Thursday, January 26, 2012
I will still get to some of the questions you all have left, and will no doubt include further reflections on such things as "eating as a spiritual practice..." I actually think our relationship to food, and food and table fellowship especially, are worthy of multiple blog posts.
Anyway, thanks to all of you who were regular readers. I hope your own spiritual practice has been deepened in some way, or you've begun a new spiritual practice. Thanks the those of you jumped in with comments and questions. Reading your comments and thoughts made this meaningful and fun.
This Sunday, we wrap our "Living Resolutions" sermon series, with a sermon called, "Losing Weight: Casting Out Demons." Come find out what that's all about. We worship at 9:30 and 11:15. I hope to see some of you there.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Day 24 of Spiritual Practices and Reflections: Some invitations to Give (Or: Giving as a spiritual practice)
“All that we have is a loan from life itself…. The world doesn’t owe us anything…. We owe the world and its abundant miracles…our gratitude, our praise…. The spirit map suggests that we live with humility and gratitude at the center of our lives.
Gratitude opens the heart to generosity. When we’re really grounded in gratitude, we can remember that it’s all on loan. We don't get to take it with us; it’s not ours to keep—it’s not our to begin with—so we might as well share the blessings; we might as well become generous.” (You can listen to the whole sermon here.)
For the past five years, I have been focusing on truly living from a place of gratitude and generosity. It's not always easy, but as I've written about before, almost every morning, when I write, reflect, and spend some time in prayer, I try to identify at least three things in my life that I'm grateful for. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard. But living from this place of gratitude changes my inner life and how I am in the world. Gratitude invites me to give back, to serve the world. As a faith community, we strive to practice giving, gratitude, and generosity. Here are a few of the ways we do that:
If you're a part of the First Universalist community, I hope you'll join us for our Day of Service, Feb 4. We have over 30 different projects going on that day, as we serve (give back) to the wider community. We've challenged ourselves to give 2000 hours of service to the community on Feb. 4, and we've got service projectsfor families, youth, and people of all ages. If you're in the Twin Cities, I hope you'll sign up and participate. And feel free to invite a friend to join you, too! (It's worth noting that many of these Day of Service groups continue to work and give together throughout the year, so it's not just a one time event.)
Monday, January 23, 2012
I'm inspired by the "practicing" theme that has run through January's sermons. This month the same message has come through my work to be a better writer - something else I think I'm working on. Thinking about writing and now about my spirituality, I realize how little "practicing" I do these days (and the dearth of practice isn't limited to spirituality and writing unfortunately!).
I'm going to put those two things together and commit to/set aside time to practice writing about faith, God, Spirit, church in a reflective, wandering way. Four times a week for 30 minutes.
Looking forward to the adventure...
Sunday, January 22, 2012
It's been a few Sundays since I've walked into church. I was doing it very regularly right up until the holiday season, but I haven't done it yet in the new year. I'm going to do it today, because despite the preparation work I still need to do for today's sermon, I know I'll be more grounded, centered, and grateful if I walk to church today. So I'm "making" time to walk into church today, rewriting the narrative that says "I don't have enough time."
What would you like to make time for in your life? What is an easy first step you can take to make this happen?
P.S. Today is the last day to sign up for Small Groups at First Universalist for the winter/spring semester. We have groups for newcomers (folks who have been at the church less than a year), groups for parents with young children, two men's group, a group for parent's of teens, and many groups open to everyone. I blogged about this here, and you can learn more at the church's website, here.
...I'm wondering how you're defining "spiritual practices?"I probably should have defined this back on day one, when I launched this month of blogging. But better late than never. Roughly, here's how I understand spiritual practices and spiritual disciplines:
- More than anything else, spiritual practice has to do with a particular kind of attention and awareness. It has to do with how we're showing up in the world and how present we are. I return again and again to this quote from Mary Oliver: "The first, wildest, and wisest thing I know is this: that the soul exists, and it is made entirely of attention." Spiritual practices/disciplines are about growing the soul, about paying attention in such a way that the "soul" expands. Spiritual practices are about noticing the ways our inner lives, the world, and something larger than ourselves are woven together.
