Dog Days of Summer

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

 

We are now entering what many people refer to as “the dog days of Summer.” If you ask people what that phrase means, generally they say it means it is really hot, or “it’s so hot dogs just lie around” or something similar. While it is usually true it is hot in the Summer, that is not the original meaning for the phrase. In the picture you can see an outline of the constellation Canis Major “chasing” the constellation Lepus (the hare).In the night sky somewhere in mid-July to early August depending on your location, the star Sirius rises from the horizon in the Northern Hemisphere. This year Sirius rises on the night of August 11. Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major (big dog). If you connect the stars in the constellation Canis Major, Sirius becomes the nose of a big dog (see picture). As a result in ancient literature and among sailors even today, Sirius is often called the Dog Star.

Among the ancients, the dog days of Summer refer to an astronomical event, not the temperature. Overtime, people paid less attention to astronomy or navigation by stars and lost the phrases’ original meaning. The phrase continued, however, to be part of many languages, and still is today. Like other phrases, which are still part of our language, but whose meaning is not well known, most people just make up a meaning for the phrase.

That is the gift. Human beings have to ability to create meaning. God has built it into our brains for us to find meaning where there is none, or where we have forgotten. A piece of what Christians call the Imago Dei, or Image of God is our ability to make meaning. In the sense that God is the source of all meaning, human beings are co-creators with God in meaning, our own and the world’s.

Of course, with ability comes responsibility. The meaning we create can build up or tear down. It can be for the common good or not. The kind of meaning we create whether it is a phrase, goal, or way of life is also a reflection of who we are and whose we are. What meaning do you give to the phrase of your life?

Dog Days of Summer Blessings.

Welcoming the New Year: The Water Communion Tradition

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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.

 

Holy Listening

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Contributed by Executive Director, The Rev. Tara Soughers

In this very contentious election season, I am finding myself feeling overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed with messages, overwhelmed with reactions, overwhelmed with expressions of hate and anger, and when I get overwhelmed, I get anxious.  My mind starts whirling around, exploring all of the horrible scenarios that have been suggested, until I feel afraid.  Of course, fear is a weapon in this political season.  It can be an effective way to propel people into an action that you want them to take.  But actions taken out of fear are rarely helpful.  Most often they are problematic, and sometimes destructive.  Fear is contagious, and it sets up a cycle that encourages others to lash out in fear as well.  There is a part of me that simply wants to shut it all out, retire to a place where no one can find me, where there are no newspapers, no television, and no internet until all of this fear-laden rhetoric is gone.  But I can’t.  I have a responsibility to act on behalf of my community, be it local or national or even global.  I need to listen, but I need to listen in a different way.  I need to engage in holy listening.

Holy listening is a way of deep listening with love and compassion.  I need to recognize when others are speaking out of their fear, and listen not with my own fear, but in love and compassion.  I need to model a way of listening that is not seeking to strike out, to score points, to win an argument, but listening to understand.  As the mystic Rumi says, “You will learn by reading but you will understand with love.”  I need to listen not to learn so much— my learning needs to come from seeking out facts in order to combat the lack of information or even misinformation in the anger-laden speech— but to understand the one who is speaking.  I need to listen in a way that models love, not hate, for only love can overcome the divisive rhetoric of our public dialogue.  I need to listen in a way that honors the value of each voice, even those voices that are expressing hatred and ideas that I find abhorrent.

I am afraid that I am not always very good at that kind of listening.  I can get caught up in the fear and anxiety, and respond accordingly.  But when I do, I am betraying what I truly believe, that all people are made in God’s image and likeness, and all are inestimable value because they are children of God.  It is times like this that challenge me to live as I claim I believe.

I find that in order to be able to listen to others, particularly in difficult times, I need to spend some time listening to myself, and listening for God.  For me, this is best accomplished in nature.  I need to spend some time simply sitting and listening to what is around me, sounds that do not carry fear, that do not ask me to do something right now, that are simply there.  Rumi says, “The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.”  When I sit for a while in silence, I begin to hear the small sounds, the wind rustling leaves, insects flying around, waves lapping gentle, squirrels chittering, bird singing.   I hear the things that I normally can’t hear when I am feeling overwhelmed, and I find myself relaxing and coming back to myself.  The anxiety drops, the fear lessens, and my hearing with love and gratitude is restored.

