Thursday, January 29, 2015

Weighed Down

As you might have noticed I have had a bit of writer's block lately when it comes to posting here. I have been searching for words and finally realized how weighed down I feel.  Some of this is winter which I have previously shared on this blog is the season I struggle with the most.  I hate being cold!  I also suffer from some Seasonal Affective Disorder so January and February are the hardest months - it is still pretty dark even though it is getting lighter, it is cold, and I have no desire to be outside.  Now I know for some of you winter is your favorite season - you love cold temps, snow and can't wait to get out into it.  Thank goodness because we need you!

So part of what I hate about winter is all the clothes I have to wear. Lately I have been feeling constantly cold so I am always wearing a couple of shirts, socks and slippers in the house.  In the evenings, my daughter and I lay cuddled up under a blanket on the couch. When I do have to leave the house, because you know I can't just take off for winter and stay inside all the time, I have to put on a coat and gloves.  I literally feel weighed down by all these layers.  When I spent my freshman year of college at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin I wore long underwear under all my clothes - it was awful!  Hated the feeling of pants under my jeans!  Now I am not a nudist or one to go parading around without clothes but I love wearing a short sleeved top with capris or a skirt with sandals - perfect!  Now an occasional sweater or long-sleeve shirt with jeans - ie fall weather - is great too but this whole winter thing with long pants, socks, boots, a shirt, a sweater and then coats and gloves to leave the house - Ugh!

Now you might say but Margaret there are plenty of places to live and you chose to live in a place with cold winters and occasional snow.  Yes that is true because I love to live in places with four distinct seasons. I know that we need the cold and barrenness of winter to give rise to the beauty of spring, the rest that winter gives the fields to give rise to the abundance of summer,and that it is the cold that causes the leaves to turn all those amazing colors. Without the winter, the cold,  the barrenness, the greyness of winter - there is no amazing spring, the witnessing of the coming back to life of flowers, return of birds and geese and the abundance of summer fruits and vegetables.  Winter is an essential element for the beauty of spring, summer and fall.  Might it be that in our lives as well we need periods of barrenness, of cold, to give birth to even more beauty and joy?

The weighing down of course is also metaphorical and doesn't require cold weather.  I often get weighed down by fear, worry, anxiety, sadness.  I am weighed down by the responsibilities of supporting my family and wanting to do my very best for them.  When I look around and see so many people struggling I feel the weight of a country and world that privileges some while harming others. As I have been working at Food Lion one of the biggest things I have learned is how many people are struggling financially.  There are so many people receiving Food assistance, WIC or just counting the pennies to see if they have enough to buy their groceries. On the one hand it has made me feel so much less alone and on the other hand the reality of income inequality is manifested to me every single shift I work.  It is easy for me to feel weighed down not only by my own struggles but the struggles of our country.  

Two repeating themes in Scripture bring me comfort and challenge - Do Not be Afraid and Come to me and I will give you rest.  Do not be afraid and yet I am afraid much of the time. Less afraid then I used to be or maybe just more practice moving through the fear and doing it anyway.  So many of us are in need of rest, to put down our burdens and the burdens of the world and just be.  One of my favorite pop songs at the moment is Ghost by Ella Henderson and the chorus is: "I keep going to the river to pray; 'Cause I need something that can wash all the pain; And at most I'm sleeping all these demons away; But your ghost, the ghost of you;It keeps me awake."  I feel this song as I sing along to it.  I long to go to the river and wash all the pain away, to sleep and put the demons to rest and yes there is a ghost or ghosts that keep me awake, reminding me of the pain.  I struggle to trust and let go that the Holy is there, that I don't have to do it alone, that I am not alone.  I struggle to let the river wash away the pain, to set down the burden.  I struggle to accept the things I cannot change as it says in the serenity prayer and to have the courage to change what I can.  

How many of us are pushed to our knees praying that our pain be washed away?  Are you praying your pain be washed away?  Have you been pushed to your knees with the weight of life?  Can you set your burdens down and trust in the words of Julian of Norwich "That all will be well, all manner of thing shall be well"?   What ghost or ghosts keep you awake?  What is weighing you down in this season?  What helps lift the burden?

I don't have any answers, other than to keep moving through. Singing songs like "Ghost" at the top of my lungs in the car; letting myself sink to my knees in prayer and trust that I am being heard and to remind myself over and over again, "You Are Not Alone."  Also to remember that the barrenness of winter gives rise to the warmth and beauty of spring so to hold on long enough to let the seeds break open and give birth to new life.

Blessed Be.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Happy 5th Anniversary Scattered Revelations

So January 25 marks the 5th Anniversary of this blog.  I started the blog as a way to write about the books I was reading and hold myself accountable to actually reading them.  Over the years I have written about my work, my search for vocation and career, my struggles with money, racism, classism, sexuality and spirituality.  I have shared my sermons here.

I have come to really love the practice of writing here. Sometimes I get stuck or run out of time like last week but the discipline of weekly writing has helped me to grow and evolve. I love that now I expand my writing to include a picture to go with my words - thanks Canva!  

