Breathe and Be Yourself

 

img_0788bMy ministry’s environment can be rather hectic most days; full of activity and lots of people.  The day is on the short side, just seven hours, but between breakfast and lunch we serve an average of 300 meals a day and I depend on a lot of volunteers to get this done.  I’m also an introvert so socializing with volunteers and guests all day requires a lot of energy for me.  With all that goes on at work I began to notice I was holding my breath while cooking and would have to consciously think about breathing for a moment, attentively releasing all of the breath from my lungs so I could take in fresh breath.  I’m grateful for all those yoga classes I took where I learned this and other breathing practices which helped in the moment but had not really changed my general experience of work-place stress.  Cooking has often been a special meditative activity for me which I treasure so I wanted to do something to address the root causes of this stress in my work place and return to what has always been a rejuvenating process for me.

secretsI happen to be taking a class on prayer which uses the book, “Secrets of Prayer” (Nancy Corcoran, CSJ), and around the same time when I began to notice my troubles at work I was into the section about praying with our five senses.  In this chapter Sr. Nancy discusses Thich Nhat Hanh’s bell meditation which is the practice of stopping what you are doing when you hear a bell and becoming mindfully present.  I thought that I would give this a try at work to see if it helped so I began to consider what sound I would use as my “bell”.  The doorbell is wired into the kitchen though you can hear it almost everywhere in the building, it’s just that loud and obnoxious like an old fashioned fire alarm, so I chose this sound for my practice.  I liked the idea of taking an annoyance and transforming it into something peaceful.  For this meditation I cannot stop during my day as Thich Nhat Hanh recommends, but when the obnoxious door bell rings I bring myself mindfully to the moment and fully attentive to whatever action I am preforming, or I at least take three mindful breaths.

This could not have worked better for me.  I no longer find myself holding my breath while I cook and just the other day I was running around wishing someone would ring the obnoxious doorbell.  The gift I did not expect with this practice is that I am more myself during the day, the more at ease I am the more authentic and patient I am able to be while I relate to my volunteers and guests. My days are just as hectic as ever, and just as full of extroversion, but I am learning to be still in the rushing pace of life.

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Feeding the Hungry

I wrote the article below for Giving Voice’s newsletter and I wanted to share it with all of you!

IIMG_2853 just began a new ministry here in Connecticut as the chef at the Thomas Merton Center (a day shelter) in Bridgeport which is one of the poorest cities in the state. I am so happy to be back in a kitchen doing what I love most after experiencing two years of not working during my novitiate. The Thomas Merton Center is housed in what used to be St. Joseph’s church in a rundown neighborhood characterized by unkempt and abandoned houses cordoned off by chain link fences. The center still looks like a church from the outside even though the stained glass windows are covered with bars, and inside the pews were removed to make way for almost two dozen tables. The altar and the vestibule are now the kitchen and store rooms. Having my new kitchen housed in a room that is still reminiscent of an altar, Gothic arches and all, has been a unique experience. It is a challenge for me in two ways, first because the program has not been kept up for quite some time and its rundown condition troubles me. It saddened me to see a kitchen and food, both of which are spiritual experiences for me, treated in such a thoughtless way. The second challenge comes with my desire to live up to these auspicious surroundings. I have often experienced food and the art of cooking as a spiritual exercise both in its connection to creation and the God of Creation, as well as in the art of cooking and eating mindfully, which is to say in such a way that enjoying the food becomes a meditation.

20151201_120350We are fed in many ways and just so my ministry to feed the hungry goes beyond filling empty bellies; it is filling starving souls. Many guests come to the Center, or any soup kitchen, just for a meal; however, just as often guests come because they are alone and isolated by their poverty, addiction, or illness. I think one of the reasons humans gather, whether it’s for a meal or to be around the table of the Eucharist, is to be reminded that we are not alone. My ministry as chef is to facilitate the gathering and as such I can think of no better place for a day shelter’s kitchen then an altar.