Holy MOLY!

Of Ashes and Hearts

On a day typically known by the presence of hearts, flowers, and boxes of chocolates, many Christians around the world will today add the symbol of ashes. Not since 1945 have Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday coincided as they do today. At first glance the holiday and the holy day may not seem to have much in common. However, if one reflects more deeply, I believe there are actually very similar lessons to be learned from both occasions.

Most people are less concerned about the historical origins of Valentine’s Day which has both Christian and secular roots. Rather, we tend to associate this day as a time set apart to express our love in tangible and outward forms for those whom we hold dear in special and intimate ways. As a child I always looked forward to picking out my favorite set of cards to give to classmates and then decorating a shoe box to hold the Valentines that would be exchanged with all the other students. In later years my excitement leaned more to a romantic dinner and an occasional surprise delivery of a beautiful floral bouquet. Regardless of the symbols, whether a card or candy, love is at the core.

The primary symbol to begin the penitential season of Lent is a cross of ashes traced upon the forehead often with the words: “Remember that you are dust, and into dust you shall return.” Neither the blackened smudge nor the words seem very romantic or intimate as much as the symbols of Valentine’s Day, and yet I believe this day also has love at its core.

The season of Lent is set aside for Christians to reflect more deeply on their relationship with the greatest Lover of all – God, who loves us unconditionally as Creator, as Redeemer, as Sustaining Spirit.

As Creator, God’s first Valentine love letter to us was Creation itself. Many scientists say that the universe is almost 14 billion years old. Some people of faith recognize that God has been speaking to us through that evolving creation even beyond those billions of years.  Remembering that “we are dust” can be a reminder that we are literally made of stardust. As one scientist notes: “It’s a great human-interest story that we are now able to map the abundance of all of the major elements found in the human body across hundreds of thousands of stars in our Milky Way.” To acknowledge our inextricable connection to the universe as sharers of stardust is to acknowledge that we have been loved by the Creator before we even came into being. We share in the miracle of always evolving galaxies. Remember that we are dust!

And our Creator continued to love us by becoming human in Jesus and showing us how to live our daily lives in humility, mercy, non-violence, and sacrificial love. Even in his own birth Jesus chose to be born in the dust of a stable and laid in a feeding trough surrounded by animals so that even the most lowly of places and people were deserving of his love. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are all Valentine love letters for us, blessed to share in his humanity and divinity. Remember that we are dust!

God continues to send us daily Valentines of love through the Sustaining and Holy Spirit who guides and directs us in our daily lives. If we have eyes open to see, ears open to hear, and hearts open to love we will recognize God’s Valentines all around us – in the beauty of nature, and in the bonds of family and friends. God’s love letters exist also in the dust of problems and challenges that surround us in our own lives and in our world. Our struggles provide us opportunities to seek God’s support, even as we strive to extend God’s love to hurting hearts and suffering spirits. Remember that we are dust!

May this Valentine’s and Ash Wednesday observance be the beginning of an entire season devoted to receiving and offering Valentine love letters through our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Remember that we are dust and into dust we shall return.

Peace, Anne

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Super Bowl and SUPER BOWL

It’s been an exhilarating week—the Super Bowl and icy roads. I, like most people, have been caught up in the game. What struck me most about the Super Bowl, however, was the commercial in which leaders from different religions all jumped in a SUV and went to the game together. They were soon greeted by nuns who were waiting for them to arrive. There was an overwhelming sense of friendship and love.

Of course, this commercial is important to me because I see myself as an interfaith person. I am grounded in Christianity, while also deeply interested in Buddhism and Judaism. Interfaith work is part of my being. Yet this idea of different spiritual communities coming together to watch a football team sparked an idea—various groups on campus coming together to help out both our LC community and the Lynchburg City community.

Last April, our local news, WSET, released a report that said our city’s poverty rate is 24% and that over 60% of city schools have qualified for free or reduced lunch. About a week ago, I heard one of the local news reporters on TV saying that over 30% of people 18 and younger in Lynchburg City are below the poverty line. That’s devastating. I can’t help but hear the words in Matthew 25: “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink.”

