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Wisdom Council: Guest Post from Melissa Layer

I first met Melissa Layer in person at a workshop I was leading at St. Placid Priory, as she lives in the beautiful Northwest as well. She took several online courses, including the very first one I ever taught on Benedictine Spiritual Practices, and then she then participated in the Awakening the Creative Spirit intensive and in monthly supervision groups I was co-leading for soul care practitioners, and later I asked her to assist me in the Sacred Rhythms Writing Retreat last summer.  She is a kindred spirit on many levels.  So I am delighted she is a part of the newly formed Wisdom Council (click over to read her bio).  Read on for her reflections:

“When wiggling through a hole
the world looks different than
when scrubbed clean by the wiggle
and looking back.”
—Mark Nepo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I read these words in Mark Nepo’s book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, I circled them.  I enjoy lectio divina, a Benedictine practice of divine reading of selected scripture and other writings.  I was intrigued that “scrubbed clean” were the particular words that shimmered (as Christine would say!) for me.  Her invitation to me, as a member of the Abbey’s new Wisdom Council, to share my experience of being a monk in the world and an artist in everyday life has been a portal for me to reflect upon the appeal of these words.  They are one way to describe my spiritual journey.

Scrubbed clean.  The first time I went to a Korean women’s spa in Seattle, I decided to experience a full body scrub.  Women soaked in hot pools and lounged in cotton robes, hair tucked beneath cotton mob caps and faces stripped of makeup.  The scrub area was at one end of the large room, designated by a row of waterproof tables.  Korean women stood ready with scrub gloves, plastic buckets and bottles of liquid soap.  We stretched out on the tables, naked as the day we were born.  My hesitancy at being so exposed and vulnerable dissolved beneath the small hands of “Sunny”, the young Korean woman who efficiently scrubbed every square inch and crease of my middle-aged body.  She wrapped my head in a steaming hot towel and periodically sluiced me down with a bucket of warm water.  My resistance swirled down the drain with the soapy water.  I surrendered.  At the end of the hour I arose from the table, pink and glowing.  Scrubbed clean.

There were other times when I received the gift of purifying water and the intentional touch of another’s hands.  These occasions introduced me to sacred ritual and ceremony.  As a child, I experienced humble foot washing in a small country church where the golden pine floors glowed beneath the battered tin basins of warm water.  Children, adults, and elders all crouched there in rays of sunlight, tenderly bathing and drying one another’s feet.  Scrubbed clean.

Part of my adolescent rite of passage was being baptized in the river running through the verdant northeastern Washington valley where I had been raised.  The white folds of my robe rippled in the swirling green current of the Pend Oreille.  I grasped the minister’s thick wrist and allowed his strong arms to take the weight of my blossoming body as he submerged me.  Rising up, fresh and cold and enlivened, I immediately felt the way Spirit had carved a new channel through the vessel of my body.  Scrubbed clean.

As a woman ripening in years, I welcome the gift of reflective wisdom that allows me to understand how Spirit has flowed and molded me.  Scrubbed clean by life with its narrow passageways; wide vistas of heartbreaking gratitude and despair; dark descents; mountain summit ecstasy; spiritual crisis and emergence; miles of winding journeys alone and with others.  There has been the midwifing of others through their dying time; holding the space to find grace in deep grieving; serving as a companion to those that teeter in threshold places of transition, despair and possibility; inhaling the scent of my newborn daughter’s downy head in a rosy sunrise; bathing and anointing the bodies of my parents at their death; gazing into the blue eyes of the anesthesiologist as I counted down from 10, descending like a contemporary Inanna as I sacrificed my left breast to a silver scalpel; fasting, vigiling and surrendering in a red rock canyon during my 4 day solo in a 14 day quest.  These breakings of heart are awe-filled events from which I don’t recover but through which I am uncovered (M. Nepo).

These life experiences are a vibrant creativity that streams through the widening conduit of my being.  There is passionate artistry in my service to others through deep listening, heightened intuition, spontaneity, art, ritual and ceremony, spiritual practices and play.  I bow to a soul-full life of transcendent experiences in both the dream and waking realm, as well as in nature.  The appearance of symbols and synchronicities inform me that the veil between what we perceive and Mystery is not only thin, it is sometimes invisible!

On the summer solstice I stood barefoot in the cold sea.  In my pocket there were treasures of colored sea glass worn to a milky transparency.  I would add them to the bird nest on my altar that also holds old marbles disgorged from deep within the sand.  There is an eagle feather there, discovered after I witnessed a young eagle fledge from the nest on the bluff.  A large rusted spring, uncovered by the relentless tide, reminds me of the symbolic spirals that surface in my conversations and in the sandplay of my clients.  Nature is abundant with her gifts to me.  Owl wings, a talon and dove feathers embellish a fierce driftwood woman who wears castings of my face and one-breasted torso.

The Super Moon tide tugged powerfully at my ankles that night, the sand shifting beneath my feet.  I found the rhythm, felt the one great heartbeat, and joined the dance.  I bent, washed my hands in the sea water, and splashed my face.  Lifting my arms high, I offered my wet palms to Spirit’s dipper of sparkling stars.  Scrubbed clean.  

Melissa Blog Photo Collage


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7 Responses

  1. Melissa, Thank you for this – scrubbed clean – when the purity returns. Your altar is beautiful – I especially like the nest now bearing glass that been worn down by time and nature into gems of a new kind. Grace and clarity is in each word.

  2. Oh Melissa, what a heartsharing and heart opening article this is! It is an honor to read it, and about your life and Spirit shaping experiences. I am very moved and feel graced to know you & your beauty even better now. Thank you also for sharing these photos of your altar. It’s amazing seeing all the heart shaped stones you have collected, as well as your other Soul Treasures. love & gratefulness to you!

  3. Melissa, it is lovely to get to know you better. I love your evocative description of the unfolding evolution of your spiritual journey. Blessings.

  4. Melissa, so beautiful. I am so glad to know you, and to walk a bit of the way with you. (I love Mark Nepo’s work too.)

    1. Joanna ~ Thank You! You have been (and continue to be) such an inspiration and blessing in my life!

  5. Thank you for your words. I felt your heart through them. I relate to being scrubbed clean in so many ways. Your words opened the way for me to contemplate what that means to me. I also collect rock hearts, feathers and weathered objects that speak to me and maintain altars to their real meanings so that I will not forget. I hope to encounter more of your writing. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Amaranth – I send warm blessings and gratitude to you for your soul that sees and sings and honors our wild and precious lives!