Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Light of the Year

Child of silver, child of white
sunrise pale and sunset amber
lace from the dew of a thousand dawns
woven by the meadow’s slumber.
In your hands a precious light
to step the pathway’s coming year
with all that time and light adorns.
For all that happens on the path
By you is blessed and meaningful
whether for me is bliss or wrath
and whether clear or not-so-clear.

One thing only I would ask:
release your treasure gradually
through sunsets’ gold and seasons’ turning
so the pathway I may see
in a perfect twelve-month burning.

Painting by Gaston la Touche

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Greeting

I wish all my readers great joy in the stillness of Christmas
to hearten and enlighten your New Year.


Painting The Shepherds by George de la Tour 

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Sister Stars

How high we are here;
seated somewhere
between the stars
and the sleeping town below.
See: we are so high
that we have but to reach out
to touch the moon’s bright face
as it rises to greet us from the horizon.
See: we are so high
that we need only to listen carefully
to hear the murmured whisperings
of the gods above
as they chart the tide of the affairs of men
asleep and unknowing in the world below.
See: we are so high
that we count ourselves
as sisters to the stars.

Continuing their journeys
our sister stars are unaware
that their wanderings, their very courses,
are traced out by us.
For nothing can happen in the heavens
unless we three decide that it will.
The truth is: the gods are helpless,
unable to act without our instructions
(although they do not know this,
and imagine that their schemes
are all their own).

And so we three sit here quietly
through the blue Arabian night,
making the decisions of gods,
naming new constellations:
here: the leopard,
with glowing twin-sun eyes,
there: the stooping falcon,
wings stretched between galaxies,
and there: the heroine,
riding a winged sphinx
to stars yet more distant than her own:
all creatures of our night-watch fantasy.

But even these things are pastimes,
pleasantries, mere diversions.
For our true purpose
Is to search until we find one star,
and one star only
among our myriad sister stars.
Somewhere, if only we can find it,
shines a star that will save the world.
and that is the star
which we will call down to earth.

Painting: Arabian Nights by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent: Silent Wonder

Today is the beginning of Advent: the first of the four Sundays leading towards the Nativity. The word Advent means ‘the coming’, and, if we open ourselves to the spirit of Advent, these four weeks contain a heightened sense of anticipation, of expectancy, of hope, of waiting, and trusting in new life not yet fully known. 

Here in northern Europe the winter is advancing, and for me the winter is a time of silence. Nature grows more silent in winter. There are no leaves on the bare limbs of the trees to give us the breeze’s summery rustle, and many animals are less active. Even the birds do not sing their dawn chorus in the winter darkness – and when the snow lies thick upon the ground all seems to fall still in the muffled white silence.

Silence also is for me a part of Advent. It is this silence which lifts Advent beyond being a time of the Christian liturgical year into being a time which touches upon mysteries which are more universal: those mysteries of the heart which touch us all. When the spirit of Advent is combined with the spirit of silence we are in a state of waiting in silence. And when that waiting is a waiting with a sense of deep and joyful anticipation for what is to come, we create a space in which love can grow, in which trust may flourish. 

Love, hope, trust, silence, waiting in joy for what is to come, are all doors. Combining these doors together into one opens the door to the approach of wonder. But what is this wonder? To trust in love for what is to come, to allow our inner silence to grow in this time of waiting, allowing the loving-kindness that is the essence of the divine love to grow in us, is the true spirit of Advent: the spirit of anticipation, of silent wonder.

Detail Painting Madonna by Fra Filippo Lippi

Saturday, November 22, 2014


So small a soul, so large a house
with dark and gloomy rooms.
A child divine in search of light
her own light now subsumes.

But in her heart she weaves
the mystic window of her skin
through which her dance takes flight
translucent, pure and wondrous thin
on wings of purest light.

The searching child .. she reaches out 
to touch a state of Grace
 A bud in flower - a single glance ..

No soul remains untouched by love
as long as spirits dance.

Painting by Polina Yakovleva

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Candles in the Earth

Today, November 11th, is traditionally the feast day of Saint Martin. Martin was a 4th-century soldier who, when still only eighteen, arrived with his troops at the city gates of Amiens. As the soldiers filed into the city they passed a beggar. Martin was the only one who stopped, but being poor himself he had nothing to give. Instead, he tore his cloak in half and gave half to the beggar as some protection against the winter cold.

