Empty Tomb (Ravenna)

Empty Tomb (Ravenna) (Photo credit: jimforest)

The chocolate egg is full of gilt-wrapped sweets.

The tomb is empty.

 

For me, Easter has always brought an experience of soaring joy and also of profound disquiet. As a child I enjoyed singing 'Jesus Christ is risen today' with choir and organ and relished chocolate Easter eggs as much for their shiny beauty as for their taste. Sometimes we went to London for the Easter Monday celebration with the Easter bonnet parade and the glittering Pearly Kings and Pearly Queens. Yet at the centre of all the fun and celebration was the Easter gospel, rousing in me the same feelings of fear and astonishment that affected the first witnesses of the resurrection. As a child, I wondered if I understood the Easter mystery. Today, I know that I don't.

 

At the heart of Easter is emptiness--the empty tomb. Years ago, I brought my parents on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As a pilgrim discipline, I didn't carry any money and just accepted what my parents gave me. When we visited the Holy Sepulchre, the supposed site of the resurrection, a black clad Syrian priest screamed at me for not giving him alms. It could have been a devastating experience. But my father gazed in my eyes and said to me, "He is not here".

 

He is not here; He is risen.


I don't understand the resurrection and can't explain it to myself, can't make the unsettling feeling, the disquiet, go away. The resurrection is not just an article of faith, not just a celebration of the rising of Spring from the cold dark of winter--not even simply an enactment of psychological death and rebirth. Easter brings profound disquiet--the disquiet of emptiness. We seek the risen Lord in the place we left him yesterday--in our habits, our beliefs, our ideas, our concepts. And what we find is emptiness. He is not here. Life and Truth cannot be embalmed, cannot be static, cannot be conceptualized, can never be contained in the Known. He is risen, alive in the now, in the freshness we glimpse each Easter. He is here in the disquiet, the not knowing, the simultaneous holding of faith and doubt. This Easter, every Easter, may we meet the unknowing, the  mystery of emptiness.

 

 

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Just a few words on my retreat. I've been back one month from six months of silence--no talking or eye contact except for brief meetings with the meditation teachers every 3-4 days. And no reading during the first three months; minimal reading the second three months.

The retreat took place at Insight Meditation Centre in Barre MA, among the most benevolent woods, stretching for miles & miles. I did most of my inquiry under an oak tree. It is hard to describe the wonder of that tree.

My god-wrestling was mainly done there, under the spreading canopy of that tree, except when it was too cold to sit outside. Doubt and faith were the questions that burned in my heart and mind. 'Who am I?', the arrow that reveals glimpses of the silent Reality within.

Now I'm back in the world with all its heartbreak--getting the news about Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Ukraine, Egypt--giving myself over to the tender wounded heart. I'm often exhausted by so many stimuli; talk, internet, and the fast pace of life that surrounds me. Being back is exciting but also very fatiguing. I'm trusting, trusting, trusting, in the still small voice of guidance.

Soap

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The olive oil soap's from Selem's shop.

He's Libyan,

We brought roses when Gaddafi fell.

But it speaks to me of Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

Saffron, turmeric, cardamom

 Isparta Rose and Queen of the Night,

 Saudi women smiling through their veils

As we buy atttars side by side in Arifoglu,

Rainbow sheaves of headscarves

Buckets of leeches

Sunlight on the Bosphorus.

 

 Pink Island Rose is Caldey,

Helping Mum across the sands

Boat trip from Tenby Bay

Spray, gulls, tang of salt and seaweed,

Sea thrift, gorse, lavender,

Monks in white choir robes

 Chanting and bowing.

 

 Chuckling Goat sebon llaeth gafr

Oatmeal and Honey

Is Ceredigion and the Cambrian Mountains

Tramps across muddy fields

Rainy walks down winding lanes,

Ros the Poet with her green wellies,

Tony bringing leeks from the polytunnel,

Sunset at Blaepennal Church.

Packed in straw, the rustic soap

Was probably an illegal import.

 

And Mysore Sandal is Sadananda

Coming home with a crate of mangoes

A bag of lychees

Four jars of pickle

A sack of rice

And twelve bars of soap.

 "I hope I didn't spend too much," he says.

 

Lathering in the shower

Hot water on my back

Fragrance of rose and sandalwood,

Journeys relived

Memories recaptured.

Soap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Christmas Tree

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It is older then me

The little raffia tree

With red wooden berries.

