the magic of sweden’s simplicity.

i’m not sure if this was my fourth year or my fifth year of having the joy of being part of the annual camp at skeppsgården in sweden, but it doesn’t really matter. every year is exactly the same and completely different all at the same time. it’s very much like my reynolds family beach week tradition that my family in the states has had for about 29 years now.

the camp at skeppsgården was started many many years ago by the methodist church in sweden, and it is a place available for people to come and enjoy the simplicity and beauty of the swedish archipelago (islands by the sea) and the beauty of gathering with friends & family year after year. lina’s grandfathers, both methodist ministers like my grandfather, were a part of beginning this week-long tradition of renting the camp for their congregations and friends/family year ago, and the tradition and been passed on and carried down by lina’s parents and family.

skeppsgården, for lina, is that thing that has been a constant in her life for as long as she can remember (she was only 6 weeks old when she at tented her first week in 1984). and while i’ve only been a part of it for 4 or 5 years, i feel that history and connection, and i can understand it very well, because of my family’s own traditions. so, now i have my family’s beach week tradition of 29 years and lina’s family’s camp tradition – both constants in my life.

it’s so important to have these places and people and times in our lives, i believe. they give us (me) a sense of grounding. a reminder of who we are – and that, even when life changes and moves on, there is a ritual, a sacred space, a certain, special spot that touches our soul like nothing else.

so, skeppsgården has become a place like that for me. my first year there i had no idea what was going on, what people were saying, or anything about anything. it was all so, well, foreign. then, there came a few years that i “worked” the camp, seeing as i was one of the ministers that was to led some of the group discussions/worship services. and this year, after being away from sweden for an entire year, it felt as if i had come home. this year, skeppsgården was my home. i now have my own traditions, feelings, memories, and special places that are tucked away in my heart. i know the people, i can speak the language. what i am saying is, this place is now a part of me. i am not just a participant or observer, but i belong.

and that, my friends, is amazing. i give thanks, once again, for the beauty of having two places, two countries that i call home.

now, it’s time for me to finally share with you some photos of this magical, beautiful place – where life is simple and easy and all about community. enjoy!

DSC_0342 skeppsgården water archipelago water sweden path camp teenagers dock summer archipelago canoeing archipelago sunset archipelago rowing archipelago oar archipelago lina rowing oar archipelago sunset archipelago our room archipelago trees sunshine skeppsgården house gula huset skeppsgården tree archipelago cabins archipelago stuga gula huset archipelago skeppsgården path archipelago archipelago archipelago archipelago flowers boat archipelago archipelago campfire sunset archipelago market skeppsgården market skeppsgården market skeppsgården market skeppsgården market skeppsgården market skeppsgården maggie market skeppsgården anders market skeppsgården ego selfie me sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden candle tips promenade sweden trees tips promenade tips promenade me sunset archipelago sweden ego me sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden full mooon sunset archipelago sweden me sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden full moon sunset archipelago sweden friends

here’s to wishing you a sacred place (or two) of your own, where you can just be who you are, where you can connect with your soul and others, and where you can feel at one with the nature that surround you.

peace and love.

40 days in a cathedral: week 3

i did it, friends. i made it to the cathedral/basilica every day this week. being committed and following through is such a powerful feeling. there were no major personal revelations or anything, but it was a chance to experience the joy of solitude in the midst of community. let me explain…

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on monday i decided that i would head over to the little chapel off to the right of the sanctuary. it is a very intimate space, with only 4 chairs set up – two on either side of a walkway – facing an altar. there is also a bench behind the chairs. there are candles all around the little chapel, and i’ve come to understand that people use this space more than any other place in the sanctuary for individual devotion and prayer.

i must say that i felt a bit awkward walking up to the chapel, wondering where i was going to sit. i didn’t want to invade anyone’s personal space. and i didn’t want people judging me because not only do i sit quietly, but i take photos as well (obviously). anyway, i snagged one of the two chairs on the right side. there was a woman in one of the chairs to the left, and a woman at the little altar in front of her. directly to my right there were some pillar candles burning, and i hoped that i wouldn’t set the whole place on fire as i peeled off my jacket and scarf.

