Thanksgiving Interfaith Experience

nterfaith-harmony-300x300Last Thursday I attended our town’s annual Thanksgiving Interfaith Service, hosted by the Grace United Methodist church and featuring speakers from a variety of faiths.  It was lovely and inspiring and very well attended.

It started with a beautiful Hindu dance introduced by my friend Arpita.  It included a Buddhist contemplation read by my friend Jane and a passage from the Koran by my friend Dilara.  There was a beautiful dance number to a Gospel song by three young girls from the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  My own “liberal Episcopalian” Father Ted read a psalm.  A local Rabbi read verses from the Old Testament.  My old surfer friend from college turned Presbyterian pastor spoke about the Ecumenical Food Pantry.  And a distinguished local professor of theology gave a very inspiring humanistic sermon on gratitude and cherishing our connections with each other.  We even got to sing one of my very favorite hymns – O Creatures of our God and King!  The whole evening made my heart sing.

As we went through our whirl-wind tour of each major religion, each one lasting approximately 3 to 5 minutes, I was struck by two things.  One – the beauty of all these varying religions coming together honoring our similarities and the common thread of love, compassion and gratitude that is central to all our faiths.  And two – the craving for more from each faith and my desire to experience God from every perspective.

It gave me the idea that in addition to having an interfaith service, for those who wanted to, we could have an interfaith experience.

The experience doesn’t necessarily have to take that much longer – it’s just that instead of just sitting there like audience members passively watching the different faith expressions being played out before us, we would participate in each one all of us together.

So, for the Hindu faith, we would do 10 minutes of chanting and everyone there would dive into it head first and chant Sri Ram Jai Jai Ram with the most devotional of hearts. During the gospel song, we all stand up, sway back and forth and sing with full passion for the Lord, reaching up our hands as we are moved by the Holy Spirit.  During the Shema-Israel-PrayerBuddhist segment, we not only hear a reading about meditating for all beings everywhere to become one with their higher nature, we fully meditate, visualize and feel this from the deep peace of our own higher nature.  For the Jewish segment we could all tie the words of the Shema to our foreheads and fervently pray “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  After the reading from the Koran we could all engage in a sufi dance of Universal Peace.  And for the singing of ‘O Creatures of our God and King’ we would all sing the words deeply connected to our hearts, feeling the truth of the words resonate through us with the beauty of the Christ Spirit, just like I do with Christmas Carols.

Again – this would only be for anyone who wanted to fully participate.  I don’t think that devote Catholics need to experience sufi dancing or Gospel singing in order to truly love God.  As long as we are honoring and respecting each other, we’re good.  And it was truly beautiful to see how packed the church was that night – there were so many people that they ran out of programs, more people attended than they had anticipated.  And if you’re not inclined to participate in other faiths, then sitting and honoring all the different expressions in an interfaith service is wonderful.  But I am the kind of person who WANTS to dive in.

EBC_Exterior_2011I remember 20 years ago, during college, I went down to Atlanta, Georgia and volunteered at the Open Door Community for 10 days.  It was a life changing experience and maybe I’ll write about that in another post.  In this post I’m talking about this one evening where we, the people and volunteers of the Open Door, went to an interfaith service for Martin Luther King’s birthday at the Ebenezer Baptist Church.  Now, this was no ordinary Martin Luther King celebration.  This was the church where Martin Luther King Jr. had been a pastor.  There were speakers from all different faiths honoring the beautiful legacy and life of this incredible man.

And the choir!  They had the most amazing gospel choir I have ever heard.  They stood in the back of the church and when they sang the Amen the sound and the feeling of the Amen blasted through the whole entire church like a tidal wave of praise!

I was this very white Swedish-American college girl.  I had NEVER been to a church like this before.  The pastor was calling on people to stand up to oppression, to stand up for Christ’s love and compassion.  The congregation was alive and passionate and yelling out “Amen!” and “Tell the truth, brother!” as the different rabbis, pastors, ministers and imams spoke.  People were throwing their hands up in the air when they agreed with something, saying “Praise the Lord!”

And the choir!  The music moved me, the harmonized Alleluias went straight into my heart and broke it wide open.  I couldn’t understand how the roof stayed on or how the walls didn’t come blasting off the building.  The music was so powerful that it filled the entire space in a tangible immersion of praise.

choirI was sitting there getting FILLED with so much inspiration, so much spirit, so much passion!  And yet I couldn’t yell out.  I WANTED to.  I wanted to raise my hand up and say “Alleluia!” – but I couldn’t.  I was too white.  I was too self-conscious.  I hadn’t given myself permission to fully participate.  I was amazed and dazed and just too white.

As we left the service and were walking to our bus to take us back to the Open Door, these two African American men who were part of the community came up to me and smiled.  One of them said “The Spirit was in her, I could see it!”  They both laughed and I just nodded my head.  I was speechless.

All this to say that I WANT to participate.  I want to fully experience all expressions of loving God.  If I’m listening to a gospel choir, I want to let the Spirit move me and shout out to the Lord!  If I’m chanting Sri Ram Jai Jai Ram I want to FEEL the Victory of Ram in my heart.  If I’m going to communion, I want to commune and become ONE with the body of Christ.

