Interfaith “Water Sabbath” offers a time of rest, peace and hope for WNC water ecology and justice activists

Asheville’s affiliate of NC’s Interfaith Power and Light began offering a monthly Earth Sabbath service this spring at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Charlotte St.

Every fourth Monday the community is invited to an Inter-faith service intended to offer a time of spiritually restorative fellowship, hope and peace to those of us who care about protecting the ecological systems that support life on our beautiful planet.

Last Monday I was honored to be invited to help create an Earth Sabbath dedicated to Water by local and international water activist many in Asheville know well — Cathy Holt.  Cathy brought together a wonderful ensemble of women to create the service.

St. Mary’s has a small sanctuary and the acoustics are marvelous!  The Sahara Peace Choir opened the service with Yemoja, a gorgeous song to the Yoruban goddess of the Ocean.  Linda Metzner who composed the song also directed all the music for the evening.   Later in the service they sang a joy-filled song to Oshun, goddess of the fresh waters.   And we ended the service with fun-filled round called the Wheel of the Water that offered us to lift up our voices in praise together.

I was asked to Call the Directions as an invocation.  I created as special one intended to ground us all in a sense of place and our relationship to the watersheds our part of the Southern Appalachians.  You can read the text of this invocation at the end of this post.

I also led the “Connecting” portions of the service, where people were invited to share personal reflections on the beauty and sacredness of water, their responses to the threats we face globally and locally around water and our personal sense of  spiritual relationship with water.

Susa Silvermarie offered a beautiful visualization meditation in the form of an original poem titled, “Hot Springs in the Andes”.

Sometimes the Earth Sabbath’s focus on a particular faith tradition’s expression of reverence and care for the Earth.  The first one  I attended, back in March, was led by Rob Cabelli, the Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel.  The service he offered was focused on the turning of the seasons — winter to spring — the way Care of Creation has been expressed in the Jewish tradition over history into the present.

The next Earth Sabbath will be a meditation service led by local author and ordained Zen Master, Judith Toy.  I’m told if the weather is fine we’ll be outside in the gardens.

That will be on Monday, May 28, (yes, Memorial Day).  You can “like” the Asheville Earth Sabbath on Facebook.  Or if you’d prefer to get an email reminder of these  services contact Richard Fireman by email at firepeople(at)main.nc.us

Do join us and experience a well-deserved respite for your sacred-activist heart.

Here’s the text of the Calling of Directions:

In Permaculture practice we make much of knowing our watershed.  How many people here know the name of their watershed?  If you live in Asheville you certainly live in the French Broad watershed or the Swannanoa River watershed.  And there is likely a more particular watershed of a tributary of one of those rivers.  We also live in the Gulf of Mexico watershed as our water on this side of the Continental Divide drains ultimately into the Gulf.  And on a larger scale the Earth herself can be thought of as a large watershed.

It is worth noting that the words “tribe” and “tributary” have the same root.  Indigenous people recognize that watersheds create practical boundaries for organizing communities. 

As we call the directions I invite you to name your watershed if you know it.

Take a deep breath.  Now take another one.  And let us orient ourselves – which means literally to turn to the east.

To the east we find the headwaters of the Catawba River and the smaller, slower Swannanoa that flows toward us and meets our French Broad River – one of the four oldest rivers in the world.

The Blueridge Mountains drop off to our east creating waterfalls and micro-climates unseen anywhere else on the planet.  Beyond that mighty Yemoja herself, the Atlantic, ebbs and flows.

If you live in the East and know your watershed, call its name.

Turning to the South…

We face down the French Broad River Valley – a land of fertility and richness where people have lived for millennia.  Again the Blue Ridge drops, but even more precipitously, creating a land of waterfalls including the famous Triple Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.  The Green River lies to the South as well as the Little Tennessee and the Davidson.

If you live in the South and know your watershed, call its name.

Turning to the West, we can know that there lies the Cherokee Indian Qualla Boundary and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park both of which protect watersheds filled with trout.  And further west, the Joyce Kilmer National Forest, a single precious jewel of old-growth Southern Appalachian forest.  The Tennessee River, the Little River, the Hiawasee and the Nantahala.  Closer, the Little Pigeon River flows, a river that helped bring national attention to the problem of dioxins caused by the processes being used to manufacture paper.  More recently, our neighbors in Tennessee are still dealing with the toxic results of a huge coal ash spill.

If you live in the West and know your watershed, call its name.

Turning to the North we look up the French Broad River valley and we find our Hot Springs warmed by the living fires at the core of our planet.   Closer we find the Woodfin watershed, protected by committed people who lived near-by and took a stand. 

