One of the parts about traveling and living in other places that I love most is that it always seems to tap into my spiritual self. I am forced to completely trust and rely upon God because the comforts of home are gone, my loved ones are far away, and I am stripped down to just me. Upon arriving in Brazil, that burst of spirituality shot through me and I felt a new zest for life...actually that did not happen at all. Instead of this complete surrender I felt distance and even a wall rising up between me and God. For example, while in church I looked at the beauty of the building and could not draw out that same sense of wonder and joy that I usually do from being in a holy place. Prayer did not seem authentic and I did not feel particularly missionarish.
About two months in, this "spiritual feeling" started to come back and I'm not sure why or how. Since then it has hit highs and lows, to the point that I had begun to write this several months ago and never finished. A few weeks ago I again experienced everything that I've written about above and and continue below. I began to write about this experience of spiritual awareness again only to discover that I had already started.
While reading on of my social work books, I came across this quote: "My spirituality has become a call and challenge to be who I am and to become who I am meant to be" My vision of what spirituality had begun to evolve.
My vision of spirituality and prayer was further amplified after a conversation with one of the brothers from Holy Cross Monastery. He advised that I think of my capoeira practice as a form of prayer. This was something that I hadn't considered and vaguely remembered from our orientation over the summer. That night, I didn't go to practice but the following day I was invited to go to a hula-hoop class. I was expecting a fun class and hoping to make new friends; what I encountered was a beautiful spiritual experience in a place I wouldn't have expected to find it. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense as we are using the bodies that God has given us to create beautiful movements, test its limits and use it creatively in his presence. I offered up a few words of thanks as I was learning to manipulate the hula hoop around my hands, arms, head and waist. Positive energy radiated from all five of us women there and I was able to appreciate the loveliness of each one of them. All extremely different, but equally glowing. We each supported each other's efforts to gracefully move and sway. We learned new stretches and how they can each support our bodies.
The end of the class was particularly moving as we all sat in a circle to exchange massages. We each offered our left foot to the person on our left and massaged the foot of the person on our right. Immediately, I thought of the symbolism of the feet. During the whole class we had been barefoot and the floor in the building where we practice is far from clean. Basically, I was handing over my repulsive foot to an acquaintance so that she could take care of it and preform a rather intimate gesture. I also had to embrace the foot of someone and manipulate it as if it were my own foot so that she could experience some relief and healing. Our teacher walked us through the massage and soon, I didn't care that I was massaging a dirty foot. It reminded me of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples which must have have feet equally as dirty as our own. Here I was with a group of people who were of diverse religions or spiritualities and we were doing something very similar to what Jesus had done. Upon massaging the first foot, we exchanged feet and massaged the person on our left. After we had finished, the love and positive energy continued and we all began hugging each other and giving each other even more massages on the head, the back, neck and arms.
After arriving home that evening, I continued to reflect upon this experience and another moment where I felt a similar prayer and spirituality came to mind. About a year and a half ago, I was visiting friends in Puerto Rico and one of my friends organized what she calls a "blessing." Usually it is done for pregnant women in lieu of a baby shower in which her most intimate friends bless her and her pregnancy. But as my friend was noticing that her group of friends were running around stressed, she organized a Blessing between friends. It was really lovely. We lit candles and turned off the lights. We each took turns washing the hands of our neighbor in scented water afloat with rose petals. This practice relaxed all of us both mentally and physically. My friend then lead us to each speak. While I can't remember exactly what words she used to prompt us, we each began somehow to let fall our largest and most intimate burdens. I don't think that there was a dry eye in the room after all had shared. We completed our time with an activity of support by writing down the strengths of the others in the group to create a banner for each person. The evening was filled with vulnerability, laughter, tears and solidarity.
Because of these experiences and conversations, I have begun to see prayer and spirituality in new ways. At first it seemed odd and I stumbled through but now it seems natural. I hope to continue to create these sacred spaces in unexpected areas as well as look for opportunities in the ordinary.
A special thanks to the following donors:
The Laudone Family