I visit the Wilshire/Normandie station almost everyday.  I spend much time there but had failed to look around. It was just a place to board the Purple Line train Monday through Friday to go to work. I only just noticed the mural, it hangs on the far side of the platform, that illustrates the many different cultures that call Los Angeles home. 1

I live next to a Japanese-American church in the Oaxacan neighborhood of Koreatown. In my short walk to Wilshire/Normandie stop I see these many different customs that are unlike my own. I love to see and be a small part of what makes L.A. a beautiful city to live in. 2

Green is not a color you see very often in L.A. You can go to the coast or look up to see the palm trees but it is not a frequent occurrence on my commute. St. Stephen’s has a wonderful community garden that satisfies my longing for that natural hue.

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I was lucky enough to spend time at Camp Stevens in Julian, California last week. It was a nice contrast from the big city and is more like my first home, Idaho. I found myself missing the noise after a while. Yes, there was the wind, birds and other wildlife causing a ruckus but it was silent compared to the cars, helicopters, and bustle of the neighborhood. green

I started this lent journey not really having a general plan, just an idea of how I would like Lent to go and I have been pleasantly surprised. I noticed that I feel more intentional now about what I say and when I say it. I have also-in my opinion- become more quiet and contemplative. Giving up the use of profanity for Lent has really allowed me to not only think about what I say but also what actions I take. Its helped me become a more focused individual in what my actions and words say about me.
I am happy about this discovery because it was something that I struggled with for a long time. I wanted to be linear in my words and actions and I now I feel like that is really happening. I’ve also enjoyed how many alternative phrases I can create to express my frustration or excitement in a situation. I am enjoying how much thinking I am doing to find alternative words and the thought lengths I follow down searching for a better method to express my thoughts.

I cannot offer much in the way of deep theological, spiritual, or philosophical insight on this, but….   I love the spiritual practice of walking the labyrinth. Suzanne1 Suzanne3

 

I invite you to join me in the discipline of walking a labyrinth at least once a week during Lent.

Below are some links where you can get information on the labyrinth and a site where you can find labyrinths near your home or work:

http://labyrinthlocator.com/locate-a-labyrinth

http://www.allsaints-pas.org/worship/labyrinth-ministry/

http://www.peacelabyrinth.org/contact.php

http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/video?id=7955134

http://www.facebook.com/ASCLab

http://labyrinthlocator.com/

I wasn’t even the driver and I was filled with anxiety. Zipping through traffic on the freeways in Los Angeles on our way to Julian, California. Everyone is in a hurry, trying to weave in between cars to reach their destination quicker.

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When I told my family and friends that I was moving to LA their first comment was to complain about the traffic. I have not experienced the legendary Los Angeles freeway because I mostly ride the Metro system train. I am an expert in navigating the foot traffic that is the Hollywood and Vine rush hour. I weave in between people to reach work faster but I rarely look at those besides me. I am busy with what I need to do and how quickly I can accomplish that.

We focus too much on the destination and not the fashion in which we do so. We tend to complain and not appreciate, criticize instead of marvel. I will try to see the beauty that is the intricate structure that is Metro, the transpiration system, and all the people that it takes to manage and improve it.

One of the joys I have been given in my Christian and Spiritual journey is that of the season of Lent.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that I felt intimidated, disconnected and a flat-out failure around all that Lent represented.  I would set goals, only to not meet them; I would attempt to take on a new discipline only to have my word and commitment mean nothing.  Truly it felt
like the longest 40+ days ever, and I often just wanted to get it over with.

Yet, by God’s grace in my life, I sit today as one who embraces and cherishes this sacred season.  My view has been shifted to one of gratitude.  Gratitude for this holy and sacred time with God.  To say that I live a very full, busy and demanding life would be an understatement.  I am blessed not only to have an abundance of work, but also to be actively engaged in many communities where my time and talents are welcomed and used.  Most of the time, I’m an over-extender – over-achiever.  I give and give of myself and love doing it. Yet, I fail miserably when it comes to slowing down to take care of myself, and to nurture my relationship with God & Jesus.  THAT is where the gift of Lent shows up.  It’s as if I’ve been given permission to alter my way of being drastically for this period of time with the invitation and reminder on Ash Wednesday that from ashes I came, and to ashes I shall return.  In its simplicity, I am reminded of my mortality, and that the only time I have is now, this moment.   I guess I’m someone who needs permission to pull back, to retreat.  And so, this Lenten Season I gave much prayer and consideration to how I might do that.

Being still and being alone with God seems to be the most difficult things for me to do. Transforming myself from an active, doing, fixing, type-A being into one who will be still and present was the call.  To take my ‘aloneness’ that I bury and hide, and to place it prayerfully and vulnerably in God’s hand each day – so that I am no longer alone but rather, that I am alone with God. The Holy One.  God and me – together are one.  The Holy One.

