#10 of the 52 things that I learned during the 52 Things I Learned During 52 Weeks of Worship was: “Google First and Then Go.” #47 was: “There is a Catholic mass starting or ending all the time, somewhere, nearby.”
Both were inspirations for my pick for Week 1 of My 52 Weeks of Worship – The Brooklyn (BK) edition. The day before I had done something I rarely have been able to do since I moved to New York: totally unplug from work and whatever responsibilities I might be contemplating at the time, and just let the day take me where it was going to take me. I started by attending the beautiful wedding of a close girlfriend of mine (their vows made me cry!), under the Brooklyn Bridge. Then a day-party-of-a-reception at an art gallery nearby, with exquisite food, drinks, and excellent company. I joined some girlfriends at a pop-up white party at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, where Run DMC performed to my delight (hip hop is one of my great loves), met some interesting new people, ate well (see a theme here?), and just chilled. Afterwards, I ended up at a birthday party at a lounge in Manhattan. Let’s just say that by the time I got back home to Brooklyn and fell into bed, it was late (or early, depending on how you look at it) and I was already rethinking the promise I had made to myself to make it to a place of worship in the morning.
But I did. I knew that once I got moving, I would be glad I did. I googled around, contemplated how it might make sense to aim for an hour-long mass, rather than, say, an all-day revival, and so, I found one, located The Cathedral Basilica of Saint James in downtown Brooklyn. It was a fifteen-minute walk away, which was perfect since I waited until the last minute to leave. I got myself together, googled again for directions, then headed out the door.
The routine was familiar. I walked in, and immediately connected with someone kind and helpful who first directed me to the ladies’ room, then to the sanctuary. I told her I was a first-time visitor and she gave me the 411 on the service – it would last just over 1 hour, today was confirmation Sunday, there would be a reception after. Perfect.
I walked upstairs, entered the stunningly beautiful sanctuary, and made myself comfortable.
Once the service started, I felt that familiar feeling that this was something that mattered. It has been seven years since My First 52 Weeks of Worship, but still, the joy was familiar, and the sense of anticipation and purpose welcome. Although I had never been to this place of worship, I was home.
It was in fact, confirmation Sunday (the first one I have ever attended!) and the message to the young people who were confirmed also confirmed for me that my choice was a good one– this reviving of My52WOW in such an intentional way, and in my new home, Brooklyn. The message focused on the word “inspiration” – reminding us that the word comes from the Latin “in” (from PIE root *en “in”) + spirare “to breathe.”
Inspired was exactly how I felt. This iteration of my project will allow me to reconnect in a much-needed way with my passion project – one that provided an anchor for me during a difficult time in my life, and one that has taught me many things over the years. I expect that I will learn many new things, not only about my new home, but about the me I am now. I’m ready for all of it.
The homily’s message, which focused on the true meaning of the word ‘inspiration,’ was simple but clear:
How important it is to be able to breathe.
Remember to breathe.
We need breath.
Breath is life.
Although I am approaching the second anniversary of my move to New York from Chicago (where I lived for over half of my life), I am still adjusting to life here. I often must remind myself that there is a reason why I came here, and a reason why I should stay. And as I, like all of us, try to balance work, life, friends, family, health, fun, trying to help others, and whatever other concerns and responsibilities we may have, sometimes things get overwhelming and I must remind myself simply to breathe. As my sister, who is a doctor, has said to me in the past: “It’s physician-recommended.”
I left The Cathedral Basilica of Saint James feeling hopeful and reinvigorated and left to meet a girlfriend and her beautiful baby girl for brunch in Bed-Stuy.
All week I thought, “Where to in Week 2…”
And it came to me during what ended up being a hectic week. Long hours at work, travel to Boston and back for a conference on authentic leadership. Terrible rainy cold weather (isn’t it June?), delayed flights, and a moment of clarity which helped me determine where I would visit in week 2.
Again, two lessons from the 52 Things I Learned During 52 Weeks of Worship inspired me:
#43 Sometimes, its nice just to be quiet, and listen, and
#33. Being able to walk to church is nice.
To be completely transparent, I know that one of the things that the BK version of this project will do is allow me to get to know Brooklyn better. I haven’t really done a good job of getting to know it so far. In walking to The Basilica last week, I was amazed that I had literally driven by the street on which it stood countless times, as it is located very close to the entry to the Brooklyn Bridge. So, I knew this week, I would also walk to wherever I was going. (This may not seem like a big deal, but I am not a big fan of subways, so on the weekends I try not to have to use them. I also love driving, but sometimes it is more trouble than it is worth when I am in the city.)
And, I needed some quiet time.
