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Deep Autumn

I've been sharing these "sermons" from the years our small spiritual community met in Silverton. I left it intact so you can use it in ritual if you wish. It's been so long I can't really properly acknowledge all of the sources of inspiration here but I know that Matthew Fox and Starhawk were among them. This season finds me particularly tender because we lost our Charlie dog yesterday. I will place a photo of him on our altar.


If you'd like to set a mood, Sweet Honey and the Rock, "We Are"


INVOCATION OF SPIRIT

Gathered here in the mystery of this hour   

Gathered here in one strong body,

Gathered here in the struggle and the Power

Spirit draw near 


Responsive call to the 4 directions

L: We who are creatures of Earth face the East, from where we first perceive the Light.

P: Light of Light, Light of Inspiration, Light of Earth's Sun, Light of Earth's Moon, Starlight, Firelight, Cosmic Light that speeds on the Winds from the Center of the Universe, Empower us. 

L: We who are creatures of Earth face the South, from where we first perceive the Fire.

P. Fire of Hearth, Fire of Compassion, Fire of Earth's Sun, Fire of Earth's Moon, Starfire, Earthfire, Cosmic Fire that speeds on the Winds from the Center of the Universe, Empower us.]

L. We who are creatures of Earth face the West, from where we first perceive the Water.

P. Waters of Life, Waters of Emotion, Waters of Earth's wells, Waters of Earth's storms, Primal waters, Cosmic Waters that speed on the Winds from the Center of the Universe, Empower us. 

L. We who are creatures of Earth face the North, from where we first perceive our grounded Mystery.

P. Soil of Earth, Rocks of Earth, Caves of Earth, Fecund Earth, enfolding Earth, protecting Earth, Cosmic Earth that speeds on the Winds from the Center of the Universe, Empower us. 


Music: Sounds of Silence, Simon and Garfield


I love this time of year more than any other. Almost on cue with the coming of Deep Autumn, our  little part of the world seems to transition abruptly into late autumn. Winter stands ready at the threshold just waiting for nature’s invitation to cross. There’s more than just a delicious chill in the air, now the wind has bite and the promise of the coming winter’s stinging coldness driving it. Now there is the breath of ice and frost dancing on the windows, on the gardens, on the brittle grass in early mornings; now the slightest smell of nature’s decay as the soil hardens and leaves prepare to plummet to the ground in preparation for winter.


There truly is tremendous beauty to this season. It’s a sad beauty though, powerful, moving, but tinged with just a touch of the taste of loss. It’s a beauty that highlights the transitory nature of things and somehow that very sense of pending loss enhances loveliness of this time. 


Deep Autumn heralds in the season of grace. As the earth grows colder, entering into its dying time, turning within, we too are given the opportunity to look within. We’re given the chance to attend to ourselves and to the dusty, unexamined parts of our lives.


Deep Autumn heralds in a terrifying season where we are asked to radically embrace loss, to willingly and moreover actively journey within, into the labyrinthine passages of our hearts and minds and souls; we’re asked to journey into memory and to sweep out those hidden internal corners all those things that no longer serve us, our Spirits, our spirituality, or our lives at large. Here, we’re given a chance to take stock and to reevaluate.


We’re challenged to remember our successes but more importantly, our losses, our failures, those moments of grief and shame. These things too are building blocks and guides, sometimes much more powerful ones than those crafted from more pleasant experiences. More importantly, we’re asked to rejoice, to give thanks for the blessings that have fallen, often unexpectedly, into our hands throughout the previous months.


More importantly, Deep Autumn is about the memory of things long past and long gone. Loss has value. Loss teaches us what we have. It teaches us how to recognize and treasure the smallest of blessings in our lives. It brings perspective. It hones and makes our measure. Deep Autumn is a time when, above all else, we are asked to honor loss.

The dead walk with us now. They always do, watching over and guiding us, suffering as we suffer, celebrating as we rejoice. While our ancestors and departed are always with us there’s something special about this time.


