Sunday, December 22, 2013

Her "Yes" Becomes Mine

Her “Yes” Becomes Mine
By Sheila Conner

(“We are all meant to be mothers of God.
What good is it to me
if this eternal birth of the divine Son
takes place unceasingly,
but does not take place within myself?
And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace
if I am not also full of grace? What…”
~Meister Eckhart)
I am so afraid –

My heart pounds.
I can scarcely breathe.
My palms sweat.

She asks, “Who are you?”

I ask, “Who am I?”

She, “What do you want?”

I, “What do I want?”

Her questions become mine:

“What did I do?”

“What have I NOT done?
Am I in trouble? – again?”

You called me “Blessed”.

I’m what?
You call that Good News?

A child?
New life inside of ME?
You want an answer?
I have to agree?

His light fades.
She’s alone now.
Alone but for the Seed -

The seed she is to carry,
The Seed she has to nurture and grow.
The seed she must deliver.

(Image: The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner)
(Poetry Retreat, November 2, 2013
Surfside Beach, Richard Osler, Facilitator)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sacred Heart

The people sitting in darkness
have seen a great light

Sacred Heart
suffering in gloomy obscurity
yearning now toward other
expanding into Infinity
breaking open
releasing light, love and Holy Energy
giving birth to abundance
goodness, mercy, grace and joy
hurtling across the Universe
dancing toward tiny speck of Finite Blessing -

At rest in the stable.

Love has suffered.
Love has broken open.
Love has given birth.

("Birthing the Holy: Celtic Spirituality Retreat for Advent" 
Week 3, Day 1, facilitated by Christine Valters Paintner

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Way is Made By Walking

“wanderer, there is no road
The way is made by walking”
Antonia Machado

What would it mean to wander and allow yourself to feel the vulnerability of being a bit lost or disoriented? What new awareness might break in from this softened place?

These are thoughts presented this week in our online Advent retreat being offered by Abbey of the Arts and Cristine Valters Paintner.

It’s been a crazy week, and I haven’t really had time to sit and reflect on the subject of “wandering for the love of God” until this morning. But that’s been my call for over 20 years now.
Like Abram of old, my call was to “leave my father’s house and go to a place I know not of.” My wandering for the love of God began in 1990, with the death of my father and my second divorce.  

Dara Mallow of the Abbey of the Arts community, writes of "peregrinatio", "the idea of a sacred journey in the Celtic Christian tradition, with no other destination other than 'seeking one's place of resurrection'." It seems my heart has pretty much found its resting place for now, and the call to wander has been silenced within me. The call within me now seems to be of stillness.

But I have written a number of poems over the years that have reflected the wandering of my soul. This one written in 2010 seems appropriate for this season.

Following the Star

Do you see it?


Right there,

High in the sky…
there it is!

The Star!

I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
So bright,
                    so beautiful,
                               so compelling…

I find myself longing to follow that Star.

You say I’m crazy?

Maybe…may be
but what if,
what if following that Star just might lead me home?

What if following that star
just might lead me to the place of peace I long for?

My heart and mind are filled with desperate “what ifs”
that make staying here, in this place,
next to impossible.

So, here I am
like a crazy fool
packing my bags
loading this camel
and heading out over this desert,
into this broad expanse of wasteland.

I have to go
I’m compelled to follow

The Star calls me home.

Sheila Conner
September 18, 2010

By the way, never trust your journey to a guide who's afraid of getting lost. That's a quote from someone else, but I don't know who. I've made it my own.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Old Tree (Poetry)

(…that Christ may dwell
in your hearts through faith,
as you are being
rooted and grounded in love.
Ephesians 3:17)
Elizabeth, old and barren,
unmet expectations,
finished, left out to dry—
left to dry out.

Unexpected treasure,
the sap still flows,
the old tree
still flowers and bears fruit.

Grateful for deep roots,
ring upon ring –
the golden years
that surprise us still.

Life’s not over ‘til it’s over.
The matron’s voice still strong
belts out her song to the young:
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Time comes,
the Crone gives birth.
Glory to the Ancient One
Who yields new life.

