Friday, March 27, 2015

View from the DSU Prayer Station - Taste of Diversity

Early this week I received an email telling me about the Taste of Diversity event that would be happening in the Plaza yesterday during lunch.  I looked forward to it all week.  The email advertised food, crafts, and musical performances from a variety of cultures planned by more than seven student clubs.  I was especially excited about the Scottish band.  Needless to say, I was disappointed as I watched the forecast and saw that the chance of rain was 100%.  It was finally warm enough to be out in the Plaza without wearing long johns, but the rain drove the prayer station and the Taste of Diversity into the DSU.  Bummer.  My spot inside was around the corner from where the event was taking place, so I couldn't see what was going on, but I still ought to have been able to hear the music.  Aside from some Calypso music that played for a bit, I didn't hear any music.  It was only later in the day that I learned that the food and entertainment portion had been moved upstairs to the Crow's Nest, so I missed it entirely.  Bummer again. 

Downstairs there were tables set up with information about Scotland, Belgium, Africa, and Spain.  The Asian Studies Department was there as were some students who would write your name in Arabic.  I was glad to see part of the event but sad that I didn't realize I needed to go upstairs to see the rest.  I did get to witness a student ritual that I never did figure out.  It appeared that members of a fraternity were just hanging out in the area in front of where I sit, but when a certain couple would come in, they would all rush over, form a circle around the two, and begin singing, "You've lost that loving feeling."  Except I think they said, "You've lost that Sigma feeling."  They did this to two different couples.  One of the women had what looked to be an engagement ring on her finger, so maybe this is the appropriate congratulations ritual.  But I really don't know what losing the "Sigma feeling" would have to do with that.  Armchair anthropologists - get to work!

Yesterday also marked the first day with my "Safe Zone" sign displayed at the prayer station.  Last week I finished the second half of Safe Zone training provided by CNU's new Assistant Director for Diversity Initiatives to educate faculty, staff, and student reps on issues facing the LGBTQ+ community at CNU and equipping them to be allies and provide resources.  Our first training was in the fall.  Upon completion of the training, each person receives a Safe Zone sign that can be placed on an office window or door.  Since I don't have an office at CNU, I'm placing mine on the Plaza Prayer Station sign.  It was fun to see some of the people who had taken the training with me.  They walked by and waved.

When I sat down yesterday I decided that I needed a ritual for how I begin my time at the prayer station.  Sometimes I remember to take an Anglican rosary with me, and sometimes I don't.  Sometimes I begin with prayer and sometimes I get caught up in the experience of watching students walk by that is not dissimilar to watching tv.  Several times I have begun with the Lord's Prayer, and that's what I decided would become my regular ritual.  I had only gotten as far as trespasses when a student came up and asked if she could sit down to tell me about her prayer request.  Several other students came for prayer yesterday who were very tentative, not sure of the "proper" way to access the prayer station.  After I had offered prayer for one young woman, she asked, "What's Episcopal?"  I began explaining and found myself wishing I had a 2-3 sentence explanation.  That's about all the time I get with them.  So, if you're reading this and you're Episcopal, what's your best 2-3 sentence (under a minute) explanation of the Episcopal Church for someone who has never heard of it?  I can do great with 20 minutes, but I need the super-abridged version!  Bonus points if you can do it without saying "We're like ______ except..." or "We're not like _______."

President Trible came by at one point and shook my hand and thanked me for my presence.  I told him that the ministry is a blessing to me, and it is.  I wish, though, that I'd had the presence of mind to say, "And how may I pray for you?"  I do pray for him each day at the station, but it would have been nice to have that conversation.  Ah well.  Next time. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Soundtrack from the Plaza Prayer Station - Throwback Thursday