It is then that I can return to the frenzy of my everyday world, able to respond more out of love and less out of fear.  For more love and less fear is desperately needed in our world, and at least for me, holy listening is one of the ways in which I am able to live more out of love.

I invite all of you to share practices which help you, in this time of great anxiety in our country, to live and make decisions out of love, not fear.

 

Swimming Holes and Contemplation

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Contributed by board member, The Rev. Edward Cardoza

Some of us are experiencing a drought.  While we have had a few showers and downpours from thunderstorms—we haven’t had the sustained, deluge of water necessary to restore our reservoirs, rivers & lakes.  Our dry, wearied gardens are thirsty. Sometimes the spiritual life can feel like this! It can be experienced as dry and parched.  It can leave one wondering what to do and where to go for relief.

One of my favorite experiences of summer is to escape to my favorite swimming hole.  Do you have one?  For some it may, literally be a secret place…tucked off into the woods, down a shaded path and unknown only to the locals.  For others it might be a well-known spot—a place like Walden Pond in Concord, MA for instance.  And for some, it may have to be improvised—a kiddie pool in the backyard or even a bathtub can become a spontaneous place to soak and relax.

There is something profound about immersing into water.

It can become a contemplative activity.

I myself am a floater—I like to gently close my eyes, spread open my arms, wiggle my toes and simply float.  I find it easier to pay more attention to my breathing half submerged in water.  I let the worries of the day subside and the waves of the water gently move over me—reminding me as they do—that I am embodied and alive.  Over the years—I have known plungers.  They like to take a running leap along the path—letting go of anxiety and hurt.  They envision casting it all away—and being made light as they enter the water with a full splash.  When they hit the water and get pulled up to the surface—they feel restored. And I have also known waders.  They gently like to immerse into the water—“praying in” each step—following the natural incline of the land into the water.  They eventually get to the point where they swim gently away from shore—leaving their cares there and enjoying the quiet and the silence.

I’d invite you to find a way to encounter water in a contemplative way this summer.  Seek out a local swimming hole—Google can always be an excellent source.  Here is one showing some of the best swimming holes in New England.

Best Swimming Holes in New England

Maybe you will discover whether you are a floater, plunger or wader—or perhaps you might find a new way of being in this wonderful element that we call water.

Contemplative Movement Workshop

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Contemplative Movement: The Embodied Heart

Saturday, Sept. 17, 10AM-1PM

St. Thomas Episcopal Church

111 High St., Taunton, Mass.

Develop your capacity to move through your days connected to body, mind and spirit.   With playfulness and seriousness we will explore whole body prayers from the Christian tradition and easeful tai chi practices, including meditation, to enhance our overall aliveness to ourselves and the Spirit within and around.  The tai chi practices cultivate flow, balance, and presence and serve to ground and integrate the profound heart centered practices of Christianity.   

The workshop will be of value to those with any kind of spiritual practice who desire to move with more ease and incorporate the sense of the sacred in daily life.  No prior experience with tai chi is necessary. For those who have experience with tai chi or other body-oriented practices, this workshop will provide fresh approaches to developing the meditative aspects of your practices.  For information or to register, email allen.bourque@gmail.com.

Registration: $25, as able.

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A longtime practitioner of contemplative prayer and tai chi, Allen Bourque lives in Ashland and is a board member of Contemplative Outreach Boston. He has been teaching and leading contemplative retreats in the northeast for many years and is currently a senior student of Cynthia Bourgeault as well as Don Ethan Miller.


“I have attended two of Allen’s workshops focusing on grounding our prayer life in the body and the body’s movement. His Christian faith and practice of contemplative prayer is enriched and informed by experience in other traditions including Buddhism and Taoism and is firmly rooted in the natural world. And lest we forget, Allen helps us reclaim play as part of embodied prayer. What I have learned from him I have been able to integrate into my daily practice and life in general and isn’t this  what makes a spiritual workshop of lasting value?” — Annie Scarff, Amherst

Choose Life

 

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Submitted by board member, The Rev. Sarah Person

“Let us refuse to divide our own hearts, according some people ‘us’ status and labeling others as ‘them.’  Let us peer deep within this mess of terror and healing and choose life, and choose love, over and over.”  Rev. Meg Riley

Three weeks ago, four churches in Middleborough held a joint candlelit vigil on the Town Hall Green.  Together we stood for the dead, and held a light against the coming dark.  Together we held on to our faith, our hope, our courage and our truth.  We had refused to divide our hearts and had let go of who on that expansive twilight lawn was “us” and who was “them.”  I was struck by one of my own truths then – seeing all those faces, young and old, all shapes, all varieties of being human – how we are made infinitely diverse, infinitely unique.  Why do we ignore this aspect of being alive?  Why do we make it something to fear?