(Week 1: Birthing the Holy: Celtic Spirituality Retreat for Advent
Christine Valters Paintner, in preparation for Pilgrimage to Ireland, 2014
Sunday, December 1, 2013)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Lovely Old Crones (A Poem)


live across the creek
appearing only in Winter,
when their clothes have fallen round their knees
and they become naked, all.

 Nine old crones have dug their roots
into the leafy loam;
planted firmly on the edge, their boots
have found a home

Refractured light of winter’s day
reveals translucent bones;
brittle, broken by decay
I hear their silent groans.

Glory gone and faded now
their youth renewed in Spring
verdant leaves will return some how
since they’ve made this offering.

S.M. Conner

Thinking of Mother, and remembering.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Passing The Torch

I’m taking an on-line Advent retreat with Christine Valters Paintner, of Abbey of the Arts  I confess, I would not be taking the retreat except that it’s part of the package for my Pilgrimage to Ireland next Spring.  It’s kind of one of those synchronistic things: I had been pondering Advent and how it’s been gift to me over the last couple of years, and I had thought about taking some kind of retreat, but not really focused on it. Then this offer came, and it was too good to refuse, so here I am.  The timing seems right. The subject matter is one of my favorites, "Birthing the Holy".

Christine opened our retreat talking about thresholds and how Advent is a sacred threshold, a space when we move from one time to another, or from one awareness to another as in times when our old structures start to fall away and we begin to build something new. 

I immediately sensed she was onto something and that this time was liminal space for me. I have known since my mother died in August that I am moving into a new thing. I have thought about it, even scheduled the pilgrimage to help me embody this new thing, but I had not really sat with the knowing. 

Then my son said it Saturday, as we celebrated Thanksgiving in his new home. As I was preparing to leave, he whispered to me, “Time to pass the torch Mother.”  Now I was able to put my finger on the feeling I've been having. I feel my mother’s presence as she seeks to pass the torch to me. 

Christine’s opening questions to us were: “What is the grace you seek in this season ahead? What is your heart’s deep desire?” Then as I was pondering the usual thoughts, she leaned in with another suggestion: “Before you let your thoughts rush in with their well-reasoned plan, see if you might lean into a deeper wisdom, listen to what your intuition and body are telling.” As I sat with the questions and the thoughts, I could feel my mother’s presence. When Christine suggested making a nature altar, I knew where I wanted to go.

I drove out to a friend’s property after church, put on my hiking boots, and took a short walk into her lovely woods. 

As I meandered through the brush and vines, I realized how many thresholds were there – openings into new spaces and new perspectives everywhere, so I paused at a few of them.

then I found her – the tree that I was looking for.  The tree that would help me answer Christine’s questions.

Next year will be a big year for me, passing from the middle years into the golden years, the “wisdom years”. I am headed toward 65 and Medicare. And I confess, I’m a little nostalgic. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t really sat with myself and observed what I feel happening in my bones. My mother is passing the torch to me. I feel it coming, the letting go of what has been, the sweet time being with my mother, and heading toward the days of being as my mother. It’s coming, as surely as the Light we wait for during Advent, old age is coming. The end is coming. 

So what do I want for myself for the next 20 years? I want my roots to deepen, my branches to spread, and my fruit to ripen. Branches that spread in order to offer shelter and shade, and fruit to ripen so that others can be nourished by my life. A large shade tree must have healthy roots, deep roots, roots able to draw up nourishment from the soil it’s planted in.

As I walked through the wood and after I sat with the tree, I knew it was time to make my altar, I took the few little nature items I had spotted and took them to this small Madonna, and left them there to mark my intention: to enter this time in my life with intention and focus, to face my old age, my golden years with my heart wide open, and to allow my roots to keep growing deep into Christ's Love so that the rest of my heart's desire can happen.

(two broken branches making a cross, bark that has been broken up and shed for the new, berries that nourish and add beauty, and mottled leaves that were once shade)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Welcome To Advent

December 1, 2013 - The first Sunday of Advent.

