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

Holy Wild, Muse In Brief

A Leap Day Altar (and more)

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


20160229_change_possibility_leap2

“All the possibilities of your human destiny are asleep in your soul. You are here to realize and honor these possibilities. When love comes in to your life, unrecognized dimensions of your destiny awaken and blossom and grow. Possibility is the secret heart of time.”

― John O’Donohue

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

― Thomas Merton

20160228_adopt_hospitality2

There are two paths to transformation: the way out-beyond and the way deep-within.

In the first, you leave your home and its familiarity behind to journey out into the wilderness of the liminal spaces — the desert, the mountain, the jungle, the ocean, the big city, the Otherworld — where you find the gift of your whole self waiting for you like an animal whose shadow you have been chasing all your life. And when you finally return home again you are different, no longer a child, no longer the old self you left behind. The journey home can take a lifetime.

In the second, the way deep-within, you curl up into yourself like a hermit crab or a caterpillar or a seed inside its shell. You burrow down into the sloppy, sucking mud of inner solitude and silence. You speak to no one, and no one speaks to you (except maybe the gods). And there, inside, is where you change — dissolving the old self, stripping it off, making a space into which the new self can grow. Maybe it feels like sickness. Maybe it feels like the growing pains of old ghost limbs thinning into wings. And it might be that the light will sting a little when you finally emerge again, waiting for your wide new eyes to focus.

Either way will work.

But it’s no good to stay here wavering between the two, weighing which one asks the least of you. Don’t tell yourself, “The way out-beyond is a glamorous adventure. I’ll prove myself, I’ll make them proud and come home to a hero’s welcome.” Don’t tell yourself, “The way deep-within is safer. I can keep the structures of my precious life intact while I go about my unobtrusive work.”

More likely you will come home to a place you no longer recognize, full of people who are strangers, wary of your strangeness and the bloodstains on your hands. More likely you will see the scaffolding of your life collapsing like a fire whose kindling has burned down to embers as soft as ash, unable to support anything that does not feed it.

Either way will work. You do not need to know how it will turn out. You only need to be willing to let your whole life change.


Have you been following along with my Altar-a-Day Challenge? Today marks the halfway point in my journey of daily altar crafting and contemplation. Join me on Facebook or Tumblr, and share your magic and meditations as well!

20160216_inspire_joy2 20160217_trust_curiosity2 20160218_care_fear
20160219_smile_suffering1 20160220_persevere_prayer1 20160221_teach_justice2
20160222_honor_gratitude 20160223_give_creativity3 20160224_listen_friendship
20160225_forgive_dreams1 20160226_relax_mistakes 20160227_discover_heal3


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

Holy Wild, Muse in Brief, praxis

A Leap Day Altar (and more)

20160229_change_possibility_leap2

“All the possibilities of your human destiny are asleep in your soul. You are here to realize and honor these possibilities. When love comes in to your life, unrecognized dimensions of your destiny awaken and blossom and grow. Possibility is the secret heart of time.”

― John O’Donohue

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

― Thomas Merton

20160228_adopt_hospitality2

There are two paths to transformation: the way out-beyond and the way deep-within.

In the first, you leave your home and its familiarity behind to journey out into the wilderness of the liminal spaces — the desert, the mountain, the jungle, the ocean, the big city, the Otherworld — where you find the gift of your whole self waiting for you like an animal whose shadow you have been chasing all your life. And when you finally return home again you are different, no longer a child, no longer the old self you left behind. The journey home can take a lifetime.

In the second, the way deep-within, you curl up into yourself like a hermit crab or a caterpillar or a seed inside its shell. You burrow down into the sloppy, sucking mud of inner solitude and silence. You speak to no one, and no one speaks to you (except maybe the gods). And there, inside, is where you change — dissolving the old self, stripping it off, making a space into which the new self can grow. Maybe it feels like sickness. Maybe it feels like the growing pains of old ghost limbs thinning into wings. And it might be that the light will sting a little when you finally emerge again, waiting for your wide new eyes to focus.

Either way will work.

