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.


Is Time Wibbley Wobbley?

Fourth century Christian bishop Augustine wrote “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.”  Time is the kind of concept that makes my brain hurt if I really try to fully understand what it means.  Yet we live our lives so precisely by the counting of time; every appliance and gadget has a clock on it.  We always know what time it is, but do we know what time is?

Alan Alda, an actor and science fan, has a yearly challenge to scientists: to explain scientific concepts in a way that 11 year olds can understand.  After a panel of scientist.  s reviews the entries, eleven year olds across the United States choose the best answer.  Last year the Flame Challenge was to explain what a flame is; this year the question is “What is time?

I love this question and I think it is a great one for a Unitarian service or a religious education class.  What is time?  Is it the counting of the clock?  The linear passage of life through space?  How is time related to space?  Is it an arrow, moving straight from the past to the future or is it, as the Doctor says, more timey-wimey and wibbley wobbley – whatever that may mean?   What does time mean to Unitarian Universalists?  We tend towards a theological focus on the here and now, on being present in place.  We don’t argue for eternity.  So what does time to mean to us?   If we understood time better, would it help us  to be present in the now?  Exploring the concept of time seems like an illuminating opportunity, a way to make connections between science and wonder.

Time is a great mystery – worthy of our contemplation – even if we can never hope to fully understand it.   I’m looking forward to hearing from the scientists tough enough to try.



I’m switching the Monday Meditation to Friday and hope to blog earlier in the week – and more often – on aspects of Unitarian Universalism.



Religious Who?

I am a lifelong Doctor Who fan.  The Fourth Doctor was my doctor, with his explosive laugh and long, long scarf.  He was my moral compass, offering insightful commentary to the big questions of life and leading me to realize that moral decisions were not right and wrong but shaded in ambiguity.  He tried to make the best choice possible under the circumstances, knowing that even the best choices have negative consequences.  I can give the Doctor credit for asking the questions that set me on a long journey towards Unitarian ministry.  So when I saw the video above, suggesting that Doctor Who is a religion, I was intrigued. Continue reading

The Silence is All There Is

At a certain point you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world, now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world’s word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum in the silence…

The silence is all there is. It is the alpha and the omega. It is God’s brooding over the face of the waters; it is the blended note of the ten thousand things, the whine of wings. You take a step in the right direction to pray to this silence, and even to address the prayer to “World.” Distinctions blur. Quit your tents. Pray without ceasing.

Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk


I like the way this odd little video reminds us of how life and death are intertwined.

Every October many Unitarian Universalist congregations honour their lost loved ones with a Day of the Dead/Samhain/All Soul’s kind of service, it is a tender and beautiful moment of shared sorrow.  Yet I find spring, the season of new life, is often the one which reminds me of how close by death always is.  Perhaps it is the dead voles the cat leaves on the porch, or the smashed snails on the sidewalk, or simply the pace of change as flowers blossom and then fade away.

On grey, rainy days like today, I take comfort in the thought that life arises out of death.  UUs don’t have a common approach to death or the afterlife, being more concerned with life itself, but I personally find solace in accepting that death is a needed part of the cycle of life.  It doesn’t make the pain of loss less, but reminds me that death comes to all, that death opens the way to new life.

Letting the beautiful stuff out…

from Heath Ceramics

I was rich and I didn’t know it. We are all rich and ignore the buried fact of accumulated wisdom. So again and again my stories and my plays teach me, remind me, that I must never doubt myself, my gut, my ganglion, or my Ouija subconscious again.

From now on I hope always to stay alert, to educate myself as best I can. But lacking this, in future I will relaxedly turn back to my secret mind to see what it has observed when I thought I was sitting this one out.  We never sit anything out.

We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.   Continue reading

Becoming Animal, Being Human

I am late to the party as usual, but have just begun season 2 of Being Human (thanks Netflix), the U.K. television show about a vampire, werewolf and ghost sharing a house in Bristol.

At the same time, I am just beginning to read David Abram‘s Becoming Animal, a philosophical exploration of humans as two legged animals living in animate world, if only we open our senses.

Both explore the current western cultural transition towards understanding humans as creatures, although from very different directions. Abram embraces our creaturely nature, seeing it as font of wonder and wisdom, a way of knowing that is actively engaged

Continue reading

Hitched to the Universe

Astrophyscist Neil deGrasse Tyson‘s words frame this beautiful video meditation on how we are all connected.

One of the reasons being Unitarian makes my heart soar is our fifth source: reason.  The fifth source calls us “to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science”. This desire to approach the world with the full powers of our mind as well as our hearts and spirits, is the essence of living a life of integrity.

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The Smallest Thing

Sometimes it is the smallest thing that saves us: the weather growing cold, a child’s smile, and a cup of excellent coffee.” – Jonathan Carroll

One of the reasons I became a Unitarian Universalist is because it is a tradition that embraces living on the earth, that celebrates the here and now. Despite all the troubles in society, all the damage we have done, the earth, this life, is good and glorious. We are part of it, we belong to the web of all living beings.  And in difficult times, it is those small sparks of good, real, physical life that can save us.

This morning when I took my dog Tikko out into the backyard, a male cardinal was singing in our neighbour’s tree.  The air was crisp and cold, the sun already shining. The bird was high up, a little speck of red against the blue sky. His song a high trill, repeated over and over.

I am saved everyday by experiencing the gifts of this earth – the song of the cardinal – my dog rolling in the snow – blue sky.  What is saving you today?