Friday, October 31, 2014

Samhain blessings in music

"Hecate, Cerridwen," Reclaiming and Friends:

Hecate, Cerridwen
Dark Mother, take us in
Hecate, Cerridwen
Let us be reborn

"Breaths," Sweet Honey in the Rock:

Those who have died have never, never left
The dead are not under the earth...
Those who have died have never, never left
The dead have a pact with the living

 "We Are," Sweet Honey in the Rock:

We are our grandmothers' prayers
We are our grandfathers' dreamings
We are the breath of the ancestors
We are the spirit of god

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Queries for Samhain

Friendly Pumpkin, (c) Anders Lagerås, used with permission

Friday is Samhain, the Witches' New Year and the Feast of the Beloved Dead. 

It's the time of year when many of us honor those who have gone before, remember our beloved dead, recognize our not-so-beloved dead and let them go, mourn (and celebrate) endings, welcome new babies, welcome the presence of new people in our lives, and celebrate new beginnings.  

Many Pagans feel that this night, the veil between the worlds, between the living and the dead, the seen and the unseen, is thinnest.  Witches have a saying, "Who is remembered, lives."  In Roses, Too! Tradition, Samhain is a time when we honor our ancestors, physical and spiritual, and cultures which have nurtured us.  

Queries for Samhain:
  • How are you marking your endings, your losses, the deaths that have happened this year, the deaths that have happened in the past that are still with you?  
  • In what ways do you do to honor your ancestors and those who have gone before? 
  • What foods have come to you from them?  What ordinary, everyday things?  What special-occasion things?
  • What gifts from those who have gone before do you pass down or share in the world?  
  • How are you welcoming new babies and new people who have come into the world or your life this last year?  

May your Samhain be blessed. 

May these next weeks between the Feast of the Beloved Dead and the Rebirth of the Sun at Yule be a time of rich darkness for you. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Winter Solstice 2014?

I am looking for people anywhere in the world who would be interested in doing a Winter Solstice Celebration based on A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual, privately with a small group of friends / family. Think, getting together in someone's living room, using the CD or an iPod for the music, and sharing the reading. Five is a good minimum number, though I've done it with fewer -- you can do it by yourself -- and as far as I know there is no maximum number. Support and encouragement available from me.

Let me know if you're interested!

More information is available at

There's also a Facebook group for people who are involved in this project at

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Upcoming posts for Samhain: Talking about suicide

Because I do a lot of work around dying and death, and because Samhain is fast approaching, dying and death have been on my mind. 

But in particular, suicide has been on my mind, and for a number of reasons: the topic for the November gathering of the Quaker Concern Around Dying and Death is sudden death and suicide; I've been having a lot of conversations with other people, especially suicide-loss survivors, about suicide; there are so many places in my life where the topic just comes up, over and over. 

For quite some time now, I've wanted to post some articles, both by me and by guest authors, on the topic of suicide. 

Suicide touches so many of us.  But we're conditioned not to talk about it, whether we feel like we want to die, or we've tried, or someone we know or care about or love wants to die, has tried to kill themselves, or has died by suicide. 

That don't-talk-about-it message makes it harder to reach out for help, harder to grieve and mourn, and harder to heal.

Over the last few years, but especially this last year, I have felt a renewed commitment to talking about suicide, particularly to being open about the fact that I'm a suicide-loss survivor.  A number of people in my life, over the span of many years, have died by suicide.  The most recent suicide death in my life came three years ago.  In response, that part of my extended family has been very committed to talked about it, especially amongst my generation.  To reach out to each other. I've also found myself talking more openly in the rest of my life, not just about that death, but about previous ones.  Robin Williams' death in August also prompted a lot of discussion about suicide.  And I've heard from a lot of other suicide-loss survivors, as well as from other people who have contemplated suicide.

I've had some really amazing, hard, courageous, and wonderful conversations over the last months and year with many people about suicide, being a suicide-loss survivor, and how to talk about all of this.  Thank you to everyone who's been part of those.  You have really helped me, and each other.

In the next week or so, I'll have several guest posts to share from people who have different kinds of experience with suicide.  I hope these pieces will be helpful to you in your spiritual work approaching Samhain, and also in general.

They'll each be clearly labeled, so if you're not ready to read about suicide, you don't have to.  You can also come back and read them later.

