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.
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.
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.