It has been a rich, full month. The busyness of early and mid-December, with its holiday parties and gift finding and giving, its many pulls that stretch our minds and hearts thin, is coming to an end. We’ve passed the longest night of the year, taking from it what we could, whether deepening and meditation, comaraderie and fun, joy, stillness, or the grief that sometimes comes to us at such times.
We are moving into the quieter, liminal space between
Christmas and New Year’s Day. Throughout my life I’ve particularly valued this
time. I’ve usually managed to be scheduled out of work or to be on a school
break, so after the immediate busyness of Christmas passes, I’ve blessedly been
able to relax and rest from the exhaustion of the work or school year, play, reflect,
and find some renewed energy and spirit for the beginning of the new year. The
years I’ve needed to work during this liminal time of the year, I’ve enjoyed
the slower, quieter pace. It’s also allowed me to reflect, connect, relax, and
find renewed energy in its own way.
This time of the year, like many of the liminal times in our
lives and in our congregations, invites us to reflect in a deeper way on what
has happened in this past year and what we wish to carry forward in the next
year. Here are some questions I’ve found useful in this work:
Where, for what, and for whom have I felt
gratitude, thankfulness, or appreciation this year? Where haven’t I felt it?
What does that tell me and how can I grow in this practice?
Where are connections showing up that are
strengthening and challenging me?
Whose stories have I listened to this year?
Whose voices are missing? Who told those stories?
How have our Soul Matters themes showed up in my
life and changed me? (They’ve been Possibility, Trust, Journey, Wholeness,
Curiosity, Beauty, Expectation, Belonging, Attention, and Awe.)
How have I lived love into the world with
courage? How have I lived my values?
What has my spiritual practice been this year?
How is it feeding my spirit? What are the things I want to continue and what
are the things I want to change?
I ask myself these questions with humility, grace, and courage, wishing to be transformed by them. If what I, or you, find is difficult, as I talked about in worship a couple weeks ago, by entering the dark places, the places of fear, anger, shame, sorrow, and pain in our spirits, and doing the deep work of grappling with these feelings and what they tell us about ourselves, humanity, and our relationship with the world; by bringing love, humility, and deepening connection into those spaces; by finding the lessons of these times and spaces and where they and our love and values ask us to change; by doing this work we grow. We grow, too, by letting Love, a deep, courageous Love, come into our hearts and lives, and following it.
In January we’ll begin 2020 by reflecting on the theme of
Integrity. I’ll be bringing my own work from these coming weeks into that. I
hope you will, too.
May this liminal space bless you and all with its gifts. May
you and all be perturbed. May you and all find peace. Go in Peace, Love, and
Love and Blessings,
P.S.: I’ll be on vacation from Dec. 25 – Jan. 6. I look forward to beginning to catch up on voicemails and emails on Jan. 7. If you have a pastoral emergency before Jan. 7, please leave a voicemail on my cell phone or contact the lay pastoral associates at firstname.lastname@example.org or (425) 483-6476.
As we move into December, into the darkness, we find ourselves in spaces of tension.
There’s the excitement and hubbub of all the things that happen around the holidays, combined with commercial and consumerist messages that bombard us.
There’s the tension and anxiety that come with the end of the year, work deadlines and financial demands, and, for some of us, with gathering with family and friends, the invitations or lack of invitations to holiday and year-end festivities. And this year tension is higher for many because of events in the country and world, which are amping up anxiety more.
And there’s the quietness, lovely stillness, and sluggishness that come with lengthening nights and short days.
We’re going into the darkness, and as we go many faiths invite us into attentiveness to it or into anticipation of something coming.
We can feel all this as a tug-of-war, where we feel caught in the swirl of the season. And so this call to deepen and cultivate the gifts of the spirit is all the more valuable, as it is whenever we find ourselves in places that are in-between, in tension, changing, busy, anxious.
