Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hula Hoop Prayers


 Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling

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
Courtney Wolfe.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Women

My response to participating in the Women's March on 8 March 2017:
 
Today, I am trying to focus.  I cannot.  I am still filled with the fervor, excitement and strength from yesterday's woman's march. It left me with a feeling of energy and empowerment, as if I could do or accomplish anything right now (except write type up the minutes from last Saturday's meeting). So, I must write about my experience.

Yesterday afternoon, two members of the youth group and I met in the church office. I wearing my purple shirt that our social work student federation in Puerto Rico had made up several years ago in recognition of the inequality between women and men in society. The other two women were dressed in red as this was what some countries deemed the official march color.  Excitedly, we searched for markers to decorate our faces in preparation to find the rest of the marchers in the main city plaza.  As we were leaving the office, it began to rain cats and dogs.  We paused, and deciding that water was not going to keep us from demanding to be treated as human beings; we left our cellphones behind and ventured into the deluge. Vitória, one of our little clan, had seen a group of women moving up the main street on their way to the plaza as she had been arriving.  As we didn't yet see anyone in the plaza, we set out in search of them.  While walking, we received several negative comments from passers by based on my shirt and the decorations we had on our faces.  I will comment here, that I do not usually receive cat calls in Santa Maria. I can count on one hand the number of cat calls I've received since arriving, and we had more comments yesterday than I've had in all my time here.  We walked all the way down the street, and upon finding no one, we returned to the plaza quite disappointed that all these women apparently had abandoned the march because of the rain.  I was feeling quite disillusioned with my own sex.  Upon returning to the church to check for any updates on our phones, we discovered that everyone had taken shelter on the steps of a bank in the plaza; so away we went.

Image may contain: 5 people, outdoorThe beginning of the gathering was not as organized as I had anticipated. Because of the rain and because many of our sisters had to work, not being able to take the day off in order to maintain their families, we were waiting for them to arrive.  As the group grew, the youth group and I tentatively followed several women who appeared to be the organizers over to the sound truck hoping to find out what would happen next.  We formed a small circle, a few pounding on make shift drums and everyone else began to sing, chant and dance.  The rest of the crowd began to drift over and I saw women of all shapes and sizes: young, old, poor, wealthy, different sexualities, different skin tones, different clothing styles, hair styles.  Seeing all these women united and together and not tearing each other apart based on sexist principles filled me from the belly up with strength.  God's creation is beautiful!  The songs started out quietly and I could only participate singing in as much as I could understand the lyrics, but I danced with all my heart!

We began the official march heading through a major commercial section of town, our destination being another large plaza where the film, "Fight like a Girl" would be shown.  For me, this first part was the most motivating and inspiring.  Everyone jumped on board now and sang, clapped, played drums and danced as we moved through the streets blocking traffic and attracting attention. During time of year, the freshmen at the local university participate in some mild hazing activities and as we passed several groups of them they let out a cheer of strong support.  Most of the women from the freshman group came out to meet us in the street and danced right along with us.  Up above, in the balconies of the houses we passed, women waved to us and cheered showing their support.  Because procession seemed so loud all of a sudden, I looked behind me expecting to see a long stretch of marching women, but it was not as expansive as I had imagined.  Nonetheless, it was a good size crowd for a small city surrounded by farmland.  We were definitely a large enough group to be noticed.  The penultimate stop was in front of the office of the Police Delegate for the Woman.  Here we paused to reflect in an open mic style about violence against women, reciting various statistics and pleading with the city to open this particular police office 24/7 as it is currently only open during business hours.  To continue the conversation, other women spoke out against phobias relating to lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and different races.  This part finished in yet another powerful chant which again allowed me to see the strength of all of us united.

The march ended in the Fireman's Plaza.  This is where we had the most trouble because the cars behind and the crossing traffic were not happy that we were blocking their way.  Yet, we maintained strong and held up our signs as we moved into the plaza.  I rode the high all the way home and am still floating happily on the remaining waves today.  In this new country, I felt united and strong with the women around the globe as I watched marches unfolding in Puerto Rico, Argentina, Urugauy and other countries.  We were all simply demanding to be treated as human beings, no better, no worse.  The beauty and strength I saw in the women walking along side me yesterday left me in awe and the pictures I saw from around the world did more of the same.  I pray to God that this sense of awe and wonder never leaves me and that I can continue to see the strength and beauty in my sisters as I am again caught up in the daily routine.