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Sacred Soil

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SACRED SOIL

I’m doing laundry, watching the last of the silty North Carolina river soil circle the drain and disappear. I’m always low when I first return from my annual pilgrimage to the Wild Goose Festival on the banks of the French Broad river. After spending four days with two-thousand-plus “spiritual misfits” immersed in spirit, justice, music and art, it’s hard to return to the “real” world.

My friends and I have been on sacred ground, sacred meaning “holy” or “set apart for or by God.” We set ourselves apart from our busy calendars and to-do lists and the traffic and the email and even wi-fi (!!!), and we dug our roots deep into the soil of truth and love and living spirit.

Standing on sacred ground at the Wild Goose Festival

Soil is what feeds us and nourishes us. It’s what we are made of. As the Bible says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Down by the river, we remember. We remember our true selves. We remember that we are connected to every other wounded soul on the planet – past, present, and future. And we remember that we have responsibilities to all those other souls.

We are each called to heal and to become our best, healthiest selves, now more than ever. Our very planet depends on it. 

What soil will we choose for nourishment?

We can sink our roots into the polluted soil of judgement and contempt and divisiveness, or we can choose the sacred soil of love and openness and peacemaking.

For a few precious days, my thirsty roots penetrated deep into the sacred soil by the rushing river. It will take some time to see what grows. I have pages and pages of notes, and my head is full of rainbow flags and sung psalms and the smell of campfires. I’m not quite ready to write about it. If you are curious or impatient, you can use the search function on this blog to find my posts from past festivals while you breathlessly await my 2017 Goose musings. 

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Your Tiny Part in Saving the World

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“But how am I going to save the world??” I wailed.

My friends and I had just watched Michael Moore’s movie, Where To Invade Next, a thought-provoking and unsettling film about  . . . well, what is it not about? Consumerism and greed, stress, sex, militarism, racism, education policy, nutrition, prison reform, women’s health, basic human dignity.

All the ways my beloved country doesn’t quite live up to its promise.

One thing about the horror that is Donald Trump — it has awakened my long-dormant patriotism which was badly damaged by decades of slogging through the political sewage on Capitol Hill. I’ve been reminded that this country and its ideals are worth fighting for, not in the sense of drones and tanks, but in the sense of loving your neighbors, speaking out against systemic oppression, protecting our air, land and water, and seeking dignity for our seniors and hope for our kids.

This country cannot afford to be derailed by an orange demagogic purveyor of fear and hate.

Broken Systems

But what’s my part? Where does one start? So much needs to be done, and it all seems urgent. When I left my lobbying job at the Sierra Club, I vowed I would never go back to political work unless there was a serious effort to overturn Citizens United, in which case I would dedicate the rest of my life to that. Thanks to Bernie Sanders, that might now be a possibility.

But I fear that even extensive corporate and electoral reform would be piecemeal. Don’t misunderstand me, Citizens United is a huge problem from which many other problems stem. As is capitalism, which is based on self-interest and greed, pure and simple.

No, the real problem isn’t policies or court decisions or economic systems. The real problem is a heart problem. It’s the fear and insecurity that lead to anger and hate and then violence. It’s the need we seem to have to divide ourselves — to create categories of “others” to fight or compete with or disdain or oppress. It’s the greed.

It’s the me, me, me. Protect me, enrich me, admire me, entertain me.

I believe this is a spiritual crisis we’ve got going on here, and if it’s not addressed as such, we’re toast.

Broken Hearts

Our hearts are broken. They aren’t working right. They’ve been cracked or punched or shattered or rotted away or maybe numbed out. We’ve seen too much. Too much war, too much rage, too many school shootings, too many religious leaders preaching hate, too many black people being shot or beaten by officers with broken hearts.

I had to close my eyes multiple times during Moore’s film, because nowadays it is too painful to have a soft heart. Many of us have been left all but paralyzed by the ascendancy of Donald Trump’s aggressive arrogance and vitriol.

We have been left wailing, “But how am I going to save the world??”