- With this understanding, parenting young children (any age, really, but especially young children) can be seen and understood as a spiritual practice. Gardening can be understood as a spiritual practice. Prayer can be understood as a spiritual practice. Any of these things can be vehicles that help us see a bigger picture, that help us subdue the ego, that locate us in mystery, wonder, and awe.
- A spiritual practice/discipline often has a deeply reflective component. So tap dancing (to take an example from the previous post) could become a spiritual practice, if one understood "God "or the "Spirit of Life" to be found in the dancing itself, in that playful, noise-making, rhythm making, dancing...and understood, through tap dancing, that one could participate in something larger than one's self, then that could become a spiritual practice.
Friday, January 20, 2012
So here's a short list with a few words of explanation:
1) An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor. Incredible book. Each chapter is about a spiritual practice/discipline. Taylor is compelling and easy to engage with. This is an outstanding book.
2) Mary Oliver; her poetry book, Thirst is great, as if her book of collected poems. Anything by her generally speaks to me.
3) I've been returning to the Psalms, trying to read one a day. I'm using this book: The Complete Psalms: The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation.
4) I love Rachel Naomi Remen's books. Powerful stories about listening, healing, and love. She understands medicine and healing as a kind of spiritual practice and discipline.
5) John O'Donahue's book, To Bless the Space Between Us.
6) Risking Everything, 110 Poems of Love and Revelation
7) And I love Parker Palmer's book, Let Your Life Speak.
8) I'm also in a Small Group at church (made of staff); this helps center and ground my life. If you're at First Universalist, I hope you'll join a group - you can sign up right now.
There's a lot of Unitarian Universalist authors and ministers I turn to, as well...and back in the post about prayer, there is a great resources by Erik Wikstrom, a Unitarian Universalist minister and author...
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
I just read this little piece in the Christian Century's "Century Marks" section:
Bonnie Ware has long worked in palliative care, spending time with the dying during the final weeks of their lives. Over the years she's heard the same regrets from the dying. They wish they had had the courage to be themselves, rather than trying to meet expectations. They say they should not have worked so hard - a lament heard especially from the older generation of males. They regret not having had the courage to express their feelings, even if doing so would have caused others pain. They say they should have stayed in touch with their friends and given more time to nurturing friendships (Activist Post, November 30).This piece really resonates with me, really prompts me, in little ways, to make some adjustments in my day to day living. I don't feel too far off course; reflecting on this piece can help keep it that way.
As you move into this new year, what courage would you like to summon? In what ways can you cut back on work, if you're working too much? What friendships can you nurture or re-engage in? How can you do more of what truly feeds you and brings you joy?
Thinking about the end of life can be a powerful vehicle to help us occupy our lives in new and transforming ways. (If you're looking for additional resources, last March we had a whole sermon series on Death and Endings. Here's one of the sermons I preached.)
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Day 17 of Spiritual Practices and Reflections: Why Love Matters (or: "Why Marriage Equality is a Religious Issue")
It was a good training, and what really became clear to me during the hour was this: I didn't get married for the rights that marriage brings (although the rights are terribly important). I got married because love opened my heart in the deepest way I've ever known. I got married because I wanted to journey through life with someone who was a true partner, who helped me be the best person I can be (and who I helped as well), through thick and thin. I got married because of love, not because of the rights. Again, the rights matter, in this training it became clear to me that it's the bigger framing of this issue, as one of love, commitment, and growing old with someone, that really changes people's minds around this issue. As the website of Minnesotans United for all Families says,
We believe marriage and family are about love and commitment, working together, bettering the community, raising children, and growing old together. We believe in a Minnesota that values and supports strong families and creates a welcoming environment for all Minnesota
That's why marriage equality matters.
I'm curious, if you're married: why did you get married? What caused you to take that leap of faith? Was it love? Was it because your partner felt like a soul mate? Why did you get married? Was it for the rights?