But it’s no good to stay here wavering between the two, weighing which one asks the least of you. Don’t tell yourself, “The way out-beyond is a glamorous adventure. I’ll prove myself, I’ll make them proud and come home to a hero’s welcome.” Don’t tell yourself, “The way deep-within is safer. I can keep the structures of my precious life intact while I go about my unobtrusive work.”

More likely you will come home to a place you no longer recognize, full of people who are strangers, wary of your strangeness and the bloodstains on your hands. More likely you will see the scaffolding of your life collapsing like a fire whose kindling has burned down to embers as soft as ash, unable to support anything that does not feed it.

Either way will work. You do not need to know how it will turn out. You only need to be willing to let your whole life change.


Have you been following along with my Altar-a-Day Challenge? Today marks the halfway point in my journey of daily altar crafting and contemplation. Join me on Facebook or Tumblr, and share your magic and meditations as well!

20160216_inspire_joy2 20160217_trust_curiosity2 20160218_care_fear
20160219_smile_suffering1 20160220_persevere_prayer1 20160221_teach_justice2
20160222_honor_gratitude 20160223_give_creativity3 20160224_listen_friendship
20160225_forgive_dreams1 20160226_relax_mistakes 20160227_discover_heal3


This post is part of the WordPress Daily Prompt: Leap

Holy Wild, Muse In Brief

An Altar-a-Day Challenge: Deepening Daily Practice

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


“To learn to appreciate difference, you must attentively contemplate apparent sameness.”

– Venkatesh Rao, from “On Staying Grounded

For Yule this year, my aunt gave me a beautiful Word of the Day calendar – the kind where the same words spiral through every month as the dates and days of the week change and shift around them. I keep it on the windowsill by my desk, and now each day when I sit down to work, the first thing I do is shuffle the little cards into place and sit for a moment contemplating that day’s word.

To dig my soul-toes deeper into this fertile soil, I’ve decided to pair my Word of the Day practice with reflections on the #UULent Photo-A-Day challenge. My Word-of-the-Day calendar is full of verbs. The #UULent reflections are mostly nouns. Each morning, I sit down and craft an altar that expresses an aspect of these two words in combination. I’m looking forward to discovering what intriguing combinations I’ll spiral through over the next six weeks!

I’ll be sharing my altars daily (along with some inspiring quotes and a few words of reflection of my own) on both my Facebook page and my Holy Wild Tumblr, if you’d like to follow along. Here are some excerpts from my first week of practice:

20160210_praise_mindfulness

20160211_empower_devotion1 20160211_empower_devotion2

20160212_plant_quiet2The rain is pouring outside my window this morning, turning the leaves of the laurel tree into a shivering, wet green tangle.

I love today’s words: plant quiet. It reminds me of the deep peace of growing things – root-quiet, leaf-quiet, soft-moss-quiet, rough-dark-bark-quiet. The quiet of pressing your ear to the earth and hearing the tiny bugs trundling along beneath the litter and rot. The quiet of the rain dripping from limb to limb. The quiet of early spring, that makes me lean in close to listen.

But it also makes me think of planting quiet, as if quiet were a seed. Am I going through my life treating quiet like a thing that only happens to other people? A luxury, an expense? A commodity that somebody else has already made, and all I have to do is buy it up (at a discount, if I’m lucky – maybe they have a groupon for it)? Am I taking responsibility for cultivating quiet?

I imagine making space in the rich humus of my heart, poking a hole in it with one gentle finger – just a few inches deep, but it’s enough. Then dropping in a few seeds… covering them again… leaving them to nestle quietly together in the dark….

I think it’d be nice to be a Johnny Appleseed of quiet. Traveling from town to town, reaching into my chest to pluck the blossom-quiet, the fruit-quiet that I’ve grown there – and tossing the quiet wide in all directions. Then everywhere I go, the seeds of quiet would be sown in the muddy waiting land. And the hush would spread out across the hills and valleys. And all the people would come out of their houses, and kneel down to press their ears to the ground…

20160213_envision_humility

20160214_dedicate_love1 20160214_dedicate_love2

20160215_create_difference

It is said by some of the goddess Brigid that she has two faces: one that is beautiful and bright, and the other dark and terrible. Like two faces of a fire: glowing ember and crumbling ash.

