Sunday Offerings: The Key to Re-Encountering My Faith

My Sundays typically involve church.  Growing up Roman Catholic, church was a big part of my life. I felt God in the liturgy of the mass, the rituals of incense, candles, and music. As an adult I have found that going to church regularly refreshes my soul and keeps me connected to God, my community and my family. For the past several months, I have not been feeling quite the same about church. I have been struggling with feeling my connection to the Divine.  I know a lot of my struggle with my faith is due to the challenges I have been dealing with in my family life. The liturgy of the mass offers little comfort. I don’t know if it’s a chicken or egg thing. Perhaps because I have been struggling in my family life, my church attendance has been spotty, or perhaps because my church attendance has spotty, I have been struggling in my family life.

My Buddhist friend, who knows my struggle, and feels my despair, invited me a lay Buddhist meeting.  She talks to me enthusiastically about how her life and her children’s lives have turned around since they started chanting. We went to lunch one day and I met with one of her Buddhist leaders.  It was an inspiring and insightful conversation. I have no doubt that the Buddhist faith is working in their lives. I accepted the invitation to the Buddhist meeting.  At first I was a bit self-conscious about chanting words I wasn’t even sure I was pronouncing correctly.  But, as the sound washed over me in community with the other women in the room I felt peace.  It was a very positive experience that was both familiar and strange.  It was strange in the sense, that the language was foreign and I struggled to find meaning in the words we chanted.  It was familiar in the sense that the ritual of the prayer beads, the gong and chanting seemed a lot like the rituals I had grown up with and which gave me comfort.

This morning Juan and Diego had to go to soccer practice.  The other kids were sleeping in. I didn’t want to go to church by myself, so I decided I would take Molly on a walk to the big outdoor church. Nature. It’s the other place I feel God. I don’t get outdoors nearly enough, but today the air was crisp, the sun was bright and I needed to move my body.  I announced to my kids that we weren’t going to church this morning.  I think they were a bit relieved they would have a leisurely Sunday morning.

I  drove to nearby Eaton Canyon, took my car key off the ring and stuck it in my iPhone case.  As Molly and I hiked the canyon I listened to a talk given by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran preacher who had visited my church a couple of weeks ago.  At one point during the talk she explained how she had grown up in the fundamentalist Church of Christ, and then decided to become a Lutheran when she experienced and fell in love with the liturgy.  She said liturgy feels like “choreographed sacredness” and that it was like a “stream that flowed long before us and will continue long after us so that we… can be immersed in the language of truth and promise and Grace.” Her words rang so true for me.

I listened and worshipped the nature around me, trying to feel the presence of God.  It was challenging because Molly kept pulling on her leash and the canyon was filled with hikers, joggers, and a lot of dogs.  By the time we had hiked over a mile, we were  she was tired and we turned around to make our way back to the car.  I took my phone out from its case and took this picture of me communing with nature.  I definitely look more sweaty than full of Grace.

Hiking the trail in the great outdoor church.

Hiking the trail in the great outdoor church.

About halfway back to the car it occurred to me that the key I had placed in my iPhone case was no longer there. You know the key?  The one with the computer chip in it that costs hundreds of dollars to replace? I panicked. Whatever sense of peace and Grace I felt during my hike evaporated.  Molly and I sprinted back to the spot where I took the picture.  Along the way, I kept dodging hikers, dogs and the occasional horse and dog poop, all the while looking, hoping, praying to find the key.

I have lost a lot of things before. I have found them too, in odd, unexpected places. My mom is the same way. She has taught me to pray to St. Anthony whenever I lose things.  Along the trail I prayed to St. Anthony again.  I laughed at myself at the absurdity of me losing the key and the even greater absurdity of finding it along the well-traveled trail covered with leaves, dirt and rocks.

I arrived at the spot where I had taken the picture. I looked among the shrubs, under leaves and turned over rocks. It wasn’t there. I made the walk back to the car my eyes downcast, searching for the key, missing the beauty of nature and ignoring the presence of God around me. I thought of the irony in losing the key in my quest to find God.  By the time I reached my car, I still hadn’t found the key and felt resigned that it was probably gone.  I called Juan and told him the bad news, and ask that he bring me the one spare key we had left.

Juan and Nico arrived, prepared to do one more sweep through the canyon. I refused to go, saying it was a lost cause.  Before we left, I decided I’d go into the ranger station to see if the key had been turned in. The ranger told me that no one had turned in any keys and asked me for my name and the key description.  Just then another ranger walked into the office. The second ranger asked, “You lost a key?” Then she pulled out my key from her shirt pocket. She said someone along the trail had just turned it in.

