From Meg McPherson and Cathy Nemeth, Sarasota, Florida

For our immersion day, we at St. Thomas More chose to go to two places: the beach and Sarasota National Cemetery to end our “coming out of the dark“ segment of the EngagingSpirituality program.

It is probably very obvious why we would choose the cemetery but why, you ask, would we go to the beach? The answer has to do with where we live. Sarasota Florida is home to Siesta Key, which has been designated as one of the top rated beaches in the U.S. Sun and sand and warm weather.  “PERFECT” you say, what’s the problem?

Well, not so perfect. We here in Southwest Florida recently had 18 months of continuous red tide. Pesticides and other chemicals that people use are washing into our ocean and creating harmful algae. Nitrogen is one of those nutrients that sucks up the oxygen in the water and kills all kinds of sea life-manatees, dolphins, birds, and fish, just to name a few. When the dead sea life wash up on our shoreline the stench causes respiratory problems in humans and can be smelled sometimes 5 to 10 miles from the beach.

No one should get sick from spending a day at the beach.

So, we went there to say prayers. We are keenly aware of plastics and other harmful products contaminating our oceans so we incorporated all of that into our prayers, readings and observations. We read from Pope Francis’ encyclical about the importance of caring for the ocean and how all things are connected to one another. We ended with “A prayer for the precious gift of water” from the Canticle of the Creatures by Saint Francis of Assisi and a prayer for “Sister Water.”

Our second stop was a visit to Sarasota National Cemetery to pay respect to our Veterans and acknowledge our gratitude and love for those who lost their lives in the service of our country. We read the poem “In Flanders Fields” followed by a poem by John O’Donohue entitled “Graveyard” and another reading “We remember them.”

After that we went to an authentic Mexican restaurant and bakery located in Sarasota so we could mingle with our Hispanic neighbors who frequent this restaurant. In addition to lunch you could buy bakery items and piñatas!

Everyone commented that it was a lovely meaningful day. We were happy to hear that because initially, many of our group questioned the purpose and need for this memorable immersion day!

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