Rewilding Prayer: How Caim Invites Protection for All of Creation

Rewilding Prayer Caim

This week my youngest son started pre-school. And while his mornings will be spent within woodland walls and upon forest floors at a nature preschool, both he and and I were experiencing a deep anxiety around this fundamental shift in our daily rhythm together. I awoke early on his first day of school for a time of meditation and prayer practice on our behalf and for personal preparation.

My spiritual practices come from the Celtic tradition. The Scottish Highlands are in my blood through my maternal line and I grew up with a father who worshipped in the many steepled sanctuary of the mountains. Seeing the natural world as sacred, a fundamental feature of Celtic spirituality, is written into my DNA; it is a cellular response for me to see the numinous within nature. So on this particular threshold morning, I began with an embodied, ritualized form of prayer, the Celtic circling prayer.

94023698f218af473ba506c150ff5516--love-words-beautiful-words.jpg

Circling prayers, also known as Caim prayers (from the Irish gaelic meaning ‘protection’), are used to create a ring of safety around one’s self and their beloveds. It is a way to pray within the physical dimension as it requires the body to actively participate in the supplications of the heart. When one participates with and prays a Caim, the invocation begins with an arm extended outwards, pointer finger set towards the ground tracing the shape of a circle. This intentional act creates a sacred sphere, a space within which the pray-er invokes the protection of the divine. When I pray a Caim, I extend these boundaries beyond my personal reach to include my whole house, my neighborhood, the community in which I live, and the world at large. I encircle a space much larger than myself as a way to include the vast and diverse community of life of which we are fundamentally a part.

By extending the Caim protection beyond my person to include the plants, trees, birds, and other wild-life, I am doing something different than invoking a defense against that which is forbidden, dangerous, or out of control; instead, I am inviting that wild world in, bringing the more-than-human community of life into revered relationship and attunement. I am inviting a way of seeing the wild as wonderous, and in the most ancient of meanings, seeing myself within its ward. Encircling prayers that cast the boundaries beyond our domesticated borders initiate a way of moving through the day that is expectant of mystery and magic as the whole of creation is considered to be within the Caim circle. In this way, Caim becomes an eco-centric way of praying.

And so I prayed a Caim the morning of my son’s first day of school, which would be situated on the wild edges of an urban parkland. I chose a prayer befitting the day, knowing where my son would be. This prayer of blessing is one of the earliest known Caim prayers that is attributed to St. Columba, founder of the Iona Abbey:

“Bless to me the sky that is above me, Bless to me the ground that is beneath me, Bless to me the friends–furry, feathered, or fronded–who are around me, Bless to me the love of the Three Deep within me and encircling me and the greater community of life. Amen.”

(emphasis my own personal eco-centric addition)

I said these words as I circled, intentionally creating an expectation for the sacred wild to be within our midst this day.

Here is where this day’s prayer practice became quite extraordinary. We are fortunate to be able to walk to this sweet outdoor school, but every step away from home towards this new experience was causing my son anxiety and tears. Our route leads us through a wondrous three city-block sidewalk that has mature chestnut and maple trees planted on either side of the path that creates a wooded passage; we have since named it the Tree Tunnel. While walking along this way, a squirrel appeared before us on the sidewalk. While that is not uncommon, we did expect the normal behavior of it scampering up a tree as we drew closer. However, this squirrel did not. Instead, it carefully and slowly approached myself and Cannon who was seated in his stroller. With a steady gaze directed at Cannon, the squirrel continued straight up to him and gently put his paw upon my son’s foot. The silence that surrounded these two beings was sacred, a holy moment marked by their communion. This is interbeing, what Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh talks about as that recognition of the connectedness of all life, a way of being that must be reclaimed and protected now more than ever. This is Caim.

After a full minute’s pause, the squirrel scampered away, and Cannon turned to me with a rapturous face, exclaiming his empowered readiness to go on to school where the squirrel would be to watch over him, protecting him until my return.

Every day thereafter this week, that squirrel has been awaiting Cannon in the Tree Tunnel and the same ritual ensues. Squirrel appears before Cannon and as we slow to a stop, it approaches him and places his paw upon his leg. Cannon quietly receives this blessing from the wild, a lesson he is too young to have yet unlearned. He inherently knows that nature is not something from which we need protection against, but a relationship in which to be cherished and engaged, a relationship that is within our sacred circle.

 

Rewilding Practice

Find a place outside where you can practice in the embodied form of the Caim. Back yards, front gardens, public parks, and even sidewalks will do!

Center yourself by taking several deep breaths, tuning in to the sounds of the natural world all around you. You will likely hear human-made sounds too. Don’t ignore the anthrophony. Instead, receive these sounds as an invitation to include them in your Caim too.

