Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
This week we marked the autumn equinox, a time when the sun rests above the equator, and day and night are divided equally. It heralds a season filled with change, celebrates the harvest, and ushers in the brilliant beauty of death. Autumn is a season of transition, of continual movement.
In the ancient Celtic tradition, these seasonal turning points are threshold times when we are invited to pay close attention.
Another ancient practice was that of drawing a circle of protection around oneself, as a way of creating safe boundaries and honouring the divine presence surrounding us. Sometimes the world can feel quite threatening and the circle is a sacred symbol of wholeness. This practice was later incorporated into the Christian tradition and we see examples of it in St. Patrick’s breastplate prayer – Christ before me, behind me, to my right, to my left, above me, within me, around me, and in everyone I meet. There are many examples of this prayer, with the Deer’s Cry being perhaps the best known.
This practice of drawing a circle of protection is also intimately connected with a prayer of the directions. When we name the presence of Christ and the sacred in every direction — in the east with the resurrection, with the rising sun in the south at the hour of fullness and fires burning brightly within, in the setting sun at dusk that reminds of our own limits and the sweetness of what is most precious, and the darkness of the north, a place of mystery, unknowing, rest, and incubation – we come to know this presence as infusing our every encounter. We come to honor the seasons of our lives.
The Celts traditionally aligned the directions with the four elements as well (this is a practice in many indigenous traditions) and we find it later integrated into some Christian prayers and awareness. St. Hildegard of Bingen in 12th century Germany followed this same alignment in her teachings too.
The season of autumn is connected to the hour of dusk, to the waning of the moon, and to the element of water. Water invites us to yield and surrender our own ambitions and striving, and allow a wiser and more fluid source to move through us.
Fall calls me to let go of false assumptions, wrests my too-small images of God from me as I slowly approach the Mystery of dying and rising. Autumn demands that I release what I think is important to do and returns me to the only thing which matters that I remember—to love and to allow love to sculpt me, even as it sometimes breaks my heart. Water reminds us to allow the river of love to flow freely through us.
But equally, this season calls us to the harvest. Seeds planted long ago create a bounty and fullness in our lives. Autumn invites me to remember the places in my life where I had a dream that once felt tiny and has now grown and ripened into fullness. The element of water reminds me of the wide expanse of the sea and in the Irish landscape the abundance of holy wells which are signs of the abundant source of life available to us.
The directions and elements are a part of an incarnational spirituality, one that honors the divine presence all around us and infusing us, and an intimate part of creation.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner