Reentry

I’ve been absent from these blog pages lately.  My music partner and I returned recently from a week-long tour in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, presenting our Women at the Well music program at several churches there.  It was a wonderful experience, and we were awed and humbled by the responses the music received.  What a blessing!  Then, home in time for the latter part of Holy Week, which meant more wonderful music in liturgy.

The tour was a stretch – it was a challenge to be in community with different congregations in so a short period of time.  You see, I don’t like thinking of myself as a “performer” in this context.  (Performing is what I do with the blues band!) I have no problem singing (or speaking) in front of people, but music focused on God is… focused on God!  I’m just the messenger, and I always hope that my technique enhances the music instead of taking away from it.

Yet, I know that not everyone feels comfortable being “in front.”  For me, it’s just a part of doing what I do.  The message is important, and I’m the one to deliver it, so…here goes.  I step up and sing and speak.

Transfiguration 1

And oh, how I long to know everyone in the room.  What are their stories?  I see individual faces, I get feelings, reactions from many…so I do know you.  Some are more guarded, some are wide open, some are in between.  Doesn’t matter to me.  I see the faces, I ride the ebb and flow, and I pray always that whatever is said and sung will bring comfort or joy or insight to someone.  It is, in my mind, a communal act – even though I won’t have the chance to meet everyone.  It doesn’t matter; we are all a part of this experience, in this moment, in this church.  And we are connected, now and into the future.

You are all part of Women at the Well, I say at the end of the event.  By being there, everyone has certainly given me a gift.  The Gift of Presence, of Witness, is awe-inspiring to me.  I tell everyone that they will be in our hearts.

And you are.

http://www.women-at-the-well.com

When in doubt…bring food.

Just a week ago I had a conversation with a couple of friends about “when in doubt, bring food.”  Whenever someone has a Major Life Event, the common response (at least in my corner of the world) is to bring a meal, a casserole, a….something edible and delicious.  I mentioned that I had often wondered if this “bring food” response is a Louisiana thing, or is more universal.  “I think it must be universal,” said I.  After all, drive-through daiquiri stands may be JUST LOUISIANA (yes, we have them) but food – well, everyone eats, right?  I was told stories by the other friends that indicated that this isn’t always the case.

Huh? This was a surprise.  If there were an official manual of Cajun Etiquette, page 1 would read simply this: When in doubt, bring food.

After all, it’s what we do.  When someone has a baby, bring food.  When someone has an operation, bring food.  When someone has a surprise, a shock, an unexpected visitor, an expected visitor (or a whole houseful of them), a new house, bring food. When you have a new neighbor, bring food.  When someone is packing to move out, bring food. And when someone dies, bring food. A meal, a covered dish, a casserole, a pot of gumbo…one brings food as a practical matter and as a symbol of sustenance.  It’s an act of nurturing, of caring and of sharing.

Bring Food

I made this for your family and mine; we don’t have to eat it together to know that we’re with you in this. We symbolically share a meal, and in a part of the world where cooking is practically a religion, the offering of a meal is sacramental: An act of grace, an expression of love. I can’t take away your burden, but I can make your life a bit easier.  I made you something that nourishes my family, I hope it nourishes and feeds your body and soul.  Have some comfort food.  Just receive; it was made with love and prayer.

If the event is a positive one, bringing food is still – always – an appropriate response.  A celebration? You’ll have company, and I know you’ll want to feed them and spend time visiting, you don’t need to be in the kitchen.  A new baby?  Rest, Mama, all y’all have to do is heat up the gumbo, and don’t forget to eat ‘cuz you have to feed that baby.  Your adult child is home from serving our country?  He or she needs some real home cooking, and you need to spend time listening, not cooking.  Eat.

Even if you are too numb to taste it, eat.  Your body needs fuel.  I thought of you and your loved ones; I prayed for you all while I chopped and cooked.  Whether prayers of supplication or prayers of thanksgiving, I thought of you as I decided what to make, selected the ingredients, and cooked.  My humble kitchen became a place of prayer as a meal for your family (and possibly mine, if the pot’s big enough) came together.

