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Light and Dark in the New Year

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One of the most mysterious aspects of life is the simultaneous — even symbiotic — existence of darkness and light, sadness and joy. I used to think that events, people, and years were good or bad, light or dark. The two never mixed.

A bad thing was anything that did not make me happy. I would do anything to avoid feeling sadness.

For me, the holidays resurrect this dusty dream of pure perfection from the cobwebby corners of my brain, and remind me of the vast distance between reality and my old chimera.

Being Small and Being Happy

In my childhood memory, this perfection still exists. Surrounded by reindeer wrapping paper, I’m sitting on the floor next to my giant doll with the glossy brown hair and perfectly pink cheeks, inhaling her glorious just-unwrapped-plastic smell.  I’m trying to fit a tiny spatula into her hand so she can use my shiny new Easy Bake Oven. Silent Night is playing on the radio. There is no darkness in this memory, no shadow. All is well.

All is Well

But of course all is not well. My father is probably pouring his second martini of the morning in the kitchen, and my mother is looking at her Joy of Cooking, but not really seeing the cranberry sauce recipe because she’s desperately trying to figure out a way to stop the scenes she knows will come later. My older brother is having an overly dramatic asthma attack brought on by an earlier temper tantrum, which was probably brought on my Mom’s inattention. My big sister is sulking up in her room, sinking into her pre-adolescent phase where she’ll be lost to us for a few years.

We are in an arms race with the Russians, the Cubans are planning missile bases, and in a few years JFK will be assassinated.

But I am happy. Children are able to exist fully in the moment, focused and oblivious to the shadows. No doubt I’ll get tired and cranky later and start fussing, and the whole world will seem all dark, all hopeless, and irredeemable.

Being Fully Human

As we age, our perspective changes, the camera draws back and we see a little bit of the bigger picture. Darkness and light exist together, and we need them both to become fully human.

We would not know grief if we had not known love. We would not learn compassion if we did not experience pain. We would not have met the heroes of 9/11 or Newtown if darkness had not prevailed first.

We would not recognize the goodness of George Bailey if Mr. Potter did not exist.

A distraught George Bailey (James Stewart) ple...

A distraught George Bailey (James Stewart) pleads for help from Mr. Potter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Learning to See in the Dark

For me, the world is becoming more and more about redemption, about finding a light within that gives meaning to the darkness. Not trying to escape the darkness, but learning to see in the dark.

Since the darkness is there, along with the light, why not learn what we can from it? Live into it all? Embrace the darkness while we wait for more light?

Instead of forced merriment and constant busyness that keeps loneliness at bay, I choose to feel the melancholy that sometimes creeps in during the holiday season. To take time to miss the people who are gone, and to remember to pray for the hurting in the world.

A Beautiful Longing

The image of perfection and pure light that we carry in our hearts is about longing — it’s what we are meant to strive for. The darkness in the world makes us yearn for the light even more. That’s a good thing.

I’ll be walking on the beach New Year’s Day, God willing. I’ll stop to watch the ebb and flow of the tide, to admire the light and shadows on the crests and troughs of the waves. It will be beautiful.

Girl Holding the Sun, Sunrise - Public Domain Photos, Free Images for Commercial Use

It Will Be Beautiful

Have a Blessed New Year

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Inside a Pagan Cult at Solstice

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This Winter Solstice, I participated in my first Druidic rituals. I didn’t know what to expect when I journeyed to the well-known Cosmic  Center of Lancaster, Pennsylvania to commune with a mysterious pagan cult, which, it turns out, bears a remarkable resemblance to my everyday nephew, Jeff, and his family.

I had some trepidation, not so much because of my Christian sensibilities, but because I doubted I could get up before dawn to greet the sunrise. While I wanted to show respect for my only nephew’s faith tradition, I also like to sleep.

But I’m ahead of myself, as usual.

Not Lancaster, Pennsylvania

GATHERING AT THE TABLE

The rituals began in the early evening of the longest night of the year, with the roasting of a sacrificial offering; in this case, it was peanut butter cookies baked by my grand-niece, Savanah. While we munched the sacrificial cookies (nary a crumb was left for the Gods), we painted symbols on black rocks to be used in the rituals. The Druid princess and artist in residence — otherwise known as Jeff’s new wife, Ali — helped me transform my fingerprint into a mystical golden bear track with the help of a paint-stick from the local craft store.

