Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Born To Die

I've been listening to Christmas music, and I've got a CD by Barbara Mandrell that I enjoy ("Christmas At Our House", 1984). There's one song that really caught my attention this year. It's called "Born To Die" written by Shireen Salyer. The point of the song is that Jesus was sent to earth to die for us, and in his birth, we can already see his death. God's heart must have broken because He knew His son was to die. Mary's grief was overwhelming because she knew that her baby son would die. The tune is haunting; the lyrics, poignant; Ms. Mandrell's voice, a blessing.

"Born to die" is a common theme in the Christian world. In one of my readings, an author pointed out that the Nicene Creed says of Jesus: "...he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilot; he suffered death and was buried." No hint of the marvelous, loving and revolutionary things that Jesus did while he was alive. Birth, death--and resurrection--are the most notable points in this person's existence.

I was struck hard by the whole idea this week because my father-in-law is very ill right now and words like "palliative care" and "hospice" are creeping into conversations with his care team. I thought about my father-in-law's life--a force in the house, working several jobs to provide for his family, telling stories about growing up in Philadelphia, mentoring young electricians--and my gut rejected the "born-to-die" description. Dad was born to live.

It's a matter of perspective, isn't it? We're all born to die, if we take the traditional Christian approach. And if we move through life with that perspective, we may live life with anxious urgency or we may brush along life's surface, attention focused on the dying part.

On the other hand, we can face our existence as if we're born to live. Then what we do with our lives matters. The decisions we make that affect ourselves and others matter. Working for the Beloved Community matters. Embracing life's complexity matters.

During the Christmas season, let's remember that Jesus was born to live, to teach us, to guide us, to show us how to see the Divine every day. Let's remember that we were born to live. To immerse ourselves in life with all its joys and sorrows. To give to ourselves and others in balanced measure. To let God shine out into the world through us.

Let us be Christians who are born to live. May it be so. Amen.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reflection for Christmas

Become perfect as the spirit of your Heavenly Father and the body of your Earthly Mother are perfect. And so love your Heavenly Father, as he loves your spirit. And so love your Earthly Mother, as she loves your body. And so love your true brothers, as your Heavenly Father and your Earthly Mother love them. And then your Heavenly Father shall give you his holy spirit, and your Earthly Mother shall give you her holy body and then shall the Sons of Men like true brothers give love to one another; and then shall all become comforters one of another. And then shall disappear from the earth all evil and all sorrow, and there shall be love and joy upon earth. And then shall the earth be like the heavens, and the kingdom of God shall come. For love is eternal. Love is stronger than death.
-The Essene Gospel of Peace, 1937 (1981), Edmond Bordeaux Szekely

It is the season to remember that one of the ways in which God becomes visible to us is through love. Love is a verb; we act for God, moving through the world. It is through us that God becomes visible.

This is the miracle of the incarnation.

May you bring the Spark of the Divine into the world this day and every day.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Almost Heaven..."

For Thanksgiving this year, we drove to visit family in Pennsylvania. The trip takes us through the center of West Virginia, and as we drove through the "Wild and Wonderful" state, I could heard the John Denver song* loud and clear.

Another way to describe the land we crossed is "God's Country". People use this phrase for unspoiled land, a landscape untouched by humans, or one that reflects the power of God the Creator. More and more, I get the feeling that God's Country may be land that humans feel is too inhospitable for feasible economic development.

In the US, there's very little of God's Country left that doesn't have some imprint of a human hand on it. West Virginia is a state with a smaller population than its neighbors, and scenery that looks like some monster bear drew its claws through the land to create the layers of rolled hills, their outline softened by the brushy tops of leafless trees. Even here, there is the human touch. Light, perhaps, but there, nonetheless. The highway itself with its green direction signs and blue services signs cuts through with arrogant certainty. The large electric wire structures. Bare ski trails like tears on the mountainside. Cell phone tower spikes. Railroad tracks running along the bank of a creek. Billboard ads stuck on steep inclines blanketed with trees. Makes you wonder how the workers get to them. Water towers that look like one-half of a dumbbell stuck into the ground.

