Friday, February 20, 2015

Walkin' in a Wintry Labyrinth

About a month ago I decided to take on the practice of walking the labyrinth at least once a week.  So far I have been faithful and have even managed to do it twice on most weeks.  It helps that there is a labyrinth about 5 minutes from my house over on the campus of Eastern State Mental Hospital.  A couple of weeks ago on a day that was particularly sad for me, my therapist strongly encouraged me to get outside and walk.  Though rain was expected he told me that the worst thing that could happen was that I would get wet.  He sad it was good if it was cold and windy because it would help me remember that I am robust and will not melt with a little rain or disappear with a little wind.  His encouragement led me to start walking from my house to the labyrinth.  On the way over and back, I get good exercise, and while I'm there I get to walk the labyrinth.  I have grown particularly fond of doing this at sunset.  And I have not let wind or rain or cold stop me.

Yesterday it occurred to me that it might be cool to see the labyrinth in the snow, though I was afraid that the snow might have obscured the path.  So I drove over and found that the snow was raised just enough over the brick outline that the path was visible.  I didn't have time to stop and walk, but I decided that I would come back tonight at sunset.  It was 18 degrees, dropping tonight to 9.  I tried to park my car in my usual spot right next to the labyrinth, but I realized the snow was deeper than I had thought and that I would probably get stuck.  So I drove a little distance and found a parking space that had been plowed.  I was bundled in many layers, and I pulled the hood of my down coat up over my head and put on my gloves as I got out of the car.

My therapist's challenge has led me to taking walks in 20 degrees, trying to befriend winter instead of huddling miserably inside waiting for spring.  Most of the time I have found that walking briskly warms me up and under my layers I even start sweating.  Not tonight.  Even with my hiking boots and two pairs of socks, my feet got cold quickly. There was a layer of snow over ice, so with each step the ground felt like it was cracking under my weight.  I was not the first person who had been there, but the previous tracks were old and had been covered by fresh snow.  Crunch, crack, crunch, I went around and around.  Sometimes it was hard to see the path, but mostly I could find it.  I kept thinking about how I always find it difficult to feel close to God in the winter.  It's so easy in the spring with new life bursting out all over, but in the winter I just feel depressed.  I asked God to be with me in the cold, but mostly I concentrated on the sound of the crunching under my feet.

As I made a turn I noticed that the sinking sun had begun to illuminate portions of the labyrinth.  It was magical.  I laughed out loud with delight and immediately grabbed my phone to try to capture the moment.  Such beauty.  The snow sparkled and glittered, and the setting sun cast a glow that started out golden and then turned rosy.  I kept walking until I got to the center where I turned to face the setting sun.  I sang the first verse of "In the Bleak Midwinter" but couldn't remember all the words.  It was so very cold; my breath steamed through the purple fleece scarf that covered my mouth.  It was so very lovely, snow and path and light.  By the time I left the center, after having turned to each of the four directions, the sun's glow had left the labyrinth.  No more magic light.  My feet were really starting to hurt with the cold.  I thought about the people who have to stay outside tonight and said a prayer that they might find warmth.  It took me over an hour to warm up once I got back home.  I can't imagine having to stay out in that all night.

I am so grateful for the walk tonight.  I have walked labyrinths all over the country, but I've never walked one in the snow.  It was a gift of winter.  Seems like I've had a few of those this year as I try to embrace this season that has for so long been my nemesis.  Normally this time of year I just feel small and huddled, but the picture I took below shows a very tall me.  BrenĂ© Brown has a mantra, "Show up and let myself be seen."  I'm trying to learn to do just that. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

View from the DSU Prayer Station: What is Lent?

Open door = strong blast of frigid air!
It's Lent, a good time for confession.  I need to confess that I had many uncharitable thoughts today at the prayer station:  every time a student held the doors open for a group of students to come through I thought unkind things in their direction.  I know it's the right thing to do, holding the door for another person, but they would just stand there forEVER as the 21 degree wind blew in, and all I could think was, "SHUT THE DOOR!"  Fortunately I only thought this and did not shout it at them, but at one point I looked up and both doors were standing wide open as a man carrying some flowers walked through the center.  I'm guessing he hit the button that is there for those in wheelchairs to push so that the doors will open automatically.  If he'd been in a wheelchair, I might have been more charitable, but I just looked at those doors, gateways to the frigid air, and thought, "SHUT THE DOOR!"