No live Christmas trees

In wartime London.

 

It means so much to her.

Every year it comes out

Lovingly tinseled.

The little fairy--

A plastic baby doll--

Still wearing the lace tutu

I made when I was six.

 

Ragged but still here

The tree speaks of survival

Against the odds

 Victory over darkness

Light reborn.

 

It reminds her too

Of the years of bombs, ration books

And blossoming love

Years that for her

Are redolent of Christmas pudding

Hanukkah candles and kisses.

Blackout years, foreshadowing magical births,

Livy, Katy, Ros and Nick,

Tiny hands fashioning

Papier mâché cribs

And clumsy lace tutus.

Gifts hidden in raffia fronds.

 

 

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Ma's New Year's Letter 2014

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Greetings dear ones,

 

May the blessing of light be on you, light without and light within.

 

May the blessed sunlight shine upon you and warm your heart till it glows,

Like a great peat fire, so that the stranger may come

and warm himself at it, as well as the friend.

 

And may the light shine out of the eyes of you,

like a candle set in the windows of a house,

Bidding the wanderer to come in out of the storm.

(From a traditional Irish blessing.)

 

As I look back upon the past year and reflect on what I want to share with you at the dawn of 2014, there are two things that stand out for me. This year brought Sadananda and myself the extraordinarily grace-full experience of our Celtic journey through England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, culminating in our pilgrimage to the Sacred Isle of Iona in the Hebrides. The place where the great Saint Columcille or Columba made his home, Iona has been Scotland's most sacred spot for more than fifteen centuries and still possesses an extraordinary aura of peace and serenity.



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This was also the year when I was not just a compassionate witness of world news, but also one who lived through devastating and overwhelming events heard around the world--the Colorado Flood Disaster, which inundated Boulder County, sweeping away entire mountain towns and damaging thousands of buildings, including Alandi Ashram. Recovery efforts are ongoing still, both countywide and at the ashram.

 

There is an underlying thread that links these experiences, so different in emotional tone. The Celtic way is one of harmony with the earth, the elements and the cycles and seasons of nature. In the sacred spaces of cliff and mountain, shore and turf--wild and rugged places lashed by wind and rain--the beauty of sunrise and sunset, dusk and starlight, heather and meadowsweet, the grating cry of the corncrake and the otherworldly moans of Manx shearwater are received with reverence and awe. Beauty suffuses the harshness of these spaces at the edge of the world, calling forth myth, song and story and awakening the heart to other dimensions of being. For the Celts, nature was not a force to be tamed and dominated but a sacred text to be read, learnt and lived.

 

And for us in Boulder the untamable wildness at the heart of nature made itself felt as the earth cleansed herself in a roar of waters. We the privileged, the comfortable, were humbled in the face of a force that could not be contained and that overturned our lives within minutes. At such times, we can only remember that we do not own the Earth, we are her guests, living upon her at her pleasure.

 

May the blessing of the rain be on you - the soft sweet rain.

May it fall upon your spirit so that all the little flowers may spring up,

And shed their sweetness on the air.

 

And may the blessing of the great rains be on you,

that they beat upon your spirit and wash it fair and clean,

and leave there many a shining pool, and sometimes a star.

 

While we struggled to reclaim our lives after the disaster in Boulder County, wild weather events continued around the world at an unprecedented rate. The worst storm ever to make landfall hit poor and vulnerable people in the Philippines. Tens of thousands were evacuated in Britain as one Atlantic storm after another came roaring in. As I write today from Wales, a series of severe storms throughout the past two weeks have brought flooding, fallen trees, power failures and tidal surges. Meanwhile Minnesota is anticipating the coldest temperatures it has ever known. The climate is destabilizing faster than we could have imagined. Five hundred year events are the new normal. Each storm brings an invitation to radical change in a way of life that is rendering our beautiful home a hostile place for humans and animals alike.

 

As the year drew to a close, I became once more a participant in tragic news. The school shooting that occurred on 13th December took place not just in Colorado, but at Arapahoe High School, the school our nephew attends and from which our niece recently graduated.  Like the floods, the shooting was a reminder that disturbing events don't just happen to other people. We are all participants in a culture disconnected from nature and from our own hearts. Although stricter gun controls would undoubtedly help make events of this kind less likely, such legislation does not address the deepest cause or offer the most effective remedy.

