I was excited to try this – a hike a week. I can do this! And then: life. OK, I’ve fallen behind. But it was only half way through the year, sure I could catch up.
And I did do some awesome hikes this year, mostly because of the goal of the challenge.
But there were other things I ended up doing on days I had meant to hike. Here’s what I did instead:
I worked. Yep, sometimes work got in the way of a plan to hike.
I attended family events. Sometimes my family had things scheduled on days I had meant to hike.
I rested. There were a few times I was just too injured, sick, or tired to do the hike I had planned to do.
I showed up for community or friends. There were a few times I meant to hike and then an important friend or community event would come up.
I took care of my home, garden, and animals. That was honestly the biggie. I found that I had to choose between what felt like urgent or necessary or timebound home projects and getting out and hiking. These two commitments felt like they just weren’t compatible. (more on this in a future blog post). For instance, in the last few weeks here is what I did instead of hiking:
I had to move/rebuild a shelter for my goats after they destroyed their shed and were in complete danger of being eaten by coyotes if we didn’t do something quickly.
Then our sick elder goat died and I spent the next planned hiking day to dig a grave for him.
Was this week in my life a failure because I didn’t hike? Or was it a response to what life handed me? In this particular week in my life, what was important? My long term goal of hiking for the year or the very real and urgent needs of my goats? I had to choose my goats.
You may not have goats in your life. But you probably have something that may sometimes rise up as urgent and block your long term important goals. What are we all doing instead? And what does that say about us? If what is says about us actually seems pretty awesome, then why is That not the big life challenge?
(More to come about the hiking challenge and what I learned from it)
Recently for my day job with a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, I had the joyful duty of taking seven of our youth on their Coming of Age Retreat. We went camping together, and all of the youth observed 24 hours of silent reflection vigil time. This gave them all time to deliberately reflect on the big questions of life and on this time of their lives. Holding space for the youth in this way is one of my favorite things to do.
We all need that time in order to gain deeper perspectives, to find a vision of the bigger picture, and yet most of us don’t structure our lives in ways that give us that time. We are often focused in the weeds, dealing with the details of life, or resting in ways that distract or numb us. Our attention is grabbed, our eyes are glued to the computer or the phone or the TV or we are just nose to the grindstone keeping busy and productive. It’s hard to keep a sense of vision this way.
The spiritual practice of Retreat is similar to that of a Sabbath – taking a time apart from ordinary time. And any of us can do some kind of retreat, whether we have time or resources for something fancy or whether we do something simple. Travel can be one kind of retreat, leaving your daily concerns to go and experience something completely different. Organized retreats at retreat centers can be another lovely way to do a retreat, and there are so many different kinds out there. But these also could be retreats:
Taking a long walk (alone or with someone else)
Camping, hiking, getting out into nature in almost any way
Taking a book and holing up somewhere to read
Taking a long train ride
Going to a museum, concert, or festival
Visiting family or friends
Going on a service trip
A retreat could be months long, weeks, a weekend, a day, or even just a few hours. There are so many ways to bring this practice into your life. One thing that worked for me when I had little kids was to arrange for childcare or a playdate for my kids, and then to take my books and my journals to a coffee shop. Now in this new season of my life without little kids, my favorite is to go for a hike or to take my book to a park.
If you want to add a retreat to your practice, here are a few tips I think will help:
Set an intention. Be intentional that you are “on retreat” and be intentional of what you want to focus on and what you will be doing.
Mark the beginning of your retreat time in some ritual way. Sometimes it is helpful to ritually “lay down” all the things you might otherwise be distracted by. Put your out of office email response on, turn off your phone notifications, write down your worries and then fold them up and put them in an envelope. Let it go, at least for now. Change your clothes, put your briefcase away in a closet.
Pick your time, place, and companions in such a way as to support your intentions.
Capture your insights, take-aways, and visions from your time apart in some way. Journal, paint, record yourself talking to yourself on your phone, or any other method that works for you.
Mark your re-entry into “ordinary” time in some way as you come out of retreat. Step over a threshold, put your everyday clothes back on, turn your phone back on. But maybe don’t be too quick to pick up your burdens again. Let yourself tread lightly back into it all.
You don’t have to just take my word for all of this. Here are some other writers who have shared good ideas about how to create your own retreat:
Although I am not a Christian, I have been drawn to the spiritual practice of Lent for many years and usually do “give something up” each year for Lent. I was first introduced to this practice in a casual way by my father-in-law, a lapsed Catholic, who would still give something up each year (usually alcohol). I have given up sugar and alcohol most years for Lent, and then in the last few years I’ve added in more spiritual practices like a daily devotional reading so that I wasn’t just treating Lent like a diet or a habit re-set (which it is almost a perfect length to be – 40 days is long enough to break some bad habits and start some good ones).
