Sunday, December 26, 2010

Anticipating Christmas by Emily VanLaeys

Sifting through my mental memory box, I find two images collected during my gradual discovery that Santa Claus is merely a myth.

The first image involves finding the box in the attic that went with the Revlon doll I'd received on Christmas morning when I was five. The doll had not been in the box when I found her under the tree, and I realized she came from a store. The following Christmas, I said to my mother, "I'm not sure I believe in Santa Claus anymore."

"Don't say that, Emily!" she pleaded, holding me close on her lap. "Of course there's a Santa Claus. He's the spirit of Christmas!" After that, Santa Claus was no longer a jolly, magical man in a red suit trimmed in white. He was an unseen spirit, like Jesus and God.

The other image is a vivid, treasured memory of what it was like to really and truly believe in Santa Claus. My brother Steve and I were going to sleep together in the same bed on Christmas Eve, so that we could share the excitement of that special night. I suppose he was four and I was three. The air was thick with magic. "I think I hear sleigh bells on the roof," Steve whispered. We were not lying down, but kneeling at the bottom of the bed, leaning over the foot board, straining to see out the door into the dimly lit hallway. We knew he was coming.

I have waited many years to recapture the thrill of such a sure knowing about the miraculous. I was a 40-year-old mother when I listened to the story of a friend of mine who had been close to death in a hospital. As she lay in her bed, immersed in a pool of pain, Jesus came to her, just as real as you or I. "He was like pure love looking at me," she said. She left her body and He led her down a path toward a river where people beckoned from the far bank. The colors were more vibrant than those we see in our everyday lives. She told Jesus that she couldn't go any further with Him--she had five children to care for. So He brought her back, to her pain and gradual recovery.

Before that time, I had read stories in books and magazines, written by people who had met Jesus, or an angel, or experienced a miracle of healing. But reading stories written by strangers is not the same as hearing such a miraculous tale from the lips of a trusted friend--an ordinary mother, just like me. Tears welled up in my eyes. The Hallelujah Chorus crescendoed inside me. The air was thick with magic. My friend had met Jesus. He had come to her when she needed Him most. Now I knew that He would come to me, too.

I felt again like a small child on Christmas Eve. Back then, I knew that Santa was coming. Now I knew that Jesus was coming. Jesus, who did come as a baby on the first Christmas Eve, comes again to everyone who looks for Him. First, as a blessing in our hearts and souls. Then, as a friend, to light our way in the darkness when we are lost, or sick, or dying. When will I see Him? I don't know when it will happen, but I know that it will. Whenever I think about it, the air is thick with magic.

He is coming!

Building Bridges at Wellspring Hill

The Highest Purpose of Wellspring Hill: “This land is a wellspring or fountain of very clear pure energy. It comes from the stream-bed energetically; that is where there is a special spiritual balance of energies that resonates both with Earth and with humans; and a special connection deep into the Earth. The wellspring energy of this land can be a healing balm and comfort for people. Positive energy, joy, hope, purity and peace flow from it naturally. The image is of the wellspring bringing this pure energy up from the Earth and through humans and thence upward to the heavens. The highest use of this energy is to empower and uplift humans who come and visit in order to receive tangible or intangible things there at the land."

Excerpt from Earth Wisdom Reading by Sarah Root, Nature Intuitive (See: Earth Wisdom: Aligning Heart and Spirit with Nature.)


                                                    Wellspring Hill, Maryland, New York

In ancient times people engaged in ritual and ceremony as a way to build a bridge between their mundane life and the spiritual world. As stated by Jade Wah’oo Grigori, a shaman and ceremonialist from Sedona Arizona: “Through the creation of ceremony, we allow the free movement of our soul into the mundane and of our consciousness in the realm of soul. It’s a two-way bridge.’” (Sacred Ceremony by Steven Farmer, pp. xvi-xvii)

Today, life-cycle celebrants offer creative, meaningful, and healing ceremonies to sanctify life-changing passages. Ceremonies can celebrate birth, coming-of-age, graduation, marriage, job changes, retirement, menopause, death, and any other event that marks an important steppingstone on our life journey. Celebrating important events with ceremony is a way of re-introducing the ancient use of ritual to connect our mortal lives with the eternal. 

Earth-based religions of the past and present, including Druidism, Native American spirituality, Wiccanism, and Paganism (among others), incorporate ceremonies to celebrate the cycles of Nature in their practices.  Mother Earth rejoices that these ancient rituals are resurfacing to strengthen the long-neglected bridge between humankind and the rest of Creation.  However, these seasonal ceremonies are conducted according to very specific guidelines, just as a church baptism or communion celebration is defined by prescribed ritual. As the interest in reconnecting with Nature grows, people from outside of these religions are looking for ways to commune with her through ceremony. 

