Before and After Advent 2015
I feel it’s almost time to make a new relationship to journaling, after a few years of really not managing to write much in this journal, due to being so busy writing elsewhere. Advent 2015 continues the trend, as there’s something about writing twenty thousand words on trauma and the transmarginal for a Masters dissertation (along with attempting to earn a living, be a single parent and a strange kind of priest, spiritual counsellor & psychotherapist) that seems to leave little time again for journalling!
Still, another year draws to a close and the need to reflect is stronger than the need to sleep… at times! So how does this year of 2015 look from here? Can I look back and chart a few way stations and dare I make any kind of intentions for the year to come?
Being in Advent, which is already the beginning of a new year in Christian terms, I’ve been thinking about being a Christian. I’m almost at the point now where I can write that without caring quite so much about how I’ll be misunderstood. Currently, and perhaps especially in the Dartington and Totnes area, identifying oneself with Christianity is really uncool. To be a bit biblical (God forbid) and really un pc, Christianity is the new leprosy and people will metaphorically cross the street in order to avoid contamination. A dear friend recently said, ‘none of my friends are Christian, I don’t even like Christians’ and I both identified with the feeling she was expressing and wondered where I (as a Christian & her friend) was in that?
So one of way stations for my Christian Year from Advent to Advent 2014/5 has been one marked ‘yet another year for wondering about being Christian and what on earth the word Church might mean?’ The obvious solution to this question is to start a new Church, so last Advent I did decide to try this! River Dart Wild Church. I reckoned Jesus might actually be quite a good example to draw on, even though he had perhaps had very little to do with starting most other Church traditions. Naturally it’s even harder to talk about Jesus than Christianity. (Cue the opening episode of one of my favourite TV series, Black Books, where Bernard works on avoiding getting on with his tax return by welcoming in some seriously scary and earnest young men who ‘want to talk about Jee-sus’ ).
I find the Jewish historian and writer Geza Vermes really helpful in trying to find a less scary and scared way of approaching Jesus. He helps to cut through the jungle of later speculation and return to a glimpse of a rather extraordinary Jewish man who started something remarkably deep and transformative with a small group of friends, many of whom were women naturally. So I’m working on being a rather ordinary Christian woman who starts something called River Dart Wild Church with my ‘beautiful assistant’, Beth, and a small group of friends (most of whom are as troubled as I am about being ‘Christian’ and ‘talking about Jee-sus’). A recent Advent communion in Dartington Church, created in collaboration between Wild Church and the local Totnes Anglican clergy team resulted in the Sunday congregation swelling to three times its usual number and stirred a range of responses from those who loved it and want to get involved to those who hated it and walked out… which I consider a good mark of ‘wildness’.
Over the year various people have asked me to explain what Wild Church is. I’ve stood up in various other kinds of Churches and gatherings and tried to say something about this. To be a bit more biblical, I’ve mostly felt ‘doomed’ to failure in this effort. Currently I’m thinking in terms of ‘micro church’ which I’m hoping is something very like a micro brewery. Certainly one of the features of the Living Spirit expression of Wild Church is that it’s very small and involves regular libations of home made sloe gin. Other than that it seems to mostly also consist of confounding other people’s expectations by being considered either too unstructured (or too structured), too emergent (or too traditional), too Christian (or not Christian enough) and various other kinds of ’too’s and ‘not enoughs’. Probably all I can realistically say a year on, is that a fair few folks have spent a fair bit of time walking in silence in wild places and sitting still in the dark… and you can read more about mine and Beth’s perspectives on this journey here.
Other way stations for 2015… For my (possibly one or two) regular readers, I’d like to offer an update on the Lettuce Liberation League which got going the year before. I’m very proud to relate that a number of lettuces have been liberated in the Hunters Moon Salad Sanctuary over the last couple of growing seasons and here is a lovely picture of what a lettuce can grow into when freed from the domestic slavery of being solely a salad vegetable for human consumption. Writing this, I feel an intention coming on about wanting to write more about my micro gardening style (also like micro brewing but more focussed on tea) and perhaps offer hope to all those, who like myself, never achieve their ambition to be a good gardener. So look out for more news from the Lettuce Liberation League and other wild and wacky approaches to organic gardening in 2016…
2015 was also the year of continuing to not really manage to be much of a sacred artist. Having achieved two unfinished icons over the last two years, this year I went on a wonderful ‘Celtic Pattern Design’ course at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts and left most of my laboriously drawn sacred geometry on the train. I hope someone is enjoying it or puzzling over it somewhere? (Probably mice in the left luggage & lost property.) But while I may not have managed a great body of work, I have emerged with a deep sense of appreciation for the skill, inspiration and sheer hard work of traditional sacred artists. A recent visit to the ‘Celts – Art & Identity’ exhibition at the British Museum reminded me of just how long this has been going on in the British Isles and beyond.
