Monday, December 27, 2010

A Balanced Spirit

Last year some lay leaders of the church started to worry about burn out.  There was also a feeling by some folks that we had fallen out of balance in our ratio of sermons and projects devoted to Justice, and those devoted to the spirit.  Personally, I have been in a phase of my own spiritual path where just work and spiritual work were one and the same, but I recognize that everyone is at a different place on their journey.  Everyone has their blind spots, so ministers rely on their trusted advisers to help keep balance in the ministry.  I  tried to imagine how this year I could bring more spirit into our community, with an emphasis on renewal for those folks who were at the edge of burn out.

In conversation with the Worship Team, we decided that on Sundays when the children and teens are not  in the service, we would use the time usually reserved for a story for quiet meditation. The Board decided to be  conscious about including not just a chalice lighting and reading at the beginning of each meeting, but a 10-15 minute spiritual practice that reflected the spiritual life of that day's leader.  I decided to focus a handful of sermons over the course of the year on renewal- starting with an early fall sermon about how Unitarian Universalists can observe a sabbath.  I also decided that our Adult RE offerings would focus more on heart and spirit than on mind and hands; Dream Work in the fall, and Evensong in the winter.

I forgot that this plan, if it was truly an effective one, would change me, not only my flock.  First of all, it has been so delightful to have a place to bring my dreams after a number of years without a dream group.  My dream journal went from about 1 entry a month, to a couple every week.  The folks who came for the dream group are incredibly intuitive and insightful, and the whole process has been lovely.  I have also had to dust off my favorite meditation manuals, and share some basic Buddhist meditation practices with the congregation in worship.

A few weeks back I was feeling kind of discontent- like my persona was out of sync with who I really wanted to be.  In a fit of inspiration between washing the dinner dishes and putting my son to bed, I removed all the little objects that had accumulated on my altar, dusted the whole thing and started from scratch. I found myself thinking about those objects and colors over the next few days as my mind wandered, making changes until it was balanced and somehow reflected some freshness I wanted in my life.  That same week I lead a  workshop with our worship team on "Leading Meditation in Worship", and realized afterward how long it had been since I had meditation with anyone except my yoga class. By the time I arrived at the Dream Work class on Thursday, I could see a trend -- the feeling-tone of my inner life was changing.  There was a freshness, a curiosity there which I hadn't even known was lacking.

Of course we are still holding public forms about how hydro-fracking will effect our local economy and eco-systems, and are in the middle of a holiday food drive for the local food pantry, but our focus on renewal brings a different tone to our work togehter.  How incredibly blessed I am to serve a congregation that notices when we are out of balance, and believes in the value of restoring that balance.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Having and Aquiring

Last week I preached about mindfulness during the holiday season. I used shopping as a primary example of how our "wanting" knocks us off our center, and posited that the way to end the stress of wanting is not through finally "having it all" but through mindfunless and returning ourselves to the present moment. (We've been thinking a lot about Buddhism lately, in case that wasn't obvious).

One of the wise folks in the congregation noted, during the talk-back time, that perhaps there is a difference between acquiring and having.  She suggested that our society is better at acquiring than at having. In response I voiced the ethic we hear time and time attributed to indigenous peoples- using every part of hte buffalo or deer or any animal killed in the hunt is a sign of respect to the animal.  Here in this time and place when we go hunting it is for inanimate objects like smartphones and sweaters, and we have abandoned this ethic completely . 

It wasn't until I got in the car for the drive home that I realized what wonderful food for thought she had offered.   As the great Ben Franklin said "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." I don't know about you, but I have more stuff that I can use. Seriously.  I mean, how many of us have more books than we will ever read?  I know all you knitters out there have a stash that will most likely be passed on to your grand children.  More importantly, when I clean out my closet for the season and pass on the clothes I am "done with" what percentage do you think are actual "worn out?"  Part of the reason that jeans with pre-fab rips and faded splotches are in style right now is that no one keeps their pants until they are ripped and torn.  Maybe it is all about the thrill of the hunt, acquiring new things more than really using and appreciating the things we have.  There's always the option of becoming renunciates, but if we are going to stay in the world, we are going to have stuff.  What would it be like to really have it, instead of just acquiring it?

Friday, December 03, 2010


When I first moved to California, I was amazed to realize that the 12 foot tall tree in my friend's front yard was fuchsia.  If you've lived in the North East, you know that Fuchsia is  a hanging plant for porches in summer time.  In California, they outgrow their pots and live to a glorious and ripe old age.  They became a favorite plant of mine, and when the landscaper accidentally chopped one down while clearing out scrub I was sad for years.

So this summer when I saw a sweet little Fuchsia in a 4" pot at the nursery, I just couldn't resist.  I had to learn for myself whether they could overwinter if taken indoors.  I missed that first frost, though, and though I took it in the next day, its few leaves started to fall off one by one.  I had hope though- I remember one Fuchsia in my California Garden had been trampled flat during an outdoor party, but somehow made a full recovery.  Sure enough, my Ithaca Fuchsia is sprouting new leaves.  I don't know if it will be enough to make it through the winter until it can face the out of doors again, but I had to try.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wealth n stuff

This is what it's like to be an american:

In this country I know I am solidly middle class.  Not a lot of money for luxuries, but a roof over our heads and food to in the refrigerator.  Some days I feel really deprived not to be able to afford all the things I see on TV... I mean, we can't even afford smart phones!

Then I remember that 1 in 5 people in the world do not even have access to a pit latrine. 


I guess that makes me rich.  It's just hard to remember sometimes.

That's what it's like to be an American.