How deeply we are all in need of a softer world and a gentler way of being.
It is easy to see the rough edges and sharpness in the constant bombardment of noise laced with insults and toxic shards of our culture of discourtesy. Less obvious but as deeply insidious are the ways we mercilessly persecute ourselves. Both the outer crudeness of our increasingly hostile society and the relentless barrage of inner criticism that many of us endure are largely to blame for the rising tides of despair and depression in the world. Caught between these two forces, it is a wonder that there is any joy or hope to be found! And yet there is- nestled in the still point between the voices that shout "too much" and "not enough", there is a quiet place inside the heart where despite the outer turbulence of the world, we can sink in and find the still small voice that whispers "enough" and "just right".
We are in the first few days of Lent- a forty day period that has a really bad rap in our modern world as signifying pious and dour deprivation. But actually, I have come to embrace the Valentinian spirit of this tradition. The Valentinians believed that the deepest truth of the human being is that it holds the promise of goodness and beauty. We are "good seeds" that have yet to reach our fullest potential because we have fallen on rocky ground, or been choked by cares and concerns, or are overshadowed by fear and anxiety.
Lent is an invitation to ask ourselves the truly important questions: what stands in the way of me becoming the best version of myself I can possibly be? How might I clear away the weeds so that I can thrive and unfold in my fullness? What are the patterns that get in the way of peace and joy? What are new habits of heart I can cultivate to lead me to tranquility?
For myself, I have come to the realization that I suffer from a subtle form of gluttony. That's right: gluttony. I pile so many activities (mostly work) on my plate that I am often in danger of total collapse. This triggers a terrible cycle where there is simply not enough time to do everything (from spellcheck to laundry to practicing piano) which leads to my doing less than my best which triggers huge feelings of failure and shame and then creates more anxiety, and before you know it, I can't sleep through the night for fear that everything in my whole life will fall apart and everyone will be mad and disappointed in me and I WILL HAVE RUINED MY WHOLE LIFE AND BE A TOTAL FAILURE.
Have you ever gotten on the downward spiral of the Escalator of Vicious Thoughts? Have you also been assailed by the critical voice that is the Prophetess of Total Catastrophe? So often, she is often accompanied by the Grand Inquisitor of Regret, who comes armed with a complete assortment of whips, chains and torture racks. Before you know it, they have me locked inside the cell of What Should Have Been or If Only I Hadn't and then I find myself in an inner form of hell. I am so busy tied up in the Persecution Chamber that I miss the gorgeous sunrise or the smiles of the children who are trying to flirt with me at the market, and I don't even see the rainbow or hear the song of the lark. I think that process is what the early Christians meant when they talked about "sin" and "evil", two words that underwent woeful mistranslations in the centuries since they were first uttered in Aramaic. In the ancient days, "sin" was an archery term that meant "to miss the mark". Evil was a word that meant "bitter, hard or unripe". I can tell you when I pass the tipping point of gluttony, I miss the mark in a big way by losing the ability to see the beauty and love that is right in front of me. It's a short step from this blindness to to a state of bitterness and self hatred.
I am going to be spending Lent moving towards breaking this awful habits of self-flagellation and gluttony It won't happen all at once. In the meantime, I pledge myself to a little more softness, a little more mercy and to gently move to a more sustainable way of being.
The Valentinians, Pythagoreans and the Celts all believed that there were certain practices or "habits of heart" that helped us tune in to the beauty and goodness that is our deepest essence and find balance. Music, nature, poetry, silence and sacred conversation were considered the royal quartet that could guide you to finding harmony within an often turbulent world.
During this season of Lent, may you remember the messy beauty that lives inside your own perfectly imperfect human heart. May you find ways to nourish and nurture this essential goodness in the days to come and find yourself opening to live days of ever sweeter and more joyful juiciness.
