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In Crucial Threshold Time: Learning from Our Elders

Updated: Jun 14, 2022

Guest blog by Leah Rampy

Only a couple of minutes from our home, the Oak Trail winds through a small patch of new-growth trees. The name is more aspirational than descriptive with only one old oak plus tiny oak plantings giving credence to the name. But other trees and bushes crowd around, inviting me to linger, to breathe more deeply, to claim my part in a larger community. The way forward holds a calm beauty, but little mystery; I only need wander on the path through the trees and I find myself back at the road.

The contrast between the Oak Trail and the unchartered, dark and dangerous territory in which we find ourselves today is stark. No signposts mark the way, no path has been prepared. Our instincts and past experiences urge us to press forward, but without a guiding light, we cannot know which way that lies. We are in threshold times – all of us, together. Individual decisions are critical; collective ones are crucial. It is a time to go silent, to open a space for deep listening. Only then will be we able to peel back the layers of ego and habit to hear more clearly the whispers of Wisdom.

The elders of the living world welcome us to such listening. With a lineage far longer than that of humankind, the plants, trees and the soil below offer each day to teach us about the interconnectedness of all life. Selflessly offering their gifts, they remind us of the practice of reciprocity and name our place in the family of life. Changing seasons, tides, day and night, remind us of ancient rhythms in which we might live and move more freely. The waters hold life and wisdom; the nearby Potomac River has practiced changing course many times over its 3.5 million years.

As historians look back for guidance, we also may return to our human spiritual elders who lived close to Earth and learned from the “Book of Creation.” For months my colleague Carole Crumley and I have sensed the rightness of offering a retreat guided by the wisdom of 4th-5th century Celtic saints Brigid and Patrick. It has been a gift to immerse ourselves in the life of these elders whose lessons for living transcend their own complex, threshold times.

Kidnapped as a teenager and enslaved in a foreign land, Patrick spent nights on the hillside guarding sheep. In the darkness of fear and isolation, he came to know a divine Presence that could be trusted. Guided by this Presence, Patrick risked everything to escape, then returned to challenge the ruling powers of his day. Born from parents enslaved and free, Brigid wove a profound, living legacy of reverence for Earth at the threshold of Druidic and Christian traditions. Building her abbey near a large oak tree, she chose the name Kildare: “church of the oak.” Although times were divisive, Brigid practiced compassion and welcome for all. As we explore their lives more deeply, we see that these great Celtic saints offer wisdom for our dark and turbulent days.

I return again to the Oak Trail for help in emptying myself of words. I school myself to refrain from pushing forward for I do not know which way to go. In my mind’s eye, I see the image of Brigid sitting under her oak tree, and I seek her Wisdom for connection and compassion. I listen again for the knowing of the living beings around me. Poised together on this threshold, we can only discern our way forward by standing perfectly still.

Guest blog: Leah Rampy is President of the Board for The Center for Spirituality in Nature, a retreat and pilgrimage leader, former Executive Director of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, and the founder and guide of Church of the Wild Two Rivers. With colleague Carole Crumley, she will be co-leading a retreat on Feb 19-20, Brigid and Patrick: Fire in the Night. Leah and Carole warmly welcome you to join them for this online contemplative retreat.

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