That night in his dream Jesus appeared, wearing the half-cloak that Martin had given to the beggar, saying to his angels: “See, how this young man has clothed me.” The dream had a profound effect upon Martin. He gave up soldiering to lead a life of simple devotion, founding a monastery where the poor could always depend upon finding shelter. 

In the later centuries of medieval times it was November 11th, Martin’s day, which marked the beginning of winter, and of advent: the countdown of forty days to the shortest day of the year. On this day in the Netherlands it is a tradition for children to go from door to door carrying lanterns made from scooped-out turnips with candles in them. These simple lanterns carry a message: a reminder that during the long months of the northern European winter, when the earth appears to sleep, each living thing still carries within it the spark of light, the seed of new life that will awaken once more in the spring.

These little candles, these tiny sparks of the summer sun that stay alive to burn through the sleeping earth of winter, offer a more profound reminder: that the apparent end of life is not really an end. The precious flame still continues to burn, even when it is no longer visible to us. Our life, our very soul endures, even though it might change its form. And if sometimes we forget this truth, perhaps in those despairing moments when we imagine that we have nothing left to give, we can remember Martin’s gesture. All of our humanity, all of our compassion and our hope for the future, can be contained in just half a cloak, and warm us until another spring arrives.

Painting Saint Martin by Gustave Moreau

Monday, November 3, 2014

Little Spark

She is dearly loved by her mother. In all that Little Spark does, she feels her mother’s guiding hand and thoughtful attention. And the girl also loves her mother as much as she herself is loved. It is a quiet harmony of being: a harmony that comes to an abrupt and unwished-for end when, after a short illness, her mother dies.

From one day to the next Little Spark’s world changes forever. There are times when she feels that she needs to comfort her disconsolate father more than she herself receives the comfort which she as a child so needs and deserves. But things are to change still further, and the change is for the worse. Her father remarries soon enough. Perhaps too soon. Little Spark’s new stepmother is everything that her dear mother was not. No scrap of love or comfort comes from this stranger in her house, in her life. 

Instead, Little Spark finds herself sent downstairs to the cheerless kitchen, and there she must scrub the pots and pans and tend to the stove fire as if she were a common servant; which, to all intents and purposes, she has now become. Her father, if the truth be known, discovers all too late that he is rather intimidated by this doughty woman, and keeps silent over the treatment of his daughter.

Miracles happen. As she sits quietly weeping among the blackened pots and the even blacker soot and charred wood of the kitchen stove, a miracle happens to Little Spark. An ineffable essence, a shining form, appears before her. Again her world changes. She feels herself overwhelmed with an unnameable love, and although her tears flow, they are now tears of an inexpressible joy and hope for what might now come. Is this the spirit of her mother come to comfort her? Or some other being? Although no word is spoken, she knows that all her desires will now be answered. What the form of light offers to her is transformation.

And Little Spark transforms. From a girl dressed in servant’s rags she is now a radiant beauty, worthy of the hand of a prince of the land. And (of course!) it is the prince who duly claims her hand and gives to her all love, honour and happiness in his palace, ‘forever after’. Well, we recognize this story, of course, as the story of Cinderella, which is the translation of the literal name ‘Little Spark’. The story endures through the generations as an evergreen fairy tale. But such stories retain their magic for a reason. In the story of Cinderella we can recognise a far older and deeper story: the story of us all.

Just as with Little Spark and her mother’s love, we also know an initial perfect bliss, a heavenly state. But we (or Eve, or Cinderella, or whatever name we give to the little spark that is the soul in these stories) must descend ‘downstairs’ to toil in the grease and grime of the ‘kitchen’ of the material world, in order to learn the hard and necessary things that will help us through worldly experience to progress. But there always is redemption, both in fairy stories and in the soul’s journey.

These eternal themes echo in our awareness. They travel through time to reach us, and they travel ‘in disguise’ as stories so that their inner meaning may be preserved. They continue to speak powerfully to us if we open ourselves to them. And perhaps now you might never read the story of Cinderella in quite the same way again!

