintaining a connection or relationship that can be used to exert influence at a distance. In Greenwood’s understanding, however, the basis for sympathetic and contagion magic is not merely inaccurate assumptions about how the physical world functions.

Instead, she proposes that these conceived patterns of relationship accurately reflect the subjective experiences of the participants in magical work. They are therefore not only valuable and valid in understanding how and why people utilize magic, but they can actually provide us with meaningful knowledge about the world, insofar as they offer us insight into the perceptions and relationships of the world as we experience it, that the normal consciousness of rational analysis cannot always discover.

Pagans and other modern magical practitioners in the West may find in Greenwood’s theory of participatory magical consciousness echoes of some popular definitions of magic among our own communities. One of the most well-known, attributed to Dion Fortune, is that “magic is the art of changing consciousness at will.” The various ritual acts described in classic anthropological texts, as well as in Greenwood’s own field research, are interpreted in her theory as the means by which individuals and social groups intentionally induce this particular altered state of magical consciousness, which renders the participant receptive to and capable of perceiving patterns of relationship and participation that are nonrational and emotional (rather than objective and analytical) in nature.

The modern Pagan approach to magical work, with its emphasis on meditation and creative visualization, is very much in keeping with this interpretation. However, in my own experience, we Pagans can be just as prone to the mistakes of an ingrained rational-scientific bias as the average anthropologists. This is why Greenwood’s work is worthy of study and contemplation not only by those entering the academic world, but for anyone who wants to challenge and deepen their approach to magical work as an integrated part of an authentic spiritual life.

Too often, even Pagans can slip into the habit of mind that approaches magic as merely an occult (i.e. hidden) alternative to mainstream science, with our focus primarily on controlling the forces and energies of nature for particular ends. As I leafed through my pages of notes jostling in my lap, trying to concentrate despite the thrumming engines of the plane as it prepared for take-off, I realized that this was exactly the mistake I had made myself.

At first I’d tried a handful of tricks to help myself adjust to the disorientation of flying, drawing from my years of Druidic practice. On the trip to Charlotte, these techniques had proved beyond useless. I’d experimented with breathing techniques meant to induce relaxation… but the result had been an overpowering, nauseating awareness of the pressurized and recirculated air of the cabin. I’d tried to remain grounded and centered, sensing the edges of my physical body and energetic field, imagining a smooth stone resting in my center as a firm point of stability and connection with the land below… yet the stone turned over and seemed to slosh in my stomach as my small, dense body rattled in my narrow seat with every wave of turbulence or dip of a wing. Magic, it seemed, had failed me.

But now, with the plane taxiing down the tarmac and anxiety slowly tightening its grip in my chest, I recalled what Greenwood had written about participation as the key to magical consciousness. She spoke of the unexpected relationships she’d experienced between far distant memories and the sensations of her immediate landscape. Of the tensions of myth and metaphor that drew these disparate events into patterns of meaning and beauty that wove an experience of interconnection with the world. This was magic, after all.

I thought back to that first evening in the hotel room, remembering the time I’d spent returning to myself and slowly ridding my body of air-sickness. The night had been stormy, and outside my window the rain danced in expanding, overlapping ripples that reflected the fluorescent lights of the city in ever-changing patterns as the water beat out a subtly complicated soft-shoe rhythm on the roofs above and the pavement far below. I’d sat watching and listening, and singing my awen, a Druidic meditative chant, until the vibration of breath in my body had released every twinge of tension.

sunset-airplane-SAM-Cheong

Remembering this experience, I squared my feet on the floor beneath the seat in front of me and did my best to sit upright and relaxed in the uncomfortable airplane. As the plane roared into movement, raging down the runway and lifting off from the ground, I closed my eyes and sang to myself, letting my awen expand and fill my awareness.

This time, I didn’t resist the experience of flight as I had before. I didn’t imagine stones or hard boundaries. I didn’t try to control the experience and the energies rushing through me. Instead, I allowed the chant to open my body up to vibration.

As I did so, I found that my physical body began to vibrate with the thrumming turbulence of the plane. In sympathetic movement, suddenly I could feel the exhilaration of flight not as something wrenching and disorienting, but as comfortable and natural: I was participating in flight with the huge machine around me.

And this experience of participation and interconnection with the world around us is perhaps the most important aspect of Greenwood’s theory. By understanding magic as a kind of consciousness that places participation at its heart, we no longer relegate magic to the realm of anti-religious power-mongering and manipulation. Instead, magic opens us up to relationship. To reverence. To an engagement with an enchanted world that plays a vital role in an earth-centered spirituality that seeks the sacred in the natural forces and landscapes in which we live our everyday lives.

Because of this heightened sense of participation, my experience of the flight north was smooth and almost pleasant. Our descent into the shimmering City of Steel just as the sun was blazing brilliantly in shades of orange and purple on the western horizon infused the journey home with a sense of breathless enchantment I will remember for a long time to come.


susan-greenwood-anthropology-magicNote: An earlier version of this book review originally appeared in Sky Earth Sea: A Journal of Practical Spirituality (Spring 2010) under the title, “Participating in Enchantment: A Reflection on Susan Greenwood’s The Anthropology of Magic


Photo Credits:
• “flysky,” by Shannon Kringen (CC) [source]
• “Flying Dowitches,” by TJ Gehling (CC) [source]
• “Water of Leith Heron Taking Flight,” by Donald Ogg (CC) [source]
• “Over the Moon,” by Dagmar Collins (CC) [source]
• Airplane at sunset, by SAM Cheong (CC) [source]


This post originally appeared on Holy Wild, at alisonleighlilly.com

Deep Ecology, Holy Wild, Rite & Ritual

Participating in Enchantment: Redefining Magic

After the flight two days earlier to Charlotte, NC, I’d learned one thing for certain: I was not a natural flyer. My first time in an airplane in more than fifteen years had left me feeling queazy and disoriented, retreating to the quiet sanctuary of my hotel room for an evening as I attempted to ground myself in a new landscape, a city hundreds of miles from my home in chilly, hilly western Pennsylvania. High-rise buildings, a depressing lack of trees and green park space, people walking around without jackets in early December… Even after that first evening, I’d spent the entire trip feeling out of sorts, cut off from my usual sense of place.