I took the key and in a moment of evangelizing told the ranger about St. Anthony. She said I should go buy a lottery ticket.  I replied that I was going to light a candle instead. Nico drove home with me and along the way we laughed and talked about the miracle.  In my best Southern evangelical preacher voice I shouted, “Allelulia!”  I asked him “Can I have an Amen?”  Getting into the spirit of it, Nico shouted “Amen!”  I enthused, “See? You just need to have faith.”  Nico asked,  “Well, what’s the lesson here?”  I paused and thought about it.  Then, I replied, I guess the lesson is that I just need to have faith that what has been lost will be found.

Sunday Offerings: Children of Light

Today is Children’s Advocacy Sunday in our church. The prayers, songs and homily reflected the idea that we all have a responsibility to nurture the world’s children. I especially liked the prayer offered during the Prayers of the People:

Eternal source of love and justice, we give you thanks for the richness of our diversity and the treasured uniqueness of every person.  We give you thanks for planting in each of us a heart that cares for your most vulnerable children and a passion for justice so that every child may grow and flourish.  We give you thanks for our shared concern and commitment.  Use us now, we pray, to create change for your children so that each will know the hope of a better tomorrow.

The children’s choirs all sang today too. Their faces and their words were inspiring:

You were sometimes darkness,

But now are light in the Lord.

Walk as children of light.

– Words: Based on Ephesians 5:8, Music: Valerie Ann Webdell; edited by Ruth Dwyer (2003)

Click here to see the the choir singing this anthem. Happy Sunday!

Experiencing Love in Holy Week

For the last two years on Good Friday, I published a post written after I attended the afternoon Good Friday services at my church. You can read that here. This year, I am unable to attend the afternoon services, but I will attend this evening’s Tenebrae Service. A lovely, candlelit service where we wait for the mystery of the resurrection.

Last night I attended another one of my favorite services of the year, Maundy Thursday. The Maundy Thursday service is the ritual foot washing, service among those congregants who wish to participate. The service reminds us of the caring and loving example that Jesus showed his disciples when he washed their feet. This foot washing service makes some people uncomfortable. I understand. I love this ritual but it took me a bit to become accustomed to it. Even the apostle Peter felt uncomfortable having Jesus wash his feet.

I sat in the pews with Juan and listened to the sermon in preparation of the foot washing, when I heard the rector say something which kind of startled me. He said, participation was greater than belief. He explained that one could be “religious” and believe in the mystery of the cross and the resurrection, but that was not greater than participation. He went on to say that Jesus gave us an example of participation when he washed his disciples feet, when he broke bread and served wine to the apostles during his Passover meal. Jesus gave us an example of participation when he did all of this on the last night he was alive, and when he told his followers to, “love one another as I loved you.”

I sat in the pew, moved by the prayers, the hyms, the dimly lit church and I watched as others in around me got up from the pews to have their feet washed and wash each others feet. Juan leaned over and said, “I want to be like Peter. I don’t feel like getting my feet washed.” I smiled at him and nodded. I understood how Juan, and maybe Peter felt.

This year Holy Week arrived before I was ready. I didn’t have a chance to get a pedicure. My toe nail polish was a mess, my feet were callused. I really didn’t want to wash anyone else’s feet either. Then, I thought about the photo I had seen earlier in the day. The photo of Pope Francis washing a woman’s feet and kissing them. So humble. So loving. How must that woman have felt?

Pope washes feet of young detainees in Holy Thursday ritual - Getty Images

Pope washes feet of young detainees in Holy Thursday ritual – Getty Images

Juan and I left our pew and walked to the foot washing station. I knelt before another parishioner who was seated before a basin. I introduced myself to her and one of the acolytes brought me a jug of warm water and a clean towel. I knelt down before the woman and poured the water over her delicate feet. I rinsed them, using my hands. I thought about what it meant to participate in this religious ritual. What it meant to be a servant, and care for others the way Jesus demonstrated to us. When I was done I dried her feet and we switched places. The acolyte brought us clean water, a dry towel, and an empty basin. She washed my feet, gently, carefully. It seemed to take forever. All the while I was aware of how uncomfortable I felt. Sure, I get pedicures, but this was so different. I could tell by the care she took to wash my feet that she was doing this out of love.

Perhaps that’s why the particpation part of religion is so important. I could have sat in the pew and prayed, sang hyms and gazed at the beauty of my surroundings. I could have looked on as everyone else particpated in the foot washing. I might have stood by while everyone else experienced love and demonstrated love. But, I woud have missed out on fully experiencing the most important message of day and Jesus’ lesson to us all, “love one another.”


49. Officially.

It’s official. I am one year into my project of 50 Things to Do Before my 50th Birthday. On my birthday last year I decided to create a kind of bucket list, and I gave myself two years to get it all done. I have one year left to go. That’s right, that makes me 49 years old today.

