12/30/2011 06:48 pm ET Updated Feb 29, 2012

Legacy Writing: A Spiritual Practice

How did you celebrate the holidays that marked the beginning of days with more light than dark, the birth of Jesus, the Maccabees reclaiming the Temple and relighting the everlasting light at this time of year: solstice, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza?

"Without darkness, nothing comes to birth. 
Without light, nothing flowers."
-- May Sarton

Given our material world, it's hard to remember that the holidays are our cultures' ways of expressing the holy. No matter what faith you profess, these days, like all days, are an opportunity to express our spirituality, our seeking the divine in and beyond our world.

Recently, I wrote an article about legacy-writing as a spiritual practice, a practice that can be done as a 15-minute exercise or meditation requiring only a pen and stationery at hand. You can read the full article online here.

This letter practice can open us to gratitude for all the blessings we've received; it can be a simple expression of our love for family and friends. There is the possibility that the practice will deepen and heighten awareness of our purpose and the values we live by, functioning simultaneously as a precious gift of hope and ideals for our loved ones, especially those who will live after us.

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." -- William Arthur Ward

Having spirituality itself as the topic for this spiritual practice gives us a double dose of spirit -- the practice and the content are our focus.

As I think about my own spirituality, I sit with many questions: What do I mean by the very word? What is my relationship with divinity? How did my history unfold to bring me to my present understanding? How do I live my everyday life true to and consistent with my values? How do I see myself -- as spirit with skin on? As a soul living on earth in a body for a limited time? As a churchgoer? As a practitioner of religious rituals? As a lover and protector of nature? As a person engaged with and committed to addressing problems and conflicts in our world? As an infinitesimal dot in so vast a universe that it's beyond my ability to grasp it? What do I mean when I suggest to myself that I am spiritual if not religious?

No matter how I define spirituality or experience myself as a spiritual seeker, do I take seriously the role of the elder to pass on these values, this vision, these practices, these learnings, to future generations? More simply, what do I want to share with my children and grandchildren about my values, my thoughts and ideas about what really matters in life? One thing I believe, like the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Eric H. Yoffie, is "that children yearn with all their heart, for the holy and the transcendent and the fire of faith -- even if they can't define these terms precisely."

I agree completely with Rabbi Yoffie's words, and would add that people often fail to recognize the yearning itself. (His phrase "fire of faith" reflects my yearning too!) I also believe it is my responsibility as an Elder to pass on my values and experience as inspiration should the younger generation choose to accept it, and as an expression of my unconditional love for them.

Some Suggestions for Action:

1. Begin by reflecting about what spirituality means to you. Journal freely about the spiritual events and moments you've experienced in your personal life and in contact with the larger world.

"Washing the dishes is like bathing a baby Buddha. The profane is sacred. Everyday mind is Buddha's mind." -- Thich Nhat Hanh

2. If you own it, open your book, Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, to chapter seven, page 117 and browse through "A Woman's Spiritual Journey." Men may enjoy it too!

"The highest goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments." -- Abraham Joshua Heschel

3. Choose a recipient(s) for a legacy letter focused on your spiritual values. Think about what you want to pass forward to them about the importance of spiritual yearning: yearning for meaning and "the fire of faith." Share specific stories of your experience and how they have changed your life and the way you think about yourself, the God of your understanding and them.

4. Conclude your letter with a blessing that expresses your hopes for them to be fulfilled with lives of meaning, purpose and contact with the divine..

5. Reflective notes: When you've finished with your letter, write again as you did in step one above, this time relish the meaning of your spiritual experience. And if it feels right, commit to making your everyday life sacred in some real, doable way, as Thich Nhat Hanh suggests.

"May your authentic voice arise
enabling you to share
your spiritual experience with
your loved ones
-- Rachael Freed