Painting: Cinderella by Terri Windling

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Journey of Ambergris

It has a strange and rather unglamorous beginning in, of all places, the digestive tract of a sperm whale. When the whale expels this strange by-product of its oceanic menu, it rises to the surface, there to float upon the waves until, perhaps after many years of drifting, it eventually is washed up on some distant shore. But in these years of drifting, a miraculous transformation takes place. From a waxy and rather smelly lump, it undergoes a mysterious change of its own. It becomes one of the sweetest of scents, formerly prized in the making of the costliest perfumes. We know it as ambergris.

In the Near East, ambergris is burnt as an incense. But in some countries such as the United States, even the possession of ambergris is considered to be an unlawful offense due to the protection of the species from which it comes. Two years ago here in the Netherlands, a sperm whale was found stranded on the beach of the island of Texel. Over eighty kilograms worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were found in the animal.

This marvellous substance was even thought to have medicinal value, as a cure for a variety of ailments from headaches to epilepsy. In days gone by Dutch gentlemen were said to sprinkle some on their breakfast eggs, and so enabling the substance to make the journey from the whale’s to the human’s digestive system via the oceans of the world! 

I myself am lucky enough to have a few small grams of this precious substance, which I keep in a small covered pot. When I remove the lid, the released scent is astonishing, like the costliest perfume – which indeed it actually is! I rather wish that this post had a button that you, my reader, could click on which would allow you to share the experience with me. Not possible, I realise (but maybe Google are working on it, who knows?).

In the East the lotus is used as a symbolic way of illustrating the soul’s progress from darkness to light: the transforming progression of the lotus from the muddy river’s bed to emerge into the light as a beautiful bloom. Nature holds many such valuable lessons if we are open to them. Perhaps the journey of ambergris is also one such lesson. Adrift on the waves, a mysterious alchemy is worked upon the ambergris to transform it into the rarest of sweet perfumes.  The stir of the great ocean is all that is apparently needed to accomplish this magic, and like many a true transformation, it asks no effort, only time.

Painting: Scent of Ambergris, by John Singer Sargent

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sophia. the Spirit of Wisdom

"I called upon God, and Sophia, the Spirit of Wisdom, came unto me."

"I loved Her, and sought Her out from my youth, 
I desired to make Her my spouse.
I was a lover of Her beauty.
I loved Her above health and beauty, 
and chose to have Her above Light: 
for the Light that cometh from Her never fails."

"Sophia blesses the world with Supreme wisdom, 
and allows all people to realize their unity with God.

"She is the Supreme Spirit: All-knowing and sacred;
One, yet pervading many, subtle, ever-free, 
lucid, clear, and invincible.

"For Wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me: 
for in Her is an understanding spirit, holy, one only, manifold, 
subtle, lively, clear, undefiled, plain, not subject to hurt, 
loving the thing that is good, 
penetrating Intelligence which cannot be confounded, 
and always ready to do good.

"She is all-powerful, the witness of all, 
and found in those who are wise, pure-hearted, and humble.

"Sophia moves more easily than motion itself;
By reason of Her purity She permeates all things.
She is like a fine mist rising from the power of God,
The divine radiance streaming from the glory of the Almighty.
Nothing can stain Her immaculate purity.

"Though one, She becomes everything; 
from within herself, by Her own power, makes all things new.

"Age after age She enters into holy souls, 
making them perfect, and leading them back to God.
For God loves none but those 
who have made their home with Sophia.

"She is fairer than the sun, and greater than every constellation.
She is more radiant than the light of day
for day is overcome by night, 
but against Sophia 
no darkness can prevail."

"For God loveth none but him that dwelleth with Wisdom."

From: The Wisdom of Solomon
Chapter 7 & 8

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba by Piero della Francesca

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Quest of Isis

My Beloved, how I have searched for you.
Yesterday, as my Lord Ra kneeled
to touch the horizon,
I stood among the great river’s reeds.
The waters were high,
swelled with the tears I have shed for you.
Now Ra has again returned 
from his voyage through the nether world
and his radiance once more floods the heavens,
filling the gracious body of Nut with light.
And still I continue my search.
Where are you, my Beloved?
Nowhere can I find you,
and all the land feels as empty as my heart.

Were that it never had happened.
Cruel Set, our dark brother, flattered you,
and like all those who flatter, wished to be you.
And so you lowered yourself
into that treacherous box:
the perfectly-fitting box made even more perfect
by your beautiful body that still lies within,
sealed by dark arts and honeyed words.

