Future Time

Contributed by board member, The Rev. Sarah Persons

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”  L.R. Knost

It is June and the end of the school year.  Many teens are moving on – to work, to college, to service – out of adolescence and into adulthood.  Some are held back by circumstances, or their own choices.    Most are somewhere on that threshold of one stage of life to the next.  For all of them we worry and grieve and hope. It’s a dangerous time; full of challenges and opportunities that are worlds apart from those their parents faced.  And yet the same hard-won truths apply generation to generation, truths like:

  • we will never be totally prepared for what tomorrow may bring, but we can do our best;
  • the right thing to do will not always make us feel better;
  • the world doesn’t love us, but we find a way to love anyway.

Unitarian Universalists have the tradition of the “Bridging Ceremony”, a ritual intended to honor all our youth have been, all they are now, and all they dream to be.  It is a blessing for coming and going, for endings and beginnings, for those who go forth and those who stay.  It is a promise that we will make room for their possibilities and lend our support through the pitfalls.

“Today I cross this bridge and join in fellowship,” our youths say, “Let me grow but don’t let me go.”

As one who was kicked out of the nest or jumped out – I’m never sure which happened first – I find this tradition especially meaningful.  Our future is in the hands of the next generation and the generation after that.  What do we do to strengthen those hands, to nourish them and lend them the integrity and fortitude and resilience to take up responsibility not just for themselves but for all our lives?

We may never make the world entirely safe for our kids, but we can do all we can to raise kids who will make the world a better place.

Liturgical Seasons and the Seasons of Our Lives

                                                   View from the Hospital

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

My faith community is a form of Christianity in which the seasons of the year are very important.  Like many faiths, we recognize the gathering darkness of winter, and the coming of new life in the spring.  However, our recognition of the seasons goes further than that of many others: every part of the year has its own liturgical season, and the themes, readings, and even the emotional color of our worship changes in response to the liturgical season.

There are certain disadvantages to this system.  There have been times when the somber and penitential mood of Lent is at odds with the mood in other areas of life.  There have also been times, when the exhortation to experience Easter joy for 50 days can seem almost impossible.  In those times, seasonal liturgical worship is a discipline.  Like many other spiritual disciplines, the difficulty of following a practice varies.  At times, I can find myself wishing that the season reflected my moods more closely.  It would be easier to rejoice when all was going really well in my life: rejoicing in times of grief is indeed difficult, and sometimes impossible to do.  Yet, I am immersed in a communal celebration  in those times, reminded me that worship is not primarily what  I do for my personal edification, but what we as a community do together.

But if there are those times when my emotions are out-of-synch with the liturgical season, there are also those times when the meaning and discipline of the liturgical season adds a layer of meaning to the events of my life that infuses those events with a depth that can hardly be overestimated.  This year, Easter and Holy Week were just such a time in my own life.

The events of Easter and Holy Week are centered on our affirmation, as a faith community, that God can bring life out of death.  On Good Friday, my brother had a lung transplant.  It is a dangerous procedure, and there are no guarantees that one will even survive the surgery.  In addition, this gift is given at the cost of another’s life.  The parallels could hardly be closer.  On Good Friday, we remember of the death of Jesus, who gave his life that others might live and live more abundantly.  As I flew across the country to be with my family, I was keenly aware of the connections between the liturgical season and my own personal season.  Having previously accepted the discipline of living out the liturgical seasons allowed my faith to inform my life, granting me the assurance that God can indeed bring life out of death.

My brother made it through surgery, and actually he has been doing remarkably well.  He was blessed with a healthy set of lungs, and with these lungs, he is not only off oxygen, but he is already breathing 300% better than he had before the surgery.  In fact, the surgeons said that his lungs were some of the worst that they had ever seen, and the lungs he got very beautiful.  It was a reminder that God often gives gifts extravagantly.

So this year, when I got to Easter, I was indeed already celebrating that gift of life that came through the sacrifice of another, so that my brother might have life, and have it more abundantly.  I was filled not only with Easter joy, but also with a profound thankfulness for the gift of life that God gives us in so many ways and for the ways that God can transform even death into life.  As a Christian, it was not a new understanding, but my understanding of what my family and I experienced was deepened by the discipline of following the liturgical seasons, and my understanding of Holy Week and Easter will be forever deepened by what happened in this year, when I personally experienced the passage from death into life in my own family.