Although LC Cares has always helped students and staff who are food insecure, the need has been steadily growing in recent years. The college has now set up a food pantry for the LC community, and there are drop off sites throughout the campus: Wilmer Writing Center (Hopwood 4), Knight-Capron Library, The School of Graduate Health Sciences, The Spiritual Life Center (500 Brevard Street), The Drysdale “Hub” (first floor) and the main office of Turner Gym. This is a major step to help those in need. I urge the LC community—students, faculty, and staff—to give what they can to these drop off sites.

I’m not a minister or priest; I’m a spiritual writer. Divinity and letters are my life. With that being said, here are some final words. It is my prayer that we all come together to help the hungry, that we give selflessly.  Wouldn’t it be great, in fact, if we had a SUPER BOWL, one large enough to feed all mouths? Let this be done in beauty, in peace, and in unconditional love.

Jer Bryant

Advisor to SBNR and to the LGBTQIA+ Spirituality Discussion Group

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Religion and Politics

Those who believe religion and politics aren’t connected, don’t know either

–Mohatma Ghandi

In today’s America, there is no doubt that religion and politics are intertwined. A recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) documents that, “White evangelical Protestants remain the dominant religious force in the GOP. More than one-third (35%) of all Republicans identify as white evangelical Protestant, a proportion that has remained roughly stable over the past decade. Roughly three-quarters (73%) of Republicans belong to a white Christian religious group.” However, in this changing religious landscape, defining “evangelical” or even “Christian” becomes a war of semantics.

The current political climate in the United States is tense, with endless news stories about what Congress is and is not doing, passionate opinions about our President, uncertainty about health care, taxes, and immigration, and all of the social issues which our nation needs to confront.

Rev. Dr. Jan Linn, former Lynchburg College Chaplain and Professor, is returning to campus to dialogue with the community next Wednesday, February 7th, at 7 p.m. in Snidow Chapel. His new book, Evangelicalism and the Decline of American Politics, is written out of his work as a historian, political scientist, and pastor/chaplain. Dr. Linn grew up in Lynchburg and lived here during the rise of the Moral Majority movement.

I encourage you to come challenge Dr. Linn with your questions about how faith influences our own politics and how he defines the “decline” of the American political system. I plan to ask him how he defines “evangelicalism” and why the Christian tradition is so politically fragmented today. How can Christians who read the same scriptures and worship the same God have such polarized positions?  How can William Barber speak the same truth as Pat Robertson and Joel Osteen?  Is Congress broken? Will the Democrats and Republicans ever be able to work together?

Next Wednesday evening (February 7), we celebrate the gift of respectful open dialogue about both Religion and Politics.  Please join me.

Blessings, Stephanie

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The Power of the Light

Our neighbors across the street like decorating for the holidays. Each evening their house and even the trees in the yard are showered with twinkling lights that come from a few small lamps stuck in the ground. They even have movie clips playing on a plyboard screen.  The most we’ve managed to accomplish in our own house so far is to find some used purple and pink candles which we light using the same Advent wreath we received as a wedding gift 34 years ago. Jewish friends are lighting their own candles on their menorahs during this season of Hanukkah. Nature lovers are keenly aware that next week marks the winter solstice, with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. A keen awareness of darkness and light seems to permeate our consciousness.

I’m sensitive to the fact that darkness should not automatically equate with negativity, however, so perhaps another way to think about this time of year is to contrast light with heavy. There is a certain heaviness to the season. One need not look further than one’s newsfeed to be aware of the heaviness in the world around us. Political discord is more acute than ever in our country. International tensions and violent uprisings seem to be increasing. Wildfires and natural disasters threaten the very planet which we call home. Hearts and spirits can easily feel burdened and very heavy by the weight of so many crises and calamities. In the midst of it all, we look for the light.

Here are just a few ways I’ve been experiencing light in the midst of the heavy recently:

  • Meeting Leila Sansour, the founder and spokesperson of OPEN BETHLEHEM, an organization that works to bring international commitment to the resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian question. We were able to bring Sansour and her documentary to campus this past weekend. If you are interested in learning more about this important cause and would like to view an abridged version of the film, see: Open Bethlehem
  • Watching an outpouring of generosity as so many people contribute time, talent, and treasure this time of year. Food and clothing drives, gift collections for children and senior citizens, “alternative” giving which benefits non-profits in lieu of traditional presents.
  • Noticing increased political activism and involvement. Rather than simply decrying the current state of affairs, average citizens are making their voices heard, taking to the streets, knocking on doors, making phone calls, signing petitions, and other actions to bring about positive change in their communities and country.

