Sunday, October 31, 2010

Samhain- Halloween's early roots...

I may never look at Halloween quite the same again. Sometimes, just understanding how something got started makes it more authentic for me and that authenticity offers up something more real and meaningful.

Today my UU church celebrated the Gaelic festival of Samhain which influenced our modern day Halloween. Samhain is a celebration of the Celtic New Year which begins on November 1st- a time of year when the harvest is finishing up and winter is beginning. During Samhain, which begins on the night of October 31st, the Gaels believed the border between this world and the otherworld to be at its thinnest, which allowed the dead to reach back through the veil separating them from the living.

During Samhain, bonfires were lit and costumes were donned, much like how we celebrate Halloween today. But Samhain differed from Halloween in that it was also a celebration of those who had passed on and was an opportunity to pay respect to one's ancestors, family members, friends and other loved ones who had died.

Celebrating Samhain in church today, we skipped the bonfire and costume part and headed straight to the remembrance of our family members who had passed on. We were asked to bring a memento of our loved one and place it on an altar during a part of the service that reflected on a Native American story about the sacrifice of Rainbow Crow.

Rainbow Crow sacrificed his beautiful song and feathers to save the animals of the world by bringing the warmth of fire to them when they were freezing due to the cold of winter. Rainbow Crow flew up to the heavens to retrieve fire from the creator and the fire charred his feathers black and ruined his melodic voice, resulting in a huge personal sacrifice as he tried to save those he cared for.

Relating Rainbow Crow's sacrifice to the sacrifices made by our loved ones is where the service took on special meaning for me. My minister talked about how those we loved made many sacrifices in their lifetime and that these sacrifices become sacraments when we learn something from them. When we learn to live our life differently because of what our loved ones taught us through their sacrifices, sacrifices become sacraments.

I lost my brother just over two years ago and he would be celebrating his birthday this week if he were still alive. Even without Samhain, I would feel close to him at this time of year. But with the celebration at church today, as I lay his Michigan State shirt upon the altar, I felt especially close to him. I thought of those lessons he brought to me, sometimes at great personal sacrifice to himself, and made a promise to act on those lessons in his honor.

This new way of seeing Halloween, of being made aware of and celebrating Samhain is what I love about the UU church. It stretches me and teaches me and offers up meaning and authenticity where I least expect it. Halloween and this time of year and how I will celebrate it forever more will be changed.

Hey Erik, Michigan State is having a great year! They are 8-1, lost to Iowa today...but you probably already knew that didn't you? Someone commented that they were Michigan fans when they saw me take your shirt off the altar. Michigan, by the way, is having a terrible year :).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Benefits of Riding a Bike to School...

It took a bit of bushwhacking, but Ryan finally found his way though a small woodlot to forge his way into the yard at the educational center where he takes programs every Tuesday and Wednesday. There were sticks in his gears and mud on his pants, but the important thing was that Ryan had successfully and safely navigated his way. He had been asking me if he could start to ride his bike the 10-15 minutes to "school" each day and I had been holding him off. Worried that the traffic on my road went too fast or that cars just wouldn't notice a kid riding alongside a country road at 9am in the morning. I mean come just don't ride to school via bikes any more so people have forgotten to be on the watch out for bike riding kids. Right?

Well, Ryan wasn't going to take no for an answer, and a few days ago, when a group of retired men peddled their bikes up the hill in front of our house mid-morning, Ryan told me that if the road out front was safe enough for them, then it was safe enough for him. Adding to his argument was the fact that a few of the facilitators at his educational center also rode their bikes each day, along the same country roads, only for them, the trip was 7-8 miles rather than Ryan's 1.5 miles.

So, armed with a short cut through the woodlot near the "school", Ryan set off this morning. I followed along behind him in the car, feeling a bit silly, yet wanting to make sure that this first trip of his was uneventful. Well, Ryan made the trip no problem, despite being a bit cold and unsure if the shortcut was truly a shortcut, given its pitfalls. As I watched Ryan head into the barn for his first program this morning, I reminded myself that I need to let go and let Ryan travel this road each day, despite my fears of fast cars and such, just as I will have to do with the many other paths he will choose for himself in his lifetime.

If you are interested in having your kids ride their bikes to school, there is a great website called "Safe Routes to School" covering this issue. The site talks about the health benefits of kids riding their bikes to school as well as how bike riding has declined amongst kids since the 1960's.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Language of the Land

I find my way home using the signposts of nature- looking for the tree whose roots have been cut back away from the road, the canopy of trees overhead and a long steep hill climbing up to my drive. As I step out of the car, I smell the pine trees in the yard and notice just as our tongues give voice to our words, trees with their rustling leaves, give voice to the wind. As nightfall comes on, the sky blacker than I have seen in a long time, I realize I can see the stars shining brightly, twinkling a message in Morse code. Taking notice of all that nature offers me on this rural piece of land I now live on, I slow my pace and become determined to learn a new language. To hear and understand the messages of nature.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Coming Home...

Fifteen minutes after leaving the last real signs of civilization, I turn into my drive. It has taken a lifetime to get here...East Coast, West Coast and everywhere in between. Rainy Pacific coastlines, dry high Rocky Mountains, flat Midwestern prairies, the humid forests of the Southeast and big cities of the Northeast. Having lived in many, many places I know this much...that I can make a home anywhere. But coming home, finding home, is different. It requires finding a place that takes you back to your childhood roots yet also reminds you of all those life experiences found along the way. Home then is a collection of meaningful experiences. For those that have never left their childhood home or who have come into home early in their lives, those special experiences are found in one place. But for those like myself who have lived all over, parts of home are found everywhere.

The road out front, with its canopy of trees overhanging, reminds me of my native Michigan. Pumpkins and scarecrows, hay bales and haunted houses dot the roadsides. Sports fans gathering in local pubs and stadiums, rooting for their local teams. Casual dress while out and about and time for talking with one another, both neighbor and stranger. Close friends and family nearby. This is part of the fabric of this new place I live in and also what I came from.

My life experiences took me to Oregon and Colorado where I got to enjoy the beauty of coastlines and mountains. I found community in a UU church in Georgia and through homeschooled friends in Illinois. I discovered the excitement of living near big cities while living near Washington DC and New York City. All of these experiences came together to ultimately impact who I am and what I look for in home. Those parts are here too. The beauty found in the local preserves and state parks, the community in my new found UU church, the "school" based in free learning my son currently attends. The access to the big cities of the Northeast.

This new place I live in has all of the required ingredients...reminders of my childhood and those places I have enjoyed along the way.

Dare I say I'm home?

As I gaze out into my backyard each morning drinking coffee, I feel a long forgotten peacefulness, something settling over me, reminding me of what I lost long ago and have been looking for ever since.