Monday, June 29, 2009

The Secret Lives of Bees and the Black Madonna

This past winter I watched "The Secret Life of Bees" with my mother, daughter, niece, and sister. I loved the book and was equally touched by the movie. It felt particularly special to be sharing this film with the women in my family as two primary themes of both the book and movie had to do with the sacred feminine and the enduring love of families. What made "The Secret Life of Bees" the most significant to me was that it was my first exposure to the Black Madonna. Images of the black Madonna have known to exist in numerous European countries since as early as 50 AD.

In an interview with Heidi Schlumpf about the Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd shares, "It's about a girl who has lost her mother and who finds these women who teach her about a Black Madonna A Black Madonna or Black Virgin is a statue or painting of Mary in which she is depicted with dark or black skin. This name applies in particular to European statues or pictures of a Madonna which are of special interest because her dark face and hands seem to need and love her into healing. Lily's great quest was for her mother, but not only for an earthly mother. It took me a while to understand this as I wrote it, that she was longing--as most all of us are--for a larger mother. We're all really looking for that great mother.

So there were two quests going on--one, for the actual mother, whose loss had left this terrible hole in her. I don't know about that particular quest personally because my own mother is still alive at the age of 82. But as I was writing I understood that I did know about that other longing for this larger, we could say, spiritual mother. In the book I let the Black Madonna carry all that."

Heidi: "What exactly are Black Madonnas?"

Sue Monk Kidd: "There are hundreds of these images of dark-skinned Black Madonnas in Europe, and they are some of the most ancient images we have of Mary. The most well known is probably Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland. Many of them are in great Gothic cathedrals, like Chartres, France, often in the crypts.

There are a lot of inventive speculations about why they are black. Some people have said it's about candle smoke (I think that theory has been more or less rejected), but some scholars believe they are black because they have connections to pre-Christian goddesses, many of whom are pictured black. Their history suggests that there may have been a kind of underground nerve center for worshiping the divine feminine within the medieval church, and it often came through in the Black Madonna.

If that is the case, we've got a very powerful amalgamation going on, a blending of the Christian Mary and these old earth goddesses. And there's an amalgamation going on not just in her history, but in her spirituality, in her mythology, in the stories that evolve around her and in the way people relate to her...People ask, "Who was the queen bee in the story? Was it the Black Madonna?" It really alternated. Sometimes it was August, who stood in as that earthly Black Madonna. Sometimes it was the Black Madonna reflected in the masthead. But ultimately as I tried to portray in the end of the novel, it's something within us. As August said to Lily, you have to find that mother inside yourself."

In The Hidden Spirituality of Men, Episcopalian priest and author, Matthew Fox when writing about one aspect of the black Madonna observes, "The black Madonna calls us to grieve. The black Madonna is the sorrowful mother, the mother who weeps tears for the suffering in the universe, the suffering in the world, the brokeness of our very vulnerable hearts... She invites us to enter into our grief and name it and be there to learn what suffering has to teach us. Creativity cannot happen, birthing cannot happen, unless we pay attention to the grieving heart. Only by passing through grief can creativity burst forth anew. Grieving is an emptying, it is making the womb open again for new birth to happen..." Fox offers several other descriptions of the black Madonna archetype and what she calls us to do in the twenty- first century which you can read online at “The Return of the Black Madonna" however his observations connecting her to the transformative possibilities inherent in grief are especially meaningful to me.

Friday, June 26, 2009

In Praise of Slowness

I enjoyed Journalist Carl Honore's talk on TED, "In Praise of Slowness." Honore asserts that with our obsession with being fast and first, we westerners sacrifice not only our quality of life but our health as well. He urges us to slow down and points out the multitude of benefits to doing so. You can watch his talk here

You may also want to pay a visit to the website, Slow Movement which "supports a growing cultural shift towards slowing down. On this site we discuss how we have lost connection to most aspects of our life and to the natural world and rhythms around us, and how we can reconnect – how we can live a connected life. The Slow Movement is a worldwide movement to recapture Meaningful Connection this state of connectedness. The movement is gaining momentum, as more and more people recognize their discomfort at the fast pace and disconnected nature of their lives."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Intuitive Eating

I just made my powerpoint presentation on intuitive eating available for free download at:

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Honoring the Work of the Unemployed

A middle aged professional shared with me that he had run into an old acquaintance recently who asked him where he was working these days. His shoulders automatically drooped and his jaw tightened as he answered with more than a little embarrassment, “Well, I’m not working anywhere at the moment, I’ve been laid off.” I was saddened and unsettled by his response. Although, yes, in fact, he was currently unemployed, his answer wasn’t true. He was deeply engaged with his work. He had created an abundant and beautiful organic garden, filled with a variety of vegetables and bordered by perennial flowers. He was engrossed in research on sustainable living, an issue he had always cared about but had never had the time to actively pursue, and he had become involved with a group of activists lobbying for health care reform. In a culture where what one does for a job appears to have become the primary measurement of a man’s success, the story my ‘unemployed’ friend had begun telling about his own life had become tragically distorted.

