Commitments to Myself: march mUUsings

For the past three years or so, I have been setting my alarm to go off at 5:30AM every weekday morning. I am a morning person, and this is early even for me. My intention when the alarm goes off is to wake up before anyone else in my household is stirring, get out of bed, and head to my meditation cushion. I sit in quiet for 20 minutes or so. Sometimes, I journal. Sometimes, I add in a few light stretches. I listen to the traffic go by. As spring approaches, I listen to the birds singing and calling to one another. As the days lengthen, I bask in the sunlight that begins to spill over the North Street hill to the east from where I sit.

There are definitely days when I hit snooze several times. There are also days when I feel too preoccupied to sit still and instead dive into leftover tasks from the day before.

Setting the alarm reminds me of the commitment I have made to myself – a commitment to give priority to self-care and spiritual practice. The commitment has formed a routine, and while the routine doesn’t always look the same each and every day, it has become a lodged comfortably in my muscle memory. If I begin to stay too far afield from the commitment, my body, mind, and heart know it.

What are the commitments that you have made to yourself? How do you remind yourself of these commitments?

This month, I encourage you to reflect on your commitments, especially the ones that have become habit or routine. Consider letting go of ones that no longer suit your spiritual needs and adopting new ones that are more in alignment with the direction you’d like to go in the days ahead.

And, feel free to let me know how it’s going in the comments below.

With love,

Rev. Joan

PS – As a bonus, you might enjoy reading this poem by Laura Mancuso.

Love Signals: February mUUsings

This coming February 14th will be my sixth Valentine’s Day living in Montpelier. The first time I witnessed the entire downtown plastered with red hearts I was surprised and delighted. I didn’t yet know about this annual tradition, and I was caught with such unexpected joy at the infusion of love – by way of big red hearts – on storefront windows and doors.

I soon learned that a “phantom” team made possible this magical transformation that brings such cheer in the deep winter season. This fact makes it all the more special when each February 14th the town is once again filled with these emblematic hearts.

This month our worship theme is “Beloved Community,” and as Valentine’s Day once again approaches I am thinking about the role of love in binding us together in community. To me, the beauty of those red hearts plastered all over town is that they overtly and unabashedly speak to the presence of love in our community.

Love that cheers the spirit.
Love that brings healing amidst brokenness.
Love that reaches out.

Three years ago, the sense of Valentine’s Day festivity was marred by the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. As I learned about this devastating act of violence, the pervasiveness of Valentine’s Day hearts at first felt coldly ironic rather than comforting – a reminder of the bitterness and grief that so often accompany the joy and delight of life.

As young people in Florida and around the country galvanized and mobilized for meaningful gun reform, the hearts remained taped to windows and doors – persistently signaling that love was still present.

With this past year that has been filled with so much heartache, I can already feel the longing for the silent eruption of love onto our streets. I know that, even though it will not be a surprise, I need these signals of love taking over the cityscape, especially in the absence of handshakes and hugs from friends and loved ones. I need this annual reminder that love is indeed all around us and that it is in and with community – even socially distanced – that love is made stronger.

‘Tis the Season: Winter Wellness

For the past several months, we have each been learning how to live in new and adapted ways. You have celebrated wedding anniversaries with honk-and-wave’s. You have had masked graveside funerals to bury loved ones. You have had Zoom birthday parties and holiday feasts. In our church community at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, we have welcomed new members virtually and with masked signing ceremonies. We have blessed children remotely. 

We have continued this endeavor of being human – marking our losses and sharing our joys – in the ways we can, often with amazing creativity and also with profound grief.

These next few months are likely to be challenging ones as the coronavirus continues to spread and we await the roll out of effective vaccines and a light at the end of this long pandemic tunnel.

As we head into these winter months, let us continue to care for ourselves and one another. I have prepared a video with some suggestions for winter wellness which you can view below.

Be safe. Be well. Reach out to ask for help when you need it. And, know that you are held in a Love beyond measure.

Here I share some suggestions for keeping well this winter

A Very Unusual Holiday Season: Grief and Healing through Rituals

The holiday season is usually a very full time of year for me and my family. We have the run of Thanksgiving into Christmas with multiple family birthdays sandwiched in between. It is usually the time of year when we are juggling visits with family who live in other parts of the country. We have actually developed an elaborate system of alternating in person holiday gatherings between Vermont, Chicago, and Los Angeles on a three-year rotation to accommodate the family diaspora that has transpired over the years.

