Spring 2019 Letter from the Minister

Dear UCM members and friends,

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 10.11.00 AMOur March worship theme of “Journey” is very much on my mind as I count down the days to my departure to Honduras on March 18 for an interfaith “Root Causes of Migration” pilgrimage. Preparing for a journey like this one requires physical, material, emotional, and spiritual readiness. I have many questions running through my mind: Can I maintain my physical health enough to feel ready to leave and healthy while I’m away? What do I need to bring with me to feel that I have what I need for those eight days of travel? How can I prepare myself emotionally and spiritually to be ready to engage in a new experience, meet new people, and make meaning of this journey? What do I need to tend to here with you and in my personal life to feel okay about stepping away?

I find the four stages of pilgrimage that I have been learning about to be helpful in this preparation: motivation & longing, preparation & departure, journey – the way, and return & promise.

[C]aminante, no hay camino se hace camino al andar.
Traveler, there is no road, the road is made as we go.
~ Antonio Machado

In these days prior to leaving, I am reflecting on the reasons I am called to participate in this pilgrimage, what I seek to learn, and how my own life story is connected to the history and people of Honduras. The journey I have been on as a Unitarian Universalist has called me many times over to reflect on who and how I want to be in the world as well as for whom and with whom. Within our spiritual community at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, I witness so many examples of people choosing to engage in loving service of others. I believe that part of my journey with you as your minister involves finding those ways that I am most called to serve the world and to engage in dialogue and conversation with you about this service. I look forward to talking with you more about this journey in the days before my departure and after I return on March 25.

In the next few weeks, we have an exciting opportunity to engage in discernment, commitment, and generosity as members of our spiritual community. Our Annual Budget Drive for the 2019-2020 church year begins on Sunday, March 10 with the theme, “Fuel Our Flame.” One of the principles of pilgrimage is that we rely on each other for it is always a new journey. We, too, rely on each other within our congregation.

We care for one another with the gifts of a listening ear, warm meals, smiles, and laughter. The generosity of our time and many talents allows us to carry out our mission as a spiritual community engaged in shared ministry. And, our generous financial contributions are key to ensuring we can sustain our church community for one another continuing to be the people we desire to be and make a positive difference in the world.

I hope you will consider with an open and generous heart the many ways you can engage with our congregation to nurture your own spiritual journey – and others’ as well – in the months to come.

With gratitude and love,

Joan

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No Human Being is Illegal by Jo Romano

Below is a guest blog post written by Jo Romano, member of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier. She and two others from Montpelier, one also a member of UCM, answered the call from the UU College of Social Justice for volunteers to support asylum seekers and refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border and left for El Paso, Texas on February 1 to volunteer with Annunciation House, a shelter for migrants and asylum seekers.

February 6, 2019

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As I feast my eyes on the magical El Paso night skyline, I am reminded how thankful I am to know beauty, compassion, and joy for this crazy world I live in – especially with those so much less fortunate than me.

On Friday, February 1, Sally, Abby and I arrived in El Paso, living in a sparse Air BnB.  No bureaus, or tables to put our belongings on. So we use the floor. It is clean and spacious. I sleep on what feels like a very hard couch for a bed, but by morning as I awake it feels soft and comfortable and cozy. We are tourists today, for tomorrow we begin orientation with the Annunciation House with the goal to welcome, feed, clothe and help migrants arriving daily to their next destination, somewhere in the United States. 

We explored El Paso by foot walking 5 miles on Friday and 5 miles on Saturday and went to the History and Art Museums passing by the El Paso Detention Center. Saturday afternoon we get a text from the Annunciation House asking us to change our plans and travel Sunday morning to Las Cruces, New Mexico because a new site to receive migrants has opened at a LaQuinta Inn. All three of us are up for the task and are driven to Las Cruces, which is only 45 minutes away from El Paso. We arrive 30 minutes before the arrival of 50 immigrants mostly from Guatemala, some from Honduras and El Salvador.

We receive no orientation and are thrown into the fire. 50 people arrived by bus and sit outside on sidewalks and curbs in the LaQuinta parking lot. They are families, mostly 2 people per family. A mother or father with a child, babies still in their mother’s womb to 17 years old.

We learn about their journey.  I am furious and very disturbed by the experience that is confirmed. 

They cross over the bridge from Mexico to El Paso and are taken to a holding site where they are registered. They are given a thin metallic (silver) paper blanket and sleep on a cold hard concrete floor with this one blanket for the two of them. The air conditioning is turned up high causing the people to be very cold, which is not what they are used to having come from warm climates. The adults are given one frozen burrito 3 times a day.  The children are given a juice box and animal crackers, 3 times are day.

It is a stark and frightening experience for them, on purpose. The officials at the holding center are directed to make their stay very unpleasant in hopes that they will give up and decide to ‘self deport.’ They are there 2 to 5 days and a fair amount of these people develop sickness, colds, fevers, and upset stomachs.

