A Community of Clarity – February 2019

Can you just be a bit more clear? I need some clarity!

Not long ago, I got my first pair of progressive-lens glasses. Before these, I had glasses for distance, and I would wear them only at movies or when driving at night. But, while my eyesight is still pretty good, I find that I more often need reading glasses, and that reading anything is especially problematic when I have my distance glasses on. Switching between two pairs of glasses is difficult, so, I tried (am trying) progressives.

The hardest part is that they make me dizzy. Because the distance the glasses are meant to make clear is not consistent throughout the lens, my brain doesn’t seem to be able to keep up. I move my eyes, and what I see gets blurry. I move my head only (which is what the optometrist suggests) and I can’t find the point of clarity. I’ve been told that if I just wear the glasses more, I can train my brain to adjust. But I don’t like being dizzy.

Isn’t this what modern life is like? We all used to have single lens vision…we only needed to understand things from our own culture, people who were ‘like’ us, and places that were already familiar. And now, we constantly must wear these crazy ‘progressive’ lenses…being called to shift foci, straddle cultures and broaden our comfort zones. No wonder things can feel so unclear.

Here’s another analogy that might be helpful. When a ballet dancer is doing turns, they use a technique called ‘spotting’ to keep their gaze on a single location, a fixed spot. This helps to prevent dizziness and enables them to spin for an extended time.

I find myself thinking that because we need to become more accustomed to things being blurry and constantly changing, we also need to find and trust points of clarity and stillness that will bring us back to ourselves. What matters most to us? What are our highest values? In what direction are we headed? Who or what do we love?

“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am,” Parker Palmer writes in Let Your Life Speak. In order to know how and where to turn in our spinning world, we need to find an inner sense of clarity and purpose. And this takes training, helping our brains to adjust to new and fast-coming information. Perhaps more importantly, it can train our spirits and our hearts to trust.

What are you clear about? Can you find the ‘spot’ that will keep you balanced? This month let’s explore how clarity might help us to find ourselves right at home in the most blurry of circumstances.

Sending you love and warmth,

Rev. Julie

Past Stone Soup Columns

A Community of PERSEVERANCE – January 2019

“People cry not because they are weak. It’s because they’ve been strong too long.” ~ Shane Koyczan

Is perseverance a virtue? Often, we hear advice that makes it sound that way: Buck up! Grin and bear it! Keep pushing! Keep moving forward! Dig deep; you are stronger than you know! But maybe Koyczan is right. Maybe this advice isn’t the path to perseverance; maybe it’s just the path to breakdown.

And yet, our lived experience tells us that we can’t just give up when we fall down, or hit a wall, or are simply too tired to go on. Life calls us on. There is something about getting up and trying again that serves us well, especially if we are in pursuit of something meaningful.

So which is it? Is perseverance a path to breakdown, or a path to breakthrough?

Maybe it’s both. Maybe if we persevere by trying to go it alone, without taking a break or stopping to get a breath, it leads to breakdown. And, maybe if we find ways to persevere even after falling down or hearing one hundred no’s or after ‘breaking our vows a thousand times’, we will eventually succeed.

So, can we disassociate perseverance breakdown, and instead see it as one tool that might help get us to where we want to go, or to accomplish that which brings us gratification? And even better, could we maybe come to see perseverance as something best done together? Like this:

“This morning I have been pondering a nearly forgotten lesson I learned in high school music. Sometimes in band or choir, music requires players or singers to hold a note longer than they actually can hold a note. In those cases, we were taught to mindfully stagger when we took a breath so the sound appeared uninterrupted. Everyone got to breathe, and the music stayed strong and vibrant… So let’s remember the advice of music: Take a breath. The rest of the chorus will sing. The rest of the band will play. Rejoin so others can breathe. Together, we can sustain a very long, beautiful song for a very, very long time. You don’t have to do it all, but you must add your voice to the song.” ~ Amiee Van Ausdall

Constantly pushing ourselves without also giving ourselves the gift of pause gets us nowhere. Digging deeper without making time to fill our wells is a recipe for self-inflicted pain. And maybe admitting we can’t do it alone and asking for help is the real strength that gets us through.

Let’s do it together, okay?

Let’s ask one another for help.

Rev. Julie 

A Community of Mystery – December 2018

Unitarian Universalists tend to love questions and questioning. We love wondering and trying to figure out life’s mysteries. Sort of like a puzzle to solve.

But what if mystery isn’t something to figure out? What if it’s something to be felt and listened to, but not solved? Being a community of mystery isn’t just about engaging life as a marvelous puzzle. It’s also about allowing ourselves to be spoken to by life and its wonders.

Mystery is funny this way. You can’t make it speak. Indeed, the more you pursue the answers to life’s mysteries; the more distant they can become. If we want mystery to speak, it seems we have to be willing to be caught off guard. UU humanist minister and poet, David Breeden, captures this beautifully when he writes,
I dug and dug
Deeper into the earth
Looking for blue heaven
Choking always
On piles of dust rising
Then once
At midnight
I slipped
And fell into the sky

Slipping, and then falling into the sky. Is there a better way to describe our dance with mystery? Isn’t this what all the great mystics have been trying to tell us from the start…telling us that sitting at the heart of mystery is not the unknown, but is a kind of unity? We fall into mystery and it falls into us. Its voice whispers, “I am you and you are me.”

Mystery doesn’t put up barriers; it dissolves them into a sea of unknowing. Each of us, when faced the wonder and mystery of a sunset, the stars, a baby’s first cry or a lover’s wet kiss, have thought to ourselves, “Who I am does not end at the barrier of my skin.”

This month, let’s let ourselves fall in and open up, slip into the sky and let it slip into us. Let’s put down all the puzzling and the figuring out. As Mary Oliver instructs us in her poem, Mysteries Yes, let’s choose to keep some distance from anyone or anything that believes it has the answers. Instead, let’s choose to hang out with folks who say, “Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.” (Mysteries Yes  ~ Mary Oliver)

Perhaps then we’ll notice that life isn’t simply trying to stump us with mysteries. Rather, life uses mystery to connect with us, one with all-that-is.

During this holiday season, may we each find moments during which we can dwell in mystery, and in so doing, to find our place in the oneness of everything.

One with you,

Rev. Julie

A Community that LEANS IN – November 2018

These are difficult times. Expressions of racism and violent anger continue to target people of colour, immigrants, and gender non-conforming folks. Last Saturday’s shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh deeply affected our Jewish friends, as they again struggle with how dangerous it feels to be ‘publicly Jewish’. We must not forget their long history of exile and persecution on the basis of race and religion. And, while it is simply unacceptable in today’s world that any person be subject to hatred, the reality is that hatred is often front and center.

As is often said in social justice circles, ‘this is not news, this is family.’ Certainly this event is ‘family’ for us. Our neighbours…our ‘cousins in the house’*…the Beth Israel congregation…are suffering. Though the shootings happened far away, the generational impact of persecution, which often lies dormant, has been triggered in their bodies. They are wondering if they are safe. They are wondering if it could happen here. They are wondering who, or where, is next.

This is indeed a time for leaning in…leaning in to being allies, leaning in to showing up, leaning in to being a family of humanity. So many of you leaned in and showed up for the Peace Vigil on Monday night, standing in the cold, huddling with 200 other people intent on keeping one another warm and safe. All of us leaning in to the knowledge that we are in this together.

This month’s theme, a community that leans in, would have us consider exactly what it is that we choose to put our energies toward. What do we have a passion for? Where do we want to put our weight, or exert pressure, or focus our energies? To what will we give our strongest devotion?

This is a time that we are called to lean in to our principles. How about leaning into the belief that love is the only thing that can overcome hatred? How about leaning into the power of community to defeat isolation and offer needed support? How about leaning into the inherent worth of each person by fighting for those who have been beaten down by systems of injustice?

You can read more about leaning in in this month’s theme packet. Join me as we consider how the sometimes uncomfortable practice of leaning in and living our values and principles with intention might be just the ticket to overcoming hatred. I’m convinced that ‘leaning in’ to love will help us to remember that we are held in a ‘network of mutuality’**…a family…all in this together.

With love and care,

* Marion Little, the emcee at the Peace Vigil, called the Jews and the Unitarians ‘cousins in the house.’
**a term used by Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Community of Vision – October 2018

Here’s a quote we would do well to remember this month. The author is unknown, but their words are a gift: “What will mess you up most in life is the picture in your head of how it is supposed to be.”
This is not how the topic of vision is usually handled. We’re encouraged to “stay true to your vision.” We’re told, “Without vison, the people perish.” And let’s be clear: all of that is true. A clear vision gives us direction and hope.
But, all that holding fast is also risky. In short, no vision is perfect. Every vision distorts even as it clarifies. On top of that, life changes. Some doors close, new ones open.
And as Unitarian Universalists, we also know that one vision isn’t enough. As clear as our perspectives may be, we know that none is complete. To see the entire view, we need everyone’s vantage point.
At September’s PRIDE service, I used “Nanette”, Hannah Gadsby’s performance video, to illustrate the importance of hearing one another’s stories. Though I didn’t mention this, Gadsby points out example after example of Picasso’s profound misogyny. She weaves an ironic thread about how the man credited with inventing Cubism, a new form of perspective from which all angles are considered meaningful, utterly failed to consider the female gaze.[1]
This is a poignant example of how, with myopic vision, the important views and visions of others are excluded. As Unitarian Universalists, our vision is one of an inclusive world in which all are heard. And so, along with asking what we want to see made real, we must ask others the same question. We don’t have to see things from others’ points of view; we get to see things from others’ points of view! It’s also an invitation to see the world anew!
So maybe that’s the most important vision this month. Not that of a stern-faced people sticking to their single vision through thick and thin. But that of a playful people exchanging visions and helping each other encounter new and larger worlds. I love that notion! What about you?

With you on the journey!
Rev. Julie

[1] Footnote

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