If you live in the North and know your watershed, call its name.

One more turn and here, we find ourselves in the center. 

I invite you now to take a deep breath.  Accept the gift of oxygen from our plant companions here on Earth.  And know that your out-breath is a gift in return. 

For most of our history, people were a blessing to this planet.  We helped increase bio-diversity.  We knew ourselves as part of the community of the Earth.  I invite you to know yourself that way now – connected and significant.

It does us no good to think of ourselves as a plague and a parasite here on our home.  How would your life be different if you thought of yourself as a blessing and a gift to the land, the water, the air, your neighbors?

There is severe damage, indeed.  At the same time, great forces of love, healing and hope are growing in the world.  We now have more people than ever aware of our impacts.  We now have technologies and practices that, should we actually use them, allow us to live lightly on the earth in comfort and security.  We have knowledge and wisdom, if we choose to apply them, about how to provide for our needs in way that respects and enhances the balance of life.  And we have a growing global and local community of people committed to gracefully transitioning to a balanced way of living.

So I invite you, as we open our Water Sabbath to pause in appreciation for all those who are moved in their lives to heal and protect the Earth in small ways and large.  Gratitude for the composters, the gardeners, the breeders of worms and mushrooms, the soil-builders, those who cleanse the waters and purify the air, all those who clean up the messes others have left behind.  Gratitude for those who defend the forests and those who plant trees.  Gratitude for those who heal the grasslands and restore the streams and the fisheries, who guard the healing herbs and who know the lore of wild plants.  Gratitude for those who heal the cities and restore community and creativity and love.  Gratitude and blessings to all who stand against greed, who risk themselves, to those who have bled and been wounded and to those who have given their lives in service to the Coming Generations on Earth.

May all the healers find their own healing.  May we all have the help, the courage, the luck and the love we need to do the amazing work that lies before us.  May we be in the right place at the right time in the right way to move us all forward to a future that is beautiful, fun, peaceful and healthy for every child, of every species everywhere for all time.

And so it is.  Blessed Be.

From my heart,

Michelle

Michelle K. Smith is the Founder and Lead Celebrant at Asheville Celebrant, offering personal ceremonies for life’s Big Moments.

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Michelle Smith is the founder of Asheville Celebrant. She is an ordained Inter-Faith Minister &  Life-Cycle Celebrant who helps people experience deeper, more meaningful connections in their families and communities. Whether helping people create personal ceremonies for life’s Big Moments or leading public ceremonies that build community, Michelle honors all philosophies, beliefs and traditions–religious, secular, spiritual, inter-faith and multi-cultural. To explore the possibilities for honoring your own life’s Big Moments email Michelle at ashevillecelebrant(at)gmail.com to set up a no-obligation Explore the Possibilities call.
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Spring Break

Faith in Asheville is on Spring Break this week.  I spent this past rainy Sunday in the Temple of Holy Rest — my own home with my sweet-heart and my dogs.

I have posted the links to the faith communities that I’ve visited so far on the blog roll of this site.  So if you look to the left you’ll see lots of new links that you can easily explore for yourself.

Faith in Asheville will return with upcoming visits to Beth Isreal, the Islamic Center, the Church of Christ Scientist, the First Congregational United Church of Christ, several different Buddhist and meditation centers, the Light Center and more.

My best,

Michelle

Michelle Smith, Interfaith Minister and Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant

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An Irish Stew of Spiritual Nourishment at Unity Center

Tears and laughter, sincerity and irony, a call to stillness and a call to service — worship at Unity Center delivers rich spiritual nourishment like a warm bowl of savory stew — make that Irish stew in this instance.  St. Patrick’s Day Sunday is observed at Unity Center in its full Irish-American glory.

"Enter to Celebrate" reads the sign. And "Exit to Serve" reads the other side.

I’ve visited Unity Center a couple of times before and it is always worth the drive out to Mills River.  This Sunday my friend and fellow Life-Cycle Celebrant, Cindy Reed and I made the trip together for the early service.

The first clue to the St. Patrick’s Day theme for worship was the Rev. Chad O’Shea’s ministerial attire — a kelly green leprechaun t-shirt.  Rev. Chad has been compared to a combination of George Carlin and Ram Dass and his services are a spiritually powerful mixture humor and wisdom.

The Unity Center band were also arrayed in beautiful shades of emerald and all I could think was “oh, heavens, I’m so glad I brought my hanky ’cause they’re gonna sing Danny Boy and I’m gonna cry like I do every time I hear it”.   If you are one of those hard-hearted cynics who doesn’t appreciate the unapologetic pathos of this classic Irish song and doesn’t want to then just stop reading right now because  I have a few versions included in this post that will convert you.

