Tag Archives: angels

Hanukkah and the Holy Well

Holy Well with Steps
One of the Holy Wells of St. Patrick on December 10, 2015, the 28th of Kislev, Fourth Day of Hanukkah

“On the Fourth Day of Hanukkah my true heart said to me, get thee out of thy cabin and go to the Holy Well of St. Patrick.” All of you know the tune to sing that alternative lyric to. Part of this time of year is always endless loops of Christmas music, so that even if you aren’t Christian and you don’t celebrate Christmas, you will still KNOW every possible Christmas song there is. That’s okay, most of them are really beautiful and my anger around this has completely dissipated over the years.

I am in a very Christian, truly Christian place, where folks practice their religion whether they are Catholic or Church of Ireland or Celtic/Pagan. All three of those forms of worship are part of my adventure here. I hope to be able to celebrate Solstice with a woman who follows the Gaelic calendar and rituals. Whether I manage to gather with her or not, I will definitely be engaging with the night, with Solstice, with the stars and offering thanks for this time of year, this time of turning.

It gets dark around 4p.m. and the sun or light doesn’t appear until around 8:45 a.m. So, that’s over sixteen hours of black, dark night. I am loathe to turn the lights on and find myself very averse to them. I use candles or low wattage lamps if I want light after dark. The darkness is bliss for me and mutes all my pains and my anxieties. That may sound counter-intuitive, but it is what is true for me. I often feel like going to bed around six or seven in the evening.

I still don’t sleep more than several hours at a time, but it is lengthening. I’ll get four hours in a row now, then two or three more. Brother Thomas has started praying for me to be able to sleep. His shining prayers are working, and the long hours of darkness as well. I so long to dance and dream with the Holy One in that place of deep slumber, which I am only barely doing here. Deep sleep will be a gift if and when it comes.

So, back to the getting out the door and walking to St. Patrick’s Holy Well. We just had Storm Desmond here and a great deal of Ireland is under water, folks have rivers running through their homes and the winds and rain were fierce. Many, many folks have lost everything. My little cabin Clare has been a solid haven from all storms outside. I am warm, dry and protected in this very solid stone cabin. My experience of the storm is just one of delight and awe and wonder at the power of the Holy One and the Elements in their constant dance on this Holy Spinning Mother Earth. I am also aware of all those not in joy or delight about this storming and I pray for them within my space of hope and warmth.

On this morning a few days after the wild storming, the sun was shining. I used my iphone to see if there was going to be rain and storms coming or if I might hazard a longer walk. I have not yet completely let go of time and technology. I use them way less, but they are still part of my life and learning to use them and have them enrich my experience, not detract from it, is part of my work here. So, my phone said, no rain expected until later in the afternoon.

The down side to sixteen hours of darkness and loads of rain and 30mph winds, is that you don’t really get much walking or venturing out done. It’s just much nicer inside. So, moving my body out of doors, even in 38 degree weather felt like a MUST.

I had seen signs to St. Patrick’s Holy Well along the small lane that is just near where we are and one of the work-study young women had mentioned that it was truly spectacular and even “more special” than the other Holy Well we had been to. Well that Holy Well, took my breath away so, I was thinking hmmmm, let’s see if I can walk to this one. It didn’t seem too far away.

I packed my bag and started my journey at 9:23 a.m. I knew it would take me at least an hour or two, so I put some nuts and cheese and filled my thermos with hot tea. I took birdseed to offer the birds when I got there and packed my outdoor wool blanket so I could sit at the well comfortably. I layered up and with my trusty walking stick went out the door.

I met Rachel, my neighbor in her red car, at the crossroads near my cabin shortly after leaving. She had her three lovely daughters (all under the age of five) with her and they were on their way to Tessa’s playschool. She asked me where I was off to and I told her.  She expressed concern. “That’s pretty far away.” I said “a mile or two?” She said “more like three.” I reassured her that I had many hours to do the walk and that I would go slowly and was up to it and she drove on.

In my mind I was thinking maybe she meant kilometers and it’s not really that far away. I was determined and it was a gorgeous cold day. So, on I walked along the small, wet country lane between stone walls and ivy covered hedges. Streams and rivulets of water, birds and sheep as my companions. I went up and down and up and down the hills and my feet started to really ache. I have plantar fasciitis and bone spurs as well as being a woman of girth. So, my feet take a beating when I walk or dance and I feel it, I feel it acutely.

