Spiritual experiences may happen in unexpected ways because God Is …

When we step away from our routines, we get a chance to re-set. Sometimes it is planned and sometimes it is unexpected. Going on a vacation or to a conference or to a family reunion can provide that opportunity. Those events might be well scheduled out and so you think they are structured and they will have their own routines. Even then, if you allow yourself to be in the moment, you might have a spiritual experience when you least expected it.

Last week I attended a family reunion for my mother’s side of the family in New Orleans. At so many turns and moments of the reunion, I felt the presence of my mother and at some times my father as well because he went to college in New Orleans. The six days of being in New Orleans provided a wonderful break in my routine and amazingly provided an unexpected spiritual experience that I am still feeling the impact of from the inside.

My routine for so many recent months has been to be on the computer doing emails, gathering information on political stories, reading, doing community volunteering, sometimes going to a political rally or meeting, going to local activities for my local organizations, carrying out my jobs as officers for a couple of the volunteer groups I am in, doing things for my family, mentoring, social media postings, evening watching of Rachel and Lawrence, etc. It’s become standard. But going to New Orleans for the family reunion changed my routine and it was a gift.

The first part of the gift was that the place where we were staying didn’t have cable.  The second part of the gift was that I didn’t have time to do the daily routine described above. Instead, I was with family that I don’t to see often and I was immersed in them. I completely was in the present moment and didn’t want to do my usual of keeping up with politics or do much social media posting or even reading. Some days we cooked at one of our rental houses and some days we ate out. Some days we picked up take out and brought it back to the rental house and played games, laughed a lot and got to know each other better. We had relatives that we had never met before come together, folks we had heard about or seen on the family tree or “met” on Facebook. There’s nothing like meeting folks in person. That was just on Day 1. If you haven’t attended a family reunion in a while, give yourself the gift of connecting with family, I can just about guarantee it is a gift that will keep on giving.

Day 2 brought a consoling and exciting spiritual experience that I really, really didn’t expect. I sort of randomly selected a catholic church for the family to attend, St. Peter Claver. I just did an internet search for New Orleans and read information about several churches in the area. The church that my mother and uncle had attended was no longer in existence so we had to start fresh.  I wanted one with a Catholic gospel choir, just thinking that would be enjoyable since my mother sang in one in Washington, DC. The song the choir sang after Communion “just happened” to be a favorite song of my mother’s. (now you know that was a God wink) It was a song we had selected for Mommy’s funeral, a refrain from which we chose to put on the cover of her funeral program. I was in amazement. I felt my mother’s spirit running through me as the choir gave a rousing rendition of God Is My All and All. My toes are almost curling as I think about it now. Here is a link to a beautifully stirring rendition of that awesome song: https://youtu.be/rh1f1UPMHoA

I helped to do the planning for the reunion, helped to put together the itinerary, suggested the places we would go, the activities, polled the family to find out interests,  sent out the communications, etc. So, you know how you think you are planning and doing something for others but Lawdy have mercy, I was enriched by the experience myself.

We tried to cut down on expenses with the group of 35 or so of us so some of the family meals were cooked at one of the rental houses. That made for a lot of fun as the meals were cooked. Games were played, music was played, conversations were aplenty. And yes, there was some trash-talking too. We exchanged long lost photos of great-great grandparents, great-great aunts and cousins and cousins. We were family. We had come from San Francisco, Berkley, St. Pete, Columbus OH, Raleigh NC, Washington DC, New York NY, Cincinnati OH, Chicago IL, and New Orleans LA … but we were family. Just being together felt like a spiritual experience with God in the middle.

