Liturgical Seasons and the Seasons of Our Lives

                                                   View from the Hospital

Contributed by Executive Director, The Rev. Tara K. Soughers, PhD

My faith community is a form of Christianity in which the seasons of the year are very important.  Like many faiths, we recognize the gathering darkness of winter, and the coming of new life in the spring.  However, our recognition of the seasons goes further than that of many others: every part of the year has its own liturgical season, and the themes, readings, and even the emotional color of our worship changes in response to the liturgical season.

There are certain disadvantages to this system.  There have been times when the somber and penitential mood of Lent is at odds with the mood in other areas of life.  There have also been times, when the exhortation to experience Easter joy for 50 days can seem almost impossible.  In those times, seasonal liturgical worship is a discipline.  Like many other spiritual disciplines, the difficulty of following a practice varies.  At times, I can find myself wishing that the season reflected my moods more closely.  It would be easier to rejoice when all was going really well in my life: rejoicing in times of grief is indeed difficult, and sometimes impossible to do.  Yet, I am immersed in a communal celebration  in those times, reminded me that worship is not primarily what  I do for my personal edification, but what we as a community do together.

But if there are those times when my emotions are out-of-synch with the liturgical season, there are also those times when the meaning and discipline of the liturgical season adds a layer of meaning to the events of my life that infuses those events with a depth that can hardly be overestimated.  This year, Easter and Holy Week were just such a time in my own life.

The events of Easter and Holy Week are centered on our affirmation, as a faith community, that God can bring life out of death.  On Good Friday, my brother had a lung transplant.  It is a dangerous procedure, and there are no guarantees that one will even survive the surgery.  In addition, this gift is given at the cost of another’s life.  The parallels could hardly be closer.  On Good Friday, we remember of the death of Jesus, who gave his life that others might live and live more abundantly.  As I flew across the country to be with my family, I was keenly aware of the connections between the liturgical season and my own personal season.  Having previously accepted the discipline of living out the liturgical seasons allowed my faith to inform my life, granting me the assurance that God can indeed bring life out of death.

My brother made it through surgery, and actually he has been doing remarkably well.  He was blessed with a healthy set of lungs, and with these lungs, he is not only off oxygen, but he is already breathing 300% better than he had before the surgery.  In fact, the surgeons said that his lungs were some of the worst that they had ever seen, and the lungs he got very beautiful.  It was a reminder that God often gives gifts extravagantly.

So this year, when I got to Easter, I was indeed already celebrating that gift of life that came through the sacrifice of another, so that my brother might have life, and have it more abundantly.  I was filled not only with Easter joy, but also with a profound thankfulness for the gift of life that God gives us in so many ways and for the ways that God can transform even death into life.  As a Christian, it was not a new understanding, but my understanding of what my family and I experienced was deepened by the discipline of following the liturgical seasons, and my understanding of Holy Week and Easter will be forever deepened by what happened in this year, when I personally experienced the passage from death into life in my own family.

Finding Hope in Dark Times

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Contributed by Executive Director, The Rev. Tara Soughers, PhD

This last week has been a difficult one for me.

It isn’t that the candidate that I backed did not win the election: I have had many times in my voting years where that has been the case.  That happens in a democracy.  In every other election, however, I felt that the person who won truly cared for the country, even if I thought that their policies were flawed.

This time, however, it seemed to me that hatred had won: racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, xenophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, and Islamophobia.  It seemed to me that the worst impulses of America and the human heart had triumphed.  It seemed to me that violence and threats of violence, slander and lies had triumphed over those qualities that I valued about America: respect for others, tolerance, generosity.  I wasn’t really surprised, but I was very, very depressed, and I felt enclosed by darkness.

It did not take long for my fears for what this might mean for our country to be manifest.  On election day, just as the polls were about to open, my husband was driving to work through an area where there were many, many Trump signs.  Someone tried to intentionally force him off the road and wreck his car.  He was the victim of road rage, apparently by someone offended by his bumper stick supporting Clinton and Kaine.  A day later, he was still suffering panic attacks.

Within hours of the election being called, there was a dramatic rise in hate crimes, as supporters of Trump asserted their rights to abuse women, people of color, and gays.  The picture above is one of two Episcopal Churches (my own denomination) who have been targeted by Trump supporters.  No place feels safe.

And yet, I am safer than most.  I only fit one of the categories that was targeted during Trump’s campaign, but with men asserting their right to grab women’s private parts because Trump normalized such behavior and the election of Trump condone it, I am at risk along with most people in this country.

But I am more afraid of for my loved ones who fall into even more hated categories than I am for myself, and so I have started wearing a safety pin, to show that I will stand with anyone who is being targeted for any reason.  The rise of the safety pin movement was the first sign of hope I saw in this dark week.

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By itself, this gesture is not enough, not nearly enough.  Yet for me it was a place to start.  I know that there is a story going around the internet of the KKK trying to co-opt this symbol, to make it meaningless or even dangerous.  There is no symbol that cannot be co-opted or turned from its original purpose.

Yet I will wear a safety pin, both to show my solidarity with those who are being oppressed, as well as to remind myself that even in the darkest times, there are reasons to hope.