I look forward to continue to share my journey here.  2015 will see another career move and another physical move.  I continue to read and will share what I am learning here.  I am taking another edX class - this one is the Ulab with Otto Scharmer from MIT.  I will say more about what I am learning and connecting with later.

Thanks for being on this journey with me!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Humanists and Spiritual Practice

I preached this sermon on Sunday January 11, 2015 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks.

Story:  "The Woodcarver" from The Way of Chuang Tzu
Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
of precious wood.  When it was finished,
All who saw it were astonished.  They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
“What is your secret?”

Khing replied: “I am only a workman:
I have no secret.  There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest,
After three days of fasting, I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.
“By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away,
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.
“Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt,
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
And begin.

“If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.
“What happened?
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits.”

excerpt from Let Your Voice Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer, pp.15-16
"Everything in the Universe has a nature, which means limits as well as potentials, a truth well known by people who work daily with the things of the world. Making pottery, for example, involves more than telling the clay what to become.  The clay presses back on the potter’s hands, telling her what it can and cannot do – and if she fails to listen, the outcome will be both frail and ungainly.  Engineering involves more than telling materials what they must do.  If the engineer does not honor the nature of the steel or the wood or the stone, his failure will go well beyond aesthetics: the bridge or the building will collapse and put human life in peril.

The human self also has a nature, limits as well as potentials. If you seek vocation without understanding the material you are working with, what you build with your life will be ungainly and may well put lives in peril, your own and some of those around you.  “Faking it” in the service of high values is not virtue and has nothing to do with vocation. It is an ignorant, sometimes arrogant, attempt to overrides one’s nature, and it will always fail.

Our deepest calling is to grow into our authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be.  As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks – we will also find our path of authentic service to the world.  True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Bucechner asserts when he defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

Sermon: Humanists and Spiritual Practices

As I was beginning to work on this sermon, I did something I often do, which is post on Facebook people’s ideas for Humanist Spiritual Practices.  One of the best responses I received came in the form of questions. The first question I got was what is humanism.  I realized that we often talk about humanism but we don’t often define it. 

So what exactly do we mean by humanism.  Humanism emerged in the early twentieth century.  The intention was to reformulate religion.  In the first Humanist Manifesto published in 1933, they write “The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs throughout the modern world. The time is past for mere revision of traditional attitudes. Science and economic change have disrupted the old beliefs. Religions the world over are under the necessity of coming to terms with new conditions created by a vastly increased knowledge and experience. In every field of human activity, the vital movement is now in the direction of a candid and explicit humanism. In order that religious humanism may be better understood we, the undersigned, desire to make certain affirmations which we believe the facts of our contemporary life demonstrate.”  They will go on to list fifteen affirmations about the nature of religious humanism and the value for human life. While they leave open the possibility of future discovery of the supernatural, they affirm trust in science and reason as the foundation of human flourishing.  

At its heart humanism affirms the goodness of humanity and the goodness of life.  Here is the final affirmation: We assert that humanism will: (a) affirm life rather than deny it; (b) seek to elicit the possibilities of life, not flee from them; and (c) endeavor to establish the conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not merely for the few. By this positive morale and intention humanism will be guided, and from this perspective and alignment the techniques and efforts of humanism will flow. So when we talk about spiritual practices for humanists, it would be those practices that affirm the goodness of human life; that connect a person with their authentic self – the self that longs to be the best human possible.  When we talk about a spiritual practice, we are talking about an activity – a practice that one engages in on a regular basis for the purpose of recognizing that we are not just ourselves, to explore beyond the realm of ego to connect with deepest held values, beauty, truth, connection with others and the earth.  It must be done regularly as just like exercise for the body and books for the brain, nurturing the spirit requires regular and sustained attention.

In our story this morning, the woodcarver engages in practices that allow him to set aside all ego and all concern or anticipation of success or failure. It is only then that his art can emerge from the deepest place within himself.  It was that deepest part of himself connecting with the beauty of the wood that created the bell stand.  It was only by letting go of ego, that the wood carver could create the beautiful bell stand that others saw as so beautiful it must have been created by spirits. The story demonstrates that when an artist connects with their deepest self, beauty can emerge but first the artist had to connect with that deepest truest sense of self.
As human beings we often spend much of our lives not being ourselves, we search long and hard to discover who we truly are and meant to be.  In the words of May Sarton “Now I become myself, It’s taken time, many years and places, I have been dissolved and shaken, worn other people’s faces…” So those practices that connect us with our own nature, with our gifts and limitations, are the spiritual practices that will connect with us our deepest selves.

Parker Palmer focuses much of his writing on becoming one’s authentic self. In this particular book, Parker shows that it is through discovering one’s true nature that one discovers their work in the world.  Parker in fact argues that not doing the work to discover one’s true self can do great damage to oneself and to others. We serve both ourselves and others best when we do so from a grounded knowledge of ourselves and our true nature. Then we can serve our highest values and meet the world’s great needs.  So what practices might best support this quest to become one’s authentic self? 