Pain is not something that stops me though, it just slows me down. I saw two more people on my walk, one elderly man tending to something in his yard came over and said hello. I asked him how far it was to the Holy Well and he said two miles or more. I’d already been walking for an hour at this point, but again, in my mind I went, he means kilometers, it’s just not that far away. He asked me to say a prayer for him when I got there and I shook his hand and continued on my way.

About half an hour later I encountered another elderly man walking towards me on the lane. He was looking for Holly with red berries still attached to use for his Christmas decorating. There is tons of Holly everywhere here, but the winds have taken a lot of the berries. I asked him “how much further to the well?” He said it was quite a ways, perhaps another two more miles.

In my mind I thought, I’ve entered a fairy tale. It’s always going to be two more miles away and I will NEVER get to the Holy Well. He gave me his advice about how to get there and directions and wished me well (all puns intended) and he continued on his quest and I continued on mine.

It started to rain, which wasn’t supposed to happen, according to my iphone weather report. I was an hour and a half or more into my journey at this point. I put my jacket on, the one I’d had around my waist, and hoped it wouldn’t be a torrential rain. It turned out to just be a slight drizzle for a little bit. I stopped by a rusted iron gate and tried doing my foot exercises to relieve my pain and kept hoping the crossroads with the sign for the well would be just around the next bend or over the next hill.

Alas, this was not the case. I just kept walking. I saw a lovely horse in a field and decided to take a moment by that particular field and fence. I made some friendly horse sounds and said hello. She came over to me. She was coal black with a white star on her forehead and a streak of white running down from it. I reached into my pack and took out my apple, thinking horses like apples right?

Two other majestic horses with thick winter fur came up at this point. The alpha female, of this group of three, was white and rust colored. She nudged the other horses away as if to say, “I’m in charge here.” She looked at me and I cut my apple into three sections and explained that I would be giving something to each of them, even if she was the “alpha.”

I offered the apple sections to each of them and none of them were interested. They were interested in me. They put their heads down for me to touch. I spent a good ten minutes or so communing with these horse beings and was grateful for them. They didn’t want my apple, but since I’d gotten it out, I took one of the sections and eventually continued on my way.

I walked on and finally after two and a half hours came to the crossroads with the signs for the Holy Well. At this point the sun was shining in my eyes and it was hard for me to see too far down the road. I had taken my sunglasses out of my pack before I left the cabin, thinking “sunglasses, who needs those in this weather?” Silly me. I turned down the road that said Cemetery and Holy Well, but I couldn’t see either of them. I kept walking and thought I must be close. I was in great pain and in tears at this point, but I took heart that I was too close to give up and besides the walk home wasn’t going to be any better if I never made it to the Well, so, I should just keep going.

And I walked another fifteen minutes or more and there was another sign pointing me to the left, so I took that road. Then I saw the cemetery and thought that the well was in the cemetery at the back or something. I went into the old, old cemetery and walked around looking for this Holy Well that seemed impossible to locate. It wasn’t in the cemetery, or it was hidden from me.

I walked all around the cemetery and saw a gate and a road and what perhaps was a statue down that way. I thought, hmmm, perhaps that’s the well. AND IT WAS! YAY, HOORAH, HIP, HIP HOORAY, I made it. Three hours and 3.6 miles from when I started I found what I was en route to. It wasn’t no two mile walk!

Gate into Holy Well
The Third Gate

There were three gates, all of which I opened and went through, before I got to the actual Holy Well. The final gate was to the walled in area that surrounds the Holy Well of St. Patrick. There was a large statue of him and another with Mary. I took off my boots and my wool socks and walked down the steps to the well. I sat on the cold wet stone and cried and gave thanks and put my feet briefly in the Holy Well waters and asked for their healing. I then laid down on the stone next to and over the Holy Well, which is supposed to heal your back.

Holy Well with Rock
The view from the Rock that heals your back. I am laying on it.

