Sitting on the bus as we pull away from Cluny for the short journey to The Park, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity I have been given to attend this four-day gathering. The angel of Expectancy is my companion. I read in the conference guide that Easter Saturday is the day of emptiness. Engaging in conversation with the woman next to me, and being aware of the other conversations around me, the idea of emptiness somehow seems contradictory.
We enter a beautifully decorated Universal Hall to the sound of gentle flute music. At the front of the Hall, a golden six-pointed star hanging overhead, are wooden tubs overflowing with sunny yellow daffodils, lush trees standing tall in their pots, and a moss and flower-covered centrepiece in which Pan and the nature spirits dance amongst the elements and welcome us.
Gillian Paschkes-Bell, one of the Gathering’s conveners, invites us to welcome one another. And to welcome the Christ presence… cosmic… incarnated… in our hearts. We are here to build an energetic chalice so that the Christ impulse can enter into this world through us.
In recognition that we are coming from different faith traditions, we are asked to honour the differences, knowing that at a deeper level there is oneness. And to honour the ancestors for creating the traditions that have held us, and to forgive the ancestors for using those same traditions to suppress us.
We begin to create the chalice, Barbara Swetina leading us in song –
When two or more are gathered together in my name,
Then there I AM forever amongst you.
The old form is dissolving so that spirit can enter and create new forms. The essence of Easter is renewal; the keynote of the Gathering is awakening. Janice Dolley, co-convener, speaks to us of going from the mind into the heart, for in the heart is to be found perception, compassion and a deeper connection with one another. She quotes James Redfield’s Twelfth Insight in which he indicates that the new will come from many, many conscious conversations. We are invited to engage in these conversations with one another throughout the Gathering.
Gillian then turns us towards one of the themes for the Gathering – going through the fear barrier. Facing fear, moving through it and going beyond it into freedom. She asks if we are willing to look at the things that block each of us from the abundance of our own potentiality. She invites us to symbolically use a stone of our own choosing to give form to working with an energetic practice for releasing a block which feels most in the way for each of us at this time. This ritual, begun today, will be completed at the dawn ceremony tomorrow.
Before being led by Micaela Aminoff into a meditation to identify what our individual block is, we again join in song with Barbara, the first song to honour our ancestors and recognise how truly blessed we are, and the second to remember that we are healing the world one heart at a time. After the singing, the atmosphere in the Hall is one of peace and stillness – perfect for going into meditation. As she starts, Micaela invokes the grace of Transformation.
We end our afternoon together by taking to the floor and walking around while looking into each other’s eyes. In the background the song I See the Christ in You by The Waterboys is playing. My heart and hands reach out to the men and women whose eyes meet mine.
The evening’s session with Philip Roderick and Julia Macdonald helps me begin to understand the meaning of the emptiness as it relates to the Easter mystery. As he plays his hang drum, producing exquisite sounds, Philip talks of how it’s the emptiness of this steel structure that allows it to resonate. How, by emptying ourselves of ourselves, we can be filled.
He connects us through drumming and body prayer with the suffering of those who are in the tomb or waiting by the tomb, and those who are excluded and long to belong. We reach out to our brothers and sisters to bring them love and healing. We are then bathed in the soothing, yet strange and unfamiliar sound of a newly translated version of the Lord’s Prayer sung in Aramaic.
Julia MacDonald steps up to the podium and shares with us her nine-year journey into the silence and stillness, which began when she went from being energetic, enthusiastic and full of vitality to being bedridden and unable to look after herself due to a severe medical condition. The hours, days and weeks Julia spent moving deeper into the silence led her to be able to walk again and to create a new life, a new birth. At the end of those nine years, her consultant wrote to her GP and described Julia as having an ‘almost miraculous recovery’.
With Philip drumming on a cardboard box, and Barbara accompanying on guitar, we chant, “We are Mary, we are Yeshua, we are the disciple who Jesus loved.” I am moved to tears, almost sobbing, as I repeat these words over and over.
We end the evening by moving into the silence, helped along by the resonant sounds of Philip’s hang drum. We have been asked to keep the silence throughout the night, only breaking it when we greet the sun at dawn tomorrow. I leave the Hall wrapped in stillness, my heart opening to receive…