Category Archives: Experiences of Oneness / the Source (article archive)

We still need ritual!

In his wonderful book  ‘The Sacred and the Profane’, famed historian of religion Mircea Eliade observes that even modern people who reject the tenets of religious belief and practice are unconsciously nourished by the memory of the sacred. As he observes in the Introduction, “the wholly desacralised cosmos …is a recent discovery in the history of the human spirit.”(p 13)

He makes the point that we still need ritual, even in this materialist culture of ours.

He says “What is found in the profane (ie non-religious) world is a radical secularisation of death, marriage and birth; but, as we shall soon see, there remain vague memories of abolished religious practices and even a nostalgia for them…” (p 186)

The Sacred and the Profane

The Sacred and the Profane

I had a very powerful and moving experience of this last week, when with my husband I attended the funeral of a much-loved member of his family. The morning after the funeral, just before we returned home, we were fortunate to be able to take part in a modern, but very moving, rite of passage. It was intended largely for the benefit of the many grandchildren in the family who had been too young to gain much benefit from the previous day’s church service – but was shared by us all.

I took some photographs of this ritual as it was being enacted. That evening, I put up a post on Facebook, with the permission of  our deceased cousin’s wife,  which was very warmly received both by the bereaved family and many Facebook Friends. I decided to write a blog post around the experience for two reasons. Firstly, to demonstrate that in our secular society there is still a vibrant need for ritual, especially to mark the great rites of passage of birth, marriage and death. And secondly, to inspire anyone who reads this with a wonderfully uplifting way of affirming the passing of the spirit of  a loved one.

Here is what I wrote to accompany my photographs:

‘May your soul fly high!’…my husband Ian’s last words to his dearly loved first cousin David, written on a slip of white paper, attached to a shiny magenta balloon, joining all the messages of love and farewell sent skywards today in a wonderfully colourful ritual of celebration of David’s life following his funeral on 10th October 2014. We were privileged to join David’s wife Liz, their five children and partners, and their ten grandchildren as everyone wrote personal messages to David, sending them soaring into the blue. Goodbye, David. You are much loved and will be much missed…

Into the blue...1

Into the blue…1

Into the blue...2

Into the blue…2

Into the blue...3

Into the blue…3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

450 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

 

Favourite Quotes: ‘ the tree with lights’…. from Annie Dillard

This  post is dedicated to Denise at http://forphilip.com/. I was so struck by the extract below – from a recent post of hers – that I was inspired to write a reply. If you visit Denise’s blog, you will discover what moves her to write so beautifully, so profoundly. 

“….Four years I’d been living on that particular block, walking past one particular tree, and that morning I witnessed its transformation. The sun lit that tree and it shimmered red and gold; it was glass on fire, and if it could have  made a sound, it would’ve been celestial. This was shock and awe, I thought, as I stood staring up at it…..If I could live in that light, I thought, if I could just not move and stay right here, I will be all right and it will all have been worth it…..”

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My reply….

Dear Denise, this extract from your recent post, reproduced above, struck me as being powerfully similar to a wonderful description of the ‘tree with lights’ which Annie Dillard talked about in her Pulitzer Prize winning book “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”. I googled it, and have found the  ‘tree with lights’ passage  for you. I hope you find this passage as moving and inspiring as I did:

“…..Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it.  I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame.  I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed.  It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.  The lights of the fire abated, but I’m still spending the power.  Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared.  I was still ringing.  I had my whole life been a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.  I have since only rarely seen the tree with the lights in it.  The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam…..”

–Annie Dillard, ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’ (1974).

I can still clearly recall the profound, uplifting impact many years ago of reading Annie Dillard’s account of what is, essentially, a mystical experience. She was only 27. ‘….I’m still spending the power….’ I know what she means. I was fortunate enough to have a mystical experience once, at the age of 24 – out of the blue, on a clear, starry night with Venus rising over the Perthshire hills in the Scottish Highlands. It has sustained me through many difficult experiences, and in Annie Dillard’s unforgettable words,‘…. I’m still spending the power….’

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500 words copyright Denise/Anne Whitaker /2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Watch this clip – feed your soul!

A core memory from my Hebridean childhood is located in winter’s depths. Whilst dashing out to play after our evening meal, running up the garden path, breath frosty on the clear cold air, a glance at the pitch dark sky stopped me dead. A magical swirling dance of colour was washing the Northern sky with translucent radiance. I held my breath, friends forgotten,  gazing for a long time at the wonderful display. Gradually, inevitably, it faded and vanished. I remained entranced for a very long time afterwards.

Polar Spirits

Polar Spirits

Subsequent adult reading provided a scientific explanation for the phenomenon of the aurora borealis. But science cannot explain the sense of wonder and awe which the Northern Lights have evoked in countless numbers of us since our remote ancestors scanned the skies, seeing the Divine in natural beauty.

This first experience of awe has remained etched on memory. It imprinted on my soul, at a very young age, a deep intuitive sense that there is a sublime mystery at the core of the interplay between light and dark.

Several decades later, my ambition is to witness the Northern Lights again before I die. Perhaps I will, maybe not.

In the meantime, one can access and enjoy many, many film clips of this wonderful natural phenomenon via the internet. This morning on Twitter, thanks to Jeff Faria @PatriotsOfMars, I came across the finest film of the Northern Lights that I have ever seen. It is titled

Polar Spirits: An Epic Northern Lights Time-Lapse Video

Do treat your soul to an uplift by watching this clip. Forget the Measurers and the reductionists for a few minutes. Whatever they may do their best to tell us, there are and always will be sublimely mysterious dimensions to life for which materialist science with all its brilliance can provide only one dimension of the answer…..

Samhain: what will we find in the dark this Winter?

It’s 6.30 am here in dark, rainy, leaf-strewn post-Hallowe’en Glasgow, Scotland – and I have been catching up on one of my favourite blogs: Linda Leinen’s “The Task at Hand: a writer’s ongoing search for just the right word”.  Her latest post is The Sandburg Season, a meditation on the American poet Sandburg’s prescient commentary on the state of America in the 1920s, Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind”. She, like the poet, contemplates the state of the nation in the aftermath of the ravages of the latest devastating hurricane to hit the USA – at this time in USA’s history a grim prelude to the upcoming election on 6th November, a mere six days away.

Samhain Blessings!

Samhain Blessings!

magickalgraphics.com

Reading this deep, rich post and the wonderful range of replies has put me in a meditative mood. It’s now 1st November – Samhain – Samhain has been celebrated in Britain for centuries and has its origin in Pagan Celtic traditions. It was the time of year when the veils between this world and the Otherworld were believed to be at their thinnest: when the spirits of the dead could most readily mingle with the living once again. It is a contemplative time; a time for honouring the renewing power of darkness, and for facing the humbling fact that everything passes, including us….

Later, when the festival was adopted by Christians, they celebrated it as All Hallows’ Eve, followed by All Saints Day, though it still retained elements of remembering and honouring the dead.

The core sentiments of the Sandburg poem recalled for me Shelley’s “Ozymandias”. (So out of tune was I with my early secondary education that, having been sent home from school to learn Wordsworth‘s “Daffodils” by heart, instead I learned “Ozymandias” …..I should have realised then that I was in for a complicated life!) Both poets comment on the vanity of human endeavour in the face of the irresistible forces of Nature and of Time. So I was very struck by Shelley’s great poem appearing via one of Linda Leinem’s commentators, Steve Schwartzman. I sense a community of reflection out there, as we descend into the dark: ready for our symbolic death into Winter, knowing the rebirth into Spring will also come.

We need the dark, as this festival of Samhain reminds us. Within the year’s natural cycle, the diurnal alternation of light and dark brings restful silence at night and the restorative power of sleep, without which all creatures including us would burn out and die before their time. We are in danger of forgetting this – at our peril – as an increasingly technology-driven culture sweeps the world, creating the illusion that we can live sustainably and healthily in defiance of the ancient rhythms set by the great cycles of nature. The Great Round of  conception, birth, maturation, decline, death and rebirth applies to everything, from gnats to galaxies. Human endeavour is not exempt.

Perhaps our whole culture/civilisation is in its Winter phase – the signs of descent are everywhere, should we care to look…….and in the meantime, I am with Linda Leinen: “Most of the time, I just try to do what I can.” Renewal, whether we live to see it or not, is always round the corner….

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What are YOUR thoughts and feelings regarding the Descent into winter? It would be interesting to have them!

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500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

“Silence in the City” – from tomorrow!