The Well was in shadow and it was chilly, but I was in my layers. I laid myself down on the stone and cried and said prayers for the man who had asked me to and for all beings in pain, myself included. I chanted the Shecheheyanu prayer and just laid there looking up at the trees and being grateful beyond belief for having arrived.

Skewed View from rock Patric and tree
My view from the rock looking up at St. Patrick above me with the Well beneath me.

I took out my cheese and my nuts and drank my hot tea. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more grateful for a hot beverage. It was magnificent. I offered some tea to the trees and scattered some birdseed, apple slices and cheese for whatever animal beings or Fey Folk might want or need those things.

Then, because I had my trusty technology with me, I got out my phone and texted Brother Thomas, who I knew was out doing the weekly shopping. I asked him if he could pick me up on his way home and told him I’d be walking along the road. He and I managed to communicate via text and he said he’d be along in about a half an hour. I prepared myself to leave the Holy Well.

I’d wanted to stay longer and had packed my paints and my prayer shawl and my prayer book. But I didn’t want to walk another three hours home and I knew the rains were coming, and I was getting chilled. I said my goodbyes to the trees and the Well and as I closed the third gate Brother Thomas drove up. I cannot tell you how grateful I was to see him, to see that car, to know that I had made the effort and gotten there, but that an angel would carry me home and one did. By angel/Brother Thomas flight, it only took seven minutes to get home.

I’ll return to this place and spend long hours there, but I’ll know the way and plan accordingly. My feet are not hurting and neither is my back. The miracle of this place continues to unfold in me right now in this season of miracles, Jewish and Christian.

May  you find your way and continue to walk on against pain and obstacles to all the miracles waiting to unfold for you.

Fifth night Hannukah with Orchid
Six oil filled cups: five for the fifth night and one worker/Shammes candle. The deep dark night, the rain drops on the window, the orchid blooming in the Dark on this fifth night of Hanukkah, one day before the new moon and the new month of Tevet, after my long, long walk and the miracles of the Holy Well of St. Patrick and Brother Thomas.

 

 

More than One, Fifty years since my sister Paula’s Death, I remember….

Me, at the age, my sister Paula, died next to her grave in Boulder Colorado
Me, around the same age as my sister Paula when she died. I am sitting next to her grave (called the Lollipop grave) in Boulder, Colorado. This gravestone was commissioned by my parents, because while holding Paula they saw her interest in one of  DeWain Valentine’s watercolors, a heart shaped abstraction hanging in his studio. “Paula pointed to it with great animation and when we recalled that, after her death, we decided to commission DeWain to make it into a sculpture to mark her grave.”

 

Today, May 16, 2014 marks 50 years since my sister Paula died. I was inside my mother’s womb three and a half months from being born on that day. In this picture I am somewhere between two and three. My sister died three months short of her second birthday. Her death has marked my life as well as the lives of all our family. Death is a certainty for all of us, but no one wants a child to die or expects it.

I am truly a child of death, born into the grieving arms of my amazing and brave parents, who had to find love and presence to give me while being devastated about the loss of their firstborn beautiful child.

Every year at this time I light a Yahrzeit candle for her and remember her physical presence on this earth. This Jewish practice is so important to me and gives me a comfort that is beyond words. I feel connected to my sister across time and space and I remember her and honor her and recognize that her short time on this earth was real and deserves honoring.

Yahrzeit Candle and memory altar for Paula on anniversary of her death.
Yahrzeit Candle and memory altar for Paula on anniversary of her death.

My parents have gone through various different ways of mourning her over the last fifty years. There is no way to navigate the territory of the death of a child right or wrong. It is all wrong.

Everything about a child dying feels wrong and those who have to cross that territory know this in a way that others who have not cannot really speak to. I have not lost a child to death and I pray I never do, but that is not within my control. Death is a certainty, there is no way out of it.

The mainstream culture runs kicking and screaming from this reality, racing as fast as they can from the idea that we all have a date stamp on us, one that we don’t know and cannot see.