Driving in West Virginia is not for the faint of heart. Sitting as the state does in the Appalachian chain, there are l-o-n-g, s-l-o-w climbs up and down and long, winding curves. Guard rails are either an immovable mountain of rock or a thin ribbon of steel over which you can see nothing but the tops of trees and air. At 70 mph, the interstate demands your full driving attention.

We passed clusters of houses tucked into a holler that later became the route for the highway, miles from any sign of business, post office or general store. We saw black-faced sheep, small herds of black cattle, ponies, the occassional llama. A different lifestyle from what I'm used to. More isolated, more dependent on the land, neighbors, God.

Your description of God's Country may take a different form--rocky beaches, or vast plains or crystal blue lakes, towering mountains or endless desert--but having been born and raised in Western Pennsylvania, the "dark and dusty" vistas of West Virginia speak to me not with a joyous shout, but with a deep whisper of divine presence and praise; a low rumble of agelessness that doesn't have a source, but emanates from the Earth Mother. The ancient power here is not splashy, but simmers in the forested hills.

Where do you find God's Country?

Take moment to give thanks for the land and waters we share with all life. And pray that we take good care of it.

*"Take Me Home, Country Roads". Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert and John Denver. Cherry Lane Music, 1971.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Experience Vs. Belief

It's been a month since I've last shared with you. Since early October, I've attended the UUCF Revival in Dallas, visited a local United Church of Christ congregation, met with my church needlecraft ministry, spent an afternoon tending to a friend after her first colonoscopy, biked on a new walking/biking trail near my home and felt hot Summer turn to crisp Fall.

Experiences of God. Encounters with the Transcendent.

In their book "The Knitting Way: A Guide to Spiritual Self-Discovery", Linda Skolnik and Janice McDaniels write:
You don't have to believe in the Transcendent to encounter it. Ideas and beliefs don't bring understanding. Honoring and participating in the craft of life does. (pg. 51)

This is the essence of Unitarian Universalist spirituality, and it resonates deep within me.

The authors go on to share ideas surfaced at a 1995 National Institutes of Health meeting which focused on spirituality and religiousness as factors that affect an individual's health (pgs. 50-51). The first statement of the meeting included the clarification: "Spirtuality is concerned with the Transcendent, addressing ultimate questions about life's meaning, with the assumption that there is more to life than what we see or fully understand."

At the end of this chapter (pgs.51-52), the authors present a scientific research scale that can capture the depth of a person's daily connection with the Transcendent and possibly relate the results to health or treatment outcomes. The scale is called the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale (DSES). Because the scale is copyrighted, I will not copy its 16 items here, but point you to an original paper and encourage you to look it up in "The Knitting Way" to get a feel for how it might be helpful in personal spiritual practice.

How deep are your experiences, how often do you encounter the Transcendent?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Why We Suffer

Yes, this would be the universal question. I've kicked it around myself and had come to the conclusion that there is suffering in the world because either humans create the suffering (either for themselves or for others); or because the natural system of God's creation does (hurricanes, disease, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.). My own suffering has provided opportunities for my growth or someone else's and for pure wallowing in the experience of pain and loss. I haven't delved much deeper than that.

I have been on a reading journey with Bart Ehrman, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, just minutes from where I live. His books reflect and reveal his own spiritual journey in which he becomes an Evangelical Christian, but as he studies and prays and discerns, he gradually becomes an agnostic. What intrigued me as I read his work was that all of his Biblical studies which point up textual inconsistencies, changes, mistranslations and other content issues did not sway his basic faith in God. However, studying the issue of why there is suffering in the world did.

I headed straight to Dr. Ehrman's 2008 book, God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer. Dr. Ehrman's purpose is to show us how different Biblical authors approached and answered this basic question.

So I bring you the Bible's first answer as presented by Dr. Ehrman: the prophets of the Old Testament explain that suffering is a punishment for sin.

