- Last Updated on January 8, 2018
by Rev. Deborah Cayer
As a way of going deeper, this year we’re going to introduce monthly worship themes. Themes will run if not in the foreground, then in the background of services. We’re doing this as part of the Soul Matters collective of over 200 UU congregations. So themes will help us focus on a particular value or spiritual quality together in various ways at ERUUF, and also together with fellow UUs.
Ironically, the Soul Matters theme for September 2016 happens to be “Covenant.” Let’s go deeper together!
Our theme for worship and small groups this month (October 2016) is “Community,” something we hear and speak of often, but what exactly do we mean? You can live in a large condo complex, nod and smile at your neighbors, talk to people at the pool, but that’s more like the parallel play of toddlers. But if there’s a crisis—someone’s locked out, or a pet goes missing, or a single parent gets the flu, we cross lines to help each other. We’re more engaged, more caring, and afterward sometimes we have not only a greater sense of connection, but also a better sense of well-being. And sometimes we also have more fun.
In the fellowship, we have the potential to engage one another with knowledge of the reality of our interdependence. For Richard Rohr the phrase, “Everything belongs,” has become a mantra that opens a door to his lived experience of this truth. “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness,” Thich Nhat Hanh tells us. This is the reality that lies waiting for us within all meditation practices. Similarly, Joanna Macy tells us that, “Our lives extend beyond our skins, in radical interdependence with the rest of the world.” It's her reason for hope in time of climate crisis.
All these teachers point to the spiritual truth of our interdependence. Our experience of this in relationship with one another has the potential to be richer than our solitary existence, no matter how rich our inner life. Also, this is not a condition that we have to create. It’s something real and true that we can experience, when we find a way past the guardians of our certainty; when we practice simple courtesies and good manners; when we remember that love wants to flow like a river through us each and all. What sages have always taught their students is that when we are in a true community, we find more possibility waiting there than we had ever imagined and often it's a way into the future we would not have discovered on our own.
“The new survival unit is no longer the individual nation; it’s the entire human race and its environment. This newfound oneness is only a rediscovery of an ancient religious truth. Unity is not something we are called to create; it’s something we are called to recognize.” William Sloan Coffin
“When you are grateful you are not fearful, and when you are not fearful, you are not violent. When you are grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not out of a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share. If you are grateful, you are enjoying the differences between people and respectful to all people. The grateful world is a world of joyful people. Grateful people are joyful people. A grateful world is a happy world.” Brother David Steindl-Rast
While gratitude is everywhere this month, but far from being ubiquitously meaningless, it can be a life changing practice. Whether we find ourselves in the narrowest of circumstances or in the midst of plenty, when we practice gratitude we move from an inner world of scarcity to abundance. Something shifts in us.
A gratitude practice can be very simple. Notice how you feel before you begin. Are you tense or calm? Do you feel stressed or at peace? Now ask yourself, what three things am I grateful to have received today? And what am I grateful to have been able to give? Savor the experiences around these simple things. And afterward, notice how you feel. Are you tense or relaxed? Happy or sad? Stressed or at peace?
You can’t be fearful when you’re grateful, David Steindl-Rast says. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to get through a day? What would it be like to go through a whole day feeling confidently joyful? It might feel like the difference between dancing and trudging, between boredom and intrigue. It might feel like the return to your truest self and a world of new possibility. Even if nothing were to change except your perspective, what would you have to lose? We’ll be practicing gratitude together over at the ERUUF Practices Facebook Group (this is a group for ERUUF members). Let’s go!
Generosity is a key spiritual practice in many religious traditions, perhaps because the practice of generosity helps us form the habit of seeing that the glass is half full. It helps us form the belief that we have the power to do something good with the gifts that life has bestowed upon us. When we practice generosity, we find that we stay flexible and open enough to receive as well. So generosity is a flow from the universe, or God, or others to us, and through us back to others and the world. Generosity connects with others and the world.