We went to Whitney Plantation on Day 3. The only plantation in the country that is devoted to the enslaved. Words are inadequate to describe the spiritual experience of walking the grounds of that place. It was a first to hear information that informed us of who the slaves really were as people, as humans not just as property and that honored the people who worked the land, who chopped the sugar cane, who boiled the sugar cane, who gave their limbs and lives for the crop that made southern Louisiana resourceful and its owners rich.  If you get to New Orleans, the ride is just about 45 minutes outside of the city and well worth your time: http://whitneyplantation.com/

I have been to other plantations but I left there changed. While their stories were filled with pain, I could also feel the warmth and the humanness of who they were. There were memorial walls with the names of every person who had been enslaved there. To the extent known, their country of origin, their occupation on the plantation, their year of birth and death.  Finally, someone had taken the time to catalogue who these people were, not just what they could produce.

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Day 4 was a celebration of the arts and music of New Orleans. Art and music speak to your soul. Have you listened to a song and felt it deep in your bones? Have you seen a piece of art that cried out to you? Yeah, well that was Monday night and Tuesday day. My oldest sister posted this recently: “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.“-Pablo Picasso. Yep, that’s truth. That is what I felt on that day. We experienced visual art and performing musical art and the dust of daily life was washed off.

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Our last day in New Orleans we went to Xavier University campus where my mother and father met and attended college. I felt the presence of them both when we were on campus. There were both brilliant and both very giving people. They were able to raise five very strong-minded, independent daughters and sons who still adore them. We are because they were. None of our children had the fortune to meet our father but I pray we have given them some insights into the accomplished man that he was. All of children knew our mother and she had a strong presence in their lives. They knew her strength and her kindness. To honor them both by being on the campus where they met, working through the endowed scholarship we set up for them, rounded out the spiritual experience that had begun several days before.

I know that I will likely once again get caught up in the every day politics. I will once again start my volunteering … that is after all what my parents did so I must do that. I will once again fall into some of my routines. But, I am adapting to a new normal that keeps with me bits and pieces of what I experienced during those days. I had a spiritual experience that I long to hold onto. I want to embrace it a little longer. I want to figure out how to touch others in a way that my mother & father still touch my life. I want to be the change that I want to see in the world. I still see and hear the choir singing God Is My All and All and it fills me with joy.  I want to keep the dust off my soul with art and music. I want to honor those who worked the plantations of the 1800s. The challenge now is to pause each day, not just slip back. Once you know, don’t forget that you know. Do something about it. Feel what you feel. Sink into the joy of the spiritual experience that God is wherever we are.

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Booking it

Truly one of the best activities of summer is reading for me. Traveling is fun too but sometimes that involves so much effort to get ready for the trip (planning the trip, making reservations for everywhere you are going or doing, deciding what to pack, packing, getting the family ready … all of that for you and your family too — I am exhausted just thinking about it with little ones in tow), the time to get to where you are going, the unpacking when you get there, the getting in line for the attractions or sightseeing. Okay, yeah enough of that. They are what memories are made of and although it took effort, I wouldn’t trade any of those. I do recall the lazy days of summer including the fun of days when we weren’t traveling with our children and they had their Summer Reading Lists. I had my various Summer Reading Lists from the local library or Oprah’s magazine or suggestions from friends. When the kids were playing outside or doing their reading or attending a summer camp, and I had an afternoon to chill, the order of the day was “Booking It.”

So, thanks to several friends and one of my daughters, I am happy to share with you for this week’s Blog, some suggestions for you to “Book It” for your Summer Reading List. Some of these I have read and some I will be including in my Summer 2017 reading. There literally were so many reading lists that I came across as I was researching for this blog that there is no way that you can’t find something you would like.

First up, 10 books read by Chantal James for Pulchram Press’ Summer Reading suggested list: https://www.pulchrampress.com/single-post/2017/06/06/One-Time-for-Your-Mind-Books-of-Courage-for-Summer-2017. Some of you may know that Pulchram Press is a fairly new small book publishing company that is being launched, it’s tag line is “Seeing beautiful books come to life.” Sounds like a cool way to spend the summer. Chantal’s reading list has 10 great suggestions for several age ranges and includes a book by Toni Morrison, “A Mercy“, “I’m Judging You” by Luvvie Ajayi (winner of 2017 AABMC non-fiction book award) a book of poetry, a book for young adults by Madeline L’Engle. One of her book suggestions focuses on how imagination and creativity makes humans exceptional and even gives thoughts / perspectives on living on this planet that are quite timely in light of the President’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional by Augustin Fuentes.

