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Author: lindacarleton



These are my steps to creating a mandala of 2016. Between Peter’s cancer, the election, and the nightly news there was a lot of grief and loss, represented by the black and purple. But as the paint dried and sank into the paper, it lightened and I could add the healing turquoise and the white swirls. Behind it glowed the divine light that hold all the mess. All that was left to do was label the highlights of the year.

Try it!

And please consider joining the Mandala Journaling Class that meets 9-11am on third Saturdays at Saint Luke’s.

Kaleidoscopic Hubcaps

Kaleidoscopic Hubcaps

You’ve got to see this. Back in August one of my mandala blogs explored the question of “What is a mandala?” and spoke of “mandala days” in which even the kaleidoscopic hubcaps of passing cars evoke the presence of the sacred circle.

Now Rebecca Stephans, one of the participants in my Mandala Journaling class, has photographed hubcaps that suggest the twelve stages of the mandala Great Round. My favorite Christmas present ever!

The Mandala Great Round: Transformation

The Mandala Great Round: Transformation

The twelfth and final stage of the mandala Great Round is Transformation. This season of the Winter Solstice and the story of Christ’s birth is a Stage 12 season, reminding us of the return of light. It is a season of our lives that arrives once we have faced up to endings and allowed ourselves to experience the fragmentation that occurs during the dark night of our souls.  Stage 12 is an ecstatic stage, offering hope for rebirth and a mystical awareness of the divine.

Last month in the Mandala Journaling as Spiritual Practice group we made prints of uncontrolled color, representing the chaos of life at Stage 11. This month, we allowed cut-out shapes to transform the chaos into something new. Note that as in our own lives, it the depths of our experience that lends beauty to our new reality.

Mandala: A Symbol of Tangible Hope

Mandala: A Symbol of Tangible Hope

        In the events and rancor of recent weeks, I have had moments when I’ve almost forgotten that the world is never outside the sacred web of love that offers tangible hope. The thing that most reliably brings me back from the edge of despair is the mandala, that visible sign of wholeness and completion. I find mandalas everywhere: in architecture, on billboards, in the kaleidoscopic hubcaps of passing cars. I color mandalas. I keep a mandala blog (at and every Tuesday morning I offer a Mandala Prayer Circle for people waiting in line for soap or diapers or used clothing at Saint Elizabeth’s Jubilee Center in Portland, Maine.The folks who visit Saint E’s come from many stripes of life. They speak different languages and adhere to different religions. They have conflicting political beliefs and face a daunting variety of personal and social challenges. But week after week, they set these differences aside to color mandala ornaments as prayer for themselves, their loved ones, or their aching world.

What is it about the mandala that offers such a profound expression of tangible hope? To begin with, the mandala is a circle, a sacred symbol in virtually every culture. To psychologist C.G. Jung, the circle was the most basic archetype, representing perfection, eternity and the divine Self. In Sanskrit, the mandala represents the structure of life itself. The Mandala Project describes it as “A cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.” In Navaho sand paintings, the mandala becomes a vehicle for physical as well as emotional healing. In the Christian Church, the circle suggests the promise of wholeness and eternity in symbols as varied as the labyrinth, wedding rings, Advent wreaths and rose windows.

Drawing or coloring mandalas creates a liminal space that allows us to rest within this circle. As soon as we begin work on a mandala, we enter into dialogue with the bindu, its sacred center. The bindu is a bit like a black hole. It is an infinitesimal point that inexorably draws us in, offering a kind of portal into the heart of the divine. However, drawing mandalas cannot stop at the bindu. Just as the contemplative life leads both inward and outward, making mandalas propels us outward from the center to its edges and beyond. To color mandalas is to enter into the spiritual dance that perpetually draws us towards God and drives us out into the world again.