What do you think about that statement? True or false? Or true sometimes?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Revive Us, O Lord!

The Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship invites you all to Revival 2010 from October 14th to October 17th in Carrollton, TX. I've just finalized my plans to attend. With the way my life has been going for the last few months, I kept waffling. Go or not go. Not go. Maybe go. Not go.

Then I remembered the feelings that swept around and through me at the 2009 Revival. The flow of the Spirit. Meeting fellow UU Christians from all over the US and Canada. Learning more about this supportive movement. Embracing the Christian services and words and songs. The glow I brought back with me that sustained me and uplifted me for months afterward. Revival 2009 inspired me to launch this Blog.

So, in the end, there really wasn't any question. I'll be at Revival this year.

Still trying to decide? In this blog, scan the Blog Topics on the left-hand side and choose "Revival 2009" to read the posts about the awesome time we had in Tulsa. Pop over to the official UUCF Revival site for details about reservations, costs and the inspiring program that is planned.

Get in touch with the Spirit. Settle into the Christian services. Learn about progressive Christianity. Meet other UU Christians. UUCF Revival 2010.

Get Revived!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Statement of a UU Christian

In my surfing across the blog world today, I discovered this heartfelt and powerful declaration of a self-identified UU Christian.

Enjoy and be inspired!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Go Be a Christian?

My thanks to UUnderstand, whose recent comment led to a lot of thought and this post. The question UU Christians often face is: "Why not go down the street to the ________ (fill in any Christian denomination) church? Wouldn't you be happier there?"

It's a question that we get from UUs, and it's a question we often pose to ourselves.

The first answer is--sometimes we do go down the street. In my own Christian fellowship, over time members have discovered, or rediscovered, Christianity and either have left the UU congregation for a Christian one or are exploring the Christian experience in other churches as part of their search. For years, I attended two churches--Episcopalian and UU. This is actually a fairly common practice and a good fit for progressive Christians.

When my Christian Fellowship began to take "field trips" to local Christian churches, someone asked, "What do you expect to do? Leave the UU Church?" And we decided our answer was ,"No." Because we have the second set of answers to why we don't go down the street.

  • Theology. Even in more liberal Christian denominations, some tenets remain stable. Jesus is divine; Jesus died for our sins; salvation may not be universal; our reward is in Heaven. These tenets may not be overt, but discussions in the church will revolve around the religion about Jesus vs. the religion that Jesus taught. For many of us, who follow the religion Jesus taught, this conversation is not where we are in our journey.

  • Orientation. This is probably more compelling, not just for Christians, but also for Buddhists, Jews, and others coming into UUism from another denomination or religion. The UCC would probably argue with some vigor at the comment that the UCC has "Christianity added". The point of Christian churches is to put Christ in the center. The point of the UU churches is to put a covenant of Principles in the center. We are UUs; we are drawn to the covenantal approach of living together.

  • Religious Pluralism. Again, we UU Christians are UUs. We affirm and promote spiritual seeking and we cherish the faith diversity in UU congregations.

For illustration. A Methodist seminarian intern working at the UUA and joining the UUCF Revival last year commented that he couldn't imagine a service in which the Bible was not read. For us UU Christians, we could imagine it, we experience it, and we revel in it.

As UU Christians, we get a kick out of the spiritual conversations we have with our fellow UUs who see the One Light through a different window. We like being challenged by the UU principles and diverse spiritual paths as well as by other progressive Christians. I think we're a bit greedy--we want to have our cake, eat it, and then lick the frosting from the plate.

Some of us may choose to "go down the street", but many of us will stay right in our UU congregations, while continuing to broaden our experiences and feed our inner spirits, using every tool available to us.

May all our spiritual journeys be diverse, rich and fulfilling. Blessings!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Praying on the Beads

I was looking at the thoughts I posted last October when I felt down and sluggish. At that time and since, I've tried several ways to maintain a regular spiritual discipline. I do know that as ministers suggest, when you intentionally seek to experience God's presence, over time you "bank" the habit, the feeling, the practices that get you to the Thin Place. When life throws rocks, you can use what you "banked" to find your Thin Place again.

