November mUUsings

November mUUsings

Since childhood I have been an avid reader. It seems to me now that back in those days I was able to give my attention to reading with much more abandon than is possible presently. I remember one day I was sitting in my fifth grade classroom. We had been given some free time which I devoted to diving further into the latest Cynthia Voigt book in my collection. I became so absorbed in the story that I didn’t notice for several minutes that the teacher had already begun the next lesson.

We are constantly navigating the inner and outer worlds. In our solitude, we can become absorbed in the story lines and plots introduced to us through books or engage in activities that connect us with our own creativity and imagination. We can pay more attention to our inner psyches and spirits and the inner landscape of our souls where we harbor our fears and stoke the flames of our hopes and dreams.

The outside world also calls for our attention. Often, this call is a lot louder than the call to turn our attention inward. As engaged participants in public life, we may feel called to turn our attention empathetically towards those suffering and to take actions that move the needle in the direction of justice, equity, sustainability, and peace. On a more day-to-day level, we may feel the demands on our attention from children, spouses, co-workers or supervisors. And, the many devices we are so often surrounded with also beg for our attention with the buzz and burst of notifications every few minutes.

Our attention, though, is a precious resource. I have found that spreading my attention too broadly can have detrimental consequences for myself and those around me. It is when I am able to direction my attention with intention that I find the most contentment and fulfillment.

Engaging in a daily spiritual practice has helped me to be more mindful of how I direct my attention (and when I allow my attention to go flying in many different directions). My practice includes lighting a candle, sitting for a few minutes of meditation, and allowing my attention to rest within or on my breath. I sometimes journal or engage in some body practices of yoga and stretching. It’s not too long after this that my attention is then called to the hustle and bustle of getting the day started. But, these few moments of intentional turning inward make a big difference.*

This month, may you allow yourself the space and freedom to direct your attention in the ways that bring you and those around you joy and meaning. May you treat your attention like the precious gift that it is.

*I hope you will consider joining me for an “Introduction to Spiritual Practice” session on Tuesday, November 12. Whether you are new to spiritual practice or not, this session will offer a framework for developing a practice from a Unitarian Universalist perspective and practical tools for deepening your practice.


November 2019 Spiritual Exercises: Attention

Option A: Notice With Mary Oliver

In her poem Gratitude, Mary Oliver asks herself and then answers eight questions of attention:

What did you notice?
What did you hear?
When did you admire?
What astonished you?
What would you like to see again?
What was most tender?
What was most wonderful?
What did you think was happening?

It’s a poem that treats the details of our days as a blessing and calls us to do the same. So for this month’s exercise, let’s accept her invitation:

First, take a few days and just spend some time with the poem.

Here it is for you to read: https://thevalueofsparrows.com/2013/11/27/poetry-gratitude-by-mary-oliver/

Here’s an arresting video of it being read aloud: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=65&v=1XKg514_K3s

Then use Oliver’s questions to write a version of your own by giving your own answers to her eight questions. Here’s an elegant example of someone making it their own: http://walkingintheholypresence.blogspot.com/2017/04/poem-gratitude-by-mary-oliver.html

But here’s the catch: You’ve got to decide how to gather the details for your poem. When reading Oliver’s poem, you get the feeling she wrote it at the end of a long day outdoors. But it could just as easily have been written at the end of a week, a year, or even a life. So you pick what calls to you. Maybe you take a 2-hour hike and then sit down and write it. Or maybe sit down and write it at the end of an ordinary day of work and family? You might even want to answer the questions as if they are asking about the past year of your life? Or the past few decades.

Think about sharing the poem with a close friend or your life partner. The point is to let Oliver’s eight questions help you remember that our attention is a way, maybe the best way, we say thanks for these precious days we’ve been given.

Option B: Join the Slow Art Movement

You’ve probably heard of the slow food movement. But how about the “slow art movement”? It arose from museums realizing that people were “seeing” their art but not really “looking” at it. For instance the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York discovered that people spent an average of only 17 seconds looking at their masterpiece artworks. 17 seconds! So now museums around the country organize special days where guests are asked to sit and view the art for 10, 20 even 30 minutes at a time, and then discuss what happened for them in that time of intensive and intentional looking.

This month you are invited to do the same. What a great excuse to invite a friend to your local museum! And if you don’t have a museum near you here’s a video with a bunch of options: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DAESq9BGMc . Or maybe you want to do it with a piece of art in your house that you say you love but now rarely give your attention to.