Generosity, when we get it right, also can heal us. Judith Lewis Herman is an expert in trauma, and knows that trauma severs good, healthy ties between individuals and communities. She also knows that generosity is essential to healing. She writes, “Repeatedly in the testimony of survivors there comes a moment when a sense of connection is restored by another person’s unaffected display of generosity. Something in herself that the victim believes to be irretrievably destroyed---faith, decency, courage---is reawakened by an example of common altruism. Mirrored in the actions of others, the survivor recognizes and reclaims a lost part of herself. At that moment, the survivor begins to rejoin the human commonality...” (from Trauma and Recovery)
What might happen if you extend to someone:
- The benefit of a doubt?
- Unless you know for certain otherwise, your assumption of their best intention?
- Your positive regard, regardless of whether they “deserve” it?
- Your respect?
- Your understanding?
- Your trust?
- Your love?
Generous things you can do very easily and simply:
- Feed the birds.
- Smile at the people you pass on the sidewalk.
- Hold open a door.
- Tip generously.
- Compliment or appreciate someone when you notice that they’ve done something good or performed well. (Use “I” statements so this doesn’t become patronizing.)
- Go through your household items. What haven’t you used in months, or even years? Pick out a few nice things, dust or wash, then donate to a group or a charity that can put them to good use.
If it’s a challenge for you to let go with an open hand, the spiritual teacher Robert Thurman says you can try this, “Practice giving things away, not just things you don't care about, but things you do like. Remember, it is not the size of a gift, it is its quality and the amount of mental attachment you overcome that count. So don't bankrupt yourself on a momentary positive impulse, only to regret it later. Give thought to giving. Give small things, carefully, and observe the mental processes going along with the act of releasing the little thing you liked.”
Intrigued enough to want to master the practice of Generosity? Here are eight degrees of charity from Moses Maimonides, a Jewish sage who lived in the 12th century. From lowest to highest they are:
"Lowest level: Giving to a poor person unwillingly. It is better not to give at all.
"Seventh level: Giving to a poor person with a glad heart and a smile.
"Sixth level: Giving to a poor person after being asked.
"Fifth level: Giving to a poor person before being asked.
"Fourth level: Not knowing who you are giving to, but allowing the recipients to know who their benefactor is.
"Third level: Knowing who you are giving to, but not allowing the recipients to know who their benefactor is.
"Second level: Giving to the poor, but not knowing who you are giving to, nor allowing the recipients to know who their benefactor is.
"Top level: Investing in a poor person, so that a solution to his or her problem is found.
“The Real Power of Generosity,” by Sharon Salzburg
“Generosity is the bread and butter of feeling connected in our lives — to ourselves, to others, and to life itself. And it’s a practice.”
In our consumer culture, January has become a month for organizing. But at ERUUF, our theme for January is “Creativity,” and creativity is anything but organized—it’s often an act of great messiness and chaos. When we create, the categories get mixed and lines blur; odd and wonderful things happen and something completely new is sometimes the result.
In Genesis the Hebrew Bible begins, “In the beginning all was without form and void…and God said, “let there be light,” and there was light…” And then God made the heavens and the earth and filled the earth with plants, animals, and people. Creativity is the basis of all life; creativity is the basis of our particular life the story says.
Houston Smith writes, “All of us dwell on the brink of the infinite ocean of life’s creative power. We all carry it within us; supreme strength, the fullness of wisdom, unquenchable joy. It is never thwarted and cannot be destroyed. But it is hidden deep, which is what makes life a problem. The infinite is down in the darkest, profoundest vault of our being, in the forgotten well-house, the deep cistern. What if we could discover it again and draw from it unceasingly?” (The Religions of the World)
What would it be like to stop searching for philosophic answers and just make something? Pick up some bits from your garage and play with them until they fall into an arrangement that just feels right and enjoy it as a temporary sculpture? Use up that stash of old yarn by knitting some 5x7 squares that ERUUF’s Clickers could sew into an afghan? Pick up a child’s tray of watercolors and some paper from the Scrap Exchange, and watch how the color spreads across a blank page? Dig a garden bed and transplant some seedlings, or plant a pot of herbs? Share stories or do some improv theater games with friends, and draw something more out of each other than you’d ever imagined?
This month we’ll be exploring creativity in services, in small groups, and on-line over at theFacebook ERUUF Practices Group.
