Holy Thursday on a Wednesday

Last year, I wrote about one of my favorite annual traditions: washing my family’s feet on Holy Thursday. It resonated with many of you and some even said they were adopting it as their own this year. For those of you who missed it, I am linking to it here, but I have to be honest, it almost didn’t happen this year.

baby-feet

We are leaving for Mammoth today, so any foot-washing was going to have to happen a day early. It takes quite a bit of effort to create the experience and as of yesterday morning, I hadn’t done a lick of it yet. No songs, no letters, no time set aside. I started to rationalize: the kids are probably getting too old; they are so excited to go to Mammoth they will probably forget anyway; they would understand if I skipped it. But deep down, I knew. Nothing I needed to do was more important than creating this sacrament of love.

I was right.

Keara soaked up the moments, then hugged me tight.

Molly got tears in her eyes as we belted out her favorite song together.

Finn could hardly suppress his grin, saying “This is one of my favorite things you do.”

The Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr, said that of all the things the Catholic Church made into sacraments, he can’t believe they left this one out and I’ve got to agree. I hope that at least once in your life, you experience having your feet washed as a loving gesture, instead of a paid service, but I also hope you have the privilege of holding someone else’s feet in your hands and blessing them as Jesus did. It is a gift to both giver and receiver to be so vulnerable and to experience such intimacy and grace. This is sacred space. 

A Flash Mob Made Me Cry

If they are honest about it, most writers want to say really important things, to have each story, paragraph and line convey something deep and meaningful. To be honest, I am one of those writers and my desire for significance frequently tempts me to say nothing at all. This week was no exception; I wanted to say something holy and  grace-filled as Easter approached, but I found my heart silent, until I saw this…

Since the video is five minutes long, I will keep my commentary short.

After morning carpool, I watched this video in my driveway and tears began to stream down my face. I don’t know why they came, but I have learned that when tears come unbidden, we are in sacred space. Our hearts are hearing a divine whisper and our body is responding in kind, but all too often, we shut it down and wipe them away. We actually run from the holy.

Poet Mark Nepo wrote, “Our ear is only a petal that grows from the heart.” What my ear heard in those five minutes, my heart loved. What my eyes saw, my soul celebrated. And as the crescendo played out before me and the children danced, I imagined the joy of this coming Sunday morning and the Alleluia choruses that will be sung the world over. I heard Rob Bell speak at USC last night on his new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, and strangely enough, he spoke of Nepo’s truth as well. Real seeing, he said, “happens when our eyes and our heart are looking at the same thing.” 

Whether we celebrate Easter or not, we are like the symphony in the square. We each have our own instrument to play, our own voice, talent and energy. My hope is that you will use yours this Sunday morning as you gather with your people – whoever and wherever they are – in Starbucks, in church, or in the middle of an Easter egg hunt. Let your ear be the petal of your heart. See the flash mob of joyful, exuberant love that surrounds you. Be brave and begin like the cello player, setting the process in motion. Be aware of the miracle of it all. And if the tears come, let them fall where they may. You are in sacred space.

The Spirituality of Spin

As most of you know, I love to find intersections between the head and the heart, the moment and the infinite, the spiritual and the secular. The sacred is everywhere if we allow the possibility and so today, I offer you “The Spirituality of Spin.”

“Pain is inevitable; suffering is a choice.”

These are words of wisdom a friend shared with me recently when I was in a lot of pain. At the time, I wanted to haul off and hit him, but he was just out of reach and I was locked into my pedals anyway. The pain was real and physical, but he also was the one putting me through it. His name is Rich and he is my spin instructor, but I secretly think he was a Zen master in a former life. You’ve got to love a guy who can seamlessly bring Buddhist philosophy, 50s doo-wop music and prodigious amounts of sweat into the same moment.

spin

For many years, I avoided the spin room at my local YMCA. People who “spun” were intense. Whenever I walked by, the lights were dim; the music was pumping; the instructor was yelling, and the cyclists were staring at a glowing LED-display, mounted between their handlebars. They appeared transfixed, as if on ecstasy in a techno-fueled nightclub. Not my scene, thank you very much. I also happened to cherish sitting normally after a work out. Spin will never win, I thought smugly.

But about a year ago, one of my good friends defected to the dark side of the gym. She didn’t become an addict exactly, but two days a week, I’d see her in there, huffing and puffing and pedaling away. She invited me to come with her; I demurred. She told me what a good work out it was; I scoffed. She promised me my butt would adapt; I doubted it. But I couldn’t completely dismiss her perspective; I trust her. She’s a fit, successful, serene, 50-year-old woman who would never tolerate bad music, or macho bullshit. If she chose to spend an hour in a spin class, there must be something to it after all.

