Monday, January 15th, 2018

Holy Rythm of Christmas in Mexico

Christmas is not secular in Mexico. My husband and I have had a house in Mexico for fourteen year. We usually arrive after Christmas and stay until mid-May. It depends on what is going on with the rest of the family and our work and writing.

One brave year early in the fourteen years, all of our family came—all five kids and their husbands, wives, loves or friends came for Christmas itself. This was before any grandchildren. We gave one another experiences for Christmas here in San Miguel. One son rented a fourwheeler for his brother because we had forbidden them in their youth. The women tended to give one another the experience of pedicures. My son-in-law gave me a visit to the best gordita restaurant in San Miguel. We went to a ranch open house and rodeo. We cooked and played games and drank Margueritas.

We gussied up for Christmas Eve and walked to our church up our small alleyway. Nothing much going on. Didn’t surprise us too much. Our community church is tiny (built in 1540) and has no permanent priest. Some of us went home feeling vaguely disappointed from a ritual point of view and some of us trudged into town. Big old colonial churches were open but not many people were in them. No candlelight service. No choirs. Back to the house we went, puzzled and slightly out of sorts. No big deal. In the morning we opened presents and on we went.

Only as we got to know our Mexican neighbors over the next few years did we understand the rhythm of Christmas in Mexico. I may not have it exactly right yet but I share it as something to think about as giving a new rhythm to your own holiday.

Most houses have a large Nativity scene in the house. There can be a big background scene with rocks and moss and other additions. The figures are big if not life size. This is the central decoration with lights and adornments. Christmas trees are beginning to be part of the scene. Our community still does what is called Las Posadas (the inn). The passage of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay is re-enacted. People dress as angels or Mary and Joseph or shepherds and walk to two or three houses,knocking to enter.The procession is turned away. Finally, one door is opened, and everyone enters and there is a celebration and singing of “carols”. There used to be impromptu and many “posadas”. Now Christmas Eve is THE one. This might explain why no one was at church when we went hunting for a special service.

Next in the rhythm is Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos. The Three Kings’ Day is on January 6th. This is the day the three kings arrived and brought gifts to the baby Jesus. The next morning children wake up to find lots and lots of gifts (mostly toys). I am told lots of toys are needed because there are “three” Wise Men. Adults don’t exchange gifts. The presents are not wrapped. After the gifts are enjoyed, the breakfast has to include a “rosca” a round crown (round) shaped sweet bread with dried fruit in it. In the Rosca there is one or more tiny plastic baby Jesus figures. Whoever finds the first baby Jesus is obligated to give a party for all who are present at the gathering. Some chew very carefully because the party includes tamales and atole that are not easy to make. That party is on February 2nd.

February 2nd is Candeleria the day Jesus was presented in the temple of Jerusalem. This is the time that people take down their nativity scenes and take their baby Jesus to the church to be blessed, often dressed in elaborate Christening gowns and then packed away until the next Christmas.This is the day when people bring their candles that they will use on their altars at home to be blessed in the church. Our community has a candle lit procession with people carrying big bundles of candles.  Before that day, there is another celebration indicating when baby Jesus sat up. There is a special song sung as the figure of baby Jesus is rocked in a special cloth. Some Nativity scenes have many baby Jesus dolls.  A traditional punch is served and candy is passed out.

And so there you have it. The rhythm of Christmas in Mexico. I think. Like Wikipedia, feel free to add or correct your experience of the Mexican rhythm of Christmas. It is what my community in Valle del Maiz does. There are certainly Indian and Catholic combinations of all kinds because the early (not later) priests tried to incorporate Indian traditions when they could and to use playful and experiential activities for an illiterate people to understand Christianity.

I think about the out of control Christmas holiday in the United States. We complain and share the experience of being torn about which family to visit first, how to fit it all in with buying presents as a laborious chore and I wonder. I wonder about giving my family the gift of Christmas separate from gifts. I wonder about keeping Chrismas holy for Chrisians. I wonder about traditions that are so strong there is no choosing or deciding. The entire family must gather together even if travel is a hardship. I wonder about having gifts for kids only on January 6th? I wonder about how to design a holiday rhythm that works to allow the Holy and to enjoy giving and to keep the “delight” for children. “I wonder as I wander.” (from carol by John Jacob Nile)


