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Archive for the ‘Mysticism’ Category

Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  165                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 150

Today’s Mileage: 5                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1112

As I rode the bike this evening my thoughts drifted to yesterday’s visit to a Christian Easter Day service.  The service was joyful with the reading of scripture and singing, directed by my partner Susan.  The service brought back memories of my childhood and significant church holidays.  The one thing I missed was the sight of children running around the lawn collecting colored eggs!

While I enjoyed the service I also made it a point to take a walk around the church campus before and after the service.  It was a particularly beautiful day and as always nature bombarded me with distractions.  I have decided to share with my readers several poems and musings I wrote before and after the service.

Across the Street

Church lawn:

   Pristine green

   Parallel mower marks

   Edged pathway

   Leads to a

   Tall white building

   Stark wooden cross

   Bares white cloth drapery

   Easter Lilies

   In plastic pails

   Circle the base

       Signs of a Church’s belief in resurrection!

 Across the Street

 Empty house:

   Unkempt lawn

   Mats of dark green clover

   Points of purple and yellow

   Dandelions and wild violets

   Scattered about

   Flowering dogwood

   Twisted wooden fingers

   Bearing pink jewels

   Majestic white irises

   Circle the base

       Signs of Nature’s promise of renewal!

****

Tree Mysticism!

In the Shadow of Giants

 Ancient oaks

Tower overhead

Midriff bulge

Extends its base

Onto the sidewalk

Like a living

Volcanic flow

What was two

Had become one

An extra

Roll of bark

Marks their seam

They are not alone

A vine

With a girth

Similar to my own

Sends tentacles

Like heavily laden

Fire hoses skyward

Braiding with branches

And twin trunks

A small flowering dogwood

At their base

Cannot compete

For size and age

It counters

With its beauty

Living in the shadow of giants

 ****

Natures Gifts!

Holiday Treats

 Forty steps

Along the sidewalk

From the back

Of the church

Before the Easter  

Sunday service

I found green grass

Colorful blossom gifts

On the lawn

All that was missing

Was a basket

And a chocolate bunny

 ****

Gaia!

What was…

 My favorite part

Of the Easter

Church experience

Standing at the base

Of a majestic

Magnolia tree

In the sun

Surrounded by

Spring bird calls

I admired the

Tree’s shade and

Structure

It must have been

Wondrous being a child

Around these trees

They were designed

For climbing and

Hiding in the branches

 ****

Patterns, cycles, beauty!

I hope that you enjoyed my words and caught glimpses of the beauty I find in nature!  My experience yesterday reminded me of the fact that “one size does not fit all.”  While the church was filled with people finding meaning in their sacred scripture and the story of a risen savior, there are others, myself included, who find meaning and guidance in the “voices of nature.”  I do not believe that one path/approach has more “truth or validity” than the other, they represent preferences based on our experiences and history.

After a recent posting concerning the Catholic Church one reader made the comment: “Sorry to hear that you are a former Catholic. Only Catholics that don’t know their faith leave because if you truly knew the faith of your birth you would see that there is no other faith to move to. The Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus founded upon Peter and it has lasted the last 2,000 years. Come home!”

Nature Saints?

I respect this reader’s right to his opinion and recognize his exclusionary beliefs about the Catholic Church.  However, I have found my path and like many others “my home” is within the realm of nature, its symbolism, its cycles, and its beauty!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 146                                      Days Blogged: 130 

New Mileage: 5                                                     Total Trip Mileage: 1015

Unfiltered Knowledge!

As I rode the bike today I reflected on the scenes along our route as we moved north on a road bordered to the east by a thin ribbon of sand and the vast Atlantic Ocean.  One of the ways I scout for pilgrimage sites is to follow a detailed road map (on the internet) that includes photos of the scenery along the route. These scenes will at time point me in the direction of unexpected sites for us to visit or may simply inspire my creativity.  Today I decided to focus on sunrise scenes!

I am aware that sunrises are often seen as symbolic of renewal, rebirth, and spring.  I have always found myself attracted to sunrises and prefer an early morning walk as a great way to get my day started.  My youngest son recently noted that he enjoys sunrises more than sunsets, because a sunrise means “you got the whole day ahead of you!”