Since I was a very young Catholic, one of the practices that most helped to bring me close to God was reciting the Rosary. Nothing quite like repetitive prayer, aloud or silent, with smooth beads flowing through your fingers. The Rosary went everywhere with me. I could say it while I was walking to college classes, falling asleep in bed, sitting in the woods. As my spiritual journey took me away from the Marian Rosary and its emphasis on Mary and many of the "Jesus Miracles", I tucked my beads away in a small carved box. Several years ago, as an active member of an Episcopal Church, I learned of the Anglican (St. Francis) Rosary.

Like the Marian Rosary, the Anglican Rosary holds deep symbolism in its very structure, but unlike the Marian Rosary, the Anglican Rosary has no one set of prayers associated with it. The basic approach is to pray an opening prayer of faith on the cross and another prayer to settle into the Spirit on the Invitatory. Choose one prayer to repeat at the Cruciform beads and one prayer (or seven phrases) to say at each Week bead. Recently, my busy life and monkey mind have drawn me back to the Anglican Rosary for contemplative meditation. I'm using the following prayer sequence based on the Psalms:

CROSS: I believe in God as eternal and all-conquering love, in the spiritual leadership of Jesus, in the supreme worth of every human personality, in the authority of truth, known or to be known, and in the power of persons of goodwill and sacrificial spirit to overcome all evil and progressively establish the kingdom of God. Amen.

INVITATORY: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit and we shall be re-created and you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.

CRUCIFORM BEADS: The Lord's Prayer

1 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
2 Cast me not from your sacred presence, but keep me in the ways of your wisdom and truth.
3 Restore in me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me in the steadfast faith of Jesus.
4 Have mercy on me, O God, in my shortcomings; comfort me in the arms of your everlasting loving-kindness.
5 Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
6 God of the poets, God of the Prophets, God of the poor and the rich, God of Creation and of Change,
7 Make my hands just. Make my feet firm. Make my body a temple fit for your service. Grant us all your peace that passes human understanding. Amen.

Glory be to God, Mother and Father, Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Amen.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Thank the Lord, for all good things around us are sent from Heaven above. Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say, Rejoice! Amen.

There are many suggestions for Rosary prayers out on the Web as well as several on-line site where you can purchase an Anglican Rosary. Create your own prayers. Create your own beads. If this practice helps you to focus, go for it. It certainly has done wonders for me and my monkey mind.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Finding the Right Service

One year ago, I wrote about the Sunday Service and how important the service is to UU Christians who are a faith minority in the UU Church. The topic has come up again in our Christian Fellowship group. For almost 2 years we have been experimenting and creating a small group service that fills our spiritual needs. Our discussions have illuminated that our group feels a need to have the following items in our service--items that are not regularly included in the Sunday UU congregational service:
  • Communion with both bread and wine/juice;
  • Traditional prayers;
  • Bible reading with discussion, insights from Christian ministers, or silent reflection; and
  • Hymns which use the original Christian lyrics and/or music from contemporary Christian artists.

None of us is a professional minister and we're a small group, so even with a service in place, we still feel the need to connect with a larger Christian body. We've done a bit of digging and found several churches in our area who have self-identified as Progressive Christian churches (no easy task in North Carolina), and have begun a series of "field trips" to visit these churches. We hope to bring back ideas for our own small group, explore more of what each of us as a progressive Christian needs, and perhaps establish a partnership with one of the churches we visit.

I recently had an opportunity to visit the Episcopal Church which I attended for many years in Michigan, and knew for certain that what I miss most about the Christian Sunday service is the Bible reading and the sermon on the Word, usually with a hefty dose of encouragement to get out and LIVE the Word.

I love my UU congregation and the Sunday Service is spiritually and mentally invigorating. But I know I still need fellow Christians. I'll continue to seek out opportunties that I can add to my personal routine that will keep me connected to my Christian roots within the UU framework.