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i sat down in the chair and began snapping a few photos of the space. on a little kneeling bench in front of me, something caught my eye. it was a purple and white plastic rosary. just left there, hanging right in front of me. taking it as a sign, i picked it up from its place and held it in my hand, twirling the beads through my fingers as i meditated.

as i held the beads and thought about many of you, i realized that my uncomfortable-ness at being so close to others wasn’t weird or strange at all. in fact, those moments of personal solitude in the presence of others who were also having their own moments of solitude, was a powerful, bonding moment. there was a silent energy moving between us, a spirit of love and connectedness, simply because we were humans seeking silence and peace together. and then, the idea of sharing that space with others became a beautiful gift.

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the theme of a community of silent meditators continued into tuesday. when i opened to door to the basilica, i heard a voice and i realized that i entered in the middle of a service (they have daily mass around noon). i slipped quietly into a back pew and listened. it took only a few minutes before the priest began reciting the liturgy for holy communion. as a christian, i knew that i could take part, but i decided to stay in my seat. not as a refusal of this ritual, but more as a continuation of my reasoning for entering the basilica every day – for meditation and silence. it was still quite powerful to observe and quietly be a part of this community. what a great change from my regular routine.

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i admit that i began this little lenten journey with the hopes of finding some discipline within myself which would ultimately lead to some sort of transformation or growth. and i still think about that – it’s still a goal. but, ultimately, that meant that i was thinking only of myself.

on wednesday, my whole idea/purpose of this 40 day challenge changed. i entered the sanctuary and headed to the chapel to the left, the chapel dedicated to mary, mother of jesus. it’s a place where i feel the power of women – like some sort of solidarity. i sat down in a chair and before i knew it, another woman sat down right beside me in the other chair (there are only 2). we are very close to each other, and yet we never really acknowledged one another. still, it was comforting and amazing. seeing her devotion. wondering why she was there. and then, just sharing that space with her.

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it was then, in that silence as i meditated through my list of intercessions for others, that i realized something… this 40 day journey is not about me. it’s about you all. it’s about others. it’s about the fact that you and i and everyone else are all connected. it about learning to love and think of others. it’s about how to support one another – whether we know each other or not, whether we even know what’s going on with each other. it’s simply about being present with each other. in mind and in spirit.

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thursday was the first day of spring. and guess what greeted me when i walked up to the basilica? a cute little birdie landed on the church’s sign just as i passed. such a perfect greeting, i thought.

i opened the door and walked in and was struck by the complete silence. i know that this place is silent every day, but this was different. it was poignant. usually there is some murmuring going on, or people walking, or some kind of little bit of busy noise. but, today, there was nothing. utter, total silence. and it was beautiful.

i slid into a pew bench toward the back and noticed that the sun streaming in the east stained-glass windows. with the silence and the sun, today, the basilica felt like home. and my soul was filled with peace and comfort.

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friday was the total opposite of thursday. i walked in and right away saw about 6 people sitting in a back pew bench, with  – since the basilica is in the middle of downtown and is a unique architectural building, it is a popular tourist spot. there was a man standing in front of the bench talking. it was immediately obvious that it was a tour. the man spoke with a regular conversational volume, which meant that his voice carried through the entire basilica, bouncing off the round walls. and, while his voice was loud, it was not disturbing. i found my place, sat down, and enjoyed the moments. however, i was a bit distracted every now and then because the tour guide was sharing some pretty interesting information. still, i found a nice balance between focusing on my meditation and listening to the guide. more than anything, though, i was happy to share the space with others.

at the end of the week, i felt so inspired, realizing that the entire week had been one that i spent alone in the basilica; and yet, i was never actually alone. what a powerful thing it is for us to be in community with one another. thinking of you all… and wishing you a beautiful, lovely sunday.

namaste. xx

 

40 days in a cathedral: week two

“we cannot become what we want to be remaining what we are.” – max depree

lent is the time for confessions. and i’ve got a doozy…

i did not go to the cathedral one single time this week. that’s right. not once did i darken the doors of that beautiful space. but, i have some good reasons – i mean, excuses. because that’s what i need when i mess up, right? excuses. oh, screw the excuses. i admit my failures. here’s the simple truth:  i just confess that i did not go. i did not make it a priority.

here are my excuses:

  1. guests: we had german friends visiting and were all over the mountains around asheville doing touristy things all day long, so i wasn’t downtown and couldn’t get to the cathedral. but, i still took time at home, or wherever i was, and did some very focused lenten meditating and praying. i did not forget those of you whose names and wishes are on my lenten list.
  2. spring break: after the german visitors left mid-week, i could have (should have) made time to go to the cathedral, but i didn’t. i used lina’s spring break as an excuse for the interruption in my routine, or my secret reason to stay home. i still took part in lenten acts of devotion and silence, though. i promise. i did not fail completely.