As the fires raged and smoke swirled in Sonoma County, I found moments of unexpected grace and joy tucked between the waves of fear and anxiety. Without power, cell reception or water at my home, I took sanctuary at St. Columba's Retreat House in Inverness. A little community of old friends and new refugees formed, pooling our resources each night to prepare a simple supper. Afterwards, we gathered together by candlelight to share in meditation and music, praying for all the brave firefighters and those who might be in harm's way. In the dark, we all felt our vulnerability but as a community it made it us feel deeply tender and connected with one another. The music held us in a profound way, binding us with one another and leading us from fear to hope. I was able to shift my own perspective from feeling frustrated (because of all the "normal" things I could not do) to feeling a deep sense of reverence for my ancestors, most of whom never had electricity or power or heat of any kind. I found myself remembering the stories of my Norwegian grandmother during power outages of World War II when there was not enough food to be found, and of relatives who were born during covered wagon expeditions as they crossed the frontier of the heartland. My small inconveniences opened up a deeper sense of humility, awe and wonder that the challenges of the week were-- and are-- the everyday realities for my ancestors and for millions of people on the planet right now. These feelings bubbled out from me into an improvised musical prayer which was captured by someone's cell phone. My friend Nancy Castille set my music to images from the past week. You can watch and listen here.
What my ancestors knew well to do in times of fear, darkness and depravation was how to share. Today on All Saint's Day, I especially honor my grandmother Evelyn, who nursed a neighbor's hungry infant along with her own in Immigration Canyon in Utah during WWII when baby formula could not be found. I think of my other grandmother Astrid who could "make shadow of a chicken soup" when no meat could be found. Even in the most difficult, dangerous and impoverished circumstances under Nazi rule in Norway when her husband was being tortured for his efforts in the Resistance, she never ceased to search for and create beauty, gathering the most delicate wildflowers and colorful leaves for table decorations from the forest, melting old candles together so new ones could be made.
My earliest memories of both grandmothers is of them singing to me, and of encouraging me to sing back to them. It is a memory that lives inside my blood and bones, along with the determination to, like them, bring forth generosity and beauty even in the darkest times.
Tonight, I will sing for them once more as I light candles at St John's in a ritual of remembrance for our Taize Evensong.
In the Ancient world, such rituals expressed the very purpose of music: to be medicine for the soul and to connect us with the eternal. By singing together, the Ancient Greeks believed we found the common ground of our humanity, dissolving our differences, opening to expansion and healing our grief.
I invite you to join me tonight, bringing a picture of a departed loved one for our altar, or to join with Mythica next Sunday, November 10 when we will share music and poetry of 2,000 years in an interfaith ritual for peacemaking.
In this time when the veils are thin, may you find yourself singing the songs of your own grandmothers, and bringing forth the beauty that is inside of yo
Be careful what you ask for.
As I set sail for France, I suggested that the inner theme of my six weeks of pilgrimage would be “holding the tension of the opposites”.
I got exactly that.
My facebook posts are filled with the good moments that I hope to always remember: the staggeringly beautiful scenery of the Dordogne and Provence, the spectacular light show at Chartres Cathedral and the stunning artworks of Paris along with pictures of food (almost) too gorgeous to eat. What you don’t see memorialized in my posts are the daunting difficulties, increasing exhaustion and often almost insurmountable challenges that increased along the way. If Woody Allen is right and “time+ tragedy= comedy”, one day I will create a Monty Pythonesque skit with the title “Machine Guns, Rat Poop and Near Death by GPS”.
One of the images that continually impressed me throughout my journey, though, were the ancient stone walls (sometimes covered with angry graffiti) from which the most vibrant and delicate poppies would burst forth in scarlet splendor. I tried to keep having the eyes to see these, to savor the moments of beauty, even during the darker days. It is a capacity that the great poets, artists and composers that I love have in abundance.
If ever there was a patron saint of holding the tension of the opposites and snatching beauty whenever and wherever you can, it was the prolific Schubert who once said of his music, “Whenever I tried to sing of love, it turned to sorrow, and whenever I tried to compose songs of sorrow, they turned to love”. Legend holds that one of my favorite songs, Standchen, was penned by Schubert at a tavern. In the brief period the composer enjoyed between his first onset of syphilis and its second onset that culminated in his untimely death at age 31, Schubert would stroll through the countryside with his friends. According to early biographies, he wrote the music for this beautiful song in the one hour period at a village inn as he awaited his lunch.
