Guest Blog Post by Rev. Dr. Mona West
Often the word “virtual” is contrasted with the idea of “in person.” A lot of virtual activity is taking place these days with the social distancing required to slow the spread of COVID-19. People who observe Holy Week, Sunday, April 5 through Sunday, April 11 this year will need to find ways to do that “virtually” because churches are not holding services “in person”. Many churches will be live streaming Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter services so that people who want to journey with like-minded pilgrims can do so.
When you think about it, all Holy Week services, in the history of the Christian Church have been virtual. Christians have re-enacted the events of those weeks, entering into their transformative power, without having been there “in person.”
Holy Week invites us deeply into the rhythm of transformation and these are some ways we at Eremos can make this journey together:
- Make an altar in your home or in your yard and place something on it each day of the week as a sign of your intention for that day. As the week progresses, notice how each object relates to the other, creating a story of transformation.
- Reflect on themes of transformation that arise for you from the events of the week as told in the Christian tradition. Focus on a particular theme for each day and spend time journaling about it, creating art, or spending time in quiet reflection.
- In your home, or in your yard, create “stations of transformation” and spend time at one or all of them throughout each day of the week.
May the journeys we make toward Easter remind us that Divine Love has been let loose in the world and that all of creation is animated by it!
And, whatever your faith tradition, we invite you to pause at Noon every day through Holy Week, beginning this Sunday, April 5th, for five minutes of silence. You’re invited to read silently or express verbally this beautiful prayer for the world (you can also find a musical rendition of it on the internet):
May We Dwell in the Heart by Robert Gass
May I dwell in the heart
May I be free of suffering
May I be healed
May I be whole
May I be at peace
May all beings dwell in the heart
May all be free of suffering
May all beings heal in the heart
May we all be at peace
May you dwell in the heart
May you be free of suffering
May you be healed
May you be whole
May you be at peace
May all beings dwell in the heart
May all be free of suffering
May all beings heal in the heart
May we all be at peace
May we all come together virtually to offer hope and healing to all hearts, minds, and souls. Thank you for being part of our contemplative community without walls.
Guest Blog Post by Rev. Dr. Mona West
During this time of “sheltering in place” amidst the spread of Covid-19 I have been reminded of a phrase from ABBA Moses. He said, “your cell will teach you everything.” I learned that first hand when I spent a week at a monastery some years ago with no cell phone coverage and internet. Instead of leaving the world behind, I was faced with all the fears and judgements that came along with me to the monastery!
While many of us have access to virtual gatherings and internet services while we social distance to flatten the curve of this pandemic, there is still, I believe, an invitation to let our ‘cells at home’ teach us everything. That is what solitude and contemplation are all about—not an escape from the world or ourselves, but being grounded in the midst of it.
I had a profound awareness of this last week as I was using a favorite meditation app during my morning prayer time. The app had a flat graphic of the world with little dots clustered in various geographic locations indicating where in the world people were meditating. At that time there were seven thousand of us. As I moved into my time of meditation, I visualized that map of contemplation overlaying the maps I had seen with clusters of the corona virus outbreak. I felt part of a great web of people who were wrapping the world in compassion and peace.
In the days ahead, as we pause for those contemplative moments in our own lives, may we know that we are connected to this great web, “shaking, changing forever, forming, transforming.”
Web, by Denise Levertov
Intricate and untraceable
weaving and interweaving,
dark strand with light:
all spidery contrivance,
to link, not to entrap;
Elation, grief, joy, contrition,
shaking, changing forever
All praise, all praise to the great web.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
― Julian of Norwich
Julian of Norwich wrote these words at the beginning of the 15th century, in a world that had been decimated by the Black Plague. She offers us these simple words of hope when everything seems to be crashing around us. We will get through this particular passage. Panic is not needed. Instead, it is time for a calm head and a warm heart. And regular hand washing and doing what is best for our public health. Being cautious is not an act of fear, but one of responsibility. As a community, we can help each other.
Get good information. Don’t rely solely on social media or what someone else tells you. Find good information sources. If you do go to social media, consume it in small doses. Social media feeds on our fear and anger, plus there is a lot of misinformation too. Smart people around the world are working on this.