February 2017 Theme–Courage
"Our word 'courage' comes from the French word coeur, 'heart'. Courage is a willingness to act from the heart, to let your heart lead the way, not knowing what will be required of you next, and if you can do it." Jean Shinoda Bolen
Researcher Brene Brown is famous now for her work on vulnerability. But her work began as research on courage. She had thought that courageous people must have had great advantages over the rest of us—better genes, better parenting, a more secure or easy life. But she found that wasn’t true at all, that in fact courageous people are just like everyone else. She reviewed the data on 11,000 people and couldn’t find one single instance in which people were courageous because they were advantaged and at ease. She could only find ordinary people who were courageous because they had acknowledged and accepted the precariousness or danger of a situation, and their vulnerability in it.
Brown also found that non-courageous people spend a lot of time trying to be perfect as a way to protect themselves, and that they’re also judgmental and rigid in their certainty and thinking. Non-courageous people do what they think others expect of them, then take their exhaustion and productivity as proof of their worth; they measure themselves by what other people think.
She had an insight when she recognized herself on that list of non-courageous people. And that was the day, she said, that she put aside her research and called a therapist. She wanted a more authentic, more whole life—imperfection, uncertainty, vulnerability and all.
She did this because in her research she’d discovered that courageous people simply show up for life without a lot of guarantees. They’re willing to face uncertainty and imperfections in themselves and the world and keep moving forward. And they’re rewarded with a deeply authentic life.
"The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before. If you can live through that, you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face… You must do the thing you think you cannot do." - Eleanor Roosevelt
"Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Take on life’s tasks with the resolve of a soldier storming the breach. So what if you are lame and cannot scale a wall alone. Does your lameness prevent you from finding someone to help you?" -Marcus Aurelius
"What paralyzes life is the failure to believe and the failure to dare." - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
"Failure is impossible" - Susan B. Anthony (born on February 15)
"Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, I’ll try again tomorrow." - Mary Anne Radmacher
"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." - Winston Churchill
"The great courage is to stare as squarely at the light as at death." - Albert Camus
"The first and greatest commandment is, Don't let them scare you." - Elmer Davis
"A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope . . . and, crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." - Robert F. Kennedy
"Our word 'courage' comes from the French word coeur, 'heart'. Courage is a willingness to act from the heart, to let your heart lead the way, not knowing what will be required of you next, and if you can do it." - Jean Shinoda Bolen
"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." -Anais Nin
"It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars." - Garrison Keillor
"A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are for." - John A. Shedd
- Who is the most courageous person you know? Do you only admire them, or have you let their example change you?
- When have you had the courage to admit that you were wrong? What did you do when you realized this? Did you grow from the experience?
- Have you ever had the courage to step out into the unknown? Are you living your life in a brave way, whether boldly or quietly? Do you take brave risks?
- Do you have the courage to ask for help? What does it take for you to admit your vulnerability?
March 2017 Theme–Integrity
This month we’ll explore the concept of integrity. Our friends at Soul Matters offer this: “C.S. Lewis was right when he wrote, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” Morality, honesty, knowing right from wrong - who of us would argue that these are qualities of a person with integrity?
“And yet our faith tradition has always been a little uneasy with leaving it simply at that. When it comes to integrity, the Unitarian Universalist take has always been as much about wholeness as goodness. Embracing the many aspects of ourselves has been more of a concern than perfecting every last aspect of ourselves. Indeed, we resonate with Quaker theologian Parker Palmer who writes, “I now know myself to be a person of weakness and strength, liability and giftedness, darkness and light. I now know that to be whole means to reject none of it but to embrace all of it.” Yes, says our religion, keep working at making yourself better, but along the way please don’t allow yourself to get so tangled up in perfection that you feel the need to hide those imperfect parts. This need to hide is what has always worried us UU’s the most. Integrity is most surely about honesty, but the honesty that seems to matter the most is the ability to hold an honest view of oneself.
“Which also involves enjoying that flawed self. When Palmer talks of “embracing it all” this is not a matter of somber resignation. There is a gladness involved. We can be whole without being perfect! To come to this realization is most surely the goal of any spiritual path.
