Category Archives: Teaching as a Spiritual Practice

The Path of Listening

Many Paths

It’s been quite a fall.  I moved in August, and due to work and scheduling I have already missed Spirit Play twice.  I have missed writing this reflection a few more times than twice.  And so I sit today wondering about the intersection of responsibility and grace.  We begin again.  And we begin again.  We begin again in love.  Last time I was practicing church with our children we got to hear the story of “Many Paths to the Mountain” and this year as I sat in the classroom I was really wondering about one line of that story.  The traveler taking the river path speaks about how beautiful and refreshing the river is and how all the travelers will wish they came on the river path before they reach the mountain.  Each of the paths were intentionally chosen by each traveler and I wonder if they maintained their commitment to that path or if in their learning or their exhaustion they ever secretly did wish to be on a more lush journey.  I wonder if the traveler on the river path ever wished to be on one of the other pathways finding the river in reality not to be quite what she thought.

This week I was away again and missed the telling of one of my favorite stories about Listening for God.  The story traces many ways we can listen for what is right and good, what sings a resonant “yes” in our hearts so we know “how to love, what to do, and who to be”.  Sometimes that is such a challenge for us.  We make our way through our lives making decisions and doing our best and sometimes are confronted with such moments of confusion or broken-heartedness that we wonder if there’s any way at all for us to tell what our answer is to those questions?

How do we love?  How do we love within the confines of our lives, our understanding or when our love seems so small or in conflict with another’s wellbeing?  How do we love without condition and with openness?  How do we love in practical ways that matter?  What do we do?  In some ways this is the question that gets the most attention in our world.  Our discomfort drives us to action, to the path that feels like it might yield tangible results that we can see, that can shift and move our world in a way that budges it a little toward wholeness.  For me, if I jump right to what to do and skip the first step of how to love, I often miss valuable insight and spend my energy in ways that keep me busy, but aren’t necessarily nourishing for me and the world.  Finally, the question of who to be, which is always the truth of who we are.  We are a gift to the world.  What is the doing and being that reflects our gifts?  What do we joyfully put out into the world as our contribution?  What do we offer that comes from our truth and that the world needs?

For me as I sit in the transition time of this fall and so much change, I find myself sitting in this path I have chosen contemplating.  What is the path that feels true for me now?  I listen deep in myself, to my teachers and the world to try to answer those questions.  How do I love…myself, you, all of us, the path itself?  In light of how love wants to come through, what do I do… in myself, in relationship, in the wholeness of this life?  Who do I want to be in my loving and my being?

There is a long path ahead, to the mountain, or just on the journey and I notice myself finding the way of love in taking a moment to pause, to know this place where I am, to see the truth of my responsibility and my grace in the context of all the shifting and changing.  To begin again in love.  I don’t know what to do yet.  Some of it seems clear and some of it does not.  I suppose that means I should be patient with the pause, to take a bit more time.  If I can do this, be faithful to this place I am, then who I am will shine forth with it’s gifts of love and action in just the right way for myself and the world to keep wandering down the most beautiful path for us.  Thank goodness there are intersecting paths on this journey, places of pause and discernment.  I sit here in our community listening.

We are the story, we are the gift

What a gift!

The year has begun and as we move into the pace of fall, we re-gather our community of practitioners in Spirit Play.  Our first story was an introduction to the classroom.  “Let’s pretend that we are the story and let’s hear about the gifts our church has given us”.  In the story we tell the children that being in Spirit Play is like being in their birthday and that the classroom materials are gifts for them and our other Spirit Play friends to use.  This is true.  And it is true that the real gifts are all of us together, learning and practicing wonder, play and love.  Each child brings the gift of their being.  Each adult brings the gift of their being. We come together with intention to learn and grow.  We come to be in relationship.

The sermon in church was about being called and compelled to your vocation.  We each carry within us a gift for the world.  We are called by Life to bring the best of ourselves to our living.  When we live in this way, we create the world in which we are a gift and where life gives us gifts in return.  Where are we called and compelled?  Do we respond with joy or resistance?  Do we hear the calling at all in this busyness that is so much of our day to day?

On Sunday I was aware that these children are a gift to me, that the teachers are a gift to me, that the staff and the congregation at Unity are gifts to me.  I don’t always remember this.  Sometimes I enter the space and just need to get my kids there on time, just need to stay centered when they protest and resist.  Sometimes as I cry in worship, as I do most weeks, I feel a little self conscious and want to hide out and be noticed all in the same moment.  I forget.  I forget my belonging.  I forget that this is my community and we are there to learn and grow.  I am called and compelled in my life to remember this all the time and to remind others.  I want to remember that there are journey guides and helpers to receive my children.  I want to remember that my tears are given space to be and are noticed during worship.

