School Prayer

the guardians. painting by ann altman. words by diane ackerman. from syracruse cultural

I love this poem “School Prayer” by Diane Ackerman. The second verse speaks to me of what it means to be a Unitarian minister.

In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.

In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,

I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.

From I Praise My Destroyer (Vintage Books, 2000)


The Ocean Refuses No River

This past Sunday was the Water Ingathering Ceremony, or water communion, for most Unitarian congregations in Canada.  Unitarian Universalists don’t have many rituals and I cherish the times when our services go beyond words to being.  The water ingathering, with people bringing water from their backyards and their trips around the world, is a welcoming way to begin the congregational year.  Each person pours their small cup of water into the great bowl of our common life so that it brims to overflowing with all the gifts we bring.  I love that fluid and flowing sense of return, of beginning again together in community.  I think of the folksong which points out that the ocean refuses no river, that we try to accept all people who seek to join our chalice community.  The offerings of everyone come together to create the whole; the whole that we depend on for sustenance.

The water ceremony is a relatively recent tradition, evolving from a ritual created by Carolyn McDade and Lucile Shuck Longview for the 1980 Women and Religion Conference in East Lansing, Michigan.  They wanted their service to speak to the worship needs of women, which some felt had not been widely included in UU life.  They wanted to focus on a sense of nature and of community. This “celebration of connectedness,” as McDade called it, was intended to empower women instead of offering the traditional religious notion that women should serve others. The water symbolized the birth waters, the cycles of moon, tides and women, and all the waters of this small blue planet.  Since 1980, the water communion, with evolving meaning, has become the fall welcoming ritual and spread across most North American congregations.  Most keep some water back from the ritual – well boiled – and use it to begin next year’s ritual.

Given that we Unitarians like to talk, I love the rituals that allow us to move, share and simply be together in moments that are beyond words.  This past Sunday I got to be at my home congregation for the first time in a few years, to share in the water ingathering.  Lively music, beautiful images, seeing old friends, it was good to be welcomed home.  I’ve had the image of a canoe in my head these last couple of weeks, as I paddle towards the final step in my ministry journey (the interview with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in Boston).  It’s good to know that even in stormy times, there is a safe harbour nearby.

communing with flowers

Danmala by Kathy Klein

In the spring most Unitarian Universalist congregations in Europe and North America (I don’t know about elsewhere) conduct a flower ceremony, also known as flower communion.  The ritual was created by Norbert Capek, a Unitarian minister in Prague in 1923, who wanted a ritual which would be inclusive of both Jewish and Christian alike.  Capek turned to the universal beauty of nature – asking the people to bring in local wildflowers, he blessed the overflowing vases of blooms, then invited each person to take a flower.  He asked people to remember that we are all brothers and sisters, all connected.  Truly, he said, we are all different, yet we are beautiful together.  We offer our chalice communities the gifts of our unique selves, and we receive the unique gifts of others.  The flower ceremony is a symbol of the value of diversity, the necessity and beauty of our differences that fit together to create a thriving system.  I love that the flowers also connect us to the land, as people bring the flowers of the season, from delicate buttercups to rich irises, reminding us of the riches of nature.

This year we were in Iowa at Easter and went to the local congregation where we had the pleasure of experiencing their annual flower ceremony – far earlier than it would be here in Canada.  At the end of May I helped lead the service at First Toronto, telling the story and framing the distribution.  This past weekend I could have made it to my third flower communion as here in Waterloo the service closes our congregational year.  Instead I choose homemade waffles and fresh strawberries on the patio, enjoying my first weekend off and home in months.  Flower communion is one of my favourite services, I love the exuberant, overflowing abundance of the flowers and the delightful chaos of everyone trying to pick a flower that speaks to them.

I didn’t get any photos of the flowers in service, but I found these amazing flower petal designs.  These danmala images, by artist Kathy Klein, are gifts to the world, created, photographed and left in place for someone to stumble upon.   Kathy says “The danmalas remind us all to listen to the unheard voice of nature, creation, and the eternal mystery”.

by Kathy Klein

Here Comes the Sun…

painting by Bernie Fuchs



I love the light and stillness in this brilliant painting, which so beautifully evokes summer sunshine.  Summer solstice, the longest day of the year is a good day to celebrate the gifts of sun and season. It’s a day of strawberries, blue sky, and shimmering heat, at least this year.

For Unitarians, I see the solstice days – the longest and shortest days of the year – as a good day to remember that we belong to this earth and this solar system.   The orbit of the earth around the sun is such that our northern hemisphere is angled towards the sun, giving us more of the sun’s rays, tomorrow our orbit will begin to shift slowly around.   Today we will have more than fifteen hours of sunlight: summer has now officially begun here in the northen hemisphere. Continue reading

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

The Flame Challenge

What is a flame?  When we light the chalice at the beginning of our service, what are we physically bringing into being to symbolize our spiritual orientation?  Can you explain it to an 11 year old?

The Centre for Communicating Science has a new challenge inspired by the always more awesome than awesome Alan Alda.   As an 11 year old, Alda asked his teacher “what is a flame?’ She replied “oxidation”, an answer that may be accurate but certainly did not provide illumination for the young Alda.  Alan Alda, who is not only a world class actor – the only man who ever made me want to vote for a Republican nominee – as well as a writer of humour, honesty and wisdom (Never Have Your Dog Stuffed); he is also a science geek.  Invited to be a guest editor of the journal Science, he offered up the flame challenge.  Describe what a flame is in a way that an 11 year old can appreciate and understand.  The goal is to acheive clarity and vividness.

This is a great contest for Unitarian Universalists.  Our key symbol, that which represents us most deeply, is the flaming chalice.  We are the people of the chalice; part of our orientation is to find spiritual nourishment in the wonder of scientific enquiry.  How do we understand what we are doing when we light the chalice?  How is the symbol related to the reality? How do we describe it to ourselves?  To people who ask us what the chalice is all about?  And can we explain the beauty of a flame without using jargon, but with scientific accuracy, in a way that will capture a kid’s imagination? Can we explain our chalice flame to an 11 year old?

The contest closes April 2nd.  I’m working on my entry….

The Golden Spiral

      The core of Unitarian Universalism is the concept that “everything is connected and part of the whole”.

  As UUs, we are individuals freely gathered in community to explore and celebrate the wonder of living on the earth and within the mystery.  We live within the mystery, the divine, the universe, the whole; we belong to it and participate in it.  Each of us is whole, just as we are, and we are always, intrinsically, part of the Whole.

Continue reading