Our spiritual practices group has segued into a discussion group now. We’ll each be leading a session of our own topic choosing. We had our first session tonight and it went really well. Here’s the quote we discussed:
“It’s so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you’re sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you’ve gotten back the test results and they’re not so good. Here is my resume: I am a good mother to three children. I no longer consider myself the center of the universe. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage vows mean what they say. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cutout. But I call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.” Anna Quindlen, b. 1953
The two questions our leader this week proposed were: (1) How are we doing at “crafting our spirits” – what does that even mean? (2) How can we be better friends to one another so that we are not “cardboard cutouts?”
Honestly, I didn’t have a really good answer for that first one when we got started. By the end of the discussion, I realized that all this was part of crafting my spirit – the spiritual practices class, the Vein of Gold class, learning the tarot card stuff for my Preptober with Tarot class, just learning about writing well-rounded characters in general can be enriching to the spirit because it makes you think so much more about your own character and what makes you you.
As for the second part, it was something I was already thinking about. Two of my friends that used to be really close are having a tough time communicating lately, and I have become something of a go between while they each work through it on their own. It is an interesting enterprise. One friend I have known for years, so we communicate on a deeper level than I do with the other friend, who I’ve only known a year. They are both people that are hard-working and dependable. They each strive to help their community so much. I’ve tried to be a listening board for both of them, but that looks and feels different depending on which person I am communicating with. There isn’t a “cookie cutter” quality to these friendships, despite that we are all in the same organization doing volunteer work. Each person I have a different relationship with. It is good.
In any case, those are my thoughts for the subject. What about you? Do you have different answers to those questions?
In our UU Spiritual Practices class this week, we covered worship. Worship is about returning to what’s worthy. Why do UU’s do Sunday worship? To be reminded that we are part of a larger community, something more for us to pay attention to.
For our last UU Spiritual Practices class, we talked about Pilgrimages. Pilgrimages are associated with many religions. Christians visit places associated with Christ’s earthly life. Their motives for pilgrimages usually include penance, thanksgiving, and a desire to obtain supernatural help.
Things that are involved in a UU pilgrimage: transformation, devotion, reflection, a deeper understanding of the sacred and of yourself.
Several people talked about the kind of pilgrimages they’ve already taken or would want to take. Places like a UU trip to Boston or to the first UU Church in Transylvania or to the bridge in Selma. They talked about social justice trips, as well.
I personally, don’t have any thoughts on where I’d go on a spiritual pilgrimage. The idea is fairly new to me, as I grew up with a religion that rejected them as a concept. In my head, it’s something you’d read about in medieval literature, not something that is done in modern times. I guess it’s something I need to think more about.
Growing up, we went on several non-spiritual pilgrimages. The first one I remember, and possibly the most meaningful to me in the long run, was when we visited the Bronte Parsonage. I was, at seven, too young to have read the Bronte’s well, but my mother loved their books, so we went to see the Parsonage. She got me some edited versions (for first time English readers) and had me read them and we watched the movies before we went. It started a lifelong love affair for me with classic English literature, which eventually lead me to a degree in English and life as a writer.
This week in Spiritual Practices class, we discussed retreats. What is a retreat for your spirit? It’s a time apart to reflect, pray, and meditate, usually somewhere around three to four days in length (but it can be as short as a day). It can be done as a solitary thing or as a group. It is usually time set aside to ask the Big Questions (such as “Who am I?” or “What is worthy of my life?”).
We were given a couple sample retreat schedules and asked to ponder over how we would do a spiritual retreat for ourselves. It was an interesting group activity to think about — the younger mom’s of the group all wanted to go on retreat by themselves, while the single people all wanted group retreats.
For me, I’d need to do it on a weekend that was not already filled with other activities, probably at a hotel or something. My intention would be meditation, personal writing, and art.
My day would probably rotate around those things in 30-60 minute time slots, depending on what I was doing. Thirty minutes for meditation times, but longer for walks, art, and writing, and a few rest periods where I could read or nap.
This week in Spiritual Practices class we talked about how the Unitarian Universalist faith is a covenantal faith. We are a community that welcomes the strangers because we were all once the stranger.