Fortunately, my list could go on and on. I am grateful that signs of light abound when I look carefully and listen intently. The heaviness is lifted a bit when the glimmers of light come into focus. May each of us not only seek out the light but also commit ourselves to being people of light in our words and actions, not only this time of year but always.

Peace Anne

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Voices from the Garden

Yesterday ground was broken for a monument in Richmond, on the grounds of the State Capitol, honoring women from throughout the Commonwealth who have contributed throughout history to our nation and Virginia. It will be the first of its kind on the grounds of a State Capitol in the United States. I am encouraged and thankful for the recognition women will be given for their part in our history. After all, we are one half of the population and have contributed greatly and continue to contribute. The bronze statues will include four African-American women, a Native American, and women from all parts of the Commonwealth. Many of these women lived through the hardships of early colonization. They will be recognized for their contributions in medicine, publishing, voting rights for women, business and peacemaking, among countless other social impacts. The new monument, entitled “Voices from the Garden,” will include a glass panel that will be etched with more names of Virginia women, as well as a bench listing milestones of women’s contributions.

The Richmond Free Press shared this information about the lives of the twelve who are bronze statues:

  1. Cockacoeske (1656-1686), queen (Chief) of the Pamunkey Indians who united tribes, ended the war with the English, and accepted a reservation.
  2. Ann Burras Laydon (1591-after1625), mother of the first child born in the Jamestown colony.
  3. Sarah Garland Boyd Jones of Richmond (1866-1905), one of the first women and the first African American woman to be licensed as a physician in the state and the co-founder of a hospital serving African-Americans that ultimately became Richmond Community Hospital.
  4. Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley of Dinwiddie (1818-1907), a dress designer, who bought her freedom from slavery using her design talent and went on to design for Mary Todd Lincoln. She also organized a relief program for freed slaves and black soldiers during the Civil War.
  5. Virginia Estelle Randolph of Henrico County (1870-1958), a pioneering educator for African American children, who developed a nationally-recognized approach to vocational learning that involved practicality, creativity and the participation of parents and the community.
  6. Maggie Lena Walker of Richmond (1864-1934), leader of the independent Order of St. Luke and developer through the mutual aid society of a department store, newspaper, and the first bank in the nation to be chartered by an African American.
  7. Adele Goodman Clark of Richmond (1882-1983), a leader in the fight for women’s voting rights who went on to head the League of Women Voters and pave the way for the creation of the state-supported Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
  8. Laura Lu Copenhaver of Smyth County (1868-1940), a businesswoman who out of her home established Rosemont Industries which produced textiles. She also pushed cooperative marketing of farm products to improve farmer’s earnings.
  9. Mary Draper Ingles of Ingles Ferry (1732-1815), creator of New River ferry service that was a vital transportation link and who earlier escaped form Indian captors and trekked 800 miles to return to Virginia.
  10. Clementina Bird Rind of Williamsburg (1740-1774), who took over as editor and publisher of the Virginia Gazette after her husband died, enabling the newspaper to remain the colony’s official publisher.
  11. Sally Louisa Tomkins of Matthews County (1833-1916), founder and operator of a hospital that treated wounded soldiers during the Civil War.
  12. Martha Dandridge Custis Washington of Fairfax (1731-1802), wife of President George Washington and the nation’s first “First Lady.” She also represents the wives of the seven other Virginia-born presidents.

The monument’s title, “Voices from the Garden,” creates for me an image of millions of women throughout history, speaking truth and showing compassion and a commitment to love and peace. It echoes a fierce dedication to family and community and a compassionate call to justice for all.