But this year I’m ready to go a bit deeper in my own practice. I’ll still be giving up sugar, simply because I always end up feeling healthier and better physically when I avoid sugar and now seems like a good time to remind myself of that. And I’ll still be doing daily devotionals and spiritual practices, but that has just become part of my year-round life now.
So my challenge this year is to “give up selflessness”. For these 40 days of Lent I want to give up:
putting off my own self-care until last
treating myself differently than I would treat others
holding myself accountable to standards I wouldn’t apply to others
making myself a martyr (of any type)
giving so much that I hurt myself
And more, I’ll probably discover as I go.
I’ll be sharing a few things as I go, and you can follow me on Facebook (Rev Sara Lewis) or Instagram (spiritualcarerevsara) if this journey is one you are interested in.
Lent is right around the corner, starting this week, and many folks engage with these 40 days as a spiritual practice. Sometimes folks give something up, making this season of fasting into almost a diet craze. Not the way I like to approach my spiritual practices.
No, Lent is not a diet. But it can be a time for reflection and trying to turn away from the distractions that may help us stay numb and avoiding the work before us. And here is a book that I found perfect for this purpose last year, as a daily devotional to read each day of Lent: Good Enoughby Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie. The reflections explore what is good and true when we are soaked in a culture of self-improvement and perfectionism, effecting even our understanding of spiritual and religious truths. There are reflection questions to engage with and practice suggestions for bringing the ideas into your life, as well.
The theological perspective is Christian, but I found it still accessible. And of course, Lent is a Christian spiritual practice. But for those of us with a more eclectic or interfaith practice, I’d still recommend this book.
I’m not sure I’m going to find a good book for this year’s practice in time, but we’ll see. I also plan on trying to give something up – selflessness. Stay tuned.
An original story by Sara Lewis, all rights reserved.
Please feel free to use this story as part of a worship service or lesson, with attribution to me as author.
Old Finn had been a baker for a very long time. He had learned to bake when he was quite young, taught by the elders who were also bakers. They taught Finn how to mix and work the dough, how to build a fire under the big ovens that was just right to hold the temperature, and then to use the fire to bake the delicious breads and other baked goods. Finn practiced and learned, and then one day the older bakers clapped him on the back and said “you’ve learned it, you are a baker now”. And Finn was very proud to have mastered his craft. He had learned all he needed to know.
Finn was a very good baker, and kept on baking just as he had learned for years and years. But then the people of his land got a new technology, something he had not grown up with or learned to use when he was young. This new technology baked without needing a fire, which just seemed wrong to Finn. That wasn’t what he had learned, and well, he was too old to learn anything new now. So he kept on as he had been. But now fewer and fewer people came to him for baked goods, seeming to prefer the new ways. Some of the younger bakers invited him to join them, even offered to teach him how they were doing things now, but he said no, he was fine just doing it the old way, even if he was left doing it all alone.
And he did end up mostly alone, not sure why he was still bothering to bake at all. But being a baker was who he was, his identity, he couldn’t just stop, couldn’t give up on something he loved so much.
Then one day, there was a terrible storm, and the whole area lost power. The technology that the other bakers used wasn’t working, and so they couldn’t bake. But Finn could still carry on, with his old ways. As he was building his fire, he heard a voice, strange when he hardly ever had folks in his bakery anymore. “Excuse me” the voice said, and Finn turned to see a young baker, one of the ones who had once invited Finn to come and see how their new ovens worked.
“What do you want?” Finn asked.
“Well”, said the young baker, “I don’t know if you’ve heard but we’ve got a big power outage and none of us can get our baked goods made right now. But people need to eat, you know, so I expect they will be coming to get their bread from you. I thought, well, you’re here all alone, it may be a lot of work. And, well, it would be fun to learn how to bake this way, if you want to teach me. Then I can help, and if this happens again I’ll be able to bake both ways in the future.”
Finn just stared at the young baker, for a long time, and then he nodded a bit curtly and said “Alright then, let’s get to it.”
He was a bit cranky, still, but he showed the young baker how to build the fire. They made a few mistakes, but were still cheerful when Finn pointed them out. And they were right, lots of folks came for baked goods that day, and they had to work hard to feed everyone. A few other young bakers showed up, curious to see how it worked, and when they saw that Finn was teaching they jumped in to learn and help also.
At the end of the day, all the young bakers were tired but happy. They thanked Finn, and one said “any day that you learn something new is a good day!” as they left.
Finn looked around his bakery, marveling at how different today had been from all his recent days. It had felt good to be with the young bakers, and they had been so cheerful and enthusiastic about learning to bake Finn’s way.
