working out what life and call and prayer and silence are all about

When I visit Charleston, it feels like coming home. I didn’t grow up there, but I did grow into myself there. My first church was Redeemer Lutheran in West Ashley (that’s across the Ashley River from the peninsula of Charleston) and my first home was in Belle Hall Plantation, across the Cooper River in Mt. Pleasant. I arrived as a young woman, fresh out of seminary, with big ideas and big dreams about making a difference in people’s lives. I worked late hours organizing youth events and outreach ministries and developing relationships with the young adults who were moving to the area just like me. It was a moment in time when I felt that everything was possible and that nothing could happen that I couldn’t handle.

Brunch on the water with my dear friend Cheryl

In the middle of yoga teacher training last week, I was invited to spend the holiday weekend in Charleston with our assistant director, Lisa, and another student, Linda. I was looking forward to the escape, leaving behind the stress of planning my practice classes (yes, yoga teacher training can be stressful!) I couldn’t wait to share my Charleston with my new friend, Linda, who’d never been there before. I wanted to run the Cooper River Bridge again, remembering my favorite 10K road race. I wanted to show her the rivers that dominate the landscape, bringing life and energy to the city. And I wanted her to walk the streets and feel the sense of history and heritage that permeates every building and landmark.

St. Phillip's Episcopal

I wore myself out on our drive to downtown, pointing out the street where I used to live, the Coburg cow that changes color for the holidays, and the Krispy Kreme with the Hot Now sign that used to lure me in. With a storm approaching, we didn’t get the full downtown tour, but we hit the highlights and prepared for an evening concert performance by Lisa’s fiddle-playing daughter. After the amazing show (don’t miss them at Woolfe Street Playhouse!) we walked down King Street for some ice cream. Expecting to be wary as we walked down an empty street at night in this part of town, I was confronted by crowds of young professionals, scantily-clad and all clambering to get into the new hot spots downtown. What happened to my Charleston? I used to enjoy walking the streets at night, along the quiet waterfront, past the peaceful churches and their semi-spooky graveyards. Now I was thrust into some kind of Kardashian-inspired catwalk, where being seen at the right club would make history on your Instagram. This is NOT my Charleston, I told Linda.

Red, White, and Cash

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I wondered why I was so disturbed by the crowds on King. Why was I upset that new restaurants with glitter in the windows were attracting young professionals who had made Charleston their home. And it hit me: raga. It’s a Sanskrit term, one of the kleshas: things that distract us from seeing what is, that prevent us from experiencing what is true. Raga is holding on to the memory of a pleasurable experience, something that was enjoyable, and wanting to repeat that experience: becoming attached to it. In the midst of raga, we are miserable in the present because it doesn’t reflect our past. The memory of what was (past) clouds our view of what is (present.)

I realized that my memories of life in Charleston were holding me back from experiencing the delight of Charleston today. And I thought about all the other memories that hold me back. Memories of old relationships that cloud my perception of new relationship possibilities. Memories of the way my body used to work that hold me back from enjoying the way my body works now. Memories of accomplishments and achievements that set impossibly high, perfectionist standards that get in the way of trying new things and taking risks.

Yogic philosophy gave me a name for the feelings I was having that night, and reminded me that being in the present is the only way to pay attention to God’s presence within and around me. The more I’m looking over my shoulder at the past, and longing for whatever used to be, the less I’m able to see what’s right in front of me: the abundant graceful gifts of God. As I enter my last two weeks of yoga teacher training, I want to be fully in the present, taking on the challenge of being a beginner at this new thing, and embracing the blessings of the supportive community Discovery Yoga creates for their teachers. So it’s time to let go of the memories, file them away so they don’t take center stage, and allow the present to blossom in front of me, full of abundance and grace and the promise of new beginnings.

Everything is hard here. Even breathing is hard.

image

That look on my face- it says it all. The concentration. The introspection. The hard work. And all I’m doing is breathing.

But it’s not just the new breathing techniques I’m learning, trying to understand their different effects on my body and imagining teaching others to breathe in these ways. It’s also the Sanskrit syllables that now float through my brain, unrelated to the poses I’m trying to memorize. And it’s the 8 Limbs of Yoga (principles,) 5 Yamas (social ethics,) and 7 Chakras (energy centers) I have to memorize by next week (and did I mention they’re all in Sanskrit, too?!) Plus, my body isn’t used to such a long yoga practice every day and I’m learning I have limitations in sometimes very public ways. Everything’s hard here.

image

So Sunday I was looking for some relief, something recognizable, something that felt like home. I needed to center myself, ground myself and rest. I went to worship at Memorial Presbyterian Church, an historic congregation in downtown St. Augustine, where I had a connection with one of the pastors (we went to preschool with the same incredible Montessori teacher!)

image

I entered the massive sanctuary which was already crowded with the people who knew to get there early. As a latecomer, 10 minutes before worship started, I was seated in the back section, underneath a gargantuan scaffolding erected for restoration of the interior. As I settled into the uncomfortable pew that had been keeping parishioners awake for generations, I noticed that the pastors, instead of wearing the typical Presbyterian black professor-type robes were wearing white albs and colored stoles, just like my own Lutheran tradition. I let out a little sigh – home. As the service continued, we prepared for the Gospel reading by singing, “Alleluia! Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia! Alleluia!” with the same tune I’ve been singing since I was young (that’s LBW setting 2, for all the Lutherans out there.) Again, I sighed – home. The service continued with a commissioning of church camp staff, reminding me of my summer spent with Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Florida, and a sermon from the senior pastor that I would have preached myself. We closed with a verse of “Go, My Children, With My Blessing” which never fails to bring tears to my eyes, and I was filled. Filled with love of God, filled with gratitude for the music and worship, and filled with peace down to my center. I was home.

On the way out, I connected with that fellow pre-schooler. In the midst of hundreds of worshippers, I happened to be sitting across from the one person I wanted to meet. Grace is funny like that. On the steps of this historic church, Pastor Amy and I shared memories of our teacher who came to the U.S. from Ceylon (Sri Lanka, south of India) and the incredible influence she’s had on our lives. I reflected on how strange it was that two Protestant pastors would name a Buddhist teacher as a formative figure. And that’s when I felt it. I began to sense something stirring within me, drawing me outside myself again. The Spirit was compassionate in nourishing me with a worship service that touched my soul, but was not content to leave me there. I was being called back into the world, back into the newness, back into the challenge.

It may be that I still have lessons to learn (and definitely more Sanskrit to memorize!) It may be that I am called to share what I’ve already learned with others. And it may well be that the true purpose of this outward movement won’t be revealed right away. But one thing I know: I am called to leave the comfort of my pew and get out and explore the world and the people and creatures who live there, so that together, we can create a new tomorrow, full of grace and hope and love.

Me on the far left, pink shirt

Me on the far left, pink shirt

One week ago, I was a bundle of nerves. I was preparing for my trip to Discovery Yoga in St. Augustine, FL for a 5-week class on teaching yoga, and I was paralyzed by my anxiety. What should I pack? Do I need another pair of shoes? What if I can’t keep up with the anatomy lessons? Is there a tutor for people who are allergic to science? I’m not very advanced in yoga – what if I’m the worst one in the class and everyone laughs at me?

Me on the front row, in black

Me on the front row, in black

I brought these and so many other questions, along with my bike and kayak (and a million pair of shoes) as I started class Sunday night. The homework started right away (reading in anatomy!) and I launched into a whole new schedule (yoga from 7-9, quick breakfast, philosophy & ethics from 9:30-12:30, break for lunch and back for poses, anatomy, and practice teaching from 2-6.) The last couple of days have been a whirlwind of new people, new vocabulary, new muscle soreness and exhaustion. I expected to be shutting down at this point, overwhelmed with the learning and the lifestyle. But through an act of grace, I was guided to choose Kripalu yoga for my teacher training, a school of yoga that emphasizes self awareness in body, mind, and spirit rather than perfection in poses. And so here is what I have already learned:

I have what I need. I may not have a wide selection of yoga clothes, and I may wish I had brought more silverware so I didn’t have to wash my dishes after every meal. But I have a comfortable bed to sleep in, a grocery store close enough to bike to, and a community with resources to share. What I need for each day continues to be provided.

I will learn what I need to learn. I will probably have to study my anatomy book more than my philosophy book. I may struggle with the foreign language terms and feel childish as I give instructions for a pose I’m not an expert at. But I am certain the learning will come, because I feel it already blossoming within me.

Yoga is not a competition – with anyone else or even with yourself. What my body needs to do today, I will honor. Where my edge in the stretch is today may be different from yesterday. Pushing past that edge only leads to pain, and, to quote one of my teachers, “Yoga is supposed to be about ahh, not ow!” My physical ability is only part of what I bring to my yoga practice.

I’m on a journey into new territory, learning a new skill, learning a new way of seeing the world. But beyond that, I sense the deeper purpose of that grace that led me to choose this yoga teacher training program. What I’m here to learn is a new way of seeing myself: strong and weak, powerful and vulnerable, searching and found. And though I may only be a few days into the process, the glimpse I’ve had of that vision is glorious.

I meditate with a 9-year-old boy in the room. Seriously. It may sound crazy, but it’s for real.

Before I was a mom, I had a fairly regular prayer and devotion practice. I went to great lengths to create a special corner in my home that would be peaceful and supportive of my practice. I scheduled my day around my prayer time, knowing how important it was that I not miss it. And on the days when my schedule was out of my control or my then-husband was noisy, I got really irritated. How dare they (the event, or the person, or life in general) interrupt my prayer time! This is sacred!

And then I gave birth. And got divorced. And started taking care of my mom. And – well – you know how life goes. Just when you think you’ve grown up and got everything under control, the bottom drops out. Because having everything under control was always just an illusion anyway.

In the midst of all that life has become, still I have my prayer practice. It has morphed and shifted and come to include more silence than reading or journalling or talking to God. But still I make time to sit and pray. Every day. Sometimes twice a day, if it’s been a rough one.

I still have a prayer corner, though in our latest house it’s pretty cramped. But there’s room for me and my prayer mat and my candle stand. And that is enough.

And in this stage of my life, my house is rarely silent. I live with a 9-year-old boy who loves Legos that crash, Nerf weapons that fire, and Star Wars vehicles that zoom. He knows that noise disturbs me when I’m praying, and so he tip-toes around me to get to the bathroom, losing his balance on the way, grabbing the door to keep from falling, and banging it against the wall. Quiet is a distant memory. But I have found quiet within me. And that is enough.

On the days when my mind can’t seem to settle down and my meditative prayer is more effort than ease, now I know not to get irritated at the boy I live with or the ministry activities that edge into my personal time. Because I’ve learned it’s not them – it’s me. I can choose to let go of my expectations of perfect prayer and just let go, experiencing whatever the silence has in store for me that day. And it’s in the letting go that I discover I’m being held – held by the One I was seeking through the silence. Thanks be to God.

I am the Queen of Avoidance. It always starts out as a reasonable time-management strategy: I can’t give my full attention to this big issue/new development/major project, so I decide to set it aside until I can concentrate. And so begins the game I play. The rest of my day is so busy that I can’t possibly address the issue/development/project until I get home. And then I get home and I’m so tired from work that I need some down time to let my brain rest. And then it’s dinner time and then we’re off to whatever evening Bible study, Cub Scout meeting, or choir rehearsal we have that night, and the day is done. After my son’s in bed, I could sit down to work on the issue/development/project if I really wanted to, but then I think to myself, “This issue/development/project is so fraught with emotion, I’ll never be able to get to sleep if I take it out now.” And the next morning begins another day of avoidance, cleverly disguised as time-management.

This week I’ve been especially clever, since the end-of-term activities are demanding so much of my time and attention. But my latest issue/development/project has been looming large in the distance. The emotion around it is incredibly toxic and it’s been sucking the life out of me day by day. Every time I consider sitting down to deal with it, my body is flooded with adrenaline, my breathing quickens, and my heart rate increases. And last night, it nearly drowned me in despair.

I was driving home in the rain from a choir rehearsal that hadn’t gone that great. On top of that, this not-great rehearsal was the reason I had missed my son’s big choir performance at Wassailfest (SW Texans know that’s a big deal!) I was feeling like an unsupportive mom and a lousy singer, and that just opened the door for my dreaded issue/development/project to rear its ugly head. I began to feel overwhelmed by the emotions surrounding this task I didn’t want to face, which then brought up all of the other failings and failures of my life, and suddenly I found myself on the brink of total despair – heart pounding, breath quickening, and a tsunami of tears ready to burst from my eyes. I wanted to give in, to just give myself to the sadness and let it envelop me so I could disappear. And then I stopped.

In the midst of the flood of images of the mistakes I’ve made and opportunities I’ve missed, another thought was gifted to me: I am grateful. Even though I’ve had my share of disappointment, I am grateful for the life I’ve led, for the adventures I’ve had, for the things I’ve learned. And in that moment of gratitude, I took a slow, deep breath, and the tsunami of despair was gone.

And so today, I acknowledge that I am still on this journey of comprehending the power of silence, how the Spirit moves in and through us, and what it means to be present in the moment and grateful for the now. I’m still the Queen of Avoidance, and I haven’t tackled my issue/development/project yet. But it’s not haunting me today. Because today, I’m grateful, for every moment, for each and every now.

when plans go awry

These regrets are going to drown me,

swirling around me like they are.

If only I could rid myself of the If Onlys

today could be – finally – just about today.

But Yesterday is my closest friend, and Last Year my next door neighbor.

Those anguished, second-guessing glances

keep me twisted, looking over my shoulder

making it impossible to breathe.

Today becomes a proving ground

where Yesterday’s failures are replayed

and, painfully, relived.

I’d like to take these glasses off

that see only success or deep and utter failure.

Is there another way to view the world,

my life, this place where demons dwell?

Is there room for trying and chancing?

making it up and accepting what comes?

I am not without hope.

This tiny space within

where all is well and everything belongs

is gaining ground

one silent moment

one deep breath

one exhale at a time.

to the anonymous bully

I’m thinking of you today, anonymous bully. You’ve hurt people I love, the young people I’m called to support and encourage as they grow and develop and mature into the amazing adults they’re called to be. You’ve posted things online that aren’t true, or maybe are true, but are hurtful, things you would never have the courage to say to their face. And that makes me angry.

I want to know who you are. I want to confront you, to accuse you, to find out why you did this. It’s so frustrating not being able to track you down.

But bully, it’s probably good that you’re anonymous, because knowing your name would make it too easy. We like for problems to have simple solutions. We like for evil to have a face, because then we can focus on just one person, or even one group of people, and place all the blame on them. And after we’ve blamed and shamed and punished and found our retribution, we go home and sit in our self-righteous recliners and pretend that we’re not still tangled up in the problem. We kick back and relax because there’s no need for further investigation into all the complicated forces at work in the world and in our lives. There’s no way that any of our actions, any of our inaction contributed to the problem. Because we know evil’s name.

So it’s good that you’re anonymous, because we can’t just blame you. We have to acknowledge that we all could be you. And in fact, we’ve all probably been you at some time – lashing out in anger because we’re hurting, not thinking of the consequences. And so your anonymity makes us all stop and think about our own responsibility to the community. What ways have we hurt people that we need to apologize for and ask for forgiveness? When have we turned a blind eye when we’ve seen someone hurting and not responded? How have we worked to build up the community by encouraging someone who’s down, supporting someone in need, helping someone who’s struggling?

But what if you weren’t anonymous? What if I found out who you are? What would I do, really, if I could sit down with you? I think I’d look compassionately into your pained eyes, and put my hand on your shoulder as I asked how you’re hurting. What wounds are you carrying that make you lash out at everyone else? What pain is making you view the world with such judgment and venom? I’d want to listen as you shared, as the stories poured out of you about how you’d been bullied and degraded and ridiculed. And I’d want to give you a word of hope – that you’re not alone, that you’re not as worthless as you feel, that you’re valued as a part of this community.

I’d pray for you, right then and there. Not because I believe that you need me to put in a good word for you with God, but because you need to hear that God is as close as your very breath. And I’d pray that you would have the strength to make changes in your life, and the courage to reach out to the people you’ve hurt and make amends. I’d pray for the community we share here, that we would all have the compassion to forgive you, and the faith that enables us to work together, bullies and victims, to build new relationships based on our value and worth in Jesus’ eyes. I’d pray for that because I know we can’t do it without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us.

I’m thinking of you today, anonymous bully, knowing that you and I aren’t so different. We’re both beloved children of God. We’re both human and make mistakes. And we’re both part of this community. Let’s work together to build it up.

Tag Cloud

treasures of tarot

Serenity, Courage, Wisdom

Living Contemplatively

Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation

austin vivid photography

heather schramm-lifestyle photographer

Connections

A monthly newsletter of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod

The Accidental Missionary

A regular guy tryin' to figure it out

Margaret Augusta

In a world where you can be anything... Be yourself.

Michael Rinehart

Bishop@GulfCoastSynod.org, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Winding Road

Traveling the beautiful and often bumpy road of motherhood with two children

kellitrujillo.com

field notes on being

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 906 other followers