“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.

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.

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.”


Dawn comes a little later, dusk a little earlier. There is a subtle shift in the light. The crickets begin to sing.

We have come to the beginning of August and the festival of Lammas. Lammas is the cross-quarter between Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox, the honoring of the fullness and ending of summer, the beginning of fall, of harvest, and the gathering in of the first fruits of the summer’s abundance.

Traditionally the celebration has focused on the first harvest of the grain and the baking and sharing of the first loaf made from that grain.

During the years when we danced the long dance every quarter and cross-quarter, it became clear that all ritual is about death and transformation. At each point in the wheel of the year there are different symbols, textures, but the underlying process is the same.

At Lammas we celebrate the transformation of the grain. Imagine wheat, golden in the sunlight, going through the process of harvest, threshing, grinding, kneading, baking, until it becomes a loaf that is then broken, eaten, and transformed further into human flesh, blood, spirit.

Grain ears in wheat field

Golden grain ears in wheat field

I do not grow wheat. Nor do I have any longer the big garden that used to keep me busy this time of year gathering and freezing vegetables. I have only a little garden now, with herbs and flowers. But they, too, go through their process of transformation.

Rose petals and lavender, dried, will become sachets for Christmas gifts, to bring their fragrance to the linen closets and bureau drawers of my beloveds. My young grandchildren call them “smelly pillows” and take them to bed to sniff as they go to sleep. Basil, chopped and pounded, becomes pesto, or, dried, is stored away to season winter soups.

But the real abundance of summer—long days, outdoor play with friends and family, high country hikes, sitting in the garden to write, going barefoot—how does one gather and store these less tangible blessings?

I believe the catalyst is gratitude. Remembering that in all ritual it is we ourselves whom we seek to transform, let us gather in the gifts of summer with gratitude, let them become fragments of light that shine in every cell of us, until we become beings of gratitude, delighting not only in the abundance of summer but in all the gifts of our lives.

Then even the longest night of winter, the coldest day, will be blessed with warmth and fullness.

The Poignancy of Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice is the peak of the year, the longest day, the fullness of the light, mid-summer in all its magic.

For me, especially during the twenty-six years I danced the Summer Solstice Long Dance, it has always been a time of celebration, transformation.

The canyons where we danced were glorious in the fullness of summer—the stream loud and full, the aspen leaves shiny-new, the sun hot, the nights chill. We danced two or three days and nights, sunrises and sunsets, blue-grey dawns, long hot afternoons, swift showers, starry nights, rocked in the rhythm of the drum, deep in trance, lost in magic.IMG_1662

There is a poignancy in any peak, because contained in its fullness is the coming down.

The path from the top of the mountain descends. The swing reaches its apex, hangs for a breathless moment, then drops toward earth. Orgasm subsides. The dance ends. The day after Summer Solstice is a just a little shorter.

It is tempting to grieve the loss of the peak, but there is also sweetness in the coming down. The trail descending the mountain is beautiful in the afternoon light, seen from a different perspective than when we climbed. The whoosh of the swing dropping is also thrilling. In the bliss after orgasm, lovers lie close, kiss softly. When the dance ends and the drum stops, there is deep silence accented by bird song, wind sough, the susurration of the stream. After Solstice there are still long summer days ahead.

In this time of fullness, may we rejoice and give thanks to the Sun that gives us life. And may we also let its rays fall between our fingers, not clinging, opening to the sweetness that follows.

May Day, The First Day of Summer

May Day comes at the sweetest time of year when everything is new and fresh, the air laden with fragrance, flowers blooming, the grass greening, the leaves on the trees just opening.

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In Gaelic traditions, May Day, also called Beltane, is the first day of summer, the midpoint between the fullness of spring at Equinox and the longest day of the year at Summer Solstice. It is the blending of these two energies, a time of fertility and embodiment, new life and ancient urges, birthing and growing.

This day has been celebrated in many northern cultures for hundreds of years with Beltane fires on the hilltops on the eve of May Day, dances around the May pole, and blessing ceremonies for the herds and crops.

My own experiences of May Day began when I was a child growing up in New England. We decorated little baskets with ribbons, filled them with flowers and gave them to our friends and neighbors. In the garden behind the house where I grew up, there were huge lilac trees and under them a wondrous carpet of purple and white violets. How I loved those violets and the joy of gathering them! Then there was the excitement of leaving the basket on the front porch of a neighbor, ringing the bell and running, so the neighbor wouldn’t know who had given them the basket. But I think they did know.

Much later in my life, I danced with my Shaman teacher Elizabeth Cogburn, then with the Earth Song Ceremonial Community here in Boulder, and for five years with a community I initiated in Durango. On the full moons, the quarter days (Equinoxes and Solstices) and the cross quarter days (Candlemas, May Day, Lammas, and All Hallows), we danced a form of long dance developed by Elizabeth.

My memories of May dances are very rich.

On the evening of April 30, we gathered, built a Beltane fire and jumped the fire. Jumping the fire was sort of scary for me the first time, as I dashed toward the knee-high blaze, leaped, and hoped to make it to the other side. Then it became pure fun—the edge of excitement, the moment of flying over the fire, the rush of heat up my legs, the safe landing on solid earth. We took turns drumming and jumping. Sometimes we jumped alone; sometimes with a beloved, holding the prayer that jumping together over the fire would deepen our bond; sometimes with a person with whom we’d had difficulty, asking the sacred fire to cleanse our dissonance.

