Unitarian Universalism

Blessing of the Seeds

Author: 
Kat Liu
sprouting seeds, AndreusK via Getty Images

Introduction

There may or may not still be frost on the ground depending on where you live, but this is traditionally the time of year when we look forward to spring (hence the Groundhog Day ritual), and new beginnings. Chinese New Year is celebrated very near this time, where offerings are made to the gods for a prosperous year, including bountiful harvests.  In the Christian tradition of Candlemas, this is supposedly the day that Jesus was introduced at the Temple and such wisdom coming from someone so young impressed the old rabbis.  (In Catholic Ireland, this is the Feast of St. Brighid, a Gaelic fertility goddess.) Seeds planted at Tu B’Shevat become the "bitter herbs" eaten at Passover. In many agricultural cultures, this is the time when people start preparing for the spring planting.  The seeds of the past year and even agricultural tools are consecrated/blessed for the coming year. 


Personal

Depending on your culture, spring cleaning - a thorough cleaning of your home - would be done either before today or before the vernal equinox. 

If you are a gardener and depending on where you live, this may be the tme of year when you are starting your seeds - planting them in temporary small pots to let them sprout indoors before they are planted outside in the ground.  If you have a personal altar, do this in front of your altar.  But you need not have an altar to perform this simple ritual.  Light your chalice.  Take some a seed and some of the soil in a starter pot and hold them in your hands.

A seed is a new beginning.
A seed is new life from what has come before.
As I nurture and tend this seed in the coming seasons,
May it and all others reach their fullest potentials.

With that, plant the seed in the starter pot.  Now would be a good time to remind yourself of what you wish for the coming year (your resolutions from winter solstice).  If you are not a gardener and do not start seeds, you can still perform this ritual by lighting your chalice or a candle (remember Candlemas) and thinking of the seed figuratively.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring any seeds they may have saved from last year's harvest, labeled.  If they plan to exchange/share seeds afterwards, the seeds should be divvied up into small paper packets. (You might want to buy a few packets of seeds in case no one brings any.  Also bring some extra paper in which to fold seeds and a marking pen in case folks want to share and did not come prepared.)  Ask folks to place the seeds preferably below the icons of the ancestors but above the food.  (If that can't be done, then place them where it makes the most sense.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the blessing of the seeds.

Picking up and holding some of the seeds in your hand, say:

These seeds are a new beginning.
These seeds are new life from what has come before.
As we nurture and tend these seeds in the coming seasons,
May they and all others reach their fullest potentials.

After the ritual, people who have brought seeds can either retrieve them or exchange them with others who have brought seeds or give them away.  Now would be a good time to encourage folks who have been thinking of gardening to give it a go!  Let experienced garderners share tips over the communion meal.

Day of Resolutions

Introduction

Winter solstice is the shortest day/longest night of the year.  From this day forth until the summer solstice, light overtakes dark, the sun returns.  Hence, it is generally thought of as the beginning of the solar year.  The Jewish new year, while it occurs during a different season, is a time for atonement of past wrongs.  In the Chinese tradition, winter solstice is around when the Kitchen God ascends up to heaven to report the deeds of each family for the past year, for which an accounting must be made.  And of course there is the practice of New Years resolutions.  The word "resolution" means both the satisfactory end of a pre-existing condition and the firm determination to achieve a new one.  Winter solstice is also a time to celebrate as the sun and the light return.  The winter holidays are often marked by fire and light (Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule).


Personal

If at all possible, do not go into the new year with old wrongs that have not been made right.  Before the new year arrives, seek out those you have wronged, name the wrong, and apologize for it (but do not ask them to forgive you, as they may not be ready to do so).  Consider those who have wronged you, even if they have not apologized to you, and decide whether or not you can forgive them.  The fewer resentments you carry into the new year the lighter the load.  But it's ok if there are ones you of which you are not ready to let go.

Now think of the positive things you wish to accomplish this year.  The personal ritual is simple.  Light your chalice or candle. And say:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the nights are long, from this day on the light grows.
May my aspirations for the new year grow with it.

