Les Souvenirs of Sacred Journeys

imageMementos of Sacred Pilgrimages from the past…Les Souvenirs…inspire me to continue on life’s journey.  Many of them are now “decorating” my new walking stick.  How I selected them reminded me of how a bride might prepare for her wedding ceremony…find something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue, and then take them with you as you walk down the aisle to your new life.

Starting at the top of my stick, I tied some red yarn/thread that was given to me during a red thread ceremony which honors the ties that bind women together as they sit in circle and share their wisdom and prayers.

Next is my Cursillo Cross which is wrapped with a braided multicolored yarn which represents De Colores.  Cursillo is a contemporary renewal movement within various Christian denominations.  It invites participants to deepen their relationship to Christ and to share God’s love and joy with others.  A popular song among Cursillistas is De Colores which originated in the 16th century.  Here is an excerpt:

De Colores, in all colors the fields love to dress during springtime.
De Colores, in all colors the birds have their clothing that comes every season.
De Colores, in all colors the rainbow is shining across the wide sky.

De Colores, and so must all love be of every bright color to make my heart sing.

Tied to the stick is a Queen Bee which is a symbol of Creation.  She represents Mary, The Blessed Mother. The Bee is also a symbol of the Sisterhood of Belle Coeur, of which I am a member.

There is also a piece of White Coral which symbolizes happiness and immortality, and also provides protection to travelers especially when crossing bodies of water.  To me, it also represents the bones of my ancestors who continue to guide me on life’s journey.

The three feathers that are attached are black, brown and white, and they represent the different races, religions and creeds found around the world.  I discovered these particular feathers while walking in Eastern Europe and along the Gulf of Mexico.  They are reminders that wherever we go, birds fly overhead knowing no boundaries.  Birds are also symbolic messengers of God.

Below that cluster of symbols is a pilgrim badge which was made by one of our Belle Coeur Sisters and given to each woman participating in our circle’s formation retreat.  Pilgrim badges were first mass-produced during the Middle Ages as souveniers for those making pilgrimages to sacred shrines and cathedrals.  The Belle Coeur pilgrim badge has the community’s spiritual template…the Equidistant Cross within a Circle.  The cross represents Jesus, the Cosmic Christ, and the circle represents Sophia Wisdom as the all-encompassing circle of life, nature and the cosmos.  (From “The Way of Belle Coeur,” p. 453)  The pilgrim badge is attached to the walking stick by red elastic which also holds a small heart with cross symbol inside.  It secures the pilgrim badge to the sacred walking stick just like our prayers hold us secure to our Beloved.

What souveniers will you take with you as you travel down the Holy Road?  What new sacred treasures will speak to your pilgrim heart?  I would love to hear what inspires you on your spiritual journey.

 

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Sacred Walking Stick

imageHow many times have I started down the path towards a healthier lifestyle?  Probably as many times as there are stars in the night sky.  Along the way, I did manage to complete such goals as achieving lifetime membership status in Jenny Craig and walking 10,000 steps a day while on a long, luxury vacation.  But those accomplishments weren’t sustainable for me, and I quickly fell back into old patterns once the goal was met.

I have made some smaller changes that have stuck.  Several years ago I gave up all forms of diet soda and other packaged no or low calorie drinks.  I switched to water…sometimes with a spritz of lemon or lime, or the more expensive version labeled Perrier.  Last year I gave up adding Splenda to my daily cups of tea.  What made that easy was spending several weeks in Ireland where it is difficult to find artificial sweeteners.  I went “cold turkey” while there, and now I am quite used to unsweetened tea.  But now it is time to make bigger changes.

On a recent visit to my primary care doctor, he strongly urged me to move headlong into a healthier lifestyle.  He warned me that “my numbers” were going in the wrong direction and it was “medically necessary” for me to make some changes…now.  But how to begin again?

In Christine Valters Paintner’s book, “The Soul of a Pilgrim,” she devotes a whole chapter to “The Practice of Beginning Again.”  She quotes Rumi: “Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times.  Come, yet again, come, come.”  (Inscription on Rumi’s shrine in Konya, Turkey.)

“Beginning again is about letting ourselves be surprised by God and encountering the familiar with holy wonder.  Instead of feeling cynical or dulled because of our experience, pilgrimage invites us back to our lives, open to receiving the gifts that are present even in the mundane.”  (“The Soul of a Pilgrim,” p. 106)

The changes I want and need to make require first a change in attitude.  Instead of grumbling to myself that it is time to diet and exercise again, I would need to re-vision what was before me.

“Pilgrimage.”  I would need to embrace the practices I had read about in “The Soul of a Pilgrim.”  Christine writes: “Beginning again is essential.  We fall away; we lose our will to persevere for so many reasons.  The problem is not with the waning of our inner fire and perseverance.  We are human beings and go through times of dryness.  What becomes soul killing is not returning at all….  We need practices to act as touchstones so they can sustain us during our journey.”  (“Soul of a Pilgrim, p. 16.)

One way for me to re-vision the exercise portion of my lifestyle was to see it as a pilgrimage.  But where would I go?  Isn’t a pilgrimage all about walking to a holy site, and along the way asking for God’s direction and blessing?

