Saturday, November 21, 2015

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

This beautiful image is from the blog "Faith, Fun and the Fergusons"

I am re-visiting Hebrews 13:2 as the United States plunges once again into anti-immigration hysteria in the name of a Christianity that in reality ALWAYS called for inclusion of all marginalized people.  After the attacks in Paris last week, and despite the ongoing media denial about attacks in places like Nigeria and Lebanon, the fascists of America are calling for the end of Syrian immigration, the registration of Muslims in the US, and closing Muslim places of worship.  This intense fascist exploitation of the tragedies in Paris is typical for the right wing in America - and that is right wing politicians, who continue to harness Christian prejudice despite the fact that Christianity in its roots was not anti-immigrant.

Hebrews 13:2 is a beautiful passage from Jewish Scripture.  "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."  While keeping Jewish teaching, in Christian Scripture, Jesus came as a new law, calling for people to join together in the name of Christ, not in the name of any one nation or one empire.  Governments of the day were astounded and threatened when slaves and masters, Jews and Romans, people of Palestine and people of Greece and people of Egypt gathered together to worship in a new community.  If you read my blog at all you know I have posted about Coptic polytheism in early Christian worship, about Paganism in both early Hebrew and early Christian communities, about open communion in Christian worship, about the importance of extending a shared worship to all peoples and from all peoples.

I have also been thinking this week about my many Muslim friends here in the United States.  Sasha and Saheim are goddaughter and friend, both born in the US, and both Muslim.  Sasha babysat my daughter for years, after I babysat for her years before.  Saheim befriended me and my daughter at a convention in his hometown, and continues to show the hospitality of Islam in his every action and gesture of friendship to me and my teen.  One of my greatest teachers, Mark, another US citizen, taught Islamic thought in his business classes, encouraging students of every faith to see the connection between business and spirituality.  And I have known immigrants, and been the better because of them.  Growing up, Noor was a visiting scholar from Egypt, who sat threw many high school classes with me while her parents studied in my hometown University.  Later, Ayesha was a family friend, also studying here in the States, whose family embraced me and my children with special needs when many Christian Americans would not.

Islam is part of American life, from my family and friends, to the Rumi poetry I read daily on Facebook, to the Mosque in Pittsburgh that gave out food weekly to the poor.  When fascist politicians talk of registering Muslims, they are talking of American citizens, of visiting children and scholars, of refugees and of highly skilled immigrants.  I am seeing many, many articles calling on Americans to welcome Syrian immigrants, and to stand against anti-Islamic rhetoric.  But I want us to remember that most of already know Muslims, and that the Islamic communities of America are already integral to our lives.

Bridget's Fire has long been a blog about women and religion, from puja and Hindu traditions, to Christian theology, to Jewish and Pagan traditions.  I need to be more purposeful in including Muslim feminisms, Muslim spirituality, and the centuries-old traditions of Muslim hospitality and political activism for peace and justice.

But today I am invoking Hebrews.  The passage:  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers has deep roots in Western tradition.  Hospitality was central to the Bridget community in Christian Ireland, with open doors to all visitors.  Indeed, hospitality to strangers was a sacred value throughout Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  Celtic Christianity developed around monasteries, so the Christian believer in early Celtic lands had to travel to learn, to study, to pray.  Travelers required a welcome, and hospitality to a stranger became a cornerstone to early Celtic Christian thought.

The blog Godspace:  Spirituality, Sustainability, Creativity, offers a wonderful liturgy of Celtic Christian hospitality traditions.  They include the following traditional prayer:

We saw a stranger yesterday, we put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place, music in the listening place,
and with the sacred name of the triune God,
He blessed us and our house, our cattle and out dear ones.
As the lark says in her song:  Often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger's guise.

I invite all my readers, of any faith or none, to find ways to act in hospitality as a counter to the fascism surrounding us in the United States.  I also invite us to acknowledge and share the importance of our Muslim friends, family and neighbors, of Islamic traditions that shape our lives, of the importance of both American Muslims and immigrants of all faiths in the open table of hospitality that should be America.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Bridget Foster Mother

St. Bridget Spreads Her Cloak over Ireland by artist Cynthia Matyi

As an adoptive mom I have long identified with the the Christian Bridget's role as foster mother.