Now when folks come to us at Saint E’s, they are not thinking about Jung, or bindus, or the perpetual dance of spiritual life. But fortunately, you don’t have to think about any of this to experience the serenity of working with mandalas. Try it! You can just cut out a mandala from a coloring book or download it from Google, write on the back the name of a person or situation you’d like to hold in prayer, take out your markers, paints or pencils and color. You can put it on your refrigerator, or pin it to your wall, or use Modge-Podge to attach it to a wooden disc and make an ornament. However you do it, you will have spent time in communion with the sacred circle. And you’ll have a tangible symbol to remind you of it.



Let’s say we unknownlive in a village at the edge of a jungle. We know full well that there are dangerous tigers in the jungle, carnivorous tigers licking their chops and waiting for the opportunity to pounce on their next prey. There’s one tiger in particular, with his sleek orange coat and distinctive growl who catches the attention of the villagers. He has huge jaws (might I say very huge, the most huge in the jungle?) and even sharper fangs. He prowls the outskirts of the village making periodic forays to assess his chances of procuring his next meal. The people report sitings, and some become restless. “We’ve got to track down this tiger and stop him now,”  some cry. But how? There really isn’t much that they can do. And haven’t they all been told that their village is tiger-proof? There are guards, after all, and warning calls designed to prevent any roque tiger from entering.

But of course, we all know what happens. The tiger begins at the outskirts of the village, picking off the weakest villager first, and then another, and another. Seventeen nights and seventeen villagers and the tiger circles in for its fnal kill. It happens late one night. Pounce! The tiger gobbles up the chieftain’s daughter.

Everyone is distraught. They scream and sob and tremble with the terror of what is yet to come. They gnash their teeth in fury at the tiger. They rant and rave at the guards for their failure to protect them. Some shake their heads and say, “We should have seen it coming,” or “We should flee to the village up north.” What no one says is “We should forgive the tiger and seek reconciliation.”

Why is that?

Well, for one thing, it’s because forgiveness and reconciliation are difficult in the midst of an ongoing threat. You don’t talk about forgiving a tiger when every night it implements a new atrocity.

But more importantly, forgiveness seems meaningless when it comes to tigers. In its traditional sense, forgiveness entails moral judgment, and as much as we fear the tiger and hate what it is doing to our village, we cannot judge the tiger for being what it was created to be. It’s pointless and a waste of our spiritual energy. Furthermore, we’ve been given instructions that it sometimes behooves us to remember, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you.” Judgment rests with a Presence that is wiser and more compassionate than my own.

“WTF!” everything in me wants to protest in righteous anger. “Of course you should judge something so blatantly evil as this tiger.” But even as I write, I know my rancor is not good for my soul. It keeps me awake at night and ties my stomach in knots. It will not prevent the tiger from exacting its toll. I can rant and rave and share a hundred Facebook posts, but there are far more effective ways to respond to a dangerous tiger in our midst.

In this time of grief and chaos I need to use what spiritual gifts I have to help in burying our dead and comforting those who mourn. I am also called to take my turn at tiger watch, giving my time and money to the effort to keep this beast from carrying out his vicious mission- not just today and tomorrow, but as a lifelong commitment. I’ll try to set whatever traps are needed to capture this tiger and prevent it from using those huge jaws and sharp fangs against the most vulnerable among us. And I aim to do whatever is within my power to engage in the political process and make our village safe from the next tiger who ventures out of the jungle.





This week it feels as if the moral compass of my world has been shattered and I no longer know where I belong.

The week has been especially hard for all of those who have known some kind of abuse or bullying in our lives. A therapist friend tells me that the election has tapped into primal feelings of past traumas and left  us feeling scared and powerless. No wonder so many of us are walking around like zombies. We have been forced to recognize that bullies sometimes win. They take power.  They wreak havoc. They spread their toxic hatred.

Even here.

We cannot change that, but we are not powerless in the face of it. I am struck by how many creative ideas have come my way in must the past two days. I’d like to share a few with you:

Communities of faith have rallied at Monument Square to affirm their commitment tohonoring and supporting all people, especially those who have been marginalized by the hate speech of the past election.

