The Spirit Dances

All creation dances. The stars turn in their vast patterns, and on Earth all creatures move in their own inimitable ways. Trees grow in a slow, slow dance shaping the intricate architecture of their branches. Grass bends in the wind. Flowers open their hearts to the sun. Water shapes itself with liquid beauty into stream, lake, ocean wave.

The creatures dance.images The snake slithers sinuously. Dolphin leap and spin. Cats of all sizes stalk with elegant grace. Birds soar on the wind. Under water, fish flick their tails and ripple in harmony with their world.

All, in their dance, give back praise to the Love that creates and enfolds them.

From our earliest beginnings, we humans have also danced. Before words there was gesture. Throughout human history, in almost all cultures, dance has been the language of celebration and prayer. It is true, some religions prohibited dancing,  indeed declared it was a sin, but that did not stop most of humanity from dancing. images-2

When I was a little girl, I danced to the music my parents played on the big victrola in the corner of our living room. Later I enjoyed small-town ballet, tap, and acrobatic classes; but it wasn’t until I was fifteen and met Barbara Mettler that I first felt dance as connection to Spirit. Barbara insisted that dance was a human birthright, that everyone should dance. She taught an improvisational, creative approach that was available to people of all ages, sizes, shapes, and abilities. Under her guidance my heart opened, my kinesthetic sense flowered, and I felt for the first time a quality of ecstasy that has lured me all my life.

Now, looking back, I realize that dance has always been my deepest way of praying. Coming to that understanding has been a long journey through many forms:

Leading a liturgical dance choir under the guidance of Howard Thurman, dean of the chapel at Boston University, when I was a student there in the 50’s.

Yoga. The deep dance of moving from one posture to the next, the song of the breath, each pose a mudra connecting to a different aspect of the Divine.

Sufi dancing. Whirling, meeting others in the circle, touching hearts. God is Love, Lover, and Beloved.

Ceremonial dance. Praying with the Earth, the trees, the sky, through all the cycles of the day and night, the cycles of the year. The center pole the mediator between Heaven and Earth.

Continuum. Blending with the rippling flow of breath, sound, and the movement in all Creation. Boundaries dissolving.

Most recently Subud. The discipline of surrender. Being guided by Spirit to move and to sound.

Some forms of dance/prayer take long years of training and discipline. Years ago, a troupe of whirling dervishes came to Boulder to teach and perform. I sat high on the bleachers in the gym where they danced, looking down on the perfect flow of the patterns of whirling bodies. The beauty of it, the sense of centeredness and peace, was unforgettable.

But one does not have to take on a difficult physical discipline to dance one’s prayer. We can all lift our arms, bow our heads. Spirit connects to the physical world through vibration. Vibration is movement. The simplest movement, when it comes from the heart, can connect to Spirit. The tree, the snake, and the dolphin know.

It is a paradox, that my body, the densest form of my being, can be imbued with Spirit. The whole concept of Spirit is turned inside out. It is not only an elusive floating thing out there, but here in my body, making every cell shine, as I dance my love back to Love.

My wish for you: may Spirit dance in you.

One Spirit

Imagine one living Spirit eternally creating, sustaining, and enfolding the whole universe, from the most distant star to the tiniest grain of sand on Planet Earth. Imagine that all beings, animate and inanimate, all creatures—insects, birds, fish, mammals, and humans—are part of this One Spirit, surrounded by it, imbued with it. Imagine that the essence of this Spirit is Love.

What happens when we acknowledge this Oneness, this Love, as being our source?

In 1972, I took a three-month-long, spiritual training in San Francisco. One afternoon, our teacher sent us out to walk the streets of the city. We were directed to look deeply at each person we met as we inwardly chanted the mantra, “I am humanity.” It was an unforgettable experience. Recently, while sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, forty-four years after my experience in San Francisco, I found myself making superficial judgements of the others waiting with me. (No wonder he has knee problems, he’s so overweight. She’d look a lot better with less makeup, etc.) Then the mantra came back to me. “I am humanity.” Such a shift! Judgements evaporated. I felt I could see into the heart of each person and was pierced with the realization of our oneness, washed with Love.