Medieval legend goes that Bridget, the goddess of welcoming hospitality, was at the inn where Joseph and Mary stopped - only to be shocked when they were shuffled off to the stables.  Bridget worried about the young couple,  having been magically whisked there from the shores of the Irish Sea.  In this aspect, Bridget is Miome Chriosde, midwife to Christ, banchuideachaidh Moire, aid-woman to Mary.  In the Scottish Highlands version, she sees a lamp in the stable and goes to help deliver baby Jesus.  In multiple Irish and Welsh tales, she is Christ's later foster mother, a hugely important role in medieval Ireland and Wales, where foster mothers took on the education of their foster child at the age of seven.  In these stories, Bridget becomes a sacred teacher in the medieval tradition, guiding her foster child into apprenticeship and miraculous career.  Dennis O'Neal in Passionate Holiness:  Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive Peoples notes that no other non-Biblical Saint has been connected to both Jesus and Mary as Bridget has.

Since I've been a mom, I've lived in a different culture, one quite uncomfortable with foster parenting and adoption.  Common questions I've heard over the years include, "where did you buy your children?" and "are those kids really yours?" and "don't they want their real mothers?"  At the same time, schools have refused to enroll my daughter, lawyers told me I would never get custody of my children during my divorce, and even old friends from church questioned if I had a right to parent as a single mom after the divorce.  "It's not like they're really your children," said one Christian friend.  The sacredness of Bridget, as Christ's foster mother, is lost in modern America.

Now with two college kids on my hands, and one high schooler, the questions over the years are somewhat moot.  My kids can tell you who I am, that annoying person insisting they do homework and finish semesters.  Their friends think my dreds are cool and I am all together an embarrassment.  Proof of real motherhood if there ever was one!

But in my work in West Virginia, I am often solving one crisis after another.  As schools around the country become increasingly punitive, sending kids with special needs to juvenile detention and foster care is more and more common.  The same schools refuse federally mandated special education programs, and blame parents when children don't want to attend school.  At the same time, I drive up hollows to rural areas where no other service provider will go, working with wonderful children whose only crime is living too far off of main roads.  I am not a foster mother to these children and teenagers in the modern sense, but I am often working to secure safe and nurturing education and services for babies, preschoolers, kids and teenagers.  Along the way I have made some wonderful connections to so many families.  I love parents in West Virginia who work their asses off to get the best for their children that they can.

So in that sense I feel like Bridget foster mother.  From playing with a ten month old who is suspected of being on the autism spectrum, to coaxing a bullied teen with asperger's out of bed, I am working with kids who need someone who is professional and can advocate for them and for their parents.  Most of my work days I see amazing changes every single visit:  the ten month old smiles when I coo in her face; the teen sits up and talks about archery; the parents who worried about their children laugh and cry to see their kids learning and growing.  Watching families and kids change and relax and remember how to care for one another is a truly sacred experience.  

I remember back in the dark days when I started my counseling program, and again when I worked in crappy internships with punitive supervisors who had no idea how to play and teach real children.  It was scary to think that to support my own adopted kids I had to work in programs that mostly harmed kids.  I wanted so much to somehow continue giving other children and teens the freedom and support I give my own.  The professional world seemed stacked against me.

Sometimes I really did wonder if Bridget had somehow forgotten me, our contracts, my puja.  Or maybe she was busy with others, and had no more time to follow my little problems.

But now I feel awed and amazed at my work, and I can see Bridget the foster mother to Jesus in the lives I am touching.  I can name teenagers who are not in jail because of my reports, count toddlers who never talked who are now talking, list children who had no accommodations in school who now have supports.  I have helped families get better services, helped new kids start homeschooling, and helped other kids find better schools.  In Celtic society, a foster mother helps guide a child into apprenticeship and vocation, and I am helping kids make eye contact, speak, study things they love, and get everything from computers in their schools to parents who allow them their video games.  A teenager with greasy hair who makes eye contact and smiles and thanks me for having their video games back is a sacred thing, too.

