Posted in Essay, General Interest, Spiritual Practice, Terri Stewart

Creating Sacred Space Wherever You Live

When I first started seminary, I was totally taken aback by two things. First, they start class in prayer. (Shocker! From a secular world to this!) Second, all the professors and administrative personnel seem to have an altar of some sort in their workspace. I never thought of having an altar before that–unless it was books. Creating a place in the home or work where your sacred articles live was a new idea to me. Especially since I came from that strain of protestantism that has all “things” as mundane, therefore personal altars were simply not a thing to be done.

Thank goodness for ecumenical seminary! This exposed me to new thoughts, broader ideas about who and what other people were, and broader ideas, and yet more specific, about who I am. I went about creating an altar at home. It is a little side table with a crystal bowl of rocks with an angel in it. And on the shelf of the table, there are books I love and find inspiration in…a book on hymnody, devotional books, prayer books, and about 10 children’s books ranging from “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak to “You Are Special” by Max Lucado. Over time and in a busy household with youngsters, the altar and items dispersed around the home. Occasionally, I rope them back together. But there is also a gift in seeing them spread all over the place. “Oh, look! A piece of the sacred right there!” or “Oh, that is a beautiful rock, the world is an amazing and holy place!” I suppose, I am not very good at being in one place, so scattering it willy nilly ends up working and becomes an odd kind of altar. I often wish I could build beautiful altars like my friends and colleagues do, but I know! The pieces will be everywhere. Maybe someday. (Said in a wistful voice!)

Today, for our sacred space exploration, I thought we could do an exercise about altars, creating personal altars, and whatnot. However, I had a better idea just typing that paragraph above! Let’s create a virtual altar together! Everybody offer a word, picture, poem, link to something or other, that you find to be inspiring, sacred, holy, or completely whole, and next week, I will bring back a virtual collage. At the same time the offerings are made, please visit the places that other people find sacred space in. I am confident that people will leave a word or two (or more!). You wouldn’t leave me hanging, would you?

Are you ready to do this together? After all, above and beyond having a personal altar, the altar of a community – whether it is in the Christian Church, a Jewish Synagogue, or a Pagan Altar – conveys that which the community finds sacred or holy. Or maybe just important. Maybe a quick examination of the words sacred and holy is in order (from the online etymology dictionary).

Holy:

Primary (pre-Christian) meaning is not possible to determine, but probably it was “that must be preserved whole or intact, that cannot be transgressed or violated,” and connected with Old English hal and Old High German heil “health, happiness, good luck” (source of the German salutation Heil). Holy water was in Old English. 

 Sacred:

late 14c., past participle adjective from obsolete verb sacren “to make holy” (c.1200), from Old French sacrer “consecrate, anoint, dedicate” (12c.) or directly from Latin sacrare “to make sacred, consecrate; hold sacred; immortalize; set apart, dedicate,” from sacer (genitive sacri) “sacred, dedicated, holy, accursed,”

What do you find holy or sacred? What word, image, poem, thought would you offer to a community altar? 

I offer one of my favorite photos of sunset from the top of the mountain, Haleakala on Maui. Why sunset? It is a liminal time when possibilities expand as we hold together both the end of a work day and the gestation of something new. In the Book of Genesis 1:5, it says, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Evening first. Gestation first. Darkness first. Sunset, first.

Haleakala Sunset by Terri Stewart
Haleakala Sunset
by Terri Stewart

Shalom,

Terri Stewart

(c) 2013, post & photo, Terri Stewart

REV. TERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual. (The 2014 issue just released!)

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.beguineagain.com ,www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com

Posted in Christianity, Essay, Terri Stewart

Creating room and transformation at Christmas …

800px-Nativity_tree2011Originally published in Rethink Church. Published here with permission.

IT’S ALMOST CHRISTMAS!!! I hear this echoing in my head from years past—from my children’s years, from my own cries, and from my crazy Aunt Nancy (I love you!) who still calls me at zero-dark-thirty to wish me a Merry Christmas.

What I also remember is making lists of what I have bought for the in-laws to make sure everybody got the same quantity and the same monetary value. Making lists for my children so one was not valued in presents more than the other. And stressing out over finding that “perfect gift” for my oldest son who seemed to be unable to express desire for anything. ANYTHING. That is stressful.