As I said a year ago, if your church service is not providing your connection to the Thin Places where God is found--or provides it only rarely--keep looking. Perhaps a visit to a Christian church once a month will help. Getting together with other Christians for Bible reading and discussion may be what you need. Be creative. Be imaginative.

God will show you what you need.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Worship Is The Word

From Webster's New World Compact School and Office Dictionary, 1982:
worship n. 1. a service or rite showing reverence for a deity 2. intense love or adoration.
From "The American Heritage Dictionary", 3rd ed.:
worship n. 1a. The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol or a sacred object. b. The ceremonies, prayers or other religious forms by which this love is expressed. 2. Ardent devotion; adoration.
Reverence. Love. Devotion. Adoration. Worship.

Many Unitarian Universalists shy away from the word. Some feel there's nothing to worship. Others feel that the word is too...irrational, holy-roller, emotional. But UU Christians? Ah-h-h. We are more likely to use the word, act the word, at Sunday service and in our daily lives. It is the element of the UU Sunday service that we often say we miss, that we crave. I'm a strong proponent of ritual for its value in preparing us to enter a spiritual space of worship. A friend reminded me that, in general, Christian services with their visual drama, music and repeated prayers and actions provide a chance for us to encounter what Celtic language calls "thin places" where we can encounter God and can experience God's power, greatness, awesomeness. And worship with people similarly moved by the Spirit.

Some UU Christians are not Deists, do not believe in God, but they follow Jesus--Jeshua, the man, the rabbi, the moral teacher--and have an experience of his presence in their lives. I don't know how the word worship fits into their vocabulary, but I intend to ask at the UUCF Revival in October.

That's what we do as UU's--embrace the infinite colors of belief to come a little closer to the Truth. That's what we do as Christians--come together to learn how others experience the Divine, the Spirit of Life, Jesus.

I'm looking out my window at the summer sunlight filtering through the woods behind my house, the leaf green here, deep and vibrant, there, cut with patches of bright yellow green. An occasional breeze shifts the patterns. A beautiful morning full of promise, full of God's life.

A time for worship, indeed.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Jesus, Laughing

In two weeks, our Consulting Minister is leaving for a new ministry in Cape Cod. Today, she delivered her last sermon to our congregation. Among other words of wisdom and humor, she encouraged us as a congregation to play more, to laugh together. In essense, she said that, of course, our groups and teams--all poised for social action, spiritual exploration, or ministry--are wonderful and needed. But groups of people who work together, live together and love together also need to laugh together.

Immediately I thought of the DeColores Christian renewal weekend I attended 10 years ago. The leader of the weekend had picked the portrait of Jesus Laughing as the weekend's guiding image and theme. There were women at the weekend who balked at the image. To them Jesus was laughing AT them--for their faults, for their failures, for who they were. During the weekend, we supported each other to see the image as the leader intended--as Jesus laughing WITH us. In joy for our presence. In happiness for who we are and the potential of whom we can become.

I remember reading somewhere in the works about the historical Jesus, that the Bible has hints that Jesus liked a good party. He was always having a meal with friends, new and old, visiting, talking, and--I have no doubt--laughing. You do not weep at the news of a friend's death, as Jesus did for Lazarus, unless you have shared tears AND laughter with that person.

In our world, I'm sure you'll agree, we need more laughter among us, among groups, among nations.

I know some of you are facing troubles. I know some of you are celebrating joys. In troubles, find a way to laugh through the tears, not to minimize the sorrow, but to remind yourself of the sweet in life. Laugh with life's joys in full appreciation of the blessings you've been given.

Laughter strenghtens relationships. Laughter relieves stress. Laughter heals.

Today, laugh a little with Jesus. He'd have enjoyed that.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Life Is Short

" is never as long as we want it to be, and wasted time can never be recovered."
J.D. Robb, Divided in Death
This line from one of my favorite authors echoes a personal motto, forged at the sudden death of my father when I was 17: "Death may come when I least expect it. Let me do as much as I can."