To start, I'd like to recommend some easy-to-read, thoughtful, helpful pieces by my friend Hollis Easter.  

Among other things, Hollis "runs a telephone crisis hotline and teaches people how to listen, offer support, help people who think of suicide to choose life, and build lasting strength in communities."  Hollis is one of the friends and colleagues I've had deep, chewy conversations with about this issue, the kinds of conversations which catalyze other work. 

Here are some of Hollis' pieces I've found helpful in stumbling towards talking about this.  I hope they're helpful for you, too:

There are many more fascinating, and useful, articles at Hollis' blog; I recommend exploring.

If you are struggling with suicide, please, talk to someone.  
  • In the US, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline free from anywhere at 1-800-273-TALK. 
  • In the UK, you can call the Samaritans anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 08457 90 90 90. 
  • In Scotland, you can call the Breathing Space phoneline, which is available 24 hours at weekends (6pm Friday - 6am Monday), and 6pm - 2am on weekdays (Monday - Thursday), on 0800 83 85 87.

Look for some more posts within the next week. 

This is gentle, tender work.  Be kind to yourself.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Being in community: talking about dying and death

I am sitting on the patio, doing preparation for the workshop I'm leading this weekend on what happens before we can fill out all the end-of-life forms.  I'm listening to the birds and watching a front come in.  I just checked the pressure map, yep, there it is -- a cold front with a low-pressure system behind it...

The summer before last -- 2013 -- I facilitated a conversation at my Local Meeting about dying and death.  It started out as a report from two trips the Meeting supported me in making to Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, one for a course on Creating Support for End of Life and Bereavement, one for the twice-annual gathering of QDD, the Quaker Concern Around Dying and Death, and about why I'd wanted to go in the first place -- my long-standing ministry around dying and death.  It expanded to a more general conversation about needing and wanting to talk about dying and death, and not being sure how to start.  It became clear people really are hungry for more spaces, safe spaces, to talk about this.

I talked to my elder for this talk and another Local Meeting person involved with QDD, and the three of us got together and planned a day-long follow-up session for March.  That session ended up being about how we make the decisions that need to be made before we can fill out all those end-of-life planning forms -- the Quaker funeral wishes forms, advance decisions / advance directives, etc. -- and how we care for those who are left behind when we die.  It was sweet and tender and good. 

We were asked to bring it to the Area Meeting.  So I'm leading a similar session / workshop Saturday. 

Sitting here working on the prep, I'm struck by how much I love and enjoy this work.  It's not all grim.  It's not all horrible.  It's funny, it's sweet, it's human, it's real.  It's about being in community with each other and caring for each other.

Lots of other places in my ministry are much more intimidating for me than this...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Confederate Flag and (White) Southern Pride

The following is reprinted with permission from the author.  - sm

To those who, like me, were raised to believe that the Confederate Flag is a symbol of Southern Pride...

I grew up in Maryland, the Old Line State. My birthplace was not that far south of the Mason-Dixon line. My father's people, though, were from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Family lore has it that one of my great-great-great grand uncles from Virginia took up the cause against Northern aggression, was captured, and slowly was starved to death at the Point Lookout prison camp for Confederate soldiers in Maryland. I was raised to be proud of that ancestor's reputation for kindness to everyone - even his slaves- and for being a responsible and loving family man. I was reminded that we should not be ashamed of our history and we should learn from it. I learned those lessons in places where almost every garage or work shed had the Confederate Flag hanging. I learned those lessons from kind, caring, loving people, who always gave generously to everyone, even when they didn't have enough.

I have retained many of those lessons, about sacrifice and duty and family and history. But there is another lesson from my ancestor that I carry with me every day and use as a "check" in my interactions with people who do not share my experiences. If the myth of my ancestor is true – if he was a kind, loving, generous-to-a-fault person, who fought and died for his State and who was kind to everyone, free or not – then the real lesson that I have to learn is that otherwise kind, caring, and brave people are capable of unspeakable acts of cruelty, particularly when social norms permit that cruelty.