Lent: Tilling the Ground

 

Contributed by Board Member, The Rev. Dr. Richard Bardusch

Lent is an old Anglo-Saxon word that means spring. While Lent overlaps spring in time, there is a deeper connection between the church season of Lent and the planting season of spring. Lent is about tilling the ground of our spiritual lives so that we can experience the new life of the Resurrection of Jesus. Lent is the time when we prepare our hearts to be sown with God’s love and Jesus’ new life.

Like the ground after winter, our hearts become hard over time and each year we need to break up that hardness so that like the ground they are prepared to receive the seeds of new life. Just as the plants thrive in tilled soil so to the seeds of God’s love thrive in a spirit that is broken and tilled.

As Americans we don’t like to have our world dug up. We like our patterns to be the same and predictable, but as Christians we are called to disciplines in Lent of preparation. Some of us give up bad habits, while others of us take on good ones.  Whether we give up or take on is not the question. They are both acts of preparation designed to till our hearts for the planting of God’s word and mighty deeds in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

How is God calling you to till your spirits? What do you need to give up or take on to prepare to receive God’s seeds of love? To till our hearts is the call of Lent.

Being Pagan Has Never Been Easy

wheeloftheyear

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

 

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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.

Blessing Animals

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

In early fall, you may see announcements in Christian Churches for a service called, “Blessing of the Animals.”  It can be done within the normal Sunday morning service or at some time, but it is generally in close proximity to October 4.

Many branches of the Christian Church have special days to remember exemplary practitioners of the faith, who are often called saints.  The word saint comes from the word which means holy or dedicated to God.  While different traditions have different criteria for naming someone a saint and recognize different people, most will have at least some people who they hold up as examples of how to live a Christian life.  Many of these saints are also associated with particular geographical locations or ethnic groups.  Most people are familiar with Irish St. Patrick’s day celebrations or Italian St. Joseph’s Day celebrations.  On these days, there may be special food or activities that call to mind the story of the saint.

Francis of Assisi was born in Italy in 1182 to a rich garment merchant.  He lived a carefree life of luxury until he was badly wounded in a battle.  The long convalescence changed him, and afterwards, he rejected the rich life he had been living to live a life in poverty.  Others began to follow him, and eventually he founded the Franciscans, and with Clare, the poor Clares.

As with many saints, the provable and factual stories are the most important, but it is the tales that grow up around the saint that are the most interesting.  It is true that Francis believed that we are brothers and sisters with all creation, as attested to in his poem “Canticle of the Sun.”  What is less sure are the stories of his remarkable kinship with animals, such as asking birds to cease their nightly chatter until he had finished preaching or making peace between a wolf and a village.  These stories, however, have captured people’s imaginations for centuries, and many depictions of Francis show him with either a bird or a wolf.  Because of this St. Francis is a much beloved saint, and statues of him will adorn many gardens

So in honor of St. Francis, some churches acknowledge that we are brothers and sisters with all creatures by honoring those animals that share our lives.  You don’t have to be a Christian to join in the celebration of the ways that animals, particularly our pets, demonstrate something about the love of God for all creation, who is praised through all creatures.

 

Daily Accounting of the Soul: Heshbon HaNefesh

Heshbon HaNefesh - A Daily "Accounting of the Soul" - A Mussar Practice (Jewish)
Heshbon HaNefesh – A Daily “Accounting of the Soul” – A Mussar Practice (Jewish)

Contributed by board member Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

In Judaism, Mussar is a path of contemplative practices and exercises that have evolved over the past thousand years to help an individual soul to pinpoint and then to break through the barriers that surround and obstruct the flow of inner light in our lives. Mussar is a treasury of techniques and understandings that offers immensely valuable guidance for the journey of our lives.

The goal of Mussar practice is to release the light of holiness that lives within the soul. The roots of all of our thoughts and actions can be traced to the depths of the soul, beyond the reach of the light of consciousness, and so the methods Mussar provides include meditations, guided contemplations, exercises and chants that are all intended to penetrate down to the subconscious, to bring about change right at the root of our nature.

One core practice is a daily “accounting of the soul” – Heshbon HaNefesh – that is conducted by reflecting on specific character traits (middot, pl; middah, sing.) like order, patience, equanimity, and humility (among many others).

We focus on specific interactions with other people and evaluate our behavior in regard to them through the lens of the one character trait that is our focus for that week.

The question we ask ourselves in this meditative process is: “How did our success or failure to realize this character trait – this middah – affect the other person?” not “How did this make me feel.”

We then note possible interactions for the coming day and contemplate how best to interact with others vis-à-vis this character trait.