So I gave it a try and after a couple misses with bad music (the dreaded techno music) and worse instructors (pompous donkeys who sat up on their bikes and played air guitar while talking about how high a gear they were pushing), I finally made it to Steph’s cherished, Friday morning class and found my “spin” home.

Like any new exercise routine, or spiritual practice, spinning felt a little awkward at first. It was Catholic calisthenics all over again. We sat; we stood; we did a strange hover over the seat for 20 seconds at a time. I was always looking at my neighbor to gauge my posture and proficiency. I couldn’t tell if I was trying too hard, or not hard enough. I couldn’t seem to find the rhythm, when everyone else moved like an old pro. But the instructor Rich began that first class, and every class since with a gentle reminder: For the next sixty minutes, we simply need to be present to ourselves, to acknowledge what we feel and do what we can do. For the next hour, there are no problems to solve, or people to fix, so we can focus on why we are there: to transform our bodies and our selves. His stated goal as our teacher is to push us beyond our comfort zones, which is where all genuine improvement lies.

Though my ego and body didn’t love my first spin class with Rich, my soul immediately responded to his coaching style: creative and engaging, humble, but tough. It took only a few classes for me to begin to see how I could take his words into my spiritual life. Can you imagine a priest, pastor, or rabbi beginning every service that way? Asking us to breathe deeply, to center ourselves and let go of outside concerns? To be fully present to the Presence within us and open to the (sometimes painful) transformation that can take place if we allow it? Though they don’t usually ask, since I began spinning, I try to do it anyway.

Rich reminds us that if we wanted easy, we would be on a treadmill next door and I often think of that as I walk, sometimes reluctantly, into church. If I wanted easy, I’d be back in bed, munching on a donut and sipping my latte. I’m at church for a reason. Walking through life at a comfortable pace isn’t going to change me.

When our lungs and legs are burning, Rich calls out, “This is the feeling of improvement!” In all my years, during the many times I have been on my knees in prayer, in frustration, in desperation for things to be different, I had never thought of it that way. Our hearts and souls are no different than our bodies. Positive change never comes easily. Each step is just beyond our reach and the only way to get there is to do the very thing we don’t think we can do. In those moments in the classroom, Rich reminds us, “Somewhere inside of you is the person who can do this hard thing.” I want to believe he’s right, so I keep pedaling and push on, whether I’m on a bike, or in the midst of my life.

Finishing up a tough hill, Rich asks us to imagine our 80-year-old selves, thanking us for what we are doing right now at the age of 30, 40, or 50 and as I hold Tim’s hand at night, apologize for an unkind word, or let go of a petty grudge, I imagine the same thing. I am doing it for us now, but I’m also doing it for our 80-year-old selves. We plan to be together for another forty years at least, but that’s not going to happen if I don’t take care of business today.

One day when the hills were extra long and the incline steep, it seemed like the hour would never end. No matter how good the music, or how fine the company, I just didn’t have it in me to finish hard. I wanted to back off and quit, but sensing the mood of the room, Rich tried another tactic. He made sure we knew we were in this together. “Every one is feeling what you are feeling,” he likes to say and you can tell by the effort in his voice that he is no exception. He reminded me that solidarity is the key to enduring any difficult experience. Knowing we are not alone in our pain allows us to transform it. Great leaders, spiritual or otherwise, embrace the trials of their people and the burdens of their community. A great Leader is with you on your journey, in your effort and pain. She isn’t standing in the Promised Land, waiting for you to hurry up and get there. He doesn’t pretend that the journey didn’t cost him something as well.

Great leaders aren’t impatient. They don’t shame and blame, judge, compare and compete. They meet people where they are. They care and then they cure. I don’t know if Rich does all that in two, sixty-minute spin classes each week, but I do know I leave there better prepared to face my day, more sound in body and mind.

Pain

The most Zen of Rich’s words are where I began. Though they were spoken in the sanctuary of the spin class, they have resonated with me every day since. When I encounter frustrations, big, or small, I am reminded that the choice is mine. The pain may be inevitable, but the suffering is not. I still choose to suffer more than I’d like, but because I signed up for improvement, I’m willing to work on it. I breathe deeply, relax my hands, and drop my shoulders. I feel what I am feeling and then I move on. I know I will be glad I did it today and perhaps even more grateful down the road. And ultimately and perhaps most importantly, I know I’m not alone. I have a great Leader.