Another Shoulder to Shoulder event is being planned to express interfaith solidarity with communities who have been threatened.

The Abbey of HOPE is holding an Interfaith Dinner Dialogue to talk about howour holidays and rituals help us deal with dark times and how we candevelop interfaith symbols or rituals to bring communities together.

I have proposed the idea of creating a symbol that can be worn and displayed in windows and on lapels to signal support for all people irrespective of race,  religion, immigration status or sexual orientation, a visible sign that there are allies in the struggle.

Today I will go buy halal candies to give out on the street to women in hijab with a note attached in English and Arabic: Many people are glad that you are here and grateful for what you give to our community.

I’d love to hear how the past week has galvanized you into action.

In Four Days . . .

In Four Days . . .

Blog day.

In four days we’ll wake up to a new President-elect and a new array of issues to occupy the space the election currently fills in all our lives.

The angst, the what-ifs, the OMGs, the Facebook posts, the increasingly desperate e-mails asking for money, the nightly news marathons, the volunteers hours on the phones- has it all been wasted energy?

Maybe. Whoever wins this election, I’ll still wake up the next morning and meditate. I’ll feed the dog, get breakfast, practice piano and the ukelele, go teach or make mandalas or visit with a friend. I’ll write or paint or play Sudoku. I’ll pour my energy into HHELP, Saint Luke’s and the Abbey of Hope. I’ll light a candle with Peter each morning and sit down to dinner with him every night. I’ll go to church and keep trying to connect with that which transcends all the madness of our human endeavor.

And yet. I’m grateful to have engaged in what these times have to offer, to have given my time and money and to have cared a good deal about the fate of a nation I’ve taught about and participated in for almost 70 years. I do hope for the outcome that I believe does more to honor human rights and dignity. And I pray for healing of our nation whatever happens on November 8.

Politically Naive

Politically Naive


On August 9, 1974 I was sitting in a living room in Paris, surrounding a small television set with a group of French friends. They were incredulous over the impeachment of President Nixon and his decision to resign. To them Nixon was one of America’s finest Presidents, the one who had eased tension with the Soviet Union, ended the War in Vietnam, and opened relations with China. He had enforced desegregation of schools and founded the Environmental Protection Agency. They asked me why Americans would turn their back on such accomplishments over a little political scandal.


I answered by talking about the importance of honesty and integrity and having a political leader the nation could look up to. They just laughed. Their response translated to something like this, “Americans are so naive. It’s not possible for a politician to be honest and get elected at the same time. You all just turn a blind eye to the corruption in your government and then get all bent out of shape when you’re forced to look at it.”


I’m thinking about that exchange this morning. A posting came across Facebook to the effect that the most alarming thing about Hillary supporters is they don’t care about the scandals surrounding her. I bristled, but had to acknowledge there’s some truth there. I’d rather have a President who shares my ideals and can work the system than a bully whose values I abhor. Still, I’m sad. That naïve young woman who sat in a French living room forty years ago hasn’t completely disappeared. She does want to believe that we are a nation under God, one that honors the Enlightenment ideals on which we were founded. She wants our leaders to be admirable men and women who are dedicated to these ideals in both their personal and professional lives. She wants to think that a nation of the people, by the people and for the people can still flourish on the earth. She really does want our democracy to work.


And yet as I write this, I let out a heavy sigh. Our democracy isn’t working. Political corruption seems to be the order of the day. There’s another round of e-mail allegations against Hillary. The Standing Rock protesters are being arrested and routed from their camps. Our Congress is so polarized it’s been unwilling to make necessary reforms to the Affordable Care Act or even consider a nominee to the Supreme Court. Nightly pundits discuss the possibility of armed resistance to the outcome of this election. Like everyone I know, I fear our nation will not be able to heal its growing divide and the deep wounds caused by this campaign. I guess I wonder myself whether democracy and integrity are incompatible.