Hold in you mind what you wish to accomplish/grow for the coming year.  If you have several resolutions, feel free to light a candle for each one, naming them as you light them.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring a small candle and holder, one for each person participating.  Do not use tea lights as they will not work well during the transfer.  (You might want to have some extra candles on hand, perhaps available for a nominal fee, so that those who forget are not left out.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the following:

Communion leader (or someone else) says:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the nights are long, from this day on the light grows.
May our aspirations for the new year grow with it.

Have 2-4 people closest to the chalice (including yourself) light their candles from the chalice.  Have them light the candles of 2-4 people closest to them.  And so on, moving outwards. until every candle is lit.  As each person lights their candle and passes the flame to the next person, have them hold in their minds what they wish to accomplish/grow for the coming year.  If your congregation or group has a covenant or mission statement and it is not too long, now, while all the candles are lit, would be a good time to repeat and reaffirm the covenant/mission statement. If you do not have something specific to your congregation/group, then have the participants repeat the (adapted) words of John Murray:

Go out into the highways and byways of your land.
Give the people something of your new vision.
You may have but a small light, uncover it, let it shine.
Use it bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of people.
Give them not hell but hope and courage.
Do not push them deeper into their despair, but preach kindness and Love.

Let folks set their candles by where they will eat so that they light the communion meal.

Consecrating the Communion

Author: 
Kat Liu

Introduction:

Please don't let the word "communion" put you off.  I'm not proposing that we be serving the blood and body of Christ in our UU congregations.  (Tho obviously if your congregation wants to do that, that's fine too.)  I'm using the word "communion" because it has the same etymological root as to commune.  Or in community.  In other words, the ritual of communion serves to reinforce a sense of shared identity.  We repeat this ritual together, mindfully recognizing that by taking part we affirm ourselves as part of UU community with each other.

But how would UUs consecrate communion?  As congregationalists, we reject spiritual hierarchy.  Even if we have ministers, we don't think of them as being "more holy" or "closer to god(s)", and many of our congregations do not have ministers.  (And many UUs don't believe in god(s).)  Yet the act of consecration is important.  It's what separates communion from, well, just sharing food. 

The answer that I am proposing came from a combination of two things. The first is one of the few genuine rituals that we UUs have and practice, the laying on of hands when we're ordaining a new minister.  I was struck by the symbolism of the new minister standing in the center of their community, with everyone else laying their hand on the minister or on the person in front of them such that everyone is ultimately connected to the minister, conferring *their* blessing.  In UUism, the community blesses the minister, not the other way around.  Thus, our community can bless the communion too. The second is an ancient practice among many different cultures, the presenting of offerings to our ancestors (and/or gods).  In some cultures, everything that is eaten is first offered to the ancestors (and/or gods) and in other cultures this is only done on special occasions.  You might or might not believe that our ancestors are still with us - that is up to each person to interpret.  Regardless, the act of invoking our ancestors - both biological and spiritual - reminds us of who we are now and what we stand for. 


The Ritual:

The actual ritual is very simple.  Invite those participating to place icons representing the ancestor they've chosen to invite/acknowledge on the raised area of the communion table(s).  Also, to place the food they've brought for the communion meal on the table, in front of the ancestors. 

When the table(s) is ready, invite folks to gather round the table, leaving room for whoever is leading communion to move.  Those who are closest to the table each place one hand above or on the table; those behind them each place one hand on the person in front of them. The communion leader makes a plate of food, taking a sampling of what has been offered by the community.  Place the plate, now with food, back in its location, next to the cup of water and the receptacle.

The communion leader lights the chalice while saying:

We know that we are not self-sufficient.  This food that we eat, the clothes we wear, we owe to the work of others. 
We know that we are not self-actualized.  All of what we do, and fail to do, impacts those who come after us. 
We know that we are not self-made. All that we are, who we are, we owe to those who have come before us. 

Participants each murmur the names of the ancestors they brought with them today, as well as whomever else they wish to acknowledge.  (Participants can now remove their hands.)

[Insert seasonal ritual here, if any.]

