Starting Here

This week’s text for Lectio Divina is by American poet William Stafford (1914-1993). In reading this poem, remember to read slowly, reflect on the text, respond from your own experience, and contemplate any connections or insights that may arise.

Find a quiet space to practice, as lectio divina calls for careful attention to the text and your own response.  The detailed instructions are here.

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

William Stafford

Advertisements

Water is with us

This week, we are using water as a way to use and focus our attention on the world around us. Choosing a common event or experience as a trigger for our attention develops our ability to be present in the moment. It is a way to wake up our consciousness and sharpen our senses. This is a good spiritual practice for experiencing a sense of connection to the greater whole.

As we depend on water to nourish us, grow our food, clean our houses, and so much more, we meet water many times a day. Taking a shower, drinking from a water fountain, walking past a puddle, filling up the coffee pot are just a few examples. Using water as a trigger to awareness and presence offers an opportunity to slow down for a moment.

The directions are simple:  Pause, Notice, Open.  waterfountain

Pause:  When you use a water source, pause and breath slowly and deeply. Check in with yourself, stretch and relax. Shake out your body. Re-direct your thoughts to the present. How are you feeling? Take a few moments to sit with what ever emotion you might be experiencing.

Notice:  Come into awareness of the water. What are you using the water for? Where are you? What does the water sound like? Smell like? Taste like?  What is the temperature of the water? Thank the water for sustaining you (it may sound silly, but try it: gratitude is good for you!)

Open:  After focusing on yourself and the water, expand your attention. What else is around you? What is attracting your attention? Try to keep your eyes “soft”, don’t stare or focus too intently, let your eyes roam and gaze at what captures them. Open yourself to the environment surrounding you. Then take one more slow, deep breath and return to your activity.

Try it for a week:  Pause, Notice, Open every time you come into contact with water.

Water Awareness

This week we will focus on running water, developing sensory awareness as a spiritual practice. Sensory awareness or “reverential contemplation” is a Unitarian Universalist way to access our first and sixth sources. Reverential contemplation can lead us to experiences of mystery and wonder and help us connect to the rhythms of nature. Neo-pagans, taoists. naturalists and martial artists may also  develop their sensory awareness as part of their learning process. Through deep breathing, grounding the self, and paying attention, we can increase our connection to the world around us, reminding us we are part of a “great conversation” among all life on earth.

Flowing Water

Find a source of running water, seek out a trickling stream or rushing river or go sit by Lake Ontario. If you can’t get outside, use a water fountain (I found one at a second hand store for a few dollars), or stand by the sink as you are filling it to do the dishes.

Breathe deeply. Feel your feet firmly, yet loosely, planted on the ground. Let your worries and stresses sink down into your feet and into the ground. Listen to the sounds of life around you. Breathe deeply.

Focus your eyes and ears on the water. Watch its movement and form. Notice the shapes and patterns that it makes, where it runs fast and where it slows down. Look at how it pools and puddles. Breathe in. What does the water smell like?

If outside, notice the way the patterns of movement form and reflect the shapes the land. The visible motion is only the surface layer, there is more complex motion below.  What can the surface tell you about the depths? Notice how the light plays off the water, changing as the water changes.

If you are inside, be aware of the sounds the water makes at different depths, as it touches different materials like metal or ceramic. Change the pressure, notice what happens to the motion of water as the flow increases or decreases.

After five minutes, breathe deeply and look away from the water.  Take a minute to reflect on your experience of flowing water.

Water in Motion exercise adapted from Starhawk’s The Earth Path

20170316_105404

The Element of Water

Water is truly the elixir of life. Life on earth would not exist had water not come into being billions of years ago.  Our true creation story begins in the distant oceans – the source of all life arose from ancient deeps – our salty blood reminds us of our marine evolution. As Unitarian Universalists we honour this life force as an essential aspect of the interdependent web of life.

For UUs water represents the healing nature of our common life, the welcoming pool that accepts us all, as we are. Our water in-gathering ceremony reflects this symbolic understanding as we bring water from our summer experiences to blend into our water chalice on the Sunday after Labour Day.  As water is the focus of our “beginning again together” ritual, it feels right to use water as the theme to begin this year of spiritual practice.