Indeed, music is a highlight of the Unity Center worship service and a great portion of the service is dedicated to it.  Lytingale, the Minister of Music for this lucky congregation, is an extremely accomplished musician, song-writer and singer.  She  directs the Unitic Band with her clear soprano voice and her amazing virtuoso playing of piano and organ.

Here’s the Unitic Band performing “Carnaval” in honor of Mardi Gras.   I believe that is the wonderful Ozzie Orengo on violin.

Rev. Chad welcomed us all in his warm, casual style and shared the funny Irish story of Muldune asking the parish priest if he would say a mass for his dog who had died.  The priest said no, he couldn’t say mass in the church for an animal “but there’s a Unity congregation down the hill there.  They’ll do anything”.   Muldune thanked the priest for his advice and then asked whether he thought they’d accept the $5000 donation he wanted to give them for helping him remember and pray for his faithful companion.  “Oh”, replied the priest, “ye didn’t tell me your dog was Catholic!”.

After this introduction to the services he led us in a short centering mediation and then began introducing the songs for the day’s worship.  All the classic Irish tunes were on parade:  “My Wild Irish Rose”, “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”, “Tura-lu-ra-lu-ra the Irish Lullaby”  As we sang together Chad would come down to the  congregation for some spontaneous greeting of visitors and hugging of friends who’d been away.

They even played that favorite old jig, the Irish Washerwoman.   Dancing a little jig himself, Rev. Chad made his way over to where Cindy and I were seated and held out his hands to me.   I grinned up at him and said quietly, “I’ll dance with you.”  And sure enough he gamely took my hands and we danced through a few rounds of the song as the tempo increased!    He didn’t know when he approached me that I love to dance and will take almost any opportunity — even Sunday morning worship!

You’ll know the song as soon as you hear a few bars.

And here’s the Riverdance Grand Finale to the same song.  We were dancing just like this, I swear!

After these fun songs, the band led us into a quieter mood with the beautiful folk song Wild Mountain Thyme.  I come to worship ready to be  moved emotionally so this beautiful song opened my heart easily.

Here is a lovely a capella version of Wild Mountain Thyme sung by Judy Collins and Pete Seeger in 1966

And finally, Lytingale’s achingly beautiful rendition of Danny Boy.   The meaning of this song is usually taken to be a message from a parent to a son leaving as part of the Irish diaspora.  When I hear it I think of all those children who left Ireland during the famines and persecutions never expecting to see their families ever again.

Eva Cassidy’s beautiful and emotionally powerful version Danny Boy captures the feeling perfectly.

But The Muppets version of Danny Boy really should not be missed.

From this sweetly sad feeling Rev. Chad led us seamlessly into a meditation that opened my heart even more until I felt the presence of the Spirit of Love and Peace fill and surround me. He followed the mediation with offerings of gratitude and a string of Irish Blessings delivered with such warmth and sincerity that removed any tattered sentimentality from the words and revealed the tender gifts at the heart of the familiar words.

Rev. Chad is a gifted leader of worship.  He’s been the minister of Unity Center since 1983 and served in ministry for many years before that.   He leads the congregation in meditations that bring me to an beautiful awareness of the presence of Spirit in my own heart and then allows me to send that loving presence out to the world.  He tells wonderful stories that move and uplift.  He invites us all to remember our connection to All That Is through prayer and loving action.

I’ll let his own style of leading service speak for itself.  Unity Center has lots of services and performances on YouTube.  I encourage you to enjoy them.

Visitors to Unity Center receive an especially warm welcome.  Cindy and I both were presented with a small flower and a packet of literature including a letter from Rev. Chad,  a brochure about Unity as a religion and a copy of their excellent quarterly newsletter, Unity News and Views.

At the heart of Unity religion reads the brochure is “a positive faith in universal principals rather than doctrines.”  Unity is a “form of Christianity” centered on “a belief in the healing power of affirmative prayer”.  “In addition to the teachings of Jesus Christ, we embrace the the Universal Truths which were taught by all the conscious master teachers who have walked the earth”.

The central message at Unity Center is consistently one of Love, Peace and our unbreakable connection to Mother/Father/God, the Spirit of Life.

One of my favorite things about Unity Center is that it has a Labyrinth!  A guided Labyrinth walk is being offered next Wednesday, March 30 by Sam Richardson who has designed Labyrinth’s all over the country.