The commuion leader then pours some of the libation (water) from the offering cup into the receptacle, while saying:

To our ancestors, of blood and of spirit, named and unnamed, we offer our thanks. 
May our gifts of these foods and dink be pleasing and nourishing. 
May our actions as we walk this world be worthy of your memory. 

Commence with the potlucking! (Leave the offering plate in place for the duration of the meal.)


Preparations:

You will need:

  • a communion table (or tables), large enough to hold icon representing the ancestors (and/or deities), plus the food and libations. 
  • a table cloth (or cloths) to make the communion table looke nice. 
  • boxes or something to raise the icons higher than the food.  If the table is against a wall, the raised area should be against the wall too, towards the back of the table, with the food placed at the front.  If the table is in the center of the room, then the raised area should be in the center of the table with the food placed at the edges. 
  • serving utensils
  • a plate and cup for the offering, and a receptacle (cup or bowl) into which to pour the libation.  These items should be placed on the table at the front of the center, easily accessible to whomever is leading communion.  Fill the cup with water but leave the plate empty until the ritual starts.
  • a chalice (don't forget the matches).

Ask participants to bring an icon representing one of their ancestors.  The ancestor can be biological or spiritual.  They could be a grandparent or a mentor who has since passed.  Or they could be a spiritual leader or deity of personal significance.  The icon can be a photo or some other memento that reminds/represents the ancestor.  This is one of the ways in which we're making room for expression of the diversity that is in our communities.  So (unless someone is bringing a picture of Hitler or the like) there should be no judgements as to who is a valid "ancestor."  The only restriction: do not bring photos or other representations of people who are still alive.

Also, ask participants to bring food for the potluck.  Ideally, the dish would be made with seasonally available ingredients and/or relevant to the culture from which the participant comes.  Here again, is an opportunity for expression of the diversity that exists within our communities. 

Ask participants to bring their own reusable cups, plates, and cutlery.  Reuseable plastic dishes are lightweight and can be used in subsequent communions. I know that this is a tall order to ask of folks, both to buy these items and remember to bring them.  But we are making a commitment as a people towards more sustainable practices.  Invite folks to think of these items as their communion plates, cups, etc.

You should also have extra plates, cups, cutlery on hand for folks who forget to bring their own, as we don't want to bar folks from participating simply because they forgot.  However, some kind of nominal fee should be charged as an incentive to remember to bring these items next time. 

Clean up should be relatively straight-forward if participants take their serving dishes and their personal communion dishes back home with them.  The food that was on the offering plate should be composted, if at all possible.

Blessing the Bills

Author: 
Rev. Meg Riley (excerpted from a longer sermon)


This used to be me, paying the bills. I would sit with my checkbook, pen clutched tightly in my hand, with the bills piled next to me. “Water and garbage: $50.00. What’s with that! That’s ridiculous! I hardly even have any garbage—why do they charge so much? Electricity: 78.00 SEVENTY EIGHT DOLLARS!!! What the heck!??!”

I resented the bills for existing! I sat watching my money disappear dollar by dollar, as if it was being siphoned away from me by a huge sucking vacuum cleaner, leaving me with very little to spend on things I actually WANTED to buy—plane tickets, good books, meals, trinkets. One day I complained to a friend about how my bills ate up all my money. I picked this particular friend because I knew she had even less money than I did, so I figured she would commiserate.

But to my surprise, when I described my experience, she said, “I used to feel that way too. Then I decided to bless the bills.”

BLESS THE BILLS?

Yes, she said. While she paid the heat bill, she thought with gratitude about how lucky she was to have a warm home, and how much she enjoyed coming in from the cold.

When she paid the phone bill, she remembered gratefully all the people with whom she connected on the telephone.

Rather than resentfully seeing her money slipping away into an abyss, she blessed it on its way, grateful that she was able to pay the bills.

This friend, as I said, made considerably less money than I did. She was actually struggling hard to make ends meet. But when I heard her describe the process with which she spent her dollars, and I compared it to the way I spent mine, I knew that, of the two of us, she was infinitely richer. I vowed then, some twenty years ago, to bless the bills. It is a practice I have used since, and it has gotten me through the toughest times.