Highlighting the colors!

As I collected some of the photos of sunrises I noticed that the most striking and beautiful sunrises had less to do with the sun itself and more to do with the clouds that interacted with and affected the sunlight.  I began to realize that there is a great deal more symbolism and meaning in sunrises because of the clouds that often accompany them.

If sunlight is seen as being representative of knowledge, guidance and/or wisdom, then clouds must serve a function of shaping, blocking, filtering and focusing this “light” before it is received by the viewer/recipients.  While we may marvel at that spot of intense light as the sun first breaks the plane of the horizon, we cannot for long study its growing presence without turning away.  It is too bright and intense in its raw form, in a very real way we are unable to “handle it” in it pure form.  However, a covering or haze of clouds can afford us the opportunity to see the light’s source in it’s perfect round form and to realize that its size is not as large as its unfiltered corolla might leads us to believe.  Some would say this is representative of the intense “glory” of the divine, that we must turn our gaze away.  The clouds imperfect covering allows us to study and receives insights from the lights source that would be absent with an empty bare sky.

Studying the sunrise scenes lead me to realize that clouds not only filter and diminish the sun’s intensity but also shape and focus the light, whether that is through the creation of a halo, a bright highlighted edge on a cloud or a beam of sunlight.  We may become acutely aware of the multiple colors or qualities of the light because of the cloud’s effects.  While the wisdom and knowledge represented by the sunlight maybe intense and illuminating in its pure form, I believe it is the interaction with the clouds, with the contrasts and textures created by this dance between the shifting and impermanent cloud forms that gives the sunrise its awe inspiring “take your breath away” quality.

Blue Hues!

As a pluralist I often tell my sons and students that there is no “one way” to get from point A to point B, that different people may need very different paths.   Whether that end point is an understanding of the divine (as with a spiritual pilgrim), finding a career/job that fits for you, or finding the answer/cure to what ails you (as in the course of psychotherapy).  I look at these sunrises as representing in a graphic way this message.  Some people like their insights and wisdom pure and straight forward, some need it filtered and muted, others need to be awed and dazzled with dancing colors.  Throw in a sunrise over the sea and you get the added reflection and texture of the ocean’s surface.

What are these clouds that shape and change the light, the wisdom coming at us from its divine source?  They are made up of water, a part of the earth, and air. We as human being are made up in large parts of water.  Therefore, much of this blocking and filtering is perhaps part of our nature or a product of the process of being human.  I suspect these clouds are representative of a number of things: teachings and instructions from parents and church leaders; personal experiences (like mystical experiences); biases we embrace out of safety and/or ignorance; exercises and rituals (like prayer, meditation, reason and logic); negative and/or positive mood states; our egos and basic needs. 

Rays of Illumination!

Perhaps that is a topic for another blog!  I for one can just as easily get lost watching a cloud and its flowing, shifting dance across the sky as I can in a sunrise.

I hope you enjoyed today’s words and sunrise scenes!

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 Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 130                             Consecutive Days Blogging: 112

Today’s Mileage:  5                                             Total Trip Mileage: 913

Today I decided to give myself a break.  We are approaching two more pilgrimage sites and I have received several comments worth blog postings so I decided to reprint one of my most popular early posting.  My friendship circle has expanded significantly since the first month of the stationarypilgrim journey so many of you did not get a chance to read this posting.  We were preparing to visit the Shiva Vishnu Hindu Temple of South Florida and I wrote: “I would like to share with you my personal experiences with the Hindu faith.  I have never travelled to India, but I have been lucky to have crossed paths with Hindu beliefs and practices and to have been changed forever by these encounters.” 

 paramahansa     How does a young man from the plains of the Dakotas come to experience Hinduism and its teachings?  The answer is in California!  During my time in the US Navy I was stationed in southern California, a fascinating place for a wide-eyed youth.   Every other street corner was inhabited by a new religion or cultural group! 