There are a ton of spiritual events and classes held regularly at Unity Center from healing workshops to feeding the hungry to concerts.   Their website is vibrant with writings, audio, and information about Unity.

Go ahead and make the drive to South Asheville and experience the many spiritual gifts this faith community has to offer.  And if you’re coming from downtown Asheville, shoot me an email.  I’ll be glad to ride along.

Unity Center is an inspired community joyfully practicing Universal peace, love and acceptance located 5 minutes from the Asheville airport and I-26 at 2041 Old Fanning Bridge Road, Mills River, NC 28750.   Sunday Celebration services are held at 9:30 and 11:00 am.

My best,

Michelle

Michelle Smith, Interfaith Minister and Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant

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A Meeting of Friends

The Religious Society of Friends

March 6, 2011

This Sunday I visited the The Asheville Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers.  I’ve long been curious and attracted to the Friends because of their commitment to peace and justice and their deep influence on American culture since colonization.  Their practice of Silent Worship and Vocal Ministry seemed at once plain and mysterious.

Part way through my first visit I thought this post was going to be pretty short.  It didn’t seem like much was “happening”. Before it was over I thought I might have to write a two-part series.

This is “no frills” worship — worship pared down to its essential elements.  Though I’d heard and read that Meetings of Friends consisted of silent worship until someone felt moved to speak, I did not imagine how much this faith practice called forth from those who practice it.

I left with a deep appreciation for the power of this simplest of spiritual practices to not only sustain and grow a faith tradition for three centuries but also to influence the values and culture of a nation over that time.  I began to understand how this faith instilled the kind of emotional strength and ethical fortitude that allowed individuals to defy that same nation when it’s leaders and citizens attempted to force them to compromise their ethics.

The service is highly informal.  The Friends don’t have clergy —  everyone is considered to be a minister and have a ministry.

Though most of the congregation arrives just before 10am for Silent Worship, the Meeting for First Day (Sunday) begins at 9:30am with Singing.  There is no piano or other instrumental accompaniment to the Singing.  A lady named Kitti who led us in singing informed those gathered that any of us were welcome to suggest a song.

We sang a few selections together from the “Quaker hymnal” (I am sure that is not the correct title)  and then, as I was casually glancing through the hymnal a title caught my attention.  The first few lines appealed to me and I suggested we sing that one.  As it happens the song I’d turned to was from a patriotic poem called Finlandia.  It’s called “A Song for Peace” also known as “This is My Song“.

Before we completed the first verse my voice was choked with tears and my heart was full of tenderness for the people of Japan in particular.

You can hear the always-resplendent Joan Baez sing it here.

And here’s another beautiful version.

And just for giggles here’s Guns n’ Roses live instrumental version.

Worship

Singing came to a close and Barbara stood to lead the Transition to Worship.  She welcomed new visitors and Friends who’ve been away for a while and asked us to stand and introduce ourselves.

My fellow visitors included a grandmother who was invited by her grandson and a lady who had just returned from a trip to Kenya with the international Christians in Conservation organization, A Rocha where she’d helped protect endangered forests, estuaries and tidal flats, and train students in sustainable agriculture methods.

Here’s a photograph from the A Rocha Kenya web pages.

Visitors helping with bird ringing on the beach at Mwamba

Mealtime at Mwamba Field Study Center

After a few more announcements Worship began.   The Asheville Friends is an “unprogrammed meeting”.  

Unprogrammed worship is the more traditional style of worship among Friends and remains the norm in Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and parts of the United States and Canada. During an unprogrammed meeting for worship, Friends gather together in “expectant waiting” for divine leadings. Sometimes a meeting is entirely silent, sometimes quite a few people speak. Meeting for Worship generally lasts about an hour.

I have a daily meditation practice (well, mostly daily) and this morning I’d forgone my normal half-hour of “sit-still-and-do-nothing”, thinking that I’d just do my meditation with the Friends.

Eventually in that hour I did receive a few moments of spaciousness stillness though for most of the hour my mind remained restless and noisy.   Nevertheless, I began to get a sense  of the power of shared silent worship.  As it turned out, on this morning the worship was entirely silent.  No one rose to give Vocal Ministry.

At the end of Worship Barbara invited us to shake hands with our neighbors and greet them.   Then we were invited to share any Joys or Sorrows “that they may be held in the Light” by the Friends gathered there.  Finally we were invited to stay for refreshments and fellowship after Rise (the close of Worship).

