Monthly Archives: October 2016

Balance

We had many joys in our class on Sunday and only 3 sorrows.  The scale was tipped and weighed down with joy stones, but two of the three sorrows were about death.  One a fish, one Grey Papa.

This week in Spirit Play, we listened to the story of The Buddha and the Mustard Seed.  In this story, a mother’s son dies and she appeals to the Buddha for help.  He sends her house to house looking for a special ingredient to make a medicine; a mustard seed from a home where no one has known death, sadness or sorrow.  Our storyteller went around the circle asking the children one by one if they had ever been sad.  One child looked down and said, “Yeah, lots of times”.  None of us had a seed that could help.  The neighbors in the story didn’t have one either.

I was ready to have an interesting wondering conversation about what helps us when we face death, sadness or sorrow, but what emerged was Buddha.  With giggles, one of the children whispered, “It’s funny.  Buddha.  It sounds like booty.”  Hmmmm.

A balanced stack

A balanced stack

In our work time I found myself on the rug with a child who was stacking nesting blocks to make a tower.  We have two sets and he was trying to stack them all together.  This was difficult to do as boxes of the same size slipped off each other, larger boxes covered smaller boxes and the last ones were tippy and above his head.  I smiled while I watched him stack and re-stack as blocks shifted and fell down.  I reached in and placed a block on it’s side leaving the opening facing out.  This changed the whole possibility of the the tower.  Suddenly there were pockets to nest other blocks in.  Suddenly things stabilized as the opening shifted.

Sometimes I feel this illustrates the story of my teaching (and my parenting).  I want to stack the blocks a certain way.  I want them to line up straight.  I want to make them tall.  I want to comfort those two children with big sorrows and instead, the blocks tumble down; instead there are giggles and silliness.  The opening isn’t where I expected it to be.  But in every moment there is the possibility of finding all we need.  Maybe the simple act of hearing everyone in our classroom say that, yes, they too have felt sadness was a comfort to our children’s grief as it was for the grieving mother in our story.  Maybe the laughter was it’s own healing medicine. Maybe playing with what is here creatively in the moment is enough to steady what is uncertain and open the possibility for a new thing.

In service on Sunday we celebrated our community by hearing the collage of voices that we have been creating for the past several weeks in worship.  Hearing our many poignant and sometimes humorous voices say what we find here in our church felt like a pilgrimage similar to the grieving mother.  As she wanders door to door looking for a house with no sorrow, she finds community and compassion.  And as we come to Unity we find others here with broken hearts, with joyful songs, with tears and laughter.  We find others who have a desire and willingness to make their own lives and our world more loving.  We hope to be a place to find and keep our balance.  And my guess is we also find here things that surprise us and challenge us and open us in ways that we didn’t expect.

So this week I am looking for where the opening really is, even if it doesn’t look like what I expect it to.  This week I am trying to look beyond my ideas of what I think the right or wrong way is and to see how the blocks are really stacked.  I want to look at them and wonder what might happen next?  I want to hear our voices, the voices of our children and our adults and know that this is the community of my belonging.  I am not alone.  I need you.  I need your laughter and your tears, your joys and your sorrows.  Let’s hold them all together and see what new thing emerges.

We Practice Listening

Last Sunday I got to tell a story about listening.  The gist of the story was that Love/Truth/God is something that is always available to us if we stop and notice and listen.  2016-10-09-12-34-49We experience this in the depth of our hearts, in relationship with others, through the gifts of nature, through stories, song and poetry and through the gathered community when people come together for service or worship.  Each way to experience had a section of underlay all it’s own separated partially by popsicle sticks.  After introducing each I said the refrain, “We practice listening.  We listen with our whole selves”.

Listening seems simple enough, but, like meditation, it’s harder than it seems to truly listen.  This is because it asks of us the same quality of presence that we use in meditation.  There is a person here speaking.  As soon as we start composing our response or associating about when that happened to us, we have ceased to be present.  I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of listening to another and missing what was just said as our attention wandered off to our own thoughts.  We maybe even appeared to be listening, but we weren’t really there.

I know from my work as a Spiritual Director and from my experience with friends and family that truly being in a moment by moment listening presence is  rare.  When we find those rare people who can simply be with us, listening, to whatever comes, it is a profound gift.  That moment requires receptivity and acceptance that isn’t found easily in daily life.  Most of the time we listen to others and they listen to us in order to try to teach, help, fix, analyze and advise us.  These interactions can be helpful, but how often are we allowed and offered the space to be exactly where, who and what we are in the moment?

And if we have such difficulty truly and deeply listening to each other, how can we listen to/for that Infinite Mystery we sometimes call God?  Where is the presence of Love in our beloved community?  Where is the presence of Truth in our sacred stories about people who have tried to live in faith and love?  Where is God in the gifts of the natural world that touch us through our body?  Where is the Mystery in our encounter with any other person, with our own deep heart?  And how do we come close with that formless and unimaginable Beyond that always just is?  When we start listening in any of these arena’s, when we come into awareness or silence to simply notice and look for Love/Truth/God, we start to find it everywhere.

When wondering together, many of our children decided the best and most important part of our story was the gathered community where we come and listen for God together.  2016-10-09-12-35-32In our story, that special place of community is where we turn into God’s presence for each other and the world.  I reminded them that our Spirit Play class IS the gathered community.  They were amazed.  It was beautiful for our children to understand that this story is our story too, right now.  Our last question is always if there is anything we can take out of our story and still have all the story we need.  This question is especially hard for this age group, but in this class, one child said the dividers between the ways we experience listening for God could be taken away.  How wise, I thought.  Yes, truly that could be taken away and we would still have all the story we need.

At the 9 o’clock service we came to the part of the Embracing Meditation when we are invited to offer aloud or hold in the silent sanctuary of our hearts, the names of those we want to hold in worship.  The usual low mumble of voices faintly rose and one very loud clear voice saying, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t quite catch that.  You’ll have to try again”, issuing from someone’s cell phone.  Since listening was on my mind I wondered about this seeming random occurrence.  Since the embracing meditation is usually the only place in our service where the whole gathered community is invited to use their individual voices I wondered how we are listening to each other in that moment, how we are listened to by the presence of God we embody for one another?  I wonder today what it looks like in our lives to remove the barriers between our experience to make our encounter of Life seamless and focused on listening for the Love/Truth/God in each moment in everything.  What if our personal practice, our worship, our family time, our commute, our activism, our teaching was all one experience of listening for Love/Truth/God and then speaking back into the world as the Presence of that Love/Truth/God?  In our story when we stop to listen and connect with Love/Truth/God, we gain clarity on who to be, what to do and how to love.  It starts in every moment.  It starts now.  We practice listening.  We listen with our whole selves.

All These Alters

This Sunday in Spirit Play we told the story of Many Paths to the Mountain.  It is a story about 5 travelers who are all traveling to the mountain, but are each convinced that their way is the only best way.

The Alter Path

The Alter Path

When they all reach the top, they celebrate and share stories of their many adventures.  This year I have arranged my schedule so that I am able to attend worship and teach so when I came to class I had Rob’s sermon ringing in my mind.  He preached on the story of Abraham bringing Isaac to the mountain to be sacrificed, a difficult story to plumb.

I also could not help but have KP’s words ringing in my mind from our teacher training where he spoke of alters as places of burning, a place where we are undone.  He challenged us to accompany our children in a way that opens our hearts to vulnerability and risk, to be in an authentic place of journey with one another as we engage in the spiritual practice of teaching and learning together.

As I sat by the door breathing and witnessing I found myself tearing up as the Storyteller introduced each path.  One traveler picked the forrest path to face fear, the next picked the desert path to encounter austerity.  One picked the rocky path to test endurance and worthiness, one picked the river path so they would be refreshed for the journey and the last picked a path through cities, so they could have community along the way.  All the paths brought the respective travelers to the destination.  How many times have I picked the path of my journey from obligation and fear?  And still there is something to learn.  What path do I choose now?

And what are these paths?  Maybe they too are alters.  Maybe each path to each traveler is so important that they must give themselves over to it so that the path itself becomes the encounter with the sacred, that the traveler surrenders to it in a way that irrevocably changes/alters the person walking it.  What path do you choose to give yourself to?  This is serious business, this journey.

And then there are the children, our children.  Before our story, we brought the children into the sanctuary to witness the Celebration of New Lives that we had just talked about the week before.  And there was another dedication.  These parents are promising to bring their children to us, to Unity, to our community.  A community which seeks to make the beloved community real.  And we promised to love these babies as they grow.  We have given ourselves over to that path and their parents have given them to us.  And this happens at least each week as we give our children to this community to learn together, to discover our truth and our path, and to walk it with as much engagement and awareness as we can.  Who knows what happens next?

Our youth just won an award for their dedication to Black Lives Matter.  For our youth, participating in this movement for justice is the path that they have chosen.  Whether chosen from a deep yes, or from a place of inner obligation it has brought them into a beautiful and dangerous journey of love.  It has brought them to the 4th precinct.  It has brought them hand in hand into community.  We love these children, our children.  We offer them over and over to this path with fear and trembling and pride.  Their path is the depth of love and the flame in the chalice of our hearts that we cannot resist, that we must give ourselves over to.

When asked at teacher training to name a value we hold and an example of being undone by it, I answered that I deeply believe that all children should be loved and feel a sense of belonging.  I am undone by this all the time and I come to our Spirit Play classroom partly to know and fiercely love our children.  My work is to see them, to notice them, to let them know that their presence is a joy and a delight; and to let them know I missed them when they have been gone.  This is a path I give myself to.  As I teared up in class, one of our children put his hand on my hand.  He put his hand on my shoulder.  On an alter so important, in work so sacred, it is a relief to know we’re not alone.  We are on this beautiful and dangerous path all together hand in hand.