     I developed a deep friendship with a fellow sailor who had grown up in the LA area.  He looked every bit the part of a beach bum surfer, but he was a vegetarian and a Hindu convert.  He attended the Self-Realization Fellowship in LA.  At his suggestion I read the book Autobiography of Yoga, by Paramahansa Yogananda.  This opened up a fascinating new world of religious thought.  I began to read the teachings of various sects of Hinduism. 

AYCover070503_NoBorder      This caused me to wonder about what other belief systems existed in the world which the nuns who directed my Catholic education had failed to mention.  While intrigued by the fellowship’s teachings, especially the pluralistic nature of Hindu beliefs, I did not join the movement.  I was a pilgrim on a new and fascinating journey, checking out the different paths and only sampling their offerings!

       Change was in my future, as I returned from my first tour overseas.  While in Thailand, I became acquainted with Buddhism and began to wonder about meditation.  I got a call from my friend asking if I wanted to learn Transcendental Meditation.  “Sure why not!”  No three words have ever changed my life to the degree these three did (“I do” comes close, but in a totally different way)!

 home_mmy Maharishi Yogi founder of TM

      With no preparation, no afterthought, I entered a simple suburban home and a dimly lit room. I stood before a flickering candle and the portrait of a bearded foreign face and entered a new world!  My first meditation produced what is called a Monist mystical experience, a mind blowing state of nothingness and bliss (see yesterday’s posting for more on mystical experiences).  I walked out of that house profoundly changed forever! 

      I meditated religiously twice a day for seven years.  My anxieties and fears dissolved away, my awe and appreciation for the world around me deepened, and my growing compassion and concern for others pointed me in the direction of a helping profession.  I do not view meditation as a “cure all” that works for everyone. Rather, it is a valuable tool on a path to physical, mental, spiritual health and happiness.  Meditation became an integral part of my journey and reverberates within me still today!

 “We are all part of the One Spirit. When you experience the true meaning of religion, which is to know God, you will realize that He is your Self, and that He exists equally and impartially in all beings.”
                                      –Paramahansa Yogananda

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  117                                              Days Blogged: 101

New Mileage: 10                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 853

As I climb on the bike this morning I am pondering the fact that it’s been almost 4 months since we started the stationarypilgrim’s journey.  In fact we have now passed the 100th blog threshold.  I believe this is a good time to share with my readers a few of my insights, especially with respect to choosing and finding a pilgrimage sites and retreats.

Solitary Contemplation!

 So far we have  visited 14 specific sites across Florida.  We are nearing the Orlando area and will visit four more sites before we head for the East Coast and then turn north toward St. Augustine. In addition to the specific sites we have visited, I have also been busy uncovering potential sites further down the road within Florida and beyond.  The list of sites (over 100 and growing daily) can be found on my webpage (go to the Pilgrimage Sites tab at the top of this page and follow the link). It includes entries from nearby states  as far away  as California and in New York.

Boston Sufi House - Retreat Site

As often happens on such journeys,  you start off with a sense of where you’re heading and what you’re doing but the process of the journey combined with the unexpected sites and scene on your path to help you clarify and refine your goals.  I knew that a Spiritual Retreat is often defined as any kind of solitude experience where you remove yourself from the usual environment in order to immerse yourself in either in a particular subject matter or a particular experience.  Retreats may be as simple as sitting quietly in a secluded portion of your yard, or as complex as a weeklong trip to a monastery where no speaking is allowed.  Spiritual retreats are often times for reflection prayer, meditation, and rest.  They  allow time for “taking stock” of one’s life and/or  a re-commitment to connecting with the spiritual aspects of life. They may be undertaken alone, as a couple or as part of a larger group.

On my journey to uncover pilgrimage and retreat sites I have found that most retreat centers offer settings that promote solitude and reflection.  In my classification of Retreat Sites I place them along a continuum with respect to the use of nature (a natural setting) to promote this solitude. 

Charleston's Gateway Garden Walk - Garden Retreat Site

On one end are Simple Retreat Sites that include little or no contact with nature, these may be residential settings where solitude is provide behind the closed door to your room, or sitting silently in a chapel.  As you might expect these sites are often found in larger cities where natural surrounds are limited by development.

