Opening, Entering and Becoming

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“Hospitality, rather than being something you achieve, is something you enter. It is an adventure that takes you where you never dreamed of going. It is not something you do, as much as it is someone you become…You make room for one person at a time, you give one chances at a time and each of these choices stretches your ability to receive others. This is how you grow more hospitable—by welcoming one person when the opportunity is given you.”

–Lonni Collins Pratt, Radical Hospitality

The Rule of Life are principals or values we try to live our lives by here. We usually take time during evening prayers to reflect on one rule a week. The rule we were reflecting on recently was hospitality – living one’s life in service of others, in a commitment to welcome guests in love and a spirit of prayer.

At the end of a rather sleepless week, I had a weekend full of cohosting three lively retreat groups here. A surprising thing happened every day as I was praying, conversing, washing dishes and making coffee…I was energized by it. This ability to receive and engage while I have been here has been rather unexpected. Hospitality is precisely what I thought that I would enjoy the least. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with one of the pastors here during my interview. I said “I think it will be hard for me to continuously engage with people/retreatants day after day. I am such an introvert I thought, “I don’t have a lot of energy for people, I am not sure where I will get the energy to do it.” I thought it would be hard and draining, that I would lose myself, my center. But in fact, it’s easy and energizing. I love welcoming people to this place, the peace and solitude it has to offer. It is a joy to serve them while they are here. More than any other thing in my life, my time here has taught me what it means to serve others, to be other focused. We gather 21 times a week, to pray for the city, to pray for individuals on our prayer list and retreat groups and then we intercede for those in our lives that need prayer. Ninety five percent of my prayer life has become other centric and most of my work life here is as well. I wash dishes, clean house and make coffee and tea for our retreatants, I answer their questions and try to make their time here as pleasant as possible. Surprisingly, it is my pleasure to do this. I want them to benefit from this place, to enjoy it and leave refreshed and renewed. When I am cleaning, I am thinking about the experience of those that will come after, I want it as clean as I would like it if I were on retreat. I am often tired, but having to serve others kicks me into another mode and I am able to continue to give, to serve, to smile and love with energy that is not my own. Sometimes, I do not want to clean or wash dishes, but knowing I am doing this for others makes it meaningful and worthwhile. I am able to do it with a sense of dedication and contentment. I get in the zone, the hospitality zone, where it’s not really about me, it’s about being welcoming, and it’s about being helpful pitching in and doing what needs to be done, about choosing to engage and being present to whomever and whatever is before me. I am not my own here, and that is difficult and tiring at times, but I like that my life and time is grounded in a mission and purpose larger than myself. I like belonging to a place, a group of people, to a rule and a way of being that at its heart is prayerful and welcoming. I get to say, “yes” a lot to the needs of others, I get to ask “how can I help you” and most of all I get to receive gratitude and to respond by saying “you are welcome.” Similarly, I want to be more hospitable to God, to say “yes” as often as I can, to ask “how can I serve you?” and to respond as often I as I can with “you are welcome.” I have read that hospitality is a practice that in doing you become, that it is about being open, entering into a moment with another and sharing. It is receiving others and giving them what you have to offer.

A women who was departing after a 24 hour women’s retreat, sang goodbye to us and thanked us profusely for the food and hospitality. She had such a good time that she said she planned to tell all of her friends about us. She left with a pep in her step. It made it all worth it! Being this hospitable and giving in this deep way also makes me extra cognizant of how I might care for myself and allow others to care for me. In that way, I am also more diligent about caring for my needs so that I am in a good mind, body and soul state to serve and open to receiving the hospitality of others.

On a vocational level, I have been asking myself how I might serve the city and am open to the ways that God may open doors for me to do so. I am helping to lead a transit initiative that will connect the region and people to jobs, resources and one another. That is one way. Another is by being a part of a Community Trust building Training, which trains local change agents in how to have honest conversation across division lines of race, class, gender and politics. I am excited to see what fruit, relationships and blessings are birthed out of those, both for me and the city.