At the holding sites, each adult and child is registered, given a date for legal action. A thick heavy black permanent ankle brace is put on the adult programmed with the address of a family or friend, who will sponsor them while they wait for the government process to unfold. The ankle brace does not come off, so the government can keep track of each person at all times. If there is a change of address or if the address is wrong and needs to be changed, they need to return to the detention center for the brace to be reprogrammed to the new address.

The government officials at the detention centers refer to the immigrants as “bodies” and when it is time for them to eat, they say “it is feeding time.” They see these people not as human but more as animals and treat them as we might treat our animals on farms.

You may have read about this in the news. Currently there are 30 people in one detention center in El Paso that are on hunger strike because of the conditions. They are force fed by a tube that is put through the nose and down their throats.

The day before Christmas Eve, the government dropped off, by bus, a hundred or more in a park in El Paso with no food, water, or a place to go, knowing no one. It is winter here and it was colder than usual out that night — 30 and 40 degrees.

Lindy, a 31-year old site coordinator for Annunciation House was awakened by a call at midnight by Reuben, the director of the Annunciation House, and was asked to contact all 6 sites/shelters to see what capacity of beds they had, if any, to receive these 100 mothers, fathers and children. By 2 am, Lindy completed her research, found transportation provided by local volunteers and delivered them all to one of the 6 sites in El Paso or to a hotel (where a new site had to be opened).

By 6am some of the migrants were placed. The rest, a large number, were transported to a new site at a local La Quinta Inn. 30 rooms were booked (2 family pairs to each room). Often a new site needs to be open at a hotel to meet the need.

There are 300-400 people arriving daily in El Paso seeking asylum from poverty and violence in their home countries. Lindy said that in one month (Nov – Dec), it cost $150,000 just to temporally house migrants in hotels. This does not include the costs of the fully functioning 6 sites in El Paso. 

The Detention Centers do have a relationship with Annunciation House’s director, Reuben. They call him daily to say how many they are releasing from detention to the temporary shelters. Usually by 11am, Reuben notifies site coordinators at shelters and hotels how many will be arriving at their site. There is a tremendous amount of coordination going on to make this system flow daily, thus the need for volunteers locally and from afar.

95% of the migrants have someone in the U.S. who will sponsor them, where they can go to live. These  destinations are all over the U.S. – Chicago, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Atlanta, Washington DC, NY upstate and NY City, Philadelphia, North and South Carolina, Florida, California, Oregon, Washington State, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and even Vermont to name the few that I have worked with so far.  The receiving family member or friend (sponsor) pays for a plane ticket, or a bus ticket. It often times takes l to 3 days to get there by bus.

Life as a volunteer.

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Eating out after a day of volunteering (pictured L to R: Monica from El Paso, Abby Colihan from Unitarian Church of Montpelier, Jo Romano from Unitarian Church of Montpelier, Sally DeCicco from Montpelier, Bethany UCC

We arrived in Las Cruces, New Mexico at the LaQuinta Inn, a new site that opened on a Monday housing 100 people, then the next day 50 more were added. That is when Sally, Abby and I arrived.

In the full group of 50 or 100, each mother and child or father and child (sometimes there are 2 or 3 children per adult) is oriented. They are welcomed by the coordinator of that site and told that 1) they are safe here, 2) there will be food to eat here and enough water to drink here 3) there is medicine here for those that need it 4) they will be warm here, 5) they are welcome and respected here and 6) we will do our best to support them in the next l to 3 days to help them continue on their journey to their sponsor and reach their destination by bus or plane. Volunteers are introduced, so they know whom they are to go for help and ask questions.

They are escorted family by family into one of the hotel rooms, which is the “central office.” Here there are four volunteers (must speak Spanish) doing intake in two rooms. One volunteer writes down the full name of the mom or dad, the name and age of the child(ren), where they are from, and where they need to get to next.

Then the family moves to another table where another volunteer (must speak Spanish) begins to make transportation plans. They call the receiving sponsor in the U.S. and the sponsor tells the volunteer that they will purchase tickets by bus or plane and a date and time is decided upon. Usually the mom or dad talks on the phone with their sponsor to ensure that the mom or dad understands the plan. Forms are filled out and pinned to complex white boards delineating the next step by date. Today, tomorrow, or the next day by bus, plane or pickup (if very local). 

Sometimes the destination address given at the detention center that is programmed into the ankle brace changes. And when that happens, it is a real problem, because then arrangements have to be made to go back to the holding center to get permission and reprogram the ankle brace to the new address!

