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Upon moving to Baltimore two and a half years ago, finding an Episcopal church to call home was a priority, and I was astonished at all the choices the city has in that regard. I had an attraction to Old St. Paul’s based on its web presence (photos not to be understated), and my family’s first visit that fateful Sunday sealed the deal.
I am accustomed to being heavily involved in my church community, but this chapter in my life – i.e. new motherhood – causes me to take a meaningful hiatus as I learn from life’s greatest mindfulness teacher (one’s child) and absorb worship in a new way. St. Paul’s offers a beautiful service in a magnificent space with sacred music that draws us closer to the divine … while accommodating our youngest congregants. And participating in “God’s food,” as we call it in our little family, unifies us all.
In addition to Sunday worship, I am pleased to be able to attend the occasional Wednesday service (sansdaughter) to be fed in additional ways and am excited at the burgeoning promise of the new Old Rectory for small groups and formation.
And for all this, I am dutifully aware that it takes all of us to uphold a church financially. I want to be a contributor to the crowd-sourced income of this sacred place at which I call myself a member. It doesn’t matter how small; what matters is that we contemplate how to give back of our time, talent, and treasure for this place (e.g. the electric bills) and its work (e.g. the staff), never forgetting that it serves to empower us to go out and do the work God has given us to do in Baltimore and beyond!
Please let the vestry of Old St. Paul’s know how much you want to contribute to the 2020 budget so that they can plan ahead based on real numbers. Feel free to email your pledge to the church office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Simply send a message stating something like, “For the 2020 budget of St. Paul’s, Baltimore, I pledge to contribute ______?”
“I need to look good without my shirt,” said Brandon, my dear friend.
This is the statement that got me into a yoga studio, or frankly a gym of any sort, after a nearly two decade hiatus from indoor fitness. My friend Brandon is a professional dancer, and he had just landed a part in the ensemble of The Producers. Our practice began five months prior to opening curtain and opening his shirt.
I had been active for the two decades riding bikes through the woods and on roads as a weekend cycling warrior. I was not unhealthy in the minds of many, but I was not a specimen of fitness either. Knowing that rigor is always easier with a partner, I took Brandon up on the offer and bought a Groupon for my first visit to a yoga facility. I had no idea how my body and mind would change with this friendly gesture.
The first thing I noticed was the space. Why am I going to a studio and not a gym? Why does the space smell like a walk through a State Park? Why is the music so serene and mind stretching? Why is it so hot?
Next I noticed the format of the class. Why is the instructor overly friendly with her voice? Why does my session start with “setting an intention”? Why does the experience begin with my eyes closed and finding my breath?
Then I noticed the power of being stationary. Why is mimicking a raven so hard? Why am I floating on one foot, bent over, arms at my side trying to look like a jet in flight? Is anyone else having a hard time standing still?
And why does my teacher thank me for sharing my practice?
After confronting this experience several times it dawned on me that that the answer to all of these questions is rooted in one simple fact: Yoga is all about practice.
The space: Yoga takes place in a studio because you go there to refine a craft. It’s not about mindless running in place or curling a weight seventy-three times. In yoga you work on form, an act of the mind and the body. It smells so good—yes, probably in part to hide our human aroma,—but more importantly, to refresh our minds. The sounds of the room impart a sense of exploration and encourage an inner and outer reaching. And it’s hot because your muscles are more elastic in a warm environment. The entire environment beckons us to explore.
The class: Your teacher is so kind because we need encouragement in our moments of struggle to execute. The tenor of his or her voice lets you know that it is not only okay but it is right to try. There will be no judgement here by you, by your peers, nor by your instructor. You start your session by setting an intention because practice is most effective with a purpose. Our breath is a reminder of our humanity, our starting point. You find your breath to find yourself. Your breath melts mental dams. The class empowers us to try.
Being stationary: It can be difficult to see the value of being at rest. How often do we take the moments we need to understand our present condition? Our minds, our mouths and our bodies are constantly in motion. This is why it is so hard to pose like a raven or fly like a plane. Our brain and our muscles need to train to be quiet, to be at rest, and to hold ourselves up in new positions. When we are at rest in mind, body, and spirit we have no idea if the other is better or worse than we. We only know of our own condition and our own place in the universe. We are free from judgement of ourselves and others. Being stationary gives us freedom to be ourselves.
My practice of yoga has been incredible for my whole being. I am more flexible. I am stronger. I am more open. The spirit of the experience has allowed me to reach more. With the start of a new year, I have set my intentions. They are more ambitious goals than I would have set even a year ago. And more importantly, I have given myself the freedom to practice so that I will be ready to perform and achieve them!
What will you reach for in 2016? Are you ready to give yourself the opportunity to practice to get there?
And yes, Brandon found his form for opening night!