Some of the best things to do are exercise, eat nutritious food, sleep well, read and practice a lot of silence. Another perspective would be to embrace this opportunity to become more comfortable with the gifts that silence and solitude have to offer. Return to your spiritual practice. It is almost always best not to immediately react to your emotions. And your emotions are in a heightened state! Stop and take time to breathe. Get social support, go for walks with friends, talk on the phone and live in today. Hold your plans and schedule lightly. Practice gratitude. Find small beauties that make you happy and take time to enjoy them. I see the flowers pictured above in my front yard daily. I’ve begun a practice of taking the time to stop and notice.
Hope, trust, support, silence, breath, beauty–practice something other than fear.
Earlier this month, fifteen women gathered at the Cedarbrake retreat center in Belton, Texas. For several days, we sought silence, community and took time to listen for the quiet voice of God. There was stark beauty in the rugged trees without leaves, interspersed with the ever green of cedars. Birds sang and were clearly visible on the branches. The Texas countryside provided cliffs to peer over and bubbling streams to find at the bottom of the canyon.
Many of us brought deep sadness about the state of our country and our world to the weekend. We enjoyed the refuge offered and sought understanding about how to navigate the fights that seem to be always at the forefront of the daily news.
Rather than withdraw from the darkness, we spoke of “holding the space” and offering love. We recognized and drew comfort from this realization that the love we were holding somehow beneficially changes the world around us. We will not be over-run, neither will we meet opposition with more opposition. We will hold the love.
Richard Rohr speaks to this in his book The Universal Christ.
God has worked anonymously since the very beginning—it has always been an inside and secret sort of job.
The Spirit seems to work best underground. When aboveground, humans start fighting about it.
You can call this grace, the indwelling Holy Spirit, or just evolution toward union (which we call “love”). God is not in competition with anybody, but only in deep-time cooperation with everybody who loves (Romans 8:28). Whenever we place one caring foot forward, God uses it, sustains it, and blesses it. Our impulse does not need to wear the name of religion at all.
Love is the energy that sustains the universe, moving us toward a future of resurrection. We do not even need to call it love or God or resurrection for its work to be done.
Eremos continually asks the question, “What is mine to do?” We are called to hold the space for love in our world today. There is power in that. Being together at Cedarbrake, sitting in silence with the community while holding all the pain of the world around us in love, we tapped into this power and are taking it into our daily experience. You can do the same wherever you are. We can all be part of the work of love.
Since last fall, excitement has been building for our 2020 program year featuring the theme of INTERSPIRITUALITY AND COMPASSION FOR SELF, OTHER, AND EARTH. The January workshop on Interspiritual Chant was a great way to begin. Eremos Board member, Rev. Dr. Mona West, led us through a morning of chanting with material from several different spiritual traditions. The ritual of singing together is part of many expressions of spiritual deepening.
Each of us came with varying levels of experience with chant and comfort using our voices. No matter where we began, the unity of our voices was a powerful experience for all. And, of course, with this being an Eremos event, Mona wove in extended time for reflection during the morning.
Those of us who were privileged to attend came away refreshed, relaxed, inspired, and with a new appreciation of how accessible this form of contemplation can be. I invite you to step out of your comfort zone and take advantage of any opportunities to chant in community or ‘sing’ along with a chant recording.
One of those who attended, Mary, was so nourished and inspired by the experience and time for reflection she created a poem that expresses the gift of joy that we all received. She has given us permission to share it with you. Enjoy!
I hope to see you soon at one of the many deep offerings we have in the coming months.
The Dance of My Whole Self
–by Mary Davidson January 21, 2020
Connection. Compassion. Clarity.
Body, mind and Spirit. Heart and soul.
Toes, heels, soles of my feet touching Mother Earth.
Her blessings rising up through my legs, hips and into the pelvic bowl.
Blood circulating, as heart is beating, pumping.
The heart overflows with love for Mother Earth, Self, and others everywhere
Even those gone before
And those yet to be!
Breathing in. Breathing out. Air shared by all beings.
Nerves alive with connections.
This is the dance of my whole self.
All the senses alive!
Feeling the joy of movement, cool air and sweat on my skin
Seeing trees, sky, fellow dancers around me, spinning as I twirl and step
Smelling fresh air, greenery, the moisture in the air
Tasting the deliciousness of exhilaration
Hearing the pulse of my inner music, as it moves me.
This is the dance of my whole self!
The torso swivels, spiraling slowly.
Arms reaching out and up, like tree branches
extending towards sun, planets and stars.
Lowering myself, I roll on Mother Earth.
