All Summer is a Temple

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It has been a quiet peaceful summer, a respite before I begin a full time ministry in Mississauga.  Spending my days at home, for all the attention I have offered this small piece of the world, I still managed to miss so much of the abounding life that surrounds my home.  Mary Oliver says it best.

Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith

Every summer
I listen and look
under the sun’s brass and even
into the moonlight, but I can’t hear

anything, I can’t see anything —
not the pale roots digging down, nor the green stalks muscling up,
nor the leaves
deepening their damp pleats,

nor the tassels making,
nor the shucks, nor the cobs.
And still,
every day,

the leafy fields
grow taller and thicker —
green gowns lofting up in the night,
showered with silk.

And so, every summer,
I fail as a witness, seeing nothing —
I am deaf too
to the tick of the leaves,

the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet —
all of it
happening
beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.

And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body
is sure to be there.

Mary Oliver
From West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems.

Winter Thanks

This endless winter cold is making me very grateful for all the technology, food and activities that keep me warm. I am grudgingly grateful, but grateful none the less for our gas fireplace, electric stove, and lovely hot water. This poem sums it up.

Winter Thanks

by Marcus Jackson

To the furnace—tall, steel rectangle
containing a flawless flame.
To heat

gliding through ducts, our babies
asleep like bundled opal.
Praise

every furry grain of every
warm hour, praise each
deflection of frost,

praise the fluent veins, praise
the repair person, trudging
in a Carhartt coat

to dig for leaky lines, praise
the equator, where snow
is a stranger,

praise the eminent sun
for letting us orbs buzz around it
like younger brothers,

praise the shooter’s pistol
for silencing its fire by
reason of a chilly chamber

praise our ancestors who shuddered
through winters, bunched
on stark bunks,

praise the owed money
becoming postponed by a lender
who won’t wait

much longer in the icy wind,
praise the neon antifreeze
in our Chevrolet radiator,

and praise the kettle whistle,
imitating an important train,
delivering us

these steam-brimmed sips of tea.

“Winter Thanks” by Marcus Jackson, from Neighborhood Register. © Cavan Kerry Press, 2011.

Winter’s Harsh Beauty

For the UU Spiritual Practices blog I curate for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Durham, where I am the Consulting Minister, I spend some time each week reading and watching and listening to meditations. A few weeks ago, I found this magnificent video of an unusually cold winter in Holland filmed by Paul Klaver at a nature reserve. Death and life are present in the snowy landscape. In the midst of this brutal cold snap, this ode to winter’s strength makes me appreciate my warm house, but also reminds me that the bare bones of winter are strangely beautiful.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/81372566″>Winter</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/pklaver”>Paul Klaver</a> on.</p>

 

Winter solitude…

Waterloo, like much of southern Ontario, is grey, icy, and quiet after the big storm and power outages of the weekend. Here are some beautiful winter images for this moment after the storm.

Winter solitude–
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.
Basho

Caspar-David-Friedrich_Winter-Landscape

Winter Landscape by Casper David Friedrich

Midnight-Mass-Edward-Timothy-Hurley

Midnight Mass by Edward T. Hurley

Winter-bernie-fuchs-wolves

Winter wolves by Bernie Fuchs

Paintings found via Tor.com Picturing Winter

Death and Love and Candlelight

I’m thinking about death and dying this week as I plan for our Unitarian Universalist remembrance ritual this Sunday. Like many religions and cultures at this time of year, many UU congregations  take a moment of shared community to honour our dead. We bring photos to our common altar, tell a story or two, and light a candle in memory of those we have lost. There are many tears, but we are together, connected and caring for each other. For me it is one of the most meaningful services of the year, allowing people to name their losses in community, to speak of death freely.

So when legendary musician Lou Reed died this past week and his wife, brilliant multi-media artist Laurie Anderson wrote a wonderful tribute to him for their local newspaper East Hampton Star, which is making the internet rounds today, I was particularly struck by her words. Light and love are evident in Anderson’s note as she paints a picture of a good dying – leaving this world “happy and dazzled” by nature. There will always be pain in this world, but it is made bearable by the beauty.

To our neighbors:

What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.

Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people this is our spiritual home.

Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!

Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.

Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.

— Laurie Anderson
his loving wife and eternal friend

 

Honouring the Animals

The Makuna people are an indigenous people living within the borders of Columbia.  The Makuna maintain that humans, animals, plants, all of nature, are part of a great Oneness.  Our ancestors long ago, they say, were magical fish who came ashore along the rivers and became two-legged.  As these first land beings began to sing and conduct their lives, everything in the world began to be created: hills and forest; animal and bird people; insect and fish people.  But – here’s the twist – this creation process is still going on.

The world is still being created, right here, right now: our words and actions still determine the nature of the hills and forests, still help create, sustain – or destroy – the animal and bird people, the insect and fish people.