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so, yes. i am disappointed in myself. but, i am also ok with myself because i did continue to read/focus/meditate/contemplate. was it as good as it should have been? no. but, it was something. i attribute this week’s “cathedral” time as being contemplative in the world – not pulling away, but being in the midst of the world. of course, that is a good thing. but, it is also not the ultimate point of a lenten journey. the idea is to pull away. and to be dedicated to that promise/challenge. to spend time alone in the wilderness. and that i did not do.

i suppose that this is the nature of journeys. everything is so exciting and fun in the beginning. everything is new and there is no lack of enthusiasm. it’s always such joy and an adventure to start something new!

but, as time passes, when it gets down to business, everything gets a little boring, mundane, and/or challenging. it’s easy to just make little adjustments and slack off. it’s easy to make excuses and forget the real intention of the beginning of the journey because it just seems too difficult.

however, if we hold on through the difficult and challenging times, there will be a time when we settle into the routine. there will come a time when we accept what is and then begin to thrive and grow. and we will realize that, because we pushed through, we will be changed.

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that’s the beauty of the lenten journey, of any journey. there is always transformation at the end for those of us who hang on and push through. oh, yes, there will be mistakes and failures. but, those are the points where we learn and grow. a journey that is easy and perfect would not actually be a journey at all.

so, i embrace my failures this week and i celebrate my accomplishments. this is my confession. i lay it down and leave it here. i need you to receive it, for there is no confession done in isolation. i ask for forgiveness from you, from the Universe, and from myself.  and i recommit myself to my original plan of devotion. lord, be with us.

onward, my friends! namaste.

40 days in a cathedral: week one

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it’s only been three days and i already feel quite settled into my little lenten practice. to read more about how i chose the practice of visiting a cathedral for 40 days in lent read yesterday’s post here.

i’m not really sure yet how i want to share with you all my experiences. i have decided to post every saturday in lent, reflecting on the past week (or in today’s case, three days). other than that, i know nothing. i suppose i will just let it come. i am taking photos every day and spednign some time writing while i am there. so, i’ll let my images and words lead the way, trusting that i’ll know if i want to just share the photos, or if i want to write a lot. it all depends on the experiences and inspiration i feel.

so, let’s get on with the first week!

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day one

i had no idea that this was going to be a 40 day challenge on ash wednesday, my first day. i just went in so i could have somewhere to spend a few moments in silence as a way to mark the beginning of my lenten journey.

IMG_9782it was while i sat in the cathedral, in the silence, and yet part of a community of individuals who had all gathered for one reason or another, that i felt the challenge rise up out of me. it just came to me. and it felt right. so, on that first day, i committed myself to returned every day, monday through friday from now until good friday (april 18).

IMG_9789i also thought a bit about my mortality – which is what we focus on on ash wednesday. it’s a great day to ask some questions:

  • am i living my life to the fullest?!
  • am i living as fully as possible as who I am, true to myself?
  • how should i best live?
  • am i connected to that spirit that connects us all?
  • how can i best be true to me and my calling/destiny/dreams?
  • how can i best love and serve others?

day 2

IMG_9835i arrived midday and there was a noticeable difference. while there was no service going on, there were people everywhere. a few groups of 4 or 5 people. individuals. tourists. it was still silent, but that was a little buzz of activity and voices. it felt very active and alive. i sat down in the pew, but i soon felt drawn to the far left corner down front, a little to the side, off of the sanctuary. i saw candles burning and without hesitation, i gathered my things and went to  this little chapel area.

IMG_9834i was first struck by a statue of a woman. it read “fatima” on a engraving beneath the woman. and then, as i looked around, there were images of women all around me. it felt powerful. holy. divine. i stood in front of the fatima statue for a while, and then moved to a chair in front of an altar. sitting there, i realized that i heard a woman’s voice, singing the lyrics, “no turning back, no turning back.” it was a woman working in a room off of the chapel, someone who was part of the congregation i suppose. i never saw her emerge from whatever room she was in, though. she just sang as i sat by the altar. so peaceful.

i wondered what the message might be that i might be receiving. but, i don’t know what it is yet. i am certain, though, that something will be revealed.

i turned back to the statue of fatima, bowed to her, and then turned and left. completely inspired. knowing that this little corner in the sanctuary is a place i will return to during my challenge. there is much more for me there.