Kneeling, I bow to my sisters and brothers on this planet.
Rising, I lift my voice in song, a clear melody of Life.
A song of celebration, grief and gratitude!
This is the dance of my whole self.
Clarity in voice and vision.
Unity with all in One! Life! Love!
The dance of the Whole!
Prompt: What is the dance of your Whole Self?
This reflection question was posed after reading “The Whole Self,” a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye at The Interspiritual Chant workshop with Eremos on January 18, 2020. The poem starts with three lines from The Hokey Pokey: “You put your whole self in. You put your whole self out; You put your whole self in and you shake it all about.”
The Winter Solstice has passed and the days ahead will gradually gain minutes of daylight. The longest night of the year has come and gone, once more. The solstice occurs in the same week as Christmas Day, celebrated by Christians as the birth of Jesus, the Christ Light coming into the world and in the same month as Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. These celebrations with friends and family remind us of the Light in the midst of the darkness.
We’ve been on this journey around the sun before, just as many have celebrated the Light many times. Each year of turning towards the Light gives us an opportunity to renew our hope and faith in the possibilities this Light and this Love brings.
Of course, darkness has not been banished from our days and lives. With the grey days of January and February ahead, we know there will be long stretches of cold and darkness when it seems that Spring will never come. In those dark times, we wonder where that Light is. Where is the assurance of God’s Love?
As I sit with people in Spiritual Direction, hearing of the anguish of feeling directionless, listening as they wonder where God is in this, feeling the darkness, the invitation comes to sit and wait, knowing that God is a loving God, even in the darkness of the uncertainty. Each time, God’s call is to wait patiently in the darkness with hope and faith.
What can sustain you in times of darkness? Seek out a way to sit with God, even when it seems unrewarded. Sit in silence. Take a walk. Find a community. Build relationships that can strengthen you when the darkness seems unending.
We know the return of the Light happens, even when we can’t see or feel it. In dark, lonely times, it becomes important to be in a community who knows this truth, a community that can encourage and inspire, even in the darkness. Join us in one of the many Eremos events that hold this Light, even in the Darkness. We will come together in January to Chant with Rev. Mona West, to lift our voices and spirits. Will you join us as we turn to the light?
At last, we can feel that the earth has shifted on its axis and we are beginning to move away from the heat of summer. Our bodies enjoy the cooler temperatures, our minds react to the shifting light. We notice the light comes later each morning and leaves earlier each evening. All things pumpkin are displayed in stores. The slow rhythm of the seasons is felt. Take time to notice the changes around you.
There are annual celebrations that occur in the coming months. Halloween will be celebrated in a few days. The Day of the Dead and All-Saints Day will be close behind. There is Thanksgiving, then Hanukkah and Christmas. Each of these holidays has rituals and routines. They can be celebrations, but they can also bring stress and/or loneliness.
I’d like to invite you to join me in bringing contemplation to this season. Jan Richardson, an author that we often quote, offers an Advent “Online Journey into the Heart of Christmas.” This shared experience offers three emails each week, with written reflections, questions and blessings by Jan. Artwork and music are woven throughout for your reflection. There is an optional online forum if you choose to engage with others during this time. Find out more here. If there are at least 8 people who are interested in joining me, we can offer Eremos group pricing. Would you let me know by email (sharondunn[at]eremos.org) if you would like to add this to your seasonal rhythm?
Eremos joins the seasonal celebrations by gathering together as a community at our annual Gala. This year, our Bright Lights celebration is on November 14th at the Wyndham Garden Hotel. You can register to join us or find out more information here. I hope you’ll choose to join me at the Gala and for the Advent Journey.
This past weekend, fourteen women gathered at Cedarbrake Retreat Center in Belton for an Eremos Retreat. Each of us came with all the challenges the world has pressed upon us to experience this place of rest, “no rules,” nutritious, delicious meals created and provided by the group, and nature’s peace and beauty.
We came together as a community of seekers and stepped into the silence to listen for the Voice of God. This weaving together of times of silence, sharing, and laughter offered us space to receive the healing, solace, and connection we sought. As we gathered on Sunday to leave Cedarbrake and return to our busy lives, each one was challenged to develop a “practice” to carry this silence into the everyday. In the same way, you can intentionally set aside time this season for silence and listening. Create a “spiritual practice’ that gives you space to listen.