My friends are good to me. They say, “You do what you’re doing . . . you do your tiny part . . . you preach your sermon on gentleness . . . you write . . . you pray and listen . . . and yes, making casseroles for sick or sad people counts.”

But, but! That just doesn’t seem enough in the face of the world’s ills.

Casseroles

I wonder: could it be my ego that wants to do something “bigger” and “more important?” What if I have a touch of the egomaniacal disease that has taken over the heart of Donald Trump?

What if Jesus actually meant it when he said that our Big Job is to love God as best we possibly can, love our neighbors and love ourselves? What if that really is the answer?

What if we each attended to our own emotional and physical and psychological needs, supported and encouraged our neighbors from a place of strength and love rather than a place of neediness, and humbled ourselves enough to acknowledge that perhaps there is a power in the universe greater than ourselves — one that might just have a heart even softer than our own? What if that’s the way to save the world?

I know that when I’m loving God as hard as I can, I am open to holy promptings, and I’m unafraid to step up to whatever I’m called to do, be it large or small. I have clarity, I feel confident, and circumstances fall into place at the proper time.

And in the meantime, I suppose casseroles are enough.

Casseroles Count

Casseroles Count

Mourning into Dancing: Wild Goose Festival

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I want to tell you about the little blonde girls wearing summer dresses, dancing barefoot in the shiny mud. I want to tell you about the weeping African-American woman clutching my hand, chanting “I am, I am” to the Sabbath sky. I want to tell you about the writhing shadow figures circling the bonfire, moving rhythmically to our midnight drumming. And about the white unicorn waving his hooves, singing Holy, Holy, Holy under the Beer & Hymns tent.

I want to tell you, I want to show you, I wanted you to be there. Wild Goose Festival 2016.

But it’s all too much right now.

I arrived home last night, my heart bursting with hope and gratitude despite the darkness that’s descended on my country and around the globe. I have been reminded that we are all one. We just forget. But I know that love is stronger than hate, that love is stronger than fear, and that love will win.

It starts with me. It starts with you. So go do something loving today, and try to stop yourself if you are about to do or say or write or even think something unloving. And that will be enough for today. Once I process the amazing grace I have been living inside for the past four days, I will write more. I will try to tell you.

Peace.

A Face of Hope

One Face of Hope

Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/spirit-on-the-wing-scaring-the-hell-out-of-christians/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/spirit-on-the-wing-ii-the-high-cost-of-flying/

@WildGooseFest

I Wish You Joy! (And Maybe Merry Christmas.)

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I wish you joy this Christmas day, whether or not you celebrate Christmas, whether or not you consider yourself a Christian, whether or not you get angry if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas.

Mind you, I am not wishing you a Merry Christmas, unless you would like me to, in which case, I wish you the merriest of Christmases! Otherwise, I wish you joy: big, robust, impossible-to-resist joy.

Of course, being a follower of Jesus, I consider the Christmas message and the state of joy very closely related. The bible says — and my experience is — that when you are truly connected to the spirit of God, you will experience complete joy, along with love and peace and patience all kinds of other good stuff that you can’t buy and wrap up in packages.

photo (28)

The Joy of Jesus

Throughout the Bible, Jesus brought joy wherever he went, beginning with the Christmas story. Angels heralded his arrival as tidings of great joy to all people, lowly shepherds celebrated, and the magi were overjoyed at the star over Bethlehem.

Later, Jesus hung out at big dinner parties with “undesirables,” celebrated at weddings, and cooked out on the beach with friends. He turned water into wine at a wedding party, and when faced with hungry crowds of thousands, he handed out endless bread and fish, showing that God’s abundance and capacity for celebration never runs out. His enemies even accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard! Despite being homeless and hated by many, Jesus surely knew how to bring joy.

laughing jesus

Imagine the joy that followed this guy as he healed people from every kind of brokenness and illness. He told them to leave their baggage behind, to go and be free from shame. He freed people bound by unhealthy exclusive religion, releasing them from legalistic rules and toxic preconceived notions about God.