And as I think about working to defeat the marriage amendment, and all that is ahead of us in the coming months, it's clear to me that this is not a "head" argument. This is a "heart" argument. As people of faith, who believe that love matters can be at the center of all we do (we're Universalists for heaven's sake!), we need to tell the story of love, the stories from our hearts - so we can move beyond the "rights" argument (as important as that is), and understand that this is a "love argument." And the spiritual practice then, is to tell our story, to talk about why love matters and how love has shaped and formed us. The practice is to have the courage and discipline to do this, dozens and dozens of times before next November's vote, so we engage in "heart" conversations with our friends, families, and neighbors...and talk about why marriage matters and why love matters. (And if you're looking for some inspiration about love, try this from Kathleen Norris: "Here's the gospel is seven words: God is love; this is no joke.")
If you'd like to join us, congregants of First Universalist Church will be gathering on Wednesday, Jan 18th, at 7pm, to explore the role that we have, as people of faith, in celebrating love and defeating this amendment.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Or really dig into lectio divina for a while. Sit with a poem or scripture for a couple of mornings. Really let it speak to you. Let it come alive in your heart and body. Or start a daily gratitude journal, or send a letter of gratitude to someone every day. Or go back to the opening post in this series, and re-read the article about our Unitarian Transcendentalist forebears, and how they engaged in many of these practices, as a way to grow and cultivate their souls. Get inspired by them, and pick a practice. Stick with it. Go deep.
I'm curious - what are you practicing? What's your discipline? How's it going?
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Here's a video, made by a youth team in our church, that invites members and friends to participate in this year's Feb 4th day of service:
Rachel Naomi Remen, medical doctor and author, says this about service:
Serving makes us aware of our wholeness and its power. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals: our service strengthens us as well as others...service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself will renew us...in serving we find a sense of gratitude.Serving is a way of being in the world, a practice. It's not about us or our needs; it's about wholeness, relationships, partnering with others, and it changes our orientation in the world. It's about getting outside of ourselves and entering the larger current of life. And when we serve together, I think we understand ourselves as a faith community in new and powerful ways. I'll never forget last year, on the Sunday after the day of service, when we invited everyone who had served on the day of service to stand up - and more than half the congregation stood. It was remarkable, the joy, energy, and gratitude we all felt.
In what ways do you serve in your life? How has serving changed your life? Do you regularly make time to serve others, in ways large and small? How do you feel when you are served by another? Are you able to receive their gifts, their loving service?
If you're in town, I hope you'll join us for our day of service on Feb 4, 2012. Invite a friend! And if you're willing to be a point person for a project on the day of service, please let me know.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Does prayer have to be directed toward someone or something, or can you simply pray? And what do you imagine prayer is for, anyway?
In Mary Oliver's short poem, Praying, she writes:
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
In my experience, this is exactly right on. For me, prayer is about paying attention, noticing what's happening around me, with other people, even in my own heart. It's about naming, and saying outloud those things that I'm noticing and feeling. It's about being in relationship with the world in a particular way. When I pray, it's hardly ever perfect, but it's not supposed to be. It's just a doorway into thanks, into a deeper place, into silence, where another voice might speak.
When do I pray? I almost always say a short prayer before I preach...holding in a prayerful way the people who are gathering in the sanctuary and praying that I be a conduit for something larger than myself. In this way, prayer serves as a reminder...I am reminded that worship is not, ever, about me...I am reminded that people carrying hopes, dreams, and broken hearts are arriving...and they're hoping to hear something that speaks to them.
Why do I pray? Because it centers, grounds, and holds me. There's something remarkably powerful about praying with other people.
Does prayer change anything? It changes me, the one who is praying. It changes my awareness, opens my heart, helps me move toward a posture of gratitude.
Who do I pray to? Life, God, the Spirit of Life, the Source of Life, the Big Mystery...sometimes I don't address anything or anyone...I just pray words of gratitude. Prayer is not a contest and there's no right way to do it. (If you're looking for a good resource on prayer, check out Erik Wikstrom's book, Simply Pray, or listen to this sermon I preached a while back: "All About Prayer: The Lord's, Yours and Mine."
Today, I invite you to patch together a few words of prayer...they don't have to be fancy or perfect...just pay attention...and give yourself a chance to step through the doorway into thanks. And if you're up for it, dear readers, I invite you to leave your prayer or prayer requests in the comments sections.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
I love that so many of you are commenting and reflecting on these posts. I feel like I'm getting to know some of you in deeper and different ways. Reading your comments, and imagining you at your computer, or on a laptop in a coffee shop, or thumbing away on your cell phone - well, that has brought me joy.