I would love to have an actual Thanksgiving Interfaith Experience.  I don’t want to be a spectator.  I don’t want to be limited to being just a too-white Swedish-American quiet and contained Lutheran heritage girl.  I want to experience being something else – a Southern Baptist, a Jew, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a liberal Episcopalian.  I want to live life to the fullest!  I want to love God and Give Thanks every which way!

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Gratitude ~ Worth More than Money

piggy bankSometimes when I am eagerly awaiting my next pay check because some unexpected expenses ate up my spending money or even when I’m trying to shuffle things around so that my automatic bills don’t bounce, I try to shift my thinking so I don’t get caught in the trap of lack consciousness and making myself unhappy.

Whenever I think to myself “ugh, I don’t have any money,” I immediately shift to the gratitude of “I have things that are worth more than money.  I have food.  I have a great home.  I have nice clothes and plenty of shoes without holes in them.  I have gas in my tank.”

These are all the things that I would use the money to buy anyway, and they are much much more useful than money.  Food I can eat.  Clothes I can wear.  Gas makes my car go round and round.  My home keeps me safe and warm.

Money in and of itself is not really that useful – it’s paper.  You can’t eat it, can’t wear it.  I guess if you burned it it could keep you warm for a few seconds but it doesn’t even make a sustainable fire like wood does.  1388196756000-AP-Fast-Food-Protests

And I’m not saying that money is bad or that it’s not good to have a little buffer in the bank (in order to buy more useful things when needed).  I actually think more people should make more money and it’s way past time to raise the minimum wage, so not so many people need to go through the feeling of eagerly waiting for their next pay check or, even when they do get paid, not having enough money to buy the useful things they need like food.  And I’m not proposing that a simple shift in attitude will help those living in poverty to create a new reality for themselves as rich entrepreneurs – we all need to come together to shift our collective consciousness of inequality and selfishness to change the cruelty of poverty that we just accept as a part of how it is.  But that is another topic for another post.

What I’m saying here is just a little trick I use to stay in a feeling of abundance and gratitude even when my bank account is close to empty.  There are so many things in life that are worth much more than money – and here I’m only talking about food and clothing and useful items.  Don’t even get me started on Love, Peace, Consciousness and Bliss!  Those we all have equal access to for free and there is an endlessly abundant supply!

So, before getting too stressed out or unhappy about poor cash flow, remember that money is only useful for the things it buys – so whenever I am a little strapped for cash, in order to stay in abundance consciousness, I just go into gratitude for all the very useful things that I have in abundance – most of all, happiness.

God is a Better Manifester than I

grandcanyon700Yesterday I posted my first post about the popular topic of “manifesting.”  I stated it’s not something I think a lot about, but I guess to correct myself I’ll modify that to say that it is something I have been witnessing quite a bit lately.

My one secret to manifesting (if it is even possible to have secrets about something that is a natural function for all human beings), is to not focus on it too much.  Many many years ago I had a friend tell me “I just focus on God and I find that God takes care of the rest.”  I have found this to be true.   If I can just stay in a state of gratitude, focus on being happy and giving as much love to the world as I can and loving God with all my heart, manifesting takes care of itself.

main-bgGod is a much better manifester than I will ever be – just look at the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest or Koh Pipi!  I find that if I just focus on being grateful to God for all the amazing blessings I have been given in my life, God keeps giving me blessings – and God knows what is best for me much better than I do.

A few months ago I was in the midst of a huge life transition.  I had left the path I had been on and I was asking God, what next?  I wasn’t trying to figure it out from my own mind.  I wasn’t trying to manifest the best future I could come up with.  I was praying for God to show me.  I was asking God where do You want me to go?  And this is the incredibly true (and somewhat long) story of how God manifested everything perfectly for me.

I had been staying with my sisters, alternating between their two houses, asking and remaining open to what was next for me.  One evening I was sitting on the couch with my sister Charlotte after we had tucked her children into bed and I remembered this neat little town of St Augustine that was just a couple of hours away.  When I tuned into the feeling of it, I felt excited, so I decided to go there the next day.  I drove up and checked into a hotel, the best deal I could find on the internet. I walked around the downtown and walked by the fort and I was overcome with a feeling of peace, a deep calmness in my being and it felt good.6a00d8341d171f53ef00e54fb149888834-800wi

The next morning I woke up and across the street from my hotel there was a Wednesday morning farmer’s market.  Delighted, I walked over.  The first booth I came upon was Bob’s books.  The lady there had written two children’s books about God, which I bought for my nieces and nephews, and we talked about the honoring of all religions and the importance of compassion and peace in our world.  I didn’t realize it until months later, but this woman is the founder of Unity & Peace, the non-profit organization that I am now the chairperson of.  She was the very first person I met in St Augustine and it was an answer to both of our prayers – she had been praying for someone to continue the work of Unity & Peace and I was praying for my next assignment.

So – even though I didn’t know it yet – I had my purpose for moving to St Augustine.  What about housing?