Further along the continuum are Garden Retreat Sites, where nature makes an appearance in the form of an enclosed garden space (such as a Zen garden) or a flower garden like you may find surrounding churches.  These sites usually provide shaded benches, fountains and/or paved walkways and are often found in cities and more populated areas.

Charleston's Middleton Place - Nature Tranquility Site

Next on my classification continuum are Nature Tranquility Retreat Sites.  These sites typically include large grassy and wooded areas for walking, praying and meditating. They often include water features in the form of beaches, lakes, rivers or streams.  They may offer more extensive gardens, including grottos, shrines, labyrinths, and statues.   These Nature Tranquility Sites may feature distinctly Spiritual/Religious connections, such as monasteries, convents, church camps.  However, other sites may be represented by secular local or state parks.  While it is not my intention to list all state and local parks, I do include a number of these sites, especially if the natural features of the site, like undeveloped beach front, old growth forests are a prominent feature.

The Grand Canyon - Nature Site

My classification continuum ends with what I call Nature Sites.  These are composed primarily of National Parks which present us with  stunning and awe inspiring experiences of the vastness, the beauty, the diversity of nature.   They do more than offer us a moment a tranquility or an escape from our daily struggles, they very often hold our attention captive and offer us an opportunity to transcend the mundane and approach the spiritual plane.

Those of us blessed to receive Nature Mystical experiences may describe these Nature Sites as “our cathedrals.”  Other people may visit these sites and praise the divine for the beauty of “God’s creation,” either way these are very special sites.  Most of us are not lucky enough to live within commuting distance of these locations so they most often represent “special retreat trips” or vacations.  For some people they may represent the destination of a personal pilgrimage.

                              Retreat Site Classification Continuum

Retreat Site — Garden Retreat Site — Nature Tranquility Site  — Nature Site

What is the difference between a Retreat Site and a Pilgrimage Site?  While we most often undertake a retreat to “get away” and enjoy some solitude, a pilgrimage journey is often directed toward a location/place which has some special significance.  It may offer the pilgrim significant historical insights into their faith or culture.  It may present the pilgrim with an example of spiritual diversity.  It may lead the pilgrim to answer a specific question or present them with a new realm of possibilities. They may marvel at man’s artistic achievements or ponder the mysteries of a weeping icon or healing springs.

 How do I make sense of and classify the dizzying array of Pilgrimage Sites?  That will be the topic of my next blog.  Have a wonderful weekend!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  92                                      Days Blogged: 90 

New Mileage: 12                                                   Total Trip Mileage: 733

I am riding the bike tonight in a great deal of pain.  Last week I made a trip to the dentist.  It made for an interesting experience and was mentioned in my blog, but something is amiss!  So I will try and get in to see someone in the next couple days. Hopefully all it will take is an antibiotic and some pain killer to make things right.

Today I met with the two sections of my Psychology of Religion course for the first time.  Close to fifty young people will sit through my lectures and tests for the next fourteen weeks.  We will discuss the various personal and societal functions that religion meets within our individual lives and our culture.  We will explore fourteen different religious traditions that now have roots in the United States, everything from Jainism, Baha’i’, Zen, to Islam. 

Tolerance or Acceptance?

We talked today about the difference between diversity, a recognition of the wide variety of different faith traditions, and pluralism, which is an acceptance of the validity of these beliefs for each tradition.  For society to function properly we must have at least a tolerance of the diversity within our society.  For our society to flourish and prosper I would argue we need to not just tolerate others but celebrate our differences by embracing a pluralistic attitude.

I tell my students that it is not my intention to challenge or undermine their belief systems. I do not want them to “lose their religion.”  However, I expect that they will explore their beliefs on various topics that are important in the discussion of religious traditions.  Such as:” What is the source of mankind’s suffering? What is the nature of the divine (Deity or Godhead)?  What happens after we die?  Each of the various belief systems has an answer to these questions.  Our exploration and discussion is not undertaken to establish which of the belief systems has “the truth,” but to explore how each express and experience “their truth.”

All hold their truth!