The ceremonies that life-cycle celebrants create are not restricted by the dictates of any one institution. Celebrants are trained to create original ceremonies by using elements from a variety of cultures and faiths, and by allowing their imaginations to take part in the process.  The goal of the ceremonies that Emily will perform at Wellspring Hill, or another spot of your choosing, is to be inclusive for all people who respect the writings, prayers, and symbolism of others as valid ways to build bridges between ourselves and all of Creation. 

                                                    Stream at Wellspring Hill                                                 

From the Earth Wisdom Reading for Wellspring Hill:One is to hold celebrations there - sacred or spiritual celebrations - for small groups. This would draw the land's joyful energy forth and help pour its healing clarity through those who come, connecting them to spirit and nature and oneness. It is an especially wonderful-feeling location for such ritual celebrations. . . .
It would be a perfect place to offer a new unique kind of celebration for people - one that garners the blessings of Mother Earth within the ceremony . . .. In other words, the nature spirits are going to be delighted to help you! They are going to pour their good energies through everyone there! There is great joy and excitement in the idea of creating celebrations for the "new age" which humans are moving into -- an age of reconnecting with Earth and ritual and higher consciousness.”
Emily and I have worked together on several powerful Release and Renewal Ceremonies. She is very creative, and designs original, unique and meaningful ceremonies that help people celebrate life milestones in a respectful and memorable way. She is committed, understanding, compassionate, and "detail oriented." She has a beautiful ability to connect with Divine Light and Divine Intuition, which draw in and attract powerful energies for healing and renewal.
                                                                         ~Diana Friedell, Intuitive Counselor

Emily VanLaeys' guided meditations are a heart-warming experience. Her voice is soothing and gentle as she guides the listener through a landscape of feeling and imagery wrought with a sincerity and devotion which is evident to all who share in the experience.
                                                                         ~ Chester Bassett

Ceremonies Build Bridges to Nature

        A celebration of nature ceremony will begin with a contemplative walk through the Wellspring meadow and down the hill. This walk symbolizes our departure from the everyday life, where we leave our cars and all signs of civilization: the road, the shed, and the house next to Wellspring Hill. As we descend the hill and enter the woods, we shed the fetters that anchor us in the outer world. Entering the hush of the unspoiled pristine forest we feel lighter and more alert to the messages of Mother Earth who speaks to us in the wordless images of Nature.
 As we draw closer to the stream, we are
uplifted by the sound of clear water rippling over rocks and tree roots.The first thing you will do is place any sacred objects you have brought for the ceremony near the cairn that was built on the streambank to honor the presence of the wellspring, which the Earth Wisdom Reading says "is mighty and special and pure." Invite the energy of the wellspring to infuse your object so that you can take it home with you. Then you will choose a spot to sit and place your folded tarp or sit-upon among the ferns and mosses.

       The ritual part of the ceremony will  begin with prayer, which will vary according to the purpose of the ceremony. It may be to draw forth the land's joyful energy and direct its healing clarity through us, to connect our spirits to Nature and the Oneness of Creation. It may be to release the ties that bind us to old ways of thinking and renew ourselves with higher, more creative energies. Or it may be the celebration of a new beginning in life: a new job, a new goal, a new relationship; any venture that will benefit from a blessing from Mother Earth and the nature spirits.

      Whether it's a wedding, funeral, or other type of celebration, every ceremony symbolizes a transition from one stage of life to another. The elements that make up a nature celebration can include guided and/or silent meditation, carefully chosen readings and/or a call and response, and a time for each participant to share relevant thoughts or prayers. Usually there is a ritual; for example, each person tossing a stone into the stream while naming the negative energy they are releasing, or planting a bulb or a wildflower seed, to symbolize their faith in renewal.

The formal part of the ceremony will close with participants standing in a circle to sing a song of celebration and gratitude. Afterward, participants may spend some time quietly sitting or exploring. Some may discover a direct connection with the spirits of the woods and stream. Maybe you'll find some sprites living in the recesses formed by the roots of the trees that hang over the streambank.

The ceremony will close with a joyful walk back up through the meadow, as our newly energized selves return to the outer world. We will then enjoy some refreshments, to symbolize our grounding back into the everyday life of humanity.

