This Sunday we gathered to tell the story of the Unitarian Universalist ritual to celebrate and welcome babies into our community.
Absence and Presence
It was also the first Sunday that I got to try on the door teacher role. You have to know that I have been longing to sit at the door since I learned more about the philosophy underpinning it’s role; a loving witness. I value and honor the intention to physically embody the energy of threshold, safety and love that the door teacher assumes each week. I think it is vital that there are eyes there, simply and powerfully to see and celebrate the presence of everyone in the room.
And then there’s the practice. For any of you who have tried out meditation, you have likely had the familiar experience of making time to sit down and…your mind starts racing, you forget what you’re doing, you try to be calm and centered and the quiet itself seems to incite the inner life into an explosion of things to think, feel and do. And all you were trying to do was sit quietly and peacefully for a few minutes. It’s way harder than it appears. And it’s part of the process of meditation to sit in the midst of that and try to simply come back, remember and breathe.
So I sat at the door for class and felt myself losing my focus….thinking about how I would tell the story this year if I was on the rug, wondering if I had forgotten anything as I signed folks in, musing about how I would change or re-write this story to make it more compelling for the children. Oops. And then I would come back and breathe and observe without the interpretive overlay. And then I would lose focus…should I stop the child moving back and forth from the door to the rug to the door again? Should I put my hand on her shoulder? Should I ask her to just sit still till the story begins? Is anyone distracted by her movement? Oops.
Over and over in class this process happened and over and over I simply came back and tried again. In this story, the Storytelling teacher blesses all the children and we welcome them by name. The text of the story indicates the teacher should start with herself and then move around the room. The teacher started blessing the children and my mind lost focus once more. I wanted everyone to be blessed, everyone to be included. Refocus. In the present moment I simply observed again. The children received their blessing and a rose, and then the teachers, and then the Storyteller received the blessing we all gave her. Everyone had been included. It had just happened in a different way than I imagined. I almost missed it by holding too fast to my own expectations. And, after all, what is the return to each moment? It’s a return to new life the one right here in front of us that is happening and changing with such unexpected complexity and beauty.
And I too was included. My name was recognized. I was welcomed into the circle of our community, with all my distraction and all my attempts to come back to witness. Even so, I am a part of it all, no perfection required. We all are. That’s truly something to celebrate.
Fall is here. School is underway.
Are you ready?
And now our own school (RE) at Unity has begun. In teacher training this fall KP challenged us to bring our passions to our practice of teaching; to practice meeting the passions of our children, to risk being undone. A beautiful and sober invitation as we begin the year. At it’s heart we are called to prepare ourselves to be fully alive and fully in relationship to ourselves and the children we companion and witness in our classes. It is to be ready to be lit up like our flaming chalice. We are called to be present in kindness and generosity whether we judge our class successful or wanting. And there is always something to learn.
This Sunday we learned to “get ready” in our class. We get ready as we begin by sitting criss cross apple sauce with our hands in our lap. We quiet our minds and our voices and our bodies so that we can listen. We practiced this in my class several times when the attention of the children began to wander. I practiced it myself as I realized a piece of ritual I missed or did out of order, remembering for myself and my class that we are all learning Spirit Play together.
Part of the philosophy of Spirit Play is to use whatever comes up as an opportunity for us to learn in community and this is something that I sometimes am not quite ready for. This week we had one child who wanted to play at the sand table instead of sitting on the rug or with the door teacher. I invited him to sit a few times, but he did not accept my invitation. After a few attempts I brought my attention back to our circle and let the moment be what it was. We began our circle and one child heard the scraping of a tool scooping sand against the bottom of the table and spoke up to say she was distracted. I listened and suggested we all get ready again and focus our attention on what was happening in our circle. We moved on with class and a second child raised her voice to say that the sound of the sand table was distracting. I also listened to this comment and reflected back to her that it was hard to listen with that noise and then I kept going with class. I recognize in myself my desire to smoothly lead our class ritual and my loss at what to do after having extended an invitation that wasn’t accepted. As I play it back in my head, I wish I would have let our community of children voice their distraction and offered it as another invitation into the circle. Or to have started a conversation that might include the question, “What would help you come into our circle?” I wanted to model acceptance and kindness, which maybe felt more accepting to the sand scraping then to the children asking for help to not be distracted in the circle. I maybe forgot that we all have a place and a voice, and part of what church is, is to navigate that in community and in love. If I had gone this imaginary route, maybe we would have all come to awareness that our friend at the sand table arrived at class needing to go to the bathroom which was making him uncomfortable. Instead, as we went on with our circle, he had an accident and then happily joined us on the rug after he was relieved and clean. There are many ways to get ready.
So, how do you get ready? In what ways are you quieting your mind, heart and body in order to listen to the moment? Are you showing up to class having met the needs of your body and soul? Are you receptive and open to the unexpected lessons that emerge in this room every week?
Come, let us wonder together.