Then the family goes to the next station, where I am serving as a volunteer who coordinates and assigns a hotel room number. Keeping track of the rooms and where everyone is assigned is a feat. With a large matrix on the wall, filling in who is where, with colored sticky notes, color depending on the day they arrived. I need to make sure that mothers with female child(ren) are assigned in the same rooms, fathers with male child(ren) are assigned in the same rooms, a mom with a male child is assigned with another mom with male child, a dad with a female child, etc. Of course we need to make sure that male and female children over the age of 6 are not assigned together. Yes, it is complicated!

Then I give the family their room number and escort them to the next station where they get a small packet of toiletries (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb). This is where Sally is volunteering, making sure they get their packet and that they connect to the next station, which is meeting the “runner” who will take them to their room.

Abby is serving as a “runner,” taking the adult and child(ren) to their assigned room.

Abby speaks enough Spanish to help them get settled in their room. She tells them

how to open and close the door, how to work the shower, to make sure that they flush toilet paper inside the toilet (rather than put in the trash can, which back home they are accustomed to), that they cannot use the phone, that only one key to two families is provided, that breakfast is from 7-8am, lunch 12-1pm and dinner 6-7pm, that they can come down to the lobby but not leave the building, and that they can come to the office at any time with any questions or medical needs, etc.

They they relax – or sometimes not!  Rooms are limited. I often have to reassign a family to another room at a moment’s notice (Abby goes to them, asks them to relocate to the room I reassign).  Abby says they are all so accommodating – “sure no problem and thank you.”

Whenever there is a quick reassignment, I have to make sure I go and find their paperwork and change the room assignment on the form so we can keep track what room they are assigned to.

The other volunteers (must speak Spanish) are now working on transportation plans, time and flight, and they have to assign a “transporter” to take the family to the airport or the bus station. There are volunteers who help in this way. I took a family to the local bus station in Las Cruces and made sure they got on the bus.

The people are being transported to bus or plane throughout the day, morning or night, every day. I am amazed at the coordination that these volunteers and coordinators are responsible for.  And then there are missed busses or connecting flights that have to be solved.

There is a room assigned for “medical help and supplies.” Sometimes there is a nurse practitioner or doctor who needs to be consulted.  Today, there was a mom and 3-year-old daughter who had a rash. The nurse practitioner was called in to look at it and he determined it was scabies that can only be treated by a prescription. So a prescription needed to be called in, a volunteer had to go to pharmacy in El Paso to pick it up, etc.

At any time during their short stay at the hotel, they may choose to go to the “clothing room” where Sally, Abby and I also volunteer, organizing and sorting donated clothing.  Each person is provided one new pair of socks, one new pair of underpants, a pair of pants, blouse or shirt (if needed), and a winter coat (if needed).  Many of the immigrants’ destination is Northeast and requires warm clothing.

Local churches volunteer to provide lunches and dinners for 100 which consists of rice, pinto beans, corn tortillas, sometimes shredded chicken. When there is a lack of volunteering, pizza is brought in.

When the moms and dads and children leave, they are provided with a bag filled with the following — if they’re leaving on a plane (no water): an orange, apple, granola bars, pudding, or other snack, juice packets and 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white Wonder Bread per person. If they’re leaving on a bus, a similar bag is prepared, with a water bottle for each person, and 3 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches per adult, per day.  So a family of 2 traveling on a 3 day bus trip requires 18 sandwiches. 

Sally, Abby and myself are pretty busy all the time from 7am into the evening making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and packing destination bags.

We smile and comfort these folks whom many are frightened. It is our honor to greet our neighbors from abroad with empathy, compassion and a smile.  As the mission of my home Unitarian Church of Montpelier says: We welcome all, as we build a loving community to nurture each person’s spiritual journey, serve human need and protect the Earth, our home.


The UU College of Social Justice is still accepting applications for volunteers to support refugees in Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border. More information can be found here.

February mUUsings: A Reflection on Faith, Borders, and Migration

My first trip to the US-Mexico border in 2004 was an ordinary experience. After finishing a grueling year-long organizing campaign in New Mexico, I took off for a road trip with a couple of friends. We toured around the state visiting the mountain forests of the Sierra Blanca, White Sands National Monument, and Roswell (famous for a UFO sighting in 1947). The final stop before returning to Albuquerque was Ciudad Juarez, Mexico just across the border from El Paso, Texas. I don’t remember much about the actual border crossing. I imagine we had our passports ready. We arrived to Juarez, parked the car, and spent a few hours as tourists visiting local shops and having lunch before heading back. As U.S. citizens with all the proper paperwork, we didn’t worry about what we might experience as we re-entered the U.S.