From its origins in the 10th century, Mussar was a practice of the solitary seeker, until in the 19th century it became the basis for a popular social/spiritual movement originating in Lithuania, inspired by the leadership of Rabbi Israel Salanter, who, in an interesting side-note too long to detail here, came in contact with similar practices in Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography.

First appearing in Deuteronomy 11:2 and occurring many times later in the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word Mussar means “rebuke.” In the Mussar movement the term acquired the related meaning of “discipline” as in a discipline of rebuking oneself.

The text above came in most part from intertwined quotes from Rabbi Ira Stone and from Alan Morinis. If you’re interested in exploring Mussar with them in print, these two books provide a good orientation: Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar by Alan Morinis and A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Mussar by Ira Stone. 

 

 

 

Welcoming the New Year: The Water Communion Tradition

WaterCommunion

Contributed by The Rev. Sarah Person

“Can we be like drops of water/Falling on the stone/Splashing, breaking, dispersing in air/
Weaker than stone by far but be aware that/As time goes by, the rock will wear away.”
-Holly Near, “The Rock Will Wear Away”

Every tradition and every ritual starts somewhere. They start with people who want to express something deep; something that connects the real with the sacred. We light altar candles. We ring chimes or beat drums or burn incense. We sing songs that come from the heart to praise, to bless, to cry out our joy and our fear and, most of all, our hope. Many of these rituals are hundreds if not thousands of years old.

Although Unitarians and Universalists have been around for centuries, one of their most popular rituals around the world, the Water Communion, is less than forty years old. At a conference in Michigan, the women who attended felt that what they did in worship did not mean much to them spiritually, or make them feel connected to one another. They asked Carolyn McDade and Lucile Longview to create a ritual for the conference that spoke to women and nature and the environment and the power to do justice. (Eliza Blanchard, The History of the Water Service)

So McDade and Longview had all the women sit in a circle and each of them poured water that they had brought with them into a bowl. For each woman, the water symbolized aspects of life; birth, the cycles of the sun and moon and seasons, the water that surrounds us and makes life possible. The first Sunday service of every Autumn, in congregations all around the world, women, men and children bring vials of water that represent a place where something important and memorable happened. By mingling our water, we combine our stories – remembering that each one of us is precious and unique, yet, by virtue of the life we share, connected and dependent on one another. We praise the gift of life, and affirm our commitment to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters for whom water, like other basic necessities, is a precious commodity too often denied. At the conclusion of the service, some congregations conserve the water to be purified and used for rites of passage. Others, like our church in Middleborough, invite the children in the congregation to pour the water out over our Memorial Garden. In this way, we link our past, our present and our future together as a Beloved Community.

 

Somber Jewish Summers

2016 17th of Tammuz Three Weeks Destruction and Renewal

Tammuz 17 and the Three Weeks: Destruction and Renewal

Submitted by board member, Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

Observance of the minor fast day of the 17th of Tammuz (July 24, 2016) begins The Three Weeks of Mourning leading to the most somber of fast days, the 9th of Av (Tisha b’Av, August 14, 2016).

Included in The Three Weeks are The Nine Days – from the first day of Av until Tisha b’Av itself.  Both periods have increasingly focused mourning practices with a minimization of joy, celebration and even everyday comforts.

On the 9th of Av/Tisha b’Av we mourn the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews during the times of the destructive loss of our spiritual center, the Temple in Jerusalem, which occurred not once, but twice: 586 BCE by the Babylonians and 70 CE by the Romans.

A full sundown to sundown, 24+ hour fast, extensive additions to the morning prayer service in the form of penitential prayers, chanting of the Book of Lamentations, and songs of lament/kinot are all a part of Tisha b’Av mourning practices.

We come out of the dark sorrow of The Three Weeks and Tisha b’Av into the hope of restoration expressed by our prophets. Each Shabbat/Sabbath between the end of Tisha b’Av and the Jewish New Year/Rosh Hashanah brings words of comfort from the prophets as part of these seven Shabbat morning services.

MyJewishLearning.com is good source of information about the background and traditional observances of these commemorations. Click on the following items to learn more:

The 17th of Tammuz
The Three Weeks of Mourning
Tisha b’Av

In regards to spiritual practices over the centuries and into today’s Jewish world, Jay Michaelson “beat me to the punch” with his article on Fasting from a Functional Perspective.  I’m not as wise or articulate as he and am glad to have his insights to share with you.

Listed at the bottom are additional links, should you be interested in exploring more aspects of what makes Jewish mid-summers somber.

At the heart of the matter for me this year comes the intersection between the particular – my Jewish observance – and the universal – the state of the world today.