I believe our wars would end if we could only remember that we are one.

Out of this Wholeness, each creature emerges unique, holding its own vibration, its own blend of colors in the infinite rainbow of Oneness. It is a paradox. We are one and also unique.

Cynthia Bourgeault, in her beautiful little book, The Wisdom Way of Knowing, uses the metaphor that we are like instruments in an orchestra. She writes, “I am sounded through by the music, and in that sounding, in harmonic resonance with all the other instruments, is revealed both my irreplaceable uniqueness and my inescapable belonging.”

During a difficult time in my life, I was on retreat, longing for death to end my distress. A woman in my support group at the retreat put a poem in my mailbox that called me back:

“You may think the world does not need  you,

But it does.

For you are unique like no one who has ever been before or will come again.

No one can say your piece, speak your voice

Or smile your smile, or shine your light.

No one can take your place, for it is yours alone to fill.images-1

And if you are not there to shine your light,

Who knows how many travelers will lose their way

As they pass by your empty place in the darkness.”


We may not know who depends on our light. We may even forget that we have a light to shine. I have come to believe that we are all called to a life purpose, an ulada as the Elirians call it, and that all our uladas are part of the Oneness, entwined in ways we may not realize.

Showing up to shine our light can sometimes be difficult, but if we can remember our oneness with all that is, we will be nourished and sustained by the Love that is the essence of the One Spirit.


“Peace on Earth, good will toward men.”

So the angels sang, announcing the birth of Jesus.

Sixteen years ago, on the New Year’s eve of the year 2000, I sat transfixed all day in front of the television watching the celebrations around the world as each time zone welcomed the new millennium. The ceremonies were deeply moving, all without exception calling, praying for peace.

Yet peace still eludes us. Here we are, two centuries after the angels’ song, still warring, still killing and maiming each other, still tangled in hatred and fear. And still sending out holiday cards wishing each other peace in the new year.

Peace seems especially remote just now with the war in Syria going on and on sending millions fleeing their homes, the ISIS continuing its atrocities, and here at home the daily gun violence, the recent shootings in Colorado and California, the persecution of Muslims, and our own presidential candidates spewing xenophobia.

I was talking with friends the other evening, expressing my fear and sorrow over this state of affairs, asking, “What can we do?”

My wise friend Shelley responded, “We can only deal with our own postage stamp of reality.” Which reminded me of the gospel hymn, “Brighten the corner where you are.”

What can we do? How can we brighten our corner?

I know that action for peace must begin with our inner state.

I am part of a women’s group that calls itself The Peace Circle. We meet each week and share our experiences and challenges in creating peace within and around ourselves. After we describe a challenge, we close with the statement, “Peace would be . . .” and say whatever would resolve the challenge. But the resolution can’t be what someone else would do. (“Peace would be if she would just stop doing that.”) It must be what we ourselves can do. Sometimes what we can do involves outward action, but often it is as simple (I’m not saying easy) as staying centered in the face of the challenge.

Sometimes finding inner peace requires traveling a rocky road that may not feel peaceful at all. If we are angry or frightened, we must first acknowledge and deal with those feelings so we don’t project them outward. Meditation is a powerful tool for negotiating that rocky road.

Being present with what is actually happening in the moment protects us from being swept away by the tides of past griefs or fears of the future.

We can bring respect and kindness to our challenges. “Respect” and “kindness”  are gentle, not especially dramatic words, but oh! if we could all bring those qualities to our challenges, the world would be whole again. The peace we long for would manifest.

The prayer of St. Francis gives us an exquisite guide:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

In this holiday season as the year turns, may we be instruments of peace.