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Eight years later, I visited a different part of the US-Mexico border. I journeyed to Phoenix, Arizona for what was billed “Justice GA,” our annual denominational assembly which that year was focused on the calls for justice in Arizona. Unitarian Universalists from the Tucson congregation offered a border trip to anyone who wanted to arrive early and spend a few day in Tucson and across the border in Nogales, Mexico. I learned about the work of No More Deaths / No Mas Muertes, a humanitarian organization dedicated to stopping the deaths of migrants in the Arizona desert. It is an official ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson. Recently, the work of No More Deaths has been under attack by the U.S. government. On January 18, four volunteers with No More Deaths were found guilty on all charges related to their efforts to provide life-saving humanitarian aid to migrants in the Arizona desert. Five aid workers still await trial.

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Last week, I returned to the southern borderlands as part of the “Beyond the Call 3: Grounding and Growing our Prophetic Ministries” program. Our second retreat was held at a ranch 45 minutes south of Tucson and 30 minutes north of the US-Mexico border. One of the most impactful parts of the retreat for me was spending a couple of hours with three people from the UU congregation in Amado, Arizona, just 10 minutes north of the ranch where we had our retreat. The minister, their office manager, and a long-time member of the church hosted our group of about 25 people. We were there to bear witness to their stories.

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The border wall and fencing in Nogales, Arizona

For more than an hour, they shared reflections on what it has been like for each of them to try to live in faithful witness and action in their community. They shared stories of people – in one case a 13 year-old girl – showing up at the front door of their homes and the church lost, hungry, thirsty, and tired. They shared stories of day to day life attempting to travel through checkpoints and watching truckloads of concertina wire headed for the border. They shared stories of showing up at the port in Nogales to shut down the border crossing in protest of the treatment and separation of migrant families in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol custody. I found it especially moving to hear Barbara Lemmon, now in her 80s and formerly a resident of Waterbury, VT, share that providing help to migrants traveling through the area has now become her life’s work.

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Rev. Joan and other participants of the BTC3 program with Barbara Lemmon (pictured to the left of Joan) at Borderlands Unitarian Universalist in Amado, AZ

We also learned that the congregation had been in a months long discernment about changing their name from Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Green Valley in Amado to Borderlands Unitarian Universalist. Another sign of how their faith is calling them in new directions.

Living many hundreds of miles north of the US-Mexico border, it may seem as if our lives in Vermont are quite removed from the issues facing those in the southern borderlands. In our state, however, we do have hundreds of immigrants from Mexico and Central America who have traveled long distances to work on our dairy farms. There are people in our community who spend significant parts of the year in southwestern states and Mexico and who consider these parts of the country and world to be home. And while the militarization that is ramping up in the southern borderlands is happening at an alarming pace and scale, in our proximity to the northern border we are also subject to the impacts of increased militarization of our borders and the expanded reach of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We are all connected and we are all impacted by the policies that control who can enter our country and how immigrants are treated once they arrive.

I am inspired by UCM members Abby Colihan and Jo Romano who left Vermont on February 1 to spend two weeks volunteering with Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, a shelter for migrants who have recently entered the U.S.

In my own discernment about how to respond to the continuing moral crisis at the border and in our treatment of those migrating from Central American and Mexico, I have decided to join a weeklong interfaith pilgrimage to Honduras, March 18-25. I will be one of two ministers representing the UU College of Social Justice on this trip. The “Interfaith Root Causes of Migration Pilgrimage” is sponsored by SHARE El Salvador. During our time, we will visit with organizations working for the rights of migrants, accompany members of targeted Honduran communities, participate in an interfaith solidarity action, and reflect on the life of Oscar Romero. My hope is that I will be able to learn more about how political unrest, violence, and climate change are showing up in people’s lives and affecting migration. I hope to join in community with others who are inspired by their faith traditions to serve in witness and accompaniment. I hope to bring an open heart and mind and to bring back stories to share with you all and our broader community.

It is my faith in the power of our connections to heal division that calls me on this journey. It is my faith in the liberation of all people through moral struggle and resistance that calls me on this journey. It is my faith in our shared ministry – minister and congregation and all of us working together – that continues to call me on this journey.

In faith and love,

Joan

December mUUsings

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Image credit: NASA/JPL

As most of us were finishing up our Thanksgiving dinners this past week, three spacecrafts were making their final approach to the planet Mars. NASA’s InSight Lander trailed by two briefcase-sized satellites, MarCO-A and MarCO-B (nicknamed “Wall-E” and “Eve”) had traveled nearly seven months to reach their destination beginning a two-year mission to study the interior composition of the planet.

One of the hopes for the mission is that the data it sends back will help us learn more about the early formation of our planet Earth and other planets in the inner solar system.

The human drive to answer big questions and unravel timeless mysteries continues to move us forward. This drive also stops my in my tracks in total wonder at all we may never fully understand about our own human existence and the universe of which we are one tiny part.

As we enter this holiday season, I hope that you will allow yourself a moment (or two or three) to stop and marvel at the wondrous mystery that is all around us. It is our capacity for awe that can help replenish our wells when the weight of the world starts to feel too heavy.