Here are a handful of articles and videos to get you centered and inspired for this exercise.

Option C: Notice Them

Let’s be honest, we sometimes ignore their need to be noticed. We’re talking, of course, about our loved ones. It’s never their big needs that we ignore. But on a daily basis, it’s all too easy to get…well…busy. Preoccupied. Wrapped up in work. Or worry.

We also know how big of a difference a little attention makes. You see it in your partner’s eyes when you take an extra 3 minutes and bring them coffee in bed before you rush out the door with your own mug.  Your kid comes home all excited to tell you a story and you have the good sense to put the phone down and look right in their eyes as they spin their yarn. They light up right in front of you.

Yes, we’re tired. Yes, life is stressful. Yes, half-hearted attention is not sin. But this month take a week and fight it. Spend a week intentionally finding all the ways you can to give your full attention and full heart to someone near you.

Oh, and be sure to pay attention to the difference it makes for and to them, and the difference it makes to what goes on between you and them…

October mUUsings

October mUUsings

I have loved biking since I was a child, but I have never considered myself a real cyclist. I bike to commute and occasionally for recreation. I do, however, love the sense of freedom I have when I’m on my bike. I also love getting to see places with more proximity than I can from a car. When the idea came about to join in a long-distance bike ride for immigration justice, I felt called to participate even though the longest distance I had biked recently was the mile or so between my house and the center of town.

Vermont Interfaith Action was organizing a Solidarity Bike Tour as part of a regional March for Immigrant Justice. Hundreds of people were walking from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and even Maine to the Strafford County Correctional Facility in Dover, NH which houses detainees arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). All of the participants were joining the journey to call for greater justice, compassion, and humanity in our immigration system.

The small but mighty group of cycling Vermonters set off from Montpelier on August 21. I was able to join them the next day for a 30-mile leg of the 140-mile trip.

By the time I joined up with them along Mascoma Lake in Enfield, NH, the group had already formed some bonds. On the trip was a married couple from Strafford, VT on their matching recumbent bikes who had traveled by bicycle all around the world together. Another couple of teenage friends from Burlington were also on the trip. The previous day the whole group had cycled through the pouring rain and up some steep hills before settling in for the night in Norwich, VT.

Despite being new to the group, they all welcomed me into the fold and helped me make a few adjustment on my bike to get ready. The fact that we were all there with the same intent fostered a sense of familiarity and comfort as we set off.

 

VIA solidarity bike tour
Our bike tour group taking a rest towards the end of our journey from Enfield to Andover, NH. (Joan pictured center with bike helmet.)

Those who passed us in their cars could also decide whether, in their minds, we belonged or not. A few loud honks, revving engines, and indiscernible shouts made clear that a few people did not think we belonged. But, there were also a few friendly honks and waves from cars that indicated our message and purpose were welcomed.

After several hours of biking, we made it to our destination for the evening in Andover, NH at the home of a member of a local UU congregation. By this point, I was ready to give my tired legs a break and was grateful for the food given to us and the gift of a warm shower.

I departed that evening back up to Montpelier, but the group continued on for another day of cycling and then the final march to Dover where they joined with others in marching and singing with common intention and purpose.

In the journeys we take together, we come together and form bonds and, in doing so, we can nurture for one another a sense of belonging. We can also remember that belonging is a gift – a gift that can be shared with others. We can ask, who else around me can I invite in? How can I embody belonging for others?

My 30-mile bike ride pushed me outside my comfort zone physically and mentally. It also opened up the chance for me to find belonging with strangers and to create together our own stand of resistance and declaration that ‘we all belong.’


October Spiritual Exercises:

Option A: Whose Are You?… All in One Place

We all know that belonging is not just about place, but people as well. Quaker teacher, Douglas Steer gets at this beautifully:

“The ancient question, ‘Who am I?’ inevitably leads to a deeper one: ‘Whose am I?’ – because there is no 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 is your own bound up, inextricably, in obvious or invisible ways?’

It’s such a powerful and important truth: we are who we belong to. But it’s also a hard truth to remember. The world around us doesn’t help. Its focus is on becoming not belonging. It wants us to wake up every morning and ask, “Am I succeeding?” not “Who needs me?” “ Who loves me?” or “With whose life is my own bound up?”

So this month why not engage in a bit of course correction? Why not see what happens when who we belong to is front and center at the start of every day?

