Theater Rituals Creating Community

There is no magic quite like that of an empty theater. There are smells, textures, curtains and sawdust, a million shades of black painted over a million other colors that came before. There is expectant silence, and twilight sleepiness. Saying goodbye to an empty theater is akin to tucking a child into bed in the soft glow of night lights, knowing you will leave before she wakes up.

My place of magic was The Beverly Arts Center, a theater space used by various community theater groups on the south side of Chicago. I was a chorus child, an oddball, a laughing extra in period costume and sausage curls created by a neighbor’s mom. I loved every minute of it.

A community theater would perform A Christmas Carol like clockwork every year. It’s where I learned to harmonize to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” while simultaneously learning the ins and outs of theater love, life, and lore. It was Cassie who pushed me out in the snow to do a ritualistic anti-curse when I said the name of the Scottish play without knowing any better (Dear Lord now I know). It’s where Christmas Present gave me a Jiminy Cricket good luck charm and Joe was a jolly Bob Cratchit and the stage manager let us eat the turkey prop after the show if we kids weren’t too annoying in the green room. It’s where a small group of friends bonded over silly tricks and broken hearts, stolen kisses backstage and a brother chipping off his sister’s nail polish.

It was community.

Community theater isn’t quite like any other kind of theater. There’s a switch in priorities, a love, a group bonding over something we would do for free, again and again and again. It means family, loyalty, laughter and support. It means bear hugs after the curtain goes down, story telling at a bar, and the knowledge these people will love you unconditionally as long as you don’t ever skip strike or act like a diva.

It was in this magical place where I felt loved, wanted and accepted. Religious tradition stresses the importance of breaking bread together. Surviving tech week together is a slightly more intense yet equal equivalent.

It’s been a long time since I was able to partake in this crazy Christmas tradition, but every time I hear “Carol of the Bells”, I feel a piece of the magic come back again. The bells remind me that during that special time God really did bless us, every one.

The Prayer In The Ritual

Our first post on Rituals comes from our long-time reader, and author of The Strategic Learner, John Smith, who is a teacher and facilitator. He writes to us from the Midwest about the power of rituals, and their to God for him and his family. His post offers a beautiful wisdom about the living prayers that can be encompassed in our rituals.

As a child, I was part of a small family living on a farm in the country, so many of our rituals were unique to us. I recognize now that the unique blend of personalities through my father, mother, younger brother, and I shaped many of these customs. We were living the Smith Family version of life.

As I grew out into the larger world, I found other families with other rituals, some of which appeared vaguely familiar, my rituals “with a twist”, and some of which were downright alien to my eyes. I found myself sometimes comforted, especially by the rituals and behaviors of large families, which showed glimpses of a different world. I came to define family differently: No such thing as ex-relatives, in-laws, or step-anything in our family. You are simply part of the family. With seven children, six grandchildren, and a host of other family members, we now create our own rituals.

When our children were small, we created a ritual around sending them out into the world every day by saying to each in turn “Be good, be safe, be smart, be careful, be happy.” The exact order might vary and at some point, as the world became increasingly troubled, we added “ … and be a force for good in the world.”

The ritual was ingrained and practiced on a daily basis, so we sometimes found ourselves saying the words without thinking about them. We might be rushed or thinking too far ahead of where we were in our day. When this happened, things felt a little off-balance, and I sometimes found myself turning around, walking back, or retracing my driving route, because saying those words intentionally was important.

The mantra we used, like other’s little rituals, served two important and related purposes. Firstly, a reminder to our children of what was important in life, both for themselves and for others. Secondly, our ritual functioned as a prayer by us to God on behalf of our children, that they develop the strength and wisdom to live strongly.

A ritual can be your words, actions, or thoughts. Sometimes a simple gesture, such as touching someone’s hair as you greet them, conveys strong emotion and connection. At other times, a more formal acknowledge of connection exists and we do so through such events as weddings, birthday parties, and funerals.

For me, the core of a ritual is not the magnitude of the behavior, but the meaning behind the words and the actions. I am struck by how often my spiritual beliefs guide my rituals. God helps me, and my family, create meaningful repetitive actions, which both teach and comfort. For me, these rituals have provided bonds between the important people in my life, over years, over distances, and over lifespans.

Seeking Submissions: Rituals

It is that time again! A time for gifts, holidays, candles and festivals! Here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets, we are dedicating this month to the the of Rituals. Rituals can be as small as what we eat for breakfast, or saying a prayer before dinner, or they can be as grand as a Christmas pageant, or lighting the menorah, either way they are an important part of almost every life, of almost every spiritual journey. Looking at our rituals will give us all new wisdom and insight during this busy season,  so we are asking for your submissions on rituals this month.