For some that might be walking on the beach and connecting with the beauty of nature, quieting the mind and allowing ourselves to connect in the moment. For some it might be sitting in silence, quieting the incessant to do lists, self-criticism and the other noise in our minds.  In getting quiet we can go deep within, listening for that inner voice, that authentic voice.
Most spiritual practices can be done with an intention that does not include belief in God.  So Yoga, meditation, reading and journaling are all practices that can connect an individual with the deepest parts of themselves as well as engagement with the world.

One of the affirmations of the manifesto is the flourishing of all of human life.  Humanism is not just concerned with the betterment of the individual but the betterment of all of humanity.  This concern is not driven by guilt or fear of punishment but rather a concern for humanity as a whole.  Humanism affirms cooperative effort for the betterment of all humanity.  So spiritual practice can include working for social justice causes; such as volunteering in the community, voter education, marches, participating in advocating for a better society.
Humanism affirms joy in human life, in the here and now.  Its focus is on the best of what life has to offer now – not waiting for an uncertain and unknowable after life.  It also does not limit that joy to a selfish quest for self-fulfillment but rather a better world for everyone.  The original manifesto affirmed that all institutions were to support human life.
So what is it that connects you with your deepest self?  Where do you find the places that allow you to get quiet and hear your own deepest self?  How do you bring your own authentic self to serving the world; to the flourishing of all of humanity? Is participation in this community of UUCOB one of your spiritual practices? Does it foster a connection with your deepest self as well as giving you ways to serve others?
At its best this community fosters connections between people but also within ourselves.  In coming together with others to listen and to sing, to hear a message, our minds and hearts are stretched.  Both Palmer and the Woodcarver story remind us that we must let go of our ego, let go of that false self in order to live authentically and with integrity.  Faith communities at our best help us to let go of ego. Faith communities also give us opportunities to serve others, to use our gifts in the service of others. They also give us opportunities to stretch and learn new skills.  Humanism was not a rejection of religion but rather a reimagining of religion as an institution that cultivates human flourishing. Spiritual practices for humanists are those practices, those disciplines that connect individuals with their deepest selves, with their true nature.  They also connect us to how our true selves, our true natures can serve the world.

It is in becoming our truest selves that we also connect with our deepest spiritual selves in whatever ways we understand the spiritual and spirituality.  So regardless of our beliefs, humanism teaches all of us that our best spiritual selves are also our best human selves.  Our early Unitarian ancestors, like William Ellery Channing and Theodore Parker affirmed that humanity is made in the image and likeness of God so in becoming our best selves we become the embodiment of our highest beliefs about the holy.  Humanism reminds all of us that it is only through our own experience, limited as it may be, to experience life and the fullness of it.  Humanism reminds us that the only life we can truly know is the one we have right here and now.  

Monday, January 5, 2015

Reflection on Another New Year

So I finally have a day to just stop!  I am not working either job today.  Right now at this moment, I am alone in the house with the cats enjoying the silence.  I have not had much time to do this lately. Working two jobs is not easy. I am very grateful to have work after not having had it for a long while. I am grateful that right now the two are working together pretty well.  Yet working this much does not leave a great deal of time for silence or reflection.

I am grateful today for sleeping in, a late yummy brunch and this precious time alone in the silence.  I am looking forward to cooking dinner for my family and then an evening of television.  I am spending some time thinking about what I hope 2015 will bring for me and my family.

First I am hoping to find one full-time job with benefits that really fits my skills and abilities! I would love to be working for a university or college doing interfaith work or service learning.  I would love to work in the field of interfaith dialogue and cooperation.  I want to use my teaching, facilitation and writing skills. I love working with people and I would love to be part of an organization again. I want to be part of a team.  Want to help and want to know more about my experience - check out my portfolio page and my resume.

Secondly while the Outer Banks is beautiful, I long to be back in a city.  Our whole family loves Richmond, VA and that is our first choice.  It would give us a historic, capital city to live in that holds a wonderful art museum, amazing historical sites to explore and a science museum. I am sure there is even more to discover and explore.  Plus great places to eat and it is affordable to live there.

For my family I want Donna to get the health care she needs including medicines and health care providers that listen to her and pay attention.  I want her to be able to have more good days, more time to focus on homeschooling, spiritual direction and her own writing.  For Mollie I want her to have as many opportunities as possible for learning and exploration. She wants to intern and babysit more. She also wants to play volleyball and continue horseback riding.  I want her to know that we are settled and not going anywhere so she can put down roots even as she explores this big world.

I am holding onto hope that this year will be a good one, with opportunity and transition. I know it all won't be easy - after all we will have to move again!  Yet we are starting the year with hope, two new fun four-pawed family members and the fact that I am working.  I worked on New Year's Day this year and I hope that is an omen of good things to come!

What are you hoping for in this new year of 2015?