I want to encourage you not to suffer alone from the pain that national and international events bring, but to find a community of people with whom to mourn the now all-too-regular tragedies.

If you are out of words, I share these from my tradition, hoping they might prompt words of your own.  They come from one portion of the lengthy traditional prayers for fast days – Selichot – prayers asking not only for forgiveness, but for mercy and for a way back from the depths of despair – a mournful cry of a mythic-historic despair that remains real for me and many others.

As you start with the prayer pattern below, find a way to make the words your own. From my faith I can speak them. Maybe you cannot. Adjust them to voice your soul’s longing to be answered. Find your community. Make a community. Say them out loud. Sing them out loud. Hear one another. Share the pain to lessen the pain, then turn from the pain and move into the “what’s next.”

ANEINU – Answer Us

Answer us, Lord, answer us.
Answer us, our God, answer us.
Answer us, our Father, answer us.
Answer us, our Creator, answer us.
Answer us, our Redeemer, answer us.
Answer us, You who seek us, answer us.
Answer us, God who is faithful, answer us.
Answer us, You who are ancient and kind, answer us.
Answer us, You who are pure and upright, answer us.
Answer us, You who are alive and remain, answer us.
Answer us, You who are good and do good, answer us.
Answer us, You who know our impulses, answer us.
Answer us, You who conquer rage, answer us.
Answer us, You who clothe Yourself in righteousness, answer us.
Answer us, supreme King of kings, answer us.
Answer us, You are supreme and elevated, answer us.
Answer us, You who forgive and pardon, answer us.
Answer us, You who are righteous and straightforward, answer us.
Answer us, You who are close to those who call, answer us.
Answer us, You who are compassionate and gracious, answer us.
Answer us, You who listen to the destitute, answer us.
Answer us, You who support the innocent, answer us.
Answer us, God of our fathers, answer us.
Answer us, God of Abraham, answer us.
Answer us, Terror of Isaac, answer us.
Answer us, Champion of Jacob, answer us.
Answer us, Help of the tribes, answer us.
Answer us, Stronghold of the mothers, answer us.
Answer us, You who are slow to anger, answer us.
Answer us, You who are lightly appeased, answer us.
Answer us, You who answer at times of favor, answer us.
Answer us, Father of orphans, answer us.
Answer us, Justice of widows, answer us.

Additional lines follow in a new pattern – in the manner of “The One who answered *****, answer us” where the ***** represents historical figures from Abraham through Ezra to the “so many righteous, devoted, innocent and upright people.”  We conclude with

Loving God, who answers the oppressed: answer us.
Loving God, who answers the broken-hearted: answer us.
Loving God, who answers those of humbled spirit: answer us.
Loving God, answer us.
Loving God, spare; Loving God, release; Loving God, save us.
Loving God have compassion for us now, swiftly, at a time soon coming.

Kein yehi ratzon – Thus may it be so.

Additional Links with Information, Points of View and Practices

From the Meaningful Life Center 

Aspects of Jewish law related to the 17th of Tammuz and The Three Weeks

An adult education lesson plan related to Tisha b’Av from the American Jewish University in Los Angeles

About The Three Weeks, from the Velveteen Rabbi

A “passionate colorful totally imperfect mother of 8” – Rivka Malka writes of The Three Weeks and Healing the World Through Love

A journalist writing of her path through one year of Jewish holidays, festivals, memorials and commemorations.

Prayer translations taken from the Koren Sacks Siddur. Any typing errors are mine alone.

Ordinary Time?

Ordinary Time

Submitted by board member, the Rev. Dr. Richard Bardusch

Time is an issue with which we all struggle. In liturgical churches, i.e. churches with a formal order of worship, there is a period in our calendar called Ordinary Time. This part of the church year usually begins in late spring and lasts until late fall. It is the largest single season of the church year and has few of the bigger holy days. It is the regular time when life is grounded out and we move from one week to the next without a lot of interruption.

As a community we use this season as the time to recharge our batteries. It is not that we stop doing things so we can save our energy; rather, it is that we shift our focus, which brings a different type of energy. We focus less on the big holy days—because there are few of them—and more on the gentle connection of shared life. In other words, we walk together in regular life and connect in ways that some say might say are mundane or not very special.

There is an ebb and flow to life. Part of recharging our batteries is the practice of living into that shifting of focus. If we try to be constant with the type of energy we expend, we burn out. When we shift our energies to match the ebb and flow of life, we find ourselves continuously recharging.

The ordinary times of our lives are for shifting of focus, not shutting down. It is an important distinction. One is positive and the other is defeatist. Which do you want in your life?