We share a spiritual essence, the Makuna say, with the swimming, flying, four-legged people and all the rest.  They also live in communities, have chiefs and shamans, dance houses and birth houses, songs and rites, even material possessions, as we do.  Think of ants, a bull cariboo, or a black raven, think of bird nests and whale songs, think of territories and prey.

According to the Makuna, our essential oneness with other species is a source of an enormous obligation.  We depend on insect, fish, animal and bird people to eat and live.  In return, the insect, fish, animal and bird people depend on us to spiritually enact, daily, the hidden oneness of all life.  Anytime humans eat, anytime humans gather, anytime we celebrate, we have an obligation to offer “spirit food” to all the other creatures, so that they may celebrate in their worlds.  And if we fail to make such offerings – if we do not spiritually share with other species – they die.  So say the Makuna.

Salmon NationHow do we offer “spirit food” to other creatures?  The native people on the west coast, who depended on the salmon for  so much, used to offer elaborate gifts, dances and feasts to honour the coming of the salmon.  On a rational level it  sounds rather foolish and unnecessary. Yet our industrial selves offered the salmon dams and destruction of most of their habitat.  Wild salmon are in danger. Perhaps we do need a change in attitude. Gifting and feasting and the awareness of our need for other species may keep us human people grounded and connected and careful.

We forget how spiritually alive and capable we are.  Reverence for life, for all the swimming, flying, and four legged people, is a good thing. We should be proud to honour the diversity of life that surrounds us, we should be bold in our appreciation of their great gifts.

What is a modern day spirit offering? Perhaps it is giving our money  to causes like endangered animals or the humane society or reducing meat consumption because of the suffering of factory animals, or the time we take to play with, and care for, our animal companions.  A spirit offering is giving something that we value  – our energy, our focus, our time – to another being or group of beings.

What can we do to recognize and honour the oneness of the world?  How can we turn towards creating a world that sustains and celebrates insect and fish people, animal and bird people?  How do we make spirit offerings part of our lives once more?

from a sermon first preached in 2006.

the way home is all downhill

I wrote this poem many years ago when, after having a rough few months, I found a good place for myself. The house where I was living was down a hill from the centre of town; biking home I knew when I was almost there as I could stop pedalling and glide easily down the hill. Walking, it doesn’t feel the same, but on a bike it is a lovely way to arrive home. The same is true of where I live now – at the convergence of two gentle downward slopes – and there is something about that easy, invitational last move towards home that is a true gift.

the way home is all downhill

your neighbour’s gift
+++ of cheerful bulging cucumbers
mail in the mailbox
+++ with your name on it
the stray cat
+++ swirled around your legs

these  make you stand in the living room and
+++ lose your mind
++++++ in ordinary delights

i am here    you think

and everybody knows

your laughter causes dust to rise up off the ficus
+++ and dance
++++++ in the encircling sun

Eating with Honour

photo from diabeticfoodie.com

photo from diabeticfoodie.com


We eat from the earth
We drink from the rain
We breathe from the air
We live in all things
All things live in us
We are grateful.

I love food. I am greedy for food. I am one of those people who live to eat, not just to live. I would be content to cook and eat and read books about food all day long.  But I find that when my family gets busier with work and school and activities, the quality of our food goes down. We cook quickly or not at all, buy more packaged food, eat more junk because we no longer have the time. Food loses its value so quickly. But I want more. I want to eat in knowledge and in gratitude. I want to eat with grace and honour. I want to eat according to the principles I agreed to when I became a Unitarian.

Our religion is a living religion – still developing our common connections. We do not share beliefs about divinity but principles about how we should be in the world – how we should be in relationship with other people and beings.  But principles are meaningless unless we express them in our daily lives. As James MacKinnon, author of the 100 Mile Diet, says, “When we act in ways that honour our principles we feel fulfillment and a sense of aliveness, of being true to ourselves”. I feel better when we cook from scratch and in season, not because the food tastes better – it doesn’t always as I’m not a great cook – but because I am connecting to my principles. I like knowing that my veggies are grown nearby – I like knowing the names of the farmers and the bakers and the shopkeepers. I want to be embedded – connected – to this place I call home.

As members of a living, growing, forming religion, we are called to pay attention. To pay attention to all that we do in our daily lives:  to keep our daily tasks in line with our principles, to keep ourselves connected to the larger whole by honouring that which we profess to believe. This can be hard to do with so much of our lives attached to computers and machines and meetings and stuff.  But every day we bring the world within us with the food we eat.  Food connects us – biologically, politically, emotionally and spiritually.