Where must I search for you,
my beloved husband?
Where do you lie, sweet Osiris?
If you were abandoned to these waters
then it is these swollen waters that I must follow
and my guide will be my own footsteps
for they surely will grow lighter 
When they sense that I grow nearer to you.
I will follow these waters swollen with my tears
and note my lighter tread
northward to the lands of the great delta,
northward to the lands half-glimpsed in visions
northward along the coast to Byblos
and the miraculous tamarisk of my dreams.

The episode in the story of Isis which my prose poem relates concerns the events leading to the entrapment of Osiris by Set, the jealous brother of Isis and Osiris, and the subsequent search of Isis for her missing husband. Set desired to take over Osiris’ position as the principal god, and invited him to a feast. At the feast, Set revealed a box which he knew would fit Osiris perfectly, and invited Osiris to lie in it. As soon as Osiris had done so, Set sealed the box shut and threw it into the Nile. The box eventually drifted from the Nile delta into the Mediterranean Sea, finally coming to shore at Byblos on the northeast coast, where it became embedded in a tamarisk tree that formed one of the columns of a palace. Isis, desolate at the loss of Osiris, shed so many tears that it caused the Nile to flood. Her search eventually brought her to Byblos, and the remarkable tree which concealed the box in which her husband had become trapped.

This is the first part of the myth of Isis and her search for Osiris. On one level it of course makes a wonderful story, but the myth speaks powerfully on a deeper level. In the entrapment of Osiris is mirrored the story of the soul, and its entrapment in an incarnated material body. The Spirit (Isis in the myth) longs to be reunited with this body, for as with Isis and her beloved Osiris, Spirit and Soul are never complete without each other.

Painting Nile Reeds by Susan Elizabeth Wolding

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Angel of the Labyrinth

Resourceful Ariadne saw me not at all, although I am sure that she felt my presence as I glided silently at her shoulder. How ingeniously she wound the skein of thread that would be unwound by Theseus, there in the tortuous corridors of the Labyrinth. Ah, bold Theseus, claimed by myth as a hero for slaying the Minotaur that waited for his arrival at the heart of the winding ways. Hero indeed! The wretched monster already knew its own destiny, and needed only to await the arrival of the son of King Aegeus for it to be fulfilled.

I tell you that Ariadne’s deed was more heroic, providing as she did the means for Theseus’ return. And what was her reward? To be deserted by him on the island of Naxos, left behind like any castaway, to be rescued by a god who showed clever Ariadne more honour than he ever did.

All these things I have seen, for I am the witness of history, although history sees me not. Secretly I stand at the gate of every labyrinth, and as you enter the gate of your own labyrinth you will be sure to pass me. But you as well will not notice as I slip my skein into your hands. Unknowingly, you will begin to unwind it as you enter the turning ways. And at every turn it will be laid down, and every measure of it records the event which you experience. Here at this turn you made the decision to go either to the right or to the left, never being sure which path might be the right one to follow. Here farther along, you fell in love, and the path ahead changed for you because of this. And here, you suffered a loss, and the path changed direction once again.

All this is known, because all of these things, these life events, are recorded on the unwinding skein as they happen. Look closely: you can see them written on the skein. All which you experience is faithfully set down, a true document of your passage inwards. 

But what you cannot know is what will be written on the part of the skein which has yet to be unwound, because you can only discover that by unwinding it. And you can only unwind it by travelling farther on your journey. And since you cannot see what is ahead of you, you must have trust. You can read readily enough what has been written as it unwinds behind you. But what is yet to be written is negotiable, and up to you, and dependent upon the paths of choice which lie ahead of you in the labyrinth. And I, who have wound the skein which you now unwind, will help you to make those choices if, like Ariadne, you allow me to help you to reach the labyrinth’s heart.

Painting: Labyrinth, by Jake Baddeley.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

To Her Mourning Daughter

To Her Mourning Daughter

My keening daughter, stare not too long
at the darkness of the grave.
Avert your eyes in time
and do not lose yourself in kindred’s tears
your veil too thin, your skin too sear for this
and you, too young in years
to bear such bitter bliss:
you, who have no need to be so brave.

Rather, be a bone as hollow as a birds, and as light,
see in the stars’ sweet drift the one who knew you
and let these currents of a dark and sadder night
flow through you, through you.
Do not assume the tint of faded leaves
do not allow the kindred here to cast you
as the one who ever grieves.