Remember: we are all made of stardust.

How mysterious and wonderful is that?

December Spiritual Exercises

Option A: Return to an Ordinary Moment of Deep Meaning

We’ve all experienced it: the mystery of an ordinary moment that suddenly unfolds and offers deep meaning. The everyday becomes luminous. This exercise invites you to remember some of those luminous moments and revisit the gift they gave. To do this, simply make some time to watch and meditate on the following video:

The Moment

As you watch, think of moments you’ve experienced when life suddenly and mysteriously lit up and reminded you of the marvel and preciousness of being alive. And think about how that lit you up – move you from a feeling of “the same old, same old” to a feeling of dancing with the sacred. Go one from there to imagine images from your own life that you’d include if you were making your own video. Then keep watch during the following hours and days to see if this meditation changes the way you perceive or dance with your “ordinary” days.

Option B: Connect with Mystery on a Clear Night

Since the beginning of our existence, star-gazing has been a primary way we humans contemplate mystery. For scientist and mystic alike, it is a central way we sort out our mysterious place in the universe and the mystery of who we are. As we connect with the universe we connect more deeply with ourselves. This exercise invites you to lean into this connection between the stars above and deep meaning within.

To do this, make room on a clear night to listen to the following podcast while you gaze at the open sky:

Space – RadioLab

The podcast tells the stories of numerous people’s efforts to connect with and make meaning of the mystery that lies beyond. As you listen, treat each story as an invitation to see something new in the vastness overhead. Simply allow this visual and auditory meditation to soak over you. When the podcast ends, continue to sit or lay in the quiet stillness and listen for the new story that your own voice starts to tell. Come to your group ready to share what this clear night clarified for you.

Here’s some additional inspiration:

Option C: Tell Your Mystical Tale

We UUs have had a mixed relationship to our mystical side. Sadly, we’ve tended to distance, deny or ignore it. But it’s there. From the Transcendentalists to our love of earth-centered spirituality, from our first UU Source to those of us who describe themselves as “freethinking mystics with hands,” stories of UU mysticism are woven fine throughout our history. This exercise invites you to add your own mystical experience to that narrative.

Throughout the month of December on our Soul Matters Facebook page, we will invite Soul Matters participants to share short versions of their mystical experiences on the Facebook page and in our Soul Matters google folder. It’s an effort to collect, affirm and articulate the first of our UU Sources: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.”

All you have to do is make some time this month to reflect on and condense your mystical experience into a paragraph or two. Or if you have the heart of a poet, maybe even into 8 or 12 lines. When you are done, copy and paste it into our UU Mystics document (or post it on Facebook when we solicit stories).

To help you on your way, visit our UU Mystics document where some stories of UU mystics already are.

As you write your story, think about the phrasing of our first UU Source and ask yourself how your story continues to “move you to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.”

October mUUsings

The grove of pine trees in the field down the road from our family’s shared vacation house outside Rockford, Illinois seemed a bit out of place. There were a few houses on the street and also big open fields typical of the Midwestern landscape. But, my favorite place to run to was the oddly-placed grove of pine trees adjacent to our neighbor’s house.

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My family was one of four families that shared this modestly-sized house as a weekend getaway from the city environs of Chicago for the countryside of rural Illinois. When we visited this home, my cousins and I would run to the pine tree grove and crawl underneath the branches of the trees into a small clearing often covered in pine needles. It was a magical place to play and imagine.

My extended family was quite large, and being a more introverted child, I would sometimes venture over to the pine tree grove on my own just to have some peace and quiet. Even as a child, I knew how important it was to have a place of sanctuary.

Since then, I have sought out and created places of sanctuary wherever I have lived – the natural amphitheater at my college, the running path through Rock Creek Woods, my attic bedroom in my adobe house in New Mexico, the independent book store in Denver…so many places have offered me peace, solitude, and inspiration and have helped me recharge my spirits. The many sanctuaries of my life have offered my soul a safe and protected place to be still and to sink into the depth of my own being.

As we enter more deeply into the season of autumn, where and when can you offer yourself a space of sanctuary? How can you nurture for yourself dedicated times and places to take care of your soul?


October Spiritual Exercises

Option A: Share Your Umbrella

There’s a beautiful UU children’s story called “The Umbrella Sanctuary.” Its message is for kids and adults alike. In it, the umbrella represents the many ways others offer us sanctuary from the storms of life as well as the many ways we can pass on that shelter to others. The story also gently reminds us that we overlook opportunities to offer shelter and sanctuary every day. If our attention is woke, we notice that all around us people are “wet with rain.”

