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Ash Wednesday 2017 Stardust Ritual

If ever we needed reminders of the fact of the interconnection among all existence, as affirmed by cosmology, quantum physics, and other sciences — as well as mystics and saints — it is now, when dualistic thinking is causing havoc. Whole groups are being vilified and artificially separated from the rest: “winners” from “losers”; “good guys” from whoever the judging group happens to be; humans from Earth, our common home with which we share existence. Lent offers a good opportunity to “re-pent” — re-think — these rifts.

image_540_1Everything has come from elements resulting from generations of exploding stars. Our Solar System and everything in it developed from a shimmering cloud of stardust elements like calcium, carbon, and hydrogen resulting from a supernova explosion. Thus we, too, are made of stardust elements. On Ash Wednesday, Christians traditionally receive a cross of ashes on their foreheads to remind them that they are dust. The following ritual is meant to enrich this realization by reminding us that, even before we are dust, we are stardust!  (For a two-sided pdf copy, please contact terrishcj@aol.com.)

Needed: one candle and a dish of dirt (or glitter, representing stardust). Decide who will read.

Leader: To begin, let us pause to recall past times whenashes_6329cp we have received ashes on our foreheads and heard words like these: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Remember how that influenced your practices during Lent.  

Pause to Reflect.  
Carry those thoughts and graces with you now, but place them in a larger context: the context of the entire universe and its amazing 13.8 billion-year history. After billions of years, thanks to the divine Mystery living and acting in our world and in us, stars formed and died in the process of bringing Earth to existence. We became part of this blessed creation. We are connected to all life; we have a role in this sacred story!

Light candle. 

blastReader One: The massive star that was mother to our Sun met with fiery death, her form completely annihilated by the explosive force of the blast. And yet she exists in each of us, in the cells of our bodies that are composed of her dust. Consciously or not, we carry her within us as surely as we carry the DNA of our biological parents. (Radical Amazement, Judy Cannato)

Reader Two: Our planet Earth was once a dancing star, evolving over four and a half billion years ago from the many elements of [an exploding] supernova. I have loved knowing that we are “made of stardust” . . .  I like knowing that the composition of my body has the elements of a star that was once brilliantly aglow in the universe and is now dancing in me. There’s a magical sense of connection that comes from this knowledge . . . . (The Cosmic Dance, Joyce Rupp)

Reader Three: Dust particles are suspendedimages in the air at all times, unnoticed until sunlight bathes them in radiant streaming light. In this warmth, the specs sparkle. No one who cares about shiny furniture is unaware of what dust can accomplish, just by being. Nothing is insignificant in our universe!

Litany of gratitude:
•  for the Spirit present within the creative process of creation and within each of us, We are grateful.
•  for the generations of supernovas that exploded, resulting in stars with increasingly more of the heavy elements, eventually leading to the supernova that resulted in our solar system and galaxy, We are grateful.
images-5•  for Sister Dirt, because of whom we can enjoy food, flowers, plants, clean air, shade, and revelations of the divine, We are grateful.
•  for farmers who till the soil, especially our local farmers who do it organically using fair trade practices, We are grateful.
•  for those who lobby to prevent mono-cropping, toxic fertilizers, and the use of GMO’s that endanger the earth, We are grateful.
•  for the scientists, theologians, thinkers, writers, speakers and artists who have helped us realize our place in creation — [Pause to quietly remember one or two who have helped you. Name them if you wish], We are grateful.
•  for those present and throughout the world committed to creating a flourishing Earth, including Pope Francis, and for his encyclical Laudato Si’We are grateful.

Sharing:
Jesus, too, was stardust! Jesus, too, died to give new life, as each seed must do. How might we connect the creation  story with our Lent experiences this year? How might our Lent resolutions reflect our call to care for E/earth?

Blessing of soil (or glitter):
May this soil (or glitter), which dates back billions of years images-2and which took over 4 billion years to form on Earth, keep us humble — humus is the Latin for soil. May it remind us of who we are and how vitally we interconnect with the rest of creation. May we trust in divine power working in us for the good of all creation.  Amen.

Individual blessings, using soil (or glitter):
Depending on the number of participants, either divide into pairs, each member blessing the other with soil from the center bowl, or form a circle and pass the bowl of soil, each blessing the person on his or her right.

100_1230Thank you, (name), for bringing your starlight into my life. I bless you and the star-stuff you invest in caring for all of creation. (Add anything you may wish to say at the beginning of our Lenten Journey.)

Extinguish candle. 

Socialize.

Trafficking Ritual 2017

1715228621_95dffe8330Christmas and its rich mythology call us to look past the serene pictures on cards and enter a story of homelessness, poverty, political repression and slaughter, refugees, and being strangers in a land where ancestors were enslaved for being “different.”