When you feel ready, position your body facing north. Breath deeply and feel the air within and around you. Stretch out your arm in front of you with your pointer finger extended and pointed to draw a metaphorical, expansive circle that includes the natural world. Slowly turn your body in a clock-wise rotation–going from the cardinal direction north, to east, to south, to west and back again to facing north while saying this simple encircling prayer, adapted to include the greater community of things with whom we live:

  • North, “Circle us Spirit, Keep protection near, And danger afar.”
  • East, “Circle us Spirit, Keep light near, And darkness afar.”
  • South, “Circle us Spirit, Keep peace within, Keep evil out.”
  • West, “Circle us Spirit, Keep hope within, Keep doubt without.”
  • Back at the North can finish your prayers with:
    May you be a bright flame before us,
    May you be a guiding star above us,
    May you be a smooth path below us,
    And a loving Guide behind us,
    Today, tonight, and forever.

Amen.

IMG_6525

 

 

Advertisements

Hearth Places

Today is drenched in Seattle rain; gray blankets of clouds drape over the cityscape and the wind is whipping remnant leaves about and collapsing the emboldened umbrella.

Even for us who believe that “there is no such thing as bad weather, only being poorly dressed,” this has been a day to stay in doors.  For every puddle formed, a tea kettle has whistled.  With every heavy drop of rain, a child has sighed a resigned breath onto the window pane, the weather affirming mommas’ requests to stay inside.

This has been a day to gather around the hearth-places to find warmth and inspiration.  For centuries the hearth was considered an integral part of a home, often its central or most important feature.  These brick lined structures were a place of survival from where nourishment and story came; food would be served from this seat of heat with a healthy side of laughter and conversation.  This was the gathering place.  This is where socks and tears were dried.  This was the place that centered and from which one left to go out into the world.

In an era of central heating and warmth that comes from pushing a button, hearths are no longer a required feature in a home.  It is far more common to have the television set inlaid in a prominent wall, which then becomes the family gathering place.  Indeed, one can turn on a channel that emulates the spark and sound of a crackling fire to enjoy the perceived warmth of a fire place.

In the context of these modern conveniences, how do we still create a place that not only provides warmth, but also inspiration and reminders of all that nourishes us?  These places need not provide a literal heat, but something that warms the heart and soul, and provides both renewal and reminders of all that is most dear.

I have two such hearth-places in my home.  Our primary hearth-place is appropriately in our kitchen, which is central to our home in its location and in its function to our family.  In this room we cook, paint, draw, play games, eat our family meals, tell stories, and yes, even cry.  Our very old (and very loud) dishwasher provides a lulling hum to the room while our clothes washer and dryer spin and bump along its own chorus.  So it is here that I have created our family hearth.  On this lovingly passed-along, blue bookshelf, which is just off from the most center-point of our house, I tend a collection of meaningful items that warm my heart, that affirm our family’s stories, that remind us of loved ones in need of prayer and even hold favored cook books.  This simple collection warms and brightens my spirit; it guides my memory and affirms the love of my family.

The other hearth-place I tend is in my office.  I am grateful that I am able to have this room in my home, as it allows me to be in this home I love with the people who are most dear.   However, when I enter this space, my mind is activated with the work that fuels me in other vibrant and important ways.  Here are my books, my articles, my correspondence, my planning and in many ways, my prayers.  So it is here that I have assembled a hearth-place that puts fire to my spirit and ignites my soul.  It reminds me of the passions behind my work and rekindles memories of places and people so dear.  At this hearth I am renewed by my faith and The Story that fuels me to get up each day and do the work I do outside of our home.  This place centers me, feeds me and sends me out into the world prepared to do the work I was uniquely created to do.

The Celtic tradition perceives God’s presence in and through all the mundane and domestic details of daily life.  No moment in the daily round is too small or insignificant to be an occasion to experience Spirit.  The most common of chore is seen as an occasion to be in the posture of prayer.  This prayer was offered following the rhythym of awakening and tending to the hearth.  May this blessing be an invitation to you to transform a place in your home that daily calls you to the warmth of all the gifts you have been given and urges you to share what you have with the world.

Blessing of the Kindling

I will kindle my fire this morning
In presence of the holy angels of heaven,
In presence of Ariel of the loveliest form,
In presence of Uriel of the myriad charms,
Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,
Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,
But the Holy Son of God to shield me….

God, kindle Thou in my heart within
A flame of love to my neighbor,
To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,
To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall,
O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth,
To the Name that is highest of all.
Carminda Gadelica, 82

How to create a Hearth-Place in your home.

  • Decide on a location in your home.  Which room do you naturally gravitate towards when in need of warmth and nourishment?  Where do you instinctively go to be cozy, to read, to be told a story?
  • Use a defined space to create your hearth-place.  Tops of book shelves, a shelf in a book shelf, the top of a piano, a wall shelf or the top of a dresser can all work to provide the structure.
  • Assemble items that remind you of essential times in your life or represent loved ones near or far.  Bring in a bit of the natural world to this as well as it anchors us within the greater community of things of which we are apart.  Invite your family to participate in this gathering!
  • Light a candle in this space.  This serves as a reminder of the warmth we have been given in these many gifts of people and places.  It renews the soul and activates the space.
  • Make it dynamic!  The hearth-place is a dynamic place that can reflect the change in seasons, people in need of thoughts and prayers, as well as current stories and reflections.  Enjoy bringing new items to this space.