 

A year after the terrible school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, local Rabbi Shaul Praver spoke eloquently of the one effective remedy for violence and the wounds of violence--loving-kindness. "We have found the cure for the social disease of violence, hatred and bigotry, and that cure is good old-fashioned loving kindness. When everyone practices that it does change the atmosphere of a room, of a town, of a community, of a state and a country. And so, it is not of only local value, but it is of universal value."

 

 I invite all of us to dedicate 2014 to loving-kindness--the wish that all beings be happy. For a few minutes each day, let us breathe in 'May I be happy,' drawing warmth into every cell. And let us breathe out 'May all beings be happy' radiating warmth to all humans, animals and plants.

 

And may the blessing of the earth be on you - the great round earth;

May you ever have a kindly greeting for people you pass

as you are going along the roads.

 

And now may the Lord bless you, and bless you kindly.

 

Wishing you a joyous New Year and peace and prosperity during 2014!

 

With my love and blessings always

 

Alakananda Ma


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Solstice 2013

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In these days of deepening dark

Curtains drawn at four o'clock

The house littered with dismembered reptile corpses

In these days of wet brown bracken

Muddy boots and early snow

In these uneasy times

 Of shortages of Kleenex, coriander

And bendy wooden snakes

The Lord of Misrule walks our halls.

 

And she who must continually blow her nose

And he who cannot cook without coriander

And she whose world is safe

Only when peopled with friendly snakeys

Gird ourselves against the darkness

Call upon the light

And with song, with wooden spoons

With Punch and Judy puppets

Invoke the Prince of Peace

Invoke the one

Who comes with healing in his wings

Bringing with him tinsel and mince pies

And a wealth of Kleenex, coriander

And bendy wooden snakes.

A Murder of Crows

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Black shapes glide overhead

Wave upon wave

Cawing loudly,

Calling their corvid brethren.

 

They swoop down

Roosting on treetops--

Golden, green, bare-twigged--

Like an autumn harvest

Of great black pears

Rich with fabled wisdom.

 

Solitary, flightless

I stand transfixed.

Full moon rises smoky,

Penumbral shadow.

I gaze at the dark heralds

Of Ancient Grandmother.

 

 



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Afghanistan, 7 April 2013

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Eleven small children laid out in a row.

Village men sobbing into shawls.

How glorious is war!

 

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Wednesday

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It is Wednesday.

In the cold pre-dawn

I empty the dish rack.

Pots and spoons I washed

Seven hours before

When the week was young.

Glisten with wednesdayness.

 

It is Wednesday, Woden's day

Full moon of the week

Day of the wild hunter

Master of the runes

Seer of the single eye.

 

It is Wednesday, Mercredi,

Day of the winged one

Gifting us quicksilver speech,

Sprinkling everyday things

With emerald glitter dust.

 

It is Wednesday

Heart of the week

The kingly day,

After the sleepy infancy of Sunday

Monday's awkward adolescence

Tuesday's impetuous youth.

 

It is Wednesday

Apex, turning point,

Before the leaves of the week

Turn Thursday gold

And fall to Friday's rich, moist ground,

Before the lighting of candles

Invites Saturday's repose.

 

It is Wednesday.

Where does the Sabbath go

During the week?

 

 

 

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Lancashire Lads for Lincoln

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I

The mills are closed, the children hungry

Proud workingmen in soup kitchen queues

mixt wi't stondin paupers too,
Ut wilno work when works t'be 'ad.

The cotton hoed beneath the lash

The cotton picked by bleeding hands

The cotton cleaned by groaning slaves

Rots in Charleston warehouses.

For the pure cloth spun in Manchester mills

The fine cloth woven by Lancashire lads

Is dyed with blood

 And stained by chattel slavery.

And the men in the Free Trade Hall rise up

Not to demand the blockade be broken

Not to agitate for cotton to come

But to call for the end of that foul blot

On civilization and Christian faith

To call for the day when all the slaves

Shall be forever free.

 

II

 

Night falls on the silent spindles and the idle looms

The factories dark and shuttered

The cold and crowded tenements

The children crying for food,

The slight man wearing kadhi cloth

Depressed and distressed by this misery.

And you whose grandfathers stood with Lincoln

Men and women of Darwen

At Greenfield Cotton Mill

Raise your voices for freedom

Raise your arms for Gandhi

The simple man with a spinning wheel.

 

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