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Sacred Imagination
October 2001 Column

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Dana's Current Column

by Dana Reynolds

Each month, Dana Reynolds shares her life-transforming thoughts, ideas, and sacred imagination based around our "theme of the month."  Dana is a visionary Spiritual Midwife, who devotes herself to helping women birth their creative gifts into the world.

Seeking Sacred Alchemy

When I first learned that the topic for this month’s column would pertain to Feminine Spirituality I was excited by the possibilities. Then our world was forever changed by the free will of the maniacal minds of the terrorists, free will that chose evil. Suffering and loss came home to us in ways that have left us in shock and deep grief, while stories of miracles leave us awestruck by God’s grace. This paradox is the sacred alchemy of divine benevolence and blessing. My myriad of choices of what to write about disappeared and only one remained. How do we transform grief into healing?

How each of us chooses to express and manifest our own transformational alchemy in these difficult times is limited only by our perceived creative limitations. I believe our sacred imaginations are key to transforming our grief and anger into transcendence and healing.

The Divine Feminine, the Mother, our creatrix of nurturing and balance offers us guidance. She holds precious pages from the guidebook of life that we need to become sacred alchemists. I’m speaking of how we might transform our grief and suffering into meaningful service and glorious creative expression.

Throughout time, women have mourned and grieved both personal and universal losses and sufferings. In many cultures women don black clothing at the time of loss of a loved one and wear this as a sign of mourning the rest of their lives. Others have wailing ceremonies and rituals that last for an entire year. Still others portray symbolic burials of parts of themselves that have died along with the loved one. Women carry in their cellular memories the collective grief that has been experienced and expressed by their ancestors and sisters before them, in these ways and in ways that time has erased even from memory.

Women have gathered in circles for millennia. Now more than ever we must come together to create community, to support one another through our grief and to co-create new ways of living and being. The circle will hold us. It is an ancient form. When we sit in circle together with common intention we invite the remembering of the Goddess culture, the Mother, and the ways of the feminine.

Over the years as I have worked with hundreds of women through my workshops and retreats, in circle. I have come to recognize those who are the mourners. There are, I have discovered, women who seem to be deeply sensitive to not only their own personal grief but to the grief of the collective. We all mourn and grieve at different times in our lives, but there are those who seem to hold an interior continual vigil of suffering. How each of these women carries their sorrow for the grief endured by friends, family, nature, and the human family is varied and mysterious.

They express their grieving in a myriad of forms. One woman crafts a tiny spirit doll made of tree bark as she grieves for the annihilation of the world’s landscape. Another transforms a small wooden box into a shrine to honor her dying mother. And another closes her eyes and dances barefoot to silent music as she rocks an invisible child in her arms. Later she tells me she was praying for the starving children in Africa. Making altars, writing poems and stories, moving the body with intention, cooking a nurturing meal for family, praying while folding the laundry or driving to work, these are forms of sacred alchemy. When feelings are made manifest transformation occurs through the making.

Many of us in our country right now are having difficulty coping with the overwhelming grief we are feeling even though we may not have personally lost family or friends in the tragedies. Still our hearts have been shattered by the stories of loss that we’ve read and seen portrayed in the news on television. The grief we’ve been feeling is bone deep, cellular, and heart-breaking. How do we cope with our pain? How do we move forward and honor the lives that were lost? How do we transform our suffering into service?

I believe the Divine Mother, offers us answers. The Mother I am referring to here Gaia, the Earth. She is our living breathing assurance of sacred alchemy. In the simplest of age-old stories, the autumn leaves fall to the ground where they rot and decay returning to the earth to be reborn in spring in the form of new growth and life.

The Mother knows about regeneration, alchemy, and transformation. The charred forest after the fire, in time yields wildflowers and new seedlings. The Mother’s life-giving creative energy lives and breathes in each of us.

The tragic happenings of September 11th have stunned us, broken our hearts, and catapulted us into grief. We are in uncharted waters. The wheels of time will turn and deliver us to new and unfamiliar territory, and out of our mourning our creativity and sacred imaginations will take hold of our psyches and souls the way the hands of a trusted friend reach out to offer comfort and assistance. Creativity and sacred imagination are our allies for healing.