Now, I sat anxiously in the claustrophobic cabin of the plane, preparing for the flight back to Pittsburgh and worrying that I was in for another nauseating, jolting ride.

flysky-ShannonKringen

Susan Greenwood’s latest book, The Anthropology of Magic, was tucked into my carry-on. The text was academic in flavor as well as subject matter. It had clearly been written with the new student of anthropology rather than the lay magical practitioner in mind. A more accurate title for the book might have been “Competing Theories About Magic, And What It Really Is, In Anthropology” …but that would’ve been a bit cramped on the spine.

The text introduced a number of scientists and researchers who’d spent their long, distinguished careers studying the practice of magic and shamanic techniques in tribal cultures throughout history and all over the world. Some of the names I recognized from my college days studying comparative religions, but even still I’d often felt my head swimming as I worked through Greenwood’s arguments. I’d spent the past few days reading her intense (and sometimes convoluted) discussions of the myriad competing theories of consciousness, ritual, reason and myth that have been informing and shaping the field of anthropology for the past several generations.

This book wasn’t your typical Magic 101 how-to that many Pagans enjoy. Still, it held something immensely valuable for those seeking to deepen their understanding of magical work as a spiritual practice. It would take time, and some rigorous intellectual work on the part of the reader, but it would be worth it.

As our plane taxied into place on the runway, I took a deep breath and pulled out the book, flipping through the loose pages of notes I’d taken and thinking once again about the nature of magic…

flying-dowitchers-TJ-Gehling

The central tenet that Greenwood puts forth early in her introductory chapter, and returns to often throughout the text, is that magic is not so much something you do as it is a kind of consciousness. More specifically, magic is participatory consciousness: a consciousness of participation and enchantment.

For much of the book, in fact, Greenwood’s discussion focuses on mapping out the more widely-accepted theories of magic found within the anthropological community, and then illustrating how these traditional theories fail to speak to and reflect the essence of magical consciousness.

As a social science, the field of anthropology has tended to strive for standards of rational analysis and objective observation that have served the physical sciences well and proven invaluable in collecting reliable data from controlled experiments. This approach has led many anthropologists to view magic itself as a kind of failed science, an attempt made in ignorance to control and manipulate the forces of nature, acting on false premises about patterns of relationship and causality. Many anthropologists have therefore concluded that magic is the antithesis of religion (being more concerned with manipulative power than with worship) while at the same time viewing it as merely the embarrassing progenitor of “real” science, with no more to teach and nothing of relevance to contribute to the “civilized” epistemology of more enlightened modern times. Other theorists, such as Evans-Pritchard, have argued that while belief in magic may be ignorant, it is not primitive or inherently irrational. Far from it, such social groups as the Azande function with belief systems that are perfectly rational and internally consistent, albeit founded on a few basic wrong assumptions.

What all of these theorists hold in common, Greenwood argues, is their own fundamental bias towards the objective-rational approach of modern Western science, which renders certain key aspects of magic and magical consciousness practically invisible to study and consideration. Yet the human mind and the socio-cultural community function together in ways that are often subjective, nonrational and mythological in nature. Understanding the role that magic plays for individuals and their communities requires an appreciation of these aspects of human experience that cannot easily be reduced to rational analysis or dismissed as psychological quirks.

Rather than relying solely on the model of objective experimentation and data collection exemplified in the physical sciences, Greenwood suggests that anthropologists hoping to gain insight into the workings of magical consciousness must be willing to approach the processes of magic on its own terms, and to develop epistemological models that can integrate diverse kinds of rational and nonrational, objective and subjective kinds of knowledge in ways that inform and lend perspective to both. Greenwood herself lives up to this rather intimidating demand for a new generation of anthropologists. Her eloquent accounts of her own participation in magical and shamanic rituals as part of her participatory field research are arguably some of the most engaging and intriguing parts of the text, and they serve as indispensable illustrations of theoretical concepts that might otherwise be too abstract for the reader to fully grasp.

heron-taking-flight-Donald-Ogg

As a result of her participatory approach to research, Greenwood has clearly come to appreciate certain aspects of magic and its role in society that many anthropologists have until now largely overlooked. Picking up an old debate between the two anthropologists, Lévy-Bruhl and Evans-Pritchard, she revisits the possibility that magic is indeed a kind of consciousness distinct from that of logos-based reason so celebrated in the West.

At the time Lévy-Bruhl proposed such an argument, his theory was considered implicitly racist, demeaning those of “primitive” cultures as pre-logical and lacking the reasoning faculties of more civilized peoples. In response to this misunderstanding of his idea, Evans-Pritchard took on the task of proving that such peoples as the Azande were fully rational and intelligent human beings who were not somehow lesser than their Western counterparts, but merely different. An on-going correspondence between the two researchers continued to inform and clarify Lévy-Bruhl’s original theory, however, and Greenwood returns to his suggestion that magical consciousness is, though not degenerate, certainly a unique kind of consciousness distinct from and not reducible to reason alone. (Indeed, as her discussion of the experiment in which sugar-water was labeled “poison” illustrates, modern Western academics themselves are not immune to magical consciousness, even when their rational minds insist otherwise.)