From the moment I arrived at the prayer station today, I heard music.  Though it was not quite 50 degrees, I had dressed warmly and decided that I wanted to sit outside.  When I heard loud music coming from inside the DSU I was happy I wasn't trying to compete with the noise in the building.  It appeared to be a fraternity doing some sort of event.  It was chilly outside, but not unbearable.  I was a bit earlier than usual, and I had located one of my rosaries, so I sat for awhile and just prayed.  I haven't done much focused prayer at the station in recent weeks.  I'm just so easily distracted.  But no one was talking to me, so I spent time in prayer, enjoying the physical focus of the rosary.  A kind woman came over and asked if I wanted some hot cocoa and then brought me some from the dining hall - hit the spot and warmed me up.  I spent some time with a couple of the Canterbury students who dropped by for a chat.  Through it all, every time the doors of the DSU opened, I kept hearing the music. It was kind of like we had a soundtrack for the day.  I got especially excited when I heard Men Without Hats singing "The Safety Dance." That's from MY college days!  I started chair dancing.

After about the first hour, I began to receive more prayer requests than I have all semester.  I got to PRAY!  I prayed for people who had died and people who were sick.  I prayed for healing for injuries, illness, and broken relationships.  I prayed for job interviews and struggling family members.  Some who came have known me awhile but had never asked for prayers.  Some were walking by, saw the sign, considered for a moment, and then headed over.  Several people came up to thank me for being there.  One young woman told me that just seeing me sit there each week brought her a sense of peace.  I gave blessings to several people and chatted with a few others who were just passing by.  I won't say that I had a line, but it was definitely a steady stream of people.

Eventually it was 1:30, the time when most students head off to class and the time when I take a break for a pit stop and some food.  When I went inside I thanked the guys for the great music.  We had heard Taylor Swift, A-ha, and a Celtic Rock group singing "Star of the County Down," and many more I can't remember now.  I kept tapping my feet and moving my shoulders in time to the beat.  I think the music made me more animated which may have been more inviting to the students.  Whatever the reason, I felt festive even though the weather was chilly and drab.  "The music is awesome!"  I told them.

After I ate, I heard Journey playing and decided to go ask the guys what the music was for.   They were so friendly.  They told me they were a fraternity, Pi Lambda Phi, and the event was about eliminating prejudice.  Sounded pretty awesome to me.  It was a fundraiser for them.  Donate $1 and they'll play your favorite song.  That's why there were so many different songs and artists.  They asked me to donate, so I did.  "Name your guilty song pleasure," one of them said.  All I could think of was a Facebook post this week by my seminary classmate, Les Carpenter, talking about "We built this city," by Jefferson Starship.  They found it and played it!

What I didn't realize is that part of the deal was that they would dance through the whole song.  Those guys were good sports!  As much as I like that song, I think they found an extended version of it because those guys danced for like 8 minutes.  Even I got tired of listening to it after that long.  I asked them if I could take pictures and they said yes.  Truly entertaining and fun.  I wish I'd had the nerve to get in the line and join in the dance. I wanted to be the dancing priest, and I did dance a bit on the side, but I couldn't quite find the courage to go out in the middle with them.  I admired their willingness to be silly and have fun for their cause. 

This was one of my most delightful days at the Plaza Prayer Station.  Meeting new people, lots of prayers, and always the underlying music.  Several of those who came for prayer asked me how they could pray for me.  It always takes me by surprise, though it is not a rare occurrence.  This time, though, I asked them to pray for the prayer station, "That those who need it will find it."  I think they must have started praying, because more people found it today than had in a long time.  Will you pray with us too?  That those who need the prayer station will find it and that the prayers will meet them in their need?  Thanks!  And if you need a smile tonight, put on your favorite 80's tune and think of the Pi Lambda Phi guys rockin' out!

Monday, March 16, 2015

View from the Center of the Labyrinth

Since January I have been struggling with my taxes.  Unexpectedly it appeared that I was going to owe a whole bunch of money, and I was so discouraged that I just kept putting it away.  Last week I finally saw what the problem was, but I didn't know how to fix it, and then on Saturday I figured out how to make the fix and suddenly I went from owing a whole bunch of money to getting a refund.  So much relief!  Not only do I not have to scramble to scrape together a whole bunch of money I don't have, but now I should be able to do some things I thought I wouldn't be able to do.  So my spirits were high today when I clicked "File" on the TurboTax program.  Done!