Every act of creativity is the creation of difference – the remaking of a material or medium, the transformation of an old way of relationship into a new one. We long to “make a difference” in the world, and to make ourselves different as we strive to learn and grow.

Brigid is a goddess of creativity: the divine inspiration of the poet and the hard spark of the forge.


If you want to join in with the #UULent Photo-A-Day challenge, check out more info here. And let me know in the comments so I can follow along!


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

Featured, Holy Wild, Muse in Brief, praxis

An Altar-a-Day Challenge: Deepening Daily Practice

“To learn to appreciate difference, you must attentively contemplate apparent sameness.”

– Venkatesh Rao, from “On Staying Grounded

For Yule this year, my aunt gave me a beautiful Word of the Day calendar – the kind where the same words spiral through every month as the dates and days of the week change and shift around them. I keep it on the windowsill by my desk, and now each day when I sit down to work, the first thing I do is shuffle the little cards into place and sit for a moment contemplating that day’s word.

To dig my soul-toes deeper into this fertile soil, I’ve decided to pair my Word of the Day practice with reflections on the #UULent Photo-A-Day challenge. My Word-of-the-Day calendar is full of verbs. The #UULent reflections are mostly nouns. Each morning, I sit down and craft an altar that expresses an aspect of these two words in combination. I’m looking forward to discovering what intriguing combinations I’ll spiral through over the next six weeks!

I’ll be sharing my altars daily (along with some inspiring quotes and a few words of reflection of my own) on both my Facebook page and my Holy Wild Tumblr, if you’d like to follow along. Here are some excerpts from my first week of practice:

20160210_praise_mindfulness

20160211_empower_devotion1 20160211_empower_devotion2

20160212_plant_quiet2The rain is pouring outside my window this morning, turning the leaves of the laurel tree into a shivering, wet green tangle.

I love today’s words: plant quiet. It reminds me of the deep peace of growing things – root-quiet, leaf-quiet, soft-moss-quiet, rough-dark-bark-quiet. The quiet of pressing your ear to the earth and hearing the tiny bugs trundling along beneath the litter and rot. The quiet of the rain dripping from limb to limb. The quiet of early spring, that makes me lean in close to listen.

But it also makes me think of planting quiet, as if quiet were a seed. Am I going through my life treating quiet like a thing that only happens to other people? A luxury, an expense? A commodity that somebody else has already made, and all I have to do is buy it up (at a discount, if I’m lucky – maybe they have a groupon for it)? Am I taking responsibility for cultivating quiet?

I imagine making space in the rich humus of my heart, poking a hole in it with one gentle finger – just a few inches deep, but it’s enough. Then dropping in a few seeds… covering them again… leaving them to nestle quietly together in the dark….

I think it’d be nice to be a Johnny Appleseed of quiet. Traveling from town to town, reaching into my chest to pluck the blossom-quiet, the fruit-quiet that I’ve grown there – and tossing the quiet wide in all directions. Then everywhere I go, the seeds of quiet would be sown in the muddy waiting land. And the hush would spread out across the hills and valleys. And all the people would come out of their houses, and kneel down to press their ears to the ground…

20160213_envision_humility

20160214_dedicate_love1 20160214_dedicate_love2

20160215_create_difference

It is said by some of the goddess Brigid that she has two faces: one that is beautiful and bright, and the other dark and terrible. Like two faces of a fire: glowing ember and crumbling ash.

Every act of creativity is the creation of difference – the remaking of a material or medium, the transformation of an old way of relationship into a new one. We long to “make a difference” in the world, and to make ourselves different as we strive to learn and grow.

Brigid is a goddess of creativity: the divine inspiration of the poet and the hard spark of the forge.


If you want to join in with the #UULent Photo-A-Day challenge, check out more info here. And let me know in the comments so I can follow along!

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.