49. That’s a big number. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet, but when my dad sent me an email last night saying he thought he read on my Facebook page that I was turning 50 this year, I kind of panicked. A little. I did the math just to be sure, and I quickly replied to his email that I am definitely not turning 50 this year. This is simple math, and even I can do basic subtraction, 2012-1963 = 49. See? I’m not 50. Not yet. Don’t rush me. I have a lot to do that’s still on my list, and I can’t wrap my head around using a new set of numbers yet. Seriously, I don’t feel like I have aged much past 30. Okay, maybe 40. I told myself I wasn’t going to obsess over a number and here I am writing 49 five times already! I will stop now. How about I just tell you about the two most recent things I did on list?

Number One: Take a Sunrise Hike

With my birthday looming on the horizon I did a quick check on all that I have accomplished and found out that I still have quite a bit to do. I have been wanting to check off “Go on a Sunrise Hike” for a long time, but I kept putting obstacles in my own way. The biggest obstacle was sleep. Every weekend when I faced with the choice of sleeping in or getting up early, I chose sleep.

I have started getting up earlier, but somehow rising before the sun and getting out on the trail just seemed impossible. Last Friday, I checked the internet for the time the sun would rise and I set my alarm 30 minutes earlier. I already knew where I wanted to hike, and luckily for me the trail head is only 5 minutes from my house. I figured all I had to do was roll out of bed and go.

Wrong. I had to roll out of bed, pack a quick breakfast-to-go, fill my water bottle and get the dog. Then, I ended up searching frantically for car keys and when I finally made it to the trail head I realized I forgot my water bottle. I drove home trying to beat the rising sun, got the water and headed back to the trail. I still managed to make the 2.7 mile hike in time to greet the sun as it peaked over the mountain. It was so peaceful as I ate my breakfast among the pine trees. I am so glad this was on my list, and I actually did it! In fact, if I could get my 49 year-old body out bed earlier, I would love to make this a weekly ritual.

I beat the sunrise and ate breakfast among the pine trees.

Number 46: Complete Covenant Two

When I first started attending my Episcopal church I took a series of classes to acquaint myself with the religion, and meet other people from church. Since I was raised Roman Catholic, the Episcopal faith already felt familiar to me and I loved everything about it, especially its inclusiveness. I completed the Covenant One classes and vowed that one day I would participate in the second series of classes, designed for those who wish to be confirmed or be received into the Episcopal church.

That was 12 years ago. Since that time I have introduced Juan and Olivia to the church and they have both been confirmed. I just had not gotten around to doing it myself. It was a big commitment since it involved twice monthly meetings from January to April, and a weekend retreat. Well, I am happy to say that I did it. I finished the classes and two weeks ago I was confirmed into the Episcopal church. For those who don’t know what it’s all about I will just say, it’s kind of like becoming an official member of a club.

Photo op with the Bishop, post Confirmation and still glowing with the Holy Spirit!

For those of you who never attended church or never attended a sacramental church like mine, you might consider Confirmation like a bunch of hocus pocus. The entire process involves kneeling before a bishop and the bishop blessing you. During my actual Confirmation everyone in my Covenant Two small group, my family and some of the church priests laid hands on me during the blessing. It was pretty powerful. Even my priest commented how he could feel the energy of the Holy Spirit during the blessing. Whatever. I’ll take it. Holy spirit. Love. Positive energy. I need it.

So, that’s it. It’s official. I am Episcopalian. And I’m 49.

Subscribe to this blog, follow me on Facebook or Twitter to see my progress over the next year as I make my way through my list.

Sunday Offerings – Beginning Anew

Last month, as part of my confirmation process into the Episcopal church, I attended a day-long meditative retreat in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains. It was a perfect day.  The theme of the retreat was, “A Lenten Path to Newness.” One of the readings that our confirmation group  reflected upon was a poem by John O’Donohue, For a New Beginning. This poem really spoke to me. It meant so much to me because of the wayward path I have taken to get to his moment in my life. After this reading we broke into small groups and discussed how O’Donohue’s words affected us. Most of us shared that expectations, and failed expectations, can keep us from taking risks, and tie us to things we have outgrown. But, we also know that God is patient and waiting, with the Holy Spirit, to kindle our courage and find a way of listening to our true self to empower ourselves to enter a new beginning.

After, reading the poem we were given an hour to go on a meditative walk. As I walked along the footpath I thought about how I have been blessed in my life to have many new beginnings. I have also been blessed to feel that with each new beginning I have been guided by a force greater than myself, God and the Holy Spirit. I came across a shady spot and sat down to read the poem again. I had my journal with me and was inspired by O’Donohue’s words, and perhaps the Holy Spirit, to write my own poem.

Beginning Anew

This moment of eternity

Is mine for the taking.

To live in,

To dwell in,

To step out from the sameness

Of old hurt,

And former lives.

To begin anew,

Embracing the possibility of something different.

Something special,

Something dangerous.

Something that God has been waiting for me to meet.

How have you begun again in your life? What has inspired you to challenge yourself and take a risk beginning anew?