Until I received a message saying that someone had already filed under my social security number.  And then began a discouraging process of trying to figure out what you do when this happens.  What you can't do is find a phone number to call.  The IRS says to call the police.  The police say to call the IRS.  TurboTax has an automated attendant that tells you your taxes have been filed and you should have received your refund.  Sigh...  Not how I had wanted to spend a rare 70 degree day off. 

After I had downloaded forms and completed the police report and realized that it had gotten too late to speak to human beings on the phone even if I could find a number to call, I decided to get a walk in.  I hadn't walked the labyrinth yet this week, so I headed that way.  A good thing, too, because God was showing off.

When I got to the center, I turned to face each of the four directions and this is what I saw:


 Yay, God!  Just being out there in the open air with the beauty of the clouds and the sky and the setting sun brought me peace and reminded me that this too shall pass.  The tax thing is a pain, but I will get through it.  As I got ready to leave the center and wind my way back out of the labyrinth, I got in my head and started thinking, "What do I want to get out of the rest of this walk?"  And what came to me was, "Lauren, would you just be with me?"  I smiled.  Yes, God, of course.  What could be better than spending time with God?  The rest of the walk as I turned and turned and turned again, I simply felt close to God - not in an ecstatic way, but in a simple, comforting, gentle embrace. 

And then, as I was making my way back home, I turned my head to look down a side road and saw this:
Grand finale
God sure can make some pretty art!  In the words of Julian of Norwich, All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.  Even identity theft.  Because really, no one can steal my identity.  I'm God's beloved child.  It doesn't get any better than that!

Friday, March 13, 2015

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: When the Wind Blows

The wind is not my friend.  At least not at CNU.  And it is always windy at CNU!  At least twice now it has been so windy that the incredibly heavy prayer station sign has blown over as it sat in front of the chapel.  The wind off the nearby river combined with the way the buildings are situated creates quite a wind tunnel in areas of campus.  Unfortunately the knocking down of the sign has caused the top portion where it says, "How may I pray for you?" to become separated from its frame.  As I carried it to the Plaza yesterday, the top part came off in my hand while the rest slid out to the ground.  I can no longer put the small part of the sign on top of the large part.  So, yesterday I just leaned it up against the sandwich board part of the sign.  I'm hoping I can glue it all back together, good as new, but I guess on windy days I need to take that top part off anyway so that it doesn't act as a sail.

The sun was warm and the temp was near 50, but the wind made it brutal at times.  Still, I wanted to be outside, and daylight savings means that the sunlight stays on the Plaza the whole time I'm there now.  More students were outside, and I was amazed at the shorts and sleeveless dresses.  I had on long johns under my layers plus coat, scarf and gloves!  I wouldn't have needed all that if I'd been moving around, but just sitting made me a prime target for the cold wind.  There was a career day on campus, so many of the students were dressed up - but I think they had gotten their seasons confused!  A few skateboard dudes zoomed around, but not the ones I know.  I received a couple of prayer requests and spent time with a few of the Canterbury students and exchanged hellos and smiles with many passing by.  Apparently it was Appreciation of Women Day at CNU because at one point a young man came over and handed me a red carnation.  When I asked someone later what it meant, she told me it was for appreciation of women.  I had noticed women walking around with flowers.  Nice!  I put mine on top of the sign.

I have to admit that I wasn't thinking very kindly of the wind much of the day.  And yet, I don't always dislike wind.  In the summer I love how it helps keep things cooler, and when I'm warm enough in other seasons, I enjoy how the wind feels against my face.  Often I think of the wind as being the breath of God.  Ruah in Hebrew:  breath, spirit, wind.  I imagined my prayers on the breath of God, and asked God to carry blessings of love, peace, comfort, and strength on the wind as it blew through campus.  I have written about my desire to start a blessing ministry here, and yesterday I decided I wanted to try it out.  So when a student I know made a prayer request, I said a prayer, and then I offered a blessing as well.  I hope I have more opportunities to do that.  Of course, with the constant wind, I can always imagine blessings blowing out from the Plaza and swirling about the campus.