It is fitting that the week after Christmas begins National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, followed by days calling our attention to this blight: January 11, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day; January 17th (sometimes listed as the 15th or 19th), World Day of Migrants and Refugees (so easily prey to traffickers); February 8, International Trafficking Day and feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita (patron saint of victims of trafficking); even February 5, Super Bowl Sunday, when sex trafficking has been known to increase.

Those aware of the intrinsic bonds and interconnections among all life feel the pain of the children, men and women forced into bondage with no hope of rescue. I am grateful to Rose Mary Meyer, BVM, for providing the following Trafficking Ritual that can be used at any time. Human trafficking, Rose Mary reminds us, is happening every day, all year long, locally and globally.

Trafficking Ritual 2017

Instrumental Music

iraqi-refugees-mosul-offensiveOpening Prayer

Merciful and loving Creator, we have gathered together to hold in prayer those whom you cherish but who are bound by the trauma of labor and/or sex trafficking.  These children, women and men are hidden in plain sight among us, are clothed in fear-filled silence, are victims of trauma unable to break free.  May we open our eyes and our hearts to these persons who are trafficked in our midst.

Reading

Those caught in the horror of trafficking are missing persons.  Some have been missing for years.  Some have been discovered in graves.  Some have bodies that are diseased, mutilated, tortured.  Some have spirits that are damaged psychologically.  Many of these women and men are missing in multiple ways but are in our midst.

Source: Not a Choice, Not a Job, Janice G. Raymond.  Adapted

Shared Silence

Reading

Nikola, a young woman who is trafficked, feels she is of no value.  She feels she is in exile, away from all she knew growing up — family, home, friends, school, music, country of origin.

Shared Silence

Reading
child-trafficking
Samantha, a person who is trafficked, feels like a caged bird, caged in a room where she feels she is imprisoned by mistake, with no understanding of why this happened to her or how she is going to escape.  She is desperate.

Shared Silence

Reading

Othello feels trapped in the horror of labor trafficking.  He has no idea where he is or how to find his way back home in London.  He is brought to the restaurant everyday around five in the morning where he washes dishes, stacks and unstacks chairs, scrubs floors, peels vegetables and cuts fruit.  He eats what’s left on the plates of those who come to the restaurant to sit down and enjoy one another and the food.  When the work is finished after the last customers leave around 10 or 11 PM, he is taken to a house where other men who are trafficked live.  Each is locked from the outside in a small room with a mattress.  In a few hours all are awakened and driven back to the restaurant.

Shared Silence

Reader

Karena met Dusty at a club.  He bought her drinks and offered to take her home.  She was naïve in believing that he was concerned about her.  Home that night became a house where three other trafficked women already lived.  Dusty raped her the first night she was there.  She’s still recovering from all the unspeakable violence that she experienced from being trafficked, but she is deeply grateful for whoever reported what that person believed was happening in this house owned by the trafficker.  The house was raided by law enforcement.  She is now stitching her life together, slowly healing her physical and psychological wounds that will take a long time and many caring, loving, compassionate, understanding support people.  She knows she will be supported by these people on her life journey.

Shared Silence

Reading

We realize that children and adults are forced or deceived and moved to unfamiliar places for forced labor, for sexual exploitation.  Their humanness is degraded.  We feel sad.  We feel angry.  We feel fear at times.  We feel helpless at times.  We don’t always contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline — 2015-03-26-1427373681-8625596-polarisbillboard_lv_sextrafficking_phone 1 888 373-7888 — when we might have witnessed a trafficking situation.  May we strengthen each other in our commitment to open our eyes to the reality of trafficking and make calls, give only Fair Trade items as gifts, drink only Fair Trade coffee, tea, cocoa; feed our chocolate cravings with only Fair Trade chocolate, and help end this global and local slave trade in any way we can.  May we mirror in our actions the mercy and love of our Creator of all beings.

Concluding Prayer

Response

Creator of all beings, may we model your mercy, love, and compassion for our sisters and brothers who are trafficked.

We remember those caught in the web of local and global trafficking who are being moved from one unknown place to another.

Response

We remember those who are forced to live unspeakably horrible lives as humans who are labor and/or sex trafficked.

Response

We remember those who suffer unimaginable loneliness, nostalgia, physical and psychological pain.

Response

We remember our sisters and brothers who are trapped in the horrors of trafficking and still hold on to hope for freedom.

Response

All

p17fstq1utfvjid9g561f6ocdr0_61214May we all act with blessing rather than condemnation
toward our sisters and brothers
who are trafficked
and help to create
a tomorrow of freedom and justice.