So this month, you are invited to use the story to wake up your attention and seek out opportunities to offer people “your umbrella.” This exercise also asks you to go one step further and use a literal umbrella as your daily reminder. Yes, it may feel a little silly at first, but after reading the story, you’ll feel differently. Find an umbrella and hang it by the door of your home so you are reminded every day as you head to work or out for the day. Or take an umbrella with you and let it hang out near your desk as your daily reminder. You might even just let it lay in the back seat of your car for the month. Whatever you choose, use it as a reminder and meditative token of all times someone has noticed you in need and how your gratitude for that calls you to keep an eye out for those often subtle (and not-so-subtle) signs that someone else needs the gift of human shelter.

Here’s the link  to the story: https://www.uua.org/worship/words/story/umbrella-sanctuary

Option B: Your Many Sanctuaries

Sanctuary comes to us in many forms during our lives. This exercise invites you to meditate on the gift of those many sanctuaries.

Make time to take stock of all the various places, spaces, relationships and experiences that function and have functioned as sanctuary for you.

Here’s the crucial part: As you remember and notice them, identify a symbol or token that represents them. For instance, collect a picture of the person who has been sanctuary for you. If it’s a physical space like your church sanctuary, grab a hymnal. If it’s the arboretum near your work where you often take your lunch, then grab one of their brochures. Those of us who find sanctuary in music might pull out a CD cover. Those of us who find refuge in the woods might pick up and press a fall leaf. Or you might want to use your phone as your collection device and spend the month taking pictures of all of your sanctuaries.

However to do it, the point is to gather these symbols of sanctuary in one place and then see what that “pile of sacred support” says to you. Indeed noticing the size and diversity of the pile is the point: It’s all too easy to go through life feeling vulnerable and alone. Pulling all our sanctuaries into one space, helps anchor us in the truth that life itself is more of a sanctuary than we sometimes think.

Option C: Sanctuaries of Silence

There is a special relationship between silence and sanctuary. Places and moments of restorative silence are as essential to us as breathing. Some even say it takes silence for us to find the breath of our souls. But in our loud and hurried world, spaces of silence are not easy to come by. They’ve been pushed to the far corners of our experience and in some case they’ve been eliminated and must be created again from scratch.

So this month, seek out (or create) as many “sanctuaries of silence” and stillness as you can find. Think of it as a spiritual treasure hunt. Where are the hidden refuges of silence near your work? How might you create pockets of silence in the midst of your daily routine? What secret spaces of silence do your friends know about? Hunt down as many as you can. And then share your “treasure map” with friends and loved ones not only as a way of sharing your story but also reminding others that they can find sanctuaries of silence too.

Here’s a bit of inspiration for this exercise: Sanctuaries of Silence

https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000005811102/sanctuaries-of-silence.html

https://emergencemagazine.org/story/sanctuaries-of-silence/

Or if your cell phone and e-mail are keeping you stuck in storm of doing and cut off from the sanctuary of silence  You could approach this exercise by following the advice of a wellness expert named Dave Radparvar. It’s called “Toothbrush to Toothbrush.” We’ll let Radparvar explain the spiritual trick in his own words:

https://www.holstee.com/blogs/reflections/toothbrush-to-toothbrush

After reading the article, give it a try for a week or two. Or use the article to figure out a freeing habit of your own. Come to your group ready to share how sanctuary from your cell phone and email helped alter and enhance not only your time before and after brushing your teeth, but also all the time in between!

September mUUsings

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As we sat on the edge of the bed, my just-turned-fiancé turned to me and said, “Let’s spit on it.”

The “spit handshake” Urban Dictionary will tell you, is “the act of spitting on your hand before a handshake” and is “only to be used for the most sacred of handshakes.”

Well, this was certainly a sacred moment. After professing my love for my partner and telling him I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, he wanted to be sure about what I was pronouncing.

“So, are you saying you want to marry me?”

I nodded my head with slight incredulity at what I – the slight commitment-phobe I am – had just proclaimed.

“Let’s spit on it.”

We shared in the sacred gesture of the “spit handshake,” and then I quickly dashed to the bathroom sink to wash myself clean of the promise-laden spit smeared across my palm.

We all make sacred promises in our lives. (Not all of them involving such grand gestures, of course.) These promises give our lives and relationships shape and meaning. Some promises feel easy and natural to make and others require much thought and consideration.

The decision to deepen our relationship by entering into a covenant of marriage was one that my partner and I made with great consideration. I knew that this would be one of the biggest promises I would ever make and would set a course for my life in a defining way.

As Unitarian Universalists, the word “covenant” is foundational to describing the promises and commitments we make in our spiritual community. To covenant is to engage in mutual relationships of trust and accountability. These kinds of relationships can be counter-cultural in a society that so often prioritizes the individual self in our idea of what it means to be human rather than our relationships.

This month, I invite you to consider what it means for you to be a person of covenant. What promises have you made to yourself and others? What relationships might need repair? How can the covenants in your life be deepened?

May you know yourself to be held in relationships of trust and love this month and where you find brokenness in your relationships, may you feel the possibility of repair.