Have you ever been to St Mary’s Cathedral, 300 Great Western Road, Glasgow G4?

Led by Provost Kelvin Holdsworth, the community at St Mary’s – open, inclusive, welcoming to people of all faiths and all spiritual seekers – is   offering a programme of times for reflection – silence in the city – during this autumn 2012. The programme is free, and open to anyone needing some time of peace and silence.

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The Open Silence operates to a rhythm of two one-hour slots per month, lunchtime and evening, available on the following dates:

Sunday August 19th from 8-9 pm, then Thursday August 23rd from 12.30-1.30pm

Sunday September 16th from 8-9 pm, then Thursday September 20th from 12.30-1.30pm

Sunday October 21st from 8-9 pm, then Thursday October 25th from 12.30-1.30pm

Sunday November 18th from  8-9 pm, then Thursday November 22nd from 12.30-1.30pm

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These drop-in hours are free, although any donations to St Mary’s Cathedral funds are always welcome! Anyone can come along, for as long as feels comfortable – you don’t have to stay for the whole hour, but please do leave quietly. You can sit anywhere you wish in the Cathedral during your visit. Gentle music and a brief introduction from Vice-Provost Cedric Blakey begins the hour, music again draws the hour to a close. Candles are lit throughout to help you to connect to your time of peace.

Silence, prayer, peace....

Silence, prayer, peace….

Could any readers who would like to promote this valuable local event be kind enough to pass on the link to this post to anyone on their networks who might be interested? Thanks!!

NOTE

A major inspiration for setting up St Mary’s Cathedral’s The Open Silence was provided by the series of programmes presented by Christopher Jamison, Abbot of Worth Abbey, in 2010,  ‘The Big Silence’, in which five participants  were “……invited to take the wisdom of silence found in the monastery……” and carry it back into their everyday lives.

Father Jamison is convinced that everyone – atheist, agnostic, lapsed, uncertain, seeking – can benefit from sustained, regular periods of silence. “When we enter into periods of silence, we start to see things with greater clarity. We come to know ourselves, and come in touch with that deepest part of ourselves. That is our soul.”

If  readers are interested in reading more about this project, which I – and many others I spoke to – found moving, challenging and inspiring – click HERE.

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500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Anne Whitaker:

I know I said I was taking a break until September. But on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed section tonight I found this brilliant post, featuring a totallly awe-inspiring clip of the Hubble Deep Field. Watch – and marvel……

Originally posted on The Faustian Apprentice:

Image

With all the pollution, haze from chemtrails, and reflected light from our cities, we often fail to recognize the real significance of the SIZE of our VISIBLE universe (it is well possible that there is more out there, and that light has not yet reached us, 13.7 Billion Light Years away!).  Instead, we are left, often with barely a handful of stars and planets that are visible in the night sky.

Seeing only these, it becomes very easy to imagine ourselves the chosen creation of whatever god you wish to call upon.  It becomes easy to think ourselves unique and somehow important, relative to all we see around us.  We say to ourselves, “Behold my divine heritage!  I am to have dominion over all things of the earth!”  And as we run rampant, harvesting, extracting, and destroying, we content ourselves in the thought that somehow, all this will be magically…

View original 591 more words

Action in the Meadow/Silence in the City

We don’t need astrologers to tell us we are living in a period of remarkable turbulence and change. The evidence is all around us: from our teetering and corrupt banking systems, to the declining health of Planet Earth whose dominant species, humans, at current rates of consumption require the resources of three and a half planet earths to sustain us. Amongst many problems greatly on the increase against this backdrop are obesity, social inequality, the social and economic burdens of an ageing population – and fast rising anxiety and depression rates.

Apparently the overall index of increased happiness as material prosperity grew, peaked in the mid-seventies, then declined. The rot, it seems, set in in 1976….

However, humans have always been incredibly adaptable creatures and there is plenty of room for optimism in the midst of the current gloom. We are poised collectively on an interesting cusp, which many people see as the pivotal point of recognition that the materialist project which has so dominated all life since the rise of Age of Reason in the 18th Century is crumbling, and a new world order or paradigm is emerging. Materialism has brought us incredible advances, but is bringing our planet and the systems governing our collective lives, to a dangerous edge.