I didn't grow up with the tradition of Advent. At our house growing up it was always Christmas, full throttle, the moment the Thanksgiving Day turkey was eaten and the dishes washed and put away.

Growing up as a child, that was great. And the time was slower, so it wasn't such a burden, but as an adult, the joy faded. The Christmas lights glared, the tinsel, the tree and all the hoopla became just too much. And the rush between Thanksgiving and Christmas was exhausting.

Christmas celebrates family. A family grows up celebrating certain traditions, then you get married, add a few from his family, and come up with a few of your own. Perhaps that would be manageable, but then divorce happens. Traditions are ripped apart, as well as families. Even years you have your kids - odd years they're missing, and it's a huge hole. Then you remarry. Add a few of his traditions, make the shifts, but then another divorce, another tear in the fabric of Christmas happiness, and now it's harder than ever to make the holiday work. Add another marriage, the loss of parents, and you have the makings of Scrooge, angry and weeping over the Ghosts of Christmas past.

I have been Scrooge for the better part of 30 years. And no one likes Scrooge at Christmas time. But the bar is held so high this time of year, expectations are extreme: the perfect family, the perfect traditions to celebrate, the perfect gifts. And the expectations get dashed over and over and over again until a person would really rather curl up in a ball at the end of October and not emerge again until after Christmas.

And I had my own standard. I was raised in a family that honored the birth of Jesus. There were lots of church activities and spiritual traditions that were very special to me growing up - and I married into families who may have offered what my dad used to call "lip service" to the Christ Child, but who's traditions weren't as spiritually focused. Truth be told, reading the Christmas story and making Jesus the point of Christmas became a particularly heavy burden, another bar raised that I couldn't meet.

Scrooge. He was the only one who understood how I felt about Christmas.

I was introduced to Advent in 2002 when I entered the Catholic tradition, but at that time, it was just another tradition that I had to try to keep - lighting candles, advent calendars, special prayers to say with my family...yeah, right!

Then, in 2009, our rector at St. Timothy's, Andy Parker. preached a sermon that began a real turning point for me. He simply and quietly said, "This isn't the Christmas season, it's the Advent season, the season we wait for Light." That's all he said, but there was a small shift inside me, that I could feel.

If we wait for Light during Advent, then it must mean that we are sitting in darkness - which I had been for many, many years during the holiday season. All of a sudden, it was OK for me to be in the darkness.  All of a sudden, I wasn't bad because it was dark in my life at this time of year. That's the way it was supposed to be...Scripture is replete with tales of people sitting in great darkness, waiting and longing for light to come. Winter is a season of death. The sunny days of Summer are gone. We weep in the night time; joy comes in the morning, with the light. Andy's few simple words broke a space open in my heart to welcome the darkness I felt, to grieve what I had lost, to begin to lay aside the expectations of perfection, and to just be sad.  I, Sheila Conner, had to wait for my own Light to come.  And it was OK. Not just OK; it was good for me to be in the darkness, waiting for the Light to come.  All of the natural world around me was going through the same process.

Tiny shifts have happened over and over since 2009. I think I can truthfully say, Advent has become my favorite liturgical season. If I grieve so much now, it's for all of us who have no season to honor our own darkness. We are thrown into the glaring light of Christmas all too soon, way before we're ready. And we wind up being Scrooge all the way through the holiday season. Advent is the blessing we Scrooge's in particular need. And I am exceedingly grateful for the slowness of Advent.

There is no greening of our sanctuary until December 22; no tree lit up until then. No carols sung. No great loud celebration until Christmas. Advent's darkness has its place, and THEN the bells ring. Baby Jesus doesn't get put into the manger until Christmas Day. Christmas isn't Christmas until December 25, and THEN the 12 days of Christmas.

I bless Advent.  It has been my salvation. I wish you and yours a sacred, holy Advent Season. If you're sad and lonely, if you'd rather not face the glare of too much Christmas, pause and welcome the darkness of Advent. Wait with with me for the Light, for surely it will come.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ego? or Essence?

