April 9, 2020
Ok…so True Confession time: As a Christian minister and an ecumenical chaplain I help people across the spiritual spectrum with their emotional and spiritual wellbeing at every stage of life. I’ve been present at the births (and deaths) of babies, at the death (and birthing) of the aged and everything in between. One of the greatest joys in my work is creating sacred spaces, even in the most difficult of experiences, where the divine comes closer and connections are made stronger.
One of the most sacred things I do is assist my care-receivers in creating spaces for these kinds of interactions and deep connections. Sometimes these spaces take the form of ancient Christian rituals like anointing the sick and dying, celebrating the Eucharist, Baptisms, or the laying on of hands. Sometimes they look Jewish and involve the reciting of Shema or a blessing of the dead known as the Mourner’s Kaddish. Sometimes they’re less formal and have no structured ancient words. Sometimes these sacred spaces take the form of a word of affirmation or validation and the reminder that all shall be well. It can take the form of reading inspirational poetry, admiring beautiful works of art, or sitting in silence in a garden listening to the flowers as they speak their unbiased truth. These are all spiritual practices that ground us, center us, and connect us to something outside of ourselves.
So…like I said, true confession…One might assume that as a chaplain I have a structured and regular spiritual practice. To be honest, I find it hard to maintain with any regularity a spiritual discipline like daily prayer, reading of sacred texts, or meditation. My mind wanders and I just end up feeling guilty, as if I’m a failure at being holy or circumspect or whatever one might consider the goal of such personal devotions. I don’t journal. I don’t spend countless hours on my knees in prayer. I don’t sit on a yoga mat and chant the ohms.
What I do, however, is sit on the sofa while watching mindless TV with my dog at my side. I rub her ears and she snuggles in close. This is a sacred space. I make dinner for my fiancé and we sit together while watching Jeopardy and during the commercials we talk about our days. This is a sacred space. I call my mother every evening to check on her and every weekend we spend an hour together on the phone while we drink coffee and catch up on family gossip. This is a sacred space.
Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and author/speaker, wrote in her book An Altar in the World “Anything can become a spiritual practice once you approach it that way-once you let it bring you to your knees and show you what is real, including who you really are, who other people are, and how near God can be when you have lost your way.” Spiritual practices and sacred spaces are not a one size fits all. Whatever you do that give you peace, that illuminates the truth of who you are and who I am and who we are in relationship with one another is sacred work. If you find the Divine and your own personal integrity, you have found a spiritual discipline.
So it’s ok if you cannot pray like a saint. It’s ok if you can’t walk, as Mary Oliver says in her poem Wild Geese, “on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.” So before you begin to judge yourself too harshly and consider yourself degenerate, unholy, or unwashed, have you considered that you are already THE authority on your own spiritual wellbeing? Have you considered that the hobby that keeps you from going insane and burning down the house at night is YOUR connection to the holy? Have you thought, even briefly, of how those little things you do for self-care; those bubble baths and sing-alongs, those board games with your family, those long (or short) walks around your neighborhood-all those things that keep you healthy and alive-are all sacred moments where you and I and the Divine meet in the liminal spaces and are, however briefly, united as one in the communion of saints?
Today, regardless of who or how you worship (or don’t for that matter) I encourage you to find something sacred that draws you out of yourself and connects you with someone or something bigger. Smile at a stranger. Leave the quarter in your buggy at Aldi. Don’t hoard toilet paper. Tell someone they’re doing a good job. Remind yourself that you matter. Alice Walker writes in The Color Purple: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.” So take notice of all the things that connect you, that inspire you, or bring you to the center of your truth. There is so much “purple” to be seen.
Love and Light…