Weekend Update

Weekend Update

Sunday morning was rough. In fact, the past several Sunday mornings have been rough. The parade of social events, work, and volunteering / board service marches on. By the time Sunday morning rolls around, I want nothing more than just to stay in bed until noon, shower, change into comfortable clothes, pick up some chicken wings and watch football on the couch until about 8. And the past few weeks, that’s kind of what’s happened. The second Sunday in October I missed going to a service completely.

Happy-HourThe weekend after that, I was bailed out with my cousin’s wedding, not a Church service per se, but still pretty religious. That Saturday night, I called it pretty early. The next morning though, 10:30 came and went. My plans for attending a service dashed, I finally roused myself around 11:30 and decided I was going to visit the Greek Monastery in Pleasant Prairie instead. I should note that I’m a photographer, and I love taking pictures of houses of worship because of how architecturally and visually interesting they are. I wrote down the directions (yes, I don’t have a smart phone) and hit the road, changing the AM dial to 620 WTMJ to listen to my beloved Packers.

93rd street in Pleasant Prairie veers in a million directions, and after driving around for 45 minutes in vain, I thought I’d head back towards home. Once I got home and looked at the map, I realized I’d been less than a quarter mile away. But since I hadn’t emailed beforehand though, there’s no guarantee I would have even allowed in. On the way I remembered the St. Sava Serbian Monastery I’d taken pictures at in 2010.

St. Sava

St._Sava_Serbian_Orthodox_Monastery_ChurchSt. Sava’s is in Gages Lake (aka West Gurnee) but feels completely rural. On a lonely stretch of Milwaukee Ave, blink and you’ll miss it. The Monastery is surrounded by a Serbian Orthodox cemetery and a monument to the spiritual leaders of the church who sustained it even through 45 years of Communist rule. I brought out my camera (which had been periodically malfunctioning) and it refused to turn on. I waited ten more minutes charging the battery and listening to the game. Nothing. The camera was deader than the Bears in the first half against the Patriots.

Photo or no photo, I was already there and was going to make the most of it. St. Sava’s (at least every time I’ve been there) is dimly lit, illuminated only by candles and from the shards of light creeping in through the stained glass windows. Its door remains perpetually unlocked, welcoming all who want spiritual guidance (or to take a GREAT photo). You’re your eyes adjust, the interior is absolutely stunning. Beautiful blue paint from floor to ceiling gives off a peaceful, cool aura. Nearly every surface is covered with iconographic paintings. Carved wood occasionally breaks up the wall spaces. In addition to being a spiritual home, it is also a monument to Orthodox culture, art and architecture. In short, it is one of my favorite places throughout the Chicagoland region.

When I arrived, there was one visitor, but he quickly departed leaving the whole building to myself. I lit two candles, and kissed the icon of St. John (icons are venerated, not worshipped, and making the sign of the cross and kissing the icon conveys respect). The silence was all encompassing. Aside from the occasional gust of wind, there was nothing to break concentration. I sat in one of the pews in quiet contemplation, fully turning off my brain and concentrating for the first time in a long time. I walked up to the Choir Loft taking in the full majesty of the Monastery.

saint-savaBefore leaving, I made a donation and picked up one of the English books written about the Orthodox Faith. Written in 1880 by a Serbian Monk, who emigrated to the United States and actually served at St. Sava. In precise, question and answer format it dissects the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the 7 Holy Mysteries (or sacraments) and Holy Tradition (the lived experience of the church and canonical law). Written in a straightforward manner, it is the best guide I’ve seen on the teachings of the church and has accompanied my train rides to and from work over the past 10 days.

When it comes to religion (or religious buildings), I greatly enjoy the community of worship within the service, but I equally enjoy the pure solitude of praying completely alone. When the world gets overwhelming, it’s comforting to know I have a place that allows me to escape from it all and be one with my thoughts.

This past Sunday, I went to the Zen Buddhist Temple in Roscoe Village for an afternoon Meditation service. I’ll be reflecting on the experience later in the week.

Thank you as always for reading. If any reader here practices meditation, how did you start, and did you have a spiritual guide? If you prefer the solitude of quiet prayer (or non-religious contemplation) as opposed to actual services, why? What does solitary experience provide that a community of faith cannot?

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