Holy Listening

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Contributed by Executive Director, The Rev. Tara Soughers

In this very contentious election season, I am finding myself feeling overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed with messages, overwhelmed with reactions, overwhelmed with expressions of hate and anger, and when I get overwhelmed, I get anxious.  My mind starts whirling around, exploring all of the horrible scenarios that have been suggested, until I feel afraid.  Of course, fear is a weapon in this political season.  It can be an effective way to propel people into an action that you want them to take.  But actions taken out of fear are rarely helpful.  Most often they are problematic, and sometimes destructive.  Fear is contagious, and it sets up a cycle that encourages others to lash out in fear as well.  There is a part of me that simply wants to shut it all out, retire to a place where no one can find me, where there are no newspapers, no television, and no internet until all of this fear-laden rhetoric is gone.  But I can’t.  I have a responsibility to act on behalf of my community, be it local or national or even global.  I need to listen, but I need to listen in a different way.  I need to engage in holy listening.

Holy listening is a way of deep listening with love and compassion.  I need to recognize when others are speaking out of their fear, and listen not with my own fear, but in love and compassion.  I need to model a way of listening that is not seeking to strike out, to score points, to win an argument, but listening to understand.  As the mystic Rumi says, “You will learn by reading but you will understand with love.”  I need to listen not to learn so much— my learning needs to come from seeking out facts in order to combat the lack of information or even misinformation in the anger-laden speech— but to understand the one who is speaking.  I need to listen in a way that models love, not hate, for only love can overcome the divisive rhetoric of our public dialogue.  I need to listen in a way that honors the value of each voice, even those voices that are expressing hatred and ideas that I find abhorrent.

I am afraid that I am not always very good at that kind of listening.  I can get caught up in the fear and anxiety, and respond accordingly.  But when I do, I am betraying what I truly believe, that all people are made in God’s image and likeness, and all are inestimable value because they are children of God.  It is times like this that challenge me to live as I claim I believe.

I find that in order to be able to listen to others, particularly in difficult times, I need to spend some time listening to myself, and listening for God.  For me, this is best accomplished in nature.  I need to spend some time simply sitting and listening to what is around me, sounds that do not carry fear, that do not ask me to do something right now, that are simply there.  Rumi says, “The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.”  When I sit for a while in silence, I begin to hear the small sounds, the wind rustling leaves, insects flying around, waves lapping gentle, squirrels chittering, bird singing.   I hear the things that I normally can’t hear when I am feeling overwhelmed, and I find myself relaxing and coming back to myself.  The anxiety drops, the fear lessens, and my hearing with love and gratitude is restored.

It is then that I can return to the frenzy of my everyday world, able to respond more out of love and less out of fear.  For more love and less fear is desperately needed in our world, and at least for me, holy listening is one of the ways in which I am able to live more out of love.

I invite all of you to share practices which help you, in this time of great anxiety in our country, to live and make decisions out of love, not fear.

 

Setting Our Faces Towards Jerusalem: A Lenten Quiet Evening

CGCSP Soughers Setting Our Faces Towards Jerusalem

Come and join us for an evening of quiet and reflection. From early Christian times, Holy Week has been a major time of pilgrimage. As Christians prepare for the holiest week of the year, come and prepare yourself to journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem.

We will begin at 6:00 with a soup supper and end by 9:30. Come for all of it or any part. Meditations will be offered, and feel free to bring any quiet activity that will assist you in your own preparation.

From the Director

Welcome to Common Ground: Center for Spiritual Practice

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Humans have a need to have rituals in their lives to mark transitions and to create meaning. The earliest humans probably sat around campfires asking questions about why things happen the way that they do, and very early hominid burials show the presence of objects with the bodies, indicating some form of burial rituals. Rituals and practices are a part of every human culture, although the type of practice and the meaning associated with the practice are unique to their own context. Even those faiths that are ostensibly found world-wide have significant differences in beliefs, rituals, and practices in different areas. What is constant is the need for some type of practice.

Human beings are embodied creatures. What we think is important, but what our bodies do are also important. Humans have body knowledge, knowledge that can only be obtained through actual practice. When I was teaching my sons to drive, it was clear that the knowledge associated with driving was embodied knowledge. Although they had the theory about driving a car before they ever got behind the steering wheel, that theoretical knowledge was only useful when combined with the embodied knowledge that they gained through the practice of driving. The practice was informed by their intellectual knowledge, but in the end, the embodied knowledge helped them to really understand the intellectual. In humans, these two types of knowing work together.

This need for both intellectual and embodied knowledge is important in the spiritual life. We often begin a practice because it fits with our intellectual understanding, but practice is not only necessary for deeply understanding the spiritual life− but that practice will also, in the long term, not only illuminate our intellectual knowledge, but also shape our embodied lives.

Common Ground: Center for Spiritual Practice was begun by a group of people who had come to appreciate the importance of practice in the spiritual life. We do not all come from one religion or faith tradition. In fact, some of us have also been deeply affected by spiritual practices from outside our primary spiritual communities. We hope to provide a variety of programs to nurture people’s spiritual practices. We hope that people will come to learn how to deepen the practices of their own spiritual traditions, to explore new spiritual practices, and final to learn about the practices of other traditions in a spirit of openness. We wish to welcome all who want to explore how practice might allow them to deepen their own spiritual journeys.

Hospitality is at the core of who we are and what we do. Come practice with us!

The Rev. Tara Soughers, PhD