Masculine and feminine are among those many opposites that are really two sides of the same coin. Many years ago I asked a comparative religions class to imagine that they were Taoists living in a country where the symbol of the Tao had been outlawed. I challenged them to come up with another way of expressing the sacred union of yin and yang, their effortless flow, and their presence at each other’s core.
I lead a mandala journaling class on first Saturday mornings at Saint Luke’s and have encouraged it to consider the same challenge. Mine might look something like this one I did as a meditation on Stage Six of the mandala Great Round, that stage of struggle that precedes full readiness to enter into the world of work and relationship.
Today I am struck with gratitude for the way life moves towards the creation of Oneness in a world of perceived duality. As Peter and I navigate the new waters of chemotherapy and opportunistic infection, those sharp edges between masculine and feminine, strong and weak, even life and death begin to blur. They create a life of beauty that my younger self could never have imagined.
My mother used to say, “If you can’t say something nice…”
I wonder if the same advice holds true for mandala blogs. On those days when the dread catches in my throat and my bowels turn to soup, on those days when it doesn’t seem possible to face what lies ahead, on those days when the chaos presses in and I fear the flower of life will be swallowed up in negativity, should I be quiet and keep it to myself?
Or could it be that someone, somewhere wants to know about this part of the journey, that despite my prayers and best intentions, there are times when I’m not able to make the choice for life? I have to curl up in a corner and wait for the Life I know is there to choose me.
Today these things are true:
Our dog Abbie’s soft fur is dancing in the sunlight streaming into our condo.
A gas fire is gently warming our living room, another reminder that early April isn’t quite springtime in Maine.
At LearningWorks thirteen students from Angola, Burundi, DRC, Somalia, Honduras, and Iraq summoned enough English this morning to share what they hope they’ll be doing in ten years.
Around her kitchen table, Nancy Beebe shared with me a piece of banana bread and her indomitable spirit.
I can almost play some Variations on a Theme from Tchaikovsky for another piano/organ duet at Clark United Methodist Church.
I’m making mandalas for the pastoral care team at Saint Luke’s to take to shut-ins.
We have tickets to see My Name is Asher Lev at Portland Stage this evening.
Peter is awaiting CT scan results to see how many spots his cancer has spread to.
Most of the time I know that this is also true: I have a choice about which of these things I want to give my attention to.
In the world of making mandalas, the downward-facing triangle signifies endings; the upward-facing one is a sign of beginnings and new endeavors. Those ascending Flowers of Life? They remind me that this day still abides in Life.
What is that sound?
Easter bells, perhaps? The neighbor’s wind chime? Maybe it is someone playing music on bottles filled with turquoise water on a distant beach… somewhere warm where the wind tinkles and the sun shines and life is eternally joyful.
Ah, there we have it.
Eternal joy, the Easter promise, our hearts dancing like tinkling bells in the presence of What Is. No regrets. No laments. No wishing this or that were somehow different from the way they are.
Loving What Is.
Isn’t that how Byron Katie puts it?
In this first week of Easter, my thoughts shift to Paradise, where the lion ceases to be carnivorous and all the teeming conflict of being caught in a world of matter evaporates into dew- which does, of course, smell like nectar.
I try to catch a whiff.
But damn, my sense of smell is filled with other things… rotting kale that I found in the back of the crisper this morning, my own stale sweat, the smell of fear that never quite goes away. And other things too- peppermint oil and the sharp smell of chocolate, Abbie’s soft droppings that I dutifully pick up on our morning walks, the scent of Peter’s Old Spice on the sweater I borrowed for last evening’s rehearsal, the sweet perfume of the ten thousand things-
the scent of the Big Bang and the separation of yin from yang.
All waft together into a bouquet far sweeter than any heavenly nectar my imagination lets me conjure up. Perhaps this is all that is meant by Loving What Is.
Not much sleep these days as I struggle to accept the reality of Peter’s cancer and the challenges ahead for both of us.
And yet, this mandala reminds me that the cross was just the beginning. The gift of new life sits dormant in the worst of times, just waiting to spring forth.
The Gospel of John tells the story of Mary of Bethany anointing the feet of Jesus with a costly nard and getting grief for it. “Why was this perfume sold… and the money given to poor?”
Was this really Judas’ objection or was he just squeamish about the profound intimacy of this act? Mary knelt down and her caress radiated through Jesus’ body, strengthening his organs and enlivening each chakra. First century reflexology.
And then she wiped them with her hair.
I look at the mandala I have made. It reflects a sacred trinity of the divine feminine. The yellow of her aura and the golden braided hair become the transcendent goddess. The background is the deep purple of her holy spirit. And the feet of the incarnate? The only model I have for drawing feet are my own, called this day to walk with trembling heart along the dusty road that leads to Jerusalem.
In the Christian calendar, Lent is the six weeks preceding Easter. It culminates in Passion Week , with Jesus’ death on the cross. It can be a grey time, a time of looking as deep within as we dare to look. The grey can be scary, like a dense fog closing in around us. In the circle of this mandala, the grey is tinged with color, the lavender of grief and the rosy pink of the gratitude and hope that lie within it. At its center the sun still shines, illuminating all that our inward search discloses.
It is a tradition for Christians to give up something during Lent, a gesture that symbolizes the letting go of that which does not serve us. As these leaves dry and fall away, they make room for the fresh growth of new life to flourish. This resurrection is the power of the cross and of the Easter story.