“And there is yet another sense in which integrity calls us to gladness. Here the poet Rainer Maria Rilke puts it best: “May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.” Here the call of integrity is not “Be perfect.” or “Be good.” but “Be yourself!” Know your center. Know what makes you uniquely you. And live from that place! Forget the masks. Forget the “shoulds” and the “suppose tos.” Just figure out what takes you to that place of deep gladness and to that remain true! This doesn’t mean abandoning the task of “doing the right thing when no one is watching,” says our faith; it just means that you will know what the right thing is when deep joy accompanies your choice.
“Integrity and joy. They are companions on the spiritual journey. May we encounter them both more deeply this month.”
April 2017 Monthly Theme: Transformation
Does life renew itself naturally, or at times must we consciously let go of old ways in order to make room for what’s radically new? What’s the connection between transformation and healing? Is courage necessary for transformation, or does it happen despite what we plan and do? This month we explore what spiritual teachers, and our own lives, offer us about all this.
Mary Ann and Frederic Brussat talk about transformation as an active practice. They write, “The spiritual practice of transformation holds within its wide embrace the personal renewals that come with a spiritual awakening, a conversion, a mystical epiphany, or an enlightenment. It covers the deepening that takes place when we get in touch with our Higher Self or Spirit.
“Transformation usually involves the shedding of old ways, especially those that have become burdens. This practice proclaims that no matter who you are, no matter what has already happened to you, no matter what you have done, it is still possible to be and do something new.
“Transformation implies a marked change in your life, but you can practice it by making simple changes. Start by doing something different — walk to work by a new route, answer the telephone with your other than usual hand. Break a habit, any habit. Signal Spirit that you are willing to accept change in your life and to be an agent of change in the world.
“With transformation comes healing and wholeness. It's as if they had been waiting in the wings all along, until you made room for them on stage.
“Often, however, we aren't sure that we want this show to go on. The refusal to admit change in our lives is a major obstacle to transformation. We cling tenaciously to our habitual ways of doing things, thinking they are our only choices. We may resist anything new or different through indecisiveness. We waver, going back and forth between fear and doubt.
There is also a shadow side of transformation — recklessness where we keep pushing the edge. Here change becomes an addiction, and we race from one stimulus — or perceived panacea — to another.”
We let go of "Engagement" as our theme for May 2017 in order to advance our work around Racial Equity and Inclusion. We did this as our committed response to a request from Black Lives Unitarian Universalists (BLUU) to have services and a teach in about white supremacy systems, culture, and institutional behaviors.
With Hope for the Racially Equitable, Inclusive World We’re Dreaming Of May 2017
By now you’ve probably heard about enormous events at the UUA set into motion by a hiring decision that was challenged by a Latina woman. She had been told by HR that she was fully qualified for the position, yet was turned down because she “wasn’t the right fit.” This is within an institution that’s been intentionally working to be anti-racist and inclusive for more than 50 years. In the aftermath of her disclosure, and in support of continuing our important work, our President resigned three months before the end of his term. Two other senior leaders also resigned, and the UUA Board has appointed a three person team to the Office of the President until we elect a new President at our General Assembly in June.
Most significantly, leaders of Black Lives Unitarian Universalists have called on all UU congregations to use this disrupted moment as a critical opportunity to learn about the invisible ways that racism operates in our society and institutions, including our congregations. Almost 70% of our congregations, ERUUF included, have signed on to preach and teach during the month of May about the underlying, unconscious, invisible systems of power that make life work in favor of White people. When White people experience these benefits we call it “unearned White privilege.” When we talk about “dismantling racism” what we’re talking about is becoming conscious so we can dismantle systems that keep White people in power and People of Color out of power. These racist interlocking systems of power are what we’re referring to when we talk about “White Supremacy.” This is language used by anti-racism educators, and it’s the language that UU racial justice activists have asked us to use.
That language is difficult, yes? Yet, it’s an intentional choice, because language is a tool that we can use to effectively dismantle racism. Racism is dependent upon hidden systems of power that are like the 90% of an iceberg that’s underwater. What’s unseen is all the more dangerous because we can’t see it. The work is to get more conscious. Using language in specific, particular ways is one way to get conscious together.