In other news, the new Admin building is nearing completion.  It will be known as Christopher Newport Hall.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sacred Ground

As a kid growing up in Georgia, there was one place you knew you didn't want to go:  Milledgeville.  That's where the "funny farm" was.  When someone was acting "crazy" or out of the ordinary we would jokingly say that they needed to go to Milledgeville.  I think it was probably around jr. high school that the joking started.  Or at least that's about when I remember it.  "He needs to take a trip down to Milledgeville," we might say, or, "We need to send her to the funny farm."  I wince now to think of the things that we said.  Jr. high is such a compassionate time.  Not.

Central State Hospital is the name of the institution we mocked.  I don't know about my peers, but I, for one, knew nothing about mental illness, and if I had, I probably wouldn't have laughed when the jokes were told.  Until today I never really knew anything about Central State Hospital, including its name, which I googled so I could be accurate here.  I now think of Milledgeville as the place where Georgia College is, the place where a dear friend of mine used to live and teach. 

Today my therapist told me that, growing up on the Eastern Shore, he thought of Williamsburg in much the same way as Georgians once thought of Milledgeville.  The place where the insane people go.  Eastern State Hospital is located in Williamsburg.  Walking distance from my house.

Life is funny, isn't it?  The outdoor labyrinth at Eastern State Hospital is the one I walk most frequently, and for the past month or so, I have been taking regular walks on the ESH campus.  It's fairly quiet, not much traffic, and there's a good portion of land that is no longer used much.  The newer buildings are all located near the front of the campus.  In the middle is the labyrinth and a good bit of green space, some of which is used as a cross-country course in the fall. Toward the back of the property are the older, abandoned buildings.  And there are lots of trees everywhere.  And deer.  The labyrinth is at the top of a slope, so it is a good place for catching the sunset.  It's wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.

Recently I have been reading Brené Brown's books and taking an online course of hers.  In it she talks about having mantras to remind ourselves to be authentic.  One of hers is, "Don't shrink.  Don't puff up.  Stand on your sacred ground."  It's probably not a coincidence that while I've been reading Brené, I have made a commitment to walking the Eastern State labyrinth at least once a week.  The center of the labyrinth is my sacred ground.  Well, not mine of course, but a place where I feel grounded and connected to God and the earth.  Whenever I am there I turn to each of the four directions and gaze out at whatever I see.  Sometimes I sing.  Right in the center, the concrete comes together in a cross, and if you stand at center of the cross there is this really strange, cool, echo effect that I can only guess comes from the way the concrete is broken there.  If you tap your foot in each of the quadrants, a sound reverberates out, and singing is really fun because there is an amplification of the voice.  I don't know how to describe it, but it's fun to play with sound there. I hang out in the center, communing with God and nature.  It is definitely sacred ground for me.  And so, when I think of Brené's mantra, I imagine myself standing my sacred ground in the center of the labyrinth. 

It is not lost on me that I am finding peace and calm and centeredness in the middle of the campus of a mental hospital.  Some of the folks who reside in Eastern State come to SpiritWorks as part of their program, so I have friends there.  There is a stillness there that I treasure.  Sometimes as I walk the labyrinth, especially as I make my way back out from the center, I try to imagine God's healing love emanating from the labyrinth and spreading across the campus, not unlike the way I pray at the prayer station at CNU.  Like addiction, mental illness is a terrible disease.  I am embarrassed and ashamed of the way I thought about Milledgeville and Central State Hospital as a kid.  I don't think we intended harm, at least not for the most part; we really were ignorant.  And we were in jr. high.  But I don't think we were the only ones doing it.  Hopefully attitudes are changing, though not nearly quickly enough.  What I am grateful for is that sacred ground is found everywhere, and that I have found some at Eastern State.  May those who encounter it find it to be a blessing.