If you are stuck for where to start your submission, here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. What are your daily rituals? How do they affect your life?
  2. How do rituals help you on your spiritual journey?
  3. How do rituals help you cope with pain, tragedy, or loss?
  4. How have you changed your rituals to reflect your life, your passions and your sense of justice?

We want to know! The world wants to hear your wisdom!

With Wisdom, Love …and Lint,

Autumn and Jenni

Hunger For Feeling

We are pleased to share another guest post from Nermine Mohamed, who previously wrote about the fear of liking loneliness too much.  Nermine is a Muslim from what she calls “the huge, crowded and contradictory city of Cairo”, and she currently lives in Germany. Today she shares with us how she hungers for deep emotional experiences and ways to express them. 

Have you ever laughed, truly laughed? The stomach-aching, tears-rolling-down the face, cannot catch your breath kind of laugh.

Have you ever cried, truly cried? Cried your whole heart out, shouted out your pain at the top of your lungs.

What about love? Have you ever felt it, taken it all in? Do you say it “I love you” whenever you feel like it, without over thinking it, without second-guessing it?

Well, I have not, but I hunger for it. I’ve never known how to voice emotions, how to truly live emotions. I have been walking on egg shells all my life, tiptoeing around feelings as if they are a beast I’m afraid to stir.

When I was 12, I lost my mum. She was sick and I was young and I was not supposed to know she was dying until she did. Sometimes people think it is best to protect their children from pain, but I wish I was given the chance to grieve, to fully experience the slipping away of someone dear, to know how precious the little time I had left with her was.

Instead, I cried for a few days and I did not want anyone to comfort me. I did not want to share my grief. And then it was all over, locked-up and thrown away.

Even now, it is not only grief and pain that I don’t allow myself to feel. I do not allow myself to be happy when I achieve something I’ve longed for. Nothing is permanent. Don’t get too excited, it might not work after all!

I’m always stuck midway; a trapeze dancer, swinging back and forth, but never falling, never jumping, never letting go.

But I’m tired of this numbness. I’m yearning, I’m aching, I’m hungry for emotions; raw, deep, acute, soul-shattering emotions. With writing that I can sometimes speak of such things, but I still hunger more.

I want the butterflies-in-my-stomach kind of excitement. I want to be able to get mad. I want to be able to cry. I want to allow myself to love insanely, uncontrollably. I want to have my heart broken, mended and broken again. I want to be able to shout out my feelings.

So, I’ll pray for myself and everyone else out there who feels the same:

May we get swept off our feet by joy, by laughter, by love. May we let go. May we allow ourselves to fall, to get bumped on the head by living every moment, every feeling and emotion to the fullest. May we always have the strength to endure pain, but may we also use it to be more caring, more loving. Finally may we have the courage to seek love, to accept it and to share it in return.

Amen.

Coffee Break Prayer

In honor of our theme of Hunger, we will do a series of food-based prayers this month, including a Dinner Prayer!  Enjoy and don’t for get to submit your own prayers!

Dear Spirit of Divine Energy,

Give me a break.
Let me carve out a moment for myself.
Give me energy to move through my world,
todo the things I need to,
and those things I want to do too.
Let me have time to enjoy a hot drink with a loved one,
and let me be uplifted by that communion.
Help me give myself a break.

Amen

Ferguson: We Are Praying

While Searching Sophia’s Pockets prides itself on being dedicated to global spiritual journeys, and yet today we feel most keenly that both Autumn and Jenni spent years of their respective spiritual journeys in the Saint Louis area, which struggles at this moment with the decision not to indite officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown. 

To honor that part of our journey and to stand in solidarity with everyone affected by the decision, firstly we offer Searching Sophia’s Pockets as a safe space, as always, on the internet. We offer these pages, these posts, these prayers, and their comment sections a as a safe place for conversation, rest, and action.

Secondly, we offer the following prayer, along with the quiet lamentations of our hearts, to the people of Ferguson, Saint Louis, and more broadly to those upon whom our racist systems inflict harm, which is to say, the world.

Dear God,

We are in agony,
crying, aching, but still we are praying.

This is the world we have made,
one where hurt has boiled to the surface,
despite our attempts to deny it.

Give us strength to bear witness to the racist systems that run this world,
to face the realities of oppression with open hearts and minds.

Give us compassion to gather with those who are not like us,
make us united in our common love,
our common search for justice,
and our common desire for peace.

When systems of power rage against us,
help us continue to survive as beacons of love.

Let us not dally in sentimental love,
the easy love that cannot withstand times like these.

Let us show the ferocity of love,
the bravery of love,
love that is not sated with mere words,
but demands living justice for all.