“Ego remodels a house; Essence doesn’t.”

It was a small comment really, not meant to stir the dust or even invite days of contemplation, but it did.  And I must admit Ego spit and spat and fumed, because Ego loves “comparison”, “competition”, and “judgment”; i.e., if Ego remodels the house, I must be bad. No one said that, but that’s where unabated Ego goes, straight to comparison, competition and judgment.

Ego’s not bad, but left unchecked, Ego can take us into pride and argument.

But Essence, when allowed to surface will take us further and deeper into perhaps some dark, unexplored area of the soul.  And if left to simmer for a couple of days, some really juicy thoughts might begin to surface and hope might be the end result.

Only in a dualistic world are Ego and Essence different, one being bad, the other being good. In a non-dualistic world, they are the same – like two sides of a coin:

or two strands of DNA:

or threads woven together to make cloth: 

all of which, by the way, require 3rd Force to make the new thing: heads and tails make a coin, and polynucleotide weave together to make human cells, and strands of threads weave together in opposite directions make cloth. But I digress.

As I pondered Ego and Essence this morning, I came to the conclusion once again that they also are two woven together and by some lovely 3rd Force energy, they become “I Am”.

The two shall become one.

If I deny Essence, there can be no “I”.

If I deny Ego, there can be no “I”.

If I take away one, the whole is no longer a whole but now a part.

As long as I look at Ego and Essence as two and work to decide which part of me is doing/being, I remain divided.

Which sends me to the whole of second half of life stuff: individuation, differentiation, and integration.

Individuation: to form the individual, to make distinctions, to distinguish single from group.

There came a time when I had to realize that. Sounds kind of silly, but we do have to make that discovery at some time in our lives – hopefully before the age of 50, but that’s another story. I woke up one morning and it came to me that I was not my family of origin, neither was I an American or a white girl or a Baptist or a Catholic. I was an individual separate from any group I had ever been a part of. I was ME – individual. And I was two (or more): Ego and Essence.

Differentiation: the process by which cells or tissues change from relatively generalized to specialized, to mark differently, to distinguish.

Ahhh, now that I realized I was an individual, it was time for me to differentiate, to realize how I was different from the other, what makes me, Me? Thus began the process of listening to my own thoughts, to my own ideas and discovering how many of those thoughts and ideas really were mine and how many had been passed onto me by the groups I had been a part of. This is the part where I heard the Voice inside say, “It’s a dance Sheila. You can’t ask me to ‘make you’ anything anymore. YOU get to decide what/who you will be. You are co-creator with Me.” Which can be a fun and exciting thing, or very scary. This is when I realize I can no longer blame others for what I think. I can no longer pass the buck for how I act. Now I must grow up and accept responsibility for who I am, what I do, and what I say. I can’t even say, “God made me this way” anymore. It became time to recognize the different voices speaking into my life: Is it Ego? Or is it Essence?

Then there comes a time when Integration begins.

Integration: Combining into an integral whole; necessary to the completeness of the whole.

Here’s the twist now: to leave the dualistic world behind…to leave Ego and Essence behind and become “one”.

The two shall become one.

As long as I keep looking at Ego, I am divided.

As long as I keep looking at Essence, I am divided.

Beatrice Beautreau writes in her book, Radical Optimism: “…here is where nondualism comes in, because the last dualism to go is the dualism between subject and object.” She begins this wonderful little discussion of “backing into Jesus”. 

As long as we keep looking at Jesus, Jesus and I are separate, but if I turn around and back into him, we become one.

It’s the same with Ego and Essence. As long as I am regarding either Ego or Essence, there is subject and object, which deteriorates into comparison, competition, and judgment. Which one’s the right one? Which one’s the good one? Am I in my Ego? Or am I now in my Essence? I am still divided.

I’ve been pondering the “single eye” for a few weeks now.  One of the Psalms mentions us as the “apple of God’s eye”, and I’ve been pondering how when I look into the Other’s eye, I see my own reflection. As the Eye gazes into the I, the two become one. The Eye sees self reflected in the I. The Eye becomes single.