One time when I was drumming for the fire jumping, a young man, stripped to the waist, did a handspring over the fire. Ah, the sheer beauty of that! His youth, his strength and agility, his bare skin shining in the firelight seemed to hold all the magic and potency of Beltane.

Another year, everyone gathered on Beltane eve at our house in the mountains. After the fire jumping, we all slept there together, the men in one part of the house, the women in my bedroom on mats laid edge to edge. I remember the delight of waking with all my sisters, dressing together, combing each other’s hair, adorning each other for the dance. Then stepping out into the sweet summer morning to weave the pole.

Weaving the pole was the most delightful of all. We set it up the day before with many colored ribbons attached at the top. We each brought our own ribbons in a color of our choosing and imbued them with our dreams and visions.

On May Day morning we started the drum and opened the dance. Then each one of us picked up the end of our ribbon. We formed two circles, one moving clockwise, one counterclockwise. Over and under we wove the ribbons, dancing, greeting each other as we passed. Toward the end it became something of a scramble as the ribbons grew short near the bottom of the pole and we had to duck low to get under them. Then the pole, brightly woven, soaring to the sky, set deep into the earth, stood at the center as we danced, rocked in the rhythm of the drum, through the long summer day until evening.

It has been many years since I danced on May Day. I don’t think I could jump the fire now. Our communities have dispersed.

But still I honor this day. I celebrate by walking barefoot outside, delighting in flowers and new leaves that are like flowers, feeling the juiciness of life force awakening all around and within me, communing with all that is luscious, alive, sweet, beginning.

How will you celebrate this wondrous time?

The Fullness of Spring

A couple of weeks ago, I found a cluster of crocuses, surrounded by a mantle of snow. It seemed the perfect symbol for Spring Equinox, the balance point between winter and summer, snow and flowers.


We are in the fullness of spring. The days and nights are of equal length. It is the moment of poise between the dark side of the year and the light.

Winter has its gifts—deepenings from the hard times, openings from the deep times, wisdom from our inward journeys.

As the light lengthens, let us bring those gifts to the new life unfolding around us. May we awaken our senses to the sound of bird song, the touch of warm wind, the smell of rain and freshly turned earth, the colors of flowers, the heat of the strengthening sun, the feel of cool, moist grass under bare feet.

Our senses are the link of delight between our bodies and the Earth. Body and Earth are of the same stuff (humus-human), and delight is the essence of love. What we love, we cherish.

As we delight in the sensuousness of spring, let us cherish and care tenderly for our beloved Earth, renewing once again, over, beneath and around us.

The Beginning of Spring

February first is Imolc or Candlemas, the first day of spring.

In American culture we count the season’s beginning on the quarter days, the Solstices and Equinoxes. In Gaelic tradition, the beginning of the season comes on the cross-quarter days, the midpoints between Solstices and Equinoxes.

The Gaelic way makes more sense to me because it goes with the changes of the light. Warm days or freezing, rain or snow can come and go three seasons of the year in Colorado—Rocky Mountain springtimes are notoriously fickle—but the changes of the light are reliable.

So, for me, at this midpoint, February first, spring begins. The light is now the same as it was on the last cross-quarter day, November first, Samhain or All Hallows. We have just come through the darkest three months of the year.

Deep in the earth seeds are stirring. Some bulbs are even pushing their first new green shoots up into the lengthening sunlight. The light lingers longer in the late afternoon, and sunrise comes earlier, suffusing the eastern sky with its rosy glow.DSCN0119

This season has been celebrated for hundreds of years. In Gaelic lands, Imolc was a time to honor the Goddess Brigid, who was symbolically invited into homes to bless the inhabitants at the beginning of the new cycle. Ceremonial hearth fires were lit, and there were processions of young maidens dressed in white carrying images or symbols of the goddess. In Christian churches the ceremony was called Candlemas, Saint Brigid was honored, and the season celebrated by the lighting of candles. Some of these traditions are still carried on.

In the United States we have groundhog day.

I celebrate this time by rejoicing in the longer late afternoons, sometimes going for a walk at dusk; and in the early mornings, taking time to watch the sunrise and drink in the beauty of bare tree branches against the rose and orange sky. I also look inward to the seeds stirring in the dark earth of my spirit.

How about you? What seeds stir within you for the coming season, what dreams do you hope to manifest as the light grows?

Winter Solstice

The still point of the turning year. The longest night. “Solstice,” in its Latin origins, literally means “the sun stops.”

There is magic in that moment of stasis.

When we ride on a swing, the higher we go the slower we go, until that brief ecstatic moment when we hang suspended before descending again.

The dance of Sun and Earth is like that. The Solstices, summer and winter, are like the peak moments of the swing. The light changes more slowly as it approaches its shortest or longest day, hovers for a moment at the Solstice, then picks up speed as it moves toward the Equinoxes, when the days and nights are equal. Just as the swing descending moves fastest as it skims its closest point to Earth.

Howard Thurman, a beloved friend and teacher to me, was Dean of the Chapel at Boston University when I was a student there. In one of his sermons, he told a story about being a boy in Florida, fishing in a small boat in the ocean. He described how his line would pull taut, drawn out to sea with the outgoing tide. Then it would suddenly go slack. His buoy would rock on the waves for a short while, until the line swung slowly around to pull toward shore as the tide turned.

One of my Sufi teachers, guiding us in a breathing meditation, said, “Between the inhale and the exhale, realize. Between the exhale and the inhale, realize.”

Swing, seasons, tide, breath—all move with this rhythm.

As we enter the still point of the longest night, may we pause to receive that moment of stasis and open to its gifts.

  T.S. Eliot, from Four Quartets

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”