Perhaps it’s only that we are primed to be more open to their presence around Deep Autumn, perhaps it is that with the world withering in beauty all around us, it is easier to put ourselves in a place where we can consciously touch them. Let us remember them now: their names, their stories, their struggles, their sacrifices. Let us carry their graves on our backs, in our hearts, in our minds, in our memories.


Now I invite you to go within..


Night has cloaked the countryside in frost-rimed velvet. A sickle moon climbs the clouds, hooking Her horn into wisps of grey. Tiny lights glimmer in a crystalline sky. You are in a wood. It is ancient, this wood, the ground spongy with leaves from countless seasons. Your footfalls are silent as you search for a path through the bracken. Cobwebs cling to you; brambles and low bushes catch at you wherever you walk.


Soft rustlings at odd moments remind you that there are others, not human, to whom the night belongs. The wind sighs mournfully, a soft dirge tangled in the trees. It is the trees that rule here. Great gnarled roots claim the soil. Heavy trunks, scarred and old with moss-covered bark, crowd together as if for counsel.


Branches winter-bare claw heavenward, with the last leaves waiving tattered summer banners. One massive oak dominates the rest. The others are but striplings compared to it, its trunk unable to be compassed by a dozen men. Old before the forest began, its bark shows the marks of men and animals that have tried to take it down. The men are but memories, the animals dead and naught but bone – and the tree lives on.There is a shadowing in the heart of the tree. It shifts, fading into darkness, then solidifying. The shadow is an opening, a cleft in the oak; the air within is colder yet. . . and you are drawn to it.


Carefully, cautiously, you stretch your hand into the darkness, and find steps. Crude steps that go down and down into the ground.Drawing a resolute breath, you enter the oak and descend.The sounds of the forest die away behind you. You are in the womb of the earth, utterly still and utterly black. You guide yourself down the steps with a hand on the wall. The wall is damp, smelling of loam and grubs and decay. You pull your cloak around you for warmth.Finally, after what seems hours, you sense the steps getting shallower, the stairway widening. Ahead there is a phosphorescent glow, sending silhouettes of roots skittering against the walls.A tunnel snakes ahead into the gloom. A series of veils hang from the ceiling, wavering in the slight current of air. You hesitate; will you year the veils? Will they let you pass?You push the first one aside.


Suddenly, there is someone at your side. Think back to the first death that touched you; the first family member that was, and then was not. Look into their face; greet them. Tell them what you never did; let them tell you what they never got a chance to say. You embrace them and they are gone.


You go to the next veil, push it aside. You find another friend gone; another chance to speak and to be spoken to. Tell them what is in your heart; let them gift you with what was in theirs.


Embrace them, and let them go. You go through as many veils as there have been passings in your life. Each one has carved you just a little. And then, there are new faces at which you stare in fascination.


They are you – and yet they are not. They are who you have been – they are your former lives. Each comes to impart a lesson, to give you a key to this life from a life before. Some of them are beautiful, wise and kind; some are cruel; some despairing and afraid; and some do not even know that you and they are one. Talk to all of them.


Admit them to your heart; they are part of you. Embrace them; accept their lessons and let them go.


At the last veil, you find yourself in a large chamber. It is ringed with torches, each one held by a black-robed priestess. In the center of the chamber is a solitary throne. Obsidian and mahogany, rock and wood, it has roots like the oak, and like the oak they sink deep into the ground. In that place sits the Old Woman.


Black hair falls over Her arms, trails in Her lap, pools at Her feet like riverwater in moonlight. Her robe is black, like so black that there is no reflection to show texture or fold. Her face is white as bone, Her hands like the finest marble. Her eyes are black, as if they had been cut from the night sky at New Moon. Only Her lips hold a tinge of pink, as if to speak of the lifeblood that renews itself beyond death through rebirth.


Those lips smile at you; the fathomless eyes hold your own. You know that there are many who would fear Her, run mad from Her presence and never find their way back to the light. . . and you know that, for you, there is no fear, only acceptance and comfort.


