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?


What’s So Good About Good Friday?

This is a post from last year on Good Friday. Last night,  I went to the Maundy Thursday service at my church. Again, my heart was stirred during this beautiful ritual. Today, I will attend Good Friday Service and I expect to be transformed by the message of God’s love and the meaning of this day. If you are in the Pasadena area, I invite you to attend any of the glorious Easter celebrations at All Saints Church. Or, take a look at some of the offerings on this You Tube Channel. However, you celebrate (or don’t) this weekend, know that you are beloved in the heart of God. 

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.

Outward Bound – Making 2012 a Better Year

I was going to write another 50/50 Friday post to update you on what I’ve accomplished since I last posted about my list of 50 Things I Want to Do Before my 50th Birthday, except that apart from a lot of cooking and wine drinking (numbers 19 and 20 on my list), I really haven’t done much. Besides, the cooking and wine drinking part has more to do with the holidays than anything really intentional on my part.

So instead of posting about my 50/50 list I thought I would share how my approach to the new year is going. I mentioned before that 2011 was not a very good year for me. I decided that this year was going to be better. I looked at what might have contributed to making 2011 such a bad year and I think  the fact that I focused so much more  inwardly, made me feel isolated and sometimes hopeless. Duh. 

I had begun 2011 managing a personal crisis so I felt like I needed to circle the wagons. Consequently, I didn’t nurture the connections I had with anyone. Rather than reaching out to community for support, I dwelt with life in kind of a crisis mode. 

This year I am purposefully extending myself beyond my comfort zone, reaching outward and trying to do things a bit differently. It’s only the second week of the new year and already I have a lot on my plate as a result. It’s a little intimidating but already I am finding 2012 to be a lot more promising.

One thing I have done recently is get together with more friends. Last week Juan and I took up a friend’s invitation to cook us dinner. It was a midweek invitation and something we normally wouldn’t have done. But, we did and we had a great time.  I have also made plans to go to a work out class with a couple of friends, and I am getting together with my besties this weekend. That’s a lot of socializing for me, but I need it.   I have also committed to be on my church Vestry. When I was approached to take this on, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to stretch myself this way, but I prayed about it and found myself committing to it. I don’t know how I am going to manage it all, but it’s another way to face the new year with an openness and outwardness.

As I was meditating on what the new year was going to hold for me, I found that I didn’t have a concrete plan how to implement this “open and outward” approach. This is very unsettling to me. Those who know me, know that I like some predictability. Despite my Gemini tendencies, I am a control freak  planner.  So, the idea that I did not have a plan to make 2012 more “outward and open” got me thinking. Before I knew it my meditative state was disrupted by my mind, making lists, checking off ways to improve my life in 2012. Then I stopped. I realized that, most of all I just needed to open myself up to the universe. In the midst of my meditation, my direction came to me with these words, “Have and open mind, an accepting heart, and ready hands.”  So, that is what I am going to do. I am going to keep my mind open to new things, allow myself to accept things that I may not be completely comfortable with, and prepare myself for the tasks that are ahead of me in 2012.

Let’s do this.

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.

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.