This morning, simple things are filling me with joy: my morning routine, fresh coffee, time to sit, think, and get grounded.
But the biggest surge of joy I've felt recently? We were in Durham, NC, over the winter break. The weather was mild. One afternoon, I want for a walk. The sun was out, warming my face. A gentle breeze was blowing. I didn't have a destination; I was walking because it felt good and I wanted to. And I felt profoundly happy, joyful, even, to be alive, to have a chance to spend some time on this earth. And as I walking, the idea to blog during the month of January came to me. I felt a pull to write about some of the spiritual practices I'm doing, to explore new ones, and to see if I could actually post once a day for a month. And in that 45 minute walk, about ten different posts began to write themselves in my head, as I breathed in fresh air, watched birds circle overhead, and felt my body in motion on a warm December day.
I don't quite know why I was so "joy-filled" during this walk - perhaps because the moment felt timeless, or because I was in a creative mindset, or because I wasn't needed anywhere else other than right where I was, or because I let the problems of the world fade away for a moment...but something happen, and joy took up residence in my body. .
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
So: a short story, a poem, and then the question...
The story: This past halloween, our son went trick or treating for the first time. We had explained the basics of how it would work. He'd wear a costume, knock on people's doors, say trick or treat, and then get some candy. He should say "thank you," and then move on to the next house. He seemed to understand the essential concept, but when we actually went trick or treating that night, and he got his first piece of candy dropped into his plastic pumpkin container, it all came together. After saying "thank you" he turned around, on fire with joy, and dashed off to the next house, happily shouting, "Candy! I got Candy!" I've never seen such joy or happiness. He embodied "living joy" that night. (Of his joy filled both my wife and I with a deep joy, as well.)
The poem: "From Blossoms"
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Question: When do you live as if death is nowhere in the background? When has joy bubbled up within you, blossoming in unexpected ways? Has there been a time when you ate a piece of fruit, and it opened you up to the orchard, the shade, the days?...and something close to joy burst into your life? When and where and how do you experience joy in your life? How can you make room for more joy in your life?
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Thurman also wrote a number of books and meditations. One of his well known quotes is,
"Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."Today's reflection question is simple: What makes you come alive? What makes you feel full of purpose and meaning? Or, to take another approach to this: When have you felt most alive, doing something that really aligned with you in a deep way? How can you do more of that in your life? (Another resource to help dig into this question is Parker Palmer's short book, Let Your Life Speak. I highly recommend it.)
Monday, January 9, 2012
Here are a few pieces of the good news of Unitarian Universalism that really jump out at me:
*Revelation is not sealed. A particular piece of wisdom/truth/insight, is not final. There is not one truth in one book somewhere, sealed up, beyond new interpretation. Instead, Unitarian Universalists suggest that revelation is unfolding, is continuous. God/the Spirit of Life/Love is still speaking in the world, through nature, poetry, sacred scripture, other human beings, music, and so much more. We believe that truth and wisdom continue to emerge in all sorts of places and is not limited to a particular book or teaching...and that's good news.
*The Universalist notion that we're enough, and that we're loved. When I really, truly let this reality into my heart, it is a stunning feeling, a mind blowing experience. In many ways, I'm still leaning how to live into this truth because we live in a culture that says we're not enough unless we make X amount of money, or look a certain way, or have a certain job, etc. etc. Universalism says none of that stuff matters. Universalism says "you're loved, beyond anyone you've done or failed to do." That is stunning, powerful, mind blowing good news. And as I glimpse that reality, it calls me (us) to love the world in a similar way. (Clearly, I'm drawn to this; if you missed my post on, "What exactly is the Universalist spirit of love and hope?" you can catch it here.) The saving message here is that we're held in a love greater than we can imagine.
*Belief that the individual is an authentic source of religious knowing. Another way to say this: We trust in our own religious experiences. I don't mean to suggest it's all about the individual and individual experience. It's not. We need a practicing faith community to be a part of, to hold us accountable, to challenge and shape us. And we need to be in conversation with sacred scripture and traditions that have deep roots, as well. But the good news, the saving message, is that the individual's religious experience matters...it's an authentic source of knowing (as opposed to saying the only authentic religious source is a sacred scripture, or the words of a religious person.)