I challenge the students to recognize the importance of culture and time period (e.g. how were Buddha’s beliefs tied to Hinduism, India and the time period of 400 BCE) to understand what shaped the nature of a tradition’s beliefs.  I challenge them to recognize the various sources of knowledge and how different religions make use of these sources. For example, the primary monotheisms are called “people of the book” for their reliance on the revealed wisdom of the Old Testament; whereas Zen Buddhists will tell you to burn all of your sacred books because true knowledge and understanding comes from revelations of moment-to-moment experiences.

We will study the differences between cults, sects and churches and the importance of mystical experiences in some of the wisdom traditions.  We will discuss the characteristics of belief systems that head down a “slippery slope” to what some people would call an “evil religion.”  One of these characteristics is holding to the belief that “the ends justify the means.”  I remember hearing someone after the 9/11 terrorist attacks make the statement: “kill all of the Muslims and let God sort them out.”  In their eyes the goal of safety with respect to a perceived threat trumped the death of innocents and the ill will that such actions would generate.

It will be an interesting semester with so many religious topics in the news to act as fodder for our class discussions.  Of course as the semester progresses the unfolding “signs of spring” will make it harder for the students and their teacher to focus on course materials. Maybe rather than lecturing on Taoism I will just send the class out to commune with nature and “know Tao” as an in-the- moment experience!

Each brings their offering to the community table.

Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers as they struggle with the effects of today’s earth quake.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 65                               Consecutive Days Blogging: 66

Today’s Mileage: 10                                          Total Trip Mileage: 572

The red line marks our progress.

Releasing offerings...

As I ride the bike today I feel a sense of joy!  Like the Hindu pilgrims who release small offerings on the sacred Ganges River where the currents carry them toward the distant sea, I feel that my blog postings represent a similar effort.  I find my inspiration in the world around me.  I am honored to receive glimpses of the Divine.  I release my thoughts and words like offerings on the great flow of information called the Internet!  Once released, these offerings may cross the paths of other pilgrims creating a connection between us.  If we are to see the end to divisive issues and beliefs,  it will only come about through a connection among people of all faiths: people who find common ground in compassion, love and inclusive beliefs of the divine. There are those individuals and groups who will always oppose our efforts at building such a community.  They believe that they only possess the truth and the light of the divine.  So be it.  It  is their choice!  We can find our inspiration in the great teacher the Dali Lama, who responds only with compassion and love to those who occupy his homeland!

Today I want to talk briefly about the beach!   My  virtual pilgrimage affords me the cherished opportunity to view scenes of nature through the camera lens of other travelling pilgrims.

Approaching Darkness...

I take in the scenes they have captured and experience a sense of awe at nature. Through these small windows I catch glimpses of the divine.  

Balancing between two worlds!

 I enjoy the beach, but not necessarily the beach of sand castles, towels and sun tan lotion.  Memories of such beaches hold a place in my heart, but I see the beach as a symbol for the Yin and Yang- Dance of Life.  For it is sandwiched between the mystery and experience of life represented by the ocean and the sea, and  the inland regions with its sacred maps, histories and symbols, all handed down by earlier travelers. This thin ribbon of sand, the beach, representing a balance between the two forms of “knowing”: through pure experience, and/or  through shared words  and symbols.

 
 

Perch from which to ponder... mysteries of the deep.

The sea: a world of rhythmic patterned waves, hiding a place of mystery, color, danger and intrigue.  You can stand at its edge, you can wade in as deep as you dare, you can snorkel and dive into its depths, or bob upon the surface.  It has dangers: sharks, stinging jelly fish, and poison shells. Walking along this ribbon of sand, you will often see hints of  mysteries in the shells, the kelp fronds, and the strange creatures that wash ashore.

 
 

There are danger on every path!

The land: sometimes dry other times marshy, covered with plants, offering shade and sustenance.  With paths travelled by others, with road signs, camping areas, and creatures which we have much in common as they breathe air and walk on two or four legs. The land has its dangers too: crocodiles, cougars, sharks in human form, and guides that will lead you astray.  Inland has  mysteries: dark forests and high mountain tops,  foreign landscapes and the sounds of night creatures.