The holidays of light and darkness at this time of year invite us into wonder and patience. They do invite us to exuberance and delight, but to make it to the great celebration we need patience, hope, faith, love, courage, and the ability to cultivate joy in our daily lives, whether that celebration is for Jesus’ birth, Hanukhah, Solstice, Watch Night, or something else. These holy days invite us to anticipation, to reaffirm the power of the spirit and the value of religious community and spiritual life, to explore what a miracle is, and to celebrate freedom, justice, and community.
As we move into December, into the darkness, and our reflections on Awe, may we hold the pull of connection and the pull of quiet stillness in delicate and creative tension. May you, may we find ways of being together that help us deepen and connect even as we allow ourselves to be nourished by the quiet darkness. May we deepen in our relationship with awe as the darkness grows. May we find in the deep stillness what our spirits need, individually and as a congregation.
How do we reclaim our narrative? What story do we want to tell about our lives?
I’m here in St. Paul, MN deeply grateful to be at BLUU’s Harper-Jordan Memorial Symposium (https://www.blacklivesuu.com/about). Well, enjoying and being humbled and awed by it… Here I’m surrounded by beloveds, all of whom are having their own amazing experiences of the pure fire that is Unitarian Universalism’s first symposium focused specifically on proclaiming a Black UU theology. And I’m immersed in deep theological discussions the likes of which I haven’t enjoyed since before I finished seminary. And we’ve only finished day one…!
I’m excited to share some of what’s happened here and my reflections on it when I return to WUUC’s pulpit on Nov. 10. But in the meantime, I’ll share with you a few of the questions that are coming to me here and that relate to WUUC’s monthly theme for November: Attention.
Some of those questions are:
How do we reclaim our narrative? What story do we want to tell about our lives, our faith, our communities? Sometimes we take questions like these to mean something like “How do we focus on the good stuff we want others to know about us/our communities/our country/our faith?” But a way of viewing this question that pushes us to do deep work and to grow in all sorts of ways asks us to reflect on how we honor the deep, difficult, complicated happy and unhappy, joyful and sad, loving and evil things that have happened to us, our faith(s), and our communities.
What does deeply grappling with these things tell us about ourselves, our institutions, our world, and who and what we want to be in it for ourselves and others? It’s when we grapple with these difficult questions and try to find answers that center and grow Love that we are more often able to become more expansive and more inclusive. This grappling helps us spiritually deepen, too.
People are meaning-making beings. When we go through difficulty, loss, grief, or other challenges or changes – and particularly when we or institutions we’re part of treat people in ways that don’t uphold our values – it can be tempting to try to move through those times and put those stories aside. We’ve done this so often as a country, in our communities, and in our individual lives. But then how do we make meaning from that? What does that mean for us and for all those hurt or harmed? And how does that help us move toward more Love, liberation, compassion, and care for ourselves and others?
These are hard questions, and they’re ones I hope to keep grappling with throughout my life. They’re ones I hope we grapple with as a country, a faith, and in our communities. This month, as we reflect on what it means to be a people of attention, may we all be present in the midst of the struggle, learn the ever-unfolding lessons it teaches us, and work to incorporate those into our own narratives and the narratives of our communities.
Years ago (so many years I don’t remember who or why)
someone asked me a question I keep with me: To whom are you responsible, to who
and what do you belong?
I carry this question with me because it reminds me to
reflect on where I am in the world and who and what I’m serving, what
communities and individuals I’m connecting myself with, and how I’m nurturing
bonds. When I’ve been lost or confused it’s helped me re-ground and re-connect
As a woman who grew up being taught to sacrifice her well-being for the convenience of others, it also reminds me that I belong to myself. Responding to that is one of my fundamental responsibilities.
And I carry this question because the way it was originally
asked – To whom do you belong? – has a very difficult, very painful historical
edge. For far too many of my loved ones, for far too many in our communities,
the question of who the world says you belong to is quite literally a part of
their recent family histories. And so this question reminds me of the history
and continuing effects of oppression in our world, how it shapes our
understandings and perceptions, and my ongoing responsibilities and commitments
to respond to that.