It would be sweet to be part of a baking community again. He could teach, like he had today. And, thinking about what the young baker had said as he left, Finn realized that he could learn, too. Maybe, he hadn’t learned everything there was to know when he was young. Maybe it would be nice to keep learning. Maybe he could even learn that blasted new technology they were all using now adays.
And from then on, Finn was part of a baking group again. He learned how to do things in new ways, and he taught others how to do things in the old ways. And Finn came to agree that indeed – any day that you learn something new is a good day. And he had many good days until the very end of his life.
Today is my 100th day in a row wearing the same grey wool dress. You may have some questions – like what? Why? This is a challenge created by the clothing company Wool&, and officially to do the challenge and get the gift certificate prize at the end you have to do it in one of their pieces. But really, I wanted to do it because I had seen others take on the challenge and it seemed intriguing. What would I learn about my relationship to clothing and fashion and style if I wore one dress for 100 days straight?
And I’ve learned so much. There are the predictable things, and I’ve also learned some unexpected things. Overall I think my approach to my wardrobe is going to change in a big way, which of course has implications of all sorts from budget to space and organization to environmental impact. Clothing may not be our greatest impact on the world around us (I believe housing, transportation, and food are still more impactful but don’t quote me on that) – but the way our society consumes fast fashion and clothing does have a huge impact on the world around us. So, to my learnings:
Wool is a magical substance! Warm, cozy, resists smells and dirt, easy to care for and durable. I don’t find wool itchy, so lucky me.
Less clothing = less laundry and that is a very good thing. I do have a washing machine now (we tried the experiment of going 6 months of handwashing everything) but I still don’t have a dryer and just reducing the amount of laundry that needs doing is a plus for me and for the environment. The dress was handwashed once a week, then laid flat to dry on the top of our drying rack. It dried overnight just fine every time.
Our grandparents were right about aprons and overalls and what not. Since I had to keep the dress clean and serviceable, I was much more careful about putting on aprons to cook and clean in and putting on my overalls and rubber boots over the dress to work in the yard. Those items took the brunt of the dirt of life, but they don’t need to stay pretty and so I also didn’t have to wash them that often either.
I can fit a lot more scarves in my closet than I can dresses, and I can sew a lot more special occasion belts from a bit of fabric than I can make special occasion dresses. Accessories just cost less and more fit into your space.
Yes, I can hike and garden and do basic chores in a dress. Leggings under the dress were great, and tights with bike shorts also worked if I wanted to worry less about modesty when being active.
I’ve never considered myself a particularly fashionable or stylish person, although I have always enjoyed having fun with my shoes. But this challenge has really changed that. I had FUN playing with how to style the dress. I started to really enjoy accessorizing. That’s going to stick with me.
On the subject of style, I learned that accessories rule! That one simple grey dress could go in so many different directions with different accessories. And accessories can have their own accessories – I was stumped at first on scarves and shawls and then I discovered shawl pins and brooches! So much fun to mess about with.
Accessories and styling also allow for seasonal whimsy. The dress became a Christmas dress with the addition of a cloth obi-style belt sewn out of Christmas fabric. It was a Halloween dress with a black belt and a spiderweb necklace. And it takes less resources to make and less space to store a holiday accessory than it does a whole holiday dress.
Personal, Emotional, Spiritual, and Social/Justice Learnings
The process of taking a picture of myself every day for the challenge also pushed some body acceptance learning for me. If you look at my full 100 days on pinterest, you may notice me getting sillier and sillier with the poses as the 100 days went on. I also just was getting more comfortable with the fact that hey, this is me, and this body is what it is. Some big healing work still to do there, but the journey is ongoing.
There are ways to be femme that have nothing to do with sexy or cute or really anything designed to attract or placate the hetero-patriarchal gaze. It was amazingly refreshing to find myself feeling really powerful or elegant or grounded while still full femme and not copying a masculine look in order to feel power or authority.
There’s also nothing wrong with being cute or sexy or whatever. Clothing is fun, self-expression is fun, it’s not always armor that you need in order to keep yourself safe in the world. Safety should not have to be earned through clothing choices.
I expected I’d learn how to be minimalist by doing this, but I didn’t. I am realizing I am just not a minimalist personality. But I did realize that minimalism and sustainability/responsibility are totally different creatures. I can choose to consume material goods in sustainable and responsible ways and still not have a capsule wardrobe.
I’m really glad I did this challenge, I think it has genuinely reshaped my relationship with my clothing and how I dress my body. Tomorrow I will wear a pair of jeans again, for the first time in a long time. But I expect this dress will stay an active part of my life for a long time to come.
I’ve been working on a new offering, a guide to 30 days of Spiritual Practice, to share here with all of you. You can use this guide in whatever way is helpful to you, but setting aside a little time each day for 30 days will have the added benefit of helping you build the habit of a daily spiritual practice.