The Non-Joy of Too Many “Christians”

That’s why it’s so sad that today, many people who consider themselves Christians (never mind that Jesus didn’t come to establish a religion) have lost their joy and put themselves back into bondage. They appear to believe it’s their job to judge other people in a serious, somber, and sometimes angry manner, constantly warning about the wages of sin. An Onward Christian Soldier attitude: life is a battle, suit up. Attack!

How is that reflecting Jesus? Even at Christmas, these people wage a campaign of negativity and victimhood and resentment: “There’s a war on Christmas, poor us!” Trust me, I know what it’s like to have your faith mocked, to have your beliefs attacked, to feel belittled by people you love, behind your back and on Facebook.

But Christians: get over it. You shouldn’t become part of this divisiveness. Pray that you would be filled with love and compassion and forgiveness, not pettiness. The peace of Jesus doesn’t come from this world, and our joy does not depend on other people.

Followers of Christ should be leading a counter-cultural campaign of joy against the darkness and division in the world, not an angry pity party.

I saw a bill-board in Pennsylvania yesterday: a big “Happy Holidays” crossed out and “Merry Christmas” written over the top of it. Really? REALLY?

Jesus-filled people should be wishing everyone joy in a way that brings joy, not in an aggressive way intended to make people angry. How dumb (or worse, mean-spirited) is that? The joy of Jesus is not an exclusive joy or a joy that creates divisions; it comes from love, not anger or fear.

love thy neighbor

Party On!

Here’s the thing: There’s a cosmic party going on, and everyone belongs! It’s a joyful place right here, right now, not just in some puffy, pink-clouded after-life, and it is much stronger than the dark side of the Force. Jesus called it the “Kingdom of God,” and he said that everyone is welcome.

That’s what I’m celebrating at Christmas: There’s an open door, come on in. Just ignore those misguided, cheerless “Christians” in the corner. Celebrate with the rest of us!

Joy to the world! And joy to you, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey.

Peace and Justice in Vivid Color

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Vivid — what a fine word. I think it’s a psychomime, also a very fine word. A psychomime is a word connoting the state or condition to which it refers, like mushy or funky, and is not to be confused with a phenomime, a word which brings to mind a psychological state or emotion, like maybe giddy. Not to be confused with the more familiar onomatopoeia that you learned in school, which refers to a word that literally sounds like what it describes, like whoosh or crack.

(You know it’s a questionable blog post when the second sentence leads to a serious digression which then necessitates an apologetic parenthetical phrase. Sigh – it’s Monday.)

Believe it or not, this isn’t going to be one of my wildly popular stream-of-consciousness posts about a favorite word, though my digressive mental state might indicate that it’s almost time for one.

No, this post is simply a response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: the word vivid. So here is my photo:

Vivid!

Vivid!

I love, love, love this photo. It was a banner at the Wild Goose Festival last year, which is coming up again in July, and you really must come. I can almost promise it will change your life, especially if you’re feeling hopeless or sad or cynical, and who isn’t these days? The world’s about to blow up or melt down in any number of ways.

Wild Goose is a progressive (very) Christian event, but anyone might enjoy it — “the intersection of spirit, justice, music, and art.” This year’s theme is Blessed are the Peacemakers, and it fits right in with what my church has been talking about the last few months — social justice and how we as followers of Jesus can help bring light and reconciliation to a time of darkness and fear, instead of adding to the divisions and hatred as so many “Christian” politicians and media mavens sadly do. We’ve been talking about confronting and healing racism and war and violence and oppression and toxic religion.

So the word vivid resonates with me right now. I’m in the light, and I’m ready to hope again. I am coming out of my grief over my brother’s passing, beginning to de-clutter the depressing masses of stuff that somehow piled up around me while I was doing eight years of caregiving/grieving, and getting just the teensiest glimpse of the gifts I might bring to my new role as Pastor of Prayer and Healing at my church.

So yes, please: I want to “live out loud” in vivid color this summer.

Meet me at the Beer & Hymns tent at Wild Goose!

