There is something magical in the angles of autumn light and the way it illuminates objects that recede throughout the year’s other seasons. Leaves, trees, birds, grasses—all the world seems infused with light and embraced by light. Lit from within and without… I’ve always felt light is another language, a way Love communicates with our spirits. I think that’s why I’m so connected to the visual, to colors and patterns, and why I’ve always tried to photograph the messages I sense are all around me. Sometimes, I breathe in the message; I understand what the light is saying. Other times, it eludes me before I capture the meaning.
Autumn is the season that feels especially illuminating. Perhaps this is why, for me, it’s always felt intuitively “right” that this is the time of year the Catholic Church celebrates angels, a word that means “messenger.” Today is the feast, or festival, of three archangels: angels that bring news of utmost importance. And on October 2, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Guardian Angels, honoring the ancient belief that we each have a personal angel guiding us through life and back home to Love, our Source. When I was young, we said a nightly prayer to our Guardian Angels. At some point, I named mine Mary Louise. I have no idea why I chose this name, but the idea that Mary Louise was present when I was frightened or sad certainly gave me comfort.
The idea that a Creative Energy loves our particulate matter so uniquely and personally that we’re each accorded our own spiritual guide speaks of an Original Spirit, God, or Transcendence that is both compassionate and intimately involved with our journey, our discernments, and the paths we choose. It taught me to perceive my God as benevolent rather than forbidding, angry, and frightening.
Perhaps I no longer need a literal angel (though I still “talk” with Mary Louise when I’m under stress), but I do need the reminder that my life is sacred to its core, that my choices require contemplation, and that my spirit is connected to its Source.
“God comes to us disguised as our lives,” wrote Paula D’Arcy; the idea being that if there is anything sacred and holy for us to apprehend in the world, it’s all right here, now, in the movement of energy we call “my life.” Whether we name the messengers reminding us of this angels, intuition, mystery, or grace, I think in some way, we apprehend these messages as light, real and metaphorically, as in-sight, those profoundly illuminated moments when we perceive the interconnection of everything.
Once, after a series of losses had visited my life, I went on an 8-day silent retreat to give myself over to needed healing and peace. I settled comfortably into the routine of the silence and its flow. I met with my retreat director after breakfast each morning, and spent the rest of the day walking, resting, reading and writing…mostly listening. The combination of silence and listening seemed to invite deep sleep, so I enjoyed daily naps and usually went to bed shortly after sunset. I could almost feel deep healing knitting my spirit back together.
One day I finished breakfast and took my coffee to the wonderful lounge overlooking the grounds and the lake surrounding the retreat house. I had some time to relax before I met with my retreat guide. I remember a caretaker was riding a lawn mower back and forth and the day promised peace and sunshine. I sipped my coffee, and as I set the mug down on the broad window ledge and looked up, everything changed.
Every single particle of matter in front of me separated from the next and became drenched in light; the energy of tree leaves and grass blades and the room around me, and all the other retreatants, a sailboat on the lake, the lake itself, a butterfly, and the sky around it vibrated, each minute part of everything pulsing within its own halo of light, but in unison with every other particle. I remember staring, looking around the room, seeing it all dancing in its dazzling light, and knowing it wasn’t logical. It didn’t frighten me as much as amaze me. What was happening? What did it mean? I knew I wasn’t in danger physically or otherwise, but I felt the need to get back to my room, which required that I navigate hallways and steps…and all the way, the light explosions continued. Everything was illuminated, gilded with a holy golden light…I knew this was extraordinary and a gift. Once in my room, I went down to my knees; I couldn’t stand anymore. I wasn’t sure I was still breathing. But, eventually, the pulsing subsided and the world shuddered back into the 3-dimensional shapes and forms I knew. I closed my eyes and counted my breaths.
Gradually, an awareness shook through to my “thinking” mind. It was as though a heart beat at the center of the universe and, fueled by Love, pulsed its light through everything. I knew it. I owned the understanding at that moment and have never doubted it, in all the days since.
Years later, I’m still unpacking the experience, one of the most profound of my life. I hesitate to share it because I think it risks diluting the gift, but also because I’ve never found the words to truly recreate what I saw, felt, and knew in the midst of it all.
But I learned from my dying patients, who often seek to share their lives’ profound moments before they die, that many of us have had such encounters with mystery, and sharing them can be affirming and offer comfort to others as well. People are both eager and apprehensive about sharing such experiences and others that have happened to them (like visits from loved ones who have died) because they yearn to share, but fear sounding foolish and being negatively judged.
Elderly patients often told me they were afraid their grown children would recoil and reject them if they shared these experiences, and might use such “stories” as evidence that their parents were no longer mentally reliable and needed nursing home placement and care.
How sad to lose our sacred stories, to scorn these holy gifts. Because when we share and affirm that we are connected to each other and our Source, that each of us is truly a shard of Holy Light, we know we have to make choices and act in accordance with these connections, to honor and preserve them.
May the light of autumn and its messengers, the winged and all others, remind you that you are lit by sparks of the Divine, that there is always more than you can see, and that Love pulses at the core of everything.
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