Chantal has included the intriguing, Memoirs of A Dutiful Daughter  by Simone de Beauvoir, which she describes in her review: “This book is written by someone whose life is well known, so the joy is not so much in finding out what happens but in finding out how it happens. Here Beauvoir is sowing the seeds that will blossom into a full-fledged love affair with the life of the mind and the desire to be unfettered by any constraints in pursuit of it, least of all the fact of being a woman.” Check out the full list of 10 books included on her Summer Reading List at the above link.

Summer reading suggestions from Kellye Patrice, a fun librarian at the Riviera Beach Community Library in Anne Arundel County. She has read some fun books lately, including some that may have started out slow but then revved up her attention. Those of you who know me well know that I get much wisdom from Oprah and Maya Angelou so it gave me sheer joy to see that two books on Kellye’s summer lists were What I Know For Sure by Oprah and Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou. I have both of these and enjoyed them. If you could squeeze wisdom for life into just two books that you would want to pass along to your kids, consider these books.

Others on Kellye’s list include: The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Now who would think that a manuscript from 500 B.C.E. would still have relevance in 2017. But for sure this does. One review describes this as: “perhaps the most prestigious and influential book of strategy in the world, as eagerly studied in Asia by modern politicians and executives as it has been by military leaders since ancient times. As a study of the anatomy of organizations in conflict, The Art of War applies to competition and conflict in general, on every level from the interpersonal to the international. Its aim is invincibility, victory without battle, and unassailable strength through understanding the physics, politics, and psychology of conflict.” I say go for it … this might be useful in work and in balancing work and life.

A few books that might be good for the beach while the kids or dogs romp and play: His Third Wife by Grace Octavia, The Other Woman by Eric Jerome Dickey, Kindred by Octavia Butler and The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

Three books that I am planning to explore this summer are very different but have a common thread that reflect what is going on in the America we are living in today. They may not seem like light summer reading but summer is also a time for enlightenment and re-charging the batteries so I am including them on the list. They are all included in O Magazine’s list of 20 Books of Summer in its July issue. Daring to Drive by Manal Al-Sharif describes a journey of a young woman from Saudi Arabia who just wanted to encourage women to drive, self described as the Saudi Rosa Parks, fighting for human rights beginning with the simple task of a woman being able to drive a car.

Senator Al Franken has evolved into the conscience of the Senate, in my view far more than Bernie Sanders and with a sense of humor that some seem to forget how serious he is actually being when he slaps Jeff Sessions for his stupidity. His memoir, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, promotes democracy and defends progressive government at a time when the far-right seems to have convinced voters that too much government means we should allow 23 million people to be kicked off their insurance and cut $800 billion out of Medicaid. He used to be a comic on SNL and now he is progressive, outspoken voice for truth.

The Hate U Give is written by a young voice, Angie Thomas, a 29 year-old who experienced the killings of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and thought they were people she could have grown up with. Her book is written from the perspective of Starr, a 16 year-old who witnesses the fatal shooting of a childhood friend at the hands of a police officer. Her friend was unarmed. Starr struggles with what to do and how it will impact her community.

Several other books are included in the O magazine issue, pick it up and see what else might be of interest. Lastly, the New York Times recently published a column with book recommendations from novelists who own bookstores. I thought that is an interesting perspective. Here’s a link to that article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/25/books/summer-reading-recommendations-from-6-novelists-who-own-bookstores.html. You might find a good read from their list.