Just as there have always been mourners to carry the grief, there have always been artists to express that same grief in ways that become transcendent. Often these persons are one in the same. This is the sacred alchemical process. Through poetry and writing, painting and sculpture, music, theater, and dance, the human soul is lifted to the vaults of heaven for solace and comfort, benediction and benevolence, blessing and healing. The wildflowers push forth from the charred remains on the forest floor.

This morning as I lit a candle and asked for guidance before I began writing I instantly remembered a story I wrote several years ago entitled The Mourners. I’m grateful to the angels and muses who seem to always arrive just before a deadline to offer a creative rescue.

My remembered story was inspired by a vivid dream I experienced when I was recovering from breast surgery. I have been guided to include the story here following my column. Please read it and contemplate the symbolism beyond the literal interpretation. My intention in sharing this story is to invite you to contemplate how you might use your creative gifts and talents to express the story you are carrying from the devastation of September 11th. How will you transform your personal and collective grief? How will you pay homage to those whose grief is unending and to those who died?

I believe this complex and disorienting time in our lives asks greater things from each of us than we may believe we are capable of delivering. The events of September 2001 have called us to be mourners...to wail and grieve our personal, collective, and planetary sufferings. Perhaps those same events are also calling each of us in his/her own way and time, to become artists so that we may recreate our lives and our world. Artist in this sense of the word applies to all aspects of creative interaction and expression for the Highest good of all concerned.

May we each discover new languages and forms of expression to transform our grief into active love, compassion, and most challenging of all forgiveness. May we become sacred alchemists and may the Mother and our sacred imaginations guide us into regeneration and new ways of being through our actions and our words but most of all through our hearts and souls.

The Mourners

By Dana Reynolds

A short story inspired by a dream...

A breeze caught the russet colored leaves spinning them into a spiral while the women gathered near the midwife’s porch. It was autumn. And the sun was beginning to descend as night prepared to spread her dark velvet canopy. The women arrived together in pairs. Maidens, mothers, crones, they were dressed in black. Their faces appeared to be scrubbed clean. They were transparent, glowing like alabaster or mother of pearl. Their eyes were wide, full, and attentive to their commission.

Each woman carried a burlap sack that was bulging, round, and pregnant with the decorative icing of her life. Lipsticks and embroidery, perfume bottles, wedding rings, photographs, love letters, recipes, and watches. All manner of material ties to her mortal nature. Again the chilled breeze of autumn brushed the leaves about the women’s feet. In evening’s deep blue shadows, they gathered close together, lighting white candles in tall glass jars, to illumine the darkening day.

The midwife’s long gray hair cascaded around her face as she stood waiting on the porch. She had been readying the sacred space to welcome these martyrs and mystics to their new home.

The townsfolk were silently convening. They formed a circle around the cluster of women now silhouetted against the setting sun. Again a gust of autumn wind caught a cluster of red and golden colored leaves and sent them dancing across the feet of this holy audience. Meanwhile, overhead in timeless victory formation, one hundred geese swam through the kaleidoscope sky in search of warmer places. They chanted ancient platitudes to the crowd below.

The midwife gathered her purple knitted cape about her shoulders. The women numbering twelve in all, stood like candles on a cake. A circle lit by the fires they held in their hands. Their faces glowing from the flickering candlelight.

Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. Husbands, daughters, sons, stood wordless and close around them, like a pomegranate embracing the seeds within. They held hands in somber reverie, while the sun gasped and relinquished its cinders to the cool breath of evening.

Standing tall and straight, the midwife lit a torch and held it out above the heads of the sacred twelve. She raised her free hand as though to bless the crowd. Directing her words to the attending families, her voice shattered the silence. "Behold! Behold the mourners, the sorrow-keepers. Your souls have called you to this moment. You are participants in this Divine play. And now your sacrifice begins. Your relinquishing of these kindred feminine spirits will open the space for the healing of suffering humankind." Turning to the women she instructed, "Come now! Leave your lives, your possessions, and your herstories. Let go of time, of your memories and your names."

