Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spiritual Practice: Creative Play

When I am feeling anxiety from big decisions, busy schedules, and challenging relationships, the first thing I want to do is pick up my guitar and just make some noise.  Sometimes I will play every song that I know, and sometimes I will just play one chord over and over again in search of something inside me.  If I can connect with a real emotion, I end up producing something totally new - a musical expression that I know is a gift from God.

Music is not the only outlet for this holy creative expression.  People experience this type of creation through art, theatre, dance, speeches, poetry and even creative planning.  Despite all of these outlets, there is something distinct about experiencing this as a spiritual practice.  Creativity becomes a means of expressing your reflections on identity, community, society and God.

A contributor to Totally Radical Muslims wrote a poem reflecting on the personal, communal and religious costs of the war in Iraq.  She is able to portray the desolate and desperate situation juxstaposed with the beautiful fragrance of fresh flowers.  What can this mean?  Is there hope for us in this message?  Is God at work in this creative process?  How do you experience the creative spirit of God in your life?  Is this a spiritual practice for you alone or in community? 

Art is a form of expression that can provide healing by returning to the memories of pain in order to understand those feelings and free you from them.  This is the story of Carolyn who uses art to help women liberate themselves from the traumatic memories of domestic violence.

Spiritual Practice: Care of Creation

When I was a child, I would wake up on Saturday mornings to the boisterous songs of my father who got me excited about working in our garden together.  I knew it meant going out in the hot sun, getting dirty and working hard, but I associated all of that with the positive feeling I got from caring for creation.
Twenty years later, I still thrive off of caring for the miracle of creation that we can eat and enjoy!  The image above shows the kale harvest from the summer interfaith institute I participated in.  We woke up every morning to work in the gardens as a commitment to each other, our community and God.  The food we grew fed the many people who visited Stony Point Center.  This was  a commitment to use what God gave us to grow food without hurting the earth that is actually good for our bodies!

A partnership between Jews and Muslims at the University of Michigan came to Chicago to work with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network on a project that supported local community and the environment.  Students spent their spring break supporting the Green ReEntry program in providing a sustainable home for residents in a disconnected community.  Something in their faith practice pushed them to pursue this service to community and care for creation in their free time.  There is deeper meaning in this service.

In the first creation story of Genesis,God created the earth good and created humanity in God's image - which is also good.  What practice are you committed to that empowers you to support God's good creation?

Spiritual Practice: Prayer

One of the noticeable elements of Islam is the call to prayer 5 times a day. When I lived in Kenya, there was a Mosque in my neighborhood, so I knew if it was prayer time just by the sounds of prayer echoing out into the community.  That prayer connects you to creation through the ground or the prayer rug, opens you up to listen to Allah (God), and provides vocabulary to praise and engage with the divine in three distinct ways: remembrance, ritual and supplication.  

Having observed many Friday prayers with Muslim communities here in Chicago and in New York, I am amazed at the unity of the physical body in prayer with the community.  I know there are easily recognized differences between certain groups of Muslims in prayer, but the overall act of praying is rather synchronized.  It makes me become very aware of the physical nature of our bodies and the eternal nature of God.  

Some pray with memorized words.  Some pray with new inspiration.  Some pray silently.  Some pray with an app on their phone. Some pray with a megaphone.  Some pray alone.  Some pray online. And some pray with the entire community.  All of these prayers provide space for reflection and connection with God.  

In the Catholic tradition, Contemplative Prayer continues to bring communities together to find a connection to God in the peace and silence of meditation. This youtube clip shows the unique engagement that this practice has on self and community.  If God is involved in this practice, what do you think God is doing?

Spiritual Practice: Hospitality

Tonight my girlfriend Abbi and I hosted a friend for dinner in her apartment.  This was an intentional act of invitation to relationship. The preparations for this event included cleaning the apartment, buying ingredients, preparing a meal, setting the table and welcoming our guest.  I can’t say that this process was particularly holy for me, but as I reflect on it, all these practices were an intentional part of Shabbat that I learned from my Jewish friends in the Interfaith Summer Institute.

