Folks who see how many matchboxes I use for shrine making ask me, "what do you do with all the matches?" The answer to this question actually connects my beliefs about shrines to the act of shrine making and to the actual folks who ask.
In most daily matters, I believe in using all the parts of the things I work with- in the kitchen, in the garden, in the studio- and so on. Shrines included. This act of re-use ignites creativity & reduces waste. Translation: what I do with the matches is important to me.
The very first honor & duty of a chosen few matches is bringing aliveness to the matchbox. I strike a match on each box before I do anything else. This wakes up the box to the transformative powers it possesses. The potassium chlorate mixture at the tip of the wooden stick, and the abrasive surface to strike against become artists themselves, collaborating to create something dynamic. This invaluable resource that fuels our lives is instantly burning at the end of a stick between my fingers. With every swoosh of light & energy that rushes in at once as the match is lit represents, to me, possibilities. And I find it hypnotizing every time.
The next use of the matchsticks is inside the shrines. This is where they are adhered to the backs of messages and many of the images. In this job of aesthetics, they offer dimension to the scenes contained within.
These two important uses account for a tiny percent of the many matches collected in this process. Use number three is for the masses. On auspicious evenings when the ground isn't too dry, we build a fire under the moon in our backyard. Our fire often consists of burning old journal pages, fallen twigs & branches that are gathered underneath the trees that grow in our little world, and also many, many matches. I imagine the matches hold all the messages from the shrines. And as they burn down to ash, their smoke carries those messages to all places, breathed in by all people. Such simple wisdom & gracious intentions as 'Listen to Your Heart', 'We Are Wiser Together', 'The Now Is Holy', and 'When You're Brave, I Feel Brave' vibrate in the air. The ash is returned to the earth. The power of transformation is returned to all beings.
And that is what I do with all the matches.
The matchbox shrines are a little bit social experiment for me. I notice who admires what messages, what objects folks find appealing. And I take note on what is less popular. Thank you for listening, for example, is often looked over. This causes me to wonder: is there no one listening, and therefore no one to thank? do we not value listening enuf to thank someone for doing it?
I continue to make this shrine in as many variations as I can think of, hoping it will get to the person who needs to hear it. So this time, I put a bell in it.
May we listen to one another, whether we think we are on the same side of the fence or not. We may find we are not so different after all.
There's some magic that happens when a seed is planted. The seed I am referring to here is a creative project in its earliest of stages. This magic happened so vividly for me last weekend that I wanted to share it with you. As the Day of the Dead approaches, I began considering who I would like to pay tribute to this year by building a shrine in their honor. I wondered what departed loved one holds an enchanted characteristic that I want to feel a surge of in my life right now. I decided on my beloved hound dog, Zora, who died about 7 years ago.
I went directly to my grandmother's old trunk where the photos who have never heard the word "digital" are stored. As I went through a myriad of photos, eras, and landscapes, I also went through a myriad of emotions. There were generations of laughter and loss in that trunk. I ended the foraging with a small stack of Zora photos and tears in my eyes. My life misses her unique goofiness and innocent joy.
Then I went to an old glass spice jar on a shelf next to sentimental treasures. In the jar is a lock of Zora's hair, part black and part white. These things I had collected would all be perfect to represent WHAT she was to us. But I knew there was more to include in her shrine that would express WHO she was to us.
So I sat down, open to any inspiration. I wondered what was the missing ingredient. I felt my heart was the nutrient-rich soil where the seed was germinating. And I trusted that the magic was happening.
The magic is in the connection to this seed. Its where you can talk to each other and listen to what the other has to communicate. Its where it is possible to hear what is inaudible.
In the case of Zora's shrine, the message I received was not inaudible. That should not surprise anyone who ever heard Zora and her hound dog bark. Everyone in the house muted their devices when they heard the far off inklings of it. Through our open windows came the honkings of what sounded like a hundred geese flying overhead. Geese are always Zora's messengers to us. They remind us of her charm with their long lanky necks and goofy sounds. Yet it was before she was in the spirit world sending geese messengers that we saw the commonalities between her and them. In fact, we often joked that she was 1/2 horse and 1/2 goose. (The horse stories are for another post.)
That night after the geese made our family laugh and we enjoyed our memories of Zora, I found two pictures to include in her shrine~ one of a horse & one of a goose. That's who Zora was to us.
Before you even sit down to create a shrine, the seed has been planted. When you consider who or what or where to honor, you are reinforcing your connection to that being or thing or place. This is a great time to dialogue about what this shrine will hold, physically and intentionally. Don't overthink the process or expect information to come in a preconceived form. Remain curious and open and patient. This process answers to its own clock. See what you notice, when you just consider that the magic is doing its thing.