What characterizes magical consciousness, according to Greenwood’s revised hypothesis, is a particular kind of participatory awareness. While traditional Western science relies on analogical reasoning in which participation is characterized by repeatable, controllable outcomes of physical reactions in order to predict similar future results, the analogical participation of magical consciousness is subjective and experiential, informed by culturally-shared myths and shaped by a sense of nonphysical interconnection between objects or events that share metaphorical relationships.

In traditional anthropological terms, this describes sympathetic and contagion magical practices — in which the similarity of ritual acts and objects are seen as being in meaningful relationship with those things they symbolize and/or imitate. Objects or people once in contact are understood as maintaining a connection or relationship that can be used to exert influence at a distance. In Greenwood’s understanding, however, the basis for sympathetic and contagion magic is not merely inaccurate assumptions about how the physical world functions.

Instead, she proposes that these conceived patterns of relationship accurately reflect the subjective experiences of the participants in magical work. They are therefore not only valuable and valid in understanding how and why people utilize magic, but they can actually provide us with meaningful knowledge about the world, insofar as they offer us insight into the perceptions and relationships of the world as we experience it, that the normal consciousness of rational analysis cannot always discover.

Pagans and other modern magical practitioners in the West may find in Greenwood’s theory of participatory magical consciousness echoes of some popular definitions of magic among our own communities. One of the most well-known, attributed to Dion Fortune, is that “magic is the art of changing consciousness at will.” The various ritual acts described in classic anthropological texts, as well as in Greenwood’s own field research, are interpreted in her theory as the means by which individuals and social groups intentionally induce this particular altered state of magical consciousness, which renders the participant receptive to and capable of perceiving patterns of relationship and participation that are nonrational and emotional (rather than objective and analytical) in nature.

The modern Pagan approach to magical work, with its emphasis on meditation and creative visualization, is very much in keeping with this interpretation. However, in my own experience, we Pagans can be just as prone to the mistakes of an ingrained rational-scientific bias as the average anthropologists. This is why Greenwood’s work is worthy of study and contemplation not only by those entering the academic world, but for anyone who wants to challenge and deepen their approach to magical work as an integrated part of an authentic spiritual life.

Too often, even Pagans can slip into the habit of mind that approaches magic as merely an occult (i.e. hidden) alternative to mainstream science, with our focus primarily on controlling the forces and energies of nature for particular ends. As I leafed through my pages of notes jostling in my lap, trying to concentrate despite the thrumming engines of the plane as it prepared for take-off, I realized that this was exactly the mistake I had made myself.

At first I’d tried a handful of tricks to help myself adjust to the disorientation of flying, drawing from my years of Druidic practice. On the trip to Charlotte, these techniques had proved beyond useless. I’d experimented with breathing techniques meant to induce relaxation… but the result had been an overpowering, nauseating awareness of the pressurized and recirculated air of the cabin. I’d tried to remain grounded and centered, sensing the edges of my physical body and energetic field, imagining a smooth stone resting in my center as a firm point of stability and connection with the land below… yet the stone turned over and seemed to slosh in my stomach as my small, dense body rattled in my narrow seat with every wave of turbulence or dip of a wing. Magic, it seemed, had failed me.

But now, with the plane taxiing down the tarmac and anxiety slowly tightening its grip in my chest, I recalled what Greenwood had written about participation as the key to magical consciousness. She spoke of the unexpected relationships she’d experienced between far distant memories and the sensations of her immediate landscape. Of the tensions of myth and metaphor that drew these disparate events into patterns of meaning and beauty that wove an experience of interconnection with the world. This was magic, after all.

I thought back to that first evening in the hotel room, remembering the time I’d spent returning to myself and slowly ridding my body of air-sickness. The night had been stormy, and outside my window the rain danced in expanding, overlapping ripples that reflected the fluorescent lights of the city in ever-changing patterns as the water beat out a subtly complicated soft-shoe rhythm on the roofs above and the pavement far below. I’d sat watching and listening, and singing my awen, a Druidic meditative chant, until the vibration of breath in my body had released every twinge of tension.

sunset-airplane-SAM-Cheong

Remembering this experience, I squared my feet on the floor beneath the seat in front of me and did my best to sit upright and relaxed in the uncomfortable airplane. As the plane roared into movement, raging down the runway and lifting off from the ground, I closed my eyes and sang to myself, letting my awen expand and fill my awareness.

This time, I didn’t resist the experience of flight as I had before. I didn’t imagine stones or hard boundaries. I didn’t try to control the experience and the energies rushing through me. Instead, I allowed the chant to open my body up to vibration.

As I did so, I found that my physical body began to vibrate with the thrumming turbulence of the plane. In sympathetic movement, suddenly I could feel the exhilaration of flight not as something wrenching and disorienting, but as comfortable and natural: I was participating in flight with the huge machine around me.

And this experience of participation and interconnection with the world around us is perhaps the most important aspect of Greenwood’s theory. By understanding magic as a kind of consciousness that places participation at its heart, we no longer relegate magic to the realm of anti-religious power-mongering and manipulation. Instead, magic opens us up to relationship. To reverence. To an engagement with an enchanted world that plays a vital role in an earth-centered spirituality that seeks the sacred in the natural forces and landscapes in which we live our everyday lives.