My Rock, with bear paw and symbols of light & hope, Saint Francis (patron saint of ecology), balance & integration, and God's protective love for everyone and everything  -- betcha didn't see that!

My Rock, with bear paw and symbols of light & hope, Saint Francis (patron saint of ecology), balance & integration, and God’s protective love for everyone and everything — betcha didn’t see that!

While the rock images dried, we partook of a traditional pagan repast.

Spaghetti, followed by mint chocolate chip ice cream.

After the feast, the table was transformed into an altar (although even with the lights off, it still looked suspiciously like a suburban dining room). Ali’s parents and her brother, Jeff and his four kids, and this blogger each explained the symbols they had painted on their rocks, and we sang a nice song about being children of the earth. Ali lit a candle and some incense (to symbolize fire and air, she said) and explained that pine needles (from the earth) and water are natural elements with which we are all connected.

No argument there.

Druidism is a form of Paganism (earth-based religion) that is connected with Celtic traditions, and I am fully aligned with Celtic Christianity, which honors the earth as God’s sacred creation and recognizes that humans are a part of God’s creation and co-creators with God, working to make the world a more loving place.

candle

IN THE BEAR CAVE

The Bear was the theme of the night. Ali told the story of Leto, a goddess from ancient Greek mythology whose dalliance with Zeus resulted in the birth of twins, Apollo and Artemis. The bear is sacred in this story, but I have to admit I have already forgotten why. It seems the protective mother bear goddess does not save us from absent-mindedness; besides, I got all distracted when Ali said that bears will not give birth to cubs unless there is enough food. If Mamma doesn’t put on enough weight before it’s time to hibernate, the embryo will reabsorb instead of implanting itself. How cool is that?

grizzly bear: adult grizzly bear with cubs -- Britannica Online ...

Mama Bear and Cubs
Credit: Britannica Online

But I digress.

Jeff led us in a chant, and while there was a good bit of kid-giggling at first, it slowly subsided as the mellow tones soothed their inner goofballs. Then he led a guided meditation where we ended up in a cave with a bear. It’s OK, though. Nobody got hurt. In fact, my bear morphed into a kind of motherly Jesus, and I felt safe.

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN

The thing I found most interesting about these rituals is that they mirror almost exactly the rituals that I employ for Christ-centered contemplative prayer services. In our “prayer practices,” as we call them, we use candles, purifying water, different types of soils, and natural elements. I lead guided meditations and visualizations of the natural world. Last Ash Wednesday, I led a chant.

There is nothing new under the sun, as the book of Ecclesiastes says. Humans have been reaching for God in the same ways ever since we became aware of our “disconnected” condition. Except for the humans who have decided there is nothing to reach for and nobody to connect to.

The Christian narrative is different from the Pagan stories, of course, since we believe that the Spirit of Jesus allows us to access the very power of God to transform ourselves and our lives as we become who God intended us to be. Pagans have lots of Gods and Goddesses.

Personally, I believe that the Holy Spirit lives and works in everyone, regardless of what we call It, and whether we know it or acknowledge it or not. It’s just that when people intentionally work with the Spirit and are open to “going with the flow,” they will get farther in becoming the unique, whole, healthy humans they were designed to be.

THE LIGHT

After the lights came on and the incense smoke cleared, we all cuddled on the couches and went back to watching Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in White Christmas and the whole night felt holy and sacred.

Cropped screenshot of Bing Crosby and Danny Ka...

And yes, I did manage to make my appearance on the morning following solstice, and we stood on a hillside at a local park and serenaded the sunrise.

Just as I trust that the days are now getting longer, I trust that God’s purposes will be accomplished, no matter how we label ourselves or divide ourselves.

The Light will overcome the darkness. That is the Plan, whether the candles are lit by Druids, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

We are all One. We all love, we all grieve, we all long for wholeness and truth. If we reach for God, we will find God reaching for us.

Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, and may you see the sacred in everyday things like peanut butter cookies, black and white movies, and children’s giggles.

Lancaster Sunrise

Lancaster Sunrise

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A River of Love

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I’ve done everything they say to do. I went to church, worked out at the gym, went for a walk, drank plenty of water, called a friend. I wrote.

A River of Tears « melanielynngriffin.