This was also another year of nearly finishing a degree. I did submit that dissertation and passed ‘with distinction’. So after four years of ‘post qualification’ training in ‘mindfulness based psychotherapeutic practice’ (which really rolls off the tongue when others ask what you are studying) and if I can make it through the graduation paperwork, I might finally become a ‘Master of Arts’ – on paper at least. In practice, mastering anything seems to be more on an ongoing process of recognising ever newly revealed areas of ignorance, I find. Academia (at least in some places) has really changed since I first started trying to finish a degree about thirty years ago. My experiences of the Karuna Institute and more recent contacts with Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) have given me real hope and inspiration. Following the closure of the Masters programme in Western Esotericism at Exeter University (due to the sudden & sad loss of its Programme Director) CCCU is now the only place in Britain (that I am aware of ) where it’s possible to study & research Western Esotericism at postgraduate level. This Autumn’s conference on ‘Re Enchanting the Academy’ has been an ongoing source of inspiration.
But to return to Living Spirit, as this is the journal for this social enterprise after all! It’s now 30 years since the roots of Living Spirit started to bed down from a swelling seed in my heart & soul and over fifteen years since this became a sturdy little plant with various spiritual groups fruiting on its branches. 2015 has been a year of big changes in this small community. Along with a beginning of Wild Church, has come an ending of the Wood Sisters, after five very full years of growing this ‘modern wisdom school for women’ with my friend, Sue. It’s been a really creative project and has touched into the lives of hundreds of women both locally and further afield. Along the way we’ve given a new lease of life to the Winter Festival of storytelling & other creative & sacred arts initiated by Sue at the South Devon Steiner School and we’ve birthed the Wood Sisters Red Tent, now managed by an independent council of women. So there’s much to celebrate and feel grateful to many for in the Wood Sisters… and a certain level of relief at letting go (at least for a while) of what had become a very time consuming work.
Of the remaining three branches of Living Spirit, Open Spirit has been reborn as the Wild Wisdom School and in the summer of 2015 completed its first pilot year course. As a small group of brave spiritual pilgrims joined me from this autumn for a second year of myth telling, meditation, her/history and mystery, and a new group begins again with year one, I have the slight sense of sort of sometimes knowing what I’m talking about as we journey from the deep time of cosmic creation to contemporary spirituality, stopping along the way at prehistoric Britain, Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece,early Jewish & Christian mysteries and more. Once again it is obvious to me, that no matter how creative and well intentioned one might be, anything truly good is co created by people coming together and my thanks go out again to Beth and also to Jan and Clare for their assistance in holding these courses (you can read our various writings about this journey here) and to all those wild enough to give them a go!
Meanwhile Living Spirit’s “Tree of Life School’ (TOLS) has continued to meet weekly and is now concluding its fifteenth year of Kabbalah study. Since winding down the Wood Sisters Circle, TOLS is now alternating between the study of natural trees and that of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. I’m loving the botany weeks of our natural tree studies especially and discovering yet another layer of wonder at the web of life. If only I could entirely give up sleeping & write a book about this! Recent obsessions include the mycorrhizal relationships of trees including the rare ‘green foot tooth fungus’ which grows with pines… and the wonder of holly leaf miners, discovered while appreciating ’The Secret of Kells’ which is not only a wonderful film but also a reminder to look carefully at that ultimate ‘Big Book’ of the spirit – the natural world. Including using a magnifying glass – try it! On the Kabbalalistic Tree of Life weeks, following last year’s focus on angelogy (as in the scholarly rather than the New Age version – the books of Enoch are a good place to start if you want to know more) we are now reviewing the Four Worlds of Kabbalah, including some added input on the Names of God. My feminist self is delighting in adding a fair few traditional Goddesses to the usual patriarchal perspective.
So 2015 comes to a full and fine close and I look forward to more spiritual adventures in 2016!