Monday, January 8th, 2018

Spiritual Fitness

First comes glut, then comes sorrow, then—a trip to the gym tomorrow.
Tis the season when fitness center memberships surge along with our guilty resolve to become physically fit. Even as we are giving ourselves permission to indulge for the holidays, even as we put one more cookie in our mouths, even as we collectively moan and groan about the sinfulness of the goodies, most of us are mentally promising ourselves to compensate for our gluttony. The first day of January seems to hold us all suddenly accountable. We tackle our new gym workouts with fervor, and we empty the bookstore shelves in our search for the just-right-pain-free-diet. The rhythm of overdoing followed by remorse and restraint is deeply embedded in our holiday season.
Along with, and sometimes in spite of, the formal traditions of the year’s end religious holidays, there is an undergirding cycle of the spiritual during the season of darkness and cold. This is often experienced as spiritual yearning or deep disappointment with holiday celebration as the primary experience of the holiday season. The rituals are empty, not filling. Our bodies are too full, our souls still hungry. Still we narrow our focus to the physical.
Nearly two thirds of adults in the United States who make New Year’s resolutions set physical fitness goals as part of their commitment. Spiritual fitness often is not recognized as an important element of well-being that could benefit from a resolution and, yet, many of us are spiritually flabby and start the New Year in a state of spiritual discontent. Similar to the need to shake off over-indulgence of the body, there is the need to create a discipline and practice for spiritual fitness that builds strength for challenges, joy and peace in our lives as well as deeper meaning and direction.
What would the end goal of being spiritually fit look like? Military chaplains have tried to define it with, of course, military precision. There is a guide written by Navy Chaplains to help military members assess their spiritual condition, United States Marine Corps Spiritual Fitness Guide. Spirituality is defined as “that which gives meaning or purpose to life or that refers to a philosophy or a religion.” The guide then talks about the paths of various religions. There is a chart to see if you are spiritually fit, stressed, depleted or drained with behavioral descriptions for each category.
A large segment of the U.S. population now describes themselves as religiously unaffiliated (“nones”) yet are nonetheless spiritual. Many can’t quite find a perfect fit or structure to support spiritual fitness and want something a little more fluid than the Marine Corps guide. (Kudos that it exists.) Fitness—body or soul—involves a personal commitment and practice. Prayer seems integral to this practice. The 2015 Pew study of America’s Religious Landscape finds that many people who don’t believe in God, still pray on a regular basis. Praying (anyway) with doubts, with awkwardness, with feeling foolish, with not knowing how seems to be fundamental to the goal of spiritual fitness.
There are some problems with the reputation of prayer, especially for the non-affiliated with any religion. Prayer can be perceived as pious, hypocritically virtuous or a deadly boring drone of memorized words. A minister’s wife recently told me that she didn’t pray because she thought prayer had to be grand and eloquent. Others say they wouldn’t know how to pray even if they wanted to. Also, there is the anger and disappointment of prayers not answered. And, of course the granddaddy of all questions, who to pray to?
Even with all of the questions and doubt, science is giving validity to the invisible power of praying. Dr. Bruce Lipton in his book, The Biology of Belief, explains that genes and DNA do not control our biology; that instead DNA is controlled by signals from outside the cell, including the energetic messages emanating from our positive and negative thoughts/prayer. Meditation has been proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress and alleviate depression. Spiritual fitness could start with being receptive to the mystery of transcendence. Praying anyway, in one’s own style and voice is one exercise for our spiritual core that needs encouragement.
Spiritual fitness is needed to get through this tough passage our world seems to be in. Young adults especially want to head towards a different kind of love and compassion. A template is needed for spiritual fitness that has its own universal practice that does not exclude but augments our religious traditions, and opens a channel for the voices of our individual souls.
The British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead captured what is needed today. He said, “I imagine a religious space that celebrates doubt, encourages experimentation and allows one to utter the word God without embarrassment.”


Monday, December 25th, 2017


Hush world hush

Hush the rushing feveredness, hush, hush, shhh

Hold still, be still

Give your soul a chance to speak






Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

What a Difference 567 Words Make

—When you want something that you believe, it feels good. But when you have a desire that you doubt, then that desire does not feel good because the vibrational content of your desire and the vibrational content of your belief does not match. Negative emotion is simply present when you are thinking in opposition to your own desire—

This quote is from Abraham who is channeled by Esther Hicks. I can hardly stand to read it. I have been in a kind of creative crisis and it makes me jittery to my very foundation.. I can’t find my true north. I just wrote about my scattered soul that I need to regather and heal. Out the words came, blop,blop, blop. Truth is knocking at my door.

I’m trying to market/sell a book that now lags behind where I am. I feel false when I ask people to buy or sell it. It’s not that good a book. It doesn’t carry the power of a strong true point of view. It is a very good representation of a shy, awkward, sometimes whiney (and I despise whining) voice. I PRAY ANYWAY: Devotions for the Ambivalent is like the first pancake testing the grill pan. It took bravery to write and share. It gave some comfort and laughter and permission to be real and to try prayer on for size. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, lots right with that.

But back to the Abraham quote. In some way, I am thinking in opposition to my own desire. Desire is the engine, thinking is the execution. What do I want? I’ll experiment out loud to see what I hear. I used to have clients do this all the time. I would ask them to list 20 or so ‘wants’ as fast as they could, then I would ask for five more.

I want the book to become exciting for people,  I want it to create conversations. I want prayer to become a viable power and to validate its work. I want to let people know I am NOT ambivalent about praying. I am ambivalent about organized religion and any one group owning the truth. I want clients who are spiritual pioneers who want to experiment with prayer and the invisible energies of love and hope and creativity and optimism and gratitude. I want to develope the discipline of the hard core of love–doing it and being it. I want to publish a Playbook for people to use to make their own spiritual pioneer group, I want to publish a year of reflections for 2019 that are different from the first I PRAY ANYWAY, that show a different stage. I want to give comfort and direction to people to be bolder and braver in how they love and give. And I want to take the book out of the arena of marketing to sell to the book to the market of spurring ideas about goodness. The end.

Nope,  Give me five more: I want to work easily. I want to be technologically adept for my work. I want to talk and laugh on screen with people. I want my work to be joy. I want to spread joy.