I recalled that in Sibyl Dana Reynold’s book, “Ink and Honey,” the sisters of Belle Coeur left their home near Vezelay, France and set off on pilgrimage to the great Cathedral of Chartres.  I checked google maps to see how far a journey that was.  140 miles to be exact.  Wow.  How long would it take me to walk 140 miles?  I considered trying to walk that distance during Lent, but then I came back to my senses.  Ok…what would be a reasonable time frame to accomplish this distance?  I decided to set my sights on walking 140 miles between now and when I would see my Belle Coeur sisters in the fall while on our annual retreat.

An important part of being on a pilgrimage is to find traveling companions.  So I invited some of my Belle Coeur Sisters to travel this Holy Road with me.  And they accepted!  We are going to check in every week, online, to see how our virtual pilgrimage is proceeding.  Then, when we meet on All Saints Day, we will be together as we complete this journey.

I needed a symbol, or a touchstone, to help me visualize my walking as a pilgrimage.  How about a walking stick!?!  I found a beautiful birch stick at Michael’s, of all places!  Then I decorated it with petit cadeaux, small gifts that I have been given through the years as I have walked along on my spiritual journey.

“Just for today, I am willing and ready to begin again.  Just for today, I will see my life with holy wonder.  Just for today….”

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Models … This Way –>

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While out on my walk today, this model home sign drew my attention. Models, this way–>

I knew they had potential home buyers in mind but I read it in such a way that caused me to stop and ask myself: “What kind of model am I to others?”

I will ponder this question on this First Friday of Lent.

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Sacred Pilgrimage

imageOne of my intentions for Lent is to begin a practice of walking as a sacred pilgrimage.  To that end, I have set a goal of walking 140 miles between now and All Saints Sunday…almost nine months from now. This is the same distance as between Vezalay and Chartres, France.

In my mind, I will be retracing a sacred journey that was taken by the original Sisters of Belle Coeur in the book “Ink and Honey” by Sibyl Dana Reynolds.  In this historical novel, Sibyl introduces us to a group of holy women from the thirteenth century who struggle against great odds as they “navigate spiritual terrain where faith and creative passion forge the way to labyrinths and cathedrals, hidden rooms and honey drenched hives.  This book is alive with women’s ancient wisdom and spiritual practices to inform our lives today.” (Kathleen Adams, author of Journal to the Self and Scribing the Soul.)

Between now and the First Sunday of Lent, I am going to find me a walking stick as a reminder to continue my pilgrimage on the Holy Road until I reach my destination of reuniting with the Belle Coeur Sisters of today on The Feast of All Saints, Nov. 1st.  On that day I will be on retreat with our current contemporary, contemplative community of the Sisters of Belle Coeur where I will walk the labyrinth designed by one of our sisters as I give thanks for this sacred pilgrimage.

“We are pilgrims on the Holy Road. Far from home are we.  Show us the way.  As we walk and pray.  Alleluia, alleluia.  Amen and amen.  We are pilgrims on the Holy Road. Onward we go. Make us strong. The way is long. Alleluia, Alleluia. Amen and Amen.” (I & H, p. 295)

(The photo is of me with my last walking stick back in 1978 when I was a Girl Scout Leader. L. to R. My daughter Chris, me, my friend Mary and her daughter Chrissy.)

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Sacred Reflections

imageWhen I was a young girl, I can remember walking to school and seeing my full-life reflection in the store windows along Fullerton Avenue in Chicago.  It was like looking at a moving picture of myself, and I was fascinated.  You see, we didn’t have a full-length mirror in our flat.  We had only a small mirror on our medicine cabinet in the bathroom and a larger mirror in the living room.  Oh, yes…there was also the mirror on my mother’s dresser that always fascinated me.  But none of them would reflect back my whole body!

As I would pass by the butcher and baker and candy shop, I would pretend to look at the displays in their windows.  But what I was really doing was simply looking at my reflection in the plate glass and gazing at the young girl in front of me.  She often seemed mysterious.  Sometimes she was playful and would make faces back at me.  At other times she’d wave her arms and legs as if to get my attention.

Sometimes I feel like that little girl again.  I want to stop and look at my reflection, and to see myself with the eyes of my heart.

This Lent, I play to gaze deeply at my sacred reflection, and ask myself the question: “What do I behold?”  This is not to engage in narcissistic practice, but to observe a Holy Lent.

From the Book of Common Prayer: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” p. 265

To help me with this spiritual practice, I am going to follow the wisdom and guidance of Spiritual Director Sibyl Dana Reynolds as outlined in her spiritual guidebook: “The Way of Belle Coeur.”  It was just released in January 2016 and is now available on amazon.com.

In Chapter/Book VIII of her book, “Illumination, Co-Creation, and the Sacred Imagination,” Sibyl Reynolds offers inspirational messages and spiritual practices to help us discover sacred mysteries.  To quote Sibyl: “Behold what is all around you.  Illuminate your sacred faculty of vision with prayer.”  (From her book “Ink and Honey,” p. 48.)

I invite you to join me on this journey of discovery during this holy season of Lent.  All you would need is a copy of “The Way of Belle Coeur,” a journal, and an open mind and heart.  Blessings as together we gaze upon our sacred reflections.

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