I believe the antidote to much of the world's suffering is in the nurturing of our hearts. This nurturing happens when people understand they are loved, appreciated, seen, supported. My tiny revolution is waged against the elements that make us less of who we truly are ~ the elements of fear, greed, and judgement. It's a tiny revolution fought by tiny matchbox shrine warriors, but the LOVE is big. The matchbox shrines are the champions of our goodness~ packed with acceptance, compassion, appreciation, honor, hope, and assurance. These values are expressed through words, symbols, intention, and small details. I believe that these shrines have an independent power for finding where they belong. They are on a mission I have not often been made aware of. They seek out who needs their message.
These shrines are each a reminder, a prayer, a poem, a connection, and a wish.
I feel we are repeatedly offered advice that we rarely ask for. I believe the way to feel the most empowered in solving our problems, is when we have the opportunity to follow our own knowing. Often its in the assurance that there is someone aware of what we are experiencing, willing to listen to us examine whats in our hearts, and available to love us through the whole thing- just as we are, that is the salve on our wounds. This is the blessing of their presence. Truly, I feel this may be the bravest offering we can extend to the people whose experiences touch our own. Because of this belief, common messages found in the words of these shrines are: "I am here for you," "You are not alone," "You are close to my heart," and "I understand."
In my tiny revolution, folks are reminded this is an opportunity to share what's in their hearts for the people in their lives. Towards healing our world's suffering or simply expressing your appreciation for a magical being in your life, this is your opportunity to touch someone's heart. Do this in any & all ways that move you. And if you are inspired, feel free to be accompanied out there on the front lines by a tiny, but fierce, matchbox shrine warrior. xxoo
deep fondness for clothes hanging on the line, billowing with the breeze, whether they are my family's clothes or a stranger's. Even in the National Geographic Magazine photos of refugees sitting in almost empty rooms with their clotheslines stretching from one wall to another, I find some warmth and respect for that which is slow and deliberate.
As I was gluing my little matchbox shrines this morning, I hung Boppa's clothespin bag on the edge of my work table. I pulled out clothespins one at a time as needed. They are light in weight and in color, this assortment I have bought over the years for a myriad of uses, but mainly for hanging clothes on the line. As I worked, I didn't realize I was getting so close to the bottom of the bag, until I put my hand on a heavier one. I pulled it out. The wood was dark and the pinch to open it took more force as its springs were tighter.
I guess some people still have what is called "the good china." Well, we may not have something like that. What we do have is, "the good clothespins". These are the ones that my grandmother & grandfather used. These are the ones they pinched to open, every time they washed a load of clothes and took them, soggy, to the line in the backyard where the sun ripened their tomatoes and dried their clothes to a crisp. These good clothespins are the ones that touched their laundry, and touched other things that needed holding together (just as their cousin workhorses, string and rubber bands and duct tape would do).
I just barely grew up in a slower time where laundry dried outside and grandparents weren't "like" second parents, but truly were second parents. And when I touch the good clothespins with my fingers, somehow I receive a tactile message from them that runs through my body & heart. I hope to send a message back, but I'm not sure it works that way. So I consider prayer as the vehicle of my expression. And all I need to say is, "thank you."
I believe everything happens just as it's supposed to. When some special artists in my life separately invited me to work with them & learn some of what makes them special, I understood this would be one of those auspicious times when my growth would be required.
With the guidance of an artist & teacher, I have begun working on a book touching on the theme of where & who I come from. From an artist & healer, I have learned about doll making as a means to healing. Pictured below (alongside our cat, Virgil) is my first doll. The sculpture was inspired by a vision I've had of a "meeting tree." This is an idea that's been with me since my father died in 1999 and a tree was planted to commemorate his time here. A "meeting tree" is planted in our physical world & serves as a place to meet with those in the spirit world. The doll's base is made from a special shrub that died in our garden. I attached a matchbox shrine in her trunk. In the shrine are symbols of my guardians, ancestors, and my work here.
As these 2 separate projects have evolved, the idea that I am a tree growing out of my ancestors' lessons & deeds has begun to merge with my image of the "meeting tree." Unsettled at first by this unexpected overlapping, I used poetry to explore the possibilities. The work-in-progress below could be the text to my book. (Or a journal entry that I have shamelessly shared with the public.) (I'm not yet sure which.)
I consider shrines to be places that can connect us to other worlds, other parts of ourselves, and new understandings, not unlike poetry and, of course, not unlike the "meeting tree."
out of the dirt
I grow out of the dirt.
you can tell this
because it's still caught
underneath my fingernails.
This is no dusty soil
whose nutrients have scattered
by breezes & storms.