Blessings, Kay

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Alabama’s Nineteenth-century Slave-evangelist and My White Privilege

In this era of secrets coming to light, I thought I would share an insight I gained in graduate school. While reading the book, Slave Religion, for a class, I discovered the Alabama, preacher James McLemore. Rev. McLemore has three claims to fame: he was an itinerant Baptist preacher of some merit; he owned the plantation that provided 500 acres for Auburn University in Montgomery; and he owned Caesar Blackwell, one of the preeminent slave preachers in the antebellum South. Blackwell at times preached alongside McLemore, and upon McLemore’s death, the Alabama Baptist Association purchased Blackwell so that he could continue to start churches and preach.

A document confirming Caesar’s popularity was written by B. F. Riley, who in his History of Alabama Baptists provided this commentary:

A Negro slave, named Caesar, a bright, smart, robust fellow was ordained to preach. His ability was so marked, and the confidence which he enjoyed was so profound, that Rev. James McLemore would frequently have Caesar attend him upon his preaching tours. He was sometimes taken by Mr. McLemore into the pulpit, and never failed of commanding the most rapt and respectful attention….

To the credit of the Alabama Association, it is written that they bought this man and gave him his liberty that he might preach among them the gospel of Christ, and it is said, that though he was as black as a crow, he traveled alone and unharmed on the mission of life.

I claim that I am a third or fourth generation Disciples pastor, but clearly, the preacher tradition runs deep. I have so much privilege in my life…and almost certainly more privilege than Caesar’s family. I have a tradition of higher education in my family and a tradition of faith. I grew up in a mostly stable household with “enough.” As I have been reflecting recently on privilege and reading more deeply about biological effects of long-term poverty, I have become more and more convicted about fighting the inequality of our system. I had a conversation yesterday with a colleague about budgeting as privilege…to budget you have to have some certainty about income and expenses from one month to another. Family history, faith, and the human existence convict me both of privilege and to the responsibility of change.

Eighteen months ago the Spiritual Life Center offered three sections of a discussion group on White Privilege for faculty and staff. (You can find the curriculum for free download at http://privilege.uccpages.org). In January, we will offer sections again. The 2018 invitation to the conversation is for students, faculty, and staff. We will try to find the times that best suit those who are interested. Please add your name to the google doc at: White Privilege Conversation Group Interest List.

Blessings, Stephanie

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Dear World – “Hearing the Other to Speech”

The power of story, of speaking our own truth, was experienced in dynamic and impactful ways last week as “Dear World” came to Lynchburg College. As a member of the planning committee, I had some idea of what might happen on our campus. However, I was blown away by the energy of heart, mind, and soul that transpired.

For those who may not be aware, Dear World is a facilitated process whereby individuals reflect on significant moments in their own lives then share specific details from a particularly meaningful experience with another person who in turn shares from their own life story.  Afterwards, a brief sentence or phrase from the story is written somewhere on the person to evoke curiosity as a way of drawing others into dialogue and conversation. Portrait pictures are then taken and shared widely in hopes that the story-sharing momentum will continue.

Over the two days that Dear World was on campus, I was struck over and over by the power of self-disclosure when participants were offered a safe space of mutual vulnerability and respectful acceptance. I listened in awe and admiration as students shared stories of their own struggles and trauma and how they had found inner resilience and healing. I marveled at colleagues who had overcome great challenges both personal and professional and who now were dedicated to ensuring that others in similar circumstances would find empathetic support and practical assistance. Maya Angelou was right: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Courage and bravery in speaking one’s truth resulted in responses of compassion and solidarity.

As I have continued to reflect on the phenomenon of Dear World, I am reminded of the words of theologian Nelle Morton: “Hearing of this sort is equivalent to empowerment. We empower one another by hearing the other to speech. We empower the disinherited, the outsider, as we are able to hear them name in their own way their own oppression and suffering.”

While not every story that was shared dealt with pain or loss, many individuals did choose to focus on difficult circumstances and their journey to integrate loss and hurt in ways that were ultimately life-giving and transforming. And with each personal narrative that was offered, it felt like another brick in an invisible wall that separates us came down and became instead a part of a bridge to connect us.

At last count it appears that almost 700 people participated in Dear World at Lynchburg College. Members of the planning team are already exploring ways to keep the momentum going so that the deeper sense of community we have experienced will continue to grow. If you participated and appreciated the experience of Dear World, I hope you will share your enthusiasm with others and encourage them to become involved.  If you are curious and want to learn more, please let me know and I’ll make sure you are included in our ongoing efforts.  In this season of Thanksgiving I am grateful to leaders like Kristen Cooper who brought Dear World to campus and to all who participated.  Your life stories have touched mine, and I am better because of you.  I look forward to more conversations and deepening dialogues in the future.