I grew up Lutheran, for the most part, until I was 15 or so. I don’t remember hearing much about this topic growing up in that church. I do remember experiencing hospitality as a child, though, in the form of many, many people visiting our house over the years, mainly professors and grad students. My parents loved having people over. My dad’s parents were known for their parties and my mother was known for hers. As a child and teen, we were always having people over. As an adult, I’ve struggled a little with this one. When the children were little, my house was always too much of a wreck, though I did host other mom’s weekly for playgroups. My husband is an extrovert and would have had people over every weekend for games and fellowship. With his church, though, it was hard to get people to drive all the way out here (his church is a 40 minute drive from us and his church area expands an hour and a half around outward from the church). Now that the kids are older, we’ve hosted monthly gaming afternoons a have a few other big parties a year.
So what are the qualities of hospitality? At first we think of food, greeting and welcoming people, and listening to others. Hospitality involves an opening of the heart, as well. It’s about cultivating the desire to welcome people and invite them into our lives, a willingness to accept change and accommodate for others.
It’s not one-sided, though, it’s also about letting your community know that you have a need that should be filled. This side of things, I know I am not good at. I never really saw my parents ask for help from others when I was growing up. Helping others, volunteering for others? Yes. Getting help? Not so much. When we moved from Nebraska to Pennsylvania and then on to Texas, we didn’t have people over to help pack. We didn’t ask people to help put furniture on the trucks. As an adult, I still don’t know how to ask others for help when I really need it.
Hospitality is also a social skill. You need to have the ability to know when to reach out and when to leave people to their privacy. Another tough one for me. I watched my mother ask many intrusive questions over the years and I was always so embarrassed. I tend not to be a reacher-outer. I don’t like to bother people. I never thought of this as being the other side of the hospitality coin.
This week in Spritual Practices class, we covered Eating Meditation and Walking Meditation.
I was having an awkwardly laid out schedule, so I was starving just before class started and was eating pizza during the chat at the beginning. I’d forgotten it was Eating Meditation day and people were looking at me strangely as I gulped down my food.
For eating meditation, you practice eating slowly and mindfully, savoring each step of eating. First you “eat” with your eyes, taking in the color and shape of the food. Then you “eat” with your sense of smell, savoring the smell of the food you are about to eat (we were eating grapes and guess what? grapes don’t really smell like anything.). If it’s something more solid, you could “eat” with your sense of touch, feeling how the item feels under your fingertips. You could “eat” with your sense of hearing if it was something like fruit that you could thump or tap. Finally, you put it into your mouth and feel it with your tongue and the roof of your mouth. You chew slowly, taking in the texture as it is chewed. Eventually you swallow it and feel it going down.
The whole process makes me giggle a lot. I’m not sure why. 🙂
We were also supposed to do walking mediation, but since this is a pandemic and we were on Zoom, that part was hard to do online. So we just talked about it and our leader shared a visual about how to hold you hands while you walk (think of what the kids did with their hands in the Sound of Music while they were singing, it’s sort of like that.) We talked about where there were local prayer/meditation labyrinths for walking. There’s one quite near my house (that I know about thanks to the Pokemon Go group that I joined one day last year).
In week four of our UU Spiritual Practices class, we covered prayer. From a UU standpoint, prayer is not necessarily to someone or some being, it is a way of being conscious of what is active in your heart. Basically, every day ask “Where is my spirit?” and pray from that answer. If you absolutely cannot think of anything, some things to pray about could be: what you’re thankful for, what help you need, what amazes you.
A book was suggested: “Prayers for people who don’t think they can pray”
We did model prayers together. Some of my prayer started like this: “Thank you for my family and friends who are like family. Thank you for a safe home and enough to share with others. Help my friends to feel like they are enough and that they are not so alone with their burdens.”
Bits of prayers from others that I plan to incorporate into my prayer life:
“Help me listen to the many different sides of everyone’s stories and needs.”
“Help me remain open to the knowledge and wisdom of others, even if I think they’re wrong in some things.”