But rather, channel the water
where you wish it to follow.
Carry it with you, willow daughter
give voice to the pain
keen for the silence
be a flowing river
meander full and hollow
be both carrier and giver,
and life will surely flow
into your soul once again.

And only shed your mourning weeds
and casually toss your hair
when you are once more safely in my arms.
My daughter, I fear I abandoned you there
to a life of mourning and dark armbands
but life has other charms
and you have other needs.

Freely rewritten from a fragment of a 16th-century Hindi poem.

Artwork reworked by DutchPuh from an original painting by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Mystic Marriage

Is all which I now see around me truly the result of my brief presence on Earth? Has all this truly been done in my name? I came among you with a single intent. Not, as you seem to think, to win redemption for all of you for the sin in Eden (how could you imagine such a thing?). There was no Fall in Eden. The Man and the Woman remained unblemished. So how could there be such a thing as universal redemption when there is no such thing as universal sin? No, the only sin is the personal sin of not being true to one’s own self. That is the greatest betrayal, for if we betray ourselves, then we also betray our true Selves.

But you do not need me to redeem you, for I tell you truly that each and every one of you has the spirit to redeem yourself, because each and every one of you is me, and I am each and every one of you. Why have you forgotten this? I will tell you why: you have forgotten this because you have placed me outside of yourselves. In your frenzy to banish bronze idols you have merely replaced them with another idol. And the idol which you have created is a monster, not of bronze, but of ideas. That idol is myself as you have created me. You have so occupied yourselves with building a towering plinth for me to stand on that you have forgotten that if I am standing high above you then we no longer can look each other in the eye.

And this is not the only idol which you have created in my name. You have built another idol to worship: an idol of words. You have transformed something that shone with the light of my being, something bright with radiant change, into something harder than stone. For even stone, which seems unyielding, changes its form over time. You have taken it upon yourselves to decide what is or is not ‘holy’, and yet I say to you now that all which is thought or said or written with a pure heart is holy in my eyes, and whether something is or is not holy to me is not something for you to decide. And yet this is what you have done. I speak with many voices, and yet how many of my voices have lain in the dust of centuries because of the choices which you have claimed to make on my behalf, because of your folly in believing that such choices were yours to make?

Look at my feet, and see how they are shod. Look at the footprints I leave behind in the soil. They are the footprints left by a mortal form who wore only simple woven sandals. And yet many of the footprints left by those who deign to place themselves nearer to me have sunk deep into my earth, weighed down by the finery of their wearers. Their footprints are heavier than my own, and I tell you that their weighty apparel, their jewelled rings and resplendent robes, distances them from me more than the pure of heart who must walk barefoot, for such earthly show is a greater barrier to drawing close to me than the simplest garments worn by those who leave footprints as light as my own. The footprints of the meek and my own are no different. Their footprints have trodden where I also have trodden, and therefore are the same. Lightness is a virtue, and a crown of thorns weighs less than a crown of jewels and gold, both in this world and in the one to come.

But these robes of earthly glory are not all that in my eyes truly weighs down mortal flesh. If the blood of even one individual is shed in my name, I say to you that the death of that one person is a matter of greater weight to me than my own mortal death, which was no death but a mere revealing of my true nature, as it is for you all. And yet the lives of millions have been offered up in my name. Where is the kingdom of heaven for those who have swung the sword, or caused conversion in my name by fear or by force, or torched the pyre beneath the stake? How can it ever be attained when all which I truly am has become so misshapen?

How could it have come to pass that so many innocent young souls so precious to me have been damaged by those who actually make claim to represent me, but who in truth only represent their own darkness? I, who have entrusted to the Woman the most difficult and the most sacred task of all, and who should only be honoured, now find Her damned by you. Do you seriously imagine that I will return in triumph when so much that has been done in my name has served only to create damage and division, and even a loss of life itself? Only a fool would think that I one day shall return. The pure of heart know that I have never left.

But why did I come to you at all, if not to redeem a sin of your own imaginings? If redemption exists in each and every moment (and it does), then my descent to earth, my entry into this world of coarse matter, must have been for another reason. And it was. Such events move on a stage greater than your imaginings. They arc across all of time and space, and from time to time these events emerge into your world, become momently visible to your histories, and you create messiahs and mythologies: stories and writings which are mere faint echoes of far larger truths.