This exercise is designed to help with this. Here are your instructions:

  1. Clear off a space on a table, dresser, desk or shelf in your house.
  2. Over a few days or a week populate that space with pictures of people who come to mind when you ask yourself “Whose am I?” Find or print out the pictures. Add as many as feels right. Push yourself to think beyond the obvious answers: your family, your church community, etc. Treat the question as a meditation practice. Asking it each day will lead you to unexpected pictures: a mentor from your past, an unknown boy on the other side of the world suffering because climate change caused by us, those who have been exclude from our faith because of white-centered structures. Or maybe it will take you beyond people, to a pet from your childhood or that park you walk in every Saturday of the Fall.
  3. Once the space is filled with your chosen pictures, send another week or two using it as an altar of sorts. Pause briefly before it every morning. Or maybe more than briefly.
  4. Pay attention to how bringing your network of belonging changes your days. Journal about it. Discuss it with your partner or friend.

Note: You don’t have to do this exercise by yourself. Consider doing it with your partner or with your children as well.

Option B: Belonging to the Earth

When talking about belonging, one soon meanders around to the idea that we all belong to the Earth.  What is your connection to the particular plot of Earth on which you live?  Take some time this month to be outside around your home.  This might be a time of sitting and observing, or mindful walking. In walking around the neighborhood or the plot of land, note particular landmarks.  Use your various senses to pick up the sounds and smells of the place.  Ask yourself other questions, like, do you know where and when the sun is currently rising and setting on your horizon?  What plant or animal species also call this plot of land their home?

If you like, journal or take some notes during or after your time outside. Or different options might include doing a sketch or writing a letter to the plot of land on which you live. Share your writing, sketch or your reflections with a friend or loved one.   

Optional ways to take it further:

Consider doing some investigation to learn more about what that land might have looked like 20, 50, 100, or 200 years ago.

You might try walking barefoot on the earth a practice still done all over the world, and certainly by our ancestors that is showing some promising health benefits: Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons.

Option C: Find Your Place in the Work of Belonging

Belonging always comes with blindsides. When we receive a generous welcome it’s hard for us to imagine and notice the ways in which that open door doesn’t work the same for everyone. Our faith is slowly waking up to the fact that we haven’t been and aren’t the “welcoming congregations” we aspire to be. This is especially true when it comes to race and systems of white supremacy. The gap between our intentions and impact remains painfully large. The work is urgent and large.

This exercise is intended to help you find your place in that large work. Below are a number of resources and discussions that speak to the work our faith is doing around de-centering whiteness. As we know, the work needs to be systemic, but in the midst of systemic work there is also personal work to be done. Identifying “your work” is as important as participating in “our work.” So during this month where we are all trying to “be belonging” for others, not just find belonging for ourselves, use the resources below to better identify and deepen “your work.”

September mUUsings

September mUUsings

With the cooler nights and the first leaves starting to turn, we know that autumn is upon us. I hope that you have had many opportunities to rejuvenate your spirit during the summer season. My own spirit has felt renewed by slowing down, listening to the patter of rain on the tent while camping, floating in lake water, and sharing many laughs with old friends and family.

Continually renewing our spirits is important as we face the natural ups and downs of our lives and the seemingly all too constant barrage of troubling news in our world. I am grateful that we will be returning to our life of communal worship and the rhythms of our church year giving us all the opportunity to renew our spirits in our shared community.

We start our new church year in September with the theme of “Invitation.” I invite you to consider how you are re-engaging with our shared community in this new year. What intention can you set for nurturing your spiritual journey by participating in the life of our congregation? What support do you need? What gifts do you want to offer in service of our mission?

In early September, you are invited to join others in protecting the Earth, our home, by participating in the UCM Climate Action Team retreat on Saturday, September 7. The newly formed Climate Action Team seeks to mobilize the UCM community to address the climate crisis with meaningful action within the church and beyond.

During the month of September, you are also invited to learn more about the Building for the Future Project – a project to address the comprehensive needs of our congregation in fulfilling our mission today and into the future. You can learn more by visiting the Building for the Future website and attending a cottage meeting or congregational forum this coming month. (Upcoming events are listed on the website.) You can also share your ideas, questions, and hopes with the Education Work Group in person or via e-mail.

There is much afoot as we begin our 2019-2020 church year! I continue to be inspired by all of you and the many ways you share your love and compassion, inquisitive minds, searching hearts, and dedicated service with one another and our broader community.

I look forward to seeing you in the coming weeks!