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, I will answer you: ‘I am here to live out loud.’”

– Emile Zola

 

 

 

Leaving Home and Legacy

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I’ve been thinking a lot about dying lately. Maybe not so much dying as just not being here anymore.

This week I will be signing the papers that will detach me from the house I grew up in, the homey, red brick colonial that my family has owned since 1958. It is more than the end of an era; it is the end of *all* my eras so far. Although I’ve lived in my current home for twenty-seven years — way longer than I lived in my family home — somehow that house has always been “home.” Where’s home now?

Home

Home

At the same time, I am preparing to turn sixty years old in a few short weeks. This preparation mostly entails drinking more than is good for me more often than is good for me (perhaps trying to feel like I’m in my twenties again?) and frequently shaking my head and saying “I can’t believe this,” or “How did this happen?”

I’m crying a lot, missing my brother and my mom and even my father, who died forty years ago this May. It’s letting go of the house that’s stirring up the memories.

At any rate, these happenstances have brought to my attention the likelihood that I will die at some point. I knew this, of course, I think I just know it more now. What will be left when I am no more?

What Lasts?

A few weeks ago, we had a Lenten Quiet Day at my church where we spent time in prayer and reflection and meditation. One of the Hebrew scriptures that we used for meditation was Psalm 139, which reads in part, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

I got to thinking about that word “everlasting.” What is everlasting? For someone like me with no kids, no DNA spread about, what of me is everlasting?

I used to think that my legacy was wrapped up in the National Parks and forests and rivers that I helped protect for posterity when I was Public Lands Director at Sierra Club. But those aren’t everlasting. Even if they survive America’s insatiable need to drill, mine, and chop down every last cotton-pickin’ acre of wildlands, they will still be dust eventually.

So no everlasting legacy there. Nope.

I also used to see a trace of legacy in my role as chair of the pastor search process that released my friend Brian McLaren from pastoring the church he founded, so that he could be a full-time author and international speaker spreading a gospel of love and justice — at least a small flickering candle against the darkness of the judgmental, hate-preaching juggernaut that many people think of as “Christianity” and from which they understandably flee.

But Jesus didn’t come to establish a “religion,” and he doesn’t need Brian McLaren to save him, and Brian didn’t need me to save him either. Ten years has put this in perspective. I’m glad to have helped Brian and our church out, but God is God, and is likely by turns divinely amused and annoyed by the way humans represent Her/Him/Is/I AM.

True Home

So what truly is everlasting? Only love. Only the Spirit of Love that passes from one to another to another for all time and into eternity. And I believe what Jesus’s friend John wrote two thousand years ago: God is love. That’s where “home” is, always was, and always will be.

So let me not waste time, God. Let me not waste time clinging to brick and mortar or searching for meaning or significance in things that don’t last. Let me dwell only on the love in my past, and let me love well in the time I have left. 

Related post: https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/hope-or-hostility-in-a-multi-faith-world/

Holy Health Takes Wing

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We gather in the woods of North Carolina on the bank of the French Broad River, more than two thousand of us seeking the spirit of the Wild Goose — an ancient Celtic symbol for God’s Holy Spirit. We call ourselves The Fellowship of the Wings.

I know, maybe that sounds a little woo woo; but it’s not like we’re weird or anything, with our angel wings, hats of feathers, rainbow flags, and flaming Hula Hoops.

Just the usual Christian paraphernalia.

Just the Norm

Wild Goose 2013 026.fix Wild Goose 2013 033

I wasn’t sure how to share about the Wild Goose Festival until the WordPress blogmeister helped me out by asking: What does health mean to you? The connection is obvious, right? OK, maybe not to you. But bear with me.

Health as a Holy Pursuit

Health is a beautiful word – it means wholeness; being whole and sound. I believe that the only way a human can attain true wholeness is to connect with the spirit of life that animates us, and I call that spirit God. In fact, the Old Norse word for health is helge, which means holy and sacred.