I made a lot, there’s plenty, don’t worry.  I’m not always good at saying what I feel, but I sure can cook how I feel.

Sometimes words fail us, but food doesn’t.  So when in doubt, bring food.

An Accidental Businesswoman

Melissa Bonin is a dear friend of mine, and was recently honored as an outstanding businesswoman in our community by ABiz (Acadiana Business, based in south Louisiana). I was delighted to be invited to share this moment with her, and sat with several other friends and family at the luncheon that honored her and several other standard-setting women.  Even though we recognized the many talents of our friend (“well, of COURSE she’s being honored!” was our communal reaction), Melissa was totally surprised by the honor. In her acceptance speech, she described herself as an “accidental businesswoman” because you see, Melissa is an artist.

She is also a very successful one, and over the years I’ve been amazed and inspired as I’ve watched her balance her response to the callings of her soul with the mundane tasks and trials of everyday life.  A single mother, she’s dealt with the loss of both of her parents, illnesses in her family, and the demands of allowing Spirit to speak through her eyes and hands while trusting that she had everything she needed to live, love and thrive.  Her work represents her deep relationship with the healing magic of the Louisiana landscape.  She captures living water in rivers of light; looking at her work, the viewer experiences mystery and magic – and is simultaneously graced with understanding.

Melissa Bonin Gallery Melissa Bonin’s gallery in the Garden District, New Orleans

“To be an artist means to give voice or vision to the murmurings of the soul.  Now ladies and gentlemen, you try to put that into a business plan,” she told the crowd gathered that day.

A business plan, indeed.  She doesn’t need to swim in the “shark tank” to chart her path or grow her business; she listens to her heart and follows the call of the soul – and she paints. She says “…if I valued  my soul’s voice and made my choices based on this belief …… all good things I wished and dreamed would happen.”  What has guided her are the questions: “ Does this honor the work? What does the work require next? Does this bring joy? Does this affirm life? Does this inspire?”

I listened to her acceptance speech that day with tears in my eyes.  In her usual uncanny way, she had summarized the challenges that so many of us face, and charted a path for meeting those challenges.  As I listened, I simply said “well, of course.  Put the call of the Soul first, and things will fall into place.”  I’ve sometimes thought this to be impossible, but Melissa exemplifies this.  She puts the most precious things first – her son, her art, the life of Spirit and Soul.  It’s not an either/or, they all fall into place, with everything else second.  Like so many other women, she’s found that it can be a bit of a high-wire act with bated breath and occasional heart-wrenching slips….but things come together and balance is achieved.

I’ve carried her words with me since that day, and have found inspiration for clarity, especially when I am overwhelmed.  Asking myself “ Does this bring joy?  Does this affirm life? Does this inspire? Does this draw me closer to Spirit?” If the answer is yes, then I can move forward, even if I am fearful.

Enjoy the life-affirming and inspirational work of my friend, gifted artist Melissa Bonin, at www.melissabonin.com and in person at her gallery at 3714 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA.

Prayer Shawls * 3 Dimensional Prayer

Thoughts at the beginning of a Shawl Ministry at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in New Iberia, La.

“Shawls … made for centuries universal and embracing, symbolic of an inclusive, unconditionally loving, God. They wrap, enfold, comfort, cover, give solace, mother, hug, shelter and beautify. Those who have received these shawls have been uplifted and affirmed, as if given wings to  fly above their troubles…”

                                  Written in 1998 by: Janet Severi Bristow    From the home page at:  http://www.shawlministry.com

prayershawl1

Wrapped in Prayer

I had a Zen teacher in college, Fr. Benjamin Wren, SJ, who taught – among other things – liturgical dance, ikebana and Tai Chi.  He called these “3 dimensional prayer.”  I thought of Fr. Wren when I started exploring the interest level for a shawl ministry at our church, because I also think of prayer shawls as “3 dimensional prayer.”

