A wrap and a prayer

I started something different when I wrap my hair. I set an intention or a prayer every time I do it for a particular purpose. For instance I may wrap for people who are suffering from feeling alienated or people who are struggling with addiction. Then as the day goes on, every person who comments on my head wrap or stares at it is someone I need to pray for, someone who has that particular issue that they are struggling with. I pray silently in my heart for them, never calling attention to them.

This transforms the stares and unexpected comments from something weird into an opportunity to pray for others. This transforms wrapping from something I do for myself into something that I do for others.


I just realized something. I didn’t even know I was missing these pieces, this peace. I had dinner at a friend’s house and got a little overwhelmed. She invited us over for a home-cooked meal and it nourished me in my soul as well as my body.

We’ve been meeting with these friends like this once a month or so for about a year or so. Sometimes it is planned and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes we are lucky to get 24 hours notice that we are invited. I feel a bit awkward that it isn’t reciprocal, these invitations.

Our house is small and messy. Sometimes there isn’t enough room for even two in our house. I bought the house when I was single thinking I’d stay that way. One of the people helping me move ended up moving in. He was the one I’d been waiting for but I didn’t realize it.

While I love him, I don’t love his stuff and it gets in the way of my neatnik tendencies. In short, I’m embarrassed to have people over without a huge push to relocate a lot of stuff. I’m grateful our friends understand and we try to even things out by bringing over food if we can -cooked vegetables, salad fixings, dessert. It never seems like enough. It never seems that we are equal in our contributions. They almost always provide the main dish. They almost always provide more than we are able to. In part it is because of the very impromptu nature of these invitations.

A whim, a new recipe, a realization for a desire for company – whatever the reason, we sometimes don’t have time to prepare something special for four. That, coupled with the fact that these gatherings almost never happen at our house make the relationship a bit lopsided in terms of reciprocity. They clean their house for company, and we can’t.

I felt overwhelmed this evening eating homemade chicken marsala made from scratch. Everything we had was from scratch, like usual. I noticed I was being filled in an unexpected way. It was more than my stomach that was being satisfied – it was my soul as well.

My Mom didn’t cook from scratch unless company came over – and that happened about as often as holidays. It didn’t happen on holidays mind you. This is just to say it was rare to see anyone at the table other than my parents and my brother. Therefore it was rare to see homemade food at the table as well.

Our meals usually were from the freezer, not from scratch. Our basic needs were being met like that – basically. We got enough to get by. Even the environment the food was cooked in was less than ideal when I was growing up. Both my parents smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. That, coupled with the fact that our dog was paper trained – and the papers were in the kitchen – created a less than ideal environment for healthy food production. Secondhand smoke and dog poop aren’t the smells you want wafting in the air intermingling with your dinner entrée.

I realized tonight that I was having a piece of me restored and I didn’t even know I was missing. I’d grown up minus this part I needed without even realizing it.

I was missing the simple honesty of a meal cooked and offered with love. Rather than a meal cooked to fill a need, this meal was extra. It filled more than my daily requirement of the USDA suggested amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and vitamin C. There is no place in the nutritional requirements label for love.

Maybe that was the problem. All those meals from boxes were cooked following the instructions but there was no instruction for love. My Mom didn’t learn to put in that ingredient because it wasn’t in the box. And I didn’t know that I grown up deficient in that basic building block. It is like I had rickets or scurvy but it wasn’t vitamin D or C I was missing.

Homemade, made not just in a house but in a home makes the difference. And what makes a home a home? Intention, focus, individuality, being awake are starters. Sure, frozen pizza can be “homemade” with awareness and mindfulness. Add some shredded Parmesan cheese and some Italian herbs and yours is uniquely yours and not the same as every other box pizza. And even “homemade” can be blasé if made without feeling or focus. We have to put a little extra into our food and into everything if we want them to be real.

In Hebrew the word is kavanah, which is a bit like focus, a bit like intention. We need to pray with kavanah at a minimum but really we need to live with it. And that’s part of it. With kavanah, the meal becomes a vehicle for nourishment of the soul. With kavanah, the prayer becomes a vehicle for transforming not just the self but also the world.


What is a “practice”? You may have heard this word before and wondered. People these days will talk about something that they do as being part of their practice. Your practice is anything you do mindfully and intentionally.

In the same way that you have to practice playing piano to get better at it, you have to adopt a practice for life to get better at it.