I wondered if that echo can be found in the Bible; I had a hunch it could not. I found the following:
The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. (1 Peter 4:7)
Show me, O LORD, my life's end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting is my life.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Each man's life is but a breath. (Psalm 39: 5-6)
The fear of the LORD adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short
(Proverbs 10:27)
Remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility you have created all men! (Psalm 89:47)
Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thessalonias 5: 1-3)
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew 24:42-44)
I find these all rather depressing because the emotion surrounding each is FEAR. Watch out, be careful, be alert. That thief is out to get you.

There are many more verses that emphasize Eternal Life, the joy of it, the wonder of it, the ecstasy of it. As a UU Christian and a scientist, without hard evidence one way or the other, I don't worry so much about life after death. I worry about the here and now. "The Kingdom of God is at hand." (Mark 1:15)

But here is one of those places that quoting the Bible distorts The Way of Jesus. Because the bulk of the parables in the Gospels--the stories, not the single verses-- are Jesus' way of urging us to live in the here and now, to do as much as we can right now. Do good, we're shown, not out of fear, but out of love.

We don't need to quote the Bible as much as we need to digest it, eat it, chew on it and make it part of our very being. Otherwise, we miss the point.

Jesus rocks!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Multiple and Diverse Talents

It had always mystified Harry that protocol seemed to dictate that a person was allowed only one area of success--if that. The idea that a man might pursue a variety of disparate interests seemed to intimidate those who held the purse strings. Afterall, no one had ever been able to explain why God would give a person multiple and diverse talents and then not be troubled when the person chose one of those God-given talents and disregarded the rest.
An Unexpected Suitor by Anna Schmidt, Chapter 8, p.111
This passage from a recent romance gave me pause, because I am one of those people with "multiple and diverse talents"--and interests for that matter. I've been watching the Olympics and when I observe others with one outstanding gift, I wish I were more focused. Measuring success when many activities fill your time and pull you in different directions is a challenge.

How do we define success? Synonyms might be mastery, pinnacle, wealth, reaching hundreds, single focus, superiority, driven, accolades, awards, balance, inner peace.

How does God define success? Service, love, acceptance, respect, balance and inner peace? Shorter list, different approach to life.

We all have multiple and diverse talents, in varying amounts, and we do have a choice as to which one(s) we choose and which we disregard.

What about your talents? Have you chosen to disregard some in favor of others? How was your choice influenced? Do you think that you might want to realign some of those choices, bring some of those hidden talents to light?

What's God got to do with it?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Building the Internal Sky

Anna Pigeon is a memorable fictional character because she carries a lifetime's experience in her strength and fears. At one point Anna reflects on her days of deep depression and how she struggled to break free:
She had tried meditating on love and courage, bright satin sashes and whiskers on kittens, but they seemed such tiny points of light in the ink of her internal sky.
Nevada Barr, Borderline, pg.39
Those of us who have known depression, know this "internal ink". To cancel such darkness, the tiny lights must be very strong--in luminosity or in numbers.

But a dark internal sky is not just a symptom of depression, we can create it from holding fast to what we believe is wrong in the world, or from our anger and hate, or from mentally living in the "bad times".

We counteract the "internal ink" by creating light--reminding ourselves of life's joys, remembering the good times, or living with the Eternal Spirit in our hearts. My favorite image for God's Spirit is a tongue of flame. Flaming light, meant to slide deep within us and banish the dark ink. But first, we must believe that the Light--the positive, the good, the blessings--exist. Then we must make an act of faith every day, perhaps several times a day and draw the flame inside, flooding our internal sky with Light.

Avoid building a dark internal sky with anger and bitterness and drama. Life has enough dark spaces; we don't need to add any.

May your internal sky glow with the Spirit's light.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Power of Three

The number three is pervasive through human culture and human religions.
There were three witches in "Macbeth" and the three blood relatives in the "Charmed" TV series who pooled their energies to create powerful spells.

We coordinate our efforts "on the count of three…"

Bad things, it's said in some families, comes in threes. But then again, third time’s a charm.