September 2019 Spiritual Exercises

Option A: An Invitation to Redefine Success

The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer is one of the most referenced spiritual writings among all liberal religious groups–for good reason. It invites us to completely rethink what this game of life is all about. Forget “what you do for a living” or “how much money you have,” it says. Instead tell us about your ability to “risk looking like a fool for love,” “disappoint another to be true to yourself” or be “weary and bruised to the bone, but still do what needs to be done for the children.” It represents an entirely different spiritual metric. It invites a radically counter-cultural vision of “the good life.”

This exercise asks you to engage its invitation. Here’s your assignment:

  1. Spend a week with the poem. Read it at least once a day for a few days.
  2. Pick the one line that you hope will most characterize your life. Don’t worry about whether or not you are currently living up to it. This is about aspiration.
  3. Share with a friend (or write for yourself in a journal) why this particular invitation is one you want to aspire to.

Option B: Are You a Pilgrim or a Monk?

In her essay, Following an Ancient Call, Christine Paintner reflects on two basic spiritual orientations. Each invites us to engage life differently. Using an animal spirit metaphor she writes, “the bear hibernates to regain its power and the salmon follows the ancient call back home.” Using the metaphor of monk and pilgrim, she writes,

“The monk in me feels the call of moving inward.  My inner monk knows the deep wisdom to be found in rest, in slowness and spaciousness, in not letting the productivity of the world keep me running ever faster. The pilgrim in me feels the call of moving outward.  My inner pilgrim feels a longing to travel, to walk across new landscapes, to find myself the stranger so that everything I think I know can be gently released.”

So which is it for you? Restoration of power or return to home? Deep wisdom found in rest or needed release found in new landscapes? Which kind of energy is life inviting you to nurture this coming year?

To help with your discernment, take some time this month to:

  1. Read Paintner’s essay.
  2. Discern which of the two orientations is inviting you most clearly. Think about this as your spiritual work for the coming year.
  3. Share with a friend (or write for yourself in a journal) your discernment process and two concrete commitments you are making to yourself to fulfill the call of the monk or the pilgrim.

Option C: Invite a Friend to Church!

This exercise may seem predictable, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. We UUs have a complicated relationship with sharing our faith and inviting others to receive what has been given to us. If sorting through those complications is something your heart is calling you to do, then this exercise is for you. Don’t rush into it. Take time to figure out why you want to invite someone to church. This exercise is really about you figuring out your reason. Once, you’ve got better clarity, go do it. Feel free to reach out to Rev. Joan or Congregational Life Coordinator, Elaine Ball, to let us know how it went and what you learned.

 

May/June mUUsings

This week, I have been grateful for the openness and spontaneity of this congregation. I treasured the fun and improvisational nature of this past Sunday’s “Question Box” service. I treasured it most for the window it opened into the hearts and minds of each of you that submitted a question.

The questions themselves, more so than my brief responses, held insight, curiosity, and longing that can be guides for all of us.

To what do we or you pray?
How can we bring a sense of courage and faith to children and young people in these scary times?
What is the spiritual or religious significance of having a marriage ceremony?
How can we resist/move on from shame?
How do I give basic human respect to persons who I really think are evil?
Do you believe in God? If so, how do you define God?
How do you hope to help us navigate this time when the spirit and hope are swamped in waves of despair over an increasingly threatening future?
Have you ever witnessed a miracle?

This small sampling of your questions provides a years’ worth of reflection! I take joy in the wonderings held in your hearts, minds, and spirits.

Questions can be the source of deepening connection with ourselves and others.

The psychologist and author Karen Horneffer Ginter writes,

When used properly, questions have the potential to connect us to the world of another. A heartfelt “How are you?” or “How was your day?” can become the bridge that keeps us in relationship to the lives of those we love. Sometimes, too, questions create a bridge within ourselves, allowing us to hear what’s going on at a deeper level. We know when we’ve encountered a question that has this potential because it stays with us — maybe for the day, maybe for our whole lives. It taps us on the shoulder to wake us up, or it wiggles its way in more deeply, opening us up to seeing things in a new way.

Thank you for your questions. I will work my way into responding to some of them with sermons and blog posts, and I invite you to reach out to me to make an appointment if you’d like one-on-one time to delve into your question further.