Thanks to the Critograph we now have a video that captures some of the experience – Link to Video. A collection of some of the portraits is also available on this page Facebook Album.

Peace, Anne

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A Blueprint for Living

This past Sunday I preached a message entitled “There’s Nothing You Can’t Handle,” from Psalm 27:1-6. The premise of my message was that despite all that David had gone through, Saul’s continued attempts to kill him, his parent’s sudden death, and now hiding in someone else’s home, David doesn’t give up hope. This is the scenario under which David writes Psalm 27.

When we look at the events of the past several months, it is easy to become fearful about what might happen next. It seems that we stumble from one catastrophe to the next and that we all are at the will of the events of the time. And in light of recent events, there are many things we’d like to fix, that we just can’t fix. It is at this point where I invite you to take the same stance David took. Be practical about the situation. David doesn’t put himself in harm’s way unnecessarily but practically operates with wisdom in his movement. He does not succumb to the despair of his present circumstances. Instead, he chooses to be hopeful, not blindly, but because he realizes that his God has carried him through tough times before.

Today I invite you to lean on your higher power during tough times. Don’t try to just “go it alone.” Remember that you are surrounded by a community of persons of faith; and in these times, we should endeavor to gather together, for we are all affected by these acts of senselessness. Take time – to unplug from the negativity, to care for the humanity, and to remember that all life is sacred. Disconnect yourself from the negativity and always do proper selfcare. As we look at the images and remember victims of another mass shooting which took the lives of persons as young as five years old and as old as seventy-two, don’t be drawn into the darkness, but intentionally stay in the light – the light of friendship, love and hope.

Friendship is necessary for comfort and support, love is necessary for strength, and hope gives us the will to go on day by day. So take a moment daily to be concerned about the health and welfare of others and yourself. Be vigilant in your awareness of your surroundings, but embrace moments of comfort and care.

One of the shining reminders on campus is the “LC LOVE” in front of Snidow Chapel. It is a daily reminder that there is more to focus on than just books and assignments, or fear and propaganda. We are a community of persons that embraces our differences and finds common ground in our common humanity. Remember that.

Be loved, be human, and be blessed.

Many Blessings,

Kevin

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Reformation and Change

I had the privilege of leading my daughter’s 2nd and 3rd grade Sunday School class last week. It isn’t my usual gig – I usually choose other opportunities to volunteer and enjoy an adult class during that hour. This Sunday though, the class members received their first Bibles from the church so I was giving a basic introduction to the Bible as a book. I showed them how to open the middle to the Psalms and taught them about the chapter and verse numbers and then showed them the “original” Hebrew and Greek.  They were both very excited.

In addition to Halloween, yesterday was the 500th Reformation Day. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. His ideas spread exponentially farther and faster than he could have expected due to Johannes Gutenberg’s recently-invented printing press, and they helped catalyze the Protestant Reformation. Whether or not you are a part of a tradition that traces its roots to the Reformation, the declaration that change was on the table for Christians ushered in a new understanding of the popular voice. Change was no longer only in the hands of the elite. Half of a millennium later the speed of change has escalated to a pace few can keep up with. Communities of faith are imperfect as ever, maybe more fragmented than ever, but maybe also more real.

No matter how you understand scripture (spoken word of God, inspired word of God, documents of individual experiences or even just myth), knowing that text and thought are living, breathing organisms makes the work we do in higher education possible. I don’t know about you, but I’d sure prefer to be a part of something alive than something lifeless and non-responsive. (But change is hard too.)

We are in a community in the midst of a great deal of change. It’s more than just the name. That may be easier than General Education Reform, construction projects, the changing needs of students and the changing marketplace. Some days it is hard to find things around campus that aren’t in flux.

My favorite commercial is from some years back. A man is driving a convertible drumming his fingers on a brand new series 4 computer box. He is humming and thoroughly impressed with himself and his purchase. He has the newest, most up-to-date model…until he drives by a billboard with a new ad going up announcing the series 5. In an instant, he has been outdone. It’s the same purchase he was happy with seconds before, but it has somehow lost value.