So why did I come? Why, if not to redeem, did I descend into this flesh? I had been waiting. I had been waiting for my beloved Other Self, waiting for her arrival in the world so that I might join her and so on earth complete the sacred union of soul and spirit. I came, not for all, but only for one. You, my beloved one, who in these greater realities take the form of the clear voice of wisdom, my bride Sophia, were that One. You, who are the Ocean holding all life within your sacred womb. You, who trod the soil in the same place and at the same time as my own brief sojourn. You, who witnessed my mystic death and resurrection. You, who took me as husband at Cana in a marriage that was the earthly echo of our union which already had found place in the luminous Beyond. Mary, I came for you.

Stained Glass Jesus and Mary Magdalene - Glastonbury

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dreaming of an Angel

Last night an angel came to my side. At first I was only aware of a brilliant clear light which seemed to fill the space around me, and with the light came calm, and a sense of trust that all would be well. Then it seemed to me as if the light, although still bright, grew softer, and in this velvet softness a form took shape. The form looked at me with eyes of love, and I understood that she wished me to come with her. Whether she truly spoke to me, or whether I felt her thoughts enter my own I cannot say, but I knew that she had been waiting for the moment when I would open my eyes, see her, and follow her. 

So I was dreaming that I had awakened, and despite the feeling of trust I found myself feeling a little uneasy in this strange waking/dreaming state. Still I followed where the angel led me. I half-walked, half-drifted through fields and along pathways where perhaps I had been before, but had since long forgotten: the half-remembered landscapes of dreams. But because of my lingering unease my own movements were not as fluid as those of my companion of light. Perhaps it was this hesitation which the angel felt, for she urged me to awaken more fully, that although I thought that I was fully awake, my hesitant manner betrayed the fact that I still had a further stage to go.

And so I trusted more, let go more, and realised that my hesitation, and the fear which caused it, was groundless. When I dared to truly look around me a new world was revealed: an intense world full of light and colour, and my feet finally felt firm ground. I no longer needed to half-drift in this world. I could leave my footprints firmly in this place, knowing that it was where I now truly belonged. Knowing that it was a part of me, and that I could freely claim my place there, and that the intensity of all which I saw there was how things truly are, always, as long as I felt total trust.

The angel now took my hand in her own and led me even farther. With all fear gone, and with my presence in that place now fully experienced and accepted, my body became feather-light. I no longer needed to leave my footprints there to know that I was a part of this place. Now I seemed to glide through this new land without effort. But there was one more stage to go through, one more awakening for me to experience. And that was my awakening into my own everyday world. When touched by morning light once more, my dream of the angel stayed with me, filling me with a deep sense of peace and solace. No longer was I dreaming for I woke up - awakened.

Guiding Angel - Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company, circa 1890

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Mary of Egypt: A Heart in the Wilderness

Is there a defining moment in which all and everything changes for us? If so, perhaps the lives which we have led up until that moment, which might seem to us as mere wasted years, can with hindsight come to be seen as having a value in themselves, as being the very experiences which have, unknown to us, been all the while preparing us for that change.

As a young woman in 4th-century Alexandria who had at an early age run away from home, Mary led a very dissolute life, offering herself to anyone who would pay her price – and at times even, apparently, not bothering about payment for the sake of the mere experience. She eventually journeyed to Jerusalem, not on a pilgrimage, but hoping to find more customers among the pilgrims themselves. Wandering the streets, Mary arrived at the great doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In her harlot’s dress she sought to enter the church, but felt her way barred by some inexplicable force which seemed to press against her and hold her back.

The experience was so intense that Mary was forced to confront the life which she had chosen to lead. She opened her heart, begging forgiveness – and in that moment entered the church freely. Her style of dress might have scandalized the congregation, but God sees what is in our hearts, not what we happen to be wearing. The experience was Mary’s turning point: her defining moment.

From that moment Mary would dedicate her life to a devotional simplicity. Turning away from the world, and taking with her only three loaves of bread, she crossed the Jordan to the harsh desert beyond, settling into the life of a wilderness hermit that would last for the rest of her life. 