Meditation on Energy

Author: 
Kat Liu

(This guided meditation was originally written for UUs observing Earth Hour, with the intent of adding a deeper, spiritual dimension to just turning off the lights for an hour.  It has been adapted here for Climate Justice Month.  In the U.S., nearly 50% of our electricity comes from burning coal.  That is why the meditation focuses on coal.)

 

We are the generation that stands
between the fires;
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
And from the burning of the Amazon forest;
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
the flame and the smoke that consume all Earth.

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
but the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different,
all of us bearing
One Spark.

- Rabbi Arthur Waskow

 

 

Turn on a light. 

Picture the light that you have just turned on.
Picture it connected via wiring to the other light bulbs, electrical outlets, appliances… in your home.

Follow the wiring out of your home, along the utility line, to the power lines outside.

Feel the energy that is flowing, coursing, towards your home and your light, available with the flick of a switch.
Follow the transmission lines as they run for miles.
Realize that not all of the energy traveling in those lines makes it to your home, some of it lost in friction… heat.

Follow the transmission lines…. all the way back to the power plant.

See the smoke pouring from the smokestacks.

See that the smoke consists of: carbon dioxide which causes global warming, sulfur dioxide which causes acid rain, nitrogen oxide, which causes smog, mercury, arsenic, and other poisonous metals.

See the water used to cool the power plant – thousands of gallons gushing by - heated by the burning coal and then dumped back into the water supply.

Feel how the water by the plant is warmer than water elsewhere.

Think about how that affects the plants and animals.

See the coal sludge – solid waste suspended in water to make a toxic slurry – stored precariously behind artificial dams.

Remember that these dams have broken, burying the neighboring communities in toxic sludge.

Picture people living near the power plant – who lives there? What is in their drinking water?

What is in their air? In the ground that children play on? Maybe it’s your children.

Picture the coal being delivered to the power plant. Where does it come from?

Follow the trail in your mind to Appalachia.

Picture entire mountain ranges removed in order to extract the low-grade coal below.

Picture the debris that had been mountaintops being dumped into nearby streams.

See the heavy metals and other poisons leaching out into the water supply.

See what happens when it rains and there is no top soil and vegetation to hold the water.

Hear the sound of the explosives used to blast off the mountain tops.

Picture people living here. What is in their drinking water? What is in their air? What would it be like to live there? Maybe you do live here.

Think about the coal within the mountain – how long it’s been sitting there, and how it came to be there.

Think of the plants and animals that lived 300 million years ago, their bodies first becoming peat, and then over the millennia turning to sedimentary rock… the coal that now powers your home.

Bring your mind back to where you are now.

Know that all that you have seen and more is connected to the energy that will power the lights when you flip the switch in the room where you are sitting now.

Energy extracted from what used to be the lifeblood of animals living 300 million years ago.

Energy extracted from and refined in the neighborhoods of other humans living now.

Precious energy.


Closing Reading:


I have come to terms with the future.
From this day onward I will walk easy on the earth.
Plant trees.
Live in harmony with all creatures, including my sisters and brothers.
I will restore the earth where I am.
Use no more of its resources than I need.
And listen, listen to what it is telling me.
(adapted from M.J. Slim Hooey’s prayer, p. 109 in Earth Prayers from Around the World)

Why I am no longer an Evangelical UU

I used to have a blog called ‘Confessions of an Evangelical UU.’  This was back in the early days of my “conversion” to UUism, when I was still enthralled with what I’d found and would talk to anyone about it. At a party on a Saturday night, there I’d be talking about my church.  Obviously, it wasn’t because I thought that people who aren’t UUs “need to be saved.” I was just so excited and happy to have found this faith. 

Two things happened to change my attitude about evangelizing UUsm.  The first is that someone actually decided to visit their local UU congregation because of me.  When faced with the reality that I could actually influence other people to join us, I then felt responsible for their UU experience.  I started to wonder what they’d find in the congregation(s) nearest them, and how much of what I loved about Unitarian Universalism might actually be more specific to my particular congregation than our religion as a whole.  (You can read about that experience here.)  At about the same time, I'd become increasingly aware of WASPy middle-to-upper class cultural biases within Unitarian Universalism, and that too made me wonder whether the folks I sent through our doors would find us to be welcoming to them.