Because of this heightened sense of participation, my experience of the flight north was smooth and almost pleasant. Our descent into the shimmering City of Steel just as the sun was blazing brilliantly in shades of orange and purple on the western horizon infused the journey home with a sense of breathless enchantment I will remember for a long time to come.


susan-greenwood-anthropology-magicNote: An earlier version of this book review originally appeared in Sky Earth Sea: A Journal of Practical Spirituality (Spring 2010) under the title, “Participating in Enchantment: A Reflection on Susan Greenwood’s The Anthropology of Magic


Photo Credits:
• “flysky,” by Shannon Kringen (CC) [source]
• “Flying Dowitches,” by TJ Gehling (CC) [source]
• “Water of Leith Heron Taking Flight,” by Donald Ogg (CC) [source]
• “Over the Moon,” by Dagmar Collins (CC) [source]
• Airplane at sunset, by SAM Cheong (CC) [source]

Holy Wild, Poetry & Music, Rite & Ritual

Holy Adoration: Fire as Prayer

This post originally appeared on Holy Wild, at alisonleighlilly.com


“How do I pray without fire?”

– question asked once in a dream

Just the sound of the word reminds me of fire: adoration, the heart aflame.

This is the first kind of prayer I ever really learned. The prayer I come back to again and again.

burningwaxsticks_CaitlinDoe

The strike of the match on the box, the scrape, the hiss — and then the little wick of the candle catches and holds…

This moment, this motion — it is a word in itself, a softly-spoken mantra of devotion. Shivering there, changing a little from one second to the next. Sometimes wavering. Sometimes utterly still. Swaying around its center of gravity in the wake of my breathing-out and breathing-in again.

It is enough: to sit before the altar each morning, to light the single flame, to watch it catch and hold. It is enough to show up to this act of intention. Without the need to grasp what cannot be grasped. Without the need to name what cannot be named.

To hold my heart like a candle wick, steady, upright, held open to the presence of my gods.

To hold my heart like fruit, or a flower, or a handful of seeds in an open palm, that they might arrive — might alight so gently, their touch barely felt — enticed, invited, uncompelled. To be eaten as the earth will one day eat me, slowly, bone by bone…

But then: sometimes it’s not enough. All this gentility — this steady, quiet kind of praying. The little bent wick sunk in its pool of wax, rooted in place, giving itself only just a little at a time.

“Let us pray with a good fire,” the Druids say.*

And so I pile up the kindling, some of it still wet from the rain. Under its skin, sap hisses and snaps where the fire licks it clean. Smoke slithers out between the splinters, unwinding upwards like incense. The husky whispers of my more selfish desires. I give it all to the flame.

It can take a long time for the damp kindling of my life to catch fire. I might sit for an hour making my inadequate offerings, poking here and there, wincing when a bit of wood shifts and suddenly the flame sputters out, suffocated, all but lost.

It is a ritual of unwavering attention, this kind of prayer. Arranging and rearranging, gathering in, working with what I have, trying to make room — opening up space for the fire to breathe. In a world that insists we fill every spare moment with progress, or at the very least a busyness that approximates it. It can feel like a radical thing to make space in my life for waiting and failure and stillness, to open up my lungs in song to my gods and let them breathe me empty.

It is not as clean and easy as a candle flame. It is the kind of prayer driven by longing, by frustration, by unrealized vision…

Until finally, I have sat before the smoking embers long enough, watched the wood turn first charred black and then white with a loose skin of ash. Watched the flame slip along each thin twig as if along a twining labyrinth of praise and recrimination, watched it run its course and meet its end and flicker out again. Until my whole body, my whole being has grown quiet and raw and I think, This is it, I have given everything I have and it hasn’t been enough…

And then, the moment I realize I was wrong.

blueflame_TracyRhodes

Sometimes what I want is a wild fire. A fire that roars. A fire that beats at the air with its bright fists clenched. Sometimes I want prayer like a fire that claims everything it touches. Prayer that ripples out across the rough dark surface of the world like music spilling down endlessly from the night sky, carrying the stars with it. Prayer that rolls over the vaulted ceiling of the heavens with thrilling impossible lightness — a fire round and hot like laughter, dragging the lush purples of faraway galaxies in its wake.

Prayer that turns over into adoration — into a joy that burns so hot, it blossoms like a blue flower inside every thrumming ember, unfolding its quiet petals one by one. As still and steady as an open palm.

Sometimes what I want is to give my whole life over to this adoration, to the hunger of the ones I love.

To be so bright inside that you cannot look, and cannot look away.

The Sufi poet Hafiz writes:

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.

If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy…

You cannot get there with a candle flame. You cannot get there by wanting to be useful, reliable and tame.

You can only open your most secret heart like a furnace door, smoky-dark and so hot that to touch it — even for a moment — will leave a mark.

Only know that nothing is so precious it will not burn.

whatdoyousee_EileenMcFall


* Though they stole it from Hinduism.


Photo Credits:
• “burning waxsticks,” by Caitlin Doe (CC) [source]
• “Blue Flame,” by Tracy Rhodes (CC) [source]
• “what do you see in the flame?” by Eileen McFall (CC) [source]


This post originally appeared on Holy Wild, at alisonleighlilly.com

Deep Ecology, Holy Wild, Rite & Ritual

Celebrating Earth Day: Phenology Bingo

This post originally appeared on Holy Wild, at alisonleighlilly.com


Earth Day has to be one of my absolute favorite holidays.

It’s a day when even ordinary non-Pagan folk celebrate the beauty and bounty of our Earth Mother — whether they’re joyously sharing their appreciation for this amazing blue-green planet of ours, or mindfully examining their own lives for ways to protect, respect and preserve the thriving more-than-human ecological web that shapes and sustains us. As if that weren’t awesome enough, the holiday falls in mid-April, when the land itself is a delicious cacophony of colors and scents and sounds! The whole natural world seems to be shaking off the lethargy of winter, eager for new beginnings. We need a day like this, friends. Oh how desperately do we need it!

americanrobin_MelissaMcMasters

Earth Day has long been a holy day for me, and I’ve marked it through personal and family rituals for years. But this year, I was especially blessed: I had the chance to help out with the Earth Day service offered by my UU church this past weekend. And it was nothing short of marvelous.

