Turning the Corners

I have been asked to pray for a lot of people in this past week. People grieving loss. People dealing with serious illness. People facing paralyzing fears that come with major life transitions. People who are scared, overwhelmed, in pain, and fresh out of hope.

Then there have been names like Irma and Maria.

Places like Las Vegas.

How do you hold all of it? How do you pray for all of it?

As spiritual directors, we encourage our directees to seek out forms of prayer that call them into a more intimate relationship with God. Usually these are not the prayers found in a prayer book. Oftentimes we talk about body prayer. The labyrinth is one such form of body prayer.

This morning I attended a business networking function to promote my acupuncture practice. I don’t even think about the hat I wear as a Spiritual Director at these meetings.

And then a spirited woman sat across from me. We had a conversation about our respective professions. She complimented me on the Brigid’s cross that I wear. It opened a conversation and we talked about church, community, and serving others in need. She, like me, was an Episcopalian, and a former Roman Catholic. The odds of sitting across from this woman and having this conversation in this moment at a professional networking group were slim. And I suspected the movement of God was involved.

I am not a natural at networking events. I can do them. But I am an introvert. And after such extroverted activity, I find myself wanting to decompress, usually alone and in nature. But I had things to do at the office, and other appointments to get to later on.

On the way to my office though, I took a wrong turn. And I passed the Unity Church that is less than a quarter mile from my clinic. It houses a breathtaking labyrinth that I promised myself I’d visit once the triple digit summer temperatures dropped. I turned into the parking lot, expecting to spend maybe ten minutes there. The word “turn, ” by the way, is significant.

I spent a half hour there.

That half hour held the power of a weekend retreat. Alone, against the backdrop of an Autumn desert blue sky, with the warm sun on my back, I was in awe of the hummingbirds, butterflies, and honey bees at work all around me. I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth and thanked these creatures for allowing me to share this holy space with them. Desert flowers of orange, yellow, fuchsia and purple, framed in shades of sage green, framed the circular path. The sound of water from the large fountain behind me filled the space.

My heart was overwhelmed.

God was everywhere.

I began to walk. I usually walk a labyrinth at a medium pace. I like an even rhythm. On a walk. And in life.

The turns were hard today though. They seemed narrow. I was wearing a low heel. My balance felt off. The long spans were easy. But the turns threw it all off. I slowed my pace.

Slowing down was not enough though. I still bobbled at the turns.

I don’t like to bobble and I was uncomfortable.

On the next long pass, I knew I had to navigate the approaching turn differently. I stepped. And paused.

I waited longer. And I listened. To the sounds of the fountain, the honey bees, the birds. Even the train whistling in the distance.

In the Benedictine tradition that I am trained in, we are taught to listen with the Ear of the Heart. And so I listened in this way too. And I heard, “Step again. Then wait. Again.”

I did.

And then I pivoted slowly to continue in the other direction.

I did not bobble.

I stepped again, two feet landing side by side.  I paused again.

I still did not bobble.

And then slowly and mindfully, I continued on in this way.

 

The labyrinth is a metaphor for life. I like predictability. When I strike a pace, on the physical path, or the spiritual path, I like to keep that pace. I appreciate patterns and rhythms. They comfort me. And they have always been where I’ve found God. But nothing about these past weeks has been predictable. Or comforting.  And I’ve felt a little disconnected from God.

In moments like these, when the old ways no longer work, you can either keep walking as you always have, or you can seek a new way.

 

I have not been able to pray easily this week because of the monumental sorrow of so many people around me.  As I prayed for these people as I walked today, the labyrinth taught me a new way to be with sorrow, and how  to make space for hope and the movement of God in what might feel like hopeless and spiritually vacant times.

When I became an Episcopalian, the Bishop spoke of the importance of turning. Turning away from the things that were not in alignment with the flow of God. The questions beg:  what do we turn away from? What do we turn toward? How do we navigate those turns? How mindful are we in making those turns? How slow? How fast? How willing? How unwilling? How patient?

In my walk today and in the hours that followed, I thought about the Bishop’s words and how significant the idea of turning really is on the spiritual path.

