On the Table: Disasters – Who’s Got It the Worst?

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People think that natural disasters are “equal opportunity” catastrophes.  But, in reality, disasters have a disproportionate impact on some groups such as women, the poor, children, people who are elderly, disabled, or even undocumented immigrants.  Faith-based responses to disaster are essential to recovery.  Some denominations excel at getting feet on the ground, supplies on site and experienced assistance to victims.  Is there more we can do?  Is there a way to help our faith communities respond to these other issues as well?  Is that asking too much?  Give us your thoughts, or simply share your relief work experiences.

–The Rev Sarah Person

Gratitude: Changing Our Lives as Seasons Change

The Autumnal Equinox, which marked the movement from the long days of summer to the shorter days of the coming winter, has passed.  Now is the time to be thankful for the bounty that Mother Earth has provided and to rejoice in our freedom to practice our spirituality without fear. However, Mother Earth is responding to our neglect and the shirking of our responsibility to care for Her.  

We were made caretakers of the earth and have not lived up to that duty with disastrous results.  Climate change/global warming are producing rebellious actions by the planet…the elements of Air, Fire, Water, Earth are showing us that if we do not stop our destructive habits, Mother will stop providing the bounty that sustains us and all life. 

We need to do several things.  Look at our own lives and see what we can change to make things better.  Meditate to look deeply into our spiritual lives and discover how we can grow our beliefs to let the dimming light of the changing seasons not diminish the light within us.  Help others see that there is hope for our planet if we change our lives just as the seasons change. Remember that we need to respect one another and most of all respect our Mother.

—The Rev Tanya Trzeciak

Coming Alive and Fostering Hope

 

Submitted by Board Member, the Rev. Tanya Trzeciak

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs;
ask yourself what makes you come alive.
And then go and do that.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

~Harold Whitman

I came across this saying while searching for something entirely different.  Coincidence?  Like my favorite television character always tells his team, I don’t believe in coincidences.

I don’t think we have to ask ourselves what the world, our country, or our neighborhood needs.  We already have a good idea.  The question should be ”what are we going to do about it?” We just celebrated the official beginning of spring and along with that occasion our thoughts turned to warmer days, trees bursting into flower and leaf, flowers pushing up through the brown earth and more birds singing outside our windows.  With spring always comes the promise of beauty and peace…hope of better things to come.

The political climate doesn’t look as if there is a bright, beautiful future for many of country but we have to foster hope.  Hope that we can stay alive and become more observant and involved in what is happening around us.  As pagans we believe in cycles…the Wheel of the Year, the cycles of life, death and life and the cycle of darkness and light.  We may be in the winter of despair but like the coming of spring after the darkness of winter, there is hope and light.  We must keep the light alive.  We must come alive and resist the darkness. What makes you come alive? What gives you hope?

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.

Finding Hope in Dark Times

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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.

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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.

Daydreaming as Spiritual Practice?

Daydreaming

Contributed by board member, The Rev. Philip Hardwick

“Everything you can imagine is real.” –Pablo Picasso

Where is the balance between imagination and fanciful daydreaming? Is there a place for fanciful daydreaming in your life?

Would you believe it if I told you that daydreaming has many benefits? It receives a bad rap from folks who want to keep it real and be productive. Some say daydreaming is a slacker’s activity. However, studies show that daydreaming helps to reduce stress, stir the imagination, and increase productivity. It allows the daydreamer to relax and take a mental break. In some cases, it is a lot like meditation and visualization.

Controlled daydreaming is also useful in conflict management and behavioral change. Have you ever replayed in your mind an argument or personal conflict that you had with someone? When I do, it helps me insert what I could have said or done instead. It gives me the opportunity to correct my behavior in my mind so that I can respond differently the next time a similar situation arises. Daydreaming about it also helps to uncover some hidden belief that was acting as law in my life; I have the opportunity to uncover, discover, and discard that belief since it no longer serves me.

So, Picasso had it right. And fanciful daydreaming is like my favorite icing on the cake.

Spiritual Direction

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Is the Spirit calling you to go deeper?

Do you desire to bloom where you are planted?

Are you unsure about the next step in your life journey?

If so, you may benefit from speaking with a spiritual director?

A spiritual director or spiritual companion is one with whom you meet regularly to help listen to what is going on in your life or where you may be feeling called to change or grow.  Some spiritual directors are a part of a particular religious tradition, while others are open to seekers who do not identify with a particular tradition.  Spiritual direction is offered through Common Ground: Center for Spiritual Practice.