In week 23 of The First 52 Weeks, while visiting a large African American Church on the South Side of Chicago, I observed:
“As this journey continued, I found myself drawn to quieter, more contemplative services. I wondered if this was a transition in my worship style. I still appreciated a loud Black church service, but my soul was fed in a different way when the volume of the service wasn’t so high. I wondered what that meant for what I might choose after this journey is over. I may be done with loud church…or maybe my spirit just needed more silent contemplation and meditation as I rode through this healing portion of my life and into whatever is coming next.” – My 52 Weeks of Worship: Lessons from A Global, Spiritual, Interfaith Journey
Despite that question from 7 years ago, fact is: I can still appreciate a long, loud, Black church service, but not this week. I needed quiet. Contemplation. Meditation. So, I decided to take a page out of Week 39 of My First 52 Weeks and visit a Quaker Meeting House. Turns out the was one, walking distance away, in downtown Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Hurray!
There were gifts on the way over. First, I located entries to subway lines I had only wondered about before (Oh is that where Hoyt Schermerhorn is?!). I saw Ballet Brooklyn , and located a Goodwill where I can donate all the things that I brought to New York from Chicago that no longer fit in my downsized living area (so excited about yanking all the crap out of corners and closets and just giving it away! Hurray!) I found a Barnes and Noble that I will have to go back and visit (I love coffee shops and bookstores.) The walk alone was lovely.
I was greeted at the door of the meeting house by a delightful woman who again, gave me the 411 on how the service would go (1 hour, silent meditation, speak if you feel so moved.) It was much like my visit to the 57th Street Meeting of Friends in Chicago, except that there were more people and after about half an hour of much needed quiet meditation and contemplation about 4 people spoke out periodically through the last half of the service. Everything that was said held a nugget of wisdom for me to tuck away, and as per usual, at least one made me smile, and made me think of the lessons my father shared with me about his perspective on religion as I formulated my own.
“I remember asking my father about heaven,” said one man, referring to “a place in the clouds and in the sky as many of us may have been taught.” His father, in sharing his thoughts about heaven said, “I don’t know if there is a heaven son, but I figure if there is one, then we should spend our lives practicing creating heaven on earth so we know what to do when we get there, and if there isn’t one, we should spend our lives creating heaven on earth since this is the only time we will have to experience heaven.”
I share a similar exchange in my book, albeit with a different answer to a child’s question of her father:
“I was reminded of a time, many years ago, when my father was visiting me in Chicago. I’d just finished reading Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch, and was questioning some core beliefs I had.
The sun was shining brightly as I drove down Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive on that day. Lake Michigan was a bright, deep blue. I asked my father some very basic questions about his Christian faith.
“Dad, if you call yourself a Christian,” I said, “there are some very specific beliefs that you should have. Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, and that everyone who doesn’t go through him goes to hell?”
He, in his typical fashion, replied by asking rhetorical questions about different stories in the Bible. Was the burning bush really burning? When Jesus went to the top of the mountain, was it a literal or figurative mountain? And so on.
I knew my father well and appreciated the opportunity to talk to him about spirituality and philosophy, but on that day, I wanted a specific answer.
“I know, I know, Dad,” I said, but I didn’t let him off the hook.
I tried to pin him down to have him say that he believed that Jesus Christ was the only way, but he kept dodging and weaving with philosophical and rhetorical flourishes.
I smile now, knowing that he was giving me a huge gift—the gift of the freedom to search for my own truth. To follow his footsteps and worship within a Christian context, but to also have my own religious experiences, explore my own spiritual connections, and decide what I thought and believed based on those experiences and connections.” – My 52 Weeks of Worship: Lessons from A Global, Spiritual, Interfaith Journey
The Brooklyn Quaker service ended with a beautiful sharing of joys and sorrows and request to “hold people in the light” – which reminded me of the “Prayers of the People” that takes place in many worship communities, which I love so much. I asked the congregation to pray for a friend of mine who is recovering from surgery, and they all waved their hands in agreement even though they had never seen me before. The love that is shared, and the kindness of strangers – sometimes it is good to know it exists, to see it exists. I felt it deeply here.
I didn’t expect so soon to feel like I had found a community that I could so easily join. The energy in the meeting house was so warm and authentic; the people there seemed so nice. For the second time in My52WOW journey, a wedding announcement was made, and it appeared that everyone in the meeting house would attend. There was an invitation to a picnic at the Quaker cemetery in Prospect Park (which I still haven’t visited!). There were discussions about a group of Quakers who would participate in the Pride festivities in Manhattan next weekend (apparently Quakers have participated in Pride since the beginning). As the service wrapped up, I spoke with a delightful older man who told me that there was a member of this meeting house who had previously attended the 57th Street Meeting in Chicago. I love connections and that delighted me. I was invited to the meet and greet after service.
If you have never been to a Quaker Meeting, and you are the least bit interested, I would highly recommend it. It is such a pleasant, peaceful, contemplative experience, one that is welcoming to people of all faith traditions, or those that practice no particular faith at all. It was a wonderful choice for Week 2 of My52WOW-BK, and I look forward to the remaining weeks of this journey.