How do we eat?  How does what we eat reflect our Unitarian Universalist principles?  How about how we eat? If we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person and work for justice, equity and compassion in human relations, how can we eat tropical fruits when the farm workers are displaced peasants sick with pesticide exposure? If we respect the interdependent web of existence, how can we eat the misery of caged animals who live their lives standing in their own manure?

With unfortunate ease, of course.  Because we don’t see it.  We don’t live it. We get our bright and shiny food from our bright and shiny supermarkets. Not only do we not have to know, we can’t know. How can we possibly know what the cow’s name was? A single hamburger could be made from the meat of a thousand cows. How can we possibly know the name of the person who picked the apple on the other side of the world in New Zealand? It was probably a mechanical picker anyway.

We have to choose – choose to live our principles.

Good food is everywhere. We can make good food choices that honour the principles of our faith. Not necessarily every meal or every day – the time goes quickly. But we can make choices that connect our food lives to our spiritual lives. That brings us to a sense of aliveness and fulfillment by honouring the inherent worth of every person, by seeking justice in our global food system, by respecting the animals that we depend on.

Wendell Berry, the great essayist and farmer, notes that “To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation.  The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, destructively, it is a desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.”

Writer Gary Paul Nabhan says that “eating is perhaps the most direct way we acknowledge or deny the sacredness of the earth.”

Buy local, eat less meat, eat with gratitude. Any of these acts – and so many more – bring our principles to life. They help us remember that our culture, our community, our religion, is stronger and deeper than that of this fast food nation.  Let us let our principles guide our lives so that we may cherish all people and all beings.

 

Life is Water Dancing

Years ago I visited my cousin in Trewennack, Cornwall, England. She lived with her family in a farmhouse just beside a main road, but was otherwise surrounded by fields and cows. A couple of days into the visit she asked me to come with her so she could show me something. We waited for the cars to pass, scrambled over a fence, and trudged in knee high grass along the edge of a damp and muddy field.

I began to wonder what she wanted to show me. Surely it wasn’t the cows?

St. Justs, Cornwall © Copyright Chris Allen Creative Commons Licence

St. Just, Cornwall
© Copyright Chris Allen Creative Commons Licence

She walked around a small group of trees, scrambled down a bank,bent over and motioned me close.In the shadows of earth and trees was a small smooth stone enclosure, no more than five feet tall.Inside were two stone seats, across from one another. At the back was a spring, the water flowing out of the bank into a stone trench. My cousin had brought me to one of the ancient holy wells of Cornwall.

From the small stone seat, I could look out over the fields, a view, I think, not very much changed in a thousand years. The water, the stone, the grass, it all smelt fresh and tangy. It was a place of shelter and protection.

I wondered what it must have been like, living in a time when water was a gift from the ground,flowing freely. When it was carried in back breaking buckets from streams to homes,an endless, necessary, daily chore. With clean water available pretty much wherever and whenever we want it, it is easy to forget just how precious water must have been to those who had to work for a daily supply.

So precious, that the early Celtic culture of Cornwall,like other ancient cultures,expressed a deep reverence for water and its life giving properties. Water was seen as a powerful substance.The spring heads of Cornwall were venerated as places to come for blessings – or to ask for a curse on someone!

When Christianity arrived, the priests built little stone chapels or buildings around the spring heads,and insisted the blessings be asked of God instead. With that Christian transformation, the waters stayed protected over the centuries, allowing me a magical moment that day in Cornwall.

Whatever we may think of asking water, or water gods or God – for blessings – or curses – these traditions reflect a deep truth: water is a powerful substance. Life on earth would not exist had water not come into being billions of years ago. Our creation story begins in the distant oceans – our salty blood connects us to our ancient marine evolution. Water is truly the elixir of life.

We depend on the fresh water cycle of evaporation and precipitation. Water gives us body and substance – by weight we are more water than not. Water moves within our cells constantly, entering and leaving us, returning over and over to its on-going cycle. So much so that David Suzuki suggests that the whole enterprise of life might be seen simply as a vehicle for the transformation of water. Human beings, he says, might just be a way water molecules get to talk to each other (from The Sacred Balance).

Whether we are water talking or talking because of water, I don’t know. But I do know that the old religions acknowledged the vital value of water through rituals and myths. The springheads of Cornwall were kept clean and cared for because the Celtic and Christian traditions called for their protection.

Water is the source of life.

Our Unitarian Universalist water in-gathering ceremony echoes this deep knowledge. We share this whole and holy liquid to renew our community each September. May it help us remember our connections not just to one another but to all life on this wondrous planet.

Musings from the water in-gathering service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Durham.

Information about the ancient wells of Cornwall came from Terri Wilding’s blog, Myth & Moor.

Third Principle

I’ve been enjoying playing around with animoto.   The free version is limited, but it does give a taste of how simple it is to create good looking video.  This one is my favourite so far.

TheThird Principle.

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