First, can I just take a moment to share my awe-struck gratitude? I get to be part of a church community that embraces science and reason alongside silly “woo” things like trust, stubborn optimism, and a hope that sometimes borders on the downright gleeful.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day service was unabashed celebration of the wonders of our beautiful “blue boat” home. While there was a brief acknowledgement of things like climate change, pollution and extinction — and the deep sense of grief and loss these things can cause — an attitude of celebratory love permeated the service. One of our congregants who works as a science educator shared a homily on biophilia and how the resiliency of the natural world can inspire us to greater compassion and more effective action in our own lives. (I was practically swooning in the aisles when she opened with a story about the symbiotic relationship between sapsuckers and rufous hummingbirds, followed with a quote from E.O. Wilson. Yes! I get to go to a church where this is a homily that happened!)

Then came the “interactive” part of our interactive all-ages Earth Day service.

Our minister, Rev. Kate Landis, had asked me to brainstorm some ideas for Earth Day-themed activities to do that could reasonably work in a room of 150+ people of all different ages, physical abilities, attention spans and allergies. Easy, right? Over the next few days I did some research and daydreaming (and a bit of nervous hand-wringing over whether my idea would actually work), and finally I pitched my suggestion: Phenology Bingo. Things almost went off the rails when Rev. Kate thought I’d said phrenology, the quack-science of determining people’s personalities by measuring their skulls. But I quickly put her fears that I was a crazy person to rest — or at least reassured her that I was the good kind of crazy!

Phenology is the science of how climate (temperature, precipitation and the changing amount of daylight) impact the timing of natural, biological events (such as plants blooming or dropping leaves, or animals migrating or mating). The church I attend, Shoreline UUC, is situated on a beautiful site complete with gardens, mighty douglas firs and an old apple orchard, so there were innumerable signs of spring unfolding right outside the Sanctuary windows every morning.

The idea behind Phenology Bingo was pretty simple: everyone gets a “scavenger hunt” checklist of springtime sights and spends fifteen minutes wandering around the church grounds outside trying to find as many as they could. Then they all head back inside and break up into Bingo teams. Rev. Kate draws items at random out of a hat — if you or someone on your team has that item checked off, you get to mark it on your team Bingo card. First team to Bingo, wins!

My hope was that this activity would give people of all ages and abilities a chance to explore at their own pace, to work by themselves or together, and to share their knowledge as well as their wonder with others. Some of the items I included on the scavenger hunt list were super easy (find a tree with flowers on it; find a plant that’s your favorite color) and others were more challenging (find an invasive plant species; find a bird that is building a nest). There were even bonus “wild card” items: being able to find and identify a bird, insect or plant species that wasn’t on the list, for instance, could earn you a free spot of your choice… (In fact, that’s how the Green Team won!)

The entire experience — from planning and preparation, all the way to playing the game on the day itself — was such a joy! During the scavenger hunt, I wasn’t looking at tulips or robins (I’d already scoped things out the day before). Instead, I was watching the humans: a little girl insisting that her dad take a picture of a slug with his phone; a group of folks suddenly pointing skyward in excitement as a hawk swooped overhead; an older member lingering by an apple tree she’d helped to plant 15 years earlier, breathing in the scent of its newly-opened blossoms; a lanky young man getting all the way down on his hands and knees to peer at a bug on the ground, asking his friend, “Is this an ant? Does this count as an ant?”

After the Bingo game (our team was just one dandelion away from winning when the Green Team beat us to it!)… the congregation shared some of their surprises and joys, even with such a brief time outside exploring. When the teacher who’d given the homily announced that she’d discovered sapsucker holes in one of the cedar trees, the whole room broke out into cheers!

I get to go to a church where this is a thing that happens.

hungryrobinchicks_MonikaSoltysik_sm

Phenology/Earth-Day Bingo

Below are the instructions for the game, if you want to give it a try with your church, coven, circle, grove or community group next year (or heck, next weekend)! You can also click here to download these instructions as a .pdf along with a sample Scavenger Hunt List and Bingo Card.

(I was so caught up in the excitement of the day, I totally forgot to take a picture of the hand-drawn Bingo posters that we taped to the wall. Maybe someone else at church that day remembered to snap a few photos and would be willing to share? Email me!)

Introduction

What are some of the signs of spring you’ve experienced in nature recently? [ Folks might name either biological changes (like birds singing, flowers blooming or pollen allergies acting up) or non-biological/climatic changes (like longer, warmer days and more sun and/or rain). ]

These changes are part of what scientists call “phenology” (literally, the study of appearances, from Greek “pheno-” to show/appear and “-ology” to study). Phenology is the science of how climate (temperature, precipitation and the changing amount of daylight) impact the timing of natural, biological events (such as plants blooming or dropping leaves, or animals migrating or mating).

Phenology is important because it teaches us about how plants, animals and the earth are all connected in an interdependent web (Unitarian Universalism’s 7th Principle). When trees put out leaves or flowers, this provides food for insects like caterpillars and bees — which in turn become a food source for birds and frogs, who are mating and feeding their young at this time. (What would happen if the flowers bloomed too early one year and there were no bees around yet? Would the flowers get pollinated? Would the bees have anything to eat later?)

Do you know any scientists? You sure do!! What would you say if I told you that you could be a scientist just by going outside and exploring nature in your own backyard? Ordinary people all over the planet can be “citizen scientists” by paying attention to the natural world and writing down their observations. Things like: How many birds did you see at your bird feeder today, and what kind were they? How many flowers have bloomed in your garden? What day did you see the first new leaves on your favorite tree? Then, citizen scientists share their observations with others (often online), and researchers can come along and gather all that information together to see the BIG PICTURE of what’s going on in nature during different seasons, and how changes in climate and the environment impact that big picture.