I hope your summer will carve out some time to enjoy several good books. To me, that is a summer ritual. Reading expands the mind, relaxes the mind and enriches the mind. You can go anywhere you want to go through the pages of a book. Several studies have shown a resurgence in books, physical books. E-readers were introduced and some publishers thought people would stop buying paperbacks and hardcovers. They were wrong. Amazon just opened a physical bookstore in New York City. The grand opening was grand. People still like holding a book in their hand. But however you choose to get your book, read. It’s a great escape. Booking it can make your summer.

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine …

June is here and school is already out for many will be out soon for the rest of the students. What is your favorite summer past time? Taking vacation. Attending a convention or conference. Going to the beach. Reading from a list of great summer reads. Traveling the US parks or Europe or the Caribbean. Are you going to a family reunion? Oh, there are so many wonderful things to do for summer. One quite sure thing to do is reconnect with yourself.

Find time to sit in the shade on the ground or in a hammock and feel the summer breeze. The Isley Brothers have a song titled, Summer Breeze, that includes a refrain “Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind. Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom….”

As you get ready for that summer breeze to make you feel fine, you certainly want to look fine. Maybe you are watching what you eat so you can fit in that new bikini or swim trunks without the muffin top spilling over. Ahh, that late winter / spring splurge  might be the ruin of the start of summer with its extra five or so pounds. Well, you might want to consider ginger. Yep, ginger. There was an article in TIME magazine about the health benefits of ginger that now show ginger helps with fat burning, carbohydrate digestion and insulin secretion. It was already established that ginger helps as anti-inflammatory, lowers cholesterol and lowers blood pressure but now it can help you get into those skinny summer capri pants too. You can view the article at this link: http://time.com/4787027/ginger-body-fat-obesity/ . Consuming ginger can help with calorie burn and reduce feelings of hunger.

Another TIME article covers some ways to rev up your metabolism: http://time.com/4797839/boost-metabolism-exercise-sleep/. Some very simple steps such as eat protein in the morning and afternoon. Believe it or not, the article suggests eating a snack before bedtime … who knew? Another suggestion is go to bed early, a good night’s rest is not overrated for sure. Not having enough sleep has been talked about for years because of its impact on weight retention. Go to bed, it’s not worth that late movie … but if the Warriors are playing the Cavaliers and the game goes into overtime then all bets are off for going to bed early.

The point here is to get body-ready for summer. I see some people invest in clothing and accessories for their summer vacations and their bodies are out of shape. Invest the same effort and energy in yourself as you do in what you buy to carry with you for your trip. It would be ideal if you had started when I blogged about it several months ago but at least go for it now.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to take a couple days to chill out and do some reading and sip some tea. Those are two of my favorite things to in the summer. Reading is enriching and summers are great enrichment periods. Tea is calming and relaxing so good for getting you into a summer mood. Now, I am not a consumer of alcoholic drinks but I guess those can also be on your list for chilling for the summer. I just can’t give you the recommendations for them. Call my hubby for a good red or white wine.

Next week, I plan to share a summer reading list. I would love for you to give me your favorite books for summer, books you have read this year that you recommend, books that others have shared that you are planning to read.

Summer is such a chill time. I hope you will do something fun. See family. Spend extra time with family. Get away from the office for two weeks … Americans historically don’t use all of their vacation days. Instead of being available 24/7, block off time that you won’t check your email and stick to it. Give your kids undivided attention, for real. Seriously. Leave your phone in the living room over night instead of by your bed. Get out of the kitchen, pick up some shrimp and steaks and fire up the grill for dinner along with a summer fruit or mixed green salad. Summer is good for eating light too, forget about the heavy meals.

I can almost feel the summer breeze on my skin because I am so ready for it. Last summer seems like a lifetime ago, actually January 20th feels like a decade ago. Mini vacations are good these days to do self-care. The longer daylight is just begging for some lollygagging time. Get your body ready. I will have a reading list for you soon. Plan your trip. Take off the time. Open your windows on your car and let the summer breeze in.