So you go willingly to the outstretched hand, sink down at Her feet, closing your eyes, your head resting against Her knee.Time stops. You do not count time at the foot of Her throne; you are only conscious of your own thoughts, and Her hand softly, ceaselessly caressing your brow. Her touch keeps your mind clear, able to see far deeper into yourself than you ever have above.


Now is the time to go through your memories, one by one, as through a large and beloved book. Pore over them, owning each one, savoring each one, the good and the bad, not judging, only remembering, only accepting.


Examine the Veils and the Wraiths, and take into yourself the gifts they brought you. And let yourself float in the dark, as if you, too, had become a Wraith, awaiting rebirth and the recollection of your future Selves.


A movement in front of you: one of the priestesses kneels at the Dark One’s feet, proffering a pottery bowl.


She leans forward, taking it only Her lap, and then gently tilts your face upward. You open your mouth at Her voiceless request, and feel Her place the pomegranate seeds on your tongue. They are bittersweet and icy cold. You swallow, the juice burning your throat. Somehow, they bring you to your feet, and you feel time poised to move again.


“It is given to few to see Me and remember,” She says to you softly.


“You are one of the Wise Ones who know Me and are not afraid. Because of this, I will show you the Way of Return, and promise that, each year, you may seek me in Deep Autumn, that we may renew the bond of Death and Rebirth.”She kisses your brow, and signs it with the Waning Moon. Another priestess bows, this time to you, and leads you to a great Wheel. The Wheel towers high above you, its upper spokes lost in shadow. . . but you move toward it confidently, and with a light touch set it spinning.


The spinning catches you like a windblown leaf; the torches blow out and you are sent spiraling upward. All thought is torn from you, as you hold to the knowledge that you live, that you will life, that it is life which speeds you upward.


There is an explosion of light that blinds you after so much dark; suddenly, you find yourself standing at the edge of the wood, the oak tree miles behind you. The light resolves itself into a bonfire, beckoning you into warmth and fellowship. You turn and look backward, as if to mark where the great oak stands. . . and then move forward into the light.


Chant: Return Again


CANDLE RITUAL OF PRAYERS AND REMEMBRANCES

[Each one who wishes may light one or more candles in honor of the

loved ones, spirits, past lives, ancestors, and saints who brought us to this place and speak the name or tell the story.]


Words of Institution (Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh, p. 271)

"The Eucharist is about the universe loving us unconditionally still one more time and giving itself to us in the most intimate way (as food and drink). Interconnectivity is the heart of the Eucharistic experience: Spirit and humanity coming together, Spirit and flesh, the flesh of wheat, wine, sunshine, soil, water, human ingenuity, stars, supernovas, galaxies, storms, fireballs -- every Eucharist has a 15-billion-year sacred story that renders it holy.


"The gratitude from which the Eucharist derives its very name (eucharistein means "to give thanks" in Greek) is not just our gratitude toward the Source of all things; it is also the universe's gratitude for our presence and for our efforts at contributing, however imperfectly.

"The Eucharist is heart food from the cosmos -- the "mystical body of Christ" and the Cosmic Christ or Buddha nature found in all beings in the universe -- to us. Christ is the light of the world, which we now know is made only of light. Flesh is light and light is flesh. We eat, drink, sleep, breathe, and love that light. The Eucharist is also our hearts expanding and responding generously: "Yes, we will." We will carry on the heart-work called compassion, the work of the cosmos itself."

[ Pour wine, break bread, feast and share prayers and intentions for the group and community]


CLOSING

L. We who are creatures of Earth face the North, from where we first perceive our grounded Mystery.

P: As we return, we will remember. (Extinguish North candle)

L. We who are creatures of Earth face the West, from where we first perceive the Water.

P: As we return, we will remember. (Extinghish West candle)

L: We who are creatures of Earth face the South, from where we first perceive the Fire.

P: As we return, we will remember. (Extinguish South candle)

L: We who are creatures of Earth face the East, from where we first perceive the Light.

P: As we return, we will remember. (Extinguish East candle)

ALL: Peace! Shalom! Amen! Hoh! Blessed be!


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