When we hear “White supremacy” many people immediately think of the KKK, and that’s certainly real. But the KKK is only the tip of something like an “iceberg of white supremacy.” The KKK is just a part that shows. The reality is that there’s much more to racism than KKK members. It’s a whole system of laws, policies, and practices that shape our housing, education, health care, financial, religious systems, and more. Even more, racism isn’t only “out there” somewhere else—when we’re unconscious of it, we carry the system of racism within ourselves as a power that shapes and informs us about what it means to be a good person, a good religion, a good society. It’s the power that keeps all the other systems in place. So when we unconsciously go along with it, racism privileges some people and hurts others. This is what we mean when we talk about systems of White supremacy. (If you want to learn more about this, sign up for a Dismantling Racism workshop this fall at ERUUF.)
When you suddenly find out in person, or in an on-line conversation that things you’ve just assumed, said, and done all your life are not ok, are in fact harmful, it can be quite a shock and very hurtful. It has been for me. My immediate response at times has been to get defensive, even angry at the people who were suddenly saying such shocking things to me. I’ve long since learned that this is what it’s like for everyone. This is what it feels like as you wake up to the reality of the hidden parts of the iceberg. And this is point at which we have a critical choice. You can choose to get angry and defensive. Or you can acknowledge your hurt and choose to be curious and stay in the conversation, and engage in the work. Jacqueline Brett recently pointed out to a group of leaders that when we talk about “dismantling racism” we’re not talking about a weekend workshop that we check off our list. And Julia Tyler pointed out that this ongoing work of waking up and dismantling racism is our curriculum. When we stick around and have the conversation, it can be a way of practicing our faith, our UU religion.
During the last week of May (dates and leaders TBA) we’ll be offering some simple programs for adults and youth—starting with videos and discussions about UU history, eventually adding other experiences that will help us understand where we are, how we got here, and how we can create racial equity and inclusion at ERUUF and the UUA. In the coming months we’ll continue this work which we’ve been doing for the past several years. For instance, the board might review ERUUF’s hiring and employment policies, and make sure that ERUUF leaders, myself included, manage the power that’s entrusted to us in non-racist ways. They might change our Ends if they’re not as specifically as inclusive as they might be. We can continue to audit our worship materials and music, our RE curricula and discover as many hidden assumptions as we can and then make more equitable and inclusive choices. We can hold ourselves accountable to the spirt of love and justice as we discern it together, all voices, everyone’s experience included in the discernment process. This is our goal: to dismantle racism by becoming conscious of systemic power and our own roles and actions within those systems. And to build a world that’s more equitable and inclusive, more loving, more just. Make no mistake however. This is not just a little light dusting and rearranging. This is dismantling and reconstruction. There will be dust. There will be debris. There might be major changes. And at times we will freak out. What keeps us going is our belief that if we do this work, our community will be more beautiful, more fair, more inclusive for all.
I’m committed to continuing to dismantle racism first within myself, then at ERUUF, the UUA, and our larger society. But none of us got this way alone, and no one can do this work alone. We truly need each other to build the more equitable and inclusive world we’re all dreaming of. So, even if the thought of this work scares you, angers you, makes you want to run away, please bring your love, curiosity, commitment and hope back to the room, back to the table. We can begin again, as always, with love, and measure ourselves against what love is asking of us. We do this because a new world is urgently demanding to be born.
October 2017 Monthly Theme: Awe
This month's theme in worship and small group ministry is “Awe.”
What is awe, and what does this human capacity do for us that we can’t just do for ourselves? Researchers tell us that the hallmark of awe, which is rare and therefore wonderful, is that it redirects our attention and leaves us with a different sense of time. After a truly awesome experience, we’re less stressed and more tuned in to and appreciative of ordinary life.
Some believe that our capacity for awe begins when we’re toddlers. Around a year old, toddlers wobble when they walk. Six months later they toddle because they stop to investigate seemingly every flower in the garden, every paper clip and piece of lint on the floor, and more. As a result, we put small, or breakable things up high and plug up the electrical sockets; we want them to be able to safely explore the wonder of all these new and fascinating things. A day with a toddler is exhausting, but it also can leave you with new appreciation for life’s engaging mysteries and tremendous beauty.