The interesting part is that there is not just one way to practice. Anything you choose mindfully can be your practice. You can have several practices and they can change over time. You don’t have to keep the same one. In fact, when your practice becomes stale is a good time to reexamine it. It may be time to change it. It may also be time to stick with it and dig deeper.

There are just as many practices as there are people. Gardening can be a practice. So can walking outside. So can painting, drawing, and writing. Eating vegetarian, or raw, or local can be a practice. Being part of a group class at the Y is just as valid a path as exercising at home alone to a video or making it up yourself.

The only constant to a practice is that it must be intentionally chosen. It can’t just be something you do because that is what you’ve always done. It can’t be something you do when you are bored. It has to be the exact opposite of an addiction.

How do you pick a practice?

First, think of where you want to go. If you don’t have a goal, you aren’t being intentional. Now, your practice may be the goal. You may find yourself opening up and growing just by adopting a practice.

A practice is like a map that gets you there. If you want to go to Cleveland and you have never been there you’ll either ask someone who has or you’ll get a map. The same is with a practice. Ask people who are good at what they do and enjoy it. Ask people you admire, either friends or experts (the two can be the same thing) what they did (or do) Read a book or twelve. Pray for guidance. Ask God/Source/the Divine to show you what direction you should go.

Then pick something and do it. It will be awkward at first. Give it some time. If it doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, try something else. You can’t get there if you have on the wrong shoes. Sometimes the practice works for someone else but it doesn’t fit you. That is normal. It doesn’t mean you are wrong. It means the practice is wrong for you.

Your practice may be to fully participate in your religion. Practice doesn’t have to be something new, it can be something old. You don’t have to take up a new habit or hobby. You can just do what you already do, but more mindfully.

You can find enlightenment through almost any path. Even doing a jigsaw puzzle can teach you a valuable lesson. Being open and childlike is essential. If your practice becomes like a job, then it isn’t a practice anymore.

It helps if your practice helps others. Sure, you need some inward focus too. You can’t help others very well if you are broken. If you are off balance and you try to catch someone else who is off balance you will both fall. But a practice that is all self-focused will be tight, like a flower bud that isn’t open. Flowers are made to open and be delightful. So are we.


I had a meeting with a different spiritual director while at the retreat. She is the lady who is hosting it. I scheduled for just thirty minutes in the afternoon. I figured by then I’d be a little antsy and want a break from the whole silent thing.

Last time I was going stir crazy around 2 pm on Saturday. This time, not so much. This time I feel like I’m almost overscheduled. This time I don’t have a four hour block of time with nothing specific to do. Some of that is because I’ve got to keep going into the conference room and check on the prayer bracelet station. I’ve got to tie them and make sure the supplies are stocked.

I feel oddly calm and yet there’s more I can’t quite name. Maybe because I’ve done this, here, before. I brought stuff to work on. I know it isn’t like Cursillo. I know where everything is. I know the schedule.

But I digress. This usually means I’m trying to avoid something. So, let’s plunge on in. The best way to confront a fear is to face it.

She asked me what had I intended for this retreat. What was I trying to get out of it?

I had decided not to intend anything. I think that is part of my problem. I plan, and then either I’m disappointed or I only look for that intention.

I will set an intention before yoga and by the time the class is over I’ve learned something entirely different. I’ve received a different gift, and it wasn’t what I expected.

The last time we were together, my usual spiritual director had asked me how would I feel if I knew Jesus was standing behind a door with his arms full of gifts for me. Would I open the door?

So this lady went with that. She told me to imagine that Jesus has a gift for me right now. What is it?

We closed our eyes and I imagined this.

Here’s Jesus, all smiles, and he has a gift. It is wrapped up in shiny blue paper. No bow. Tidy wrapping job. I take off the paper. I’m pretty excited. This is a gift from Jesus, so it has to be good, right? He knows me better than anybody, and has my best interests at heart. It’s going to be awesome.

It’s a wrench. It is a used wrench, in fact. There’s oil on it. Not on the handle, but on the adjusting part.

Confused? Sure. Crestfallen? Definitely. I’m a bit hurt. What the heck am I going to do with a wrench?

Uh, thanks, but no thanks, buddy. It is this kind of thoughtlessness that is the reason I hate Christmas.

So the director asked me to sit with this feeling a bit. What does this mean? Ask Jesus why he gave me a wrench.

