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The Little Hour of Nones

Autumn shadows deepen - Living the mystery of Life & Death

A dear friend is preparing to be a Death Doula, one who guides the dying through the transition time between life and death. On her quest, she is asking those questions that face the truly real fact: One day I will be gone. Here one breath. Then ~ gone.

So I fell asleep one recent night to soft rain, pondering the renewal of life with the words from Music of Silence swirling gently through my head. Written by David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, and Sharon Lebell this beautiful book contemplates the parallels of the Hours of the Day and the cycles of life. For those, like me, who are not of the Catholic faith the services for Vigils, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, and Compline are unfamiliar ground. Their purposes, however, are echoed in the bells that invite Buddhists to remembrance of our sacred connections and in the haunting call of the muezzin who daily summons Muslims to prayer.

As a girl, I loved the Vespers services sometimes held at the Baptist assembly centers we attended annually. When I traveled in Europe I would align my days to attend at least one or two Vespers in the great cathedrals. The chants sung in candlelight as night begins always bring me to a sense of wonder and mystery that some call spiritual. Others may just call it beauty. Or perhaps simply Truth.

But I am less familiar with the other hours ~ Nones especially. Nones, one of the “little hours” that to the ancients was the closing of business, the time for evening baths. I love that! The time to watch as shadows begin to deepen across the lawn.

This is now the time of my life. It's autumn, when the season matches my own letting go of the things that no longer serve me. Allowing those things to drop away even as I remember with gratitude their purposes in the past.

Part of me sighs and wishes that someone could look at me and think, “How can that young woman have such graying hair?” But the REAL of me is proud of my natural hair, softening now to muted tones, proud of my hands, and body, and face just as they are. The age spots and wrinkles and laugh lines tell of days of living with both sorrows and joys. I embrace the peace of growing older and the calm pace that allows me to sit in total stillness as twin fawns – spots now faded into fall gray fur – nibble clover just five feet from our porch where we were seated.

And isn’t it interesting that the tones of the approaching winter are the tones of my hair? The starkness of coming cold is a reminder, though, that I want the winter of my life to be warm like a fireside hearth on an otherwise chilly day.

Although my death will be the last thing for me chronologically on Mother Earth, I know that contemplating it ~ Death ~ offers me insight into living fully. One minute, sometime along my timeline, I’ll be here. And the next second, I’ll be gone. My spirit will be --- where? And does it really matter where it will be? I believe it will be somewhere.

But what’s a where? Not where is where, but what is any where? Where denotes a space and physics tells me that time and space are completely inter-linked. Does this mean that things out of time are also out of space and therefore out of where?

My soul, therefore, strictly speaking, will not be in any where that we could possibly understand. I believe that my soul is totally connected already to that no-where. That void. Yet my egoic mind is mostly unconscious of this union. It doesn’t have to be that way.

There have been instances throughout my life when I have had absolute realizations of connection to the no-where, the place of Spirit where I am surrounded by and part of the Source of All that Is. Is that why I don’t fear death? Oh, I have grieved death deep and dark with tears and sadness for so long that I would look in the mirror and say to my reflection and to any spirit that would listen, “I am so tired of this ugly cry face,” as I sobbed on and on.

At one time Heaven was my only hope. I longed with physical intensity to reach that point where I would be reunited with my love, named on earth as Bob, and my parents whom I adored. I was taught that “Streets of Gold” was a metaphor for the wondrous place where Spirit and spirits lived. It was still a place called Paradise, non-physical, but a place mind you. (As I type this the wind shifted and the energy of something new just breezed into our Sanctuary. It is amazing how Spirit responds.) So how, I ask myself now, could such a physical thing as A Place Called Heaven contain spirit-only be-ings? Here I do mean entities that simply “be,” not physical bodies.

Not long after Bob’s death I had a vision of him returning to visit me. He was clothed in an ephemeral netting which I wordlessly understood was simply a way to contain his be-ingness so I could comprehend it. His presence and message were to reassure me that life continued though vastly different than anything I imagined.

That surprising encounter (combined with several other unanticipated metaphysical experiences that did not fit my religious upbringing) sent me on a search for newer meanings to life and death. I was introduced to reincarnation in its various interpretations. While I knew the concept of reincarnation, I had never before considered it to be a possibility. Not only have I discovered that there are many varieties of thought about reincarnation in religions across the world, early Christians and some Christians today believe we return to this Earth to continue learning lessons or to help others with theirs. It’s a powerful thought.

Our entire Universe seems to be a pantheon of reincarnating energies. Water recycles from rain to ground to evaporating mists to rain again. Food reincarnates (if you will) into energy in my body. Plants and animals decay and become nutrients for future life. Energy never dies we’re told in the Law of Conservation, it merely is transformed or transferred from one form to another. In the seeming chaos of our Universe there is order and pattern. Why I began to ask, would human life and the soul be any different? I do not believe we are.

I’ve come to a flow of mind now that embraces all possibilities ~ including one where I cease to exist altogether. While I personally believe we do continue to exist after physical death, the possibility that we do not is not frightening. Instead it is a lightening call to live well and fully in the present, in the Now.

For decades before Bob’s passing I would make him look me eye to eye, deeply. And I would tell him I was looking into his soul so I would be sure to recognize him, to know him. When? Now there’s an interesting thought. Why would I need to know and recognize him if we weren’t in different bodies? I suspect my soul was remembering a reality of reincarnation even before I had a belief system steeped in that concept.

And all of our thoughts about Death are just that – concepts, ideas, beliefs – of a mystery we cannot quite solve. Whether the beyond is Heaven, or Reincarnation, or Nirvana, or something else altogether, it is life here and now that I am to live.

Have I really faced my own death and detached from any emotion but gratitude for the Now I get to live? At some level I think I have. But I also am wise enough to know that until a gun is leveled at my face or a disease is threatening my cells or I watch blood ebb from my body I have not lived that experience completely. I will one day. I want to be ready. I want to live every wonderful and difficult moment in ways that make their remembrance lovely. I want to learn lessons of compassion, and tolerance, and kindness, and love so well that if I do come back I can help both myself and others.

So for now I return to the hours of the day to remind me of the cycles of life and hear their powerful calls to my own inner work.

Quoted below from Music of Silence I list them for you:

Vigils – The Night Watch

Lauds – The Coming of the Light

Prime – Deliberate Beginning

Terce – Blessing

Sext – Fervor and Commitment

Nones – Shadows Grow Longer

Vespers – Lighting the Lamps

Compline – Completing the Circle

These are profound reminders that the natural cycle of birth, life, death will not be stilled. To embrace it all without fear allows mystery to be lived with peace.

May it be so in your life and mine.

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