The Tower card in the tarot shows a tall tower, built on shaky ground, struck by lightning.
People have lept from the windows and are free falling, arms outstretched.
It’s not a comforting image.
But it’s not all bad.
The lightning, however sudden and shocking, is also light: insight, breakthrough, revelation.
If we see the top of the crumbling tower as representative of the crown chakra, then we see our connection to God blown wide open.
The people have jumped in an attempt to save their lives, or escape disaster, but there is also divine intervention here; trust in the fall.
They may feel that all is lost, but surely, it is not.
That which is built on a shaky foundation should fall, shouldn’t it?
How else will we get to solid ground?
For me, the primary message of the Tower is the primary message of everything:
God of Love is holding us. God can see the big picture. God knows what’s best for us and will get us there.
Sometimes tower moments are brutal and shocking.
But sometimes, most of the time, the shock is internal. The shake-up is nearly invisible to others.
Many times my tower is crumbling, not in the outside world, but inside my heart.
For the past few months, I’ve been feeling like there’s too much on my plate. I haven’t been doing a good job of juggling, meeting all my commitments, doing what needs to be done. I’ve been tired and anxious.
Last week, I realized that a miscommunication had resulted in me not being able to do something with Tracy that we had been looking forward to with great excitement. It was perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity that I was going to miss because a mistake on my part. I had let him down. I had let myself down.
I sat down on my front porch and cried.
I let myself feel grief and sorrow and overwhelm; I let it all move through me.
The next day, I loaded up my car and headed toward the Cathedral Domain, where I had been asked to give a presentation at the Episcopal Church Women Weekend Retreat. Unlike the unexpected event I’d discovered earlier in the week, this event had been planned for a while, and I was looking forward to visiting the Domain for the first time and getting to know the other women.
I felt a little nervous about navigating and driving myself up the mountain, and I was still swirling in my pain chaos (my tower moment), but the weather was perfect and I tried to focus on that.
I had decided to arrive a day early, giving me time to visit with the women who arrange and lead this retreat every year and have some time to myself before speaking and leading a prayer painting workshop.
I made my way through the camp, past rustic cabins and the picnic shelter, to the conference center, where I was invited to choose a room for myself.
I opened doors, until I found a room that felt like a good fit for me. The Weave Room was blue and calming. I strung some flower lights across the headboard and unpacked my things.
There is no cell service at the Domain. I didn’t have access to wifi. I was unplugged, unhooked, and essentially, alone.
It felt strange.
I was surrounded by incredible natural beauty, but my internal landscape was still shaky.
I was grateful to be in this space; grateful for the opportunity to share my work, but I was also confused and hurting.
The revelation of my mistake had brought up to the surface every single unloving thought and belief I held about myself and exaggerated them. Why was I like this? Why was a such a failure?
I decided to walk.
I encountered butterflies and bluebirds and listened to the songs of the trees.
I breathed air and felt my feet on the ground. All around me was lush green life.
I walked and walked, through the woods and around the camp.
I was a not a summer camp kid. I’ve never like communal sleeping and insist on my own room (no roommate) when traveling, but the cabins spoke to me of romance. I could feel the energy of the young people who stayed in these cabins summer after summer, forging friendships.
Mostly what I felt on these grounds was the spiritual quality of a thin place.
I walked up to the Cathedral and discovered the Mary Magdalene garden, so beautiful souls had chosen to have their ashes interred there.
The energy of this place was so deeply peaceful and loving. This was clearly a place where people come to pray and pray and pray, wearing through the veil that separates this world from the next.
And very, very slowly, I began to feel myself rooting to the ground. I began to feel my energy clear.
At first, it felt so odd to be disconnected, to be removed, it accentuated my anxiety. The more I walked and sat and breathed, however, the more I felt my soul harmonize with the natural world. I felt myself coming into peace with all that is.
On the first night of the retreat, after dinner, I made my presentation.
I shared my spiritual autobiography and spoke about Prayer Painting - what this process is to me - and the sacred feminine.
I spoke about voice and wholeness.
And I felt embraced by this group of women, faithful women, all coming from different perspectives - women who had shown up fully, with love, for this time together.
They welcomed me as one of them, and they welcomed my work.
The next day, after morning prayer and breakfast, I got out the canvas and paints and we created together.
