I am delighted to share another guest post from one of our wonderful Wisdom Council members! This week we hear from Rev. Dr. Michael Landon. I first met Michael a couple of years ago when he participated in our Awakening the Creative Spirit intensive and found kinship with him through his work with grief and lament. He has a written a beautiful book, Grieving Hearts in Worship: A Ministry Resource, which explores the essential role of ritual in healing from losses of all kinds. Read on for Michael’s reflections:
When I sit at my computer in my home office, my eyes are frequently drawn to three areas; each speaking to my unfolding understanding of what it means to be a monk and artist in the world today. One is a beautifully carved finger meditation labyrinth. It sits on a ledge that hangs on a wall in front of me, with the shimmering grains of walnut wood inviting me to follow the path into the center and back out again. On the same wall, but to the left is a framed print of one of my favorite images – St. Benedict cupping his ear as a reminder to listen with the ear of your heart. The third area is below the labyrinth where I have built a prayer alter of sorts. Intentionally placed are bits and pieces of past and present encounters with God’s presence; each item inviting me to ponder and reflect anew; each a shimmer of God’s love, each a gift received.
The labyrinth is frequently a metaphor for me that points towards a journey or the path life. I was first introduced to the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, CA while doing my training to become a spiritual director. I will never forget standing in line waiting to enter the labyrinth as I watched the many participants walking, I was witnessing a human tapestry being woven as each person walked or danced – allowing the Spirit to guide their steps and movement. It was the most sacred space I had ever been in at that time of my life. Subsequently I trained with Lauren Artress to become a labyrinth facilitator and traveled with her and Veriditas to Chartres, France for a week of immersion into the Chartres labyrinth and a deepening of my spiritual journey. It was while I was walking the labyrinth in Chartres just before returning home that I had an epiphany of awareness, that seeing people gathered from all around the globe – tourists, pilgrims, participants in the same program, those who knew the labyrinth was there and those who did not – we each were traveling on the same journey, on the same path, but just didn’t realize it and what a marvelous thing it will be when there is greater awareness of our interconnection with one another and the Divine. The labyrinth reminds me to listen to my body, to find my own pace and balance, to be aware of what is happening deep within as well as all around me. It is a path that draws us in to a place of peace and wholeness, while being able to face our fears and name our desires, and to hear the voice of God. It is also a path that is often not straight, but curves and twists.
To follow the spiritual path one must learn to listen and take a long loving look at the real. I think this is why I find myself drawn to St Benedict and his invitation to listen with the ear of my heart. Listening with the ear of our heart involves getting in touch with a burning desire, hope and longing that comes from deep within; revealing the essence of God’s love deeply rooted in each one of us. Listening with the ear of our heat is a listening to the stirrings within that are of God. It is seeing our whole being through the eyes of love; where we can hear God say to us from the beginning of creation, when God looked upon the man and woman – upon you and me – “And it is VERY good.” Genesis 1:31 NRSV emphasis added) Listening with the ear of our heart is tapping into an inner depth that claims the truth of being created in the image of God; in the image of love. Listening in this way is a remembering that our bodies are sacred temples that contain the very essence of God deep within.
My prayer alter is a collection of items, images and words that have been gathered throughout my life – including my early childhood stuffed animal, a bright red fox. Each item stirs a memory of some aspect of my life journey; inviting me not only to remember and savor past experiences and awareness’s, but to continue to listen and notice God’s presence in the moment and to gain a sense of where God may be leading me in the future. My prayer alter is an invitation to slow down and breathe deeply. This has become especially important as I learn to live in the midst of chronic illness. Having this place of rest and focus helps me to realize that God is not finished with me yet. Though my life has taken a dramatic turn from what I once thought it would be; God’s creative energy flows through me in new and surprising ways.
It is through God’s creative energy that I am able to reach out to others through writing, poetry, spiritual direction, grief work, and even a little water color painting. So being a monk and an artist in the world today is for me about following the path, listening deeply, pausing and taking a deep breath, and finding creative ways of expressing and being present to others; it is also allowing myself to look and see with new eyes as deepening awareness continues to unfold.
The Petals Drop
The petals drop
giving the illusion of death
The petals drop
revealing a new beauty,
a new way of seeing and being
The petals drop
spreading their color across the table
joining and transforming what is there
The petals drop
revealing the naked seeds and stem
revealing their own sacred pattern of life and beauty
The petals drop
Michael ~ Your little red fox makes me SMILE! And I love your description of what you observed while watching others walk the Chartes labyrinth: “I was witnessing a human tapestry being woven as each person walked or danced – allowing the Spirit to guide their steps and movement.” Beautiful!
Thank you Melissa… my little red fox makes me SMILE too, and reminds me to stay in touch with the child within… I haven’t as of yet, but one day I will walk the labyrinth with my little red fox and see what healing and newness God has…
Michael, Your poem sent me to my own archives seeking out a poem I wrote about 12 years ago. Thanks for the reminder that I would love to start writing again. Many similarities:
Petals and pollen on the polished surface.
My hand moves them with the intent of cleaning.
But is it cleaning or just rearranging?
The blossoms were picked, sorted, sold, arranged, admired,
Evolved from the unusual to the usual decor of the room
Ignored, faded, disassembled.
Now they are rearranged as separate parts
Petals, pollen, leaves, stems
To be placed into the trash.
Eventually back to the earth from whence they came.
Am I cleaning or am I only rearranging once again?
Thank you for sharing your poem Betsy! This is wonderful… yes, many similarities. Many blessings to you…
Wonderful poem…perfect as we look toward Autumn.
Thank you Stacy… Blessings to you…
Beautiful writing essay and poem. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you Faith… blessings on your day!