In the same vein, I’ve added a couple more questions for
myself over the past several years: To whom does our faith, Unitarian
Universalism, belong? To whom does this congregation belong?
Over the past several months this congregation has begun
reflecting on what these questions imply as we work on discerning what
welcoming, radical hospitality, and pre-emptive radical inclusion mean in this
context. This connects with WUUC’s history of discerning your ministry with
each other and in the wider community, including your work on racial justice,
LGTBQIA+ rights, and being a loving community.
As we enter October, our monthly theme is Belonging. Questions
and concerns have been coming to me about what belonging means, who belongs,
and how we talk with each other.
In their workshop on Preemptive Radical Inclusion, CB Beal
asked us to begin our work on inclusion and belonging with noticing. CB asked
us to notice what we think and feel, to wonder why we think and feel that, and
to ask ourselves what that tells us about what we believe. They also invited us
to create safer and braver space by making room to listen to each other
differently; noticing that we all make mistakes and cause each other harm because
of our ignorance, power, or privilege; and noticing the impact of our mistakes,
apologizing, and making amends without making that more important than
These things – noticing; creating safer and braver space;
creating room to make mistakes, room for feelings, room to acknowledge impacts
and make amends; and leaning into discomfort – are all part of creating space
for greater belonging. And so, as we move through October I invite you to
What am I thinking and feeling? Why is that?
What does it tell me about what I believe?
Who is being served by the decisions we’re
making about space, our processes, and the things that tell us how to be
What and whose needs are we addressing and
If that’s hurting some people or pushing them
out, particularly if they have less power in this situation or place, what can
I do to address that?
The way we live and how we are together says much about what
we truly believe and value. And this ministry of finding ever-greater
congruence and showing Love more fully and deeply in the world is a blessing.
This past month has been a big one in your transitions
process! Your collaborative history odyssey came down in the sanctuary, seeds
of things you value about this congregation and what it’s added to your life
began to go up in the foyer, and you selected a ministerial search team. You’re
deep within your interim transitions process (see my April article for a recap
of your interim goals and questions).
At the same time, the Ministry Council, Board, and staff
have begun discussing hospitality and welcoming at WUUC. Our discussions
started based on feedback we’ve received from visitors and things members and
staff have noticed as they’ve engaged with the interim process. Those who
attended the town hall on April 28 heard some of the musings that are beginning
to emerge from our discussions
Work that’s emerging to make WUUC a welcoming, hospitable
place for newcomers includes making street signage more visible, creating
connection teams, developing WUUC’s social media presence, and developing
programming around inclusion and radical hospitality. If you’d like to be
engaged with this work, please let Karen Hyams or me know.
As we continue working on strengthening community and
sharing our joy and strengths, some of you will recall the roller coaster of
change that I shared with several gatherings in the Fall. Many people put dots
on it to show where they were then on the roller coaster. And so I wonder,
where are you on it now? Does where you are on the roller coaster of change
depend on what part of the transition you’re focusing on? Maybe you’re on
several roller coasters? As we explore the theme of Curiosity in May, I invite
you to share your place on the roller coaster with me and with others.
We also held a workshop for existing small group
facilitators at the end of April and will be working on expanding that work
before the next church year to strengthen small groups. And WUUC’s new LGBTQIA+
Welcoming Congregation renewal team has begun its work.
Roller coasters can be uncomfortable, especially when you’re
on several that are going at different rates and have different paths. Personally,
I find that when there are changes around or within me sometimes one of my
first, ingrained reactions is to question why it’s happening or to react
against it. What I’ve learned helps me more with responding to and interacting
with change is to take the energy of that first reaction and turn it into
curiosity. How can I be genuinely curious about what’s happening? How can I be
curious about what others are perceiving and experiencing?
And so, as we explore curiosity this month, how can we all
be curious about our own and other people’s experiences? How can our curiosity
help those seeds on the foyer walls – the seeds of what you value about WUUC –