It was in the last two years of her life that Mary was discovered in her hermitage by the monk Zosimas, who himself had ventured into the wilderness to meditate. He found her completely naked, with long straggling hair, and the startled monk hardly recognized her as anything human. Mary asked Zosimas for his cloak to cover herself, and they sat quietly together while she told him her story. They agreed to meet again the following year, this time on the opposite bank of the Jordan.

Legend tells us that Zosimus duly waited at the appointed time and place, and was astonished to see a transfigured Mary walk across the surface of the waters to his side. A further rendezvous was arranged for the following year at her hermitage, but when Zosimus arrived he found that Mary had died. Zosimus performed the burial with due reverence, and legend again steps in to have his labours assisted by a desert lion that with its great strength pawed the hard desert earth aside that would form her remote grave.

Mary’s legend grew. She became known to history as Mary of Egypt. But history and legend can become woven together. We do not mind these embroiderings, because so often they speak to us of a greater truth: that a wilderness can lie as much within ourselves as in the harsh desert beyond the Jordan. But for the heart which has truly surrendered, which has been touched by a compassion beyond earthly understanding, any wilderness, within or without, can be transformed into a recovered Eden.

Hermit Woman by Wojciech Gerson

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Night-Silence ~ Nachtstilte


Hush now, hush: on feet of silver
Through the night see silence go,
Silence that from gods delivers
Greetings to the watch below...
What ’twixt souls could not be spoken
In the daytime’s empty din
From high realms that night has woken,
Into light star-bright now broken,
Sullied by no word or token
God speaks deep within.



Stil, wees stil,
Op zilv’ren voeten
Schrijdt de stilte door de nacht.
Stilte, die der goden groeten
Overbrengt naar lager wacht.
Wat niet ziel tot ziel kon spreken
Door der dagen ijl gegons
Spreekt, uit overluchtse streken
Klaar, als ster in licht zou breken,
Zonder smet van taal of teken
God in elk van ons.


Poem by the Dutch poet P.C. Boutens (1870-1953)
translation: John Irons
Painting: "Licht" - Juke Hudig

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Conversation with a Butterfly

I am sitting relaxing in my garden. The day is warm, with a few fluffy sheep’s-wool clouds sailing through a sky of piercing lapis, although the shade of the young maple tree under which I am sitting offers me some relative coolness.

A butterfly alights on one of the maple leaves, close enough for me to reach out and touch it. I do not do so, of course, being glad enough of its company. Its wings match the blue of the sky: a little piece of heaven flown down from above. ‘How are you?’ asks the butterfly courteously. I feel the need to be honest. ‘A little down’, I replied, ‘but rather better since you have come to visit me. ‘Ah,‘ said the butterfly unsurprised, ‘that is to be expected. I tend to have that effect upon those whom I visit.’ I noticed that I felt better the longer the butterfly remained with me. ‘Perhaps you could stay with me, then I would always feel better.’ I suggested.

‘Oh, no!’ exclaimed the butterfly emphatically. ‘It just doesn't work like that. Were I always to stay with you, my attraction would diminish to the point where you would not even notice my existence, because you would then simply take me for granted. In my experience, that is what tends to happen, which is why I prefer just to visit, rather than remain.’ I had a mischievous thought. ‘Then perhaps I could capture you!’ I said. ‘That way you would have to stay with me, and I would always have you close by!’ The butterfly smiled knowingly. ‘No, that would not work either! As soon as I am captured, I change. I become something else entirely that you would not even recognise. So you see, there’s no point in trying to catch me.’

‘Then when you fly away, I will follow you wherever you go!’ I laughed, rather smugly pleased with my own persistent ingenuity. ‘That way, you would always be free, and I would always be near you.’ ‘Still no good!’ The butterfly patiently explained. ‘You may chase after me for as long as you want. But if you chase me, you will discover that I always stay just out of reach. Better to just be still in yourself. That way, if you are lucky, I will come to visit you as I have now. Besides,’ the butterfly continued with a flutter of its azure wings ‘my little life is over soon enough. My visits tend to be brief ones, sometimes short, sometimes a little longer. And sometimes those whom I visit do not even realise that I have visited them until after I have flown away. That is the way it is.’

The butterfly fluttered its wings more vigorously, and I felt that it might fly away at any moment. ‘Please wait just a little!’ I asked. ‘’Won’t you tell me your name before you go?’ The butterfly smiled. ‘My name is Happiness.’ It replied. 

