Sunday Offerings – The Body/Mind/Spirit Connection

Yesterday I went on a women’s retreat put on by the Women’s Community at my church.  I was a little hesitant about going because the last time I went to an all women’s retreat the retreat was organized by a very bible based church,
I was in my 20’s and the women who attended were nearly all  (gasp) women in their 50’s.  Yesterday’s retreat was very different.  The average age of the women was still probably 50+ but somehow now that I am closer to the average age, that wasn’t such a big deal. The bigger difference was the theme and feel of the retreat–no bible thumping, hallelujah-shouting, blue-haired women here. The theme of the retreat centered on the body-mind-spirit connection, and the ritual we all use in getting our bodies in a place to open our minds, and our spirits.

Zelda, a female Episcopalian priest from my church,  led the retreat.  She  helped to show us how some of our daily rituals open our minds and spirit. Something as ordinary like stretching in the morning, or like me, washing my face at night. As I listened to the other women offer examples of daily ritual I realized that I could use some more ritual in my life, something other than the washing-my-face-at-night-before-I-go-crashing-into-bed-and-falling-asleep-as-I-try-to-get-through-my-nightly-prayers. All, too often I don’t even get to the nightly reflection part because I am so tired at that point all I want to do is lay down and SLEEP!

One of the ways we were supposed to use our body’s on yesterday’s retreat was to walk around this amazing retreat center in the San Gabriel mountains very close to my house. Yesterday’s springtime temperatures and clear skies made a glorious day to be walking about the mountains.

Zelda had set up the walking labyrinth, and she set up a trail with small stations along the way.  We were asked to walk the labyrinth or walk along the trail (the body connection).

The labyrinth set up in the shade of the trees.

A steep part of the spirituality trail.

Along the trail Zelda set up “sacred stations,” which were meant to be places where you could stop and wrap yourself in a prayer shawl and meditate on the writings that were placed at each station, or meditate on some of the questions we were given at the start of the retreat, then we were asked to write or draw our thoughts in a journal, (the mind connection).

One of the sacred stations along the spirituality trail

At the end of the two-hour walking and journaling period, we returned for lunch and, if we wanted, we shared our thoughts, and had communion, (the spirit connection). It was a transformative day.

I came away with many thoughts and revelations but one of my thoughts was that I should really practice this more often.  I need more ritual in my life so that I can get to the mind/body/spirit connection. And, as Zelda said, if you say it aloud for the universe to hear then it often works. So, I’m saying it out load to the blogosphere–“I am going to get up a half hour earlier to walk and meditate and journal.” This is huge, because as my husband Juan says, my daily ritual is trying to sleep in as long as possible before I have to start my day. Please pray for me.

What’s So Good About Good Friday?

I  was raised Roman Catholic, and while our family wasn’t devoutly religious, we were pretty observant. I made my First Holy Communion at age 7, my confirmation when I was 14 and we attended church on a semi-regular basis. Growing up, I also dappled in other religions, Quaker, Pentecostal and even the born-again movement. But, for me the other religions always felt like I was wearing someone else’s shoes. I kept missing the peace I felt with liturgical aspects of the Catholic faith. That’s not to say I felt like the Roman Catholic faith for me was a perfect fit either.  I married, then divorced, and as I formed my own opinions about birth control, choice and women as church leaders, I felt less and less like the “Roman Catholic shoes” were a perfect fit. It wasnt’ until I found my current church and the episcopal faith did I feel like I had found the perfect shoes to use walking in my faith.  I love the ritual, tradition and the fact that I don’t have to check my brain at the door of my episcopal church.

I also love this moment in the liturgical calendar. Holy week is meaningful to me because it makes me pause and think about what Jesus and his message was all about.  Even if I didn’t keep my Lenten discipline this year (and almost every year),  I know I am profoundly loved and God accepts my imperfect self, as God loves and accepts us all.  This was Jesus’ message, and one which was not received in his time by those who felt threatened by it, by those who feared his radical message of love and inclusion.  It is still a message which isn’t accepted by those who are fearful of what love and inclusion will do to their power.

I didn’t intend for this to be a preachy post but I have been so moved by what this day, Good Friday, means to me.  I attended my church’s Good Friday service today. I loved it. It was solemn, sad, and beautiful.  Last night, too, I attended the Maundy Thursday service. It is another one of my favorite services of the year.  It is a service which demonstrates the caring and loving example that Jesus showed his disciples. Those of us who wished to,  performed the foot washing ritual on each other.  At the conclusion of the service, the altar was ceremoniously stripped of its adornments, in preparation for the solemness of Good Friday. Today, at the Good Friday service, the altar bare and the chancel empty, the clergy wearing only their black cassocks and no other vestments, provided a powerful backdrop for the meditations on the meaning of this day. At the conclusion of today’s service I wept as the choir sang the spiritual “Were You There When They Crucified my Lord?” I was moved by the humility of my rector as he knelt with reverence at the chancel steps,  I was humbled God’s grace as I realized that Jesus’ life was meant to be the example of perfect love for the human family, and I was filled with joy and anticipation as I realized that this example of love, inclusion and justice is all I need to go out into the world and meet the challenges of life.  For me, that is what is good about Good Friday.

Advent’s Arrival…Better Late Than Never.