On a locational level, I feel invited to receive all that Richmond has to offer by way of getting to know people from various backgrounds here as guests, but also reaching out to people that I want to get acquainted with in addition to taking advantage of the cities festivals, restaurants, parks and events. It’s been fun. I went on a walk around Bryant Park last week with a friend, started mentoring a teen from a local high school, stopped in and joined a drawing workshop at an art studio downtown.I am learning the blessedness of both giving and receiving. I am glad that God has invited me into so much in this season.

What do I mean “open to God”? I mean… a courageous and confident hospitality expressed in all directions…. I mean an openness which is in the deepest sense a creative and dynamic receptivity — the ability to receive, to accept, to become.

— Samuel H. Miller in Man the Believer

A Joyful Noise

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This weekend in Richmond was the 10th annual Folk Festival, a time of free melodious goodness along the river. There are five stages with food and crafts for sale in between them. On Friday night, after I finished listening to two soul/blues artists on two different stages amidst the cool air and the sprinkling rain, I was on my way home. As I departed through the paths of wet grass, my journey was interrupted by a loud ruckus that was happening on the other side of the river on Browns Island. With the droves of people that resembled a parade of ants, I walked to see what all the fuss was about. Zydeco (Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers) was the music type I read on my folk festival pamphlet. I wasn’t sure what that was, but it sounded like something I would enjoy. The closer I got, the more I recognized what I was hearing something with the flavor of New Orleans…there were percussions, accordions and a loud voice full of energy blaring from the speakers. The singer was a thick muscled African American man sweating like he was on fire from within, and perhaps he was. The audience was a legion of dancers moving and shaking to the beats surrounded by excited onlookers. Arms, heads and hips were in vigorous motion in response to the band. I was glad that I followed the noise, the energy was electric. The loud and boisterous music sparked something alive in my body and the rest of my weekend has fanned the flame.

I expected to return to Richmond Hill to a quiet and dark building, a stark contrast to the Friday night festival I had just enjoyed. On the contrary, walking up the driveway I heard more ruckus, of women’s voices, the unbridled laugher of familiar friends. At 10:30pm, every light was on in the ground floor, the lounge was full and I could barely hear anything intelliable from all of the voices. I moved through the crowd to the refectory to make sure there was enough coffee for our guests. There was a group of women about to dig into a game of cards, they were trying to decide between phase 10 and rummy. They were all smiles and excitement. This was going to be an energizing weekend I could tell. We had with us a group of spirit filled African American women and another group of spry white women who happened to be recovering alcoholics. Both were a joy, both were fully themselves and spicy.

The next morning the group of African American women brought out their swords with passionate prayer, they were prayer warriors I could tell. Their voices were projected and strong, their prayers passionate and lengthy, full of triumph, praise and declaration. It was a surprising gift, we are usually quiet and structured here, but their prayers were dynamic. There was a yes, yes and amen in my spirit after their prayers. They called down the heavens. The spirit was moving and this had my heart stirring.

On Sunday morning at our communion service, our Senior Pastor was in the middle of his sermon about the feast the king invited his town to and no one showed up. Mid-sentence, we heard an outbreak of laughter from outside of the chapel. It was wonderfully disruptive. The AA women’s group was cutting up during a cigarette gathering at 7:30 am in the morning. I had to smile at the unscripted and wild joyfulness that was happening outside of the chapel, a holy disturbance. When I sat down with them for breakfast, I asked if they were having a good weekend. Everyone agreed that they were and apologized for being loud while we were in chapel. I said “I can think of a lot of worst things to hear than laughter.” One of the women commented that laughter had been devoid in her life as an addict that she welcomed it at any turn, it made laughing all the more sacred now. Giving it away as often as she could was a need for her.She said they liked to have a good time because most addicts think sober life will be dry and boring. Consequently, they try to fill their group time with fun, games and laughter. I like that, filling up the space that used to be occupied by addiction and destruction with laughter.