The new paradigm emerging, in essence, invites us to respect and work with the ecological balance of our home planet. It also invites us to recognise that there are many levels to “Reality” – the material level is just one of these. It is not suggesting that we should attempt to put the genie of progress back in the bottle and recreate a “Golden Age” which never existed.

It invites us to go forward into the future bearing the best that scientific and material progress has to offer, but also the best of what human civilisation has distilled over its six thousand years of social evolution which offers proven nourishment of both a physical and spiritual nature to all life on Planet Earth.

We can see evidence of this new paradigm’s emergence all over the planet in large and small ways. To give just one example, the principles of the “Slow Food” movement which began in Italy over two decades ago have taken root and flourished all over the world.

All of us, at a collective, local, and personal level have a part we can play in this paradigm shift. 

What’s happening where you are?

Do let me know! In the meantime, let’s go local to look at interesting developments promoting creative change in my home city of Glasgow, Scotland, UK. I have chosen to highlight the activities of two local communities with which I am personally involved.

They are both making small but significant contributions to reversing the upward trend towards increased unhappiness which excessive preoccupation with material goals has produced over the last thirty years. The first seeks to promote spiritually nurturing links between adults, children and Nature. The second, the spiritually nurturing cultivation of inner peace via silent contemplation…..

At this very moment my friend and colleague, psychologist, researcher, blogger and independent thinker, wife, mother of two and local activist Emily Cutts is busy mobilising us locally through her Enough’s Enough, Ditch the Stuff movement which seeks to get parents and children outdoors, away from computers and expensive gadgets and towards shared experiences in nature. We have a wonderful woodland and meadow right on our doorstep here in G20 and Emily’s efforts plus great support and enthusiasm from local volunteers, have got around a thousand parents and children out there having a terrific time in recent weeks.

A big Ditch the Stuff event is happening in North Kelvin Meadow, G20, on Sunday 15th July 2012 1-4pm. Try to be there!

 Meadow in the City

Meadow in the City

photo: Anne Whitaker

Have you ever been to St Mary’s Cathedral, 300 Great Western Road, Glasgow G4?

Led by Provost Kelvin Holdsworth, the community at St Mary’s – open, inclusive, welcoming to people of all faiths and all spiritual seekers – is also doing its bit at a local level to promote the values and practices of the new paradigm I have been describing, especially in relation to helping those who need to find some inner peace in the increasing outer noise and freneticism of our collective life.

St Mary’s offers a programme of times for reflection – silence in the city – during this autumn 2012. It operates on a drop-in basis, open to anyone needing a time of peace and silence. The Open Silence operates to a rhythm of two one-hour slots per month, lunchtime and evening, available on the following dates:

Sunday August 19th from 8-9 pm, then Thursday August 23rd from 12.30-1.30pm

Sunday September 16th from 8-9 pm, then Thursday September 20th from 12.30-1.30pm

Sunday October 21st from 8-9 pm, then Thursday October 25th from 12.30-1.30pm

Sunday November 18th from  8-9 pm, then Thursday November 22nd from 12.30-1.30pm

These drop-in hours are free, although any donations to St Mary’s Cathedral funds are always welcome! Anyone can come along, for as long as feels comfortable – you don’t have to stay for the whole hour, but please do leave quietly. You can sit anywhere you wish in the Cathedral during your visit. Gentle music and a brief introduction from Vice-Provost Cedric Blakey begins the hour, music again draws the hour to a close. Candles are lit throughout to help you to connect to your time of peace.

Silence, prayer, peace....

Silence, prayer, peace….

Could any readers who would like to promote these valuable local events be kind enough to pass on the link to this post to anyone on their networks who might be interested? Thanks!!

NOTE

A major inspiration for setting up St Mary’s Cathedral’s The Open Silence was provided by the series of programmes presented by Christopher Jamison, Abbot of Worth Abbey, in 2010,  ‘The Big Silence’, in which five participants  were “……invited to take the wisdom of silence found in the monastery……” and carry it back into their everyday lives.

Father Jamison is convinced that everyone – atheist, agnostic, lapsed, uncertain, seeking – can benefit from sustained, regular periods of silence. “When we enter into periods of silence, we start to see things with greater clarity. We come to know ourselves, and come in touch with that deepest part of ourselves. That is our soul.”

If  readers are interested in reading more about this project, which I – and many others I spoke to – found moving, challenging and inspiring – click HERE.

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1100 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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