I'm curious - what else do you see as the good news of our faith, the saving message, if you will?
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Essentially, this is where they landed:
We can follow the teachings of Jesus because they are deep, powerful, and transformative teachings, and they show us a new way to be human, to care for one another, and those outside our "tribe," whether they're man or woman, young or old, Jew or gentile, immigrant, exile, or outcast. We can follow Jesus (and his teachings) for this reason, not because he is God, and not because we must believe in his death and resurrection for our salvation. (This is the essential Unitarian claim. And of course, we're invited to follow the teachings of others, as well, as they help us live into our full humanity.)
We can trust that "God" loves the whole creation. Everyone is held in that love. We don't have to prove anything to be worthy of that love. And in turn, because we are loved, we are called to love fiercely, to persist in love, to turn love into justice in this world. Ultimately, love wins. (This is the essential Universalist claim.)It's continued to evolve, of course, but these claims essentially boil down to these one liners:
"We believe in the idea of one God (Unitarianism) and no one left behind (Universalism)."
"We believe in a love beyond belief." (Love trumps every boundary, barrier, or ideology that human beings construct.)
"We don't have to think alike to love alike." (This is from Frances David, a 16th century Unitarian.)
Or simply: Love wins. (Love transforms us, and calls us into new ways of being, that nothing else does. At the end of the day, love is more powerful than fear, or even death.)
So here's the reflection question for today: "If you identify as a Unitarian Universalist, how do you name the good news of our faith? What is the good, saving news, of our Unitarian Universalist tradition?"
I'm looking for something deeper than, "It's the community," or "You can believe whatever you want (not true!)," or "It's the social justice work..." Lots of places have community and do social justice work. In your own words, what is the good theological news of Unitarian Universalism?
...I almost shared my list of what I think some of the good news is, but I've decided to wait, to see what shows up in the comments section, and then I'll add my two cents worth.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Day 7 of Spiritual Practices and Reflections: The Practice of Attending to Your Soul (or Why Small Groups Matter)
I recently came across this quote from the poet, Mary Oliver:
"This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know, that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attention.""The souls exists...and it is built entirely out of attention." This seems like the perfect quote as far as it relates to spiritual practices and disciplines. All of the spiritual disciplines, whatever they are, are about paying attention, being mindful, being present - in short, they are about building/growing one's soul as we pay attention in different and deeper ways.
At First Universalist, one of the best places to "attend to your soul" is our Small Group program. (I've blogged about this before.) In Small Groups, with 8 to 10 other people, congregants engage in the discipline of deep listening to one another (and themselves) as they share the stories, questions, and growing edges of their lives and faith. It's the kind of listening that is not about fixing or advising another human being, or interrupting to tell a better story. It is the kind of deep, attentive listening that can help the soul show up...that can help the soul grow and speak its deepest truth.
Small Groups are a place where we can be known and know others at a deep level. Check out this video to hear from church members who have found great meaning in their Small Group experience:
Signs ups for Small Groups begin Jan 9, 2012. We're offering a variety of different groups. You can learn more here. If you're not already in a Small Group, I hope you'll join one. It just might change your life.
In this new year, how are you attending to your soul?
Friday, January 6, 2012
For me, this is a "God," question, it's a "what are my priorities?" question, and it's a question about idols. Wikipedia defines idol as "an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed or any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion." Take a second to read that again. Money, alcohol (any addiction), the internet, ego, self, a job, anger, a title, an expectation, just plain busyness - these can all become idols, they can all land in the center of our lives with remarkable ease. And they don't really belong there - they're not worthy of the best of who we are or can be.
So I'm curious, what's at the center of your life? What have you put there? Does it belong there? Is it worthy of your deepest loyalty?
I've had all sorts of crazy things at the center of my life over the years and it's only by continually asking this question that I can begin to put the right things into the center of my life - things like awe, wonder, God/the Holy, Love, spiritual practice, gratitude, and family. Those are the things worthy of my ultimate loyalty.
What's at the center of your life? What doesn't belong there? What would you like to add?