If you are a practicing Buddhist, you spend a very long time imagining and looking at your own death in all kinds of different scenarios. If you are a Tribally aligned person, from anywhere around the globe, you recognize that the spirits of those who have died are here on this earth either to help or teach or hinder us based on many different factors. If you are an African Dagara Shaman like Malidoma Patrice Somé , you have a frame-work of belief that holds you, as the progeny of an ancestor, responsible for their wrong actions and the beneficiary of their good actions. If you are Hindu, you are engaged in a circle and chain of lives lived across space and time over and over in various forms. If you are Mexican you will make a feast and an altar of memories and offerings for your dead once a year and recognize and remember them together. Here, we just foolishly hope death will go away and try to avoid the topic. I’m summarizing very deep and profound beliefs here and could write many long essays on each of these, and perhaps I will, or as we say in my tradition, “go and study.” If something here stimulates you to learn more or go deeper, maybe even into the burial root ground of your soul.

I have studied and do study death more than most folks in our society. I am a co-founder of our community’s burial society called a Hevra Kadisha. I prepare folks for burial according to Jewish tradition. I have been called by death from within the womb-safe belly of my mother. I met my sister in that liminal space between, before my birth and after her death.

She was my angel in all the dark nights of my childhood, a sweet presence that helped me find hope, or pointed out the right direction.

I visited her grave as a child and have always held a place for her in my heart.

Memoriam Collage by Helen Redman 1995
Memoriam Collage by Helen Redman 1995

When I was a teenager I would visit the graveyard with my friend Gretchen Reinhardt and we would attempt to rescue or put back together gravestones that had been vandalized.

I was never afraid in that graveyard. All those dead were my friends. It was a quiet, calm place where I didn’t have to feel all the pain of those around me. No one was teasing me or hurting me and I never felt like an alien in the cemetery. I was at home there, I still am. Death and I have always been in relationship.

Which is why everyday of my life feels like an amazing gift that I need to live fully and well. I am not running away from the knowledge that I will die, that all those I love and cherish will die. I am acutely aware of this and I know it in my cells and in my blood. My umbilical cord blood was saturated with the pain of my sister’s passing, my very core has been colored by her passing. This is not a sad story though, while at the same time being the saddest story.

I am more than okay now as I round the corner towards fifty and I pass this spot on the calendar and I touch her once again in the cycle of remembering. I know that there is more to death than an end. I know this in my body, heart and mind, in my Lev (Hebrew for Heart/Mind)  and in my soul and it is not just a comfort to me, it is a lifeline and a guiding force in my life.

I know this post will make my mother cry, but she and I have a long and deep understanding about honesty and truth-telling and being real with each other. We both have made and will make mistakes, but we are linked so very deeply in our connection to dealing with death honestly and with whatever we have to bring to the table around it. Others in my family do not often want to talk about Paula, but perhaps they will read this or maybe they won’t. My father used to take me to her grave as a child, this was not something I did with my mother. As an adult when I am in Boulder I visit her grave and place a stone on it.

Jewish folks bring stones to a grave, stones to mark that our memory for those who have left this earth is as long and durable and tangible as that of a stone or a rock. A rock has been around for millenniums and this symbolic act is our way of saying, “YOU are present for us still today.” It reminds us to do good and enact justice for those who are living. It reminds us to not throw stones, but to remember that everyone is precious and will be mourned by someone, so we shouldn’t go around killing folks EVER!

A rock says, I silently mark this territory and bear witness for you, even when you are in the ground yourself, I will still be here as a reminder of your presence on this planet, at this place.

Visiting my sister's grave October 2014, leaving stones and saying prayers and remembering.
Visiting my sister’s grave October 2014, leaving stones and saying prayers and remembering.

I have a mother who is an artist and who has been marking my presence and journey on this earth since before I was born into it. She has marked me with paint and pastel, with pencil and with cloth. Reminding me and anyone brave enough to visit this place of pain, death and life that we are always MORE THAN ONE.

We are all connected one to the other, now and forever and always and always.

I love you mommy and I love you Papa. I grieve for your loss, even still and especially, today fifty years later.

Thank you for loving me so deeply and magnificently!

Here I am, inside my mommy, right before I was born, more than one always!

More than One by Helen Redman, 1964
More than One, by Helen Redman, 1964

 

 

 

Angel Song for Healing and Before Bed

Madrid Angel

“In the name of the Holy One, the Holy One of Israel, May Michael be on my Right and on my Left be Gavriel, Before me be Uriel and at my Back be Raphael. Above my head and below my feet Shechinah-eyl.”