The second reason why I stopped evangelizing UUism is because I realized that growing the roster of avowed Unitarian Universalists per se was not really my ultimate goal. What I ultimately want is to help build a world that is more kind, more just.  If you are a Christian or a Buddhist or a Pagan or a secular humanist and you share those values, then it doesn’t matter to me whether you wear the label of Unitarian Universalist or not. 

When I realized that I could no longer call myself evangelical, I stopped that blog.  And for reasons too long to go into here, I never really started another one, until now.  But I am still a UU – having flirted (not very seriously) with the idea of leaving for various other traditions from the UCC, to (progressive) Catholicism, to Pure Land or Ch’an Buddhism, I still remain a UU.  What initially convinced me to join, was the invitation that UUism offers to help co-create our shared faith.  Unlike some (not all) other traditions where if you don’t agree with something you just have to suck it up and change yourself to fit the religion, here in Unitarian Universalism we have both the freedom and the responsibility to share our lived experiences to help shape a more just and inclusive faith.  So my more modest goal now, instead of evangelizing UUism to the world, is to help create a faith community where all souls will indeed feel welcome (while still promoting our shared values of justice and compassion in the world). This new blog, and this new website, are part of my attempt to do that.

Seasonal Calendar

The purpose of this proposed calendar is to help draw us closer to the cycles of the earth, to remind us of our ties to the land, to each other, and to our ancestors. 

There are eight Observances corresponding to the begining/end and peak of the four seasons.  Holidays from other traditions that correspond either exactly or approximately to the season are listed in parentheses as reference.  All of the proposed rituals are drawn from something that already is done in one or more tradition.  Obviously, the cycles of planting and harvest will occur at different times depending on where you live. Thus, the dates given are meant to be a suggestion; you should feel free to adapt them as necessary based on your local needs.  Please provide suggestions in the wizdUUm discussion forums.


Winter Solstice

December 20-23
or June 19-23

The start another solar year is a time to take stock of the previous year and start the new one fresh.

Day of Resolutions

(See also: Yule, Dōngzhì, Christmas, Hanukkah)

End Winter/Begin Spring

February 2-4
or Aug 1-7

This is traditionally the time of year when we look forward to spring and anticipate the coming of new life.

Blessing of the Seeds

(See also: Imbolc, Lìchūn, Candlemas, Tu B’Shevat)

Spring Equinox

March 19-22
or Sept 21-24

Spring has sprung; flowers are in bloom, and life expresses itself in a diversity of ways.

Flower Communion

(See also: Ostara, Chūnfēn, Annunciation Day/Easter, Passover)

End Spring/Begin Summer

May 1-6
or Nov 1-7

At the end of spring/beginning of summer, a time to recognize and give thanks for newest members of the community.

Festival of the First Fruits

(See also: Beltaine, Lìxià, Walpurgis, Shavuot)

Summer Solstice

June 19-23
or Dec 20-23

At the half way mark of the solar year, when the light is brightest, a time to reflect on how things are going.

Day of Reflections

(See also: Litha, Xiàzhì, St. John's Feast, Fast of Tammuz)

End Summer/Begin Autumn

August 1-7
or Feb 2-4

The beginning of the harvest season, the work of spring and summer beginning to pay off.

Blessing of the Loaves

(See also: Lughnasadh, Lìqiū, Lammas)

Autumn Equinox

September 21-24
or Mar 19-22

At the fall equinox, daylight is receding and harvests are being brought in - it is a time of ingathering.

Water Communion

(See also: Mabon, Qiūfēn, Michaelmas, Rosh Hashanah)

End Autumn/Begin Winter

November 1-7
or May 1-6

As the harvest season comes to an end, it is a time of fruition and death - a time to think of those who have passed.

Festival of the Ancestors

(See also: Samhain, Lìdōng, Hallowmas, Day of the Dead, Sukkot)

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