Today, we’re going to play a game of Phenology Bingo, and you’ll get the chance to be a citizen scientist, too — you’ll explore the natural world around you, and then get together with your fellow citizen scientist teammates to compare notes and pool your observations!

[ Explain the rules of the game (see below). It might be good to point out how some of the scavenger hunt items are animals that might be hard to spot or might get scared away by noise. Encourage people (younger kids especially) to be “sneaky, like nature spies,” observant but quiet and gentle. If there are really little kids, remind them that we are using our senses of sight, hearing and smell, but not touch or taste! Don’t pluck the flowers — let them grow so we can enjoy them again next year! ]

Materials

  • Scavenger Hunt lists
  • Pencils, pens, crayons and/or makers
  • Large Bingo posters (one per team)
  • Tokens (eg. paper flower cut-outs with tape on back) (optional)
  • Slips of paper with one list item each written on them
  • Hat (or bowl, basket, etc.) for drawing slips
  • Prize(s) (optional)

Instructions (for outdoor play)

  1. Introduce the concept of “phenology” to the congregation (see above), and explain the rules of the game before getting started. Split everyone up into teams (easiest way to do this is probably by seating, especially if service is held in the round — eg. each section is a team). (2 min.)
  2. Hand out Scavenger Hunt lists (or make the lists available in the Order of Service), along with pencils, crayons, markers, etc.
  3. Invite everyone outside to explore the church grounds, rain garden and orchard. Folks can work together in teams or family groups, or by themselves, to find as many of the items on their list as possible. To keep the game fun and the service moving, remind people they only have a certain amount of time to find the items — maybe have someone announcing a countdown during the last few minutes (eg: “Five minutes left!” “Only three minutes left!” etc.) (10 – 15 min.)
  4. Call everyone back inside! (2 – 5+ min.)
  5. Once everyone’s back inside, one person (the minister or game leader) stands up at the front and draws the slips of paper from a hat, calling out the item listed on the paper.
  6. For each slip drawn, everyone on a given team compares lists to see if anyone on their team has that item marked off. If so, and the item also appears on their team’s Bingo card, they place a token (or draw an X) on that spot.
  7. Continue until one team is able to complete one full row, column or diagonal and calls out Bingo! (5 – 10 min.)
  8. Depending on time, continue to play to determine 2nd, 3rd, etc. place — or just for fun!
  9. Wrap-up and transition.

(For indoor play — In the event of terrible weather, instead of going outside, folks can stay inside and use this game as a getting-to-know-you game. Teams gather together and ask each other when was the last time they noticed/experienced each item on the list. For each item, if at least two people can recount an experience in the past [week/month], the group can check that item off their list.)

Sample Bingo Card
Sample Bingo Card

Wrap-Up

Wrap-up will depend on what comes next in the service. If there’s time, it might be fun to bring all the groups back together and asking folks to share with some questions, such as the following:

  • What was something you found that surprised you?
  • Was there anything you found that no one else on your team did?
  • Was there anything on the list that no one on your team found?
  • How did you feel when you were outside exploring?
  • How did it feel to get together with your team and compare results?
  • What did you learn?

Further Resources


Photo Credits:
• “American Robin,” by Melissa McMasters (CC) [source]
• “”Houpette” aka mama Robin is back for round number two!” by Irina Souiki (CC) [source]
• “Hungry American Robins at my Mom’s Yard,” by Monika Soltysik (CC) [source]


This post originally appeared on Holy Wild, at alisonleighlilly.com

Deep Ecology, Holy Wild, Rite & Ritual

Celebrating Earth Day: Phenology Bingo

Earth Day has to be one of my absolute favorite holidays.

It’s a day when even ordinary non-Pagan folk celebrate the beauty and bounty of our Earth Mother — whether they’re joyously sharing their appreciation for this amazing blue-green planet of ours, or mindfully examining their own lives for ways to protect, respect and preserve the thriving more-than-human ecological web that shapes and sustains us. As if that weren’t awesome enough, the holiday falls in mid-April, when the land itself is a delicious cacophony of colors and scents and sounds! The whole natural world seems to be shaking off the lethargy of winter, eager for new beginnings. We need a day like this, friends. Oh how desperately do we need it!

americanrobin_MelissaMcMasters

Earth Day has long been a holy day for me, and I’ve marked it through personal and family rituals for years. But this year, I was especially blessed: I had the chance to help out with the Earth Day service offered by my UU church this past weekend. And it was nothing short of marvelous.

First, can I just take a moment to share my awe-struck gratitude? I get to be part of a church community that embraces science and reason alongside silly “woo” things like trust, stubborn optimism, and a hope that sometimes borders on the downright gleeful.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day service was unabashed celebration of the wonders of our beautiful “blue boat” home. While there was a brief acknowledgement of things like climate change, pollution and extinction — and the deep sense of grief and loss these things can cause — an attitude of celebratory love permeated the service. One of our congregants who works as a science educator shared a homily on biophilia and how the resiliency of the natural world can inspire us to greater compassion and more effective action in our own lives. (I was practically swooning in the aisles when she opened with a story about the symbiotic relationship between sapsuckers and rufous hummingbirds, followed with a quote from E.O. Wilson. Yes! I get to go to a church where this is a homily that happened!)

Then came the “interactive” part of our interactive all-ages Earth Day service.

