Tree of Life – Pattern for Friendship

Contributed by board member, Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

Looking for a kinesthetic spiritual practice?  How about this . . . create a Tree of Life pillow that can find a favorite spot in your home . . . or maybe in the home of someone whose life, whose spirits, need an uplift. Art and craft as spiritual practice.

In addition to the project as shown in the photo, you might create the pillow as a memory pillow by writing the names of various family members and friends on each of the leaves using various colors of permanent fabric pen/marker.

It could become a conversation starter as in “Oh, I didn’t know you had an Uncle Harry, too” or “How did you ever meet Lois Jackson? I didn’t know you were friends!” or “Lareesa – what a beautiful name!”.

One reason I appreciate this pattern is that it’s hard to “get it wrong” – a concern that often plagues people who enjoy using their hands to make something but are afraid that the end result won’t “measure up”.

Another reason I appreciate this pattern is that it lends itself to group work.  Yes, it can be completed by one person, but with a group you can enjoy selecting the leaves, figuring out where to place them and how to annotate them.

There’ll probably be at least one person who can manage the assembly sewing. Everyone else can focus on just organizing the leaves. This project can foster conversation and also memory, along with the joy of sharing, both at the time of its creation and as it is displayed in someone’s home.

Another reason I appreciate this pattern is that it can be used to encourage the practice of gratitude.  What if you were to make this pillow, by yourself or with others, and instead of writing names on the leaves, write a quality or action (brief couple of words) that the recipient brings to mind.

For example “1974 New Baby” might be just the phrase to trigger the thanks you want to express to the recipient about the weeks she helped you out when you could barely get out of bed to care for your new baby, let alone yourself and everything else being a mom and wife entails. If done by a group, then a grateful person’s name could be included “Susan: 1974 New Baby”

Any aspect of this work might be considered the “spiritual practice” . . . arranging with a group of friends to make it with you as a gift for someone OR finding that someone special who could use some one-on-one time with you while making it together for him/her OR quietly making it for yourself while keeping in your mind and heart and prayers those included as “leaves” on this Tree of Life both at the time of its construction and in the future as you gaze on the names.

Done with intention and focus, the creative joy – quiet or infectiously rambunctious – brings the Creator into our midst as the scraps of fabric, which for many might just have been tossed into the trash, become the means for our own creating.

Where might YOU find odds and ends, scraps, or bits and pieces that don’t seem to belong anywhere and craft them into an expression of love, affection, gratitude and friendship?

And, if we can search out the scraps and bits and pieces of material things for a project such as this, might we not remember, too, that there are people in our neighborhoods who feel like their lives are just scraps and bits?  Can we not search them out as well, bringing them together and creating a stronger human community?

The Tree of Life awaits.

Click HERE for the full instructions from Cluck Cluck Sew.

On the Table- “Fake News”

This month’s discussion of current events with The Rev. Sarah Person will be Wednesday, January 11, 7:00 PM at the McKinstrey House, 115 High St., Taunton.

On the Table January 2017
“Fake News”

One of the startling tidbits of analysis after our recent election is that 62% of Americans get news from social media. It is hard to tell what’s legitimate and what’s fake. This was a particular issue during election campaign.

Do you trust the news you get on the internet?
Do you trust the news you get from the major broadcasting networks?
How does that affect your daily life? Your sense that things are and will be okay?

New Year Resolutions

Contributed by the Rev. Edward M. Cardoza

Ah yes, the New Year is upon us. Many people will do a year in review. Others will set resolutions. I always like to set an intentional practice around New Year’s Day. I usually like to find some quiet time during the day itself. It may be near my fireplace, or in my favorite comfortable chair or—if the outdoors beckons—along my favorite wooded path. I settle in with some breathing, focus and silence—and I ask myself: what were the things I really enjoyed in 2016. Sometimes these come easily. I suspect this year—it may take a little more focus. As each of those moments comes up—just take a moment to savor them and be thankful for them. You can also write them down on a piece of paper or place them in your journal.

Can you make a resolution to commit to doing some of these things again in 2017?

Next, I like to ask what were the issues or situations that caused the most stress, anxiety or disappointment over the year? Again, it might be good to list them down. As you review the list—allow them to be taken in by you. What was out of your control? What could you have taken more responsibility for within yourself? What remains unresolved? What needs healing?

For those situations out of control—can you let them go and cast them away? For those needing you to take responsibility—can you make a commitment to do that in 2017? For those needing resolution or healing—are you able to commit to that in 2017? Write down an action plan—of things you want to let go of and things you want to do in the New Year.

Breath! Delight! Take a look at your lists—New Year’s resolutions shouldn’t just be wish list of things you know your probably won’t do—they ought to be about repeating places of joy, fulfillment and happiness. And, they ought to also be about letting go of what we can’t control and taking responsibility for things we can do something about.

I find when I do this practice—it leaves me with a commitment to live life more abundantly by committing to do those things that went well and to repair those areas that are disconnected or in need of healing.

Best wishes to you in the New Year!

