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Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled,
made nothing?
Are you willing to be made nothing?
dipped into oblivion?
If not, you will never really change.

The phoenix renews her youth
only when she is burnt, burnt alive, burnt down
to hot and flocculent ash.
Then the small stirring of a new small bub in the nest
with strands of down like floating ash
shows that she is renewing her youth like the eagle,
immortal bird.

-D. H. Lawrence (found at Anchors and Masts)

I am both drawn to the quote above and turned away at the same time.  I love the Phoenix image  rising from the ashes, the new life that emerges from death.  We see it in the world around us in the Northern hemisphere this time of year, we see it in the Christian liturgies of the Triduum that are approaching.  And yet, I am also aware that for many women, the challenge and struggle is to make onself visible in the world, not to deny oneself.

A week and a half ago when I was in NC for the dream training program, that Saturday night was a total lunar eclipse.  Watching the moon that night was an amazing experience.  The sky was absolutely clear and the moon’s light reflected on the rippling waters of the lake at the retreat center.  Slowly, over a period of a couple of hours, I watched as the moon emerged from behind the darkness of the earth’s shadow — an especially marvelous image since I was immersed in Jungian studies that weekend and had been reflecting on my own shadow energies.  How was I being invited to emerge from behind them?

The next afternoon we finally had a break (the program schedule was very intense) and I took a long and wonderful nap to restore my body and then went out to the labyrinth.  As I began the journey toward the center I prayed with what has been weighing me down, what I wanted to release from my own shadows.  As I walked I became aware of all the ways my fears around money have been draining me lately.  As I continue to move toward following my call to live in a deeply contemplative and creative way, I am drawn to doing less of the teaching that provides a more regular source of income.  With this choice comes anxiety around our finances and I decided to just let all of the voices speak to me in this time of prayer.  Too often I dismiss them without really listening to what they have to say to me about my own deeper longings.  They told me of childhood fears that were still lingering, ego desires to do something important in the world, guilt over having so much in my life, wondering what is “enough” to feel secure.  And so we walked together for a while toward the center of the labyrinth and they were satisfied with having their say and slowly faded into the background. 

When I arrived at the middle I lay down for a while on the ground, staring up at the bright blue sky and the tree limbs just beginning to show their signs of new life.  I remembered a dream I had the night before about dancing naked in front of others and not being ashamed, reveling in the beauty of my own nakedness.  I realized that the dream in some ways was about a part of myself previously hidden coming out into the light, the way the full round body of the moon slowly revealed herself from behind the shadows the night before. 

And then I had this moment I have had many times before, but it always feels like grace when it overtakes me. I thought: if all I do in this world is to love as well as I possibly can, that is enough.  At that moment a crow flew overhead cawing loudly as if in affirmation.  I breathed this in for a long while.

Finally, it was time to journey back out from the center and return to the world. As I moved outward I held that image of the beauty of nakedness within me, the joy and simplicity of how I am called to be.  I realized I need to celebrate the precious vulnerability of this contemplative life I lead.  If it were easy to follow it would not be as meaningful.  Precisely because we live in a world of possessions and a drive to productivity tearing people apart that my call has profound meaning.

I returned to Seattle and the cherry trees were exploding in pinks and whites across the city, crocuses were opening wide their petals in the sun.  Out of the cold ground and bare branches suddenly comes a vibrant display of beauty.  Out of my vulnerability and nakedness comes a beauty of my own I am called to claim, to celebrate, and to make visible.  The world is wholly generous, holding nothing back.  How can I not help but respond with the same?

What is bursting forth for you these days of spring?  Where are you called to nakedness and to flowering? What is “enough”?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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9 Responses

  1. Hi Tess, I liked the quote because it did cause me to think deeply about what I wanted to claim and what I needed to reject in it, so thank you very much for sharing it!

  2. Christine, I was interested to hear what you (and others) had to say about the poem I used. I hadn’t thought of what you say about the invisibility of women in the world and am grateful for that perspective. For me, it was about the beauty and the challenge and potential of rebirth.

    Lately I keep coming back to that word “potential” and what it means in my own life.

    And yes, I’m another fan of Lucy’s quote!

  3. Thanks so much Songbird, I agree with you that despite how strong I have become by working so hard to make myself visible in the world, I would not wish that path on others.

    Thanks J! Yes, a great quote isn’t it, I may have to write another whole post on lucy’s words. :-)

  4. I had a strong response to the poem as well. This weekend I was reminded of how invisible I felt in my first marriage and how difficult the task of becoming visible has been. I wonder if Lawrence ever experienced the kind of “X-ing” out that was part of Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wind in the Door,” a total negating of one’s value that comes from an outside force or power.
    Of course, all the work I have done to recover from that relationship (work that is still ongoing almost ten years on from the divorce) has been a kind of renewal. But would I want my daughter to go through it? No way.
    Thanks for this, Christine.

  5. Hi lucy, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I like the distinction you offer between surrender and submission and think it is an important one. Blessings to you, Christine

  6. christine–as i think of the poem and where you are both drawn in and turned away, i am reminded of two words “surrender” and “submission”. i think so often we confuse the two. earlier this morning i was prompted to re-read a paper i wrote a while back. the following phrase speaks to me of the choice we have in whether or not we choose to become “naked and flowering.”

    “I choose surrender rather than submission. There is not a power differential, because it (surrender) is my choice rather than something forced upon me (submission.) I believe God does not let us surrender alone. He is with us. He is with me in the moments of surrender.”

    i am thankful you are called to this contemplative life and choose to share it with us! blessings!