I’d recognized a few familiar faces among the congregation including a couple of women I knew who’d come down from Ashe County and Facebook Friend I hadn’t met in person yet.  My Facebook Friend encouraged me to stay for the Adult Enrichment portion of the Meeting which would follow the refreshments explaining that this sharing and dialogue time served as the “sermon” of sorts.   He informed me that the topic of this week’s dialogue was “Worship” and that while Worship was sometimes completely silent as this one had been, most of the time at least a few people were led by Spirit to speak.  He felt sure that staying for the dialogue would help me understand this faith better so I decided I would accept the invitation.

I am so glad I did. The dialogue that followed awakened my perception of this faith tradition as one of vigorous practice of Presence and mindfulness.

First we received from the one of the facilitators a little piece of paper with the “unwritten rules” of Worship among the Friends, which I’m sure will be helpful to others who are thinking of visiting.  Here they are:

  • Be on time (before 10:00 am or at 10:00am)
  • Wait to enter the worship space if someone is giving vocal ministry
  • Stand up to give vocal ministry if you are able to do so.
  • Leave space and time for reflection and deepening of the message after vocal ministry, take inspiration from it and discern whether you are led to give another message.
  • Speak only once during a  meeting for worship.
  • Honor the messages of others even if the message doesn’t speak to you.

The dialogue began with insights on “Preparation for Worship during the week”.  In order to make ourselves ready to receive any messages from Spirit on First Day, we benefit from practicing that readiness throughout the week.

One of the most distinctive principals of this faith is that Vocal Ministry does not arrive “where and  when we will, but where and when we are moved thereunto by the stirring and secret inspiration of the Spirit of God in our hearts”.  The Light may call us at any moment to be bless another with a message or to stand in witness to someone’s struggle.  Without a consistent practice of quieting the inner noisiness and listening we can easily miss or dismiss such “stirrings and secret inspirations”.

Next, Kitti, who had led us in the Singing, offered her thoughts on “First Day Morning Preparation”.  Not surprisingly, she uses singing to prepare herself for the First Day Worship.

“Aha!”, I thought to myself, “perhaps this is the why I had such a hard time settling my busy mind during Worship.”   Instead of sitting for my normal meditation, I’d decided to let this service be a short-cut, as I had done on many Sunday mornings I had to admit.

I had to smile at the subtle but profound blessing of this insight.  My tricky old Ego Mind looks for any excuse for me not to meditate.  “You’re going to an hour long meditation.  You don’t need your personal practice today”.  Very clever.   How might my attendance at worship services be enriched by preparing my mind and spirit beforehand with personal meditation?  We shall see.

Then Barbara opened a dialogue about “Centering During Worship” with the questions she’d asked herself while preparing for the service.  “What is centering during worship?”  By making ourselves “permeable to the Light by yielding ourselves up to it” answered a beautiful quote she shared from potter and poet M.C. Richards’ book Centering.  “As I open myself to the presence that faces me, it enters me.  It is union. It is communion.” (Richards taught at Black Mountain College in the 1940’s, by the way).

Barbara went n to ask “Why do it?”, “Where can it lead?” and “Will it always be attainable?”

Here are the answers I received: “Because it stays with us during the week, available when we need it”; “It can lead to spiritual poise and peace of mind”; and “Spirit responds to our faith in it and our patient practice” .

Centering alone gives rise to Vocal Ministry, the “divine leadings” that are shared in Worship . A woman in the group reflected that something she loved about the Quaker tradition is that “it’s all on us.  You bring yourself and that’s all.  Other bring themselves.  Whether worship is flat or deep it’s all ours”.

Finally, Katherine brought us to dialogue on Vocal Ministry itself.  She felt adamantly that Vocal Ministry could not be separated from the practice of listening. “The soul is a shy animal”, she said.  We listen “not to critique, argue or refute, but to hear at the most profound level what is on one another’s hearts.”

Katherine asked the group, “How then do people make the decision to offer Vocal Ministry?”  I heard responses like “unless I  am practically shaking, feeling charged”, “when my heart is pounding and my skin is tingling”, “if I’m moved to tears but then I ask, ‘is this for me or the meeting?”  The early Quakers got their name because their powerful vocal ministries made their bodies literally quake.  These Friends sounded committed to waiting for similarly unmistakable clarity.

How quickly would peace be at hand in our lives if we committed ourselves daily to practicing this kind of deep listening?  What if we were committed to speaking only when we’d challenged ourselves to a disciplined restraint from voicing our opinions and positions and critiques?  What if we were committed only to speaking when we were sure the Light was speaking through us?

