Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Beauty Way

Sometime last year, my friend Smoky asked a handful of her friends, each an artist in their own way, to read The Beauty Way, a Navajo poem, and talk about how it applied to their work and their lives. (Read a version of the poem here.) I was one of those folks and I wrote the following essay, which originally appeared on Smoky's now-defunct blog. Here is my response to the poem.


Several years ago, I was a member of a spirituality group (let’s call it Spiral) that was rooted in Dianic Wicca. Each month, I would gather with friends and strangers who would become friends and spend the afternoon celebrating and welcoming the sabbats. Candlemas (also known as Imbolc) brought the chance to select a goddess for the year, the spirit who would guide me into spring, watch me celebrate the arrival of fall, and listen politely as I bemoaned winter’s inevitable return. Summer Solstice meant an outdoor ritual, my bare feet on the cool grass, and a breeze to combat the afternoon heat. Samhain was my chance to communicate with loved ones who had passed on. The time I spent in the company of those like-minded women was often wonderful, replete with good energy, healing conversation, and delicious food.

As one of the writers in the group, I was often given the opportunity to write something to share at each ritual. Generally it was a short message that complemented the opening and closing of the circle. I realize now how closely aligned many of my words were with The Beauty Way, long before I knew of the poem’s existence:

With beauty before me I walk.

As we move towards the harvest, may the seeds of our good be planted deep within the soil for protection.

With beauty behind me I walk.

Nature has reached the peak of her fertility and we are born anew in her joy.

With beauty above me I walk.

Pause now and breathe with the universe. Rededicate yourself to the air.

With beauty around me I walk.

Revel in the weightlessness of simply existing.

In some ways, I was the best version of myself when I was in the group. I had a captive audience who always complimented me on what I had written, I spent hours soaking up the goodness and the goddess of others, I laughed, sometimes I cried, I meditated, and I left with a full belly and a craft I had made. On each sabbat, I was the embodiment of Navajo wisdom. Today everything negative will leave me. I [will] walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful. I will have a cool breeze over my body. I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me.

Unfortunately, after a few years, a key relationship ended and the members of Spiral parted ways. It took a long time for me to properly grieve the group’s ending. In addition to trying to salvage friendships with group members on both sides of a complicated issue, I had lost one of my non-academic writing outlets. Similarly, I had lost my spiritual home. I had grown up in the Episcopal church, a place I had never felt I fit in. After graduating from acolyte service, I found my way to a couple gay-friendly churches but didn’t attend services long. Spiral had been the answer to prayers I was unconsciously reciting.

Thankfully, I eventually came to my senses and realized I could be a solo practitioner of Wicca. I hadn’t lost my writing; I had simply lost some listeners. Though I never again wrote words dedicated to the changing seasons, I long acknowledged each sabbat’s arrival and passing and fondly remembered my friends and our get-togethers.

It’s been years since I attended any kind of ritual, even though plenty of opportunities exist throughout the city. I have become content in my personal relationship with the goddess, guardians, and spirits upon whom I used to call when Spiral met. It takes courage I don’t always have to admit I am scared to move forward, scared to lose friends again, to see an already-small group divide into cliques, to see my words disappear from the page as my throat closes around a sob I will not cry. Inertia has let the inkwell run dry and I have spent too many years thinking I can’t.

Thankfully, I know I am wrong. I must take the first step towards finding a spiritual home once again.

With beauty before me may I walk.

Spiral is in the past. I have printout and memory to remind me of our sabbats and it is time to close the door on that which needs to be archived like so many dusty books and lovers’ letters.

With beauty behind me may I walk.

I am different now. So different. Older, better for having been in Spiral, whole in my identity as a Goddess-based woman who had discovered she also has Buddhist leanings.

With beauty below me may I walk.

My renewed spiritual life in a church, coven, or breezy backyard awaits. All that was good about Spiral and those afternoons of conversation, laughter, hearty soups, and the heat of candle fire will be no less beautiful just because I will be sharing them with new friends.

With beauty above me may I walk.

It’s time to shed this brittle cocoon which has ceased to provide adequate shelter. My heart aches for a blank page, new words, strong hugs, a place where breaking through darkness and sadness doesn’t have to happen alone. I will find my way back to myself, my faith, the lined page, the captive audience.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.

In rediscovery of the self, my voice, my craft, may I walk.

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