Thanksgiving Weekend

There is a conflict of energies on Thanksgiving weekend.

For hundreds of years, Thanksgiving has been a spiritual holiday, a time for giving thanks for the bounty of nature that nourishes us, and a time to gather with friends and family and share a feast.

This year, I drove down to Santa Fe and spent four days with my two sons and their wives and children, eleven of us gathered under one roof. It was a lovely time, seeing the older cousins connecting with the younger ones, the living room full with multiple card games, music, love, and laughter. The crowning delight was a bountiful, delicious feast prepared by my daughter-in-law. All that Thanksgiving was meant to be was there.

The conflicting energy of Thanksgiving weekend is Black Friday which, over recent years, has crept like a fungus, encroaching more and more into the time of family and community and drowning out the sacred energy of gratitude.

Greed! Consumers’ greed for more and more stuff at bargain prices. Retailers’ greed for more and more sales, more and more money.

The employees of these retailers no longer get a holiday weekend. The black fungus of Black Friday has crept from early morning on Friday, to the wee hours of Friday morning, to midnight, and in the last few years to Thanksgiving evening. So now the employees can’t even linger with their families on the holiday.

I don’t feel so much concern for consumers who stand in line to get deals because they, at least, have a choice; though I am sad that they would curtail a celebration of gratitude to grab for more stuff. We have forgotten the meaning of enough.

Kudos to REI who closed their stores on Black Friday, saying in their ad that they wanted to give their employees a holiday weekend, and inviting their customers to meet them outdoors. Perhaps, I hope, this insanity has reached its peak and will turn around. I know I am not the only one to avoid Black Friday like the plague.

I believe that gratitude is a primary spiritual energy. Without it we can never be satisfied. No matter how little we have, or how much more we think we need, there is always something to be grateful for.DSCN0164 Even the simplest things— the light on a turning leaf, the smile on the face of a friend— can be a source of renewal. DSCN0331Most of us reading this blog have a roof over our heads and food on the table. Let us not forget to be thankful for these daily blessings, remembering that much of the population of the world does not have such basic security.

Once when I was trekking in Nepal with my shaman teacher Elizabeth Cogburn, she said to us as we gathered for our evening meal, “Gratitude is the beginning of abundance.”

Those words have stayed with me over many years. Perhaps if we hold them close to our hearts, we can stop burdening our planet with our craving for more and more stuff, and give thanks, give praise, for the greatest blessing of all—the love of God that surrounds and enfolds us.

Opening Into The Light

Writing “Stories About Death” recently got me thinking about my own personal story. What do I think, have faith in, about what will happen to me when I die?

“Think” is of the mind, “have faith in” is of the heart. I do not believe that the mind can help us much with such a question. It is a poor tool for relating to the infinite.

What does my heart tell me?

I do not fear dying, although I have some trepidation about what might lead up to it.

I feel quite sure my spirit will not die with my body, that I will go on in some way.

I cannot credit the concept of hell, an eternal inferno torturing the lost forever. In all my years of searching, praying, meditation, what I have learned with certainty—if anything can be certain—it is that God is Love.

Being burned is excruciating pain. If we are burned in our human bodies, we either recover or we die. One way or the other, it is over. That the Love I know as God could inflict that level of pain on any of Its creatures for eternity is unthinkable to me. Such a concept can only be the projection onto God of the worst of human perversity, a tool used by earthly authorities to control through fear.

There is hell enough on Earth. Daniel, the minister in my novel The Purest Gold, realizes at last, after almost destroying his family over his concerns about salvation, that hell is being cut off from God and that it is not God but we ourselves that create such separation. The minister in the novel Gillead, says, “If you want to inform yourself as to the nature of hell, don’t hold your hand in the candle flame. Just ponder the meanest, most desolate place in your soul.”

In spite of my regrets about the many failings in my life, I do not fear going to hell when I die. I’ve already been there, and Love has lifted me out.

Some years ago, I had a recurring image in meditation of a ocean of Light, ecstasy that made me weep, color, flow, music of the spheres, a limitless sea, and I a bubble within it. What greater heaven could there be than bursting and becoming One with such beauty?

But perhaps I am not ready. Reincarnation seems a likely hypothesis for me. I have had what seemed to be memories of other lifetimes, strong and clear, echoing within me in a way that felt that they must be true. My almost-finished novel, The Purest Gold, is based on such a memory. And off and on throughout my life I have met strangers that I felt I knew, knew really well, though I had never encountered them before in this lifetime.

Who knows? I have a vivid imagination. After all, I’m a novelist. I could have made it  up. But it doesn’t feel that way.

I like the idea of reincarnation because now that I’m old, I’m finally figuring out so much that I wish I had known earlier when I was a young wife, a young mother, and later, when I was an impatient, busy, middle-aged woman caring for my mother. I have hope all this learning might bear fruit, that I might have another chance, that in some way I can carry the hard-won wisdom of this lifetime forward, that little by little I may become a clearer channel.

The only sad part of the reincarnation story is that it may take me many lifetimes.   Perhaps it will take a long time before the walls of my bubble become thin enough to burst and free me into the ocean of light.

But I trust. I have faith that the Love, the Light, that continuously creates, enfolds, and enlivens me and all creation, will hold me still when my body dies.

As I washed the dishes this evening, I found myself humming a chant we used to sing in the sweat lodge—

“We all come from One,

And unto One we shall return,

Like a ray of light

Returning to the sun,

Like a stream flowing back,

To the ocean.”

All Hallows

All Hallows marks the beginning of the darkest three months of the year. In the Gaelic tradition it is the time of the final harvest, the time when the beasts are brought in from the fields to the shelter of byre and fold, the completion of the inward gathering, the beginning of winter.

In many traditions, it is believed that at this cusp of the dark time, the veil between this world and the next grows thin, and we can connect with those who have gone before us into death. 

As I contemplate the idea of the thinning of the veil, it seems to me that we look not outward into another world, but inward. The souls who have gone before us, some that we loved, some that we feared, some we never forgave, leave their mark within us, become part of us, characters in our inner council that we still love, fear, or cannot forgive.

In our current American culture, All Hallows is primarily about costumes, masks. Often, consciously or unconsciously, we burst forth with a character that has hidden dormant within us. We turn ourselves inside out in a way—and for a night allow what we could not otherwise acknowledge. And it is safe, because we are masked, even if it is a different or opposite mask from the one we present to the world in our everyday life.

Long ago when my children were young and my marriage was challenging, I cut loose on Hallowe’en from my carefully controlled image of good Christian wife and mother, and dressed up as a witch. All in black. Evil cackle and claw hands. Unfortunately, such was the power of that inner witch that I terrified the neighbor children and some of them never quite trusted me again.

My favorite character was a licentious pig, dressed in pink sweat pants and shirt with a curly tail on her bottom, a snout and perky ears. She danced in many a long dance, clowning outrageously and creating waves of laughter all around her.  Her most recent episode was at a tango dance when she emerged replete with eight baby-bottle nipples sticking through her shirt, causing her partners to blush when she went into close embrace with them. A relief from my proper old-lady mask.

Looking through the veil is also looking into the face of Death, intimate partner of incarnation, both friend and foe. Hence the skeletons, the ghosts, reminding us of our inevitable fate. At one of our All Hallows long dances, we created a crypt. When we crawled in, we found at the far end a candle illuminating a mirror in which we saw our own faces.

As we come into the dark time, how do we meet the hidden parts of ourselves, how dance our demons into allies, how embrace the skeleton under the flesh, how befriend the dark?

We can begin with acceptance of all that is within us. We can choose what characters of our inner council we manifest in the world. Some are only appropriate to bring forth on Hallowe’en, but we can embrace them all. We are human, multifaceted. Therein lies our beauty and our power.