We are afraid, we wish for an easier way,
yet, filled with radical love,
we can stand together against even the greatest injustice,
calling out, in voices clear and united,
Black lives matter!
Amen!
All lives matter.
Amen.
Amen.
Amen.

I See Hunger Everywhere

Today’s post comes from Adam Pracht, who talks about the various forms of hunger he has seen, and what it can teach us about love. Adam currently works as a chef and lives in Chicago. He also wrote our first ever guest post, Tiny Love

I see hunger everywhere. On the south side of Chicago I see people going hungry, without food, money or homes. I see kids hungry for drugs, for power, where killing is a game, and a fun one too. I see hunger for violence, or money, a willingness to hack your way to the top regardless of who gets trampled underneath. It’s an insatiable hunger that sometimes makes it too difficult to get through the news. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed.

If you look really close, though, you can see a different kind of hunger. I see love and passion coming from places, and people, where I didn’t think I’d ever find it. I’ve grown to love and respect many men who could have continued their lives as gang members, but instead decided to put the guns down and made a life for themselves out of nothing but hard work. I’ve been given mad love from whole groups of people I was meeting for the first time, for no reason. Then I can start to see a different kind of hunger, which is just a hunger for love, to be able to give and receive freely and happily.

Many days it seems like it’s a losing battle. Most days, if we’re honest; but the good thing about hunger is that it’s not a desire, it’s a need. The hungry will always be pushing back, using our desire for peace to drive us to love with abandon, using whatever skills available to give. I find the more I give, the more of myself I still have left over. There are always people in need, always more we can be doing if we keep our eyes open to the people around us. I hope someday it will be easy to find love, anywhere, and we’ll have to look hard to find the misery and violence that dominated the headlines today.

 

Dinner Prayer

In honor of our theme of Hunger, we will do a series of food-based prayers this month! Enjoy and don’t for get to submit your own prayers!

Dear Spirit of Care,

I hunger for a pause,
a break in my day, my week, my overly-busy life.

Let this dinner bring me the peace I crave,
and let it remind me of the joys of slowing down.

Do not let me forget
those who will not have dinner tonight,
and those who will eat their dinner alone.

Let me be nourished,
so that I can nourish others.
Le me be fed,
so that I can feed the hungry.

Let me enjoy this meal,
let me enjoy those who share it with me,
let my hunger be satisfied.

Amen

How Many Loaves Do You Have?

ByJenni Taylor

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Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat…’

His disciples answered, ‘where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?’

‘How many loaves do you have?’ Jesus answered –Matthew 16:32-34

My fridge is full, but my eyes are hungry. Hungry for more time, more freedom, more peace, more wisdom. I am hungry for less- less stress, less pain, less loneliness, less daily doses of despair. I want to be faster, smarter, kinder, more patient, more giving. I want to be better.

All this wanting leaves me paralyzed.

I kick and scream in my tantrum, a small ugly smugness creeping from my heart. I want to be good; that means I must be halfway there already. I want, I want, I want… My eyes are turned inward, my ears tuned to the sound of my own voice, and there are my fists- closed tightly, ever so tightly.

“How many loaves do you have?” He asks.  The question burns.

“I have compassion for these people,” he says, and I finally look up. I see the thousands of high-rise apartments surrounding me, their lights softly glowing in the night. The lights outnumber the visible stars a million to one, and I am gently reminded how selfish I am to ever think I am alone.

My clenched heart hears a thin strain of music, ancient and connecting and almost completely forgotten. A song of giving.

I am hungry. My needs are not belittled or lost in the void, but no longer do they come first. I accept the hunger, and I accept I still have so many things to give. My heart begins to thaw, and I close my eyes and pray for the same compassion the Great Teacher had to put his own hunger to the side and care for those around him. I have loaves- warm, buttery, full of goodness loaves to offer the world. People break bread, they connect, they open their hands and in return are filled to the brim. I count my loaves, I count my blessings, and  I see the same miracle in my life that we see in the gospel of Matthew-

There is more than enough.

 

Seeking Submissions: Hunger

It is November! A time for food, family, and fall! Here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets, November is also the time to talk about hunger. Physical hunger is a humanitarian issue, it is an issue of faith. But although we will highlight ways to fight hunger, like through Heifer International, we are also going to discuss other kinds of hunger, metaphorical hunger, spiritual hunger, hunger for love, acceptance and more.  So we are asking for your submissions on hunger this month.

If you are stuck for where to start your submission, here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. What are you hungry for in this life?
  2. Have you ever fasted? What was it like?
  3. Read Autumn’s post on fasting, and tell us would you fast for Thanksgiving?
  4. How are you fighting physical hunger in this world?

We want to know! The world wants to hear your wisdom!

With Wisdom, Love …and Lint,

Autumn and Jenni