Thursday, January 5, 2012
In Latin, it means, 'divine reading.' It's a way to engage a reading (a poem, scripture, etc), not as a text to be studied, but as a living thing, that can speak and move and come alive in us, if we let it. Lectio divina is not about learning the text, it is about experiencing the text in a new way.
There are all sorts of variations on how to do lectio divina, but the most common way I know is to read a piece (a poem, a short piece of scripture) three times through, slowly, and to let the words wash over you.
Pay attention. What phrase comes alive in you? What new thing do you notice in the 2nd or 3rd reading that you didn't notice before? After you've read the piece three times, the idea is to sit in quiet meditation for a while, letting yourself and the text be together, allowing a new insight to be born, to open your heart to the experience. After this, there's often a chance to write or reflect on the experience. If you're in a group, you might share reflections with one another. Finally, you end with silence again, held by the words, the Spirit of Life, and the space.
This process of lectio divina might sound dry or even boring, but it's actually a powerful way to experience the text in a new way (At the bottom of this post, I included a poem I used this morning, as part of my practice...and for what it's worth, the part that really spoke to me was the first two lines; I imagined hope watching over my wife, son, and I, "hovering in the dark corners," as we slept last night...)
If you're in the Twin Cities, and interested in practicing lectio divina or learning more, Ruth MacKenzie, our Director of Worship Arts, writes in our January church newsletter (on page 5):
In this month of Living Resolutions, join me after the second service (at 12:15 p.m. in room 203) to experience lectio divina, an ancient practice of spiritual reading: Jan 15, 22, or 29. This practice is a meditative approach to the written word, where we allow ourselves to move deeply into a text, and let that text move deeply in us. No sign up is necessary, just a willingness to practice.
It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
it shakes sleep from its eyes
and drops from mushroom gills,
it explodes in the starry heads
of dandelions turned sages,
it sticks to the wings of green angels
that sail from the tops of maples.
It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
it lives in each earthworm segment
it is the motion that runs the tail of a dog,
it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
of the child that has just been born.
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God.
It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak.
~ Lisel Mueller ~
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
I've blogged about the "Give" part of this Mission Statement before (here: "The Best Gift Ever?") It's a deceptively simple Mission Statement, and the "Give" part especially. As a faith community, we're being called to give our attention, to pay attention, in new and different ways. Giving our full attention, to ourselves, to others, to the Spirit of Life/the Holy, opens us up, changes us, and allows us to get clear about what matters and what other gifts we might have to give the world.
Paying attention (giving our attention) can allow us to see our lives differently, to notice and give thanks for the gifts, people, and experiences that fill our lives....all of which can be invisible unless we're paying attention.
So today's reflection question is this: "What have you noticed in the past 24 hours that you are thankful for, that you don't want to forget? What blessing or moment of grace landed in your life yesterday? What experience, or conversation, out of the hundreds you had yesterday, stands out to you? What happened in the past 24 hours that you are deeply thankful for? And how might you express that gratitude? Is there someone to call? A note to write? A journal entry to make? A way you can pay this gratitude forward?"
As I look back over the past 24 hours of my life, my heart opens in gratitude for the time yesterday the church Management Team spent reflection on the question, "What is saving your life right now?" Our emerging practice, as a Management Team, is to spend the first part of our meeting doing some kind of spiritual reflection/spiritual direction work together, before we dig into our "work" agenda. I was deeply moved by the depth of what was shared yesterday. Thank you, management team.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Being among the dead, on a bright sunny day, I once again felt the impermanence of my life. I was aware of my mortality, of the mortality of those I love. I intentionally brought to mind many of the names and faces of those I've known and loved, who are no longer alive. And I was able to imagine myself near death, as well, my own body failing.
"Walking with death" in this way, I felt a renewed understanding of what a gift it is to be alive at all. I felt thankful to serve the faith community of First Universalist, as we journey together. I was reminded, as Rev. Forrest Church so often said, that death doesn't take everything from us; death cannot take away the love, time, attention, we've shared and given away to others.
There's nothing quite like walking in a cemetery...to bring you back to life, to what matters. In fact, as a Unitarian Universalist, my focus is on living this life as well and as deeply as I am able, so that when I come to the end of my days, I am not filled with regret or anger, but gratitude for the life I've had.
