Monday, July 28, 2014

Where do you find Peace?

This is a highly personal question. I know. Where do you find peace? It's something I think about. I'm experimenting here. I had an experience last night I'd like to share.

Confession. I'm not a stickler for where to find peace. I don't judge. A few examples are: I find peace when I'm riding. I like to walk. I'm good at sitting in meditation. I'm at peace with my cat in my lap. I love being by the water.  A few moments of silence for me goes a long way. I find peace and fulfillment in a room full of yoga practitioners chanting OM. My heart opens, I stop thinking, I'm filled with joy. This may or may not be your experience. I'm opening the discussion widely.

While in Manhattan recently, I have been back to visit several Catholic churches. I was reminded how Peace lives there. Let me back up and set this in context.

I was raised in a rather strict Catholic home. My father and mother were both raised Catholic. My mother's family is Italian, authentically. To be more specific, my great grandparents were from Naples. When I was a kid, I don't recall anyone speaking English.

On my father's side, we trace the history back to the 1600s to Anjou, France (no kidding). They immigrated to Canada. My grandfather spoke only in French.

For me the influence of the Church came early. I was in mass every Sunday without fail as a child, baptized, confirmed, Sunday school, and later, I chose a Catholic College for the opportunity to be in NY to be taught by brilliant Jesuit priests, in the Bronx, at Fordham University. When my Dad died in my sophmore year in college, I turned to the Church for solace. I prayed, I cried in Fordham's lovely gothic chapel. I felt supported somehow, and knowing the teachings, the universal lessons,  saved me from going over the edge. I got married in that same chapel. The church was good for me later too, during a personal crisis of divorce, I went back to church for all the same reasons. I needed help and felt good praying for the answers.

Once ensconced in a spiritual practice based in yogic philosophy and Vedic teachings, I made my place of peace not the church, but the world at large. It's a concept I know that doesn't form fit to everyone, but for me, it's practical and beautiful all at the same time. Finding nature, finding inner solace, it's all good.

So back to Manhattan. For the last 4 months I think I've been to mass at maybe 6 different churches. All of them have been interesting in some way or another. I especially love the beauty of the structures, the art is stunning, the grandeur can take your breath away. I slowly adapted myself back into the practice of prayers, though to tell the truth, it felt awkward at first, to try to sit in rituals and recite words I had almost forgotten. It didn't matter. For me, spirit was present, God is God in all forms.

This past weekend, by chance, I ended up at Our Lady of Pomei for a 7pm mass on Sunday night. This was a strange coincidence. Here's why.
Our Lady of Pompeii has it origins in the Saint Raphael Society for the Protection of Italian Immigrants. This Society was founded to care for the many Italian immigrants of the day, who, it was feared, would fall prey to those who would exploit their labor or overcharge them in the course of their travels. In 1890, Father Pietro Bandini came to New York City to organize a branch of the Society. Father Bandini purchased a building at 113 Waverly Place, which is still standing, and began his work ministering to immigrants. He helped them negotiate the legal hurdles of migration, contact relatives in the United States, to find work. He also provided spiritual assistance at a chapel, which he named Our Lady of Pompeii.

Well that resonates so closely to my own heritage it was a little scary. But what was really great about this church was the huge sense of community. Everyone sang. People were super friendly and happy to be together. Let me take this a step further. After the mass there was a little get together....I went with a friend.

It was in the church's parish house. Most of the attendees were really young. We felt ok being the senior members. We drank home made Sangria, snacked on some really great guacamole. We met a young man. He was so excruciatingly shy, and we couldn't help but offer him refuge and someone to talk to. His name was Nathan. We were wearing name tags. He was clearly uncomfortable at first, but we broke the ice. Nathan said he had forced himself to attend the "social" as a way of meeting new people. I thought how incredibly hard it was for him and others, in a city full of millions, to put yourself out there. His shyness faded as we quizzed him about his job (a computer programmer), his upbringing (Colonial Williamsburg), his education (MIT in Cambridge) his hobbies (architectural redesigning of historic buildings in NYC for current use. WOW). This kid was brilliant. We liked him. He seemed happy to relax and talk. We made him laugh a few times telling him about our trip earlier that day to Govenor's Island where there were so many buildings that could use his expertise.

What I noticed about the church setting was that it naturally gave people permission to be themselves. It was safe. There was a built in open door policy of sorts that allowed us to attend, allowed the young people a place to be together in comfort, and I guess for Nathan, it felt like a place where he could be accepted. The yogis have a phrase, 'observation without judgement." It fit this scene.

We chatted with him for about a half hour. I heard a sense of self deprecation. I wanted him to feel confident in his own possibilities. We finally left Nathan and said goodbye and watched him wonder into the crowd. His peaceful nature seemed hidden and I hoped it would be illuminated. We may never see him again.

Community is a place of peace for me. It's everywhere if you want to find it and help build it. The key is it's a give and take...you need to put yourself out there in your own place whether it's yoga class or church, or work, or the neighborhood....give what you get...give peace, get peace. I learned this in my yoga community in Hudson. I was reminded of this in the Catholic churches in Manhattan....sow, reap, chant, sing, connect....and there in that connection is beauty, spirit and a path to Peace.