I heard from these Friends the expression of a faith that demands this very vigor and discipline.  This is the discipline of Presence, Mindfulness, Connection, Listening and Courage.  A practice like this is revolutionary and evolutionary.  With a practice like this one is able stand firm in one’s ethics.  With practice like this we can face the challenges of our time.  We can solve our problems on a level higher than the level at which they were created.

Asheville’s Relgious Society of Friends meet at 227 Edgewood Road near UNC-Asheville.  Singing begins at 9:30 and Worship begins at 10:00am.

My best,

Michelle

Michelle Smith, Interfaith Minister and Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant

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The Perennial Wisdom of New Thought

Center for Spiritual Living

February 27, 2011

Sunday Celebrations at the Center for Spiritual Living Asheville have a similar structure and pace to most churches I’ve visited.  The content of these services, however, quickly reveals that the people of this faith community intend literally to think and to live their lives in a very different way than most of us were brought up to do.

I make extra effort to be on time for Sunday Celebrations here because they begin services with a marvelous ritual called Bells and Bowls.  In the sanctuary there are several large quartz crystal singing bowls on stands.   I believe there are actually seven bowls, each corresponding to a note on the musical scale and one of the seven chakras, or energy centers of the body.

A member of the congregation stands at each one.  Each bowl is rung in turn for 4 rounds and after the fourth ring the mallet is moved around the top edge of the bowl until it “sings”.  The sound vibration from these bowls feels like pure celestial energy  and I seem to feel the very cells of my body to vibrate in tune with the ringing.  Finally, the ringing of small Tibetan bells in each of the four directions adds another layer of sound vibration and I feel my consciousness relax into a state of calm presence.

With that the Celebration begins and one of the two spiritual leaders of the Center, Barbara and John Waterhouse,  gives an Opening Treatment,  a form of affirmative prayer that serves as the basis of spiritual practice in this faith.

According to their website “The Center for Spiritual Living Asheville teaches the Science of Mind philosophy originated by Dr. Ernest Holmes as a way of living fully and richly, regardless of outside conditions.”  I’ve started reading Dr. Holmes’ seminal text The Science of Mind: a Philosophy, a Faith, a Way of Life and I find the work inspiring and comforting.

Dr. Holmes recognizes that the philosophy is not original to him in particular.  He has however been one of the 2oth century’s most influential articulators of what is sometimes called the Perennial Wisdom.

Science of Mind, also called New Thought, philosophy claims unabashedly that we are not separate from First Cause, Spirit, Original Creative Power or that which most people call God.   “We shall never encompass God,” writes Dr. Holmes, “and yet we shall always be in God and of God!”

Celebrations at the Center for Spiritual Living, Asheville teach and affirm this philosophy through song, affirmation, prayer (which here is called “treatment”) and The Message, which is delivered by either Barbara or John.

The Waterhouse’s take turns leading services and both are fine speakers who simply glow with love, passion and faith.    There is a band instead of a choir and some of Asheville’s notable musicians can often be heard at these Sunday Celebrations.

I’ve enjoyed Richard Schulman’s keyboards on several occasions.  This Sunday singer-song writer, Chris O’Neill, played a sweet slide guitar alongside a gentleman on harmonica and several more musicians and singers.   The songs reflect the same Science of Mind message:  God is Love. God is All There Is. We are part of God.  God is within us and within everything.  We are Loved. We are Free.

The question becomes, “If I truly accepted this message and lived it, how would my life be different every day? Every moment?”

Mid-way through the service a member took the microphone to tell a personal story of transformation since she began attending services at CFSL, Asheville.   While scuba diving in the Caribbean she had experienced a life-threatening inner ear disorder that resulted in her being hospitalized and treated with doses of pure oxygen for several days.  She revealed how her spiritual practice and faith that the power of God was absolutely available to her had supported her as she healed herself to full recovery.

This morning’s message on the theme “One” synchronized perfectly with the woman’s story of healing.   Barbara delivered the message  with infectious enthusiasm.   The Oneness of all Creation with the Creator, Barbara reminded us, is at the mystical core of all spiritual traditions.    Oneness, she claimed, as opposed to Duality, which she humorously referred to as “Two-ness”, is the great Truth of who and what we are.

However, she acknowledged, it is difficult for us to wrap our minds around this idea of Oneness when Two-ness appears to exist all around us.  This is particularly true when the current circumstances and conditions are not what we want them to be.  We begin to try to “fix” these circumstances and conditions as if, once they are fixed, then we can be happy, content and peaceful.