I am not guilty about my family’s past history. That history, however, serves as a powerful reminder. Just like my ancestor was able to convince himself that owning humans could somehow fit into a moral scheme that supposedly valued generosity and kindness, I am sure that there are things that I convince myself are totally valid and proper that actually are cruel and devaluing. That's the complicated white Southern history that I think about when I see the flag. The Confederate flag reminds me to listen critically, especially when the words that I hear make me feel uncomfortable and defensive.

To those who, like me, were raised to view the Confederate Flag as a symbol of Southern pride.... We all know, each one of us, that the flag isn't really a symbol of Southern pride. It's a symbol of white Southern pride. We edit out the "white" part because it makes us uncomfortable and reveals the flag for what it really is. If we are being honest with ourselves, though, we know the "white" is still there. I know many people who fly the flag and speak of Southern pride, but behind closed doors speak fondly of the days of segregation. I still see in my mind the Confederate flags that the KKK flew in front of my best friend's store in Southern Maryland when the Klan wanted her father, a prominent Indian immigrant, to move. I still remember the Confederate flag flying in the garage of a neighbor who addressed her housekeeper, whom she loved dearly, not as “Miss___” but as “Black ___.” I remember the sound of the Confederate flag flapping when I was 6 or 7 and drinking a Coca-Cola in a small general store off a dirt road in West-By-God Virginia that had a "No Coloreds" sign in the window (1983 or 84). Here's a little bit of truth... No matter how much we want the flag to be our symbol of survival and rebellion and states' rights, we know deep down that the flag is just as much about white pride. That kind of pride comes at someone else's expense.

We know, if we’re being honest, that the flag is a weapon. It terrorizes. I am sure that my neighbor’s housekeeper, who was from the South, did not view her southern heritage as wrapped up in those stars and bars. Even though I may really want the flag to be a symbol of my love of the South, I know deep down that it is a threat to a whole class of fellow Southerners.

But I don't mean it that way. I'm a kind, caring, generous person, just showing my pride, I'd do anything for anyone, black white or otherwise. Don’t be so sensitive. And there it is. The lesson my ancestor taught me. While being kind, caring, and generous, I am capable of hanging a threat in my dorm hallway and scaring the hell out of someone for whom the flag is a notice that terrible things are coming.

What happened at Bryn Mawr College happens every day around the country. It happens in backyards and on porches and at the end of piers and over beer coolers in garages. It happens in the North as much as in the South. I purposely am not getting into the procedural mechanics of any student or College or governmental entity’s specific response to the flying of that flag. I purposely am not directing this letter to those who have been terrorized by that flag. Instead, I am speaking to those of you who, like me, were raised in the shadow of that flag, who will argue that I am trying to ignore my history or am ashamed of my past. Know this. It is precisely because I have a deep pride and respect for where I come from, and it is in honor of my history and my ancestors, that I will remember that it is the impact of my actions that count. My intent is meaningless. That is why I do not need to fly the flag. Its lessons already are etched on my heart.

The author is a BMC graduate from MD. She remains thankful for her Bryn Mawr education, which taught her about critical thinking and cussed individualism.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Labyrinth pictures!

I realized I hadn't posted pictures of any of the labyrinths I'd built!


2013 Gathering labyrinth

Click here for more pictures from the first labyrinth, at FGC Gathering 2013 in Colorado.

2104 Gathering labyrinth

Click here for more pictures from the labyrinth this last summer at FGC Gathering 2014 in Pennsylvania.

2014 Fall Equinox labyrinth

Click here for more pictures from the labyrinth we built for the Roses, Too! Tradition Fall Equinox ritual here in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Please see my past posts about labyrinths for the back story of how I came to build these labyrinths, and also for how-to help if you'd like to build a temporary labyrinth yourself:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Friend of the court brief in Smith v Wright

It is my joy and privilege to announce that Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC) ( has joined many other faith groups on a friend of the court brief filedon October 4  by Kramer Levin in Smith v Wright, the Arkansas marriage equality case before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.  (More info here:

Yet again I will tell you that, as with the other Kramer-Levin briefs we've signed on to, I highly recommend reading this.  It's easy to read, and brilliant.  And super-encouraging for people of faith, and people in faith communities, who support marriage equality for same-sex couples -- and also who are working to prevent some faiths from being legally privileged over others.

You can read the brief here:

Or here:

More information, and a list of briefs, at:

Congratulations to all the signatories! And deep gratitude to everyone who worked on this brief.