So, I feel a lot of gratitude for Bridget.  Maybe she was busy with others while I suffered through my internships.  Maybe she did forget me while I was busy studying for certification exams that seem endless.  (One more in August.)  But somehow, all that difficult time led to doing this work now.  Dirt roads and nasty schools and isolated hollows and sacred children, sacred families, and the sacred work of protecting and mentoring children.

May the blessings of Bridgid the bright
Rest upon us, this day, this night,
I will kindle this fire as Bridghid, foster mother of Christ would
The Foster Mother's Name be on our hearth
Be on our work, be on our households all.

(Carmina Gadelica, Carmichael, 1900)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wrens in West Virginia

I've been in West Virginia for almost a year now, and luckily this spring I found carolina wrens nesting on the back porch.

Wrens are my birth bird, so to me they are so important.  I am born on Wren day, the 26th of December, and wrens were and are of great importance to modern, medieval, and early peoples living in Wales and Britain and Ireland.

And I love wren stories.  One of my favorites is from the Isle of Mann, "How wren became kind of all birds."  The story is how birds gathered to choose their king, and decided that who soever flew the highest would be king.  So eagle soared up above the skies, beating every other bird, or so it seemed.  A little brown hedge bird hid within eagle's great wings, and jumping on eagle's back, and so flying higher than all the others.  Even in modern day Wales, then, wren is still considered the king of the birds.

Wren day is its own holiday, now luckily involving a fake wren, paraded through town for tuppence and dancing and singing.  Scholars believe Wren day is the remnant of celtic myth, which required a sacrifice at the darkest time of the year.  Wren, who sings away at midwinter, was deemed the old year, needing to die for the new.  I prefer not killing wrens on my birthday, however, and prefer to focus on how the wren's name in Celtic language is connected to druidism:  dreathan, dryw, draouennig, all similar or in Welsh the same word as druid.  Druids purportedly searched for these hard-to-spot little brown birds, and seeing one meant the coming of wisdom.  Little wren, kind of the birds, bringer of wisdom, is a druid, with the loudest song per ounce than any other bird!

In augury, spotting the little wren is a sign of beneficence.  Bird kings bring good stuff and good luck!  Throughout Europe, killing wrens, taking their eggs, or bothering them in any way (except Wren day) was a sign of terrible ill luck.  Druids listened to the wondrous and famous wren song to make predictions.  Wrens denoted good fortune.

So, ok, all that is good.

I love wrens for so many other reasons, all non-celticy.  I love wren song, and I love wren work ethic.  In the summer I always have house wrens nesting about (here in West Virginia I have two pairs in the great 100 year old Chestnut tree), and I love to watch them building nests and singing with cheer and glee all day.  Male house wrens sing to attract multiple mates, and they build multiple nests to show their co-parenting prowess.  When babies are born, both parents feed the hatchlings all day long.  I love to watch them.

Carolina wrens like to nest in cavities, so they are harder to find.  Yet they still sing their delightful songs all day, and share co-parenting responsibilities just like their house wren cousins.  Carolina wrens greet the dawn with their "wi-choo, wi-choo," loudly out-singing birds that are three and four times their weight.  Then, like all wrens, they are singing and busy homemaking all the day.

It is this wonderful habit of wrens that makes them totemic.  If wren flies into your life, wren's busy days and loud songs represent a time to embrace action.  Wren is not a contemplator.  Wren is out doing.  So finding wren always signals a time to get up and do something.  Wren is also a great totem for speaking out!  Wren sings all the day long, letting the world know it is there.  If wren has come into your life, it is your time to sing your song.  Find your voice!  Say what you have to say!  Wren energy will support you.

But best of all, is just watching wren.  No matter how busy I am, I love to hear wrens in my garden, on my porch, in my trees.  Wren is here in West Virginia, and this just makes me happy.

For me, I guess, wren day is every day.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

What Is Your Name in Welsh? fun new poll!

Choose some of your favorite things about Wales, and find out who your Welsh name will be:

What is YOUR Welsh Name?

(pictures courtesy of the buzz site questionnaire)

Full disclosure:  I got Eleri, for impulsive and easy-going...  so like all of these polls, take them for fun, not anything serious!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Moving Bridget to West Virginia

Long time no see, gentle readers.