Awe is a human experience that sometimes erases our sense of self. The “I” that witnesses something truly awesome absolutely is “myself,” but it’s not exactly the same “I” who experiences my normal, daily routines. And when your attention does shift back to normal mode, you might have a sense of feeling both small and yet of being part of something larger than yourself—an expanded sense of reality, consciousness, or the natural, physical world. Scientists report having these kind of experiences when they contemplate their experiments, as do other people who are just going about their normal daily business. And again, our sense of time is altered. We’re less stressed and feel less need to rush.
We can cultivate our capacity for awe by paying attention. We can learn from toddlers and scientists to pay close attention to what’s immediately before us, and what our senses bring us. When we do this we have an immediate experience instead of a removed experience filtered through our memories of past encounters. When we meet the world with this kind of fresh attention, we find that the world refreshes us in return. We’re less stressed and more present to our actual lived experience of life.
Maybe that’s where toddlers get their endless energy? Who knows? But to find out, I could begin by simply paying attention.
November 2017 Monthly Theme: Abundance
Do you tend to be a glass half-full, or a glass half-empty kind of person? We each have a history, lessons we’ve learned early and of late about what we might expect from life. What’s fascinating is that we don’t see the world so much as it is; we see it as we are. Is the glass half full or half empty? It depends on the perspective we’ve developed.
A man named BJ Miller was electrocuted in a freak accident one night in the early 90’s when he was a college student. He subsequently lost both of his legs just below each knee, and also one of his arms. He had every reason to feel sorry for himself, to hide from the world’s assessments that seemed to label him either “broken” or “defective.”
It was a whole year before he could return to college. When he did he took an Art History class, in which he unexpectedly discovered a whole new way of understanding his experience. In the darkness, as the students studied slides of ancient sculptures, Miller noticed that almost all had missing limbs, just like him. And yet they were considered priceless works of beauty. Miller slowly began to see himself in the sculptures. Unlike his subtle, internalized thoughts that he was now deformed and in need of fixing, he began to see himself as complete and ok just as he was.
Eventually Miller began to believe that every person is somewhere on a continuum between original wholeness and new and different abilities. In an interview with Miller in the NYTimes magazine, journalist Jon Mooallem writes:
“Miller refused, for example, to let himself believe that his life was extra difficult now, only uniquely difficult, as all lives are. He resolved to think of his suffering as simply a “variation on a theme we all deal with—to be human is really hard,” [Miller] says. ... As a disabled person, he was getting all kinds of signals that he was different and separated from everyone else. But he worked hard to see himself as merely sitting somewhere on a continuum between the man on his deathbed and the woman who misplaced her car keys, to let his accident heighten his connectedness to others, instead of isolating him. This was the only way, he thought, to keep from hating his injuries and, by extension, himself.”
If anyone ever got a coupon from Life that said, “Go ahead and mope. It’s ok to feel sorry for yourself,” it might be BJ Miller. But that’s not what he did. Inspired by great art, he applied to medical school and eventually became a doctor who specializes in palliative care. He’s the director of a hospice that specializes in helping people live their fullest life till the very end.
Abundance is not about believing in a prosperity gospel that says that if you believe or think the right things then you’ll have more as proof of your worthiness. Abundance also is not about having what you want. It’s about wanting what you have, savoring it, and making the most of it. Abundance is reinforcement that teaches us that when we live our life with this mindset, we dwell in the realm of possibility. Not “pie in the sky, wouldn’t it be lovely, if only possibility.” But rather the kind of possibility that’s a rich, fertile ground that produces more than enough nutritious food, and building and clothing material for everyone if we tend that ground with determination and love.
When we pay attention to abundance, it can lead us to feelings of gratitude and a sense of our inextricable interconnection with everyone and everything else. When we give or share out of a sense of abundance, it can lead to a great sense of well-being and happiness. In this practice we might discover what Thich Nhat Hanh calls our “Interbeing,” and UUs talk about in our 7th principle as “Interdependence.”