This moment is pure gift, my work is gift, the people I am in community with are a gift, my breath is a gift.  All of everything is a gift.  It’s a little overwhelming to sit with the truth of it; to sit in the grateful knowing that there is so much possible.

I come to class partly to remember.  I come to be a gift and to receive.  I come to practice love, to practice church.  I come to create and experience my belonging.  Listen?  What is your gift?  Where is Life calling you?

 

And the First shall be Last

Joys and Sorrows

It was a family Sunday last week and the sanctuary at 9am was full of families.  My children were off for the weekend camping with their Dad and as I made my way to worship, a parent asked if I would accompany their child to worship so they could go teach our spirit play children who were gathering for class downstairs.  “Yes”, I said.  And “Yes”, said my heart.  This child had been in my spirit play class a few years ago and we talked about that and about how I looked very familiar to him.  We sat together and when KP told us a story about the first being last, my friend joined the crowd and afterwards made his way to class.  I sat in the warmth of community.  This is the community that I want at Unity and I had just been able to participate in it’s creation.  So many layers of yes.

I went downstairs myself pondering and wondering about the lesson, the second in our life cycle series.  I was curious and excited because one of our teachers had played around with the story and was presenting it creatively.  I smiled to hear that the story went well.  I listened in a different way.

The moment of class that stuck with me however was the circle time at the beginning.  We always sing and greet one another and then we go around the circle to share our joys and sorrows.  The storyteller this week decided to begin in the opposite direction of our usual flow.  Right away our insightful children reminded her that we usually go the other direction.  I know one of them, at least, had picked her seat hoping to go first.  The storyteller explained that this time we would go this direction and next time we could go the other direction.  Since I had just heard KP’s story, I observed this moment closely.  There was some delight on the part of the children who unexpectedly got to share first.  There was some disappointment and protest from those who thought they had secured the first spot, but ended up being the last to share.

I identify with both positions.  While I hardly ever position myself hoping to be first, sometimes when I have been very excited to lead and share, I too have felt the disappointment of feeling passed over.  The practice for me when this happens is to try to stay out of my story about what it means to meet a reality different from my expectations and to trust that everything is ok, no matter when my turn comes.  This has taken some practice.  Most of the time I can hear the voice in me grumbling about how my insight was so wonderful and it wasn’t honored in the way I wanted.  I hear it grumble in anger about how it isn’t fair that I didn’t get my way.  And I let it go.  This is easier on days where I am rested, secure and calm.  It is much harder when I’m tired, hungry or cold.  It takes practice to let go.  I want to practice this skill because those voices block out my ability to listen to whoever is going first.  The grumbles remove me from the present moment.  They definitely aren’t supporting me in living my life in integrity, service and joy.  And so I practice gracefully letting go so I can stay here inside what’s happening and witness the life that is always emerging.

While I frequently find myself going last, I occasionally find myself first in an unexpected way.  This can feel just as disorienting as its opposite.  I have sometimes felt put on the spot or unsure when I have been invited into the first place.  The practice for me when this happens is to try to stay out of my story  about what people expect of me when I’m first and to trust that everything is ok, even if I’m surprised.  This takes even more practice.  I far more often get swept away by these voices who push at me and tell me that I need to be quick and wise and step up.  They tell me that others are watching and listening and so this better be good.  I hear these stories and I try to let them go.  On good days I can do it, on challenging days, sometimes not.  I have learned to take a breath and take extra time when I’m suddenly first.  I give myself permission to pass.  I want to let go of the voice because, again, it blocks out my ability to be present in this moment with all it’s invitation and openness.  I practice gracefully letting go.

I am playing with this idea lately about the relationship between the world as it is and my response to it.  I am striving for that place of non-attachment, or active indifference which finds center and opens to life unfolding as it is.  It is an attitude that attempts to remain in the present moment no matter what that moment offers.  How can I rest in being primarily and be first or last secondly?  How can I rest in being primarily and be present to what is surprising or unexpected?  How can I be grounded and joyful, first, last and everywhere in between?  I’ll keep practicing.  When I do it gets easier and I build the trust that I am ok in every moment and it’s ok to be really present here all the time.

Show up Flexible

Building a yes

It’s a new year.  I have been happily anticipating moving from the storyteller role into the door teacher role.  Thankfully another teacher really wanted to tell the story consistently throughout the spring.  And so when I showed up to class two weeks ago and again last week to absence, I found myself looking at my own expectations.  This is a big part of my journey in Spirit Play and shows up in many different ways.  It’s that moment when you show up with one idea and then something totally different happens.

And so I came to class having not prepared to tell the story and then needed to decide how to meet the moment.  Since I taught the story role all last year, I knew the stories, or at least their basic outlines and after a quick consultation with my fellow teachers, I assumed the storyteller role.  I can imagine another time where this quick change would have un-centered me and where I would have been disappointed.  I can hear the old script in my head creating unhappiness because I wanted something different to happen.  Things didn’t go my way.  But, they did go a way and gratefully, I was able to go the way that the moment was going.  This is that moment of “yes” that improv is famous for.  The rule is to say yes to whatever story line is presented to you and continue on.  This is a spiritual principle too.  To accept the present moment as it is allows one a certain peace and freedom.

This aspect of flow or allowing the fullness of the moment is also an aspect of delightful play.  How many times have we heard our children build a story by saying yes to each other and, of course, heard tears and protests when the action of play is stopped by a no.  How wonderful to be in that opening and surprising place of being able to say yes.  I have a friend who works in a middle school.  There are many times where she needs to say no in her work.  Instead of no, she is trying to say, “yes, and….”.  She says that this sometimes works beautifully, calling both parties into a creative process rather than a power struggle.

In our spirit play class, we try to wonder in the spirit of yes.  We try to gently call each other into respectful speech and action by finding the yes in the situation we’re in.  We try to say yes when we show up to what we don’t expect.  We try to find some kind of yes so that we can fully experience what is unfolding and don’t get stuck seeing everything through a lens of disappointment or resistance.  Where do you find yourself in a space of yes?  When you want to say no, is there a way to play around to find a hidden yes?

The Real Story

This week we gathered to learn the real story of St. Nicholas.  My favorite line in the story is,

Gifts of St. Nicholas

Gifts of St. Nicholas

“Nicholas was loved for one reason. He loved. He loved God and God’s people so much that he would do anything for them”.  Nicholas was known and remembered for his great love.  I arrived at class having assumed I was the storyteller and it quickly became clear that another teacher was also prepared to tell the story.  Love in this moment was me saying clearly that I would appreciate it if my co-teacher told the story.  I wanted to be the door teacher.  And love in the next moment was coming back to center and witness as I observed thoughts coming to me about how I might have told the story differently.  Love was letting go of the idea there is any right way to tell the story and instead watching and hearing how the story was told and listening for what was there.

This past week has been challenging for me.  I have ridden up and down on waves of real and made up stories.  I have felt fine and noticed that my behavior was indicating otherwise.  I feel very sensitized now to seeing multiple layers in the stories I hear and tell.  I am seeing very big moments reflected in very small moments.  Above all I am struggling to deeply align myself with Love.  I want to love that Mystery we sometimes call God.  I want to love all beings.  I want to be like St. Nicholas.  In this desire, everything feels important.  So when one child took a toy out of another childs’ hands during our circle and a fist was raised, I walked calmly over, held the hitting hand and said I would help.  I asked for the toy back.  The child refused.  I took a breath and repeated that I needed the child to give me the toy.  I felt the urge to copy the offending behavior and with my greater strength, power and authority, to take the toy out of the child’s hand.  And I stopped.  I asked for the toy again and it was given to me.  I asked the other child if I could keep the toy safe till the end of our circle and he willingly handed them over, an action he had earlier refused to do.  This was a good interaction.  We stayed safe physically.  I exercised facilitating restraint and held the tension of compassion for all three of us.  I also clearly stated what was ok and what I wanted to happen.  We made it through together.

This was a beautiful and difficult small moment, a blip of time in our class, but it reflects for me a larger story.  Who I hope to be in the world is a person who can enter conflict and hold all of us in love until a new way opens for us.  I want to take that extra breath when I feel anger or fear before I act in unskillful ways.  I want to bring trust and love into places of strain.  And it was challenging to do that with pre-schoolers.  How will I do out in the world?

I am wearing a safety pin on my shirt these days and let me tell you, it scares me a little.  I am wearing the pin because I want to live into an identity of being a safe person.  What might happen if someone truly calls on me to be that in the world?  What happens if I don’t take that extra breath in when I feel fear or anger rising?  What happens if I try to offer love, protection and safety and I fail?  What if the forces roll right over me?

I want to be like St. Nicholas.  I want to love us, all of us, so much.  I want a world of more love; real love.  The love that penetrates us so deeply that we blossom.  A love so powerful that we offer our service to others and for others.  How we do it matters.  This is what changes lives and changes the world.  And so I guess I’d rather wear the pin and take my chances than try to avoid risk.

My daily spiritual practice has been a lifesaver for me this week.  It brings me back into seeing things as they are, it seats me squarely in gratitude and ignites a longing in me to bring the fullness of our connections to light. That is what I want to live in the world.  One area of practice is with our children.  I know my own shadow emerges with them first and is a place to learn about my growing edges and reaffirm how and who I want to be.  I don’t know what happens next, but I want to go the way of love, so I’ll begin where I am and wonder what might happen next.

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.

Celebration of New Life

This Sunday we gathered to tell the story of the Unitarian Universalist ritual to celebrate and welcome babies into our community.

Absence and Presence

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.

 

Are you ready?

Fall is here.  School is underway.

Are you ready?

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.