May these persons who are trafficked
feel included rather than excluded
in societies worldwide.

May they experience renewing opportunities,
hear a strong voice for justice
and witness courageous actions against trafficking.

May they be abundantly blessed
with mercy and love from all of us,
inspired by our Creator of mercy and love.
Amen.  Amen.  Amen.

Text created by Rose Mary Meyer, BVM
Project IRENE

Stars, Language, Worldviews

Stars

One of my pet peeves is language that says the Sun moves around Earth. Words carry meaning, and if we reinforce long-disproven concepts, we stay stuck in centuries past — scientifically, socially, and religiously.

What follows will offer some alternatives — and, I hope, some food for thought and reflection. Before reading, think for a minute about how you would describe what is pictured here:

A Summer Sunrise over on the Nature Conservancy's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska,Oklahoma<br />

Here’s how Marilynne Robinson has her protagonist describe it in her Pulitzer-prize-winning novel Gilead:

“This morning a splendid dawn passed over our house on its way to Kansas. This morning Kansas rolled out of its sleep into a sunlight grandly announced, proclaimed throughout heaven — one more of the very finite number of days that this old prairie has been called Kansas, or Iowa. But it has all been one day, that first day. Light is constant, we just turn over in it. So every day is in fact the selfsame evening and morning.”

Wow! Your reaction to that?

Here’s what I wrote years ago, in “Matins,” (Matins):
fql1od“ …
Slowly, slowly (or so it seems) Earth rotates,
revealing a brilliant, blinding star
so distant that its million multiples
of Earth’s size seem
a solitary shining footlight on the horizon.
…. ”

While we’re remembering that our sun-star neither rises nor sets, try these last ten lines of Katy Didden’s poem ”Before Edison Invented Lights” (in The Glacier’s Wake) [Painting by Mary Southward, CSJ]:
“ …
When you sleep with your face to the sky
untitledthe stars are not so much above
as around you. Stare long enough
and you begin to feel
you could lift your body off the earth
and hover in the black night
on the web of your awe
at a billion suns
toward which
everything you’re made of yearns.”

Wow, again! And why does everything we’re made of yearn for the suns? Curt Stager answers in Your Atomic Self, from the chapter “Fires of Life”:

“To look into the night sky is to survey distant gardens in which the elements of life are ripening, and your body is a composite harvest from these cosmic fields. Throughout history, people have spoken of the earth as our mother and the sun as our father … In an atomic sense, however, it would be more accurate to think of the earth and the sun as our siblings, because they both formed from the same star debris as the elements of life within us. Earth is indeed a kind of surrogate mother to us in that our bodies are derived from it, but we exist today only because our true celestial star mothers died long ago.”

Neil de Grasse Tyson echoes that reality: “The spectacular truth encoded in your DNA is that the very atoms of your body were initially forged in long-dead stars. This is why, when we look at the sky with wonder and longing, we feel some ineffable tugging at our innards. We are star stuff.”

Language and Worldviews

As for changing language, Stager writes “Simply replacing the word “sun” with “star” can change your sense of what this sylvan scene actually is. Lie flat on your back on the warm wood of a dock, and it may further dispel the normal illusion that the great fireball is “up there in the sky” instead of “right over there beside us in space.” Something about being horizontal and seeing the sun-star before you rather than above your head makes it easier to sense the absence of supporting pedestals or cables and therefore to realize that the brilliant, life-sustaining heart of our solar system floats in emptiness as it directs the trembling of your atoms from millions of miles away.”

It’s easy — though sloppy — to perpetuate a faulty philosophy by using words that belong to an obsolete flat-earth worldview. It can be disorienting to realize that we are one planet orbiting one of the billions of suns in our galaxy, and that our galaxy is one among billions. It almost hurts to get one’s head around the truth of where we are! But, to quote Stager again:

“The task that we face now is … to more closely attune our worldviews to the fascinating reality that Earth-orbiting telescopes, atom-probing microscopes, and other complex inventions have only recently uncovered for us. … How amazing to exist at all and how important it is, as our numbers and know-how increase, that we and our descendants develop such awareness as best we can.”

Language, Worldviews, and Believers

Is it important for believers? Ask St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote: “A mistake about creation will lead to a mistake about God.” Ask Fr. Sean McDonagh: “We must continually learn from science, evolve our theology, and humbly situate ourselves in the wider Creation story.”

What have you learned from science about our place and our meaning in the cosmos — including our role in caring for our precious common home? Replies welcome!

Note: Christians who wish to ponder Light this Advent, alone or with others, might consider using Advent 2016: In Praise of Light: advent-2016.