I think that the great mythologist (and beer lover) Martin Shaw would appreciate this story of Schubert- and not just because it happened over a pint of ale. Shaw encourages his students to give themselves just ten minutes to write a poem in his workshops: he swears that having such limits helps keep the inner critics who expect perfection at bay and the time pressure allows for more uninhibited creativity. So, in that spirit, I took up a new practice after my 6 am yoga class today: writing a ten minute letter from my favorite figures from the past. I was curious what Schubert might say to me in my imagination after immersing myself so deeply in his music and biography this past week for the five hour Schubertiade on Sunday. This is what emerged.
What Schubert Said…
by Kayleen Asbo
June 18, 2019
We may all be poised in the moments between agony and death.
Our symphonies may never be performed in our sight.
Marriage, children, fame and wealth may elude us.
We may be forever haunted by the ghosts of lost siblings,
failed dreams and tragic choices.
But even so, there is a path towards hope.
If you look closely,
The swan on the lake has never been more luminous
Gliding with her soft white wings.
through the ebony shadows and the pearly water lilies.
Take the time to really see
and capture the light in whatever way you can.
Take the time to really listen,
And you, too, might hear a song
that makes the whole journey
There are cracks in even the hardest thing .
Find a way to celebrate the scarlet poppies
that still insist on blooming
even in the darkest days of life.
I am choosing my titles more carefully these days. While I will always honor those people throughout history who have held the tension of the opposites, my next series, beginning July 8, is now subtitled Heroines of Hope. This four week summer salon series at the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum will bring to life four of the women who left an indelible imprint on the history of France and whose lives reflect profound resilience, integration, courage, grace and creativity. I will be taking dictation each morning from them as I await my morning coffee after yoga.
(From the Prologue of the Passion of Mary Magdalene, by Kayleen Asbo)
I am the first and last.
I am the scorned one.
I am the holy saint they’ll call the whore
In the first years, they called me the Apostle to the Apostles. In the early scriptures, the ones hidden for sixteen hundred years, they called me the Woman Who Knew All,
the Embodiment of Sophia,
the Companion of the Savior.
But as for Jesus, my teacher, my rabbi- what did he call me?
Jesus called me anthropos, meaning:
I sat at his feet to drink of his wisdom.
Through his words, this is what he taught me:
The kingdom of Heaven is within.
And so is the kingdom of hell.
Healing is possible for the least of us, for
Each one of us possesses an unquenchable spark of divinity.
We lose our way when we forget the good that is in us-
and the good that is in our midst.
If we bring forth what is inside us- it will save us.
And if we don’t, it will destroy us.
In the end, his message was simple,
just one four letter word:
I sat at his feet again after all the men had fled and hid
I watched him weep, and moan and bleed.
I held him in my unwavering gaze as he cried out in pain and then surrendered, his arms stretched out
Wide enough to hold the whole world
with the love that was in him.
With his grieving mother, I cradled his tortured body
after his last sigh had left his lips.
I kept vigil that night
And in the darkness before dawn,
I journeyed alone to the tomb to hold his feet once again,
To wrap him in clean linen
To anoint him in death as I had in life.
And then the Mystery came.
Through his broken and remade body, this is what he taught me:
The darkness and the light,
life and death
are inseparable companions of one another.
And yet even when all seems lost, God finds a way.
To heal, to hold, to rewrite the end of the story in a way we could never have imagined.
Remember, Jesus said, Remember.
We must return, again and again, to who we really are and what we were really made for:
Begotten out of love, begotten for love, begotten to love.
What I come to tell you is this:
Behold the pain
But open to joy
Gaze upon death
But never lose hope
For Love is as strong
Love is as strong as death,
In Rumi's Footsteps