And what a time it's been.  I have finished my master's in counseling, my graduate certificate in autism education, my required courses for certification in behavior analysis, and 2600 hours of (annoying) supervision.  I am now moved to and living in West Virginia, where I am a provisionally licensed counselor under supervision, a Board Certified assistant Behavior Analyst, and an intern with West Virginia's early intervention program, Birth To Three.  I work in every state in the county, providing services to families impacted by autism, trauma, or often, both.   I'm in coal fields one day, high mountains another, and up hollows, down creeks and over rivers.

I love it.

I'm also about to be married to a wonderful, bisexual man, and professional partner.  My soon to be husband actually taught some of the autism therapists who would work with my kids!  Synchronicity!  And I have a new step-daughter, five dogs, my daughter's snake and lizard, and a huge, dilapidated fixer-upper Victorian with a wrap around porch, yellow at that.  Yes, and a partridge in a pear tree.  After mucho neglect in the puja department, I am spending June, finally, getting my Bridget garden moved to the state of mountains.

Today I put in tiny little St. Brid's Combs into my front garden.  Also known as betony or Bishop's Wort, (perhaps honoring the fact that Bridget served as Bishop in the Celtic Church), it is a sign that my puja life is here in my new home.  I've got some mugwort potted up to move down the mountains here to the central Alleghenies, and I've added lots of lilies - white for both Bridget and Mary.  Angelica, ragwort and Queen of the Meadow, those lovely and wonderful six foot tall plants, may have to wait until next year, but I'm also adding lots of St. John's wort, just for the lovely little flowers of it.  I have two circles of three with the betony, one in front and one in back, and plan to move three more.  Three three's for a lovely triple goddess set of nine.

Now with homeschooling the kids (I fought long and hard through a bitter custody battle to keep my kids out of schools), working all over the state, and still working on my license and certifications (my BCBA exam is in August!  Prayers to Lugh!), my puja time got lost.  I also now find myself living and working with a wonderful atheist man who questions all religion as bunkum, and finds himself marrying omnireligious me.  It has led to hurt feelings on both sides, and I have struggled to figure out how to honor my work in behaviorism and my own religious commitments.  And add my 16 year old a-theist son, and puja has been hard to do.

But I am working on it.

So today is plant the Bridget puja garden day, with sunshine, mixed with great thunder clouds.  Here in the mountains weather continues its crazy course, and I have many reports to write and things to do.  But I am putting puja into this new world.

Hello West Virginia.  Puja to Bridget has arrived.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lugh the Comforting

It's Lughnasadh!  Where has the summer gone?

For me it has been days and days of homework, driving kids to camps and swim meets, working, plus searching for a clinical internship for my counseling degree.  Full time grad school, work, kids, the usual...  I started this week in a clinical internship at a huge local agency providing services to families with kids on the autism spectrum, working as a clinical counseling intern!  Yay!  It took months to find the right place, but I am very happy with the internship I have (and it's paid, yay again!)

Thus for Lughnasadh 2013 I have so much to be thankful for!

And despite ongoing puja to Bridget, today I am sending thanks to Lugh.  Ok, a little overlap in the Celtic pantheon, but Bridget doesn't mind.  Lugh the warrior has always had a close Bridget relationship (warriors and blacksmiths have a close bond after all).  But I owe Lugh, and am dedicating my post to him today (since I don't have time with driving kids and work and school to stop and buy a beer and pour it out to him!)

Three years ago, Lugh's presence came to me at one of the hardest times of my life.  Back then, my ex was threatening me and the kids again, a long pattern in our then relationship.  Years of lawyers and therapists had told me there was nothing I could do, and I had struggled for all that time, with great support from good friends, to give my kids the best childhood I could.

Back then, though, the threats were increasing and I was struggling to get my kids to a safe place, and part of that was just starting my adult school career.  I was overwhelmed and frightened - not for myself, but for my children.  They have never deserved a parent who threatens the other or their interests or schooling!  No one deserves that!  So on Lughnasadh 2010 I sat on my then front porch and poured beer to Lugh in his honor, as you do, worrying about my children, and worrying about how to keep them emotionally and physically safe.