With love,

Rev. Joan


September Spiritual Exercises

Option A: Whose Am I?

Quaker teacher, Douglas Steer writes:

The ancient question, “Who am I?” inevitable leads to a deeper one: “Whose am I?” – because there is not identity outside of relationship.  You cannot be a person by yourself. To ask “Whose am I” is to extend the question far beyond the little self-absorbed self, and wonder: Who needs you?  Who loves you?  To whom are you accountable?  To whom do you answer?  Whose life is altered by your choices?  With whose life, whose lives is your own all bound up, inextricably, in obvious or invisible ways?

So, whose are you? This exercise invites you to honor this core covenantal question by living with four different photographs this month.  Here are your instructions:

  1. Find and print out four pictures of four different people:
  • one of a person that represent your promises to those that have gone before you
  • one of a person that represents your promises to those who will come after you
  • one of a person that represents your promises to someone central to your life right now
  • one of yourself — past or present — that represents your promises to yourself 
  1. Put these four pictures in a place you will see every day this month.  Perhaps tape them to your bathroom mirror or stick them in your wallet.  Maybe frame them and place them on your desk or stick them with magnets on your fridge.
  2. Make a conscious effort to reflect on them every day and do at least one thing to further or honor your promise to one of these people.
  3. Share your four pictures with a friend, family member, or maybe even your minister (!) and share how living with them altered your days.

(Note: consider making this a group effort and do it as a couple or as a family.)

Option B: Return & Repair

UU minister Gretchen Haley writes:

What our faith asks of us, what our faith imagines for us, is that somehow, right at that moment when our hearts break, we will find our way to see through that heartbreak.  We will stay put – not close off, not run away, not hurt back – but keep on being in relationship, doing what we can to repair the world and each other.

This exercises asks you to do the work of return and repair. Pick a relationship of heartbreak in your life.  Maybe it involves a friend or family member, maybe even someone who is no longer living. Maybe a neighbor. Maybe even an institution, like your church or our government. Whoever or whichever it is, make time this month to return to that relationship and work on repair. Simply ask yourself “Where have I withdrawn, been betrayed or broken something myself?” Your heart will know the answer. Listen to what it says.  Then open your heart one more time and lean into relationship once again, doing what you can to repair what you can.

Option C: Live in the Plural

UU minister and writer Victoria Safford writes:

We are bound by coven­ant, each to each and each to all, by what theologian Rebecca Parker calls “freely chosen and life-sustaining interdependence.” The central question for us is not, “What do we believe?” but more, “What do we believe in? To what larger love, to what people, principles, values, and dreams shall we be committed? To whom, to what, are we accountable?” In a tradition so deeply steeped in individualism, it becomes a spiritual practice for each of us to ask [these questions], not once and for all, but again and again. … The life of the spirit is solitary, but our answers to these questions call us to speak, call us to live, in the plural.

Full article here: http://www.uuworld.org/articles/bound-in-covenant

What might it be like for you to live “in the plural”? For this exercise, get out a big sheet of paper and write “ME” in the middle of it. Then start adding the people, principles, values, and dreams you’re committed to. Draw lines of connection, creating a mind map of the network of covenant you live in.

When you’re done, set it aside for a few days. Then come back to it and notice what stands out for you and, also, what is missing in your web. What covenantal relationships do you have in your life? How might you more intentionally live in the plural?

April mUUsings

It has taken me a few years to appreciate the unique emergence of spring in Vermont. This year, the first real sign that I picked up on was the distinctive aroma of wet earth as the snow began to melt away. Or, perhaps it was the strange sensation of simultaneously feeling solid ice and soft mud underfoot. All of a sudden, too, there were the sparrows, blue jays, and finches reappearing at the feeders eager to get their fill.

Photo Mar 26, 4 54 38 PM

I have learned that spring emerges haltingly. Sunny days followed by freezing nights. Daffodil shoots tentatively breaking through into open air and then finding themselves covered again by snow.

I like to think that our spirits also emerge out of our winter hibernation in this kind of slow and halting way. We can notice signs of emergence as we notice a hint of unencumbered happiness where there was once a dullness on that first “warm” day of the new season. You have been mourning the loss of that person who was the constant companion for so many of your days and then, one morning, you awaken, and sorrow is not the first thing on your mind or in your heart. You decide not to put on your double-insulated down jacket and opt for a lighter coat and now feel the lifting of those winter layers from body and soul.

Little by little we emerge – perhaps still integrating loss, grief, and sorrow from the winter months – into a new way of being and knowing ourselves.

In this season of emergence, may you allow yourself to unfold and unfurl at the speed that is right for you. May you find renewed life, light, and joy in the brightness of the lengthening days. And, may you (re)discover a deeper sense of self and connection to all that brings us wonder and awe.