December 2017 Monthly Theme: Hope
The Greek myth says that hope is what’s left at the bottom of Pandora’s box after Troubles and Afflictions have been released into the world. Hope is tiny, fragile, and yet absolutely necessary for human endurance. Hope is beautiful, and good. But at times it can be so painful to hope that we put on cynicism as a defense. The comedian, George Carlin noted, “Scratch a cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” And when we practice disappointment it positions us to slip into despair. Meanwhile, cynicism only makes us more comfortable in the short run, and it changes nothing important. Rebecca Solnit points out, “For comfortably situated people, hopelessness means cynicism and letting oneself off the hook. If everything is doomed, then nothing is required.” And let’s face it; letting ourselves go free from responsibility is not a moral stance to be proud of.
But hope is tenacious; hope persists. And despite what we’re tempted to think in our less optimistic moments when we try to discount hope down to a feeble sentiment, hope is really quite radical. Hope arrives loaded with a hidden but tightly coiled strength that can liberate the possibilities that we don’t quite dare dream are possible. Hope seems to have a bigger imagination, a larger moral vision than we do. As Brazilian Liberation theologian, Rubem A. Alves writes,
“[Hope] is a presentiment that imagination is more real and reality less real than it looks.
It is a hunch
that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress is not the last word.
It is a suspicion
that reality is more complex
than realism wants us to believe
and that the frontiers of the possible
are not determined by the limits of the actual…”
“The frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual…” Hope is tiny but powerful, and it can open doors to whole new worlds. Far from leading to sentimentality and mindless quietism, hope stirs dissidents to organize and take action not only for themselves but also for the greater good. Hope leads to revolutionary love, the kind based on equity and inclusion, equality and mutuality. The kind of love we hope our children will inherit and pass on to future generations.
A Definition of Intention, from the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis
“Coming from the Latin word, intentionem, intention literally means a stretching out, a stretching out of mind, of heart, of body, of spirit. When we set an intention, we are turning our attention toward something, or someone, or some idea, and stretching out to meet it.”
Settle your body and mind for a moment. Take a breath and ask yourself what your heart wants to stretch toward. Sometimes there are circles of yearning—what are you yearning for just for yourself? And then for your family and friends? And beyond this, what do you yearn for that’s good and life giving for your community—for people you don’t yet know, whose life circumstances might not be anything like your own? (And of course, their yearnings might be totally different than yours—
which would give you many opportunities for humility, curiosity, listening, and respect.)
Intention of course is more than simply yearning. To be intentional is to notice your deep desire, and make the conscious choice (or choices again and again) to move in that direction. Sometimes we succeed. Always if we’re open we learn things in the process. Sometimes we learn that what we desire is not big enough, inclusive enough, and so we adjust. We widen our vision, open our heart. At other times we learn that we’re more than enough, just as we are, or that we’ve got more power than we ever suspected possible.
Here’s an exercise from Soul Matters. Perhaps it will stir some thoughts in you about your yearning and how to go from that to intention. Downloadable PDF File
Intentional Fill-In The Blanks
1. My most important promise to myself is __________________________________________________________________ .
2. I will help others by __________________________________________________________________________________.
3. Because of me, my children will understand that ___________________________________________________________.
4. I have always wanted to _______________________________________________________________________________.
5. I am on this earth to __________________________________________________________________________________.
6. I will learn more about ________________________________________________________________________________.
7. I am avoiding ________________________________________________________________________________________.
8. If I could change one thing about myself it would be _________________________________________________________.
9. At my funeral, the two adjectives I hope people use to describe me are ___________________ & ____________________ .
10. If I could go back and change one thing about my life it would be ______________________________________________ .
11. If I won or inherited a million dollars, the first thing I would do is ______________________________________________ .
12. If I won a free trip, I would love to fly to __________________________________________________________________ .
13. When I stop procrastinating, I will ______________________________________________________________________ .
14. I am most happy when I am ____________________________________________________________________________.
15. I want to spend the rest of my life becoming a ______________________________________________________________.
16. I want to spend the rest of my life doing ___________________________________________________________________.
17. Looking back, I realize that I was born to __________________________________________________________________ .
18. In five years, people will be surprised that I am _____________________________________________________________.
19. I have always intended to ___________________________ once I have finished __________________________________.