Those were my low moments today.  But my high was when a student who is part of another campus ministry group felt comfortable enough to come up, sit down in the cold, and ask me, "What is Lent?"  She had heard of it but didn't really know what it meant, and some of her friends had gone about campus yesterday with ashes on their foreheads and were talking about the things they were giving up for Lent and asking her what she was giving up.  Not understanding what Lent was, she wasn't sure how to participate.

David Student Union and Plaza with mound of snow
I am not one of those people who says that Lent is my favorite season.  I can't help it; I'm a resurrection, spring time flowers blooming, hope, joy, and new life kind of girl.  Nevertheless, I have always been keenly aware that it is only by dying that one gets to that new life, that you can't get to resurrection without the cross, and that a time of self-examination and repentance leading up to Holy Week is a good and blessed thing that makes Easter all the more joyful.  There are even years when I crave the greater simplicity of Lent.  So when the student asked me if I could explain how it related to Easter, I was delighted to oblige.

It might have been better if I could have observed some simplicity in my answer.  I have read so many blog posts about Lent and Ash Wednesday in the past few days that I was like a sitting fountain of information.  I hope I didn't overwhelm her.  I talked about Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the wilderness and the ancient Israelites wandering for in the wilderness.  I discussed what the ashes mean and how Sundays are always feast days.  I talked about giving up and taking on and letting go and above all choosing some sort of practice or discipline that is meaningful and draws one closer to God.  She asked questions and I gave answers.  I was so excited that I think I may have babbled on a bit.  But I was so excited!  Someone who had heard about Lent and wasn't quite sure what it all meant and wasn't scared to ask questions.  We even talked about Palm Sunday and how hard it was to imagine the crowds shifting from "Hosanna!" to "Crucify him!" 

I was grateful to be asked a question that I could answer with confidence.  And while we were talking, I didn't notice the cold!  We also had a new person show up for Eucharist today.  She's been wanting to come since last semester.  Unfortunately the prayer station sign has taken a beating in the strong winds and blew over for the second time today.  The small "How may I pray for you?" piece is starting to come apart.  I may need to take up wood working for Lent. 

All in all, a good day at the Prayer Station.  Maybe sitting in the cold will be my Lenten discipline - though I feel certain than a warm spring day in the Plaza would draw me closer to God!

Chapel in the snow

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Deep Breath - Snow Break

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of the season of Lent.  Today is Shrove Tuesday, traditionally celebrated with the "Feast of Pancakes" or other rich and fatty foods, a sort of celebration or "get rid of the sweets and fat" ritual before the fasting that begins the next day.  But tonight, churches all over Hampton Roads have canceled their pancake suppers due to unsafe road conditions.  Facebook indicates that many are grieving the loss.  Since it is Shrove Tuesday, I have a confession to make.  I don't really like pancakes.  They're okay, and I eat them when I have to, but they're really not my thing.  Now if was Waffle Supper, I might be feeling the loss, but pancake supper, well, I can take it or leave it.  (Sorry pancake grievers!)

The truth is that having a snow day on the day before Ash Wednesday feels like taking a deep breath right before Lent begins.  I slept late, took time for meditation, spiritual reading, and journaling, and then I headed out for a walk in the snow.  Time with God in the creation.  Though I don't love winter, there is something very special about walking in the snow after it has just fallen.  With the sun out, the snow glittered and sparkled.  I went slowly, partly because it was difficult to walk, cutting the first tracks through the snow, but also because I was trying to pay attention to what I was seeing, to breathe deeply and notice the world around me, to inhabit my body and get out of my head just a bit.  As I walked through the neighborhood I saw that very few people had been out.  I was the first to venture down to the iced over pond at the back of the neighborhood and the first to walk around it.  I almost didn't go because I didn't want to mess up the pristine snow with my tracks, but it was so beautiful, I couldn't help myself.  A few tiny bird tracks appeared along the side of the path, but otherwise there was no evidence of other living creatures.  It wasn't quiet like I remember from walking in the snow in my childhood - too many sounds from nearby roads, probably snow plows and other equipment.  Still, it was crisp and cold and full of beauty.

As I headed back up the hill I bumped into a friend I haven't seen in a long time walking her dogs, Bella and Rugby.  They were adorable as they romped in the snow.  My friend offered to let me use her snow shovel, so I wandered back to her house to pick it up.  We chatted a bit and then I got to work shoveling out my driveway.  Fortunately the snow hadn't packed down yet and was still light enough to remove with ease, though I am unaccustomed to the work and will have sore shoulders, I'm sure.  I worked up a sweat.  31 degrees in the sun felt warm after my long walk yesterday in 18 degrees.  When I returned the shovel, I was invited in for a cup of tea and some conversation.  When do I ever have time for that?  It was lovely to sit and chat and sip some spicy pumpkin tea with my friends while Rugby tried to chew my hand and jump in my lap.  

In the afternoon I made an early dinner to share with Jan, and we made plans for upcoming meetings.  It was all very relaxed.  Now I know that I could have filled this time with a million things I need to do: cleaning, sermon prep, various work projects, taxes, did I mention cleaning?  Instead I just tried to be present to the gift of the day, to breathe and ignore the occasional moments of anxiety and head chatter that said, "You need to make the most of this time.  You need to get stuff done!"  In my journal this morning I wrote, "There is enough time."  What if I believed that every day?  

There are many things I can do to honor the season of Lent that starts tomorrow.  Maybe one is to practice being present and telling myself that there is enough time, to talk back to the voices in my head that say there will never be enough, and to take time just to be with God.  Taking a deep breath before the season starts feels good and right.  Snow interrupts my life like Jesus does; often in inconvenient ways.  And yet, there is also an invitation.  Stop.  Look.  Listen.  Be. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

View from the Plaza Prayer Station - If You Don't Like the Weather... Wait!

Noon at the Plaza
What a difference a few hours can make.  When I arrived at the prayer station today it was in the upper 40's with clear blue sky.  I was so excited by the sun that I decided to try to sit outside.  For about the first hour it was nice, at least when the wind wasn't blowing.  The sun warmed my back, and I saw a couple of students come outside to eat.  I even saw my first skateboard dudette!  Then I started to notice the clouds rolling in.  My Weather Channel phone app told me that the temperature was still the same, but without the sun, the Plaza got very cold.  I huddled deeper in my coat and tucked my hands into fists inside my gloves.  Today visitors to the prayer station were interested in conversation, though I did get one prayer request from a new person.  One of the Canterbury students brought her lunch out while the sun was still shining, and as I had brought a sandwich for myself, we chatted while we ate.  A couple of staff members also stopped by to talk. 

Less than 2 hours later
By the time I decided to pack up and head inside, the sky had completely changed.  Though snow was in the forecast, it had been hard to believe when I arrived and sat in the bright sunshine. By the time I left to warm up in the coffee shop, I was convinced.  When I got in the car to head to my colleague group meeting, the snow was pouring down.  I realize that's not the right verb for snow, but that's what it looked like.  As I look at the two pictures, I am astonished that only a couple of hours separates them.  How quickly things can change.  At noon it was all bright and sunny, and by 1:30  the storm was rolling in.  Yesterday, there was a similar change at CNU, though it went from stormy to calm, and it didn't involve the weather.

At about 6:30 yesterday morning I awakened to a text, followed by a phone call, followed by an email, all telling me that CNU was on lock-down and that everyone needed to stay inside.  A man had been seen on campus carrying a handgun.  Scary.  I figured most of the students were safe, tucked in their beds, although now they might be awake from the alerts coming into their phones.  I waited a little while and then texted the Canterbury students.  Sure enough, they were all in their rooms and seemed to be okay.  8 a.m. classes were canceled, but before 9:00 we got the all clear. 

The story was on the news, and I learned today that nearby schools had stepped up security as they waited to hear what was going on at CNU.  The only thing I could imagine was that someone had simply been walking across campus going from point A to point B while carrying a gun.  Seemed unlikely, but I didn't have a better explanation.  I kept CNU in my prayers all day, praying for safety and relief from fear, praying that the person wasn't hidden away somewhere waiting to do harm. 

Later in the afternoon we received an email:  "CNU police investigation has determined that the individual suspected of carrying a gun on campus this morning was actually a CNU employee who was carrying a broken piece of equipment that was mistaken for a handgun."  Relief.  There hadn't been a gun after all.  Some were irritated that the alert had happened at all.  Others were just grateful - better safe than sorry.  The potential storm clouds dissipated.  CNU was back to normal.  Only a few hours had elapsed.

