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.

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.