Three notes make a triad, considered the fundamental chord structure in music.

Three strikes and you’re out. Hockey is played in three periods. Three is Dale Earnhardt’s number.

There were Three Blind Mice, Three Musketeers, Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You get three wishes from the genie.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the center of Christian Trinitarian dogma. The New Zealand Prayer Book describes the Trinity as Eternal Spirit, Great Weaver, and Mother Wisdom. And the concepts of a Creator, a Redeemer and a Bringer of Change are found throughout human religious thought. Wiccans comtemplate the phases of life through the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone.

I went looking for a Unitarian Universalist "trinity' and found one in a bumper sticker:
Unitarian Universalism, A Different Trinity: Respect, Freedom, and Justice

And the UU Fellowship of Athens, OH, offers this triad as their brief mission statement:
Sustainable Living, Inclusive Community, and Religious Freedom

Finally, in a UU Christian publication, this part of a prayer:
Make my hands just. Make my feet firm. Make my body a temple fit for your service.
Three has such powerful spiritual connotations that needlecrafters use a repetition of three to transform their craft into a spiritual discipline.
o Some use a pattern comprised of three stitches (3 knit, 3 purl; the crochet V-stitch)
o Others choose three words, three phrases, three verses from the Psalms and chant silently or aloud as they create.

You can make any repetitive activity or the work of your hands a meditative practice by using the Power of Three. Washing dishes by hand, digging in the garden, sanding a piece of wood, shoveling snow, vacuuming. Choose a triad and repeat it aloud or silently.

The important part of what you choose for the triad prayer is that the words or phrases should resonate with you and the task you're doing. There should be an emotional tug to the triad so that you will come back to it if your attention wanders too far.

Some possible triads:
Faith, Hope, Love
May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you be comforted. (when creating gifts for others)
Respect, Freedom, Justice
God in my head, God in my heart, God in my hands

Do you use the Power of Three in your prayer? Please share your triad meditations and prayers. We'd all love to hear new ways to connect with the Spirit and Heart of God.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lessons from a Mystery Writer

I'm slowly reading through a book by best-selling author Nevada Barr entitled "Seeking Enlightenment Hat by Hat: A Skeptic's Path to Religion". If you don't know her writing, Ms. Barr created the character Anna Pigeon for a series of contemporary mysteries, each one set in a different US National Park. The fact that the author is a former park ranger just gives the whole series that extra ring of authenticity.

"Seeking Enlightenment" is a joy.

The religion she ultimately travels to is the Episcopal Church, but this book has UU Christian written all over it. The book includes over 40 essays, each a few pages in length about a specific topic: Fear, Children of God, Sex, Humility, Stillness.

Stillness is a continuing source of challenge for me; that's why I write so much about it. Nevada Barr reminds us that the yak and yammer of our lives give us the sense that we are so-o-o important and there may be a myriad of connections we sustain, but there is no relationship. To truly relate, she says, there must first be stillness. It takes two to build a relationship and if we do not take the quiet time to know ourselves and our needs, we will never be able to relate to anyone else, especially God. Here come the buts, our arguments for not slowing down--but I have to..., but I'm expected to..., but if I don't...
In essence, when I say those things, I am saying: "I am too important to stop. I am too important to take the time for this 'knowing God' nonsense". I am giving into the belief that all I have to offer is the running of errands, commenting on the lives around me. I am not offering myself, merely my time and attention.
Page 62
Time and attention are all well and good, but they're surface giving, not relating and connecting; responding to the roles we all play, not to the essence of another person.

Nevada suggests to remind yourself "a hundred times a day" to turn down the static, take a breath and return to your own skin.

Without the stillness, we can't filter out life's jangling noise. Without emptying silence, we have no room to fill up with meaningful communication.