I do this all the time.  My mind is always “futuring”, especially when I’m in grip of my old habit of anxiety.  What am I going to do to fix it – whatever “it” is?  I confess, I brought that old habit into the service with me this Sunday morning.  An injury in my family, a tragic death in our community, my Representative once again casting his vote with the other side of the aisle in Congress, the Economy, my economy, mulch to be moved in the garden, work to be done at my desk – the circumstances and conditions that were not to my liking were arranged all around me as I sat in my seat at 2 Science of Mind Way.

Barbara reminded us that Science of Mind invites us to re-train ourselves to be “always conscious”, as Dr. Holmes writes, “that we live in a spiritual Universe; that God is in, through, around and for us”.  Since there is only Oneness, we must be One with God already.   This must mean then that God is not withholding our Good from us.  We need not worry about how to fix conditions and circumstances that are not as we want them.  We need not “go to war with the condition” as Barbara put it.  Rather we can ask “What am I begin given in this moment?  What is calling me to be more of who I am in this circumstance? “

For me, in moments like these, I believe I am being called to Trust.  Dr. Holmes writes that “There is a Power in the Universe that honors our faith in It”.   I’ve asked Spirit to guide me.  So let Spirit guide me.  I’m asked in return simply to know that I cannot be separate from God.   I’m asked only to bring myself back to the Peace that is available in this moment.   As I’m sure you can imagine, this requires practice.

That’s why I love CFSL, Asheville.  I’m still taking baby steps in my spiritual evolution.   These Sunday Celebrations immerse me in the practice of remembering that God is All That Is and that includes me — and my mulch.

Center for Spiritual Living, Asheville holds Sunday Celebrations at 9:30 and 11:00 at 2 Science of Mind Way off of Sandhill Road in West Asheville.   They also host a multitude of spiritual classes and workshops as well as Spiritual Cinema every first Friday at 7pm.

My best,

Michelle

Michelle Smith, Minister and Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant

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Faith flows from Asheville to Bolivia and Back

I didn’t attend any services in Asheville this week.  The sad loss of an old and beloved friend required that I make a trip to GA instead.

Even so, Grace provides and I am able to share with you a wonderful story of faith that springs from the center of Asheville and flows south all the way to Bolivia.

Carrie Brown grew up in church.  Her father, Rev. Rob Blackburn is the pastor at Asheville’s Central United Methodist Church.  She’s married to Gavin.

Gavin and Carrie Brown

Both under 30, Carrie and Gavin founded the Kory Wawanaca Children’s Home for orphans at the foot of Mt. Illimani in the village of Tacachia.

Carrie and Gavin have lived full time in Bolivia and worked tirelessly to construct a home that provides a safe and loving environment for abused and abandoned children in  Bolivia.   The home started in Tacachia with a handful of children and has now expanded to a second location in La Paz with over 20 children being provided a new chance at life.

The home grows much of it’s own food on its own small farm, but the main thing that is growing there is family, community, security and love for these children, each one a Light.

 

 

 
This short video contains one of the most moving instances of community ceremony I’ve ever witnessed.  With the simplest of shared gestures this community dedicated their efforts to their highest vision of Love.  The presence and power of Spirit can be felt even on video.

Last Thursday, On Feb. 17, a group left Asheville with Carrie and Gavin to travel to Tacachia to spend some weeks volunteering at the Kory Wawanaca Home.

Marty Lewis of WNC’s popular band Sons of Ralph will be on this journey to share his music and labor along with Jay Coble, best known for his gorgeous portraits, who will document their journey in images.

I’ll be following this journey of faith in Asheville traveling abroad on their blog at www.kwchildren.org and also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kwchildren.  If you’re inspired then please do share their story with your community.

My best,

Michelle

Michelle Smith, Minister and Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant

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Dance, Dance Revelation!

For years I’ve heard friends around Asheville talk about “Sweat Your Prayers” and how much they loved it.  Some were quite devoted to attending these community dances.  It sounded fun—I do love to dance—but I’d never made a point to go.

So last week when two separate acquaintances mentioned Asheville Movement Collective’s Sunday morning dance “waves” as an important part of their spiritual practice AND revealed to me that they take place in the River Arts District just a short distance from my house, I decided that this Sunday’s Faith In Asheville visit would be the perfect time to give it try.

Friends, it was a revelation!  I’ve danced a million times at clubs, at festivals, at concerts.  Though I’d often let the music carry me to a state of trance, I couldn’t call it meditation exactly.  I can’t believe I’ve been missing something so enriching, affirming and healing all this time!

