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