On Swartkopsberg

Today we went up the mountain looking for Serruria hirsuta, a critically endangered fynbos flower that grows in only one location in the world, on the slopes of the Swartkopsberg. Winds from the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet here, tiny boats moor far below in the harbour. And then we saw the first flower… although we might easily have walked past. Delicate, in full ecstatic dance on the wind:

I have been here from the beginning. Next to rock grey with the ages, crusted with lichen. Next to the sea, blue as Mary’s veil. The wind blows Pentecostal, searing the slopes with exultation. And I, crowned with fur and lace, tethered between sea and sky, complete unto myself. The glory of this mountain is my Queendom.

Menopause

I’m pregnant with beauty, fresh from the forest, the field, the swallow that flies and never lands. I’m pregnant with words rising like geysers, thermals, rivers, whirlwinds, shooting stars. I will kneel here in the veld, and we will give birth together. The world is pregnant and close to giving birth. I am not separate from the world. I’m expecting heaven-and-earthly fragrances, wild geranium, damask rose; I’m expecting my voice, beautifully haggard. You lead me by the hand to a bed of moss with a rose pillow, and stroke my forehead. I am safe, I am so very safe. How did I conceive, how did I get pregnant with beauty, Mother? You stroke my forehead and tell me to ride the contractions, that our time is soon.  

A garden enclosed

I have waited for this garden for so long, looking for it in small towns, near monasteries, beside cottages. But it is enclosed in my heart. This is my home, my maternal home from the beginning of time, where I am complete unto myself. A deep breath passes through me.

There are old-growth trees here, clear springs, a pharmacopoeia of plants, the scent of rose. Prayers write themselves – a doctrine of signatures in every leaf, petal, stone. And the garden says, this is your home.  

Faith

At the start of lockdown I went to buy some seedlings. The only ones available were turnips and marigolds, tiny and hopeful in early winter. I took them home, planted them together in the courtyard, and weeks later wrote:

I see you just visible above the dark soil now. Your turnip bulb like a round healthy heart, your marigold flower vivid amber. It is a marvel to me how you grow silently from cold rain, starlight, sunshine and soil.

Unusual friends, you have been with me through this lockdown, keeping me in the unending loop of life. Day by day I see you take in what life gives you and forge yourselves from it incrementally.

In this courtyard we promised each other that you would keep me rooted in faith during this strange time, and that I would nurture you. Thank you for your unstoppable life force.

Praying with birds

Tonight you make a sound I have never heard before, ethereal, thrilling, drawing me from the cave of my mind into clear air. Come fly with us… come!

In this late evening between worlds, you skim water on the wing, swooping, soaring. Oh how I remember joy through you… how I remember! Your overflow calls forth mine and I feel the impulse to give back in words what you give in song – pouring back and forth, one to the other, joy upon joy, song upon song, flight upon flight.

You lift me from convoluted concerns into hosannah, now here now gone, and I in wonder, spellbound by your lightness, filled with simplicity, a fountain of yes.

Your notes flow clean through me, sounding my heart, soliciting this slow human into the communion of prayer, the eucharist of this moment. My cup of joy is full, brimming, you sip from it in a flash. Joy begets joy begets joy. Bless you for your visitation, your invitation, your illumination of prayer.

To Mother Earth

At this time the world has gone into fear around the corona virus, yet I feel Your presence at the heart of it, even in the name corona (crown), for you are Queen of life, death, and re-birth.

I think of my human mother who gave me life. The blanket I am sitting on was a gift from her. She stitched the floral trim lovingly by hand, one of the last things she made for me before she could no longer sew. The blanket is worn from years of use and comfort.

The story of her blanket feels to me rather like the story with You who have given us life ceaselessly and generously. It has me wonder what is being gifted to us and asked of us through corona. It has me listen for your answers.

Thus I have come to this garden on the mountainside to be with you. Birds sing with abandon in the Cape holly tree. I hear You say, ‘Come closer’. So I lay aside the book I am reading and lie down on the soft worn blanket, with my ear and heart against you.

Holy names

Recently I attended an eco-sattva meeting in a scarlet and gold dharma room, with sunlight streaming in.

To conclude the meeting, someone read out the names of species that have recently become extinct: Domed Tortoise, Zanzibar Leopard, Japanese River Otter…

The names were personal, intimate. I felt a shock of sorrow. Each creature had played, loved, and made its home here; many gave their lives to humankind. And now they were gone.

Something turned in that moment for me, because the remembering was not mental. My body remembered, for we were born together from stars.

Yet even as sorrow welled, there was also a sense of life rising upward towards rebirth from the wild beauty of these beings.

Western Black Rhino, Bermuda Owl, Madeiran White Butterfly … I remember you, whose names are holy and without end.

Fable of hope

It was the last outdoor singing group of the year. Almost Christmas, the south-easter blowing, celebration in the air. We formed roses into a garland on the grass at the centre of our circle. The day was hot and dry, and by evening the buds were wilted earthward.  

As we left the park I was about to place the roses under some shrubbery when a woman stopped me. Pressing them back into my hands she said, ‘Take them home. Put a teaspoon of salt in some water, and ice. Take them.’

Curious, I did as she suggested that evening. Within a few minutes the first rose stem straightened, and within half an hour, all the buds were reaching skyward. A day later the buds opened into white blooms, affirming my own impulse toward re-birth at this time. If these ‘dead’ roses could be re-born, with support, so too surely can the earth and her creatures thrive again with our loving attention.

A promise to water

I made a promise to water at the Newlands Spring, before the drought came and the spring was diverted. Collecting water there over years, we became friends. The water came alive for me. Filled with life force, it rose from deep inside the mountain, taking years to make its way up through layers of sandstone into the light of day. 

When I arrived tired and preoccupied, it washed my face clear with generosity, and quenched my thirst with freshness. What could I give in return? I asked often as I filled my jars, never quite expecting an answer, but one came. ‘Make me a water shrine, a love gift to water everywhere’.

This evening I sit in a small garden, the sprinkler on, listening to water falling on leaves and earth, breathing its coolness. The drought came, and the spring became a commodity and battleground, like other places around the world where water’s gift nature has been forgotten. This evening in the dusk I remember the promise I made. How, where and with whom shall I build a shrine for you?

Show me the way.

A new safety

Throughout my life it has felt as though there has been a protective casing holding me in. Keeping me ‘safe’ but compressed, my soul confined, my voice silenced.

And all the while over years, the perfume of the Great Mother has grown slowly deeper and more compelling.

In a strange and beautiful paradox, I feel myself in a new safety that seems to include what I once most feared, as if the fears have finally softened enough to reveal their heart.

In this safety I sense how my inner navigation is trustworthy; allowing myself to be seen and received is a relief and a gift; surrendering to emergence and improvisation energises me; allowing my vulnerability is strengthening; and how the vibration of the Great Mother is my guide.

The old support has been subsumed into a deeper safety.

This is a personal story, and yet I feel it is also the story of the collective, where the controls and forms of patriarchy are dissolving. Having served their purpose and given their structure and gifts, the old ways based on separation, regulation, and effort are being subsumed. We are opening into a communion of all life on earth, into direct knowing (gnosis), and the creative mystery that emerges through the space between us rather than as individuals alone.


Julia Casciola ©