In recent months, I've been lucky enough to witness some fairly ancient traditions replayed by modern folk in my local community. Rather than taking the cynical, culturally-superior, post-modern 21st-century approach, villagers across Derbyshire have delighted in the creation of Well Dressing ceremonies and presentations.
Well Dressing is thought to be pagan in origin, but now crosses social and faith boundaries in the simple act of creation. An offering is made from natural materials - such as petals, seeds and leaves - ostensibly to celebrate the local community and the various groups within it. But it is known that Well Dressing was also an act of thanks and celebration, to honour the spirit of the Well for providing clean water to that community, allowing it to nourish and thrive.
Since opening this space a few weeks ago, I have been thinking more consciously about our journey to The Edge. I am grateful to have the space here to share how the light shines upon it for us all.
See, for much of my life I did not know what an “edge” was, or what expansive, fertile possibilities lay just beyond it. I did not know what type of path I would cut or even what tools I would need to access the raw, vulnerable parts of myself; eventually laying the groundwork upon the true self which would be born anew. I felt alone. I felt incapable of being able to come from a place of authentic expression. I had no idea what gifts I could offer this world.
Life was lived "safely" based on clean edges, organized processes, and a sense that I was doing the “right thing” with the barometer being the acknowledgement of those around me. I followed all of the "rules" and defined happiness by living up to others’ expectations. All the while there was a churning inside, an acidic buildup of knowing I was not dancing to my own rhythm. I was trying my damndest to be the “perfect” daughter, wife, mother, career woman, community serviceperson. Forget rhythm when living a life of constant white noise.
Oh, I was still in there, present with small pieces of it, definitely not all of it, a walking-dead from what I can now ascertain. I was superficially happy, not deeply satisfied. I was seeking a “something” to fill my hollow and was incredibly imbalanced internally. The external world was starting to show the stress of not being able to keep the charade going much longer.
The first of many lurches showing me a brighter reality hit me the day I found out my daughter had chosen me to carry her into this world. I did start to wake up that day, but it would be a long time before I had the courage to act. The next few years were spent still trying to play in the white noise, yet the core had started to break down. I was ready to exit stage left. I was ready to be done with all of the bullshit and move on.
Yet I had a child to raise. Her birth was my rebirth. She opened me up in profound ways and served as my grounding wire that first number of years as I learned how to stand again. I still felt alone, untrustworthy, unqualified, yet there was a spark which had been lit from within and She reminded me of that every single day.
The question remained though: how was I supposed to raise a child if I didn’t even know how to raise myself from the dead? The edge was slippery at times, but I learned to listen to the internal voice, to trust the compass. That journey began more than 12 years ago and every step has been a true blessing. Life continues to improve, become more joyful, more fulfilling, more honestly my own to claim in this lifetime.
See, The Edge is the familiar unknown. It is an invitation to remember who we are. It is about discovering our internal truths and then manifesting them into brilliant existence! My own familiar unknowns have shown me how deeply nourishing and joyful life can be! My edge has shown me I am here to love, nourish and support others from an incredibly deep space. BUT! If I am not loving, nourishing, and supporting myself, then what do I have left to give? The equation is simple, as is the life I am living. And I envision it to become easier and much simpler as time goes on.
The truth has been deeply revealing. It has led to unexpected and miraculous gifts along the way in the form of connecting and learning from others who open their hearts to their edge of familiar unknowns. The following poem was written and performed with one of those beautiful souls, my dear friend John DeLozier. You may also watch a video of the performance here. My cup truly runneth over.
The EdgeJohn DeLozier & Jennifer MillsSummer Rhythm Renewal, August 2012The Within becomes limitless when I am with you.A roiling, boiling potential.Through the liquidous center, the tremors of vibration unsettlethe sediment existence has produced.An uncontrollable force which can no longer be held within.Truly eyes know nothing yet reveal everything.The pulsing, rhythmic dance begins.The roiling emotions charged: a supernova state, heartfelt and open!The sacred seal is broken between the illusion of opposing forces.Suddenly, desolate and lightless as a black hole; nothingness; my mind cannot conceive.I have gone to my Edge;my toes on the precipice.Are you complete?Resistant: I hesitate, afraid of the unknown.My truth unspoken, constricted by the perpetual state of Doubt.Break yourself free from that constraint my friend!We are bigger than that!Join me in this leap of faith!Take my hand.So, the darkness was a shadow, dissipated by our light!Connected now are we.This bright-light confusion of the senses fades.The breath of light returns in the Light of Love.
As I birth this blog on Mother's Day, I begin a journey into the numinous wilds on a path I'm only partly familiar with. My spirituality has never really focused on gender or sex, though they have sometimes been connected to it, here and there. I have been aware of the more feminine side of spirituality, but have not yet asked to enter the circle of women. I've been on a more solitary path, communing with nature and spirit, getting comfy with my metaphorical hermit cottage near the hedge.
I am a woman, and a mother, as well as a sister/daughter/etc. but due to a disconnection from the insular religion and culture of my birth, I have also been disconnected from my circle of women relatives and the community and friends of my youth. It is a lot like I have gone to live in a different world, and I need to integrate into a new community and form a family that includes the mothering and sisterhood I find myself yearning for. I hope to do so with wise women who aren't deprived by patriarchal forces of their own power, their own mind and spirit... women I could build something with... meaningful action in the world.
We stand in a circle beside the enormous maple branches that lie across the road, a sort of honor guard to a fallen land Wight. Claire, on whose lot the maple stands, greets each newcomer by name; Susan, who lives across the road and has a gas stove, offers coffee to folks without power.
Scarlett informs us, with a seven-year-old's precision, that the kids (seven at last count, though the number fluctuates as neighboring families walk or cycle past, witnessing our changed landscape) have collected ten earthworms. They've all been presented to us as holy offerings before being released back to the greater Mystery that is the rain-soaked boulevard. Summer has arrived with a bang.
In the process of designing and teaching a course called Ritual Theory & Liturgical Design at Starr King School for the Ministry (UU), I was digging through some of my old materials and found this reflection from 1999. I'd been thinking about some of the things I learned from this particular ritual, "The Union of Earth and Sky: A Ceremony for Thor and Freyr," created by Sparky T. Rabbit. I was really glad to have found this because it's much fresher than anything I could write from this distance in time.
My home Reclaiming community has launched a series of meetings to try to define ourselves as a community. What is our history? What are our values? What is our power structure, and how do we make decisions? Who, exactly, are "we" in the first place?