This month we turn our awareness and attention towards water, grateful for its life creating properties. In paying attention to water, we remind ourselves of our deep connections to all life on earth.  We expand our awareness to the larger whole through the lens of water.  Water also connects us to the larger Unitarian Universalist community, reminding us of its support and care.

water chalice 2017

2017 water ceremony – our beautiful water chalice.

Water:  First Practice:  Joys and Sorrows

The sharing of joys and sorrows is, along with quiet meditation, one of the most common spiritual practices for UUs.  Most worship services include both in some form or another.  For many congregations, joys and sorrows are expressed through lighting candles.  Others use glass pebbles and water.  Spiritual Exploration groups often use a water chalice.  Each week when we gather, we take the time to place pebbles in our water chalice or light a candle, sharing the ups and downs of living.  As we drop in a stone, we know the ripples extend beyond ourselves, letting our joys increase and helping our sorrows to dissipate. This simple act reminds us that we are not alone, others have experienced the same losses and concerns, and that happiness returns in time.

This week, our spiritual practice is to simply take “joys and sorrows” into our homes as a reminder that we are part of this chalice community wherever we are.

Individual Practice

Fill a bowl with water.  Collect some pebbles, glass stones, buttons, or pennies and place beside the bowl.

Each day, take five minutes to sit with the water chalice. Take a minute to simply sit and be, looking at the water. As you look at the water, reflect on your day.  What are you struggling with?  What are you worried about?  What is hurting you? Pick up a pebble, name your struggle aloud. Release it into the water. Continue to sit looking into the water. What was the best part of your day?  Where did you find delight? Pick up a pebble, name your joy aloud.  Release it into the water.  Sit quietly as long as you need to. To end, you might wish to say “Living with joys and sorrows, I am whole and part of the whole.”

Couples or Families

For families or couples, practice this at bedtime or at the end of dinner, whenever you are all together and have a few minutes to focus. Gather the family around the water chalice. Begin with quiet, just looking at the water. Then ask each person to share something significant from their day. After everyone has spoken, or after each person speaks, you might say  “we listen in love”.  To end, you might say “Together we face our sorrows and celebrate our joys. Blessings on us all.”

Tips: If your children (or you!) have trouble settling, begin by ringing a bell or striking a chime or drum. Clear some space around the chalice so there are few visual distractions. Use words that work for you. What matters most is taking the time to sit, look at the water, and reflect on the ups and downs of the day.

Going Deeper: Spiritual Practices

20170908_110723

“Spirituality can… be defined as the art of being a part of something bigger than yourself.” Lupa

This year, as part of our mission to Deepen our Spirits, we are offering a new blog Going Deeper:  Spiritual Practices. Each month we will focus on a particular practice such as meditation or an element such as fire.

(It will be posted here temporarily, but will migrate to the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga website in a month or so).

Spiritual practices can help us learn this art- as Lupa says – of being part of the whole. Spiritual practices are ritualized acts intended to help you expand beyond yourself and experience the whole.  They are about sensing – however fleetingly – the totality of all that is, whether for you that is the universe or the divine.  It is about experiencing the connection between the self and the whole.

In the Unitarian Universalist understanding, spirit refer to the wholeness of the self – the sum of emotion, body, and mind which is more than its parts.  From the Latin spiritus, the word spirit is linked with air and breath: felt but not seen, intangible yet essential, ephemeral yet connects us to one another.  Spiritual practice develops our ability to experience the sense of belonging and wholeness that is at the root of our tradition.  It is not easy to experience this sense, and it is always brief, but regular practice helps create the pathways that bring us closer to the intangible. Regular practices help people become more resilient, experience comfort and peace, and cultivate new understandings.