This is fertile dirt
combined with the compost
of dreams & prayers,
of heart & steadfastness,
of hope & hard work,
of bones (strong enuf to support demons~
who we remember, no matter how hard we tried to forget).
When we grow from this kind of dirt
(which I imagine you do, too),
we stretch our roots down deep.
And they suck into them every liquid they encounter.
On occasion, this is the sweetness
of hummingbird nectar
that makes flowers sing & laughter lines draw around our eyes.
Other times, this is the slow rotten juice from forgotten fruits
that nourishes the lonesome untruths, teasing us of our
Sometimes, they absorb the sour flavored sweat
that swells into the crippled plans of a selfish heart;
or the thin sticky liquid
that feeds the devastation in our cells
over babies who were born, but never made a sound.
This is the kind of fuel
that grows trunks and branches, tall & long
reaching for clouds, raindrops
for sun rays & moon shine.
Reaching for another place.
far from here.
My leaves unfurl in the springtime,
tasting the birdsong.
Buds open into colors who've never been named.
And a fruit of a hundred flavors
day by day in long summer heat.
But my branches are thin & naked come winter,
shivering & tired.
Have you ever heard of
a meeting tree?
Is it only an idea I've created in a dream?
Could it be that my life
is a meeting tree?
Perhaps my seed was planted on the X,
a spot between 2 worlds?
In the fertile black dirt
of my ancestors, I grow.
Stretching out my branches
while spirits & breezes like dance partners
bow & bend around each limb?
Maybe my body is a meeting tree?
And that's why my baby
died inside of me,
and still ~cocooned in gauzy innocence~
she returns to dance with the breeze?
Perhaps I am a meeting tree
planted where gravity's obsession with this world
intersects the fluid & feathery whispers of the next.
I grow out of the dirt~
fertilized with the compost
of dreams & prayers.
our friend, Dan, was staying with us this summer. he had found himself in between permanent housing. in every cell & in every thought, he was an artist. it was the only language he was fluent in. speaking to those who didn't recognize this tongue left Dan misunderstood.
I remember we were in the car & I asked him for advice on working with plaster. it was one of my brewing ideas still in infancy and he was the artist who had had his hands in every imaginable medium. we brainstormed together. and that always felt good.
not long after that, we learned that there was cancer making a home in his body. all over his body. I have had this thought for years that I am meant to sit with the dying, bearing witness to the moment they are born into their next place. Dan died about 6 months after what he called the 'cancer hunt'. (he declined most diagnostics & never considered conventional treatment.) I was not there at that very moment he crossed over. initially I felt an emptiness for missing that experience. that milestone. like weddings & graduations... a life event balancing on the point of a pin, as if nothing else surrounds it. it's held up like royalty that towers over the messy subjects we call "Every Day".
every day is when our eyes meet in understanding or our toast burns in the oven. every day is when someone rings the doorbell & the dogs race to the door barking. every day is when we grow to love beyond what we conceived. every day is so imperfect & mundane. and also, it is when magic is slipped under our pillows. it is when the sun rises (yet again) masked in colors created solely for sunrises. it is when my fingers & yours clasp together with tenderness.
I believe building shrines is a way to bring reverence to every day-- opening ourselves up to the honor of this experience. before Dan's last exhale of this air, there were six months worth of every day. and I can recount those every days of washing his dishes or bringing him food if he wasn't too nauseas to eat. and I can recount the days we held hands. he was in his bed too weak to do much more than be, and I was in the chair beside him. we would stare out the window & comment on the way the remaining October leaves still clung to tiny branches bouncing in the wind. he taught me to notice how they moved up & down, not just to be enthralled with the colors we already appreciated. and eventually the leaves fell off, creating a brilliant spectacle of dying. there were every days that I sat silently next to him. and days we spoke. perhaps we commented on the way the sun found his bedroom thru the window or the characters in his paintings that hung on the wall. I am so thankful that Dan gave me the honor of sharing in those every days on his travels.
I have begun building plaster shrines. its no milestone. its not a rite of passage. but I'm not afraid to trade every day for the fireworks & the spotlights. most of life unfolds gradually & sneaks up on us. surprising us. babies aren't born out of nowhere. we grow. and often our growth is hidden in the pockets & folds of every day. I don't feel compelled to dress up every day & disguise it as this single life changing climax. I'm more comfortable bringing tenderness & reverence to the imperfect & tedious & magical Every Day.