Beldon Lane in The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality quotes an old man in William Least Heat Moon’s book, Blue Highways who asserted,

“A man’s never out of work if he’s worth a damn. It’s just sometimes he doesn’t get paid. I’ve gone unpaid my share and I’ve pulled my share of pay. But that’s got nothing to do with working. A man’s work is doing what he’s supposed to do, and that’s why he needs a catastrophe now and again to show him a bad turn isn’t the end, because a bad stroke never stops a good man’s work.”

Lane makes an important distinction in his book between our jobs and our work. In our jobs, points out Lane, we attend to what needs tending to for money, with our work, we attend to what matters the most to us.

There are so many stories told every day about Americans who have found themselves without jobs through no fault of their own, and while these stories sadden me for a multitude of reasons, I’m also captivated by the stories we are not telling. I am referring to those stories that have nothing to do with stock prices, the gross national product, unemployment figures, or our national debt. I’m referring to stories about those who are unemployed and who are providing loving care to fragile and elderly parents and even neighbors, who are volunteering, involving themselves in local politics to an extent that they never had time for before, who are changing lives and even in some cases helping to revise and strengthen entire communities.

There may be fewer jobs available, but there is no less work to be done. In fact, it feels to me as though there is more work then ever before. Lets not underestimate for a moment the tremendous value of those who are doing so much of this work -- the unemployed.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Listening to our Lives During Times of Uncertainty

Many of us seek the wisdom of a guide when life becomes uncertain, and for some of us, a wise and supportive person is available and willing to offer assistance. Others withdraw, hiding their pain and consequently depriving themselves of the comfort and support that might be available to them if only they were to reach out. And then there are those who incessantly lament or complain, refusing to take full responsibility for resolving their difficulty, they wait for their circumstances to change or for a saviour to arrive. Sadly, in many cases, the rescuer never shows.

All too often when facing a dilemna we fail to trust the wisdom that exists within each of us. Instead, many of us secretly yearn for an all knowing teacher who can provide us with the perfect answers and protect us from making mistakes. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, points out that life itself is our finest teacher, "Life is the teacher that shows up when the student is ready... Life is often the only teacher we are given that is perfect in every way."

Estes reiminds us that our own lives are a source of tremendous wisdom -- our memories, our experiences, our mistakes, our disapointments, our struggles, our pain - every single thing that serves to make up our lives holds valuable lessons than can and will provide enourmous guidance if only we open ourselves up to them.

Frederick Buechner advised, " "Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and the pain of it no less than the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."

Resolve to listen to your life, to settle deeply into those teachable and precious moments that are offered up to you, and prepare when ever possible to harvest them.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Four Fold Way

In "The four - Fold Way," Angeles Arrien suggests that each of us ask the following questions and answer those that apply to us. "Where in my life did I stop dancing? Where in my life did I stop singing? Where in my life did I stop being enchanted with stories? Where in my life did I become uncomfortable with the sweet territory of silence?"

The logical next step would be to consider how you might regain what you've lost touch with. There are countless gifts that accompany dancing with abandon, singing your heart out, allowing yourself to be completely absorbed in a story while fully open to its lessons, and able to embrace silence as a trusted companion.

So how about if each time you have some time alone you do at least one of the following:

Dance around the house


Spend some time outdoors listening to the wind

Sing your heart out

Write in your journal

Draw in your journal

Create a collage

Close your eyes and spend 5 minutes quietly following your breath

Work on your memoir

Close your eyes and listen to meditative or soul expanding music

Read a short story someone recommended

Get in touch with the one who still lives inside of you who used to burst into song and dance spontaneously and who unreservedly believed in magic...

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Men's Room

The Men's Room is a weekly talk show on men available for viewing online. Thus far the show has covered topics such as:

Boys and Rites of Passage

Men and Depression

Mentoring for Boys

Veterans issues

Images of Men

Male Spirituality

Men and Happiness

Wednesday, June 3, 2009