Julie Bowman captured our experience in a PrayerSong below. The next Eremos retreat at Cedarbrake is scheduled for February 7th-9th, 2020, if you would like to join us.
I do not know its name…
But it looks like a stone labyrinth, intertwined with oak and juniper
And like a full moon emerging from glowing night-clouds.
It smells like earth and leaves and grass baking in September heat
And like pecan-roasted coffee and lavender oil.
It sounds like silent prayer at daybreak: crunching gravel beneath a pair of feet, crows and wrens chiming in
And like riotous laughter rising very non-silently from the dining tables.
It tastes like rice and veggies and apple crisp prepared with care
And like dark chocolate wrapped in deep wisdom.
It feels like soft couches and hard chairs drawn in a circle.
It feels like souls easing.
It feels like Mystery.
It feels like Love.
Julie Bowman, September 15, 2019
Photo Courtesy of Julie Bowman
Make the choice of love.
One of the benefits of taking time to stop and listen for the voice of God is that we can become aware that we do have a choice. Before we step into habitual pathways of anger, depression, self-loathing or taking the easy way out, that conscious pause can make us aware that there is a different path if we choose to take it.
I have a friend named Michelle. She has terminal cancer. Her life has not been easy and the abuse she suffered resulted in drug addiction and poor life choices. She could be feeling very sorry for herself, bitter and alone. Instead, she chose to get clean, to use her skills to help others clean and repair their houses and to consciously love those around her.
As her cancer has progressed, even though she is relatively young, she is no longer able to live independently. She is now living in a care facility, with a roof over her head and meals provided. Her medication is managed by others. Rather than lament that she is surrounded by people in much worse shape than she is, she has chosen to consider this a gift. Michelle chooses to view her life as “in a monastery.” She uses her time to read, study and pray. She does art and exercises her body. She walks the halls of her facility, intentionally seeing those who are often unseen. She speaks to each person she meets and says a kind word. She makes a point of going to breakfast and engaging in conversation. On her door hangs a hand-lettered sign that announces Monastery of Monte Siesta. Other residents know they can stop by to chat with her, share their concerns, ask for prayers. She prays actively for the other residents.
Michelle is making a difference where she is. She is choosing love and bringing love into a place that needs more of it. How can you do that where you live?
—A guest blog post by Elota Patton, LPC, M.Ed. MFA
Humans collect things; it’s in our nature. Beautiful things, useful things, practical things, and things we might possibly use in the future. In 21st century America, we are bombarded with advertising, on computers, TVs, phones. We are told that if we buy more things (jewelry, makeup, cars, lawn furniture, couches, decorative objects, and bigger houses to hold them all) we will be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled. The truth is the opposite. Recent research on happiness shows that while people predict that objects will make them happy, experiences provide far more enduring pleasure.
Like so many Americans, last January I got swept up in the fervor around Marie Kondo’s hit Netflix series, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I began cleaning and organizing drawers that had been disorganized and messy for years – decades! I gathered things I truly no longer used or needed and gave them away. And in the process, I discovered a secret –one monastics have known for a long time – clearing space and organizing clutter creates greater peace of mind. Truly, tidying up is a contemplative practice.
And this practice is attracting more and more Americans. For decades, we have been caught in consumption, but our fervor for things has a profound cost. Our closets and drawers are stuffed, our oceans are filled with plastic, and no one wants our excess clothing. We are stuck in acquisition addiction, the mistaken brain signal that acquiring more things will make us happy.
There are still some things that I want to let go that I have not, and that has made me curious: How do we let go of the emotional attachment to some “things?” Not everything has to go. It’s important to keep what is meaningful to you, and only you know what those things are.
But releasing some of my object-history has made me feel lighter, more content with what I have, less drawn to wanting more. This practice has helped to make my home more authentic to who I am today. I feel less called to shop, less energetically pulled by things I don’t truly need. I’m not “finished,” and my space is still imperfect, but choice by choice, my home has become a sweeter, more contemplative space.
Noticing what nourishes and letting go of what does not gives me pause and peace. I invite you to join me in this practice, to create your unique way to clear and connect to the sacred in the simpler.
Find Out More About Elota’s Upcoming Workshop: The Contemplative Art of Tidying Up
Elota Patton served as Executive Director at Zachary Scott Theatre and taught Business Communication at the University of Texas. She also edits professionally, teaches Nia and serves on the Eremos Board of Directors.