Shawls are practical, beautiful, nurturing.  Even though the idea of a prayer shawl ministry didn’t really burst into modern consciousness until 1998, shawls have been present in spiritual practice for a long time.  I think of the Jewish Talit, or fringed prayer shawl, worn at various times by Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews.  Our priests, deacons and bishops wear stoles when leading a service. Mantillas may still be worn by Spanish Roman Catholic women for worship (and were extremely common in French/Spanish south Louisiana in pre-Vatican II days). Pentecostal Churches may have “prayer cloths” – cloths that have been prayed over and in some cases, anointed.  All of these practices may serve to set the wearer apart, or to help the wearer indicate, even if only to oneself, that this time is now for prayer.

I can appreciate the concept of a prayer cloth.  Here’s something tangible that has been prayed over, given to someone to hold, to touch, a tactile reminder that someone else has been praying for them.  It’s a powerful thing to know that someone is praying for you, and having something in hand that underscores that can serve as a strong reminder: You are loved.  You are remembered and cared for by this community.  You are a child of God, our sister or brother in Christ, and this is a symbol of our ongoing prayer.

A shawl is this symbol, that wraps one in a comforting embrace.  So where did our 21st century concept of a prayer shawl ministry come from?

MonicaShawl

Monica’s Prayer Shawl

Do an online search for “prayer shawl ministry” and you will learn of two women who had attended and graduated from a Leadership Institude in Hartford, Connecticut in 1998.  They’d been in a program of applied Feminist Spirituality with Professor Miriam Therese Winter.  Professor Winter is a Roman Catholic nun (Medical Mission Sister) and an author and songwriter whose works are well worth exploring. These women, Janet Severi Bristow and Victoria Galo, combined compassion, prayer, and a love of fiber arts into a prayer ministry and spiritual practice. Their journey and ministry is described on the website, www.shawlministry.com.

Since then, prayer shawl patterns have been becoming more and more common.  Sure, it’s marketing, but I’m very glad to see this concept blossom in spite of the “secularization of America.”  Yarn manufacturers are designing simple patterns and actually calling them prayer shawl patterns.  Lion Brand Yarn(www.lionbrand.com) has a great assortment of knitted and crocheted prayer shawls.  Several books are available for crochet and knitted prayer shawls, and a “prayer shawl” search on the fiber lovers’ website www.ravelry.com yields (as of this writing) over 20,000 member projects tagged with the term “prayer shawl” or “prayershawl.”

What makes a prayer shawl a prayer shawl?  Intention.  Compassion.  Blessings, and of course, prayer.
The shawlmaker only needs basic crochet or knitting skills to do the work.  A shawl is begun with intention, with prayer and blessings for the recipient, and the shawlmaker may or may not know the recipient.  Shawls may be made with the intention that they will find the person who needs it most.  In other words, the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting.  When the shawl is completed, the group (and anyone else who wants to join their prayers) may say a prayer for the recipient before sending it on its way.

Prayer shawls may be made for anyone – woman, man, girl or boy and they may be adapted according to the comfort of the recipient – a “prayer square” with a Cross (or Magen David) motif, or a small blanket  may be more appropriate for some than a shawl.  They may be made for someone going through medical treatment, for someone experiencing a loss, bereavement; a life-changing event (which can be joyous as well!), ordination…whatever!  A small cross or charm may be attached to the shawl, this is entirely optional.  Most ministries include a prayer with the shawl – and care instructions help, too!

No matter where you are with your craft, making a prayer shawl is a beautiful thing.  Your stitches don’t have to be perfect, just made with compassion and intention.  Remember that when you make a shawl (or blanket), you are, in a sense, joining the recipient on their journey one stitch at a time, one step at a time, one prayer at a time.