Meister Eckhart is quoted as saying, “The eye with which I see God is the eye with which God sees me.”

Ego = personality self; Essence = God-Self

The two become one. I am not Ego; I am not Essence; I am more than Ego and more than Essence. I am.

So, who’s remodeling the house? I am.

Which house am I remodeling? My physical house on the Creek? My physical body that houses “I”, or my spiritual house?

Yes, I am.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Grounded - A Poem About The Soul

by Sheila Conner

(For we here have no lasting city,
but we are looking for that city which is to come,
whose builder and maker is God.
The writer of The Letter to the Hebrews).

Daddy used to say,
“They’re just too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.”
I resented that phrase.
How can you be anything
But heavenly minded
when your heart has been fastened to only
one sky?

Spirit soars,
Looking, longing for that city.
This world is not our home.

“Sheila, I’m going to plant your feet
back into the Earth.
Lilies needs to be rooted and grounded in dirt.”

A chink in the armor cracks;
the soul peeps through
and delights in time and place.

Spirit soars.
Soul grounds.
Both are necessary.

(The soul is a place
and love must find its way there.
Linda Gregg, God’s Places)

Soul’s places: gardens, mountains, river, ponds,
lakes, fields, grasses.

Soul finds its home in Butchart’s Sunken Gardens’ low spaces
with its expansive rock quarry  walls,
splendid pinks, flowering trees,
deep purples, and shocks of yellow tulips

and the Voice that whispers,
“I know your love for color. Let me color your life.”

Deep calls to deep
just outside Sedona –
an ancient small tree’s roots
grab hold of the side of the cliff.
We commune. She comes home with me;
I stay there with her.

Swallows soar into the heavens
weaving their great dance.
Soul lifts and pirouettes with them
until they disappear to the next dimension.
The dance continues inside of me.

Soul is home in red dirt,
White Sands, the cat’s meow,
the majestic blue heron’s winter visit.

Spirit calls me up, up and away.
Soul binds me with love and attention
here in this time
Sunday morning, 5:06 a.m.
this space
on our Creek
holding dear
Love’s face in his,
our purring cats,
memories of Miss Millie’s House of Pleasure.

There is a city waiting for me. 
There is also home today
here and now in this time and space.

Spirit lifts my heart to that city.
Soul grounds me here and brings me home.

St. Timothy’s Episcopal
Poetry as Prayer Retreat
“The First Sky Is Within You”
Surfside Beach, Texas
November 3, 2013

Monday, November 4, 2013

Rainstick's Bidding

Richard took us to our senses Saturday morning: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling - the importance of rooting our poetry is the here and now. We were to choose five nouns, close our ears, and listen to the sounds of two different rainsticks being passed around the room. As we listened, I simply jotted down what I heard and what I sensed in the hearing, then rooted those sounds to my five nouns: seed, house, mountain, sky, roots.

Rainstick’s Bidding
by Sheila Conner

In night’s darkness
The seed gestates in silent stillness

Ground ruptures
Shaking house and rattling bones

Teeth chatter

Sky loosens and energy rushes
Opening and closing

Space inside

Deepest valley
Highest mountain

Dry riverbed rushes
With overflow

Roots drive down
Buds erupt

Vibration’s voice animates life

Awake! Pay attention!


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Whose Poem Is It Anyway

Our fifth annual Poetry-as-Prayer weekend got underway with Friday evening, complete with blue skies, and a relatively calm sea.  It wasn't long before the words began to flow.  Our fearless leader was Richard Osler from beautiful Canada; he comes south with the geese each year just to spend time with us. Thank you Richard!

Richard had given us a pre-retreat assignment, to answer the following 10 questions.
  1. Provide an image or a line from a favorite poem.
  2. Draw a small portrait of your first pet.
  3. Name two objects colored in your mother’s favorite colour.
  4. The scent/smell that best evokes your sense of Christmas.
  5. What is your favorite three-word sentence.
  6. Explain how you got a scar on your body.
  7. Provide an indisputable scientific fact.
  8. Give three rules from a favorite hobby/pastime.
  9. What is an imaginary definition of your last name?
  10. Pick a favorite line from the Psalms.
Then he tricked us all, made us pass our answer to the right, and proceed to create poetry. Of course, he thought that was really funny!