The first week is available now on the website and as a PDF you can download and print. You can also follow along daily with the guide by following me on Facebook (Rev Sara Lewis) or on Instagram (spiritualcarerevsara).
I don’t know about you, but I find this time of year, with the merriment and the gifts and the special treats, creates even more pain in my heart when I see others who are suffering, going without, or struggling. Of course, I’m not alone because this is also a season of increased giving and generosity, when many of us give to those in need.
I try to make it a practice to always have something to give, to have cash or gift cards in my wallet or a care package of warm socks in my car. I know it is debatable (because many have tried to debate me on this, sometimes quite angrily) whether it is ultimately helpful or harmful to give to the folks who practice the ancient role of beggar. I also believe it is very important for us to give to organizations who provide care, such as shelters and free clinics. So if this doesn’t resonate with you, please know I am not judging your choices. Please, give in ways that feels right to you.
But I’m going to tell you a story about why I give as I do. When my children were very little, and were just learning to read, they would practice reading the signs we drove past together. Well, one day we were stopped at a red light and there was a man begging at the corner with a sign that said “Hungry, please help me”. My kids were slowly working out together what the sign said, and just figured it out as the light changed and I drove on. They cried out in distress: “mom, that man was asking for help! How could you just drive past and not help if he was asking for help?”
In their simple understanding, they reminded me of something important. How can I be a person who just moves past someone asking for help? And, regardless of what good helping may do for all the beggars of the world in the long term, what does ignoring and hardening my heart do to me in the long term?
So I choose this practice now, in many ways because it is good for me and not solely to be good to others. I try to stay generous, in a world that sometimes makes us feel we need to hoard resources to be safe. I try to stay trusting, in a world that tells me trust will be abused by others and that we are all cheating. I try to stay loving and soft, in a world that tells me I need to “toughen up”. But I won’t let the world do that to me.
I close with this quote:
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.”
I wrote this for my congregation, for a worship service this coming weekend. How do we tell our stories? Others are welcome to use this story or adapt as they wish. The main source I worked from is here.
The Real Story of The First Thanksgiving, by Sara Lewis
I want to talk to you all today about stories, and how we tell our stories.
When I was a kid, probably like most of us here, I grew up with a story about the First Thanksgiving. The story was basically that the pilgrims, who were brave immigrants from England who came to the “New World”, or to what is now America, had struggled but they had survived, partly because of help from their friendly neighbors the “Indians”, who they called that because the first European explorer in this “New World” had been wrong and had thought he had found the country of India, which is another half way around the world from America. But, even though the name Indian was wrong, the pilgrims kept using it.
But anyway, the “Indians” had mostly been friendly and had helped the pilgrims survive, and now the Pilgrims invited the Indians to a Thanksgiving Feast to celebrate that, and everyone ate turkey and cranberry sauce and was happy. The End.
And that story, the one I grew up with, is just wrong. It’s wrong because of the things I’ve already pointed out:
The “New” world wasn’t new to everyone, just to the Europeans who came there. This was already someone else’s home and the Europeans treated it like it was something they could take for themselves.
The people who lived in this land weren’t “Indians”. They were people of many nations and tribes, with many different languages, governments, cultures, and histories of their own. The people in this particular story that took place in what is now Massachusetts were the Wampanoag.
And the story is wrong about the historical facts, too. The Pilgrims weren’t having a Thanksgiving, they were having what they called a Rejoicing. Gratitude for them would have been expressed through fasting and prayer. A Rejoicing was a more rowdy affair. In fact, the pilgrims were celebrating their survival that day by shooting things just for fun, shooting their guns and firing their cannons. They were making a lot of noise.
And the Wampanoags near by heard all this loud ruckus of guns and cannons, and jumped to the logical conclusion that there was some kind of fight happening. So, the Wampanoag arrived, almost 100 of them, as a fighting force investigating all this noise.
Now the history that was written down about this day was written down by the Europeans, and they didn’t write down what exactly was said between the pilgrims and the Wampanoags. We don’t know how they avoided fighting with each other on that day. But what was written down says that the Wampanoags stayed and partied with the Pilgrims for 3 days. They all feasted together, on the locally available food which would have mostly been seafood and venison, maybe some corn based dishes as well.
That by itself isn’t too bad a story, but unfortunately that sharing and friendship wouldn’t last. The Wampanoags, and all the other indigenous peoples of this country, would eventually lose almost all of their lands to the Europeans. Many of them would die. Languages and cultures and histories would be suppressed in favor of European language, culture, and story.
And when I know all of that, the old story I grew up with is not just wrong because it gets the facts wrong. No, now I feel like it’s wrong because it gets the whole point of the story wrong. Now, I feel like we all need a new story. How will we tell it?