During the summer institute, we hosted dinners on Saturday evenings to celebrate the end of the Jewish Shabbat (or Sabbath).  The entire community came together to clean our house and our own bodies to create a holy space of celebration.  The meal we prepared was open to everyone, no matter their beliefs or identity, and we opened and closed the meal with sacred words and songs giving praise to God.

The meal that Abbi and I had with our neighbor created a holy space for our relationship.  We opened the meal with prayer followed by a conversation about the vegan chili and cornbread.  The safety of the dinner table allowed us to dig into our own personal narratives.  Why am I here in seminary?  What do I feel God calling me towards in ministry?  These stories led us to ask more challenging questions about how our stories could come together during our time here.  I could feel the Holy Spirit at work in our words, bringing us closer together and more emboldened in the work of Christian Community.  The Spiritual Leadership Institute puts meal time at the heart of developing community.

During the Interfaith Social Justice Dialogue meeting this week at UIC, we all contributed to develop a concept of what home means.  We started by thinking about the people who were a part of the experience of home for us.  Then someone added that home was a place where we can invite people in - to share our true selves.  This is a place where the collections and decorations all say something about you.  In the deepest understanding of this place we call home, we know we can be all of who we are, even if it doesn't make sense.

Having a home is a basic human need that provides space for rest, security and renewal.  Opening this sacred space to outsiders is a spiritual practice that takes risk and humility but often leads to new understanding of self and the other.

Life giving relationships are formed in the kitchen.  Is this a spiritual practice for you?  How does your religious community engage in hospitality?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Inter-Religious Spiritual Practice

Today I am hoping to spark discussion about how youth and young adults can engage in spiritual practices in their tradition that provide meaning, direction, space for community, and a connection to God or a higher power.  As a child, I participated in the religious tradition of my family because my parents provided a connection for me, but at some point I began to choose what practices I would continue in my life and explore religion and meaning making on my own.  This seems to be a common thread across many religions.  So what makes a practice a spiritual practice?  Are there certain practices required to be considered a member of your religion?  How do practice and belief interact?

I come from a Presbyterian (PCUSA) community in Indianapolis, but through experiences of interreligious community at StonyPoint Center in New York and at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I have found that religious or spiritual practices are an important part of staying connected to God, community and identity for many religious people.  Rabia Harris, a Muslim Chaplain involved in the Stony Point interfaith summer institute I participated in, explained that spiritual practices are the business of waking up: becoming awake to the divine spirit inside us and awake to the world around us.

Unlimiting Practice

Kasey Hitt argues in her article Juggling and other Spiritual Practices for a Workaholic that in our high stress work oriented society, religious practices should provide a time to lay down the doing mentality and focus on caring for our spiritual needs including rest and play.  Writing poetry, juggling and centering prayer became her outlets for rest and play that connected Hitt to the divine.  These practices don't have to be something that you consider work. Although you may continue to work at engaging God in the practice, the main focus of a religious practice for me is to provide a sacred space for reflection.  Our busy lives come in direct conflict with spiritual practices because it gives value to rest and provides time for renewal.

I find rest and renewal when I pay attention to my avocado tree that lives in my living room.  By taking time away from my task oriented life, I am amazed again and again at the brilliant details of creation found in the veins of each leaf and the character of each branch as it twists and turns in search of its source of life, the sun.  This is where I reflect on my day and redirect the messages of "not enough" that I receive from society and instead focus on God's message that I am created in God's image and therefore am enough to live and serve on this earth.  Seeing the daily progress of this plant growing gives me hope that I too can grow and turn toward the image of God in my actions and identity.

What do you consider a spiritual practice for yourself?  Is there something that deeply connects you to God, allows you to reflect, or expands your view of creation?  How do you care for your spirit?