Category Archives: Unitarian Universalism

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.

 

This is the water of our Community

This is the water of our community

This is the water of our community

Our story on Sunday was preparing the children for our merging of the waters ritual in the fall.  We imagined where we might collect water this summer and we each poured our water into the gathering bowl saying in response, “This is the water of our community”.  The children loved participating.  They loved having their own water to pour.  We also had an interesting conundrum in our opening liturgy.

One of the things we start class with is sharing our joys and sorrows.  We pick a joy stone or a sorrow stone and put them on our scale and then either share them verbally with the class or keep them in our hearts.  It started right away.  A few kids picked multiple stones and put them on the scale.  I observed.  Then when we were part way around the circle I wondered to the group if there would be enough stones for everyone.  Some children responded by choosing just one stone as is our usual practice.  Some children couldn’t resist following the example of others and taking multiple stones.  And this time, it really happened. We ran out of joy stones before we got around our circle.

We stopped.  I sat in silence and looked in our bowl of stones.  I looked in and picked up the bowl.  I observed to the class that there were no more joy stones.  And then I was quiet.  They looked around.  I looked around.  “What do we do friends?”, I asked.  They looked around.  I looked around.  I asked again what we might do so that we could continue with joys and sorrows.  Then there was a mad rush as the children took all the joy and sorrow stones that we had used and put them back into the bowl.  “Hmmmm”, I said.  And then we continued.

For our story, I poured each child a small amount of water.  “Why do I only get that much”, a child complained.  I said, “Everyone gets a little water.  This is how much we have to share.  We want to make sure everyone can have some.  There is enough water for everyone as long as we share.  Do you remember what happened with our stones this morning.  There is enough for everyone if we take only what we need”.

Share is a word I don’t often use with pre-schoolers.  I have been trained by parent educators to use the words “take turns” when trying to negotiate toys and resources.  Share, in a child’s experience means they need to give up what they have; taking turns is a move toward some mutuality, autonomy and cooperation.  But I really think share here is appropriate.  We don’t want anyone to go without.  We want our whole circle to have enough stones to chose one joy or sorrow.  We want everyone to be included in our circle of community…to pour their contribution into the gathering bowl of our beloved community…to join their integrity, service and joy into a force that creates a new and more beautiful world for everyone.  In order to do this, we need to be aware of each other.  We need to receive what is enough and share the rest.  This is a lesson beyond the community of our church.  What do we have to share?  Who needs it?  How are we in community?  How are we all in this together so that the water rises for everyone?  I wonder.  This is the water of our community.

This is the Circle of our Community

This last week I taught my Spirit Play friends about the 7 Principles of Unitarian Universalism.  We have not used this lesson before when I have been teaching.  Church staff and I looked over the text and modified it slightly to match the  bedtime prayer that we have been teaching to the families in our community.  I started by telling the children that they might already know this lesson, even if they had never heard it before.  Sure enough as I made my way through the Principles, one child enthusiastically reported that he DID know this lesson already.

7 Principles Beads

7 Principles Beads

We went through them all at then end.  “Each person is important.  Be kind in all you do.  We’re free to learn together.  And search for what is true.  All people need a voice.  Build a fair and peaceful world.  We care for mother earth and all who call her home.”

My friend came up to me during our work time and smiled at me and sat close.  I told him that next time I did my bed time prayer, I would think about him doing the same bed time prayer and would remember that we are a community.  He looked at me for a moment and then checked in.  “But you won’t be at my house”, he said.  I told him that was true.  He would be at his house with his family and I would be at my house with my family, but we would be saying and doing the same thing as a part of our community.  I told him that my thoughts and my heart would be at his house and at my house at the same time.

This conversation was heartwarming to me.  The joy on this child’s face as he recognized the familiar words, the extra connection with me later in class, all of these things speak to belonging.  We belong to each other as we think about and try to act on the foundations of our faith community.  This is one of the sweet moments in teaching where I become inspired about the work that I am doing.  It’s not just that this child experienced his belonging, but that we created it together too.

For me, I also felt my belonging.  Some nights are so difficult when my own kids don’t want to do the prayers and don’t lend their full presence to our end of day ritual.  Sometimes it feels like I am doing this valuable work alone.  But I am not.  We are a community; each of us in our own houses.  We are a community that sends our hearts and thoughts out to each other.  We join this community and engage in ritual to connect all the parts of ourselves and to be connected to each other.  We say in the sanctuary that we hope our church will be “a place to find and keep your balance, a place where we are encouraged together to live loving lives of integrity, service and joy”.  I can’t think of a much better way to get centered and balanced than to remember that I belong.  I belong to myself as I seek more love and life on my own spiritual journey.  I belong to the relationships I serve, honor and engage in.  And I belong to the collective, the community which includes our church and the Mystery far beyond us.  This is the joy and the fruit of practice.