At church yesterday, the kids came in at the end of worship time, as they always do – shaking tambourines and banging on little bongo drums. I looked at the teachers shepherding them in, and I wept.

A friend hugged me.

At the gym, I was on the stretching machine, thinking, well I may not be able to control random unfathomable violence against children, but I can control how I treat my own body. You know, positive talk, affirmations. Then a school bus pulled up outside the window, and I looked away before I saw the kids get off. But the tears still came. I had a tissue tucked in my waistband, just in case.

Walking the paths of my neighborhood, I heard children calling to each other across the playground, and I saw young mothers pushing strollers. Did I imagine the tightness in their bodies? Were they really bent forward just a touch, ready to shelter their babies if something should fall from the sky? Or was it me, hunched into myself, not wanting to connect, afraid to look into their eyes and possibly encounter more pain?

I hadn’t wanted to go for a walk today. I didn’t want to do anything. But when I stepped outside, Mother Nature was right in sync with my soul. It’s a grey day, and very foggy. The mist carries a chill that goes almost all the way into your heart. But not quite.

Thank God, not quite.

Grief warms the heart.  It’s the flip side — the loss side — of love. And love is God’s fire. It is eternal, and it connects every single one of us together, like that river of tears I wrote about.

“There’s a river of love that runs through all times. There’s a river of grief that floods through our loves. It starts when a heart is broken into by the thief of belief in anything that’s true, but there’s a river of love that flows through all time.”

Lyrics by Sam Phillips

Thanks for letting me share. So – how are you coping?

A River of Tears

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I tried to decorate my Christmas tree tonight, but I couldn’t do it. Somehow all the grief that I had been holding at bay crashed through the dam and into my living room when I hauled out the boxes of lights.

I can’t stop crying. It feels unjustified. I didn’t know those people. Those were not my children. I don’t even have children, so ought not to be able to empathize like this. But my heart is bursting, and my eyes overflowing.

Little Spirits

One feels so helpless. Why waste the breath on the “why, why’s,” when you know that no answer will be forthcoming? At least not on this side of the veil between life and death.

God brings good out of bad? OK, let’s see this one…

The tears feel fruitless. Especially shed alone, here in my sad, undecorated living room. And yet I cry. I know that my tears join a river that runs to Newtown, Connecticut. I pray that they are somehow of comfort to someone, that the grief I bear tonight might somehow lighten theirs a tiny bit. Just to know. Someone is crying for you. Someone and someone and someone….

Grief is a mysterious thing. It defines our shared humanity so fully. It’s good to share, and so I cry for us all.

God bless those little spirits…

“Tears are the silent language of grief.”

Voltaire

If you’re sad this season, too, you might want to read my last post on coping with grief:
All is Not Merry in Connecticut « melanielynngriffin.

All is Not Merry in Connecticut

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As the news continues to pour in about the latest horrific school shooting – dozens dead at an ELEMENTARY school in Connecticut this time – we are reminded that all is not well just because there are red and green lights strung about. The world can be a shocking and painful place.

I had been meaning to blog about grief during the holiday season, and today seems appropriate.

This is not a breezy or light-hearted post, as mine are wont to be. No pictures, no humor.

If you need it, read it. Otherwise, skip it or share it with someone who does need it.

This is about surviving terrible loss.

I am grateful that although I’ve experienced a lot of pain and losses over the past five years, this holiday season, things seem to be getting back on an even keel.

Thank God. Being down at this time of year is the pits. This is my fifth Christmas without my mother. Certain carols still bring on the tears, but the grief is no longer acute, just a deep vacancy within my heart.

Grief is a life-long process, as we incorporate painful losses into our lives – the death of beloved friends and family, the loss of our health or our home, broken relationships, job changes, and other major transitions. The holidays can be an especially difficult time, even many years after a loss.

Often we experience the “holiday blues” simply because holidays bring up memories and highlight changes in our lives. If you’re feeling down, you are not alone. Many people would probably welcome a few quiet moments during this busy season to listen to you and to share a few memories of their own. Reach out and let people know how you are feeling.

Here are a few tips that might help you get through holiday grieving.

  • Stay Connected with your Feelings

Give yourself permission to feel and express your emotions. Make sure to create time and space to honor your feelings. There is no ‘right way’ to do this – write in a journal, go for a walk, meditate and pray, exercise. Be present with your own grief and by all means, cry if you need to. Tears are an emotional release and help cleanse our bodies of toxins. If others are uncomfortable with your tears, that’s their issue. This is your grief and your holiday. And if a little happiness or even joy creeps in this year, embrace it. Don’t feel guilty. Mixed emotions are normal during bereavement, especially during this season.

