Be Like Trees

I live in a maple-pine ecosystem with many sugar maples, with maple syrup a popular product at the farmer’s markets.  This is an excerpt from a reflection on the wonder of maple trees.

Soak up the sun
Affirm life’s magicDSCN4690
Be graceful in the wind
Stand tall after a storm
Feel refreshed after it rains
Grow strong without notice
Be prepared for each season
Provide shelter to strangers
Hang tough through a cold spell
Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring
Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky
Be still long enough to
hear your own leaves rustling.
Karen I. Shragg
Scott Russell Sanders, an American essayist and naturalist, once wrote: “It occurs to me that meditation is an effort to become for a spell more like a tree, open to whatever arises, without judging, without remembering the past or anticipating the future, fully present in the moment. The taste of that stillness refreshes me.  When we surface from meditation, however, we are not turning from reality to illusion, as some spiritual traditions would have us believe; we are reclaiming the full powers of mind, renewed by our immersion in the realm of mountains and rivers, wind and breath.”

The full powers of mind.  This is one of the strengths of our faith as Unitarian Universalists. We come together seeking transcendence – and knowledge – in both science and spiritual traditions.  We become like trees and we learn from trees. Like Madonna, we know we live in a material world, so we seek to pay attention to the everyday, like a sugar maple in spring.  As UUs, we explore, celebrate, and struggle with that tension of living both on the earth and within the mystery. We follow Earth Scholar Thomas Berry, who said:  “The universe, the solar system, and the planet earth in themselves and in their evolutionary emergence constitute for the human community the primary revelation of that ultimate mystery whence all things emerge into being.” 

The earth and the mystery – the yin and yang that frame our faith – are intertwined.  We are grateful for both.

We are grateful for the wondrous presence of maple trees.

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.



Fire and Dreams

fire (Photo credit: matthewvenn)

Light.  Paper sparking into flame.  Every year at this time many Unitarian Universalist congregations hold a Fire Communion service.  Using the neo-pagan ritual of writing on paper, then burning the paper to release the words, UUs use the light of our chalice to help us move into the new year.  It’s a beautiful ceremony – using flash paper (available at magic stores) which bursts into flame and leaves no ash – the room is filled with brief explosions of light as each person steps forward to cast their paper into the flame. This service is typically held close to the new year and often focuses on letting go of past regrets and sorrows;  I prefer to look forward, to focus on hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. I see the fire service as marking the transition into the upcoming season of creativity and beginnings.

The following is an excerpt from a fire communion service I led a few years ago which focused on dreams. Continue reading

The Web of Connection

This is an excerpt from a recent sermon.

 I grew up in a Mississauga suburb during the seventies of star wars and disco dancing, learning the metric system on new blue rulers.
In Art class, we were taught rug hooking on cushion covers and macramé plant hangers.
In grade six we learned another great folk art – String Art.
You take a piece of wood, cover it in felt, and then hammer nails into it.
You then wind brightly coloured crochet thread around the nails weaving a pattern.  I used a grass green felt, then wound bright pink, yellow and orange thread – it was the seventies – around the nails to create a webbed circle with an empty centre.
The string art lived on a shelf in my bedroom for years as a bright and joyful weave of colour.

It is only now, with the string art itself long gone, that I realize that image – the webbed circle – has stayed with me,  evolving from a goofy grade six art project to a symbol of my religious orientation.

The web of connection is the way of the universe.
We are all connected.
The universe is an endless series of connections –all the elements of life in dynamic interplay.
Moons orbit planets, planets swirl madly around suns,
solar systems whirl into galaxies, and galaxies coalesce into groups.
It is all, we are all, in glorious motion.

As a family we like to camp.  When it gets very dark my son and I will head off to an open area.  Then we lie back and look up into the night sky covered in stars.  It is always so beautiful. It also reminds me of just how small I am.

I am small compared to our planet.
Our planet is small compared to the gas giant Jupiter.
Jupiter is small compared to our sun.
And our giant blazing sun is tiny compared to the Red Giants.

We are a speck on a speck on a speck of dust in comparison to the rest of the universe.
Looking into the starry night, looking out into the mysteries of the universe, I can feel we are tiny and insignificant.  It is awesome in the original sense of the word – inspiring awe and dread.
It is both terrific and terrible, humbling to be such a tiny little part of an immense whole.
And it is also wonderful.
To know that as small as we are, we are still part of the whole.
We belong to it deeply, dependently.
Not just as part of the web of ecology where we live.
We are part of all of it, earth, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe, the whole enchilada.
Almost all the atoms in our bodies were born in the heat of a star billions and billions of years before we were born.

The stars are our ancestors, the root of our family tree.
Stars as ancestors.  Imagine that.  Joni Mitchell was right,
we really are stardust.  We are stardust.
We are golden.  This is scientific knowledge.
This science doesn’t diminish the mystery and beauty of the world,
it deepens it.  My skin, my blood, my flesh, is made of atoms born 13 billion years ago.
So is yours.  We are, as astronomer Carl Sagan said, starstuff contemplating the stars.

We are all connected.  The universe is a web of connections.

Contemporary Unitarian Universalism attempts to live out that understanding of connection between all beings.



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.

Dirty Theology

Without dirt, without soil, without all that life in the soil, there would be no food, there would be no us. There would be no life as we know it if soil had not begun forming billions of years ago on our planet earth. We are utterly dependent on it, as are all living things.

Creation stories from many cultures tell of humans being carved from wood or shaped from seeds or being moulded out of cornmeal.  In some, people climb out of the depths of the earth. The first man in the bible was named Adam, which comes from the ancient Hebrew word adama, meaning “earth” or “soil”. Whatever the image, these stories all share a common truth: we are formed from earth.

We come from earth, and in the end, we return to it. Dirt is the ultimate matrix of life, so much so, that farmer Wes Jackson suggests that humans are really just a stopover between dirt and more dirt. Continue reading

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