Choosing Light


Contributed by the Rev. Dr. Richard Bardusch

It is during the month of December that we have the shortest days in the year. December also brings about the end of the calendar year, the hibernation of much of life, and the end of our holiday season. In many ways December can be thought of as an ending month. It is as if the light is going out, and in a literal way, it is. That can be sad.

But for Christians December also brings beginnings. It is the beginning of the new liturgical year, it brings the beginning of the calendar year, and the beginning of days getting longer, and literally the increase of light. It brings many fresh starts. That can be joyous.

There is no ending without a beginning and no beginning without an ending. Which decides for you who you will be: the endings or the beginnings? It is as simple as that. We get to choose.

The choice is not about choosing one set of facts over another. The light does decrease and the light does increase in the month of December. Both statements are true. Our choice is about with which one we will align ourselves. Will we be people of increasing light or decreasing light?

In many ways it is like the Native American story about the two wolves inside each person. One is a wolf of anger and the other is a wolf of peace. Which one will we feed? The one that we decide to feed is the one that we will become. As December unfolds I invite you to make a choice. Choose to be people of light instead of darkness.

Christ was born in the darkest month that the light might shine even more brightly. He asks us to choose. Which side will we be on? I choose light and new beginnings.

Advent Blessings!

The Importance of Gratitude


Contributed by board member, The Rev. Phil Hardwick

I can remember the first time that I realized the importance of gratitude. I was five or six years old. I had the great good fortune of having a Sunday school teacher who knew how to communicate to children in ways that they could understand. She liked to use object lessons. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving that year, we came to class and she had a pitcher on a table in the corner of the room that was partially filled with a red liquid. She invited us to engage that container with all of our senses. She invited us to look at it, to taste it, to feel how heavy it was. And then after we had done that for a while, she asked a simple question: “Tell me, is this pitcher half empty or half full?”

Well, a little boy in the class who was always given to negativism, quickly said, “It’s half empty!”

Another one of my classmates said, “No, it’s half full!”

So back and forth the debate went and then the teacher said, “You know, you’re both technically correct. Either of those descriptions is right. But it makes all the difference in the world whether or not you focus on what is there and are grateful for it or whether you focus on what is not there and therefore are depressed by it.

That happened well over fifty years ago and here I am reminding myself and reminding you that the choice to be grateful is incredibly significant. That was when I was five or six years old. I have lived a long time since then, but everywhere I look this basic truth about gratitude is always confirmed.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Finding Hope in Dark Times


Contributed by Executive Director, The Rev. Tara Soughers, PhD

This last week has been a difficult one for me.

It isn’t that the candidate that I backed did not win the election: I have had many times in my voting years where that has been the case.  That happens in a democracy.  In every other election, however, I felt that the person who won truly cared for the country, even if I thought that their policies were flawed.

This time, however, it seemed to me that hatred had won: racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, xenophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, and Islamophobia.  It seemed to me that the worst impulses of America and the human heart had triumphed.  It seemed to me that violence and threats of violence, slander and lies had triumphed over those qualities that I valued about America: respect for others, tolerance, generosity.  I wasn’t really surprised, but I was very, very depressed, and I felt enclosed by darkness.

It did not take long for my fears for what this might mean for our country to be manifest.  On election day, just as the polls were about to open, my husband was driving to work through an area where there were many, many Trump signs.  Someone tried to intentionally force him off the road and wreck his car.  He was the victim of road rage, apparently by someone offended by his bumper stick supporting Clinton and Kaine.  A day later, he was still suffering panic attacks.

Within hours of the election being called, there was a dramatic rise in hate crimes, as supporters of Trump asserted their rights to abuse women, people of color, and gays.  The picture above is one of two Episcopal Churches (my own denomination) who have been targeted by Trump supporters.  No place feels safe.

And yet, I am safer than most.  I only fit one of the categories that was targeted during Trump’s campaign, but with men asserting their right to grab women’s private parts because Trump normalized such behavior and the election of Trump condone it, I am at risk along with most people in this country.

But I am more afraid of for my loved ones who fall into even more hated categories than I am for myself, and so I have started wearing a safety pin, to show that I will stand with anyone who is being targeted for any reason.  The rise of the safety pin movement was the first sign of hope I saw in this dark week.


By itself, this gesture is not enough, not nearly enough.  Yet for me it was a place to start.  I know that there is a story going around the internet of the KKK trying to co-opt this symbol, to make it meaningless or even dangerous.  There is no symbol that cannot be co-opted or turned from its original purpose.

Yet I will wear a safety pin, both to show my solidarity with those who are being oppressed, as well as to remind myself that even in the darkest times, there are reasons to hope.

Being Pagan Has Never Been Easy


Contributed by the Rev. Tanya Trzeciak

Being a Pagan is not nor has it ever been easy.  For a large part of my life I had to stay in the “broom closet” with employers, many friends, and neighbors.  I had to hide the fact that I did not believe in one god almighty who was cruel and punishing. I was a solitary practitioner and did not seek out others for fear of being ostracized or,worse, fired from my job.