  • Be Kind to Yourself

Get plenty of rest, eat nourishing foods and drink lots of water. Try to avoid excessive alcohol and sweets, which can contribute to depression and stunt your grieving process by numbing your feelings. Put your health and healing first. Simplify and try not to over-do social engagements, shopping, decorating and other holiday “musts.” Do what you can, but give yourself permission to miss a party or buy cookies instead of baking them. Skip the Christmas cards unless they help you process. Slow down. Take a bubble bath, a tea break, read a book, get a massage. Treat yourself as you would treat a dear friend who has been bereaved. Be alone when you need to, and reach out when you want company.

  • Plan Ahead

Don’t allow the holidays to simply happen to you. Give yourself as much control as you can; know where you will be, and when. Keep your schedule manageable and learn to politely decline invitations. Decide which activities and traditions are helpful and which are not. Choose to be with safe, supportive people and put off the “obligations.” Remember to give yourself time to be alone with your feelings. You might try taking your family and other people in smaller doses – look into staying in a hotel or plan an “escape break” to a park or a movie during your holiday activities.

  • Communicate your Feelings and Needs

Let people know how you are feeling. Tell them what you can handle, and what is too much for you. Be open about what you want to talk about and what you would rather not. Ask for help with chores, errands, and decorating. Guide your friends and family in the best way to help you. You are not a burden. People feel good about helping and just need to know what you need.

  • Say No to Expectations and Comparisons

Don’t try to live up to expectations of how you should feel or act – your own or other people’s. You may even feel expectations from your deceased loved one, “She would have wanted me to…” If you’re religious, you might think that “Godly people” should not be sad or depressed – but Jesus wept and grieved for people. Try not to compare yourself or your family with others. Everyone grieves in different ways – give yourself plenty of space and grace. Accept your limitations and don’t beat yourself up.

  • Create or Eliminate Traditions and Rituals

Talk to your family and decide which rituals and traditions are healing. Some may be too painful. Compromise with each other. Incorporate memories of your loved one into your holiday. Write poems or prayers, light a candle, create a memorial piece of artwork together. Hang a new ornament, volunteer at a nonprofit that your loved one supported. Remember that what you do this year doesn’t have to be repeated next year. You may choose a new ritual next year. Do what feels right for you now.

  • Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help

If you are feeling overwhelmed or immobilized by negative or destructive emotions, don’t try to be super human. There are many support groups and programs that can help. Most counties have hospice grief groups during the holidays.

  • Remember, You Will Survive

This time of year will likely be the most difficult season of your grief. But you will get through it. Our anticipation of the holidays is always worse than the holiday itself. You don’t have to enjoy the holidays; you don’t even have to pretend. Rest and be kind to yourself. You are not alone.

Tweet Rebellion: From Peeve to Principle

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My enthusiasm has turned to disgust. Twitter, again. I thought all this Tweeting nonsense would be over by now, as unfulfilling as it seems.

I often like the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenges. I usually find some other interesting bloggers through it, and often gain a few more “followers” each time I blog on a Challenge.

That’s why I’m so annoyed that the Challenge this week has to do with embedding Twitter in my post. Aren’t there real things to write about? Things that are longer than 120 characters? (Or 140, or whatever it is.)

I’ve always been annoyed by Twitter – I mean, even just the name is obnoxious.

I’m particularly annoyed when my more thoughtful and reflective friends get sucked into Tweet World. Really?

But then I realize that when something bugs me this much, when I make a simple peeve into a matter of principle, there’s usually something deeper going on.

I think I’m afraid.

Afraid that I won’t be able to keep up with this ever-expanding technology race, this social media morass. I hate it when all my friends are staring into their various I-this’s and I-that’s and showing each other their spiffy apps. I feel left out and not up to the task.

And so I feign disdain.

It’s true, life is too short already, and I think a lot of this stuff is a waste of time. I don’t want to bother to learn about it, because it’s not how I want to spend my days here on earth. That’s why I don’t have a TV; if I did, I would watch it, and I don’t want to.