so, sometimes it can take 40 years to really get it. you go around self conscious about how you are in the world. you're uncomfortable in your skin because your way is not the dominant, common role you see executed on tv or among "successful" people. you don't necessarily change to be something you're not. but you adapt to the thinking that there are some ways of behaving that have more value than others in your culture. you filter out some parts of who you truly are. then you're 41, and realize where you find deep happiness. and its always made you happy, so theres been a piece of it, or perhaps just a shadow of it at all times in your life. its different now, though. you pour yourself into it, realizing its not just something you can have in your life because actually its YOU. so you dream it, eat it, and share it with everyone who will listen. yet still, your opinion is that it isn't something your culture values. in fact, it may feel like there's a drought of it. a famine of it. but now you understand how that doesn't mean you crumple it up into a ball & throw it away, or keep it in a box for only you to play with when no one else is home. its clear now. its so loud you wonder how you've never heard it before.
this is it: when you look around & don't see many people who appreciate those things that you know how to adore, or don't express themselves in the same language that moves you, or don't show up with the perspective & offerings that you can't leave home without, then what you have is a missing piece. it was swept under the sofa and got tangled up with the dust & dog hair. but the puzzle isn't complete without it. if you don't see enuf out in the big world of what you know you truly have to offer, that is proof that you need to be out there offering it. it is more necessary than ever. keeping this fire burning depends on you.
your family, your community, your land, and your people, they may be-without knowing it-starving for this missing piece. or at least, not even considering its existence. don't interpret that as not having value, because your translation of this is key. as this precious perspective that is uniquely yours wanes in our world, its value is actually increasing. while its possible extinction is sticking its tongue out at you, smile back, and reward the world with your true presence.
I may sound over dramatic. it may seem that things are just fine the way they are. but I believe that when the existence of your unique way of being in the world is threatened, we are all being asked to sacrifice.
are you wondering what I am talking about? I guess I thought not wanting to be in the spotlight meant I was insecure. because all confident americans want to have all the lights on them? I guess I thought being careful and quiet meant I couldn't also be a smart ass. my story I told about me turned out to not leave enuf room for me. as it has become clear to me that I am slow and quiet and confident and a smart ass and sweet and careful and loving and compassionate and sentimental, I still have my place. it may not be what is sold as successful. it may not be valued by every passerby. but it has an important spot. it helps keep all the gregarious spotlight loving parts of our culture in balance. sure I may annoy someone behind me in line at the grocery store because I am slower than they'd like. yes, most people won't understand that hanging clothes out on the line to dry feeds my soul just like touching the wood of the clothespins that are the same ones my grandmother pinched to hold her own wet clothes on the line. certainly there are people that wouldn't have even considered digging graves for the decapitated rodents mama cat has captured, much less saying a blessing and marking their spot in the garden with a seashell. but these qualities define me. and when I don't see many folks sharing the same appreciation for details or tenderness, I don't say anymore that those things must not matter. I don't consider their worth based on numbers. I think, now, 'this is who I am' & its my responsibility, for everyones sake, to be me.
building shrines, for me, honors those details, those sparks that get looked over because the fireworks are brighter, those feelings that stir up connections to other times. I have the opportunity to pay my attention to the nuances, textures, colors, messages, and meaning. remembering deep inside me how building shrines is a way to express how I am in the world was like starting a fire. and every day that I bring reverence to that memory, that ancient fire continues burning. and every day I am more myself.
this is my wish: that you are in touch with your own fire, too. and that you keep it burning.
some of my favorite symbolism comes in the form of eggs. they are delicate protectors of a powerful, life affirming process requiring nourishment & incubation. they are the creators in all of us; the part of us that knows how to dream of possibilities. they are the keepers of these dreams, embracing & nurturing them. and after our dreams' refuge inside the shell, time comes due to crack their very cage in order to be revealed to the world.
spring is a perfect time to consider what we want to nurture into existence. its happening outside our windows, in our gardens. isn't it happening, too, inside our hearts?
we can honor the parts of ourselves where we want to feel growth by building shrines. by using the symbolism of eggs in our shrines, we can imagine how we will offer refuge to the qualities or habits in our lives that need our extra attention & care. we will be reminded that we are more than we sometimes think. we hold so many beautiful possibilities. using real eggs or making them with our own hands, and filling them with our intentions is a step towards hatching our dreams.
the shrine I recently completed was inspired by my heart. actually, by a letter my heart wrote to me. the letter writing was an exercise suggested in a book I'm reading, Awaken Your Genius, by Carolyn Elliott. first you are prompted to write a letter TO your heart. you are seeking guidance for the place you are right now in your life. then you respond to this letter by writing another letter, but this one is from your heart's perspective. the book's instructions describe a symbolic language to use while writing from your heart. not surprisingly, my heart used her own symbolic language. (she shares that gene with me that makes direction following a last resort.) her language inspired me, and I interpreted it to create a shrine. my Heart of a Woman shrine is built inside a prized old paperback of Maya Angelou's book of the same name. below are photos of this shrine and excerpts from my heart's letter.