Later in the afternoon I was driving around looking at different areas of the town.  I was driving down Marine Street and out of the corner of my eye I saw a sign on the side of a house that said “St Francis Room.”  I LOVE St Francis, he is one of my very best friends, so I pulled over and parked in front of this house to find out what made it a St Francis room.  It turns out it was just a name for a rental room because nearby is St Francis street.  Disappointed that it did not contain a holy shrine to my favorite little saint, I was about to get back in my car.

A pedestrian walking down the street approached me and inquired, “Are you looking for a rental?” I told her “well, I’m thinking about moving into town but I haven’t decided yet.”  I thought perhaps this woman was a landlord or a rental manager, but it turns out she was neither.  She just came up to talk to me because she thought she might be helpful.  She had just found her rental and knew the in’s and out’s of finding a good one in St Augustine.  She told me she was writing a series of books inspired by the Archangel Gabriel and we spoke of spiritual things.  Then we exchanged contact info and I was again on my way.

shrineI continued to pray and be open to receive the answer – was this to be my next place on earth?  As I carried on my exploration I went to the shrine at Nombre de Dios – the “Name of God” mission, which I found interesting because I love chanting the name of God so much (though the Catholic church who built and maintains this shrine might not agree with the exact names I sometimes use).  As I walked up to Our Lady of La Leche shrine, the teeny stone chapel covered in ivy, I spontaneously burst into tears.  The simple holiness, the healing energy of Divine Mother, the peace of St Francis, the sweet serenity of devotion – these were all the things my soul craved and here God was giving them to me with a big bonus dose of Grace.

I called my new friend and said “OK, I’m moving here and I want to live next the shrine.”  She said to me “Oh, well just two days ago I met the person who lives right next to the shrine” – as in literally the very first house next to the shrine.  I asked her if she would go and ask if they had a garage apartment for rent or something and she thought I was a little weird but she, being a little weird as well, agreed.  Given that she didn’t actually have a phone number or email for these people, she walked over to the house beside the shrine.  As she walked up, the people were just heading out of their driveway.  My new friend told them she had met someone who wanted to move to St Augustine and wanted to live next to the shrine – did they happen to have a garage apartment?  They said no and then they drove off.  So, was that it?  No, a minute later they came driving back and said they didn’t have a garage apartment to rent, but they did have a rental house just a couple of blocks away in the neighborhood across the street from the shrine.

My new friend called me and gave me the address.  The owners couldn’t meet me for a couple of days but I could go by and take a look from the outsi2014-01-24 15.23.18de.  I went over immediately.  The house was a cute pink little concrete square and there was a gate into the enclosed back yard, so I entered.  It was a little bit neglected and overgrown, but sweet with a beautiful canopy of trees overhead.  Over in the corner there was a lump of concrete amidst some ferns.  It looked like something had fallen over.  I went over and lifted it straight and all of a sudden found myself holding St Francis’s hand.  I once again had tears rolling down my face as I could feel him leading me into my new home.  This is where God wanted me to be – could it be any more obvious?

A couple of days later I met my new landlords – a very sweet Catholic couple who love the shrine and who love God with deep sincerity.  They had meant to put the house up on Craigs list but hadn’t gotten around to it yet.  The previous tenants include a seminarian and several groups of novitiates and nuns visiting the shrine on pilgrimage.  I could not have dreamed up a more perfect little holy abode for my next home.

The one thing that perplexed me was the size.  It was huge, especially for one person.  It is essentially a 3 bedroom house with an additional office space.  In my last living situation I had been through 15 years of community living and I really felt like I needed my own space – my own little nest to make into my own little home.  I felt it was an emotional necessity.  So I had been picturing 1 bedroom apartments or a small little studio.  Why was God laying this huge house in my lap?

So, I prayed about that and asked God – why is this house so big?  And within a day I realized that God knows me much better than I know myself.  I only needed my own space for the first 2 or 3 months, just to make it my own and have the privacy for my own healing process.  But when I contemplated the long term, I didn’t want to live alone.  So, God took care of that for me, too.

I didn’t want to post something on line and have a bunch of strangers to contend with – I was feeling pretty vulnerable.  So, I told my new friend from church that I was looking for a room mate.  She said she knew a friend who might need a place.  Meanwhile, that friend, an entrepreneur and business owner, was talking to her employee about her moving up to St Augustine to be a more active part of the business.  The entrepreneur said she would pray about finding the right place for the employee to live and went straight into her daily Agnihotra ritual.  After her fire and prayers she got back to her computer and had received the email from my new friend from church asking if she knew anyone who needed a place to live.  And voila, my perfect room mate was found.  So, 4 months after moving in – in fact just one week after I started feeling like I didn’t want to be alone anymore – my new room mate moved in, and she is the sweetest most harmonious house mate I can imagine.

p550098514-3I could never manifest or orchestrate all these things on my own!  I could never even come up with knowing what to ask for as perfectly as God has given me all the wonderful parts of my new life.  All I had to do was to pray with sincerity, stay in a state of trust and gratitude and be open to receive.  And God can manifest a much better and more beautiful life than anything I can dream up.