And we can open to all that lies ahead of us, trust that the veil parts to reveal Light and the love of God, embracing all that we are through this life and beyond.

Stories About Death

One of the greatest challenges of being incarnate on planet Earth is facing the mystery of death.

We know what happens to the body. We can see it, smell it, deal with it, though we may grieve. But the spirit? What happens to that? What lies on the other side of the dark door of death?

We don’t know.

So we create stories.

One story says it is all over when the body dies. The elusive essence we call spirit dies, too. It is the end. There is nothing more. Some respond to this idea by grabbing to get theirs while they can, since they believe there will be no consequences. Others say that, if indeed all ends with the death of the body, they must live a life of service and integrity, do their very best in the time that they have.

But most stories say that even after the body dies, the spirit does live on. Perhaps we become part of nature. In my novel Never Again, as Lenny is dying he says to Clara, “Maybe I’ll sink into the earth, like your Elirians, and become part of all that is, the trees, the grass, maybe a rabbit that nibbles the grass, then maybe a coyote.”

Some religions say there is a heaven and a hell, and only if we meet certain conditions can we go to heaven. Otherwise we are doomed to suffer for eternity. Hindus and Buddhists, say we will be born again—and again and again— on the wheel of reincarnation until we have learned all life’s lessons and  become so purified that we can return to God.

Throughout history and in all cultures there are stories about death. But what happens when the stories from one culture conflict with those of another? There can be terrible results.

Clara explains to the Elirians. “Many become frightened when they hear a story different from their own, because if that story is true, then maybe theirs isn’t. They may become so afraid they kill the ones whose story is different from theirs.”

“You kill over a story?” one of the Elirians asked, her dark eyes wide with shock.

“Yes,” Clara answered,because we are afraid. Because it is unknown. Much of the violence on Earth is because we fear death. We fight over things that we hope will protect us from death, but in the end nothing does. We walk on the brink of the unknown and try to hide from it, deny it. But inside we all know we will die, and most of us are afraid.”

How then do we face death in a sacred manner? Certainly not by going to war over our stories as we have for millennia. The grief and destruction of such wars create right here on Earth the hell that many fear in the afterlife.

I could blog every week for a year and still not touch all that can be explored about relating to death in a sacred manner. And I will write more in the weeks to come.

For now let me simply say I believe we must live in love. Whatever story we hold closest to our hearts, we must also allow and respect the stories of others.

The truth is we don’t know.

So let us face the wonder of the mystery with trust, awe, and curiosity.

Fall Equinox

Equinox, point of poise. For a moment we hang in the balance, dark and light equal, then the season tips and pours toward darkness.

In the high country of Colorado, the streams run lower now, their voices muted. Aspen leaves fly on the wind, gold against the deep autumn blue of the sky, and settle like bright Christmas tree ornaments on the dark branches of the evergreens. The grasses have turned from green to rust. There is a hush in the forest.


It is a time of change, transition from the outward manifestation of summer to the inward turning of winter.

As we experience the cycle of the expanding and contracting of the light, the cold and heat and the temperate space between, we are reminded of our mortality, of the seasons of change that come in our own life cycle. A shift of season often has a quality of poignancy.

The tide of change flows always, but within its flow there are moments of poise, like the Equinox, not only with the seasons, but in those times when our life shifts, turns in a new direction.

When those moments come, I think of the words of my sufi teacher. “Between the inhale and the exhale, realize. Between the exhale and the inhale, realize.”

The Path Toward Death

Aging is happening all our lives from the time we are twenty-something, but there comes a time when it accelerates, a point— only we ourselves can say at what chronological age— when we realize we are in the last stage of our lives and we are really going to die.

Such a time came to me about a year ago. I was troubled by free-floating anxiety. When I went to my therapist and we sorted together, I realized that most of my anxiety was about my body. She said, “It’s okay. You’re seventy-nine. You’re in transition toward death.”