Sands shift under our feet and over time!

There are three general approaches we can take as we walk through life.  Like the practioners of the more experiential faiths; some hear the call of the sea, live on the surface in bobbing crafts, harvest deep resources, toss aside the shore maps and all but lose their “land legs.”

Safe stepping stone or a warning?

Like the practioners of the “scriptural” religions some head inland, preferring dry soil and shade trees, staying on well marked paths and following the directions of guides.

A Community in Balance!

 Others prefer to straddle the two, finding a balance between the emotional sunsets and sunrises calling you to the sea, and the sense of certainty and comfort which comes from maps and with journeys shared with others.  I prefer the beach, with its exposed tree roots and washed up sea treasures, both point to mysteries of the divine.

 

Let the sun set on all that is NOT compassion and love!

A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scenes from along the roadside.

 

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 61                                Consecutive Days Blogging: 62

Today’s Mileage: 5                                           Total Trip Mileage: 535

The red line marks our progress.

As I ride the bike today we are preparing to pull into our twelfth pilgrimage site.  Today’s site is unique and some people might question why it warrants a designation as a spiritual pilgrimage site. We are stopping at the Edison Museum and Winter Estates in Fort Myers Florida.  The roadways we have travelled are populated by a great many churches, but finding sites that speak to the wider array of expressions of spirituality can be more challenging.  I happened upon the Edison Winter Estate site at the same time I was researching the Koreshan Unity Village Site we visited last week. 

In the lab!

With the Koreshan movement we had a charismatic leader and followers who combined religious revelations with quasi- scientific thinking to create a utopian dream. At the same time just thirty miles up the road, we find Thomas Edison, who many would view as the archetypical inventor, solving the world’s problems in practical ways.  Through his innovations he created a new world of electrical lights, phonographs, and movies. He accomplished his feats with little formal education and a lot of hard work.  Edison is often cited as an example of ingenuity, perseverance, and a “get it done” practicality. Among his many quotes that adorn bumper stickers, t-shirts and office walls are: “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,” and “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” He was not theoretical like Einstein; he was practical, hardworking and no-nonsense. “”Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  He reframed the whole concept of failure: “I have not failed. I’ve just fond 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

First Banyan tree in the US planted by Edison in his garden.

His personal spirituality and approach to the divine is less clear. I’ve found references that labeled him as an atheist, an agnostic, a freethinker and a deist.  He attended a Congregational church near his home which in memorial to his membership changed it name to Thomas Edison Congregational Church.

 In a New York Times Magazine interview conducted in 1910 he stated: “Nature is what we know. We do not know the gods of religions. And nature is not kind, or merciful, or loving… nature made us – nature did it all – not the gods of the religions.”  These remark generated a great deal of controversy, and although he did not allow himself to be drawn into a public discussion he clarified himself in a private letter by stating: “You have misunderstood the whole article, because you jumped to the conclusion that it denies the existence of God.  There is no such denial, what you call God I call nature, the Supreme intelligence that rules matter.”

Edison statue with Banyan tree.

His involvement with causes such as nonviolence and Civitan appears to attest to his belief in the importance of social action over professed beliefs. A visit to his winter home site also emphasizes the importance he placed on nature, with his beautiful gardens, dock into the bay and cherished Banyan trees. All of this make one wonder if he represents a scientific thinker who experienced moments of nature mysticism.

 Again I am struck by the synchronicity of my site visits. With one site we find a cult-like community, dreaming of changing the world based upon religious revelations and questionable scientific theory.  Its “New Jerusalem” is now a state park housing RVs and sun worshipers. Existing at the same time and just a few  miles away, we find an individual embedded in a practical science, who was described as logical, reasoning and creative.  He surrounded himself with the beauty and inspiration of nature and changed the world! 

Edison provided a source of light, helped capture visual and auditory memories for future generations, provided inspiring words and left us a pilgrimage site that attests to the power of perserverance, creativity and engagement with the world around us. 

Fort Myers' sunset.

To visit the Site please click on the tab at the top of this page labelled Pilgrimage Sites. A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scenes from along the roadside.

 The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.

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