Now the question is: When will the first ceremony take place? Who would like to participate in a nature celebration ceremony at Wellspring Hill in Maryland, New York, led by life-cycle celebrant, Emily VanLaeys? Will you be willing to pay $45 for this experience, to help with the cost of the land, the liability insurance, and the time and effort that goes into preparing a ceremony?

A maximum of six people can be included in each ceremony. Ceremonies can take place on week-ends or evenings when daylight lingers long enough. The woods gets dark faster than the outside world!

If you are interested in participating in a nature celebration ceremony, please contact Emily at, and state your preference for a day of the week and time, and the type of ceremony you would prefer. A minimum of three participants will be required for a ceremony to be conducted.

Quotes about Sacred Land and Ceremony

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Season of Light by Emily VanLaeys

I don't think it is a coincidence that during this season of short, dark days, candles and lights are important elements in winter celebrations around the world.  The earliest winter solstice ceremonies involved the use of fire because people in ancient times feared that the failing light would not return unless humans intervened with ceremony and celebration. As new religions were introduced to humanity, fire continued to be an important part of many of their holidays.  
Today, Muslim Iranians still celebrate Yalda, the Persian Winter Solstice celebration that originated with the ancient religion of Mithraism.  The Mithraists believed that the winter solstice was the night that Mithra, Persian god of light and truth, was born to a virgin mother. After this longest night of the year, the daily increase in sunlight symbolized the triumph of the sun god over the powers of darkness.
The celebration of Hanukah commemorates the Maccabees' victory over the Greeks and the rededication of the temple at Jerusalem. Hanukah is called the Festival of Lights, which Jewish families celebrate by lighting a candle for each of the eight days that comprise the Hanukkah celebration.
The advent of Christmas is observed by many Christians by lighting a candle on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. These candles symbolize hope, love, faith, and joy. The white candle in the center of the circle is lit on Christmas Eve to symbolize the birth of the Christ Child. The wise men, astrologers from Persia, found the baby Jesus by following the light of a great star.
Of all the symbols and metaphors attributed to the Divine, Light is the one found most frequently throughout the religious scriptures and spiritual beliefs of humanity. Anyone who is familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures knows that they are full of references to Light and Fire, starting at the very beginning:
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4)
Light is the very first thing that God created from the “formless void” of the heavens and the earth. The author of Genesis does not specify the sun as the source of this light. The sun and the stars were not created until the fourth day! This discrepancy may just be the understanding of the author’s primitive mind. Or is it possible that light actually exists in the universe apart from the sun, the moon, and the stars?
I learned from reading The Akashic Light: Religion’s Common Thread by T. Lee Baumann, M.D., that British physicist James Clerk Maxwell demonstrated in the 1800’s that “visible light was merely one small portion of the vast electromagnetic spectrum.” In 1888, Heinrich Hertz discovered the existence of radio waves, and since then scientists have discovered X-rays, microwaves, infra-red, ultraviolet and gamma rays — all invisible forms of electromagnetic radiation. Baumann says: “. . . even in the deepest, darkest vacuum of space, there are over 400 million photons of non-visible light per cubic meter.” This non-visible light may or may not be the original light that the author of Genesis was referring to. But then, our Creator God is invisible to the human eye, just as are these various forms of light.
And the angel of the Lord appeared to him (Moses) in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, and yet it was not consumed. (Exodus 3:2)
Moses is an exception to the “rule” that human beings cannot see Divine Light. Notice that it was not God, but an angel of the Lord who appeared in the burning bush. But in Exodus 3:4 we read:
“. . . the LORD saw that he had gone over to look,” and “God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’”
Moses lived in constant communion with God, obedient to God’s will. I am guessing that he spent a lot of time in quiet contemplation in order to maintain this relationship. After all, God says: “Be still and know that I am God.” Moses must have known how to still the chatter in his own mind so that he could hear God’s voice. Perhaps the years spent in meditation had nurtured his clairvoyant abilities so that he could see the light of God that is invisible to other people.
These are just two of the many references to Divine Light in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Bhagavad Gita, holy book of Hinduism, also contains many references to Divine Light. One of the most beautiful passages is as follows:

The Blessed One said: . . .
I am light in the moon and sun . . .
And brilliance in fire am I,
Life in all beings,
And austerity in ascetics am I. (Bhagavad Gita: VII:8-9)
And then:
Of a thousand suns in the sky
if suddenly should burst forth
The light, it would be like
unto the light of that exalted one . . .
A mass of radiance, glowing on all sides,
I see Thee, hard to look at, on every side
With the glory of flaming fire and sun, immeasurable.
I see Thee, whose face is flaming fire,
Burning this whole universe with Thy radiance. (Bhagavad Gita: XI:12-19)