When I finally came out of the closet, some friends shied away out of fear while others asked questions.  The questioners embraced my strength to honor my beliefs while the others feared that I might be evil.  These people did not want any explanations or want to understand why I believe what I do.

However, I am a white female and I could hide who and what I was quite easily.  I didn’t have to wear a pentacle or goddess pendant in public.  I didn’t have to do or say anything to profess being a pagan.  I could practice what I believed in private and continue a public persona that didn’t upset the status quo.

My friends of color are not so lucky.  How do they hide the color of their skin? How do those who have to wear head scarves hide who they are?  How do they let others know that they are not bad people?

Society is so quick to judge a book by its cover and will not listen to explanations or even take the time to understand anyone who is even the slightest bit different.  We are all living beings and it is because of our differences that the world is such an awesome place.  Do we really want to be just another brick in the wall?

Spiritual Benefactors



Contributed by board member, The Rev. Dr. Richard Bardusch

In my Centering Prayer group we have been discussing benefactors. In this context a benefactor is someone who has loved and cared for us. It could be a friend, an older adult, a teacher, a colleague, etc. A benefactor can also be a spiritual teacher such as Jesus or Buddha. The idea is that when we meditate asking for the presence of someone who is our benefactor enables us to experience the love of the presence. This is a spiritual practice supports us as we seek to become more loving and compassionate.

I have come to realize that the Communion of Saints is a benefactor group. We invoke the presence of the Saints when we need support or comfort. We also invoke the Saints when we want to move forward on our spiritual journey. At St. Thomas, we place photos of our loved ones who have passed and become part of the Church Triumphant on the altar and place a candle in front of them on All Saints’ Sunday. These are the saints with a small “s”. Saints, but not as broadly known. My Dad is one of these and he is one of my benefactors.

Perhaps when you pray or meditate you invite your saints to join you? If you do, feel their love while you meditate or pray. Ask them for guidance. They may have passed from this life, but that does not mean they can’t continue to transform who we are.

I wish you benefactor blessings.

Autumn: Season of Change


Contributed by the Rev. Edward C. Cardoza

Autumn presents us with lots of opportunities to experience the outdoors.  Even for those of us for whom getting outside may be a challenge—all we need is proximity to a window and we can have an opportunity to experience a brisk breeze or a tree in full fall splendor.  It can also be a particularly ripe time for contemplative practice so I offer the following.

I’d encourage you to find a beautiful perch by a pond, or a comfortable spot along a wooded path or even—as I suggested before—just simply opening up a window close to you.

First step, take a deep breath and, keeping your eyes open, give thanks for creation, wonder and beauty…let the breath out.  Notice the first thing that your eyes encounter.  Perhaps it is a squirrel climbing a tree or a chipmunk gathering nuts or a red leaf falling from a tree…whatever it is…fix on it.   If you can, reach for it…examine it up close. What does it reveal to you?  What truth is it expressing?  Take another deep breath in and a breath out…and spend some time with that revelation or truth.  After a few minutes…give thanks for this experience—and shift spots, change direction or adjust your seat.

Second step, take a deep breath, keeping your eyes closed this time, give thanks for change, for transition and for new seasons…let the breath out.  Notice the first thing that touches you.  Perhaps it is a cool breeze or the autumnal sun or an acorn hitting your back…whatever it is….fix on it.  Let it continue to touch you.  What does it say to you?  What does it compel you to do?  Take another deep breath in and a breath out…and spend some time with that compelling voice.  After a few minutes…give thanks for this experience.

This is a nice spiritual practice to do on a crisp, sun-filled, fall day—it will also leave you with some food for thought for your journey.   What did creation reveal to you? What new things are you compelled to do or to witness to in this season of change?

Autumn Leaves


Submitted by Board Member, The Rev. Phil Hardwick

Autumn has come in the Northern hemisphere, and the falling leaves offer a lesson in adjusting to change. Each leaf was, in its prime, a majestic thing. More like than unlike its fellow leaves, it still possesses uniqueness, no two being duplicates. It had a vital role to play in the life of its tree, as we remember from long-ago science classes about chlorophyll and photosynthesis. Each tree, valuing its leaves as energy collectors, pulsed sap through it to keep it strong and green. Water and sunlight were contributed into the process. But now many leaves are turning different colors and coming loose. We may wish they would stay as they were, but they have another part to play, that of carpeting the ground about the roots against the coming cold. Or they may be raked into piles for children to jump on, or burnt to create an aroma like no other.

Our internal seasons follow no calendar. They happen when they happen, overlapping, even reversing. The autumns of our lives suggest a preparation for deepening and renewal. There will be a spring on the horizon, our hearts tell us, but now it may be a time for a letting go. If all we had were springtimes and summers, we might never learn to trust the invisible to take shape as the visible, and the invisible is the place of constant Source, from which issues beautiful new beginnings.

Can we celebrate the turning of the wheel of the year as the old is released to make room for the new? Every emotion we feel has a profound value to the richness of our experience.