But maybe he had the right idea all along! He was unattached to things.

Non-attachment to things of this world is a value greatly revered by the world’s great traditions. What if we slowed down, let non-attachment suffuse the Christmas* season, and began again? What would that mean? What would it look like in our lives?

What if we emptied our lives of the values of materialism, comparison to others, and over-abundance and instead filled it up with the values of spiritualism, self-inventory, and enough? What if we took a journey of emptying rather than filling?

The dichotomy is pretty stark. Empty vs. full. Nobody really wants to run around on empty or having nothing. But there is a trick. By slowing down our lives and refocusing our lives, we can begin again with an attitude pointed towards spiritualism, self-inventory, and being satisfied with enough. Adopting these three counter-cultural traits, creates freedom for new things to happen.

Simplifying creates room for more!

More what? More interior room to listen to that which calls you. More room to see those around you. More room to understand great joy. And more room to feel the world’s great grief. After listening, seeing, understanding, and feeling, there is one more thing—by simplifying, there is more room to offer great love in action to a hurting world.

By emptying, we create room. By making room, the possibility of personal transformation is created. By being transformed, the possibility of action is created. By committing acts of love, mercy, and justice, the possibility of world renovation is created.

And before long, we who were emptied have been filled with love.

Shalom,
Chaplain Terri Stewart

*Christmas season in the secular sense of the word as that time from the day after Thanksgiving to January 1.

©2013, essay, Terry Stewart, All rights reserved
Photo credit ~ Jeff Weese via Wikipedia and under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

terriREV. TERRI STEWART is The Bardo Group  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.comwww.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com

Posted in Spiritual Practice, story, Terri Stewart

Connecting to Our Story

New Life, New Story
New Life, New Story

Often times, we look back at our lives and we can see the story. But is that story really the heart of the matter? How do we connect to the heart of our story in the present moment? Taking meaning from what is now to illuminate what was then.

At the core of every moment lies the heart of the cosmos, and my heart, and yours.

~Margaret D. McGee, Haiku–the Sacred Art

Today, I’d like to try a technique that Margaret McGee teaches in her book referenced above. She uses it to teach haiku. If you feel comfortable with that, I would definitely encourage you! If you feel there is another creative form calling forth from you, then use that–music, dance, poetry.

You will need up to 20 minutes for this exercise. Review all the steps before you start, unless you’re like me, in which case you just jump in!

Make a chart something like this (you probably will need extra room under sight!):

table

Now, if it is possible, find a nice place outside to sit comfortably and to take in your surroundings.

Relax, breathe deeply, look around.

  • Now–What do you smell? It’s spring–are there flowers blooming? Can you smell them? Not all smells are serene! It could be something else altogether!
  • Then–Close your eyes. Let go and stroll through your memories. Is there a particular scent from your past (last week? childhood?) that is arising for you?
  • Now–Write down the first thing you see! And keep on filling it in. Our eyes can take in so many things! We can see, arguably, over 100,000 different colors! What words can you create that describes the individuality in what you see?
  • Then–Close your eyes. Let go and stroll through your memories. Is there a particular color or scene from your past that is arising for you?

Continue on in this pattern for each category.

Now, get a fresh sheet of paper or use the back of your grid. Choose a few images from your lists that are resonating with you and with each other. These images may all be from the present moment or they may be from past moments. In particular, if you want to use the present to cast meaning on your past story, search for threads that connect across time.

Go and do! Create your artwork (or soulwork) in haiku, other poetry forms, photography, collage, painting, mandala, essay, etc. Whatever way calls to you. Take time now to make meaning and to add to the depth and meaning of your own story.

table2

For me, what is resonating is the bitterness of coffee, addiction, wind that is too strong. Yikes–what can I do with that?

stormy winds of spring

whistle through my breaking heart–

promises unkept

Aaah, well, this exercise today seems to have brought up some memories. What is clear to me is that our stories are never finished. We can continue to add meaning and to find new meaning and to have alternate meanings! A surplus of meaning.

The full story behind this new story has been started before if you would like to read it.

Shalom,

Chaplain Terri

© 2013, essay, haiku, and photograph, Terri Stewart, all rights reserved

Terri StewartTERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday Chaplain, Senior Content Editor, and Site Co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a recent graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts (photography, mandala, poetry) and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk,  and  www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com.