Shivaratri, 2018. The community gathered in Hansa Temple for a nightlong celebration in honor of Shiva, the supreme yogi. Chanting together, meditating, giving and receiving divine love and divine joy, we moved into a realm of Spirit, our own true home. The light of a candle was offered before the altar, offered to each of our Masters, then held up in offering before a devotee. This devotee swept the holy light into her being, drawing her hands toward the spiritual eye, then received the candle and carried it to another, then, one by one, to everyone present—sharing what of God’s bounty had been received, and in sharing, helping that bounty grow beyond measure. In the same way were offered to God and Gurus—and shared with all—incense wafted, blessed water lightly splashed with a feather, a tinkling bell, a blessing of sandalwood paste at the spiritual eye: all the senses offered in gratitude to the Divine, from whom all blessings flow.

Those acting as channels circulated through the temple, weaving patterns of light, joy, love¬—Divine Mother’s tender loving care embracing, comforting, uplifting, thrilling our hearts. The Masters smiled down upon us from the altar, eyes glowing, rejoicing with their children as we opened ourselves more and more to their presence among us. The feeling was of friendship in God—and, even more deeply, friendship with God.

Singing “Many Hands Make a Miracle” during the Attunement Ceremony, we hold hands across the aisle, each row connected with the next, a continuous, looping chain of hands clasped. The heartbeat felt in each palm grows stronger and stronger, until it seems a single heartbeat uniting a temple full of lovers of God—and of God in one another.

Bathed in Divine Mother’s enveloping presence, memories of Her thousand blessings awake in the heart. As a devotee dances in honor of Shiva, an image forms of the line of tall cypresses lining the entry to Swamiji’s Moksha Mandir: a gentle breeze, and the line of trees sway gracefully, and welcomingly—their dance stately, dignified, noble, joyful. “All living things,” Master wrote, “swayed in the incense-breeze of Thy approach, hinting at Thy perfume of bliss.” As we are blessed at the point between the eyebrows, a memory comes: Walking out of the Meditation Retreat’s Temple of Silence after a kirtan, we look up into a night sky lit by a nearly full moon, shining from a dark purple/blue field, aureoled by an orange-shading-to-gold outer ring. Here mimicked in the natural world was the blissful spiritual eye, calling the devotee inward to the Light that never fades. “Open every portal of Nature,” Master prays, “that I may see Thee everywhere.”

For each one there is a portal through which Divine Mother may be known. No one is overlooked. And so we come to the spiritual journey of Stacey O’Brien, whose portal was her friendship with Wesley the Owl. All her life, Stacey felt most at home with the animal world. As a toddler she was guided and protected by the family dog, who allowed her to clutch his belly fur to steady herself while taking her first faltering steps, and who, sensing that his little charge was about to lose her balance, would at once lie down to create a soft, furry cushion for her safe landing. As an adult, now a biologist working with rescued barn owl orphans, she one day met a helpless five-day-old bit of skin and bones. Her heart opened and she committed herself to caring for this tiny life form. She knew what her commitment entailed: Barn owls mate for life; if one of the pair dies the survivor often goes into deep depression, turns to face the trunk of the tree home and dies soon after. Stacey knew that she would be, effectively, Wesley’s other half—that without her, he would not survive.

Thus began a nineteen-year friendship between species, beginning as a human caring for an animal, evolving through a thousand changes as the human learned to understand and respond to the needs, emotional and physical, of her owl friend, then shifting radically when Stacey was incapacitated with an inoperable brain tumor. Day and night she was racked with unbearable pain. No treatment did more than dull the outer edges of her agony. The prognosis was for more of the same the rest of her life. Her savings were gone; her mother, who had taken her (and Wesley) in, was nearing the end of her own savings. Horrified at burdening her mother, with endless pain on the horizon, Stacey was inexorably drawn toward suicide.

What saved her, put her on the road to recovery, and finally to carry on valuable work even in her disabled condition, was her commitment to care for Wesley, whom she knew her own death would sentence to the same fate. Through love for a helpless fellow citizen of our planet, Stacey learned lessons in service, compassion, loyalty—most important of all, she learned to set aside all personal considerations in order to carry through her commitment to her owl friend: “He was my teacher, my companion, my child, my playmate, my reminder of God.”

Thus did Divine Mother reach down through the unique channel of an orphaned barn owl to carry the soul of Her daughter Stacey to spiritual victory over suffering and despair, to acceptance, inner joy, and deeper levels of service. “You commit for life,” Stacey writes, “you finish what you start, you give your unconditional love, and that is enough. I looked into the eyes of the owl, found the way of God there, and decided to live.”

Ah, friendship! Flowering, heaven-born plant!
Nurtured art thou in the soil of measureless love,
In the seeking of soul-progress together
By two who would smooth the way each for the other.
. . .
There, on that sacred shrine of fragrance,
The Friend of all friends craves to come and remain!

In divine friendship,

For Ananda’s “Thank You, God” Tithing

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