Our minister, Rev. Kate Landis, had asked me to brainstorm some ideas for Earth Day-themed activities to do that could reasonably work in a room of 150+ people of all different ages, physical abilities, attention spans and allergies. Easy, right? Over the next few days I did some research and daydreaming (and a bit of nervous hand-wringing over whether my idea would actually work), and finally I pitched my suggestion: Phenology Bingo. Things almost went off the rails when Rev. Kate thought I’d said phrenology, the quack-science of determining people’s personalities by measuring their skulls. But I quickly put her fears that I was a crazy person to rest — or at least reassured her that I was the good kind of crazy!

Phenology is the science of how climate (temperature, precipitation and the changing amount of daylight) impact the timing of natural, biological events (such as plants blooming or dropping leaves, or animals migrating or mating). The church I attend, Shoreline UUC, is situated on a beautiful site complete with gardens, mighty douglas firs and an old apple orchard, so there were innumerable signs of spring unfolding right outside the Sanctuary windows every morning.

The idea behind Phenology Bingo was pretty simple: everyone gets a “scavenger hunt” checklist of springtime sights and spends fifteen minutes wandering around the church grounds outside trying to find as many as they could. Then they all head back inside and break up into Bingo teams. Rev. Kate draws items at random out of a hat — if you or someone on your team has that item checked off, you get to mark it on your team Bingo card. First team to Bingo, wins!

My hope was that this activity would give people of all ages and abilities a chance to explore at their own pace, to work by themselves or together, and to share their knowledge as well as their wonder with others. Some of the items I included on the scavenger hunt list were super easy (find a tree with flowers on it; find a plant that’s your favorite color) and others were more challenging (find an invasive plant species; find a bird that is building a nest). There were even bonus “wild card” items: being able to find and identify a bird, insect or plant species that wasn’t on the list, for instance, could earn you a free spot of your choice… (In fact, that’s how the Green Team won!)

The entire experience — from planning and preparation, all the way to playing the game on the day itself — was such a joy! During the scavenger hunt, I wasn’t looking at tulips or robins (I’d already scoped things out the day before). Instead, I was watching the humans: a little girl insisting that her dad take a picture of a slug with his phone; a group of folks suddenly pointing skyward in excitement as a hawk swooped overhead; an older member lingering by an apple tree she’d helped to plant 15 years earlier, breathing in the scent of its newly-opened blossoms; a lanky young man getting all the way down on his hands and knees to peer at a bug on the ground, asking his friend, “Is this an ant? Does this count as an ant?”

After the Bingo game (our team was just one dandelion away from winning when the Green Team beat us to it!)… the congregation shared some of their surprises and joys, even with such a brief time outside exploring. When the teacher who’d given the homily announced that she’d discovered sapsucker holes in one of the cedar trees, the whole room broke out into cheers!

I get to go to a church where this is a thing that happens.

hungryrobinchicks_MonikaSoltysik_sm

Earth Day Phenology Bingo

Below are the instructions for the game, if you want to give it a try with your church, coven, circle, grove or community group next year (or heck, next weekend)! You can also click here to download these instructions as a .pdf along with a sample Scavenger Hunt List and Bingo Card.

(I was so caught up in the excitement of the day, I totally forgot to take a picture of the hand-drawn Bingo posters that we taped to the wall. Maybe someone else at church that day remembered to snap a few photos and would be willing to share? Email me!)

Introduction

What are some of the signs of spring you’ve experienced in nature recently? [ Folks might name either biological changes (like birds singing, flowers blooming or pollen allergies acting up) or non-biological/climatic changes (like longer, warmer days and more sun and/or rain). ]

These changes are part of what scientists call “phenology” (literally, the study of appearances, from Greek “pheno-” to show/appear and “-ology” to study). Phenology is the science of how climate (temperature, precipitation and the changing amount of daylight) impact the timing of natural, biological events (such as plants blooming or dropping leaves, or animals migrating or mating).

Phenology is important because it teaches us about how plants, animals and the earth are all connected in an interdependent web (Unitarian Universalism’s 7th Principle). When trees put out leaves or flowers, this provides food for insects like caterpillars and bees — which in turn become a food source for birds and frogs, who are mating and feeding their young at this time. (What would happen if the flowers bloomed too early one year and there were no bees around yet? Would the flowers get pollinated? Would the bees have anything to eat later?)

Do you know any scientists? You sure do!! What would you say if I told you that you could be a scientist just by going outside and exploring nature in your own backyard? Ordinary people all over the planet can be “citizen scientists” by paying attention to the natural world and writing down their observations. Things like: How many birds did you see at your bird feeder today, and what kind were they? How many flowers have bloomed in your garden? What day did you see the first new leaves on your favorite tree? Then, citizen scientists share their observations with others (often online), and researchers can come along and gather all that information together to see the BIG PICTURE of what’s going on in nature during different seasons, and how changes in climate and the environment impact that big picture.

Today, we’re going to play a game of Phenology Bingo, and you’ll get the chance to be a citizen scientist, too — you’ll explore the natural world around you, and then get together with your fellow citizen scientist teammates to compare notes and pool your observations!