But that night, with fireflies in the summer sky, Lugh came to me.  Well, ok.  I felt his presence like a balm and a protection....   He sat down on the porch, at least in my imagination, clinked my beer bottle, and told me to hold on because he was going to help me.  He reminded me that there are many kinds of battles, and battling to give my children the best I could was a worthy endeavor.  He promised to send me warrior help.  And he promised to stand by me.  Having Lugh on your front porch is a miraculous thing, and though this was all a sense of presence and faith, it was amazingly comforting.

In fact, for these past three years, I have thought of Lugh as Lugh the comforting, and not so much Lugh the Long Arm or Lugh the Shining One as is traditional.

Now on Celtic reconstruction lists where I mentioned this visit, I met major skepticism.  Lugh, the men told me, don't visit middle-aged, gray haired moms (dreds or not).  Lugh, they told me, is only a God for warriors and fighters.  Why they asked, would Lugh talk to little old me?

But Lugh - despite their skepticism - sent me help.

I found a lawyer who finally said that as an adoptive mom I also have rights, and who has stood by me in court.  He helped me get child support despite my ex threatening to give only what she chose - if and when she chose.  Child support meant I could pay my own way through graduate school and not drop out, and still know I could keep my children safe and homeschooled.  I have also worked and paid my own legal fees, as well as supporting myself.  All possible with friends who have sent me clients and support...

And Lugh sent these friends - good ones.  Friends who stood by me while I struggled with a legal system still unused to lesbian divorce, autistic kids, homeschooling, and special needs.  Lugh helped send professionals who have spoken up for how much my dedication and commitment to homeschooling has made a significant difference in the children's lives, supportive teachers who have spoken of how much my support for my children has helped them succeed, and friends willing to stand with me in court and speak up about my ex's years of threats and abuse.

Again and again Lugh has given me courage and strength to keep going even when the "general wisdom" said to give up, to give in, to accept my ex's abuse, to put the kids in school, to ignore their special needs.  Lugh whispered to hang on.  And the memory of Lugh's comforting shoulder has stayed with me these long and hard and also amazing three years.

Faith is what helps us stand firm and struggle on when the odds seem stacked against us, when there seems to be little hope, when even those who should help us tell us there is no help.  I have always been a fighter - I have taken on many an insurance agency to get services for the kids, and taken on many schools to ensure them a good education.  So I guess Lugh saw me as a good bet.  Yet faith helped me hang on and keep a little flame of vision about the future I want for my kids and for myself.  Faith whispers against the dark.  Faith says there can be more.

So today I send Lugh a candle, some reverence, and good friends promise to pour some beer in my name.  But most of all I send Lugh thanks.

There are many ways to be a warrior.  Lugh supports them all.

Happy Lughnasadh everybody!  Pour a beer for me!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Women's Sexuality and Animal Spirit Guides

One of the greatest gifts this past spring was my first group counseling program ever.  Despite opposition from my school professors, and incredulity from my grande dame certified sexuality therapist supervisor, I put together a group on women's sexuality and animal spirit guides.

And the group rocked.

I had five clients for eight weeks, and we explored the ways patriarchy limits women's sexuality, how using animal spirit guides can help us explore our sexuality in new ways, and we made awesome artwork week after week.  We made wildly patterned quilts; we made plaster body casts; we made message bottles with mason jars and finger painted and collages!

As you do.

The fun of group counseling is partly its challenge.  I had Pagan clients and Christian clients and Unitarian Universalist clients in this first group.  Some members had no idea if they could identify with animal totems, and some wanted to find their own personal spirit guide.  Not everyone wanted to finger paint.  Not everyone felt comfortable with exploring sexism.  (Happily, everyone loved bodycasting!)  Yet after a few weeks we were more than a group of strangers; we were a supportive group of friends finding new ways to think about ourselves and our lives.

And this officially marks a combining of my blogs and life!  This puja blog to Bridget and my coaching and soon to be counseling blog all reflect different aspects of my dedication to St. Bridget. St. Bridget has led me constantly in my work in counseling and coaching, whether I walk a client to a disability office on a college campus, or whether I'm helping women explore spirituality.  St. Bridget inspires my art, my work and my worship.

And I believe she would have been happy as can be with my first counseling group.  We were women of many religions, orientations, totems, goals.

But when people come together, I believe St. Bridget is there.

It is Beltane, another fire festival.

Thanks to her path.

image:  sattva,