And it’s also true that I’m not working; I’m spending my retirement savings on tuition at the moment, and it seems there are probably more useful things to invest in than all these beeping and ringing and vibrating boxes.

But I used to sneer at Facebook, and now I admit I’m a fan. It really does help me stay connected and up to date with my friends. I also used to mock bloggers (sorry) as self-absorbed ranters without a life. And now I’m an addict. Blogging is the most fun thing EVER.

So who knows? Maybe I’ll Tweet one day. I kind of hope not. Anyway, it won’t be today.

Today I am rebelling. I am going to call this a Daily Post Challenge and I’m not going to embed a Tweet. Or a Twitter. Or whatever. So there.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Tweetizens | The Daily Post.

Shift Your Perspective: The Best Laid Plans…

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The car is packed, and I’m ready to go. Depressed, but ready. I just have to suck it up, and get on the road. I always feel this way when I close up my little New England house for the winter.

This was a good trip. I did a lot of writing, although it wasn’t necessarily what I had planned to write. But as they say, the best laid plans…

With a ten-hour drive ahead, I don’t have much time for journaling. I’m making good time with my to-do lists, and it’s only 7:30 a.m. All that’s left is to turn off the water and catch the cats. They’re usually behind the sofa bed. Peace out-

You’re walking funny this morning. Faster, like something’s up. Plus, you are talking out loud and we creatures of fur are not in the same space with you. You do not have the shiny black noise-maker in your paw, either. Who are you talking to? Something is different.

A zipper! I’d better make myself scarce. Last time you found me behind the sleeping place; where to go?

I’m back, ticked off because I only had thirty minutes scheduled to catch the cats, and I can’t find Eliza Bean. Maya was behind the sofa bed, but Eliza seems to have vanished. She’s too big to fit behind the stove where she used to go when she was a kitten, and I know she’s not behind the laundry hamper because I can always see her tail.

Weird. Well, it will only delay me more if I write – I was just frustrated and decided to vent.

Eliza Bean

Eliza Bean

I can’t fit behind the big box that gets hot anymore. Besides, you know that place. And the place you put the stinky skins you shed is too small; my tail sticks out.

 I am not letting you put me in that Mover. I feel sick in there, and there’s no room to stretch and no sunshine to nap in. You know we don’t like it, you know it. I hear you coming – where shall I go?

Hey! What’s in here? Brmmpp?

CRASH!

I cannot believe this. Eliza has managed to pull down a panel the plumber left leaning against the upstairs bathroom wall, and she’s gotten inside the wall and underneath the bathtub. I can’t see her, but I know she’s in there. Shit. What am I going to do?

Perfect…. It’s nice and dark. Mew. Spider webs.

Ouch! What’s that awful noise? My ears hurt. Are you doing that? You are hurting my ears! Ouch, my foot! I’d better go farther back here. Stop! Oh, you are going to be very sorry for this.

I’ve tried blasting rock music, banging on the bathtub, thrashing around with a broom. She’s not budging. This is crazy. It’s noon already. I’m going to kill her. I ought to board her up in there and leave her.

Oh now you have your sweet voice. The one when you want me on your lap. No, I don’t want treats. No, I don’t want food. I am not coming out. This puffy stuff in the walls is soft, and it’s still a little warm over the place of fire. I will have a nap. We will all just stay here for the afternoon until I am ready. I know you won’t leave me.

The old house has seen a lot in 225 years. Some of its favorite dramas involve this family and its felines.

Quiet Hills

Quiet Hills

In the 1950s, Grandmother’s white cat, Feather, played the hiding game and spent a whole day tucked behind the books on the living room shelf.

Then there was the one called Aunt Valerie, whose cat hid out in the woodshed and got sprayed by a skunk. Thirty years later, the house can still sense the smell.

And there was this one’s mother with her orange tabby, Triscuit, who slipped into the basement crawl space and delayed their trip home for two days.

Orange Tabby sleeping

The house thinks this one wouldn’t be so angry if she would only remember that these escapades turn into favorite family stories.

 

Yawn. It’s getting dark and chilly in here. I think I’ll go down now. I wonder if you’ve got any Trout Feast. I think I’d like the kind with gravy.

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This post is in response to the WordPress weekly writing challenge: Shift Your Perspective, encouraging bloggers to write from different points of view. It’s first person, second cat, and third house.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Shift Your Perspective | The Daily Post.

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