My practice has been to take time each day to sit in stillness and silence.  After attending a recent retreat day with James Finley where he led us through simple yet profound steps in contemplative & meditative commune with God – I felt I had the tools I needed. (yes, my type-A brain wanted tools!).  Whether sitting in my living room or office, back yard or church, or as I did today – in my hotel room in Taiwan, I have committed to joining God in the stillness and quiet.  It has not been easy to keep my thoughts and other interruptions at bay –but I am imperfect and God’s love for me in spite of me helps me to let go of my self-judgment.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit a natural hot springs spa here in Taiwan.  Because I was traveling alone, I had to use the common facilities on the women’s side (rather than a private couples facility offered to other tourists in my group).  At first I felt envious that they had a private area in which to enjoy the healing waters (my self-conscious western brain wanted not to be nude publicly).  However, once I navigated the way to the pools (common shower, everyone nude, no towel to cover up with), I miraculously became not an outsider but a part of a greater community of women. They noticed me, and guided me without a common language in the proper ways of using the facilities, and when I finally sat in the healing sulfur waters, I closed my eyes and gave thanks to God.  Here I was, placed in the midst of a community where I was the foreigner – and yet was welcomed and almost immediately was no longer any different than any other woman there.  I was one of many, and yet one.  And God was present in their warm smiles, their curious gazes, their kind directions, and in the space they provided to me to just sit and be.

In my meditation this morning, the profound message from God was that I am not alone.  I am one person, and in a country that is not familiar, and yet I am not ever alone. In my deepest longing for belonging, God is with me and I belong.  I pray to carry this with me beyond this Lenten season, to be mindful always.

Over the years, as I grew up in the Episcopal church, I often heard people talking about giving something up for Lent. Therefore, in my mind, this season became known as a time where Christians go without something because that’s the tradition. It wasn’t until last year that I finally grasped the meaning of Lent! This was an appropriate time though because I needed to strengthen my own relationship with God and gain clarification on several Episcopal traditions that I had been accustomed to witnessing for years without a firm understanding. I decided that I wanted to observe Lent and not only go without for forty days but challenge myself to be more cognizant of a specific habit as well. My Lenten discipline was to go without consuming the flesh of any living thing (becoming a vegetarian) as well as forcing myself to be more assertive in situations where I might otherwise shy away. This was very difficult, but I committed my whole heart, body, mind, and spirit to experience what Jesus had to go through while he was out in the wilderness and constantly tempted by the devil. Well, I definitely felt different after officially observing Lent for the first time because the bond I have with God is now stronger than ever. Oh, and I’m a pescatarian now. Every time I ate meat after that I felt conflicted, so I decided to make what was only a brief practice a permanent change.

This year I wanted to choose a practice that was going to challenge my usual habits, so I have given up sugar. And, when I say sugar, I don’t just mean desserts and sweets, but anything that has sugar added to it as well. As for what I added, I am going to try and make a sacrifice each day by, for example, giving up time set aside for myself to be with others. So far, it’s been quite challenging because I’ve seen so many sweets and items with sugar in them since Lent started that I am forced to wonder what foods exist to eat without this crystalline compound as an ingredient. All in all, the experience of waking up each morning, and reading the Lenten meditation booklet I have in addition to saying a prayer for those people who have been placed on the daily [prayer] schedule has been amazing for me spiritually. This routine allows me to keep in mind my commitment to my Lenten discipline. Lent to me is a time to be inspired through momentary adjustments to every day actions. It may seem like a long journey, but that’s only because we are without what we thought we might have never been able to live without. Now, imagine how Jesus might’ve felt…

-Brandon Stuart

The stain-glass windows that line our church walls transform the some times muggy shine from the Hollywood sun into a bright display of color. The range of hues and shades mirror the diverse congregation, each bringing something distinct to our St. Stephen’s family.

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Every family, city, and church is different and has its own style. I am always fascinated with the stain-glass that inhabits each church I visit. This picture, taken by David Hawbaker, of me admiring one such window in Blackfoot, Idaho. Each congregation reflected in the glass.

 

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As a child, I was raised as a non-denominational Christian who didn’t participate in Lent or any other Episcopalian or Catholic traditions. Lent was a completely foreign concept to me when entered into my undergraduate education at a Jesuit institution and also when I arrived in Los Angeles for the Episcopal Urban Intern Program (EUIP). Lent is something I never engaged in myself because I didn’t understand why someone decided to do it. Why would someone give up something they like to eat, or do or participate in for 40 days? I decided that talking with people about their reasons for engaging in Lent wasn’t the best way for me to gain an understanding of this experience. I decided to participate in Lent myself to gain an understanding through doing.

After a week of discernment I decided that for Lent I would give up the use of profanity. I realized that using profanity wasn’t the best way to verbally express myself. I also realized that I had started influencing those around me in using it more often, which is not a good thing. I began to realize that by being intentional about not using profanity and searching for better words to express myself, I began to start thinking before I speak and formulating what I wanted my words to convey. Thinking before I speak has never been one of my strongest qualities, as I tend to act on instinct. I have realized this is a habit I need to develop and Lent is the perfect opportunity to do that.

I don’t have the best understanding of Lent right now being the start of the season, but I am growing in my goal of changing how I verbally express myself. Each day has been a struggle and I have failed more times than I have succeeded but I refuse to give up. Each day is a new day for me to work towards my goal and each day I go without using profanity verbally is one step closer to not even thinking those words and being able to articulate myself more efficiently.

Rain is a silly thing. Drops are only seen falling in front of headlights or streetlamps or reflected in the pools. Each puddle avoided just adds to the spender of jumping into the enormous one right outside your house. Then dash inside to change into slippers and warm your toes. The sounds against the window and on the roof are steady as you go to sleep.

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I realized how lucky I am that I only have to bear that rain during my commute. The rain that I enjoy only for the minutes I am outside and then watch lovingly from my house. Last night I was able to spend it indoors but others were not. Rain is a silly thing, both comforting to some and an unavoidable challenge for others.

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