What a difference a few hours can make whether the storm is rolling in or out.  There's that old saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait a few minutes."  Seems to be true for metaphorical weather as well.  Sometimes it's hard watching the storm roll in, wanting to hold on to those sunny blue skies.  But the only way for it to move on through is for it to move on through.  Likewise, it can be so hard in the midst of the storm to remember what clear skies look like.  They will return.  We never know when the weather's going to change. 

Tonight the wind is still and the snow has ended, leaving the grass looking like it's been frosted with icing.  The temperature is dropping into the teens.  Clear skies have returned but no warmth remains.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

View from the DSU Prayer Station - "Old School"

View of the central area of the DSU.
The wind is brutal today.  So it was back to my spot under the Into the Woods sign in the DSU.  One of the Canterbury students dropped by and ate her lunch at the station and another stopped by for a quick chat and a prayer.  I seem to be making friends with some of the staff, and one staff member requested prayers on behalf of another.  There was a family with 4 kids visiting CNU today and they spent a lot of time in the center of the open area where I sit.  One of the children looked to be about 3, and she was having a grand time running around between parents and siblings.  She took a liking to me because I kept smiling at her, and we did a bit of a peek-a-boo game around the sides of my sign.  She kept giggling and I would turn my head away from her and then turn back to grin at her and she would giggle again. 

I had a prayer request for a young person with stage IV cancer and another for a young person who has died.  I ache for what these young people are enduring.

Me in my "old school" sweater.
One of the highlights of the afternoon was when one of the skateboard dudes - today I should call him flip flop dude - came by to chat.  He told me he liked my sweater.  I thanked him and looked down at it, appreciating the compliment because it's one of my favorite sweaters.  "It's old school," he said, "but I like it."  "Oh, it's OLD SCHOOL," I laughed.  He cracked me up.  Here I am thinking I'm the hip chaplain, wearing the cool sweater.  Ha!  Old school.  So I made a joke about how that's what I can call my lack of current fashion.  "You're bringin' it back," he said.  "You're like, this is just what I've been wearing all along, but now it's old school!"  I'm still taking it as a compliment.

Some of the students who drop by to chat are a part of CRU, the new name for Campus Crusade.  They think it's so cool that someone would sit in public and pray for the school.  They talk about the Holy Spirit a lot.  When I told one student about our Diocesan Council meeting this weekend, he said, "Oh, so will you be praying and worshiping a lot and just blessing the year?"  Well, yeah, but it's also more like a business meeting.  Turns out some of the students are headed down to North Carolina this weekend for a prayer and worship event.  I thought about how different our experiences will be.  One student was excitedly anticipating time with God and the blowing of the Holy Spirit.  I told him we'd have to reconvene next week and compare notes.  Maybe our keynoter, Diana Butler Bass, will have some Holy Spirit up her sleeve this weekend! 

View of doors to my right leading to the Great Lawn
Today a number of people walked by, read the sign, made eye contact, and smiled.  I smiled back.  When I was in high school, I ran for state student office of the Thespian Club one year in GA.  There were several components to the election process, but one was a surprise.  The candidates were called on stage one by one in front of the whole convention while the others waited in a quiet room back stage, not knowing what would happen.  When I arrive onstage, the emcee said, "You have 30 seconds to show us your best talent."  As you might expect, most of the other candidates broke out into a song or dance or monologue.  I was frozen until I extended my hands and grinned - tah dah - as if I had just completed something amazing.  "My best talent is smiling," I said, desperate to come up with something.  I wish I could say that I was truly clever under pressure, but it really was a gift of desperation when I realized I hadn't actually done anything.  What it did was make me memorable.  "You're the girl that smiled," was what I heard for the rest of the convention.  I was elected.

As I sit at the prayer station, I try not to underestimate the value of a smile.  It may not always win elections, but it can do a lot to offer hospitality, to set someone at ease, to light up a person's day, to cheer someone up.  As I smile at the passers by, I try to imagine warmth and love and peace going out into the campus.  Maybe the smile will help them find the courage when they need to request a prayer or talk about something important.  Until then, I'll keep smiling at each and everyone.  Like I've been doing for a long time.  Old school.