If a person is intentionally open to the Holy, no matter what happens to their body, their mind and heart remain oriented towards a larger reality, and they flourish. Living in this larger reality means you can let go of the illusion of control and accept life on life’s terms, which leads to peace and a sense of well-being. Being fueled by the Holy means your own desires become aligned with God’s, and  as you become more and more the true self you were created to be, you find yourself bathed in grace and gratitude.

Down to the River Chapel

By the third day of the Wild Goose Festival, I was beat. I’d been trudging from workshop to workshop through mud and thick humidity, balancing my umbrella on one shoulder and my lawn chair on the other while juggling a cache of new bumper stickers, t-shirts, bracelets, and books.

Plus, I had stayed up too late at the “Beer and Hymns” gathering the night before.

Beer & Hymns

Beer & Hymns

So I decided to settle down and see what the morning might bring at “The Chapel,” a small clearing at the edge of the rushing French Broad River. Sure enough, being still and waiting for the Holy resulted in renewed health and wholeness for my body, mind, and spirit.

Quieting the Chatter in Your Head

First up: Centering Prayer, a Christian meditation I’ve been practicing for years but which I’ve recently let slide. About fifty of us sat in a semicircle listening to river rhapsodies and bird songs and facing an altar of candles set up on a picnic table beneath a cathedral of aged oaks, basswoods, and tulip poplars. Spiritual and political writer Phil Fox Rose led a twenty minute “sit” during which we each silently used a sacred word to release our chattering thoughts and distracting emotions so that we could simply rest in God’s refreshing presence.

I’ll bet you won’t ever need blood pressure medicine if you practice this regularly.

Letting Laughter Rip

After the quiet souls dispersed, a new set of people came traipsing down the shady dirt path towards The Chapel. The noisy procession was led by Kimberly Kirchmere Dinsdale, a boisterous life coach from California and a practitioner of Laughter Yoga. I’ve always wanted to try this Indian form of Hasyayoga because studies show myriad health benefits from regular laughter, even if it’s voluntary, planned laughter. Apparently, people who laugh habitually are 40% less likely to have a heart attack!

I probably will not die of a heart attack – I laugh a lot. So this workshop was tons of fun and had the added benefit of helping me to rise above my fear of looking stupid.

A Tradition of Dance and Song

My cheeks and belly were sore from laughing, slapping my knees, and hugging other laughers, so I was looking forward to sitting on my butt for the next workshop on Aramaic – the ancient language that Jesus and his friends spoke.

No such luck.

Reverend Elizabeth Reed, who runs a holistic healing and growth center in Ohio, got us up on our feet. Strumming her guitar, she soon had us chanting Aramaic words for God while doing circle dances similar to ones they might have done in the Middle East two thousand years ago. Totally, totally cool.

Get this: Abwoon is the word that’s traditionally been translated “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer. In Aramaic, it actually carries meanings such as creator, birther, breather and sender of spirit, here, and incarnate. Good Lord! How did those old guys who shaped the early Christian faith get “Our Father” out of that??

The repetition of the chant and movement was mesmerizing and soothing to my soul; the experience of engaging my intellect, body, and voice all at the same time reminded me that living life to the full is the best way to be whole and healthy.

A Healthy Prescription from a Wild Goose

Go outside into God’s dynamic and glorious creation – open your eyes and ears and breathe deeply.

Spend time in silence, soaking up the unconditional love and radical acceptance that surrounds you.

Wait for the Holy. Trust it. You don’t have to grab for it; it’s in the very air you breathe.

Live life to the full – engage your mind, body, and soul in becoming who you are truly meant to be. Don’t worry about looking stupid.

Laugh, learn, sing, and dance. Love each other.

Drink beer and sing hymns, but don’t drink too much beer or you won’t feel well.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Jesus of Nazareth   

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Stuff to do:

Why not participate in a challenge this week? Daily Post Challenge: What Does Health Mean to You?

This week’s WordPress challenge also highlighted a mental health blog where I have been a guest blogger: Broken Light: A Photography Collective. Check it out!

Come to the Wild Goose Festival next  year — you know you want to!  Christian credentials not required.

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