This is an adaptation from the prayer said before going to sleep in the Jewish tradition. It is one of several prayers that are part of what is called the Bedtime Shema. My dear friend Arik Labowitz has the Hebrew melody beautifully recorded on his CD Simu Lev (track 10, called Angel Song) and you can listen to it on his website or buy the CD. I play his music all the time. The English quote above here is slightly different from what you will find in some prayer books. Hebrew to English never translates perfectly and this is what I sing and sang to my children before they fell asleep. This prayer or any prayer or ritual practice of protection and love spoken ritually and regularly for young ones will help in so many ways. Nightmares just don’t have as much of a doorway in when you have surrounded yourself or your child with four guardian angels.

I also sing or chant these words over and around folks before and after medical procedures or if they come into my home for healing. It is very soothing. It is good to teach to others. I will look into recording a voice memo here and uploading for future reference so you can see the way I sing it. Just saying the words in any way you want is a good idea.

Whenever you see any word in Hebrew or translated into English with the “el” in it, this refers to the Divine. So El is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, Hebrew word for a Divine being. Please see Why Hashem article for more detail about naming the Divine. In brief, we don’t name the Divine in the Jewish tradition, we use various kinds of descriptors. There is one name used in the Torah which is made up of the four Hebrew letters, but this configuration of letters has no vowels and the original pronunciation for these letters was only passed down orally from High Priest to High Priest. No one except the Cohen Ha-Gadol/High Priest ever knew how to pronounce this name and only did so once a year. See articles on Yom Kippur. This name is called the Tetragrammaton since it is made up of four Hebrew letters. It is inaccurately translated and pronounced sometimes as Yahweh or Jehovah or some variation of this.

Additionally, all Hebrew words are linked to their roots and each root spawns many, many words, which when you know the root for those words links you to a whole system of interconnected words and which informs you about the deeper meanings of a word. Translation is always tricky.

“… Translation, above all, means change. In Elizabethan England, one of its meanings was ‘death’: to be translated from this world to the next. In the Middle Ages, translation meant the theft or removal of holy relics from one monastery or church to another…” ~ Eilliot Weinberger

And my favorite teaching on taking Holy works and trying to understand them literally.

“The surest way to misunderstand revelation is to take it literally, to imagine that God spoke to the prophet on a long-distance telephone.”

~ Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Even if you cannot access it in the original language that doesn’t mean you cannot benefit from the teachings. I just like to remind folks to think of translation as a kind of very adept word yoga, with lots of bends and twists and flexibility built-in so that you don’t think there is ONLY one way to engage with a word or concept. When learning about the Hebrew prayers and practices and adapting them for any person, regardless of their religion or ethnic or cultural background, it is important to remember that the energy of the word or the prayer is what matters for those who cannot access it in the Hebrew. The other important thing to keep in mind is your kavannah/intention. If you set your intention the meaning will fall into its proper place.

Each of the angel’s names have meaning and can be translated variously as:

  • Michael is the angel of love/mercy. Mercy of El, the energy of love angel or the angel of mercy.
  • Gavriel or Gabriel is the angel of strength, so strength of El or energy of courage and boundaries, armor, protection.
  • Uriel or Ariel is the angel of light from the Hebrew word Or/Light. So, Uriel is the angel of vision and light.
  • Raphael is the angel of healing, the word for healing in Hebrew is Refuah

So, please engage how you are comfortable and for further teachings on this please see Rabbi David Cooper‘s book God is a Verb (order if from your local bookstore). Much greater detail than what I’ve given is included there and he has an excellent Archangel Meditation on page 144 of this book.  He also has CDs and other sound recordings on angels and tools for those looking to connect more deeply. Rabbi David is a master of Kabbalah and I use his materials all the time.

I have had personal experience with the Archangel Raphael and always experience his presence as being a warm wide-winged embrace that I sink into. Raphael is always a being I fall back into or sink backwards into. There is a profound feeling of trust and warmth. When I pray for others I imagine the wings of Raphael being so big that the person is completely held inside this Holy Being and is comforted and well there in the protecting and deeply healing embrace.

May you find comfort in these practices and please feel free to ask me questions and go and study more!