We wrote prayers and moved color. And emotion. We told stories, our stories. We were in communion with one another.
When I am telling my story, when I am talking about the sacred feminine, the call for women to use our voices in the world, the importance of women’s healing through creative expression - when I am this domain - I know I am in my purpose. When I gather with others and hold space for their healing, I facilitate my own healing.
I walked again that afternoon, into the embrace of Mother Earth.
I felt myself relax.
I felt my cells rearrange.
And I received a butterfly blessing.
On the road out to the pond, a black and blue butterfly began to circle me. I stood still, my palms open, and received.
Three times it flew around me in sacred circle and all that was in me was gratitude.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, I said.
Thank you for all of this and the lily pads and the moss and sound of deer hooves in the woods and the new friends I’d met - the way they laid their hearts bare in service to the Divine. Thank you for the opportunity to do what I am called to do and be who I was born to be here in this place. Thank you for the unexpected, the unplanned. Thank you for this life. Thank you, even, for that which I do not understand, when painful things have happened and I don’t know why. Thank you.
After dinner, I walked up the hill and walked the labyrinth laid in the Cathedral.
I felt my bruised heart press against itself and open like a lotus.
By Compline that night, which was held in the sacred space of the Chapel of Saint Mary the Virgin, I had moved into a completely different emotional space than the one I had been inhabiting for days, weeks, even months.
This was true healing and it came about in the community of women, through honest sharing, compassion, and acknowledgement of the sacred feminine spirit.
I walked up the hill on Sunday morning in awe of the beauty that surrounded me.
Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral, by a priest who is also a friend - someone I love very much who never fails to reorient me when I’ve drifted astray.
Music, as it had been all weekend, was led by a new friend with an amazing vocal gift.
The butterflies danced outside the window and we shared the Eucharist - bread, and the wine in earthenware rather than silver.
As much as I love the pageantry of high church, it is in moments like this one - a small group of women worshiping together in a simple, pared back, but deeply truthful way that most moves me and reminds me who I am.
God was present as God always is.
The Holy Spirit moved her colorful flowing skirts within us and around us.
We brought nourishment to one another.
And it was beautiful.
There was a time when I thought there was no place for me in the Church. I did not think I would be accepted as myself - my beliefs, my practices, my history, my essence.
Over the past seven years, I have been shown time and time again that I do belong in the Church - not a watered down rearranged version of myself with the best and worst parts hidden - but my whole (and broken) actual self.
There is a place for my voice.
There is a place for the way love moves through me.
I hold here and I am held.
The women of this world, church women and women outside the Church, each hold a piece of the thread that weaves us together throughout time.
Women who nurture, who care, who guide. Women who feed, who pray, who tend. Women at their desks, behind the wheels of their cars, behind prison bars, at the ironing board and the washing machine.
Women who hike to caves and speak up in board rooms.
Women who run marathons and walk with canes.
Women hold one another up, channel compassion, sing into the darkness, bury the dead, offer the body and blood of Christ.
Women forgive and forge and uncover the hidden and forgotten and suppressed histories.
When women come together in retreat, we do the work of the Holy. We shine the light of love in ourselves and one another.
We are transformed.
There is a place here, in this mandala of life, for each of us, for all of us.
We have been gifted these lives and we come here, into these bodies, onto this earth with a plan and a promise.
We are designed to be ourselves and in being ourselves, we sew the fabric of the universe together, we dance ever closer to God’s dream for the world.
I am still disappointed about my disappointment.
I am still unsure about the future.
Perhaps my tower is still crumbling, but I am also quite aware of the love that created and sustains me and the network of embodied love that surrounds me.
And I am remembering to trust that this life isn’t all about me; I don’t always know what’s best; but God always does.
Even though I was at this retreat to lead a discussion, I ended up being a patient in its hospital.
I hope that what I offered was some meaning. I hope those in attendance went home with something of value from me - a bit of healing or joy or insight.
Because I certainly came home rearranged and better for having spent the weekend with these incredible women on the mountain.
Thank you, Sister Becky and Novice Sue, for inviting me and pouring your hearts into this weekend, thank you Episcopal Church Women for welcoming me, thank you to those who purchased paintings and wrote kind words to me and simply walked with me for a little while.
And thank you, God, for designing all of this wonder and putting it all in order.