So, on this day, 500 years and 1 day after Martin Luther took a stand, we are still wrestling with many of the same institutions, the same human emotions and needs. Maybe we have better ways to deal with our anxieties around change, maybe some days we don’t. Try to celebrate change and be a part of the process, but please, if you are having a rough day, don’t put nail holes in the Chapel door.

Happy Reformation Day. Happy season of Reform and Change.

Blessings, Stephanie

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Finding Strength for the Journey

I am physically tired. After a wild weekend that included out-of-state travels and appointments, my body said, “No more work. Naptime!” Thinking I might gain a second wind if I crawled into bed, I grabbed one of the books vital for my doctoral work. Halfway through the chapter it was as if my body decided to take measures into its own hands. An hour later, my spouse gently asked me if I was going to sleep the entire night away. Not funny. Not funny at all. The panic that ensued after his salty words made me even more exhausted.

Welcome to the point in the academic calendar when reality hits and time becomes a hot commodity. Vital and necessary appointments become stressful as they carve minutes from our busy schedules. Eating becomes stressful. Breathing becomes stressful. Computer challenges send us metaphorically off the ledge, and if one more person tells us to “calm down, you will make it,” we will scream.

I do not know about you, but my mind is tired. My heart is tired. My soul is tired and as a result, my emotions are “off the chain.” Presenting to committee seems a far away dream and IRB a foreign language I am way too old to master. Add to these hurdles, day-to-day deadlines and meetings, a few students in their own exhaustion, the normal ebb and flow of two part time jobs, family drama, the declining health of my mother-in-law, and…too transparent? I told you I was tired.

I am not alone. The demands on your life may be different than mine, but I guarantee – I am not the only one wondering if I will ever feel rested and whole again. Our lives are complicated things infused with deadlines, and submissions, and assignments, and lesson plans, and meetings, and strategic plans, and health crises, and financial challenges, and family drama, and physical challenges… and sometimes we simply become tired. Being tired is a signal to slow down, to be still… to remember our humanity.

Sacred texts in many faith traditions offer words on solitude, reconnection and re-creation. The Judeo-Christian text speaks of Sabbath, an intentional time of communion with YHWH. Sabbath is to be a daily practice… a pause in the day’s chaos to acknowledge our humanity and realign us with the Creator.

If humanity is hardwired for Sabbath, as the text suggests, the question then becomes – what are we doing to position ourselves for Sabbath? As a fellow sojourner during these days, I offer a few suggestions:

  • Find a red chair around the Dell and sit for ten minutes. Set your phone timer, close your eyes (if possible take off your shoes and let your feet become one with the ground) and breathe deeply of the fall air focusing on the rhythm of breathing and the refreshing air.
  • Take a leisurely walk around the Dell between meetings or classes. Yes, I am inviting you to take the longest distance between points. Do not consult your phone as you walk. Check out the foliage, the skyline and the beauty of our campus.
  • Take a nap. Set your alarm for thirty minutes and become one with your bed. My brain is conditioned to hear my alarm in the morning so for naptime, I set the timer on my phone. Knowing there is a timer and a limited time for sleep, I settle into my nap more deeply. I have conditioned my body to welcome a five-minute “total relaxation” and I continue to be amazed at how refreshed I feel.
  • Begin each day with gratefulness. Welcome the new day and challenge yourself to see at least three positive things that day. In positioning one’s self for seeing the positive, expectation and anticipation become a part of the day’s journey. When I am expectant and in a state of anticipation, nothing seems ordinary. Everything is magical and full of possibility.

I could go on and on. Your faith tradition may have rituals you could implement, or you may have a ritual that has “centered you” along life’s journey. Practice it today. Recommit yourself to daily sabbath rituals and even go so far as to schedule time in your planner for it. Understand that sabbath time does not steal time from us; rather it fuels us for the journey by decreasing stress, bringing insight and discernment, and empowering chaos to become an agent of transformation.

May our Sabbath rituals empower, equip, refresh and fuel us as we push through to the end of the semester.

Katrina

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