The Asheville Movement Collective doesn’t actually mention “Sweat Your Prayers” specifically on their website.  A quick search revealed that the term comes from a book of that title by urban shaman, recording artist, author and teacher Gabrielle Roth.

Waves are community dances as moving meditations.  According to the AMC home page “We practice the dance wave as a spiritual experience, and acknowledge that this links us to our individual and collective healing and creates community. We gather and dance with authenticity, personal responsibility, and sensitivity to others.”

the dance space at Studio 11

As I entered the Studio 11 Dance Temple early Sunday morning the music was already playing.  I peeled of my coat, kicked off my shoes and read the Guidelines I saw posted prominently at the entrance.

A young woman asked me to sign in at the table where I also saw a jar for collecting the $5 donation to dance.  She gave me a friendly welcome and informed me that my first AMC dance was free of charge.

Studio 11 is housed at 11 Richmond Avenue in a former church on hill overlooking a still industrial section of the River.  The pews have been removed revealing an expansive dark wooden dance floor, swept clean and dappled with light from the tall windows.  At one end of the stage someone had arranged a simple altar with a large mirror and three pillar candles.

Feeling a little self-conscious I made my way onto the floor and began move through a few yoga stretches to warm up and quiet my thoughts.  I recognized a couple of friends in attendance and we hugged but didn’t speak much.

After a while someone turned the music down and the facilitator for this Wave, whose name I later learned is Cassie, brought a candle onto the dance floor.  Everyone moved into a circle to listen.  She reviewed the Guidelines and pointed out the bathrooms for new comers.

Cassie

Next Cassidy revealed to us the intentions she’d held while creating the music mix for this dance.  Since this Sunday was February 13, the day before Valentine’s Day, she told us she’d created this mix while pondering the contracting and expanding energies of Love and the remembrance that ultimately we can only love another when we have deep love for ourselves.  With that she rose to start the music and the dancing began.

The mix of music began with slow, flowing rhythms.  I continued to breathe, gently swaying my body, allowing my feet to take a few tenuous steps.   I watched my fellow dancers and saw that there was no judgment in this space, just people meditating through the movement of their own bodies.  My mind quieted a little more, my breath deepened and I began to move more deeply into my own meditation.

As the beat of the music became more dynamic our dance increased in heat and energy as well.  I let myself move in ways I never would on a club dance floor or in a crowd at a concert.  I witnessed people of all ages moving their bodies according to their own Inner Guidance.

Unintentionally my arms crossed themselves in front of my body and I felt my hands touch my arms in a gesture of embrace.  Tears began to stream down my face as my heart filled with a great tenderness.  My hands moved down my arms to find each other and for a long time I simply held my own hands as a wept and swayed.  I felt how acutely absent this sense of gentle support for myself had been till this moment.  Then the image of a family member who is struggling appeared in my mind.   He stood before me and a opened my hands, extending this deep tenderness toward him.  One by one my closest family and friends appeared all standing in a circle around me.  I shared the gentleness with each of them as tears flowed down my face.  My heart was broken open acceptance and love for each of them exactly as they are.  And as I gave, I received.

After a while the tears slowed along with the music.  Some people became still, seated in postures of meditation, while others continued to dance.  Finally, the wave ended and we returned to the circle.

Cassidy invited people to share their experience of this dance.  After a few other people had spoken I described the experience I’ve just written here.  I observed how it seemed that with all my attention taken up with protecting and saving and helping, I’d somehow overlooked the power of simple tenderness toward others and myself.  I expressed gratitude to this community for a spiritual awakening that I know will give more power to whatever service I may offer than any amount of striving can ever give.   Even now that gentle feeling remains, soothing my spirit as I encounter others and myself each day.

AMC dance waves are held Sunday mornings at Studio 11 and Friday nights at Terpsicorp Studio in the Wedge Building in the River Arts District. (Directions below).

Sundays:

1st/Early Wave: 8:30 am warmup, 9 am circle opens

Doors close at 9am sharp until the end of the dance (latecomers are not allowed at the early wave in order to preserve the intimacy and safety of the dance) Dance ends by 10:30 am


2nd Wave: 10:30 am warmup, 11 am circle opens

At 11 doors close for the opening circle. At this time the dance leader will explain the guidelines, open the circle, and the dance begins. Once the music begins doors open once more. So you can be late, but you are strongly encouraged to make it for the opening circle! Dances are generally finished by 12:30pm.  Free childcare is provided during the second wave on Sundays (and attended children are welcome in the dance as well).

Fridays:

7:00 pm warmup, 7:30 dance begins

My best,

Michelle

Michelle Smith, Minister and Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant

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