Of course, the holiday season in 2020 is going to look and feel very different for my family with all of us staying put through the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.

I am sad to be missing out on some of our treasured family traditions this year and feeling the loss of time with my parents, brothers, nieces and nephew, Titas, Titos, cousins. I will especially miss eating and smelling the foods of my childhood, lovingly prepared by my mother or grandmother, which are just not as available here in Vermont.

The loss of some of these traditions this year, however, also feels like a forced adaptation that could hold some blessing. Our family trio has already started thinking about new or adapted traditions we could adopt this year. I really appreciated this recent article in KidsVT / Seven Days that gave us some great ideas.

Below is a photo of our Gratitude Tree which is mentioned in the article. We will write our gratitudes on the leaves and add them to the tree. Stones placed in a bowl can be used to signify the grief that is being held alongside the gratitude.

DIY Cardboard Gratitude Tree

This will probably also be a year when I make much more of an effort to cook up some of the Filipino recipes I have been reluctant to try because Nanay’s version is just so much better!

The losses present this holiday season help me remember how important rituals are in our lives. Rituals give rhythm to our lives as individuals and in community. Rituals help us to bring forth and sometimes release emotions. Rituals help us make meaning of circumstances that are sometimes challenging and confounding. Rituals give space to healing.

I hope that this holiday season you are able to give yourself space to grieve the temporary loss of treasured traditions as well as to lean into your creativity in developing new rituals that will help you stay connected with loved ones.

Please share in the comments the traditions you will be missing this year and the new rituals you’ll be trying out.

With love and care,
Rev. Joan

PS – If you’re looking for a way to connect with others over the Thanksgiving holiday, join in a day-after-Thanksgiving gathering from 4-5:15PM. Check our UCM e-news for more details.

Listening transforms hearts | October mUUsings

The month of October usually speaks to me of apple orchards and pumpkins, of vibrant hillsides and crunchy leaves underfoot, of sweaters and cups of steaming tea. This October, many of those comforts are still present. Yet, I also live with the heightened anxiety of the upcoming election and all that is at stake for people I know whose lives, marriages, and health care lay in the balance as well as people I do not know personally but whose everyday circumstances hinge upon the policies and rhetoric of those in high office. I am weary, as I know many of you are, and I long for the slowing down of noise and activity to be able to truly listen with compassion to the world around me and to my most inner voice and wisdom.

As we reflect on the theme of “Deep Listening” this month, I invite you to reflect on the conditions that make your own deep listening possible. What is it that helps you to listen more deeply to yourself and to those around you?

Recently, I found myself in a conversation for which I wasn’t totally prepared to deeply listen. Someone had made an appointment to see me to prepare for a memorial service for their loved one. They were very late for the appointment and I still had a few errands to do before returning home for an evening with my family. Time felt short.

Yet, as we talked, I realized this person had much more to share than had been apparent in our brief communications by phone and email ahead of meeting. This person was holding some profound and complicated grief around the circumstances of their loved one’s death. I had to make a choice in that moment to deeply listen. I mentally set aside my to-do list. I took a deep breath. I focused my attention on the person before me and the moment we were sharing together as best I could.

Though the story was a painful one, I knew that my heart was changed by being willing to listen and leaving open space for this person’s grief to emerge and to be witnessed.

This month, I invite you to notice when you might be called to listen more deeply. When is someone else’s pain, delight, or truth beckoning to be heard? (Or, perhaps, your own.) And, how might you offer your deep listening?

I leave you with this beautiful recording of “Blackbird.” Often, we must listen more deeply when something seems to be beyond our understanding for what is true and beautiful.

May deep listening transform your heart this month.

With love,

Rev. Joan

Students at Allison Bernard Memorial High School in Eskasoni, Cape Breton recorded Paul McCartney’s Blackbird in their native Mi’kmaq language

Drifting and Staying Afloat Together | A Message at the Start of the Church Year

Listen to Rev. Joan read this message to the congregation.

Dear UCM members and friends,

As we return to our shared life of spiritual community to begin this 2020-2021 church year, our lives are marked by uncertainty and this coming year will be like any other this community has shared. There is no getting around this. But, there is getting through it.