“It is for your heart” he says. To loosen it up. To stop being so tight and rigid. To be more playful, more childlike. To not have so many rules and limitations.

The more I decide how things have to be, the less I’m allowing them to just be the way they are.

It is like a bonsai. The more you force a plant into a certain shape, the less you are letting it grow the way God wants it to grow.

Something about organic and trust is in there. Not resisting. Acceptance. Being open to possibility.

I wasn’t really happy about this to start off with. Jesus should love me as I am, right? This sounds a little mean, giving me a wrench. I felt it was like going up to a friend and saying that she isn’t pretty enough, so here’s some makeup.

Nope, it isn’t that at all. True friends want the best for you. They want you to grow into your full potential. They challenge you. They call you on your BS too.

If I truly believe that Jesus is my friend, then I have to believe that he wants the best for me. I have to believe that this is an awesome gift, and exactly what I need, and in fact exactly what I’ve been looking for but I just didn’t know it.

So, a wrench. Why? I asked.

Because a seed doesn’t grow into a flower unless it is watered. It needs work. The seed is great as a seed. Jesus isn’t saying that I’m broken. He’s just saying that if I want to be better, then here’s the tool, and here’s the part that needs work.

So why is it oily and used, I asked?

Because he’s already broken it in for me. It is ready to go. Smooth action.

Then I get silly and realize that wrenches are used on nuts, which are just beads after all. They are hexagonal metal beads, with spiral holes.

Now I want to make a bracelet with nuts and wire.

But it isn’t about that. It is important not to iconize this. It isn’t about the symbol but what the symbol points toward.

While writing this I got a snack of hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows, and honey graham crackers shaped like teddy bears. I think this is a good start.

(Written on retreat, around 3 pm on 1-18-14)

Keeping the Sabbath at home.

Recipe for how to keep the Sabbath at home: intention, exercise, silence, and tea. You don’t have to go to a retreat to have the benefits of going to a retreat. You can have this at home.

For me, part of it is that I go to the YMCA first and exercise. I suspect any exercise would be good, anywhere. Going for a walk and admiring God’s creation even if it is just walking around your neighborhood is always good. Get some sunlight and fresh air, and strengthen the temple that is your body. As for me, I like going to the YMCA because it is one of the few public places where I can talk about God with like-minded people. I get to strengthen my faith as well as my body.

When I get home, I try to commit to using no electronic devices – no TV, computers, tablets, Kindle, smartphone – you get the picture. The idea is that you are only communicating with God, so silence is optimum.

Pick an amount of time that works for you. At least an hour is a good start.

Read holy scriptures. This is essential. It is your choice as to how you interpret that.

Having a candle burning while you read can be useful.

Also, pick some non-reading activity. You can garden, paint, bead, or draw for instance. Just don’t do anything that is a “have-to” or an assignment. Do stuff that kind of distracts you enough to let God get a word in edgewise.

God can speak to us through anything. The trick is to give God space to talk to us. We spend so much time talking to God, we forget to pause long enough to listen. It is just like talking to a friend. You have to make space for your friend to answer.

For me, it is mandatory to have tea and cookies at the end.

Give thanks to God for the time that you were able to spend, and for any answers to prayers that you received.

Energy – attention is attention, whether negative or positive.

Don’t give your energy to something that isn’t good. If there is a performer on TV who has “jumped the shark” and done something so egregious that the dictionary now has a new name for her actions, don’t talk about it. Don’t post pictures of it. This just gives it more energy. Negative energy is still energy. Let it go away. Let it disappear. Don’t even mention her name.

This is the same thing you learn with bad behavior and children. If you want a child to stop doing any bad behavior, don’t comment on it, but comment on the good behavior instead. Any attention is attention. If you yell at a child for doing something wrong, it is still attention. All people crave attention. If you yell or fuss, that behavior will happen again. Yes, this makes no sense, but it is true.

This is the same with celebrities or groups. This is the same with people who are celebrities just because their fathers are famous, or groups that use the forum of media to spread their message of hate.

As long as the person isn’t doing something dangerous, ignore it. Don’t comment on it. Don’t post about it on your Facebook page. Don’t talk about it at work. Energy is energy.

Don’t spend time on things you don’t like. Don’t give them your energy or attention. Focus on the positive. Talk about what works, not about what is broken.

Yes, I’m kind of breaking my own rule here. I’m trying to shift a way of thinking, so I have to point this out. We have to shift the way we think in order for change to happen.