The women surrendered to the trance. Silence once again embraced the crowd. They had been preparing for this moment since last spring when the angel had first appeared to them. The heavenly messenger had brought word of their mission from the Creator. Since that day, families and friends had been preparing for this moment of separation. Their partings were sanctified, consecrated. Those who were being left behind were also martyrs. They, too, were part of the story. They were part of the mystery and miracle that was about to begin. The angels had promised the onlookers special graces to protect and heal their breaking hearts. Now as the women walked away from their lives and loved ones, a strange peace fell as a blessing upon the ones remaining behind.

With reverence, the artist in the crowd came forward. She pulled her wooden cart into the center of the mourners’ circle. One by one, they emptied the contents of their burlap bags into the artist’s wagon. One by one they let go of their belongings while each one voiced a collective prayer, "I release my worldly attachments, my identity, this life, to become a vessel for the sorrows of all humanity."

The cart began to fill. A strand of pearls, a box of sea glass, a hand mirror made of silver and shaped like the moon, and a porcelain faced doll dressed in a tattered blue gingham dress. And still more treasures fell into the holy cache. A tarnished locket, a small red leather journal, an amethyst crystal, a well-worn fountain pen.

One by one, the women emptied their satchels and themselves. When they had finished they placed the barren bags on a nearby pile of kindling. The midwife descended the stairs of her veranda and with her torch she set fire to the burlap. Turning to face the women, she nodded. The procession formed and in single file they followed her to where she was before.

The artist covered her cart with an old quilt, and pulled it aside. Now the crowd drew nearer to fill the space where the women had been standing. The midwife appeared as a resurrected Goddess. She turned to face the women standing behind her on the porch. Empowered by unseen forces she spoke, "…..and now it begins. The Great Spirit, the Creator and the Mother, have called you to hold the grief and suffering of the entire world. Put away your smiles. Open wide your hearts and souls. Begin your mission. You will lift the woes from humankind through your grieving. In so doing, you will create space for Light and healing to bless the earth. You are invoking the return to Paradise." Holding out her arms to the women she continued. "I have been guided to prepare your new home. You will be cared for as the pain and suffering of our tormented humanity is transferred to your hearts to bear. Today you become Saints, and in the time of the world’s rebirth you will join the angels’ chorus. Receive your mantles and veils of mourning as outward signs of your sacrifice."

Moving in and out among the women, the midwife appeared as a needle weaving a tapestry. She covered each face with a black sacred cloth. The women were silent, transfixed. Their eyes, now barely visible behind their mourner’s weeds, were clear and purposeful.

Then the midwife turned to the shrouded women and said somberly, "Come, come, sisters of sorrow, mothers of mourning, guardians of grief. Come into cloister and wail the inequities of the universe. Express the anguish of the voiceless. Embrace the pain of the sick, the abused, the neglected. Sing with the voices of the ancestors to rattle the souls of the evil ones so that they too might awaken and choose light instead of darkness. In doing so, you are freeing the world, readying it for the Light that is being born. You will spend the remainder of your lives in sacred alchemy. You, who by the grace of the Divine will transform darkness into Light, misery to miracle, loathing to love."

The crowd of family and friends joined hands and in unison said softly, "Go now. We release you to do the work you have been chosen for. We bless you for your sacrifice. And so it is."

The women turned and two by two they crossed the threshold into the midwife’s home. They gathered in a circle in the central room. When the door had been closed and bolted after them the silence deepened.

They knew it was time. Collectively the women took a deep breath. They inhaled into their bodies, minds, and spirits the torments and agonies of the suffering world. The women fell to their knees and their wailing began. It was as if the soul of Earth herself was releasing all her accumulated pain since the beginning of history and herstory. Their cries could be heard a great distance.

The crowd turned in silence and dispersed in all directions. The family’s spirits were sustained, as the angels had promised.

The artist, pulling her cart filled with the women’s possessions, prayed for the mourners all the way home. Meanwhile the second moon rose in the east.

The next morning, just before dawn, the artist wrapped herself in a blanket and went to her shed. Her breath was warm and heavy. It formed misty clouds that hung in mid-air. She built a fire in the wood stove in the corner. She lit candles and incense. Then slowly, she cast a circle of twelve large stones upon the dirt floor. Each stone became a prayer to a sister of sorrow…Elizabeth, Alice, Hannah, Kate. Each stone a blessing…Margaret, Amanda, Caroline, Laura. Each stone an honoring…Barbara, Renata, Rachel, Irene.