I was privileged to receive Susan's answers; she's a long-time friend and soul traveler. The rules were that we had to use only the words we found in what we had been given, to make a counterclaim, to describe the drawing in one sentence, and to use the favorite 3-word sentence twice. So, this is my first attempt:

A Poem by Susan
By Sheila Conner

Just 13
You traveled
by a dwelling place for people
who live in peace and love
You had to go by two roads
It made no difference at all,
taking the road less traveled.

with spotted belly and round ears
smelled the pine-fresh shard
and tried to catch the tree,
as glass shattered.
Let it be

As the earth rotates around the sun
Let it be
You don’t have to finish the book
Be still and know the sky and the ocean
Don’t feel guilty
Catch it! Allow it!
Teach me.

On my own early Saturday morning, I gave it a second try:

Another Poem by Susan
Written by Sheila Conner

Tippy took the less-traveled road,
and I, the one that made all the difference.

Round face with eyes grinning back
I was a dwelling place of love and peace,
dropped, shattered, stitched
The scar does not feel guilty

You don't have to finish washing the dishes
Allow the book to cut the smell of the fresh tree
The earth doesn't rotate around the sun
Let it be

Be still and know
   the rules are shattered
Let it be.

It was an interesting and fun experience putting words together in a crazy new way, and I was pleased with my poems.  Better still, Susan seemed pleased too.

I'll post more later. Off to the last session I go!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Yoga and Gratitude

My pondering started during the last week of the government shutdown: “Just exactly what does practicing yoga have to do with the real world, anyway?”

I’ve come to a few conclusions I’d like to share. Yoga is a practice of ”opening”: opening the body, opening the mind, and opening the heart. An open body, an open mind, and an open heart translates from a physical practice of meeting myself on the mat to a life lived in gratitude. At least that’s been my own experience. And a practice of gratitude can and will make a difference in our world as I begin to meet others with an open mind and an open heart.

I grew up in a spirituality that taught “be thankful in all things”. I practice a spirituality that celebrates Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving”. I’ve been taught the importance of “an attitude of gratitude”. While knowing about gratitude is important, living inside of thanksgiving is another thing entirely. There have been moments throughout my life that I’ve accidentally tapped into that attitude for short periods of time.

Most of my spiritual life has been more cerebral than actively lived, and while I thought it was heartfelt, I have discerned that, for the most part, it was sentimentalized emotions, unconscious, superficial, and rooted in a need for connection. But for the past couple of years now, it seems I am living more from inside gratitude than accidentally stumbling onto it. What’s made the difference?

I have been “body ignorant” most of my life, unaware of what my body has been experiencing or feeling. I’ve yearned toward the spiritual values of truth, gratitude and compassion, but how do I get there? I believe with all my heart that practicing yoga has been a crucial key for me. If I can feel it in my body, I can “get it”.

I’ve heard that you can’t tell someone truth—they have to remember it. That makes no sense – unless you’ve experienced the feeling of remembering truth. Did you know that truth has a body sensation? When I recognize truth, I feel an opening in my body. It softens and relaxes. It nestles down. There’s a quieting sensation, a feeling of safety and being “home”. 

The same goes for gratitude. I feel gratitude in my bones: my body lifts, my head lifts, my heart opens, my arms open. It’s an actual felt sensation of lifting up, coupled with joy. B.K.S. Iyengar says depression can’t stay in the body if the arms are lifted. Holy Scripture exhorts to lift our hands in praise. Maybe gratitude is what the Psalmist found when he lifted his hands in prayer to God.
May you feel in your body the lifting of gratitude this Thanksgiving Season, and may your gratitude be coupled with joy.


"Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open."  ~ B.K.S. Iyengar