Painting by Odilon Redon

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Inanna and the Old Woman at the Gate

This is dangerous work, this thing we women do, feeling everything, passing through the gate that way. This is our play with the spirits: we gain what we risk. So it is with Inanna; what she would gain and therefore what she must risk is life itself. Inanna hears Ereshkigal crying, so she has to go. She has to go: after all, isn't Inanna a woman?

We stand on the crack between the worlds in our women's bodies. We look both ways on the horns of life, forward, to see our children through, backward, to remember. That's why our love takes so much courage. Inanna comes through here, asking me the way. I know her symptoms - haven't I seen them a hundred times before? I would have cried for her if she hadn't so many tears for herself already. I am Daughter of the Sun, Inanna says, but I am so wet, I am so wet, I am rain without a river to collect me, I am a flood with no banks to embrace me, and still I cannot stop crying. Old Woman, what can I do with all my water?

"You have the water of life itself in you", I tell her, "It is your responsibility to cry it home." How Inanna cries! She cries as if she has already become the wind: It's not enough, she says, the way I've made myself up, it's not enough; my crown and my kingdom, it's not enough, all my light - not enough, my stores of wealth - not enough, the soldiers who would trade away everything for one night with me - not enough. My sweet companion Ninshubah, who has stepped her path from childhood to womanhood alongside my own - not enough. Even Dumuzi, my king, flesh of my flesh, not enough. My own beloved sons - who are to me as life itself, not enough. There are some kinds of tears that cannot be wiped away. Like prayers, they announce us.

My body! Inanna cries, this hopeless beauty of mine is like the skull of a melon. I don't know who has eaten my insides. This candle of flesh I carry only illuminates everything yellow as bones of sand. I know what Inanna is saying when she asks me how to get through that gate, when she asks me how to dream. Old Woman, Inanna says, teach me how to dream.

"Don't ask me that!" I tell her, "We all know how to dream. Just some of us listen to our dreams. So you just listen to whatever it is stampeding inside you, pulling you over. You just ride it where it takes you. Aren't you yourself the morning and the evening star? There's no woman can't walk through walls, navigating her dreams. There's no woman can't walk through time - don't you have two sons to prove it?"

Can't I give her something more? Inanna wants to know. Something to make it safe? But all I can give her are the words I keep as the witness at the gate: "Ereshkigal is your own sister, and all the scribes in Sumer haven't any more power than what's written in the mother's milk you shared: that's the ink that draws us into this world. And what draws us in draws us out again, both directions."

I didn’t tell her the rest. What good would it do? What must be, must be. But even the underworld rewards the courage of love.

Text: The Descent of Inanna ©Madronna Holden

Photo: model Anna Chipovskaya by Nicolay Biryukov

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Love is so very much more than an experienced emotion. It is a universal force of being. It cannot be destroyed. At times it might seem to us that this happens, when we feel that other forces overwhelm us. But even then - especially then - love transforms itself, finds new forms to replace those forms which, sometimes for reasons which are difficult for us to understand at the time, it no longer needs. No, love cannot be destroyed. But it can be transformed. And in that process of transformation it burns even brighter.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning

Sunday morning’s early light,
meadow lark on the rise
cotoneaster, feverfew,
wild thyme and bramble rose.

Step by step, each to each
to where the other goes:
hymnals and unison
seated in rows.
And I who walk behind them
to the valley down below
must trust in common wonders
and hope that it might be so.

Noonday shadows at their feet
mistle thrush in the hedge
hillsides and riversides,
saxifrage and sedge.

Pace by pace, side by side
each trusting in the way:
parables and stories
in the highest light of day.
And I who walk behind them
to the valley down below
must hope for common wonders
and trust that it might be so.

Shadows of the afternoon,
fieldfare and sage
measure out the silence
of another time, another age.

Tread by tread, step by step
each timing with the other:
sister blesses sister soul, 
brother blesses brother.
And I who walk behind them
to the valley down below
must pray for common wonders
and hope that it might be so.

Twilight shadows lengthen
with the evening’s lowering sun:
veiled shades and violet shades
as the long day is done.

Step by step, each to each
to where the other leads:
beatitudes and blessings,
miracles in the meads.
And those who walk behind me
to the valley down below
place trust in common wonders
and know that it will be so.

Painting Sunday Morning by Angelo Morbelli