Surely the author of these scriptures had personally experienced the radiant light of God, just as Moses had. In a meditative state, he could have seen the radiance of the non-visible photons that fill the universe.
The Buddhists of ancient times knew about the Divine Light that we meet when we leave our physical bodies; the one that is encountered by veterans of the Near-Death Experience. A Tibetan Buddhist lama reads from The Buddhist Tibetan Book of the Dead to a dying or recently deceased person. This is a section of that reading:
Now thou art experiencing the Radiance of the Clear Light of Pure Reality. Recognize it.
Thine own intellect, which is now voidness, yet not to be regarded as of the voidness of nothingness, but as being the intellect itself, unobstructed, shining, thrilling, and blissful, is the very consciousness, the All-good Buddha.
Zoroastrianism was founded in Persia sometime between 1500 and 600 B.C.E. Zoroastrians believe in a single god: Ahura Mazda, the “Spirit of Light and Good.” The religious rituals of Zoroastrianism are performed before sacred fires, which represent God. The wise men who followed the light of a bright star to find the child Jesus, are widely believed to have been Zoroastrian priests and astronomers.
The child Jesus grew up to be Jesus the Christ, who said to his followers: “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness.” (Luke 11:34)
Jesus also said: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-17)
We are now in the midst of a cold, dark winter – the season when we are in the most need of warmth and light! In the dark of winter, we like to light candles and decorate with strings of electric lights, to brighten the early evenings. And the long winter nights provide more opportunities to spend time going within to seek the inner light. When seen with our spiritual eyes, this inner light will shine so brightly that our bodies will be full of light. Let us radiate our light out into the world, to bring peace and goodwill to all of Creation.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Trees: Nature's Gift by Emily VanLaeys

One of Our Baby Trees

Last summer Mark and I attended the annual Summer Farm Tour and Meeting of the Christmas Tree Farm Association of New York. The convention was held at the Stokoe Farm in Scottsville near Rochester. Never before had I seen so many acres of Christmas trees of different sizes and varieties! My husband and I attended this meeting and the January CTFANY convention because we bought a small parcel of land last December, with the intention of designating a section to the growing of Christmas trees. This was Mark's idea for a retirement plan in lieu of the pension plan we don't have. Last spring we planted our first 250 trees, of which about 130 remain. After having dealt with freeze-burn, root-rot, drought, deer, and predator insects, we have a newly gained respect for the farmers who have provided us with beautiful trees every Christmas of our lives.

The CTFANY meetings have taught us that Christmas tree farmers are, on the whole, a wonderful group of people who support each other in their endeavors. They share a common goal to successfully grow and sell fresh Christmas trees, and to keep alive the tradition of cutting and decorating real trees. They are eager to help new growers get started, and to make sure we know all of the ins and outs of the business.

When you go out to buy a tree this month, you probably have no idea how much care was involved in the production of this best-loved Christmas tradition. The perfect cone-shaped tree does not happen naturally. Each tree is sheared to create that particular Christmas tree shape we want to see in our living rooms, decorated with our favorite ornaments. Each tree requires the right amount of moisture so it doesn't die from root rot or drought. It requires proper fertilization, weed and insect control, and protection from predators. We heard stories of farmers losing $10,000 worth of trees to the deer in a single winter.

Knowing this, why would you want to purchase a made-in-China plastic tree? Not only do you support a hard-working farmer when you buy a real tree, but you contribute to the environment in a positive way. The 400 million Christmas trees that are continuously growing on US farms provide over 500,000 acres of wildlife habitat, renewed air, and green space.

For every Christmas tree harvested, one to three trees are planted the following spring. Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource. Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and may contain metal toxins such as lead. If you're allergic to fir trees, a Concolor Fir should work well for you.

This year Christmas tree enthusiasts are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the first decorated tree used in the celebration of Christmas in Latvia and Estonia. So if you haven't put up a fresh tree before, this is the year to participate in this ancient custom! You can start a family tradition of going to a "Choose and Cut" farm, squabble over which one is the best tree for your home, throw snowballs at each other, and have a cup of cocoa after tying your tree of choice on the top of your car. My daughter, turning 25 this month, says that our annual trip to a local tree farm is one of her happiest growing-up memories. In about 8 or 10 years the seedlings at "Mark and Em's Tree Farm" will be ready for cutting and you can make memories with a trip to visit us on the top of Dog Hill Road in Maryland, New York.