[ Explain the rules of the game (see below). It might be good to point out how some of the scavenger hunt items are animals that might be hard to spot or might get scared away by noise. Encourage people (younger kids especially) to be “sneaky, like nature spies,” observant but quiet and gentle. If there are really little kids, remind them that we are using our senses of sight, hearing and smell, but not touch or taste! Don’t pluck the flowers — let them grow so we can enjoy them again next year! ]

[box type=”shadow”]Materials

  • Scavenger Hunt lists
  • Pencils, pens, crayons and/or makers
  • Large Bingo posters (one per team)
  • Tokens (eg. paper flower cut-outs with tape on back) (optional)
  • Slips of paper with one list item each written on them
  • Hat (or bowl, basket, etc.) for drawing slips
  • Prize(s) (optional)

[/box]

Instructions (for outdoor play)

  1. Introduce the concept of “phenology” to the congregation (see above), and explain the rules of the game before getting started. Split everyone up into teams (easiest way to do this is probably by seating, especially if service is held in the round — eg. each section is a team). (2 min.)
  2. Hand out Scavenger Hunt lists (or make the lists available in the Order of Service), along with pencils, crayons, markers, etc.
  3. Invite everyone outside to explore the church grounds, rain garden and orchard. Folks can work together in teams or family groups, or by themselves, to find as many of the items on their list as possible. To keep the game fun and the service moving, remind people they only have a certain amount of time to find the items — maybe have someone announcing a countdown during the last few minutes (eg: “Five minutes left!” “Only three minutes left!” etc.) (10 – 15 min.)
  4. Call everyone back inside! (2 – 5+ min.)
  5. Once everyone’s back inside, one person (the minister or game leader) stands up at the front and draws the slips of paper from a hat, calling out the item listed on the paper.
  6. For each slip drawn, everyone on a given team compares lists to see if anyone on their team has that item marked off. If so, and the item also appears on their team’s Bingo card, they place a token (or draw an X) on that spot.
  7. Continue until one team is able to complete one full row, column or diagonal and calls out Bingo! (5 – 10 min.)
  8. Depending on time, continue to play to determine 2nd, 3rd, etc. place — or just for fun!
  9. Wrap-up and transition.

(For indoor play — In the event of terrible weather, instead of going outside, folks can stay inside and use this game as a getting-to-know-you game. Teams gather together and ask each other when was the last time they noticed/experienced each item on the list. For each item, if at least two people can recount an experience in the past [week/month], the group can check that item off their list.)

Sample Bingo Card
Sample Bingo Card

Wrap-Up

Wrap-up will depend on what comes next in the service. If there’s time, it might be fun to bring all the groups back together and asking folks to share with some questions, such as the following:

  • What was something you found that surprised you?
  • Was there anything you found that no one else on your team did?
  • Was there anything on the list that no one on your team found?
  • How did you feel when you were outside exploring?
  • How did it feel to get together with your team and compare results?
  • What did you learn?

Further Resources


Photo Credits:
• “American Robin,” by Melissa McMasters (CC) [source]
• “”Houpette” aka mama Robin is back for round number two!” by Irina Souiki (CC) [source]
• “Hungry American Robins at my Mom’s Yard,” by Monika Soltysik (CC) [source]

Holy Wild, Rite & Ritual

Turning the Soil of Soul: Ritual as Celebration » Nature’s Path

snowdropsHey, lovely readers! Remember when I said the next installment in my Pagan-UU series would be coming in February? Just kidding! Looks like this series is turning out to be a bimonthly endeavor after all.

But no worries! While I’m diligently working on my next piece, over on Nature’s Path today I’ve shared some reflections on ritual as celebration, in “Turning the Soil of Soul.” What happens when we explore ritual beyond the divide between magic and religion?

When we light a candle in our ritual space, we ignite a flame within ourselves. When we pour water or burn incense as offerings, we offer ourselves as well, to soak into the earth or rise in gentle wisps of smoke towards the sky. Imagining these things is not enough — the work demands that we engage not only with our minds and hearts, but with our bodies. This is the original meaning of celebration: a gathering, a time of coming together. We’ve come to think of celebration as an occasion for happiness and enjoyment, because this sense of wholeness that we find in company with ourselves and with others is deeply nourishing and joyful for us. But celebratory spirituality also means being fully present to sorrow and suffering, and giving our whole selves as much to hard work and discipline as to pleasure and delight. Celebratory ritual is about our willingness to be fully present to the world and its gods.

Writer Anne Lamott suggests there are three essential prayers. If the prayer of Thank you! is expressive, and Help me! is instrumental, what of Lamott’s third prayer — the prayer of Wow!?

For me, Wow! is the “third way” of celebratory ritual — what precedes and gives rise to the duality of the other two, and also holds within it the possibility of reconciling the tensions between them.

You can read the full article here.

Holy Wild, News & Announcements, Rite & Ritual

Turning the Soil of Soul: Ritual as Celebration » Nature’s Path

snowdropsHey, lovely readers! Remember when I said the next installment in my Pagan-UU series would be coming in February? Just kidding! Looks like this series is turning out to be a bimonthly endeavor after all.

But no worries! While I’m diligently working on my next piece, over on Nature’s Path today I’ve shared some reflections on ritual as celebration, in “Turning the Soil of Soul.” What happens when we explore ritual beyond the divide between magic and religion?

When we light a candle in our ritual space, we ignite a flame within ourselves. When we pour water or burn incense as offerings, we offer ourselves as well, to soak into the earth or rise in gentle wisps of smoke towards the sky. Imagining these things is not enough — the work demands that we engage not only with our minds and hearts, but with our bodies. This is the original meaning of celebration: a gathering, a time of coming together. We’ve come to think of celebration as an occasion for happiness and enjoyment, because this sense of wholeness that we find in company with ourselves and with others is deeply nourishing and joyful for us. But celebratory spirituality also means being fully present to sorrow and suffering, and giving our whole selves as much to hard work and discipline as to pleasure and delight. Celebratory ritual is about our willingness to be fully present to the world and its gods.

Writer Anne Lamott suggests there are three essential prayers. If the prayer of Thank you! is expressive, and Help me! is instrumental, what of Lamott’s third prayer — the prayer of Wow!?

For me, Wow! is the “third way” of celebratory ritual — what precedes and gives rise to the duality of the other two, and also holds within it the possibility of reconciling the tensions between them.

You can read the full article here.