With love,

Rev. Joan

Un Día en la embajada EEUU (A Day in the US Embassy)

Un Día en la embajada EEUU (A Day in the US Embassy)

These are the words of Juan Lopez, an environmental and human rights defender from the Aguan region of Honduras. He joined our Interfaith Delegation for a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa. The words he shared at the embassy, quoted in this post, speak directly to the root causes of migration from Honduras. It was an honor to meet him and learn from him.

People of Faith Root Causes Delegation

A Reflection written by Juan Lopez, a lay leader in the Catholic Church, a teacher and Delegate of the Word of God. Juan is a leader in the Municipal Committee for the Defense of Common and Public Lands of Tocoa, which works in the region and in coordination at the national level.  Here is his testimony that he presented to the Charge de Affairs, Heidi Fulton at the US Embassy. Because of threats, Juan and his family are unable to return to their homes.  

(Translation follows each paragraph)

27 de marzo 2019/March 27, 2019

Eran las 8:45am del viernes 22 de marzo, sonó el teléfono y conteste la llamada. Una voz firme y pronunciación muy clara a pesar de la mezcla entre Español e Inglés, ella Estadounidense y yo Hondureño con pocas horas de conocernos pero con una historia y una fe que nos une. Me dijo; “la reunión…

View original post 2,700 more words

Interfaith Pilgrimage to Honduras: The Return

I returned over a week ago now from a weeklong pilgrimage to Honduras to learn more about the root causes of migration and to offer witness and accompaniment to Honduran environmental and human rights defenders. There is so much to say about the trip and what I learned and experienced, and for now I’d like to share a few photos to give you a sense of what the trip was like. During the Easter Sunday/Earth Day service on Sunday, April 21st, I will be offering a deeper reflection on the whole experience and will be presenting about the trip on Wednesday, May 1st in an event sponsored by the Central Vermont Refugee Action Network at UCM.

Photo Mar 17, 3 08 56 PM

Photo Mar 19, 9 28 38 AM
(top photo) The congregation’s blessing of me before my departure helped to ground me in the love of the community. (bottom photo) Members of our delegation arrived to the San Pedro Sula Airport on March 18 coming from all parts of the country (especially California) as well as Argentina, Chile, and Peru.

Photo Mar 21, 9 11 11 AM (1)

Photo Mar 21, 9 11 11 AM
0ur large delegation of 72 faith and community leaders broke into three sub-groups to explore different areas in Honduras. The group that I was a part of traveled to the Santa Barbara region where we met with several communities that were actively working on resisting hydroelectric dam projects that threaten the survival of their communities and the health of the rivers they live beside. This environmental instability is one of the factors driving migration. (top photo) The Tapalapa River near the community of La Presa. (bottom photo) The Ulua River held sacred by the indigenous Lenca people.
Tegucigalpa Vigil 2_theo
We were asked to join in an interfaith vigil in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, outside the U.S. Embassy. The vigil called for the freedom of political prisoners. One reality driving migration from Honduras has been the increased political repression in the country over the last couple of years beginning with protests against the questionable election of Juan Orlando Hernández. (photo credit: Theo Rigby)
Tegucigalpa Vigil_theo
I am pictured here holding our delegation banner outside the U.S. Embassy. Behind us was a row of Honduran police officers and most of the vigil crowd was gathered across the street in front of us. (photo credit: Theo Rigby)

Photo Mar 23, 11 18 38 AM

Photo Mar 24, 12 58 36 PM
Our pilgrimage was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop (now Saint) Oscar Romero, fondly known as Monseñor Romero who was assassinated as he officiated Mass in San Salvador, El Salvador on March 24, 1980. Monseñor Romero was a liberation theologian who spoke out against military abuses of power and the exploitation of the poor. (top photo) Religious leaders gather at the offices of Radio Progreso/ERIC in El Progreso for a panel on the theology of Oscar Romero. All the way to the right is Father Ismael Moreno, fondly known as Padre Melo, the Director of Radio Progreso, a Jesuit, community-based radio station. (bottom photo) We participated in Mass at a local Catholic parish, St. Ignatius of Loyola. During the service, the women ministers in our delegation were invited to stand up and were received with great applause.

The purpose of our pilgrimage was to learn more about the root causes of migration and to offer witness and accompaniment to local people engaged in the defense of their land and their human rights. In subsequent blog posts, I will share more about these themes.

I recommend this article written by Padre Melo, “Caravans: The New and Tragic Identity of the Poor in Honduras,” which provides much needed history and context to the most recent migrant exodus from Honduras and other Central American countries.

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