And yet, I do so long to have my faith in democracy restored. I listen to Michelle Obama and my cynicism cracks. I voted Tuesday in a room filled with multi-ethnic people, all of us taking seriously our responsibility as citizens, and I felt a swelling of patriotic pride. I follow with excitement the campaign of Muslim immigrant Pious Ali for City Council here in Portland, and I think that despite the bile of this campaign, perhaps all is not lost. Have you seen things during the insanity of this election year that give you cause for hope in our political system? If so, I would love to hear from you.


Who am I? …

Who am I? …

I wake up to a message ding from my phone: Flood warning for your area.

Don’t be discouraged, I tell myself. We need the rain. It’s a fine day to stay indoors and curl up with a good book.

But then another voice kicks in. You can start work on some the publicity tasks for Elmina’s Fire that you’ve been putting off.

My stomach sinks. I never dreamed there would be so much labor connected with giving birth to a book, work that I don’t feel competent at or suited for. Build my blog from 25 followers to 25,000; connect with famous people to ask for endorsements; arrange public speaking engagements; make a video trailer; plan a book launch event; go visit all your friends and relatives so you can give book talks near them.

ACK! I feel like Moses when God told him to return from Midea and lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Who am I? … I dread all this! I am tongue-tied, an introvert who abhors the stage. Yet somehow I’ve been given the story of Elmina to tell. I may want to crawl back under the covers, but I want to publish that story even more than I want to hide. And so on this rainy day, I will get up, write my blog, make a list of people to ask for endorsements, and go on-line to see if I can learn something about Instagram and Twitter. Look out world, here I come!

Dona la Pace

Dona la Pace

imagesI’m one of that generation who came of age crawling under desks to prepare for nuclear holocaust and reading Nevil Shute’s On the Beach. The threat of immanent destruction has always circled just below the surface of my consciousness, periodically nibbling on my fingers and toes. So it caught my attention this week when my son posted an article from the New York Times on Facebook with a headline from Hillary Clinton, “I’m the Last Thing Standing Between You and the Apocolypse.”

It’s scary times we’re living in. The post 9/11 world is unraveling at the seams. We are arming rebel vigilantes in Iraq and have launched missiles against Yemen. Donald Trump seems prone to pull the trigger of our nuclear arsenal in response to virtually any provocation. The nightly news from Aleppo is evidence that there are no lengths to which humanity will not go in its self-righteous quest for power. And Russia has just recalled any citizens who are travelling abroad as a preparation for the possibility of world war.

Right now the space under my desk seems pretty darn inviting. I find myself fantasizing about where I might go to escape from Armageddon. Move back to the quiet isolation of Chebeague Island? emigrate to Canada? journey to the North Pole perhaps? I know, of course, that there is no escaping this one. In the next world war, there will be no corner of the planet left unaffected by its horrors.

Last night at Taize we sang over and over the haunting chant Dona la Pace, Signore. I want to pray for peace, for this country and all those caught in the path of war. I want to beg God to allow the cup of this crisis to pass. Indeed, my heart now makes these prayers with every breath I take. And yet as much as I wish we might avert warfare- and will do whatever is in my power to prevent our country from electing a candidate who feasts on retribution and combat- I don’t really believe in a God who chooses to answer or ignore such prayers, one who averts this war and wages that one.

We may dream of the Peaceable Kingdom, but the peace of which we sang last night is a different kind of peace. It’s the peace Jesus arrived at in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a peace like that of which Martin Luther King spoke the night before he died. It’s a peace that recognizes whatever chaos is reigning in our world, the love that is God remains the Ground of our Being. And with this realization comes a further understanding: my call at this challenging time is to avoid the temptation to crawl under that desk and instead to offer whatever peace I have to offer to those who cross my path. May it be the same for you.