In this New Year, I hope you will spend time reflection on death, so that you might answer questions like these: How can I best serve and bless the world with my life? What is truly important in my life? What can I give away (or do) that will last beyond my life, that death can't take away?
Perhaps many of you have seen this poem. It's worth sharing again:
When Death Comes by Mary Oliver
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
as a field daisy, and as singular,
tending as all music does, toward silence,
precious to the earth.
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
Monday, January 2, 2012
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
my house your own
and me your person
and yourself my own dog.
This month at First Universalist our sermon series is about spiritual practices. We're focusing on spiritual practices and disciplines that can live at the center of our lives, helping us become more grounded people, aware of the gifts we've been blessed with, and the many ways we might bless the world. (Over at NotHellButHope you can Heidi Mastrud's great take on this.)
Every day, for the month of January, I intend to post about one of the practices or reflection questions that I'm currently exploring in my own life. (And in doing this, I understand myself to be continuing a practice that our Transcendentalist forebears engaged in, as they reflected on their lives through contemplation, meditation, journal writing, and conversation. You can read more about the practices of the Transcendentalists in this great article, "The Roots of Unitarian Universalist Spirituality in New England Transcendentalists," by Rev. Barry Andrews.)
The spiritual question I want to kick things off with is this one:
This question comes from the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, who I've blogged about before. Early in her ministry, she was asked to come and guest preach in a pulpit not far from the one she served. She wondered if she would have anything to say to a congregation she didn't know and that didn't know her.
"What would be helpful for me to preach about?" she asked the minister of the church she was going to preach at.
"Tell us what is saving your life right now," the minister responded. "That's what we need to hear. Tell us what is saving your life right now."
This story strikes a deep cord in me. Indeed, what is it in my life, right now, that is "saving me?" Amidst the ups and downs, the blur of endless "to-do's," the piles of books to read, meetings to attend, what is grounding, centering, holding, and "saving my life right now?"
Here's one of the things that is "saving my life" right now:
Crazy, right?! Maybe you're wondering: "How is this life saving, exactly?"
Here's the story: I've had some time off between Christmas and the New Year. This has meant that I've home during the day, and thus able to put our son down for his afternoon nap. (I rarely am home during the day, so it's something I have the chance to do.) Our son is not a big fan of the nap, but he absolutely needs it, or else he's a wreck by 6pm. And the best way for me to get him down is to hold and rock him, sitting on the edge of the bed or in a chair. He fights pretty hard for the first 10 minutes or so, kicking, crying, telling me he's hungry, or needs to get down to "go for a walk," or to go "get some exercise outside."
It's an intense experience, gently restraining him as he struggles, being clear that it is nap time, and that I love him (that's my mantra, "I love you, and, it's nap time.") After a little while, he settles down in my arms, still awake, but not struggling. His breathing deepens. He lets me rest my face in his hair. He smells like sweat, and shampoo, and something beautiful I can't even begin to describe, and the warmth and smell of his head touches something deep inside me.
As he relaxes in my arms, and moves toward sleep, I feel deeply grounded in the present moment, my arms gently holding my three year old son. From where my head rests, I can watch his eyes slowly close. After he falls asleep, I hold him a bit longer, then tuck him into bed.
So when I asked myself yesterday, "What is saving my life right now?" and scanned back through the past week, this is where I landed. I didn't know it in the moment; it's only looking back that I can say, "Yes, putting our son down for nap is saving my life right now."
It's saving my life because it's a reminder that things won't always be this way. Soon, I won't be able to hold and cradle him. Soon, he'll stop taking naps. Soon, he'll be at school most of the day. So be present, Justin, be present.
It's saving my life, because it brings my son and I together in a way that nothing else does. There's a deep intimacy, connection, and vulnerability that we share together in those nap time moment. There's a trust and a comfort that is beyond words. (If you've ever fallen asleep in the arms of someone else, you know what I mean.)
It's saving my life because these nap time moments puts me in place where I can imagine how my parents might have held me in such a way; it opens up the past in a different way for me, opening up a new sense of connection with my parents, imagining their arms wrapped around me.
It's saving my life because it's giving me new insight, meaning, and connection. It's saving my life because it helps me feel whole.
What is saving your life right now?