April Spiritual Exercises

Option A: Notice Your No’s & Let Some Yes’s Loose
This month, to honor spring’s celebration of wildflowers and Easter’s call to roll away the stone, you are invited to let some Yes’s loose and see what kind of new life emerges. Here are your instructions put as simply as possible:

Try to say Yes as often as you can!

Patricia Ryan Madson, drama professor and author, captures the possibilities inherent in this seemingly playful, but seriously daring spiritual discipline.  She writes,

“This is going to sound crazy. Say yes to everything. Accept all offers. Go along with the plan. Support someone else’s dream. Say: yes”; “right”; “sure”; “I will”; “okay”; “of course”; “YES!” Cultivate all the ways you can imagine to express affirmation. When the answer to all questions is yes, you enter a new world, a world of action, possibility, and adventure… It is undoubtedly an exaggeration to suggest that we can say yes to everything that comes up, but we can all say yes to more than we normally do. Once you become aware that you can, you will see how often we use the technique of blocking in personal relationships and life simply out of habit. Turning this around can bring positive and unexpected results…”

Keep it simple. Try it for 2-3 days and see how it goes. Just catch yourself right before the word “no” spills from your lips and say “Yes” instead. To keep yourself on task, consider printing out these words on a small card or piece of paper and place it somewhere you will see it throughout the day: “Accept all offers. Go along with the plan. Support someone else’s dream. Say: yes”; “right”; “sure”; “I will”; “okay”; “Yes and…” not “Yes but…”

Along the way, try to pay attention to your relationship to Yes’s and No’s. What kind of Yes:No ratio rules your life? How do your Yes’s and No’s impact those around you? Who taught you that Yes’s are risky and No’s are safe? Who desperately needs your Yes, but you’ve been too busy to notice?

Here are a handful of resources to guide and inspire you:

The YES Challenge! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKQuY_X2WtY
My year of saying yes to everything – TED Talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmj-azFbpkA
Called to Say Yes – Poem https://www.journeywithjesus.net/poemsandprayers/560-edwina-gateley-called-to-say-yes

Option B: Emerge From the Tomb of Worry

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”  – Seneca

When it comes to the tombs that keep us trapped, worry tops the list for many of us. The tragedy is that, as Seneca points out, many of those worries are imagined. In other words, we are the creators of worry, not just victims of it. And to the degree we contribute, we can also escape and free ourselves.

If worry and anxiety is what you are wrestling with, then here’s your exercise this month:

Identify your imagined worry
&
Work with one strategy to address it

Spend some significant time this month engaging and meditating on the below list of resources. Take a day and dive deeply into them all or spread them out and tackle one at a time as your daily meditation practice. Use them not just to better understand worry and anxiety, but to figure out the one particular worry that exists more inside your head and heart than out there in the world. Just naming that imagined worry might be enough for the month. But if you can, also consider using the resources to identify a strategy to begin separating yourself from that worry.

Recommended Resources on Emerging
From the Prison of Worry, Anxiety and Stress

Option C: Leaning Into & Emerging From A Week’s Worth Poetry
There are many sources of awakening and emergence. Poetry is among the most potent. Below are seven different poems, each with its own unique call to emerge into something new. Take a week and use them as your daily meditation practice, letting the voice of the poets help you better identify the particular voice of new growth inside you. How is life calling you to emerge into deeper or greater living? What form of new being and becoming are you being invited to lean into? Treat these poems as partners helping you answer those questions.    

DAY ONE: Last Night Antonio Machado
Text: https://allpoetry.com/Last-Night-As-I-Was-Sleeping
Spoken & Video meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNfSKMlNquE

DAY TWO: Those Who Don’t Feel This Love Jallaludin Rumi
Text: https://www.openhandweb.org/those_who_dont_feel_this_love_rumi
Spoken & Video Meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjO4j7Ph5Z8

DAY THREE: Die Slowly (Lentamente Muore) Pablo Neruda
Text: http://eleternoretorno.blogspot.com/2005/06/pablo-neruda-die-slowly.html
Video Meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6V7t5VByuY&list=PL804FB1BDEFCDBBA2&index=14
Spoken: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBYcDqZknzE

DAY FOUR: There is No Going Back Wendell Berry
Poem and Visual meditation: https://davesikkema.wordpress.com/2013/09/14/no-going-back/

DAY FIVE: I know. I try to avoid it too Amy Lloyd
See the text of poem below in “Companion Pieces” in the Soul Matters April packet.

DAY SIX: Song of the Shattering Vessels Peter Cole
Text: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/56233/song-of-the-shattering-vessels
Spoken: https://vimeopro.com/vtvt/vtpol2015/video/126091373

DAY SEVEN: Open-Hearted Beauty Ahlaam Lala Abduljalil
Spoken: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgwzHkkPZbw