It’s Boxing Day 2019; I’m in the quiet of my office, preparing to leave on a 3-month sabbatical. Elaine (our bookkeeper) is in the building too, preparing year end financials. There are many loose ends to tie up.
Our theme for January is “Living with Integrity.” During the sabbatical months, our theme-based ministry may feel less pronounced…the Journeys group will still meet, but just once a month, on the 1st Thursday, and our Sunday guest speakers may not focus on the theme. We’ll still provide a theme packet, but it will be the one that comes directly from the Soul Matters group…not uniquely formatted for UFP.
But do still read that packet! (It will be linked from The Flame and in our brochure rack, as usual.) January’s packet begins with a quote from Rachel Naomi Remen who speaks of integrity as “reclaiming the freedom to be who we are” and finding “something we have put in the back of a drawer long ago.”
Lately, I’ve been practicing the mandala mudra, which is about claiming wholeness. When I put my hands in this gesture, I can feel all the little loose ends of myself…which have gotten caught somewhere, or were flung out toward something, or are out on a search party…rolling back toward the center of my being. It’s like I’m gathering up all the little bits of myself that I’ve left here and there, and re-claiming them as my own. It’s a wonderful feeling! Try it!
I’m leaving a quote on my office door from F. Scott Fitzgerald, who encourages us that it’s never too late, or too early, to be whoever we want to be. But he also offers some words of blessing, which I pass along to you. Whenever you walk by my office in these months, take a moment to remind yourself of them:
“I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before.
I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re
proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
I’m off to live into these blessings, and to work on calling all my little loose ends home, that I may live with more integrity and wholeness. May you do the same.
With gratitude for this time of renewal and rejuvenation,
PS. We are putting a temporary pastoral care ‘system’ in place for these months of sabbatical. At the time of this posting, all of the details are not finalized. More details should be on this page soon!
Past Stone Soup Columns
December is a great month to consider the presence of awe in our lives, but truly, every month is a great month for awe!
We speak of ourselves, in UFP’s purpose statement, as a community that embraces life with wonder and inquiry, but…what if we took this to the next step?
Awe might be defined as reverent and respectful wonder, a particular kind of wondering with a particular type of attitude. Awe is like wonder, but multiplied and deepened.
Awe has many synonyms, but to feel awe is like experiencing all of the synonyms at once.
Respect. Reverence. Worship. Admiration. Astonishment. Fear. Stupefaction.
And to me, this suggests that to feel awe, I must experience myself to be in relation to something that humbles me, overwhelms me, is greater than me, or is beyond my capacity to understand. And, to be in the presence of something I approach from a place of respect… because of its inexplicable power, mystery, beauty, or sheer size.
Life is all of that. Being part of the community of all-that-is is awe-inspiring. So, I want to embrace life with wonder, but also with awe.
I cannot create life. I cannot explain it. Life is a spirit and a force way beyond my understanding. I am in awe of life.
And also of you.
Alice Walker famously wrote, “I think it pisses
God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
Walker’s words are a great reminder that attention and gratitude go hand in hand. Indeed they are a perfect embodiment of the dominant message about attention: that attention is about waking us up to life’s many gifts and then feeling gratitude for them.
But attention has other consequences. Yes, it will inspire gratitude, but it can
also be a gateway to experiencing great love, to noticing the world’s pain, and to answering a call to service.
First, the love part. Mary Oliver writes, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” Love of the ‘other’ simply isn’t possible without deep noticing. And noticing deeply seems to inevitably lead to love.
And now the pain part, which is not all that different from the love part. Once we notice the beauty at the heart of others and the world, it pains us to see it destroyed. So seeing the beauty of something comes with a commitment. We think “My God, I must protect it.” Its survival becomes our survival. Its pain becomes our pain.
All of this paying attention cannot help but lead us to an awareness of what matters most to us. Our life priorities can be seen in what we greatly love or want to protect. Paying attention will show us where to spend our precious resources of time and energy.
This month, we should expect to feel grateful. But, let’s also be open to learning something about devotion. Paying attention will help us notice the gifts of the world and in turn, will demand that we give of ourselves.
So consider yourselves warned, friends: True attention always comes at a cost, because real looking always results in us not being able to look away. Often for the better.
This month may that be true for you!