Be still.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Patience Is a Virtue

Yesterday, I had cleared my calendar to work on some pressing tasks for my business. Since I work from home, taking care of business sometimes slides until it becomes pressing. At any rate, one of those items was to get some quick advice on an e-mail formatting issue that has been annoying both me and my clients. A promised 15-minute fix turned into 90 minutes as a cascade of underlying issues was uncovered, followed by two more, separate 20-minute phone conversations with technical specialists. As of today the issue is still not resolved. But I do have my computer functioning close to where I started yesterday morning.

By the end of that first 90 minutes yesterday, I was completely infuriated and could barely think straight. There were other--and more to the point, money-making--matters that needed my attention. And I was stuck watching someone else poke around in my computer. Frustrating, irritating. My heart was racing. Brain fog was setting in.

Through the fog, one word dropped into my brain.
I was searching desperately for what Job seemed to have in spades (even if he did shake his fist a bit), but I was not finding it. I grabbed my Bible concordance and searched for references to patience.

One that caught my eye was Ecclesiastes 7:8--
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning [oh, yeah, I'm all for the end of this thing];
the patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit.
"Proud." I can admit to a bit of pride, thinking that I have perfect control over what happens in my day. NOT!

Most of chapters 8 and 9 in Ecclesiastes comprise an ode to the balances in life. Righteousness balancing wickedness, wisdom balancing foolishness. Patience versus a restlessness to be! Reading a bit of the prophet helped to calm me down.

The idea of those grand plans I had also brought to mind one of my favorite of the Proverbs:
The human mind may devise many plans;
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established. (19:21)
I finally found my patience by going to the Curves gym and burning off the frustration with a round of weights and aerobics and then joining a team who are planning a 6-week class this winter on knitting and crocheting as spiritual practices. By the time I got home, I was ready to listen to God's plans--and face more technical conversations.

May you have patience as deep as the ocean--or at least access to a Bible and a good workout!

May it be so.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Questions for the New Year

During this busy month of holidays and transition to a new year, an idea kept rising around me that the QUESTIONS in our lives have the power to steer our direction and influence our choices.

My winter meditation began on Christmas Day using a series of questions for The 12 Days of Solstice offered by the Rev. Mary Grigolia and based on insights from Carl Jung. Questions like: Who am I? What is my treasure? What is home for me? and How do I honor creativity? These questions have guided me to take stock of my choices this past year from different angles. The final question is: What are my intentions for the next cycle of growth? which puts no boundaries on the timetable for that next "cycle" and suggests only that I form intentions which will be my framework for the coming growth period.

In my training as a reference librarian, I was told that when a patron poses a reference question at the reference desk, I must ask at least 3 questions of the patron. Otherwise I will not understand what the patron really wants. And I have found this to be true. Every time.

More recently, after years as a medical and pharmaceutical librarian in large academic and corporate libraries, I found that I was no longer interested in the issues, in the questions that librarians in those environments face every day. That led me to consulting. Now I'm finding the same recognition. The questions I answer today, the issues I try to solve today are of less interest to me than when I started my consulting business. Now I'm seeking the questions that I do want to answer. What issues do I want to tackle for the next few years? What message will I be able to communicate through the questions I feel compelled to answer?

My husband and I exchange presents on Christmas Day, usually buying for each other something that we both want. This year was no different. I bought a new book for us by Dr. Jan Garavaglia (Dr. G, Medical Examiner on the Discovery Health cable channel) entitled "How Not To Die". In it Dr. G talks about how she chose forensic pathology for her life's work. She says that it is in forensics that she discovered the questions that most interested her--the ones that she wanted to answer, felt compelled to answer.

For his present, George bought Susan Boyle's new CD for us. One of the songs is "Who I Was Born To Be". The chorus is:
And though I may not know the answers,
I can finally say I'm free
And if the questions led me here, then
I am who I was born to be.

So in the light of the Blue Moon,(by modern folklore, the second full moon which rose in December), whose light crosses the New Year's boundary with casual disregard, I give you the idea of questions.

Which questions interest you? Which questions do you enjoy exploring and answering? Do you need to choose new questions? Which questions will lead you to be who were born to be?

Happy New Year!