We are all part of a long line of ancestors who have gotten through and made meaning with one another in this basic human endeavor of living through the joys and sorrows of our days – sometimes through very difficult days.

As we get through these days of turmoil and uncertainty, we bind together yet again in a community of shared commitments and values. We reach out for connection and deepening of relationship. We encourage one another in the practices that keep us grounded and centered and that can anchor us when most everything feels adrift.

A few days ago, I was sent a recording of our congregation singing together “Blue Boat Home” at last year’s Ingathering Sunday service. I brought my laptop up to the sanctuary and sat in its emptiness listening to your voice, our voices filling the space. I grieve the loss of sharing in worship together in our sanctuary. And, I find solace knowing that we are drifting together as kindred and companions guided by our shared mission as a spiritual community and the light we cast out to find our way.

This year, the Governing Board has identified three major priorities for us as a congregation: 1) Holding our UCM community together, 2) Widening our circle of concern, and 3) Deepening our service. The ministries and programs of our church for this year will all be connected to these broad goals.

While this church year will be unlike any other in any of our recent memories, I believe that it also holds the same invitation of other years. Each of you is invited to be part of something bigger than yourself. Each of you is invited to reflect on what truly matters. Each of you is invited to be loved and cared for and to offer love and care in turn. Each of you is invited to live your values with commitment. These things we do together.

Know that however, wherever, and whenever you can engage in the life of this community is okay. Some of you may need to really focus inwards and stay off virtual platforms to get through. Some of you may need to turn your attention outwards and to a broader scope of activism and engagement. Some of you may be ready to dive headlong into church life and join some new committees. All of you, in whatever ways you are choosing to show up in this community now, is welcomed.

Despite it all and because of it all, I am so grateful to be serving as your minister, and I hope to be a resource to you as we journey together this year. I will be resuming my daily phone messages, “Words for the Day” on Monday, September 14th. Call (802) 552-8544, Monday through Friday, to listen to a brief recording of poems, prayers, and words of meditation for spiritual sustenance.

Please don’t hesitate to be in touch to share with me your ups and downs and your ideas as we navigate these uncharted waters together.

With love and gratitude,

Revered Joan

February mUUsings ~ Resilience

I have found lately that it is helpful for me to have a mantra. Mantras have been used for centuries in Hindu and Buddhist meditation practice. Mantras are words or phrases that we repeat to ourselves to maintain focus. In the Western world, we’ve taken on the practice of reciting mantras as a positive psychology tool. The mantra that has been running through my head lately is, “I am resilient.” The song linked above by Rising Appalachia is probably how this particular mantra found its way into my head.

“I am resilient
I trust the movement
I negate the chaos
Uplift the negative
I’ll show up at the table
Again and again and again
I’ll close my mouth and learn to listen”

With all that is happening in the world, I find that I have to continually come back to practices that help me remember, “I am resilient.” The practice of “showing up at the table” is one that I come back to again and again. For me this means showing up at the table of seeking collective liberation – organizing with others who are both like me and also very different from me.

Right now, I am in Las Vegas, Nevada for the Faith in Action National Faith Forum #FaithForum2020. This may seem like an unlikely place for a gathering of progressive, interfaith clergy and leaders, however, hidden behind the slot machines and blackjack tables are the workers – many people of color – who keep this place running and organize together for worker rights and dignity. Nevada, of course, is also profoundly impacted by the climate crisis and environmental challenges. It turns out it is an important site for developing a national, faith-based People’s Platform and mobilizing across faith communities in this critical election year.

Being here in Las Vegas feels like showing up at the table (not the blackjack table!). Last night, we ratified the People’s Platform and joined in saying together Our Proclamation.

Image of Bishop Dwayne Royster of POWER leading our assembly of 300+ clergy and faith leaders in saying our Proclamation.

These are some of the lines:

We the People of Faith in Action are prepared to fight for the dignity and well-being of every person and every family. We are ready to fight for the soul of our democracy, the soul of our faith traditions, the soul of our nation, and the soul of our world.

We will not rest until every person is able to enjoy the fullness of life in this nation, and around the world.

This work is hard, and it keeps me going.

I hope that you will also find those ways to affirm that YOU are resilient and to show up at the table again and again.


Rev. Joan