(fatima is a title for the Blessed Virgin Mary based on reported apparitions to three shepherd children at FátimaPortugal, on the thirteenth day of six consecutive months in 1917, beginning on May 13. lúcia , one of the children, described seeing a woman “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal goblet filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun”. it is believed that the visions of mary hold secrets, callings, and inspiration).

day 3

day three was friday. it was very, very quiet in the cathedral. there were people scattered about, but all were sitting, standing, or walking individually.

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my intention was to do the stations of the cross on fridays, but when i sat down, i didn’t think of it… until, I looked forward and saw some white shadow boxes on the walls. turning around, I realized that they went all the way around me, in a circle. and that there were 14. these were the stations of the cross, the story of good friday, of jesus’ betrayal and execution before me.

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so, I got up from my pew bench and made my way down front, looked up to the left and assumed it would be the first station. it was. so I spent about 20 min walking around the circular sanctuary looking up at each one of the 14 shadowboxes. one at a time. letting the story sink into me, open to hearing whatever the universe wanted to say to me.
what I heard in my soul, as I looked at the statues of jesus walking, falling, helping, and walking again, as he was led to his execution was a reminder to never give up, to never give in. in the midst of all of life, to always extend a hand to others, to always love extravagantly. to be true to my calling, to always fight for who i am.

i noticed a man in the chapel to the right of the sanctuary. sitting in a chair, quietly, and alone. as I was at the last station, he got up to leave and I noticed he was crippled, dragging his right leg behind him and unable to use his right arm. he was of hispanic origin. as he made his way down the center aisle to leave, he turned and walked between two pews just to the left of me (I was now sitting in my pew bench again on the right side of the aisle). and then I realized something…

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while I had been circling the stations of the cross, I noticed a crutch leaning up against the wall. i snapped a photo of it because it was so simple and yet so poignant. this man that  I watched, was going to get his crutch on the way out.

I turned back to the front of the sanctuary from my seat and my eyes began to tear up. and it hit me strongly… everyone here is seeking something. we all are seeking something, aren’t we?.
the clock in the bell tower struck 11 and I finished up my meditation time. yes, I have come to seek something myself. I suppose it is to seek to nurture my connection with the divine, which lives within each of us.
today, i feel that i have done just that. and it has been amazing. I walked. listened. watched. felt. i’ve been comforted and inspired. i am certain that these 40 days in a cathedral will be a beautiful gift of inner reflection, which will lead to an outer transformation.

namaste. xx

40 days in a cathedral

there are two spiritual seasons of the year that i love. (background note: i grew up within the christian faith, so i recognize that i see everything through that lens, though i celebrate and observe and include other faiths and spiritualities in my personal spiritual life practices). these two favorite seasons of mine are not your ordinary seasons. they are what christians refer to as penitential seasons = reflective, somewhat somber, quiet, and contemplative. which, of course, is why i love them.

i’m talking about advent (the four weeks before christmas) and lent (the six-ish weeks before easter). i love that these times of year are like mini-spiritual-pilgrimages. of course, there are other religions that celebrate pilgrimages (literally and figuratively) within their faith. in fact, most faiths do. think: native americans & ancient greeks sending boys out to survive on their own as a right of passage to becoming men. think: muslim journeys to mecca. or hindu journeys to the interior world. or christians pilgrimages on the el camino de santiago.

pilgrimages are essential to life, i believe. it’s like going off the grid, spiritually speaking. whether it is a physical trip to a faraway land for a few weeks of walking and journeying, or an emotional/mental/spiritual trip to your innermost being for a few moments every day for a few weeks, it is a time to focus and reflect. a time to be challenged. to get out of your comfort zone. to confront your fears and demons. to listen to your soul. to connect with your self. and to be transformed. we can always use a little self-reflection, i believe. for, what is life, if not one great, amazing, journey of discovery and love?

as i realized that the season of lent was approaching, i began thinking about how i was going to celebrate this year. i remembered that this past advent has been the most inspiring advent i had every experienced, so i looked back through my blog to discover why and here’s what i found:

“this has been the most spiritual, meaningful, powerful, and disciplined advent season i have ever experienced. interestingly, i did not step foot in a church or take part in any other organized religion’s activity the entire time. what i did do was devote at least 30 minutes every morning to myself for reading, writing, reflecting, and/or meditating. that time every day was perhaps one of the greatest gifts i received this christmas.”

black bird this week, lent actually began. and i didn’t decided how to observe my lenten practice until the last minute.