We are living in new times. We are all figuring things out, day by day, and often hour by hour. If your usual ways of prayer feel limiting, try a form of body prayer. While moving and praying, listen. Listen with your feet. Listen with your legs. Listen with your lungs. Listen with your heart. Listen for the voice on the wind. Stand there as long as it takes. Take off your shoes. Wait a few seconds. Maybe a minute, or ten. Then wait a little longer still. Step again. Pivot, with your feet, with your mind, with your heart. God is working in all those movements, in the stepping, in the standing, in the turning.

 

Blessings and peace on your journey,
Maria Grace Mandarino

Sacred Space Spiritual Direction

www.MariaMandarino.com/spiritualdirection.html

 

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Blog Post: Alchemy and the Radical Transformation of Metal into Water

 

We are soon approaching the Winter Solstice, which in Celtic Spirituality is said to be a thin time, a moment when the spirit world is a bit closer to us, a time which celebrates the end of darkness and awaits the return of the light.  We cannot see it yet. But the promise of light is near.

In Five Element theory, we hold a similar idea. We leave the season of Autumn and the element of Metal as we progress toward the season of Winter and the element of Water. In the practice of acupuncture, we call this particular transition a radical transformation.

Consider the process. How can one transform Metal into Water?  Metal is hard, dense, and unyielding. Water is fluid, embodies movement, and life is born from it.  How can we logically explain such a drastic transition? The creation cycle of the other elements is clear: Water creates Wood. Wood creates Fire. Fire creates Earth. Earth creates  Metal (minerals).

But what of this radical transformation of Metal turning into Water? How does it happen? How can we apply laws of physics?

We can’t. This process involves magic. Alchemy. The hand of God.

In Five Element theory, the shift out of Metal and into Water is said to be the movement of death into birth,  similar to the Celtic view of the Winter Solstice and moving from darkness into light. And so this is why the shift from Metal to Water is called a radical transformation. We must make a giant leap. A leap that science cannot explain.  A leap of faith. Hard and unyielding Metal will be affected so deeply by some inexplicable force that minerals will be turned into water and life will start anew.  It is a transition beyond the mind’s reach.

Magic. Alchemy. The hand of God.

This transition involves a belief in a divine process,  in divine law, not man’s law. A process which requires us to make space in our lives for divine movement. This is the space in which God plays. And it is the space in which we wait and trust in our Creator’s deep love for us and in the belief that life will go on, despite what seems to be highly unlikely odds.

We experience this transition — this waiting between endings and beginnings — in times of grief and sorrow as well. In Chinese Medicine, it so happens that grief and sorrow are associated with the element of Metal. And the element of Water is associated with fear.

Ah, now, doesn’t this get a little more interesting?

When we grieve, we hurt so deeply that we are convinced we cannot survive our pain. Grief is a momentary death of our spirit. We are at the end of the cycle of Metal. Water is on the other side. Grief checks us. Fear stares us down from the distance. We are afraid of what’s on the other side of sorrow and grief. We wait in darkness, immobile, resisting the alchemical shift from death into birth. We are at an impasse. We are terrified of living again, of feeling again.

On the other side of darkness though is emerging light. Always. The Celts knew this. The ancient Chinese knew this. Metal waiting to be turned into Water. Death waiting for rebirth.

Magic. Alchemy. The hand of God.

To consider rebirth though and to start this cycle again is to risk great pain. We clutch at the darkness. Darkness is at least familiar. It is not normal or sensible to want to feel pain.

Birth is painful. For the woman. For the child.

But it offers immeasurable joy too. Birth is the only path to the human experience. To experience joy means to eventually experience sorrow. You cannot have one without the contrast of the other.

As we move toward the Winter Solstice, ask yourself these questions:

  • What in me has died?
  •  What in me is waiting to be reborn?
  • Am I willing to take the radical journey of alchemy from Metal into Water?
  • Am I willing to make space for magic and trust in the hand of God?

And in the tradition of a woman who asks no one to take a journey she has not taken herself, I assure you that I am on the path of radical transformation as well, walking right alongside you.

Blessings and peace to you as we all await the light’s return,

Maria Grace Mandarino