We understand now that all living things have the same chemical building blocks of life.  And we understand as well that all complicated natural life has a unique code that directs our elements to grow this way and not that, to express themselves one way and not another.  Sure, humans have more in common with each other than with apple trees.  But it is also true that all humans are unique just as all apple trees are unique.  With enough time and money we could tell which apple came from which tree just as we can tell the parent of the child. To choose life means to accept the nature of living.  It is never “us” and “them,” it is always “I” and “thou.”  What does it mean to you to choose life?

We Need Your Support

 

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Dear Friends,
As a very new non-profit, fundraising is a fact of life. We are in the process of developing a very full fall schedule of classes and workshops, but to do all that we hope to do, we need more funds. If you have enjoyed what we have been offering and would like to support a center dedicated to bringing people of all traditions or no tradition together over spiritual practice, I invite you consider a donation. One way to do this is listed below. Thank you so much for joining us on this journey.
Tara Soughers
Executive Director

Support a multi-faith collaborative dedicated to creating, supporting, and sustaining practices for those in search of purpose, healing, commitment, contemplation and action.
To learn more about this project, visit www.commongroundcsp.org.

To donate to this project, go to www.faithify.org.

Summer Solstice

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Contributed by board member, The Rev. Tanya April-Trzeciak

The summer Solstice is my favorite Sabbat. Since I love the sun and bright days, I can enjoy a few more minutes of this precious light during the longest day of the year. My spirituality is nature based and I find my connection with all things more focused during the summer when life is teeming all around. The Hummingbirds are defending the feeders they claimed as their own; all the birdhouses in my gardens are filled with young; flowers are blooming everywhere I turn and I’m hoping for a good crop of vegetables soon. What more could I ask for?

As I sit on a bench under an evergreen, I meditate and offer thanks for all that I have. I have been blessed with a house that is surrounded by trees and shrubs, and neighbors who also respect nature. Waking up these summer mornings to the birds singing and the roosters from the neighboring chicken farm are like music to my ears. Some might find these sounds so early – just before dawn – an annoyance, but I find them beautiful and a nice reminder that nature is sharing her sacredness with me.

In this time of growth and abundance we should reflect on all that we have and celebrate how the “seeds” we have planted in our lives are coming to bloom.

Blessed Be.

A Contemplative Practice In Times Of Trauma And Violence

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Submitted by board member, The Rev. Edward Cardoza

My heart and mind are heavy.   My spirit is unsettled. I am thinking about the tragedy that unfolded this weekend in Orlando.  I find myself distracted to the point where prayer and silence seem challenging.

I know it is in times such as these that finding a place for solitude and for reflection is important.   First, I believe prayer matters.  Second, I believe healing begins within me.  Lastly, I think silence deepens our ability to love, to be empathetic and to be a strength to others in times of trauma and violence.

One of life’s important rituals–taught to me by my elders–is to stand vigil. It is clear we will bury so many in the weeks to come–once again–too many, too young. We will stand or kneel or bend or crouch or curl…weeping, astonished, angered, frustrated and wrecked…but in the end we will stand back up again–let’s do so rooted in love–keeping vigil for each of the Creator’s beloved.

I offer the following contemplative exercise as a way of creating space and of remembering those who were killed.

Step 1: Find a list of those who are victims—local tv news stations and newspapers will be printing lists with names and biographies.

You can check out the official list here:  http://www.cityoforlando.net/blog/victims/

Step 2: Read the name of a single person, softly and out loud.  Repeat the name, once again.

Step 3: Keep the person in your heart….take a breath in and then release the breath out.  Keep silence for 1 minute…repeat the person’s name.

Step 4: Hold this person in your heart, hold this person’s family in your heart, hold this person’s community in your heart….ask for peace, ask for love, and ask for comfort.

Step 5:  Repeat the process.
If you can set aside an hour, you should be able to get through all the names.  If you can only do a few at a time, that is okay.  You can invite someone to join you.  At the end, take a few minutes for quiet—and voice your own needs.