Here on the journey with you,
Rev. Julie (and the Soul Matters Team)
This is my month. My perennial spiritual question has been one of belonging. “Who are my people?” “Where is home?” I’ve asked these questions repeatedly, and I am excited to spend October asking them with you, and then listening to your answers.
One of the great blessings of community is that we have the opportunity to explore our spiritual life in the company of others. We learn from each other. Our assumptions get questioned. We begin to see ourselves and our lives through different lenses. Together we find new meanings and perspectives. It is good to be together…and to belong!
For indeed we do; each of us belongs within the magnificence of all-that-is.
~ Rev. Julie
More about belonging from the folks at Soul Matters:
You hardly knew
how hungry you were
to be gathered in,
to receive the welcome
that invited you to enter
became settling in…
You began to breathe again…
You learned to sing.
But the deal with this blessing
is that it will not leave you alone,
will not let you linger…
will ask you to leave,
not because it has tired of you
but because it desires for you
to become the sanctuary
that you have found…
Jan Richardson starts off this poem by mentioning hunger, which is a good way to begin framing this month’s theme of belonging. We’ve all felt it. Just saying the word “belonging” conjures it up: The hunger to be included; the longing to be let in. No one likes standing outside the circle. No one likes leaning against the locked door listening to everyone laughing inside. From the time we are little, belonging is the thing we seek.
Richardson flips this longing on its head. One minute she’s wrapping us in comforting words about settling into belonging and the next she’s shaking us awake and telling us to leave. And maybe what she’s really waking us up to is the fact that there are two types of belonging, only one of which is a blessing.
To use her language, if you find yourself being invited to linger rather than leave, warning bells should go off. Be weary of those who welcome you into the protected clubhouse with the soft couch. They may have let you in, but soon you may find yourself helping with the work of keeping others out.
Instead, as all the sages and sacred traditions tell us, the true blessing of belonging isn’t that you get to come inside the circle; it’s that you get to participate in expanding it.
Which means maybe our challenge this month is different than one we might expect. Instead of seeking where we most belong, maybe it’s about expanding community around us so that belonging is available to others.
Or, to use Richardson’s words, maybe the type of belonging we seek is one “will not leave any of us alone.”
September is here, and I’m expecting another great year at the Unitarian Fellowship of Peterborough! This month we’re exploring the theme of expectation, which seems a perfect way to come together and venture into a new year.
Do expectations serve us, or cause us to stumble…or both? Do you feel good or blessed when your expectations are met? Or maybe slightly disappointed not to be surprised?
God give us rain when we expect sun.
Give us music when we expect trouble.
Give us tears when we expect breakfast.
Give us dreams when we expect a storm.
Give us a stray dog when we expect congratulations.
God play with us, turn us sideways and around.
— Michael Leunig
You may have heard the line: “You get what you expect.” Liberal religion (Unitarian Universalism) has always emphasized the tremendous power human beings have to shape their reality…not just with our actions, but also with our expectations. We’ve been told that if we expect people to be good, they will likely rise to the task. If we have faith in our plans, opportunities will likely appear.
And yet…a desire to shape reality may just get in the way of trusting reality.
Sometimes we become so focused on taking hold of life that we lose the spiritual skill of allowing life to hold us. But what if we aspired to do both? We human beings weren’t just made to manifest our power; we were born to learn we are part of a greater whole. Yes, we are strong, but we need support. And so the questions at the core of this month’s study are both “Can I expect to make an imprint on life?” and “Can I expect life to carry me when I need to let go and rest?”
Philip Booth puts us in touch with this deep part of ourselves with his poem called First Lesson. In it, he tells his daughter,
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island…
remember… what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.
So how about you? What are your expectations of this sacred, sometimes calm, sometimes stormy sea in which we all swim? Do you have faith that this wildly unpredictable life of ours will hold you? When your expectations get turned on their head, do you see that as a threat? Or could it be an opportunity?
This isn’t just about whether or not we trust life; it’s also about how willing we are to loosen our grip and let our preferred expectations go.
It’s why, ultimately, we are touched by prayers like Michael Leunig’s as much as by poems like Philip Booth’s. We need life to up-end us as much as we need it to hold and carry us. Those holy disruptions force our hand. They break our grip, and lead to the discover that we can count on being caught when we fall.
So bring on whatever the new year will hold for us…whether it be unruly dogs and unpredictable tears. Let the rain disrupt our forecasts of sun.
May Life indeed turn us sideways and around and lead us unexpectedly but safely home!
Here if you need me,