“You begin to realize that you’re always standing in the middle of a sacred circle, and that’s your whole life....” American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön writes. “Whatever you do for the rest of your life, the circle is always around you. Everyone who walks up to you has entered that sacred space and it’s not an accident. Whatever comes into the space is there to teach you.”
The sacred circle is not unfamiliar to most spiritual seekers. Regardless of praxis of faith, the circle has been a place to hold the collective celebrations and sorrows of many. The circle is richly and innately Goddess in some cultures and in others, to quote theologian Brennan Mannan, that same circle is “distinctly a God shaped space.”
We recognize the circle. It is the casting and of it stands as a foundation upon which the work of magic. In popular culture the witch may be as famous for calling quarters and casting circles than any other ceremony, ritual, and celebration. It is no wonder that since prehistory the circle seems to have been the hub for community.
“When we meet in circle we join to hold everyone in sacred space and purpose. We are bringing forth an ancient way of connecting into modern times. We gather to share stories, to deepen our identities individually and in group—often with the intention to enable and shape a postpatriarchal way of being. We also gather to heal life.”
Earth too, is a circle that is hosts to species long since departed. They are called, Rock, River, and Tree.
On January 20, 1993, American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, Dr. Maya Angelou stood atop Capitol Hill, a place that at the time of her birth in 1928, was not accessible to people of color, let alone a woman of color and plainly spoke.
“A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed…”
She spoke of the past and called to the circle the ROCK.
“But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny…
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness…
The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.”
Dr. Angelou swiftly moved around the circle, from the rock to the river. She sang out and invited the River.
“A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one…”
By now, Dr. Angelou had invoked strong Rock, and singing River, and in a deft transcendence that is akin ala transubstantiation- called upon “creator” and I and the tree, and stone were one. This was more than poetry, this was liturgy. And in true liturgical fashion there was dogma. “Come clad in peace and study war no more”
Not too dissimilar from this line from the Charge of the Goddess, “Nor do I demand aught of sacrifice, for behold, I am the Mother of all things and My love is poured out upon the earth.”
The circle was cast. Maya and her guides and allies; Rock, River, and Tree. It was time to invoke the singing River and the wise Rock.
“So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.”
All were welcome here, even you, and I. But what’s more, Dr. Angelou’s circle was going to reach back.
“Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream…”
See, the circle needed to remember the time when other’s blood, sweat, and tears paid for a dream. She continues…
“I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again…”
Within the circle is courage to face the past and look at the future. To acknowledge and empower. Dr. Angelou continues…
“The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country…”
Dr. Angelou stood atop a hill and called out to the hosts of species long since departed. She called them by name and she rekindled their light as ally. Perhaps she was casting a circle that called into the hearts of citizens the United States of America. Ideals that may be akin to the language written on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We re always are standing in the middle of a sacred circle, and whatever comes into the circle comes in to teach us. The Rock, the River, and the Tree. They bear the lesson of the priceless gift of the inclusion when we stand within the circle.
Note: Excerpts of On The Pulse of Morning, Courtesy, William J. Clinton Presidential Library