suddenly it was wednesday. ash wednesday – the beginning of lent, a day to confront and ponder our mortality, a day to question if we are living our lives to the fullest, being the best being that we can be, to ourselves and the world.

even though it was the beginning of lent, i still had no idea how i would celebrate. panic! i had not found any great thing to read that would be inspiring. so, repeating what i did in december was out of the question. i decided to just let life show me. since it was ash wednesday, i didn’t want to go to any ash wednesday service, but i felt pulled to sit in a sanctuary of some sort. so, i did.

basilica of saint lawrence

there is a cathedral in downtown asheville. the basilica of saint lawrence. it was completed in 1909 by Rafael Guastavino, a spanish architect who emigrated to the states in 1881 and came to asheville to work on the biltmore house. he liked the area so much that he bought land nearby and built a house. he ended up working in the states on many buildings including, grand central station and carnegie hall in nyc, and the breathtaking duke chapel in durham, nc. the basilica (a term given to a special cathedral because of their antiquity, dignity, and historical importance) in asheville is beautiful, amazing, and is now listed as a national historic site.

it is a catholic cathedral, holding mass twice a day, everyday. now, i’m not catholic, but i don’t discriminate – as you probably understand by now. i knew that the basilica was open all day, every day for prayer, meditation, confession, and as a tourist place. so, anyone is free to come and go as they please – how holy places should be, i believe. so, on wednesday, i decided to go in.

i sat in a pew bench and just soaked in the beauty and the silence. a few people milled about or sat silently. the longer i was quiet, the more my soul felt at peace. and then it came to me… i was going to come here for the next 40 days, throughout lent.

so, welcome to my 40 days in a cathedral challenge.

i found it interesting that this time i felt the pull to do the complete opposite of what i did in advent ( = go into a church). but, i am not using it to attend services, i am using in the building as a sacred space, and as a challenge to myself to visit every day (monday-friday) throughout lent. for me, god is not a building, but within each of us. i simply use the building as a place to be still. to focus. to reflect. to listen.

my plan is to share this journey with y’all in two different ways:

  1. if, you are instagram, you can follow my journey daily. i will take a photo every day and post it with the hashtag #40daysinacathedral.
  2. but, i will also post a summary of my week here on the blog every saturday.  check back tomorrow, to see my thoughts and reflections for my first 3 days of lent in the cathedral.

for now, i will close with the thought that, though this is my solo pilgrimage, i am so thankful for each of you. i do not feel alone. i feel the presence of the people around me as i sit in the cathedral, but i also carry your presence, dear readers, with me every day i enter and sit down. there are many of you that i think of personally. i say your name in my head, or i close my eyes and send you peace and positive energy.

i have an invitation for you, friends. i want you to know that, if you have anything you would like for me to take with me, to meditate on or just think about during my daily time in the cathedral, please let me know. email me at elre74 at yahoo dot com and share your thoughts, needs, prayers, wishes, dreams, hopes, fears. you may also just leave a comment below. you most definitely don’t have to be religious or spiritual. you don’t even have to believe in anything at all. i will simply surround you with my thoughts; good, peaceful, positive thoughts. i promise that i will simply carry you with me throughout lent. having a community of support, being part of a community of support is all that this is about.

so, my journey begins. i hope that you will feel welcome to follow along. or to even begin a journey of your own – to celebrate life, yourself, the changing of the seasons, and the power of love to transform any & everything.

namaste, lovely people. xx

 

24: something new.

i rode on the bus today. the super hot bus, with lots of smelly people. disgusting, but true. how did i entertain myself? i listened to some awesome music with my new awesome, mocha-colored urbanears headphones. oh yeah.

in the evening, i went to a meeting out in the country at a real, typical, old swedish house on a farm. it was my first time in a genuine swedish farmhouse… something else that was new today. the house was  built in the late 1800s. it was decorated all country-fied. and i loved it. the meeting was the last board meeting, so the chairperson (an amazing, deeply spiritual, 70-something feminist who can do everything) invited the members of the board for dinner… and the meeting. it was salad, bread, and pie. pretty much everything homemade or home-grown. i could taste the earth. delish.

it was a long evening & meeting, but so good. i work with good people. i am freaking lucky & blessed. at 10:30 pm, we were finally ready to leave the farm & head home (only about 10-15 minutes). but, i couldn’t leave before shaping a sunset shot. living in a country that is not your home country, gives you opportunities to experience something new quite often. and that is something i love.

hope you held on & made it through thursday… the weekend is knocking on the door. peace to you all.