Every Wednesday a new activity will be posted. We will experiment with activities from other world religions as well as some unique to Unitarian Universalism.  Each activity will only take from 5 to 15 minutes.  You can choose to do these practices daily for a week, or try it just once.  Some are to be done with the whole family, others are solitary.  If one resonates with you, repeat it.  This is the year to experiment to find a practice that works for you.  Try finding a regular time to practice, first thing in the morning or last thing at night, or perhaps after work as you transition into home life.

A Spiritual Journey

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.

Wendell Berry

A special thank you to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Durham, in Brooklin, Ontario, where this year of spiritual practices was originally created.

Water is Life

We are celebrating our Water Ceremony this Sunday at the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga. This annual in-gathering ritual begins our community year using the symbol of water. People bring water from their summer experiences and pour it into our communal bowl, honouring the community which brings us together, reminding us of our shared connections. Every day this week, I’ll post poems, stories and videos about the value and beauty of water.

While his description of humans as “blobs of water” is not poetic (!), David Suzuki in his book The Legacy of Nature reminds us of our deep ecological dependence on water.

“A visitor from another galaxy would surely call our planet Water, not Earth.  Seventy-one per cent of the planet’s surface is covered by oceans. If the globe were a perfectly smooth sphere, water would cover it to a depth of 2.7 kilometres. The air is filled with water vapour that condenses as clouds. Above the great Amazon rainforest, trees pull water from the ground and transpire it upward, where it flows in great rivers of vapour toward the Andes.

Every person in the world is at least 60 per cent water by weight. We are basically blobs of water with enough organic thickener mixed in to prevent us from dribbling away on the floor. The hydrologic cycle of evaporation, condensation, and rain ensures that water cartwheels around the planet. We are part of the hydrologic process. Every drink we take has water molecules that evaporated from the canopies of every forest in the world, from all the oceans and plains.” (pg.76)

We are water.

Salvation Not Required

Christianity is filled with beautiful metaphorical language which tells a story of sin, of salvation and redemption. The stories are powerful and continue to hold great meaning for many people. To be broken and forgiven, to be hopeless and be saved by God’s love is a message of hope. Salvation – to be saved from sin or from evil – is an essential concept for most Christians.

Unitarian Universalism has a complex relationship to the word salvation. The Universalist tradition originated out of the theology of universal salvation – that God so loved people that all people would be reunited with God in death. No one was condemned to the endless torments of hell. Many contemporary Universalists experience a sense of an all-loving God and see salvation as a path of love. It isn’t so much related to a sense of Jesus as saviour, but that people need saving from all the hells that exist on earth  – the hell of addiction, oppression, depression, and more. People aren’t saved by Jesus, but by love.

For me, even this sense of salvation simply doesn’t resonate. I see our tradition as oriented to the interdependence of life, to the awareness that we belong on this earth. We may make it hard for ourselves, we may not always feel at home here, but this is our place. Love can not, in truth, save people from addiction or oppression. Instead, we might work with people who are struggling, be witnesses, be caring and stand in solidarity with them.

Salvation just isn’t a word that helps tell the story of my Unitarian Universalism. This is part of the tension of contemporary Unitarian Universalism: as Thomas Berry says, “we are between stories.”  Christian words and stories continue to resonate for some Unitarian Universalists, but no longer work for many. We haven’t figured out what our overarching story is. I see glimpses of the meta-narrative, it involves the universe and reciprocity and choice, but it hasn’t yet come together clearly.

Photo by Ali Harrison

Photo by Ali Harrison

I don’t think there is an UU equivalent of salvation, I don’t think we need one. I know I am not a sinner. I am a messed up human being, but my brokenness is held by my wholeness. I am never not whole, even if I often lose sight of that wholeness. We are like mosaics – each minor part of us is imperfect, at times damaged or broken – but we always, always comes together into a beautiful whole.

The first principle of Unitarian Universalism is affirming “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” This translates into the concept of original blessing: we are not born fallen sinners but as holy and whole human beings. We are born human into the world to which we belong. We struggle to see our wholeness, but in the end, no salvation is required.

This Tuesday blog was a little late! Next Tuesday I will consider “connection”,  which is part of the new vocabulary of contemporary Unitarian Universalist theology.