A shocking statement, but it was a relief. Of course my body would have to break down, else, short of sudden violence, how could I die?

For the last year I have been living into the understanding that I am in that transition, although it may take ten or even fifteen years. It is a shift in focus. I walk my path in a new way, open to what is unfolding, rather than being fixed on how I think it should be. Because at any moment—

Of course it is true that at any time of life that moment may come. Death always walks beside us. When we are young we really don’t believe that, but as we grow older death comes closer.

My doctor said to me once when I was complaining about fatigue, “Give thanks for what you can do and rest when you’re tired.” Wise words.

Flower Petals On The Path Toward Death

One of the gifts of aging, though it may not seem so, is that we do need to rest, slow down, and these quiet times give us an opportunity to go inward.

Clara writes, after she is old again, “The frequent rests I needed during the day, stretched out on my bed under the silver blanket, gave me time to return to those ineffable processes that had been interrupted for a year—dreaming, musing, sorting the experiences of my life as the old do, laying flower petals on the path toward death.”

For me, there is a sense of urgency now, not about what I must do, but about what I want to become before I die. Time is running out, and, although I’ve lived a rich, full life, I am only now getting down under all my busyness to grasp what is important. Not much time left to learn to love as I have always wanted to love. Not much longer to court the light and clear away the debris that keeps it from shining though me.

It’s true, there are a few things I would like to complete. I’d like to see the novels I’ve started finished and published. It would be good to clear out all those possessions I no longer need that still clutter my closets, basement, and garage. But those things are not important really. If they don’t get done, it doesn’t really matter.

The love and the light are what matters.

Aging In A Sacred Manner

Aging is tough. There is so much loss. Little by little our bodies betray us. In varying degrees and combinations we lose our teeth, our hair, our hearing, our vision, our memory, our continence, the flexibility of our joints, our very strength. It’s embarrassing, humbling, frustrating. We also lose the ability to enjoy many of activities we loved. And far worse than these physical losses, is the loss of friends and family who die before us.

Clara muses as she struggles with her aches and fragility: “It’s only aging. Aging is never easy. It’s the toughest challenge on top of all the challenges of incarnate existence, and comes at the end when, hopefully, we have accumulated enough strength of spirit to handle it.”

How then do we age in sacred manner? How find transcendence out of such myriad difficulties?

My mother, Katharine Day Barnes, wrote a poem in her old age, from which I derived the title for my novel.

“There are warnings enough—that first cold night in August

When Andromeda swings up in the East and crickets are silent!

The early dusk of September, heavy dew in the garden,

And blurring eyes, and aches, and names forgotten.

Never again, never again the summer of strength and beauty.

Friends waver and vanish—O chill north wind of warning!

Look long, love deep while you may.

Too soon December.”

Perhaps the first step in bringing transcendence to aging is accepting it, and the death that looms, as part of the natural rhythm of life.

Clara explains to the immortal Elirians who seek to understand aging and death, “It’s like the seasons of our Earth—the newness of spring, the fullness of summer, the withering of fall, the death of winter.”



Gratitude and presence are also key to aging in a sacred manner. Gratitude for all that is past—all the gifts, the adventures, the people we have loved, the lessons learned. Gratitude even for the bitter lessons, holding them in gentleness and forgiveness.

Gratitude for the present. With age, let us find at the last the wisdom to savor the gifts of each moment—the opening of a flower, the mutable colors of the sky, the shining eyes of a child, the smile of a beloved, the taste of food, the comfort of a warm bed. Most of all, may we drink in and give back love.

When Lenny and Clara learn that Lenny is dying, Clara asks in grief, “What will we do?” and Lenny answers,  “We will live every single moment we have left together so deeply each one will be an eternity.”

As we age we become like an old rock wall that shifts, settles, and crumbles. Being grateful, being present are like growing flowers into our crumbling spaces.

Look long, love deep.