Ironically, the school of spiritual guidance is here this weekend for their monthly retreat. Their theme is the “12 steps of addiction.” It reminds me that we are all addicted to something that we try to fill our empty spaces with things that work temporally, usually to our own detriment. These group of laughing rebels make me realize how God’s grace is needed to free us from our addition. I’m also reminded how he wants to give us joy in exchange for our sadness.From the story in Matthew that was preached this morning, the preacher asked the congregation, “God has thrown a feast, why haven’t we shown up to the party?” Perhaps we are numb or indifferent, or apathetic or simply full of other things. I am not sure, but all of the music that moved my soul, prayer that was full of the spirit and laughter that shook the room seems like a holy invitation to raucous celebration, to feast on the soul filling and nourishing good things life has to offer. I live at a monastery, so I am all for times for silence, solitude and solemnness. This weekend however, was not one of those times, it was a time of filling, filing my heart, and air and soul with good things. I want to make that a discipline as well, being able to enter into celebration, to break out in song and dance when a good tune is playing, to erupt in lively prayer and praise and to bellow out a laugh that infects the group and disrupts anything around it. These are things I surely want to feast on as often as I can, to enter into as often as they are offered and to spread like a wildfire.

Changed by Prayer

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Evening prayers have come to be my favorite for two reasons, reflection on our Rule of Life and The Canticle of Mary.

It is a time residents take to personally reflect on one of the Rules of life. People share experiences, personal stories, articles, essays they have read or wrote, excerpts from books and meditations. It becomes a pretty rich and diverse time, you never know what is going to happen or come out of someone’s mouth. Will read part of a sermon he was writing for the church he is going to pastor. He talked about not being a miracle worker but “bringing what he’s got?” as he put it. I am not sure why, but tears were streaming down my eyes when he finished. Maybe it was because we can all do that, bring what we have wherever we go. It was genuine and personal but rang universal.

A—-, the resident story teller, talked about what it was like to sell her 4br house and move here 25 years ago, downsizing and making room for something else, making room for God even. R—- shared a FB post/conversation which was sparked by his friend about being overwhelmed in the age of technology and reflected on the need to slow down and be present. I love this time, it’s a piece of unscripted goodness for us to munch on at the end of the day, a 6pm appetizer before we go share a meal together. It helps me get to know my community better and God better through their lives, stories and experiences.

The second thing I like is that every evening we read the Canticle of Mary from her Magnificant. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior….” I find the first verse reverberating in my soul during the day. These are good words to plant in my soul. Repeating them every day hopefully will make them part of me. We have a Taize service which is basically singing short chants for about an hour or so. Singing simple verses over and over does something to you, something supernatural, you can feel the words, the praise, the prayer penetrating your being, vibrating through you almost. I am gained a reverence for repetition, there seems to be a power in it, a comfort and centering. Mary’s Magnificent does that for me every evening. As we say it in unison, the sound waves move through me in a way nothing else we read does.

Experiencing all of these things at evening prayer has had me thinking about prayer lately, what exactly it is. I heard someone at a church I was visiting say that prayer was learned helplessness, asking God for things we need that we cannot do ourselves. Paul instructed us to pray without ceasing, keeping God ever before us. Breath prayers of “Lord give me strength” or “Lord have mercy” have helped me do that. A few weeks ago, I heard a preacher quoting a Christian book that studied revivals in Christian history and noted that every one of them begin with prayer. Jesus stated that some demons only come out by prayer and fasting. That makes me think that some aspect of prayer is the act or posture of getting in line with the power, spirit, word and purposes of God. Prayer seems to be important, powerful and very diverse. Listening, asking, reading good words and scripture, centering silence, praise and being present the ordinary are some of the ways I’ve learned to pray. Whatever prayer is, it seems to have the power to change things, or at least change the person praying. I hope I am changed by all of this prayer. I hope I am revived by it and then I can go out an change my little corner of the world.