How can it be that we are approaching the last Sunday in Advent and I have just begun to feel like I’m in the spirit of the season?   I know this isn’t a spirituality or religion blog, but as Juan told me, the blog is about the many parts of my blended life. So, I hope you’ll indulge me as I go on about the spiritual part of my blended life. The very fact that I was one part Catholic, and am now Episcopalian  goes to show how blended my life really is.

Anyway, tomorrow is the fourth and last Sunday in Advent. Last Sunday we lit the pink candle on my advent wreath. The Joy candle. Joy Sunday. Even though it was the third candle to be lit, it was the first time I lit candles this Advent season. As I wrote about here, my Advent did not start off well. I kept trying to quite myself and be still , but it seemed that life kept getting in the way. There was so much to do. I didn’t get my Advent wreath unpacked and finished until after the second Sunday, Peace Sunday.  

Finally, last weekend, I decided I needed to just do it. No more excuses. I got my Advent on, and everything else has been, falling into place, kind of. We bought our Christmas tree, and I put the lights on it.  The tree stayed just like that for several days. I finally put one box of ornaments on the tree, and the rest of the ornaments still sit in their boxes nearby. The tree looks a bit minimalist, but it is nice.  We decided to decorate the house so  Juan and I went up to the attic and took inventory of our decorations.  We decided to continue our “minimalist” theme  and chose only the most “necessary” decorations. He only had to lug down only half the crates, and that made him happy. The house looks ready, but doesn’t scream CHRISTMAS!  Then, last Sunday, I prepared our Advent dinner, one of our yearly family rituals, but which we hadn’t made time for so far. The food  was good, but what was most important was the fact that we all sat down for a meal together.  The kids lit the candles and we tried to connect as a family. We even had the girls’ mother join us for dinner. 

As part of getting into Advent, I  have been praying.  I have been waking early and enjoying the dark and silence of the house to pray on those things to help me get through my day.  I have also been going to bed earlier to allow myself the energy to pray before I go crashing into sleep. This week I met with one of the priests in our church. We talked about things that have been troubling me and we spoke of Advent, and how this Advent has been one of the more challenging Advents in her life too. I told her how each liturgical season like Advent or Lent, I try to approach it with a goal. I am very goal oriented like that. If it’s Lent I like to take things on,  like prayer, or I give up something, like wine or chocolate. Okay, maybe not the wine, and probably not the chocolate.  But,  during Advent it’s not about taking something on, or giving something up. It’s the time  most commonly thought to prepare for the birth of the Jesus, a time to prepare for the light that comes to the world with His birth. But, as my priest reminded me, it’s not just this one time a year. Advent serves to remind us that God is with us, within us, all the time. That light is with us, and within us, year round.  We just need to tune into Advent to reconnect with that idea.

So,  I am fully into Advent. Just in time for the last Sunday. Tomorrow I will light the fourth candle on my Advent wreath. I will light a candle for Love. And I will go forward  this week towards Christmas, walking in love, as God loves me, and you.  Happy Advent.

Anxious Advent

An Advent candle burning on the fourth day of ...

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Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. I grew up Catholic and heard about Advent in church on Sundays but I never really understood it, until I became Episcopalian. I gained a better understanding of the liturgical calendar and now understand that Advent is the beginning of the church year. It is also a time, when we as Christians, experience a period of waiting. Waiting for the Christ child to be born. Yesterday’s sermon distinguished the waiting in Advent as waiting in expectancy,waiting for something good to happen,  rather than waiting with anxiety. Perhaps like a child waits for Christmas morning, rather than as a traveler anxiously waits for a plane’s departure. It seems like the waiting I do is usually waiting in anxiety…waiting for the kids to hurry up and eat breakfast, get dressed so I can get them to school, waiting in traffic so I can get to the office, waiting for the elevator so I can make it to a meeting on time.  Waiting in Advent–waiting with expectancy–is a lot more appealing, however shifting gears for this type of waiting is a challenge for me.

 This season I will try to celebrate Advent and its “waiting” by practicing “stillness.”  Right. “Stillness” at any point in my working-mother-of-four-kids-in- a-blended-family-life is nearly impossible at any time of year. But in this season of gift buying, party planning, and hall decking, stillness takes a Christmas miracle.  Nevertheless, every year I try to practice Advent stillness with our own family ritual of candle lighting and a family meal. Each Advent I make a wreath from fresh greens. Around the wreath I place three purple candles, representing hope, peace and love. The third candle is pink, and represents joy. In the center of the wreath is a white candle, the Christ candle.  On Sunday evenings we light the weekly candle and have dinner as a family. Celebrating Advent and practicing stillness in our busy household has become  more difficult as the kids have gotten older, their schedules more demanding, and our custody arrangements more complicated.  Last night was epic Advent fail.  Erica was not home. Diego had to be at church to sing for the Advent service. No family meal. The greens for  my wreath were still in the bag.  I became anxious trying to become “still” for Advent.

As I thought about what went wrong I realized that while I was practicing Advent, I was practicing it with anxiety.  I realize I can still do the “business” of  Advent. I can make my wreath, light my candles, and prepare the family meal, but rather than doing those tasks with the anxiousness of getting it done, I can do it with the stillness in my heart, taking in the moment, with the expectancy that something good will come of it.