Celebrating the start of this Lunar New Year with close friends, I discovered something I had intuited for a while – that I was not actually born during the Year of the Dog, as countless take-out Chinese menus had assured me. Their global description of my zodiac sign never quite fit. Having a winter birthday put me on the cusp, and this January, as we welcomed the Year of the Rooster, I finally learned that I myself am a Rooster. I immediately assumed this was good fortune, realizing my Rooster identity at this precise time. I quickly found I was wrong.
According to Chinese astrology, the year that is yours bodes ill – Horses have a hard time in any Year of the Horse, Tigers in any Year of the Tiger, etc. I took the bad-luck news very much to heart, because a couple of women I loved dearly were sick. I sensed in my bones that this Rooster year would be bitter indeed. Some friends challenged my fatalism and encouraged me to stay upbeat, whatever that might mean when things are plainly not going well.
My aunt – who after training as Catholic spiritual director decided to get ordained as a Taoist priest – insisted that in Chinese mythology, “the rooster is also a phoenix. Don’t forget that!” she told me. The phoenix does inevitably rise, but only after everything has burned down to ash. Beginning in spring, my husband Ben and I had three successive deaths in our family in three months. These were special people with whom we spent our holidays: Memorial Day, Christmas and Easter, and New Year’s – that New Year we mark on our Gregorian calendar here in the West.
More than a decade ago, when the Scorpion was a far easier pose for me than it is today, I was certified as a yoga instructor. While I never achieved my fame and fortune as a yogini, let alone perfected those ultra-advanced postures, my ambition was rather a modest one. I wanted to end up in the same place I had begun: the church basement, that sacred ground beneath my yoga mat. Continue reading
Wherever there is a church staff away on retreat, there is probably also a packet of personality tests waiting to be taken: an Enneagram measure, a Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, a Kiersey Bates Personality Sorter, something of that ilk. Whether it be at campsite in the woods, a retreat house in the mountains, or a great house near the shore, staff members seem to enjoy taking these. They find themselves surprised by their individual results and pleased to have prompts for genial conversations about how different we are from one another. People are usually encouraged to accept themselves on these retreats – and encouraged to accept others, as well, in the spirit of open embrace. Continue reading
When my nieces were younger, they were more devout than they are now. They’ve lost a good deal of their religious fervor in recent years. Part of that trend may just be developmental, a process of their moving through the necessary stages of spiritual development and personal maturation, including the highly skeptical one specific to adolescence. But I believe something else is also at play: Confirmation classes. Those seem to break the spirit of a lot of Catholic kids these days. Continue reading
Like a considerable number of women in my demographic, I’m certified as a yoga instructor, and like a portion of them, I completed my teacher training in an actual ashram. My plan was to eventually teach classes in a church basement someplace. The first yoga classes I ever took were held in St. Mark’s for a nominal fee and having such easy access to them undoubtedly changed my life for the better. Out of gratitude and a kind of evangelical zeal, I wanted to get out the word about yoga to precisely those types who would give the Hare Krishna singers a wide berth in the airport. Continue reading
Posted in American Culture, Faith Journeys, Interfaith Encounter, Personal Development, Pilgrimage Places, Religious Heritage, Spiritual Life
Tagged Devotees, Guru, Novitiate, Sexual misconduct, Yoga
Each of us needs wise counselors in our lives, and I was blessed to meet one of my wisest as a teenager. My best friend from high school and I had an awful lot in common. For instance: we both spent an inordinate amount of time in Saturday-morning detention. That time can rack up rather rapidly if you attend a girls’ academy with a zealous Dean of Discipline. Still, I wouldn’t trade our hours of cleaning the hallway baseboards with toothbrushes for anything. Our friendship was forged beside those baseboards — so thanks for the memories, Dean! Continue reading
The first time I stepped into a sukkah hut, I was a new student enrolled at an ecumenical divinity school across the street from a Jewish theological seminary where we could cross-register for classes. Although my school was avowedly Christian, it prided itself on graduating students who were Jewishly literate, and our neighbors across the street were often enlisted to assist us in this endeavor. They had generously served as consultants on this particular sukkah I beheld with outsized admiration. Here was a lovely little hut where we Gentiles could join in celebrating Sukkot, the Jewish festival of thanksgiving. Continue reading