For more information, contact the Executive Director, The Rev. Tara Soughers, PhD, at the following email address:

or check out our website at www.commongroundcsp.org

or our Facebook page at Common Ground Center for Spiritual Practice in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Common Ground: Center for Spiritual Practice
111 High Street
Taunton, MA 02780

Be Still

 

Be still

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

I have been struggling with how it is that prayer changes who we are. I have found that Centering Prayer makes me not only calmer, but more contented as well. But why is this so? Why does simply sitting and listening to God bread down my walls and make me more compassionate? I am not sure I am going to be able to offer an explanation—I will leave that to those more knowledgeable than I about these things—but I will offer a testimony.

Unlike the type of prayer where we tell God things he already knows, or ask for things we want, simply sitting and listening has a cumulative, long term effect that is decidedly virtuous. By virtuous I mean it doesn’t just make me a higher functioning person, but rather it leads me to actual Christian goals like compassion, patience, and kindness.

Interestingly, I have also discovered that Centering Prayer reveals truth in a manner that is unique to itself. It provides its own revelation. When I read Scripture I find the practice of Centering Prayer has put me in a place of greater openness and a greater expansiveness to possibility and reality. When I read Scripture new meanings are there that I have not seen in the past without this practice of prayer.

Because Centering Prayer strengthens my relationship to Jesus, I find Jesus literally enlightening my relationship to reality. It is as though by connecting to the divine in prayer, the divine reveals more fully my connection to everything else. I guess that makes sense as everything is created by the divine, and the divine undergirds the existence of everything. It kind of blows my mind sometimes.

I encourage you to stop and listen. It is a very simple practice that enables us to see and hear.

Walking

Walking

Submitted by board member The Rev. Philip Hardwick

Walking is, apparently, the new running. I do not know if you all have heard this as well, and it may be news that comes as a surprise to those of you who are avid runners. But lately there has been an influx of information comparing the benefits of walking and running on a person’s overall health and, as it turns out, walking has far more physical rewards than we initially realized.

It also benefits our minds by increasing productivity and creativity. In studies of older adults, those who walked regularly were able to significantly increase the volume of their hippocampus, the portion of the brain involved with memory. And Harvard Medical School published a report stating that the positive effects of the endorphins released when walking last longer than those of the anti-depressants that now one in ten Americans regularly take.

Walking is also good for the soul, as so many of the world’s religions will attest. One of the five pillars of Islam is the hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, in which pilgrims walk seven times around the ancient Ka’ba in the center courtyard of the Great Mosque. Buddhist pilgrims walk their own their sacred journey to Bodh Gaya in India or Mount Kailash in Tibet. Jesus walked practically everywhere he went, but the most notable were the steps he took during the last hours of his life, when he walked from Pilate’s headquarters to the hill at Golgotha, along a street located in the Old City of Jerusalem. Today Christians walk this same route known as the Via Dolorosa—some of them walking while carrying crosses, while others walk it on their knees.

Body, mind, spirit. For whatever ails us, whatever it is we seek, it seems as though the first step is to literally take a step and begin to walk. Try it.

Contemplative Sight

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To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

“Auguries of Innocence,” by William Blake

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

I have been finding, more and more, that my photography is a form of contemplative practice.

Of course, there are times when I rush madly around, taking pictures right and left, and those times are not particularly contemplative.  They are no more contemplative than other busy parts of my life.  Photography becomes another task to accomplish, another thing to mark off my “to-do” list.  I also find that those pictures, while often acceptable, are not usually my best pictures.

Photography becomes a contemplative practice for me when I make the time to slow down, and to become present.  I usually begin with looking for the obvious pictures, and I start there.  As I slow down, however, I begin to notice things, details, that I miss in my more hurried photographic  forays.

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Best, however, is when I sit in one place and let myself be present there.  In those times, I become see more deeply, and I am much more likely to be surprised by what is around me.  I can marvel at the texture of the rocks, notice how the light from the sun hits the trees, see the insects among the flowers, and watch the wind make ripples in the water.  For me it is a time of simply being a part of the world around me, allowing all of the normal activities and worries of my life slip away until I am at peace with the world around me.

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Like any other contemplative practice, sometimes I find it easier to get that place of quiet more easily than at other times.  In times of great stress, I may not be able to get to a place of calm presence.  Even on those days, when I am at my most distracted, however, I return from my contemplative time less stressed, more grounded, better able to face what lies ahead.

 

Does photography function as a spiritual practice for you?  Feel free to comment and to leave examples of your own photographic work.