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.”
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.
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:
- if, you are instagram, you can follow my journey daily. i will take a photo every day and post it with the hashtag #40daysinacathedral.
- 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