When all was ready the artist carefully removed the old worn quilt from her cart to reveal the women’s discarded belongings. Lovingly, reverently, she began to sort the bits and pieces of their lives. Her blanket fell away and kneeling naked on the earth, one by one she paid homage to the castaways. A pair of reading glasses, a tiny silk pouch containing a baby tooth. A hairbrush entangled with silver strands, a sea-gull feather.

"How to begin??" She wondered out loud.

"You will create their monument. Their shrine." The angel had commanded this to her, on the day when the second moon first appeared in the sky……"You will build a memorial to honor the sacrifice and martyrdom of the Sisters of Sorrows."

The artist continued her sorting as salty tears rolled down her cheeks and onto her breasts. She kneeled among an assortment of photographs and earrings. Looking over the field of momentos now arranged like a carefully planned garden, she whispered a prayer for guidance. The blessing was lightening fast to reach her. She felt the brush of an angel wing as she began to absorb the energy of the objects that lay before her.

Reaching out to touch the now sacred relics…she whispered through her tears, "Tell me your stories….tell me your stories."

Meanwhile, beyond these walls, the day was breaking….and all over the planet the miracles had begun.

You are invited to submit your story and accompanying photos to be considered as a feature for the Sacred Imagination column. E-mail me at dana@sacredimagination.com for details.

Copyright© 2001 Dana Reynolds. 


Read Dana's Past "Sacred Imagination" Columns:

September 2001 - "Invoking Your Muse"

August 2001 - "The Blessings of Daily Bread"

July 2001 - "Entertaining the Dream Visitor"

May 2001 - "Embracing the Whole: Choices for Conscious Living"

April 2001 "Nourishing the Souls of the Children"

March 2001 "Opening the Senses to Beauty"

February 2001 "The Eyes of Love"

January 2001 "Patterns of Authenticity"

December 2000 "Finding Peace in the Fields of Time"

November 2000 "Cultivating Gratitude: Heart-Hugs and Prayer Leaves"

October 2000 "Journey to the Center - The Sacred Mystery of the Labyrinth"

September 2000 "The Heart and Craft of Healing"

August 2000 "Transforming Life’s Challenges into Beauty and Story"

July 2000 "Sacred Spaces Invite the Muses of the Soul"

Read Dana's Soulful Living Feature Articles:

Visual Prayers

Intuition and the Sacred Imagination: The Dance of Co-creation

For ten years, Dana Reynolds has been facilitating women’s spiritual presentations and retreats nationwide. Her work as a Spiritual Midwife, one who assists women as they birth their creative gifts into the world, is the foundation of all her endeavors. Her background as a visual artist and writer enriches her Spiritual Midwifery: Birthing the Feminine Soul workshops.

As the creator of an art making process known as visual prayer, Dana teaches women how to combine ritual with sacred intention to create altars, collages, spirit dolls, and other touchstones. The creation of sacred spaces is also paramount to the Spiritual Midwifery experience. Her web-site http://www.sacredimagination.com offers samplings of her visual prayer collages, poetry, and a workshop catalogue.

Dana is the author of the whimsical and colorfully illustrated book, Be An Angel, a co-creation with illustrator and graphic designer, Karen Blessen, (Simon & Schuster). Her essay, Visual Prayers is included in the anthology, Our Turn, Our Time: Women Coming of Age, edited by Cynthia Black, (Beyond Words Publishing).

A trained labyrinth facilitator, Dana incorporates the labyrinth and other spiritual wisdom into her retreats and workshops. She recently traveled to Chartres and Vezelay Cathedrals in France to gather information pertaining to ancient sacred mystical traditions. She currently lectures on such topics as spiritual midwifery, sacred journal keeping, feminine spiritual wisdom, and the early Christian women saints and mystics.

Dana’s life follows the spiral path from rim to center and back again. She looks for the sacred in forgotten places and openly embraces the great Mystery of life. Guiding women to the discovery of their creative inner gifts is the passion that fuels her soul.


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