Gratitude

If Not Church, Then Where?

Author: 
Kathleen McGregor

This is a sermon that I gave at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, Canoga Park, Los Angeles, California on August 13, 2017.

Thank you for inviting me to preach today. I am a great fan of Rev. Ann Hines, and I have so enjoyed getting to know Rev. Matthew this past year, We are fortunate to have another woke minister who is committed to social justice in Southern California. That is as much a reflection on this congregation, as on the man himself. I met a number of you at the District Assembly in Tucson and Nogales this year, and I expect a number of you are up at DeBenneville Pines this weekend for the Justice Camp.

When I guest preach, I tend to tackle the difficult topics that often are not spoken of in the pulpit. Today, I am going to address domestic, or intimate partner violence. It relates to the congregational community both as spiritual care issue, and an issue of participating in our larger world. Unitarian Universalists are terrific about wanting to fix our outside world, but for this sermon, we will look within. We will look at domestic violence, and signs to look for. We will look at the wider context of domestic violence in the political sphere, and how that affects us, and we will look at spiritual self care that will be useful to those of us who need it for ourselves and/or to support and sustain our community.

This past weekend has been a hellish example of violence getting out of hand, due in large part to abusive bullying language and actions becoming the norm. Oh, who am I kidding? This weekend it is racism and anti-semitism, but the underlying culture of supremacy, that is kyriarchy, patriarchy, Christian dominionism, a specific kind of white masculine pride of having to be one up and controlling another, are the roots which manifest in the smallest unit of society, a couple or family. I preached on this topic earlier this summer. The circumstances were different with the leader of our country was merely posting mysogynistic tweets about the female half of a news show couple. Words affect on the psyche. We are all surviving domestic style verbal abuse, at this point.

So, starting with some statistics, we'll start with these from the Centers for Disease Control enumerated a little more clearly in the Huffington Post:

  • 3; That is the number of women killed this week by a current or former intimate partner.
  • 18,000; The number of women who have been killed by men in domestic violence disputes since 2003.
  • 6488; That is the number of U.S. military troops killed from 2001 to 2012 in Afghanistan, and Iraq.
  • 1 in 4; The number of women who will be victims of severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. Not to leave out men,
  • 1 in 7; That is number of men who will be victims of severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.
  • 8 Million; The number of days of paid work women lose every year because of the abuse perpetrated against them by current or former male partners. This loss is equivalent to over 32,000 full-time jobs.
  • 50; The percentage of lesbian women who will experience domestic violence (not necessarily intimate partner violence) in their lifetimes.
  • 2.6 times; How much more likely a transgender person of color is to become a victim of intimate partner violence than a non-LGBT person.

Unfortunately, we are currently living in a society that is fighting to restore and enforce the binary between women and men. The prior statistics focused mostly on female victims, and rightly so. However, bathroom laws aside, no where is attempt of erasure of gender queer people more apparent than the murder of transwomen and transmen. The number killed in 2016? Twenty three were killed last year, the most EVER recorded. The youngest this year, Ava Le'Ray Barrin, 17, was shot and killed in Athens, Georgia on June 25 during an altercation in an apartment parking lot. Human Rights Campaign reported,, "In an online obituary, friends remembered Barrin as a 'social butterfly' and an "amazing girl" who 'loved to make people laugh.' Last year, nearly two per month were murdered. Sadly, 2017 has already seen at least 16 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means and we are on track to equal or raise last year' number in 2017. Once again, we need to acknowledge race. Every single transperson murdered this year was black, with one exception. She was Native American.

Even after high profile instances of domestic abuse has been witnessed in the media, intimate partner violence continues to be a taboo topic. Professional athletes continue with impunity after public abuse of their intimate or former intimate partners. Once the survivor manages to extricate themselves from the relationship, they enter the most dangerous time in the relationship. Not only are they at risk of being murdered, according to Liz Roberts, the chief program officer at Safe Horizons, "even after a survivor has removed [themself] from their abusive relationship and gotten [the] kids to safety, [they]may be met with hostility and mistrust from the children [they've] been working so hard to protect. . . . Kids sometimes play into the victim-blaming that they learned from the abusive parent who was left behind."

Roberts explains further:

Abusers typically actively undermine the children’s respect for and confidence for the adult victim,” Roberts said. “They’ll say things like, ‘It’s your mommy’s fault that this happened’ or ‘Your mommy is stupid, that’s why she did that.’ Or the children will overhear the put downs directed at the adult victim herself.” Plus, "Victims of intimate partner violence typically face high levels of stress, which can exacerbate any chronic health conditions they may have already had. After they separate from their abusive partner, they remain at risk for mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In addition to physical violence, here is financial abuse, which is using money to control. Indeed, control a huge part of psychological abuse. I have a list of twenty one warning signs of an emotionally abusive relationship. See if any of these sound familiar. Here is a sampling:

1. Humiliating or embarrassing you.
2. Constant put-downs.
3. Hypercriticism.
4. Refusing to communicate.
5. Ignoring or excluding you.
6. Extramarital affairs.
7. Provocative behavior with opposite sex.
8. Use of sarcasm and unpleasant tone of voice.
9. Unreasonable jealousy.
10. Extreme moodiness.
11. Mean jokes or constantly making fun of you.
12. Domination and control.
13. Making everything your fault.

Is any of this beginning to sound familiar yet? Currently, it feels as if the American public is being held against its will in an abusive relationship. There is this gigantic game of chicken that our leader is gambling our lives by playing with a tiny, admittedly hostile at best, country who does have nuclear technology. Bullying, much? Then, the hateful rhetoric, false equivalencies, and isms of members that have been installed in the administration, have emboldened the angry white men, who at one time had enough shame to wear sheets, to bully those who do not fit that categorizations. The bullying that began during the primaries has ratcheted up, up, up. Now that they are empowered, there is no need for sheets. (Update: 8/14/17, I learned that covering ones face in public is against the law in Virginia, with the exception of Halloween).

Keeping up with the news, I am feeling battered day in and out. This is why I am choosing to focus on self-care and our congregational community. After admittedly relying on the comfort foods method of coping after the election, I'm going to share other methods that are so much more helpful. Contemplative practices are what that I focused on in seminary. Contemplative practices is a blanket term to encompass praying, meditating, keeping one's focus on the immediate present, and task at hand, another form of meditation, which is lately called mindfulness. When I started seminary a number of years ago, I would download pages off the internet, to color and offer fellow students to color as we learned. Now, you cannot leave a check stand without having seen a coloring book. I saw one at the hardware store in Glendale, last weekend.

I learned about, and then taught a Unitarian Universalist form of prayer beads. Having grown up with the rosary, it was natural to look for some equivalent that was not loaded with the baggage I had imbued my early faith. My classmates and I would make stations where our fellow stressed out students could color, draw, sculpt or make prayer beads. We had a drumming group, and because Claremont is a Methodist Seminary, we learned the prayer practices of the early Desert Father Christians, and many other Christian prayer practices that can be adapted, as necessary, to the pluralism that flourishes within Unitarian Universalism.

There is a wonderful book by Rev. Erik Wikstrom, who is a UU minister back east called Simply Pray. This was the most life-giving book through the stressful times that followed during my second year. While he did outline a UU prayer practice, he also suggested rewriting prayers to make them more familiar and beloved. He rewrote the twenty-third psalm substituting dog metaphors for the pastoral imagery of that psalm. That one prayer was worth the price of the book. After all these years, I recently used the structure of the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, to write the prayer in the Zen Buddhist language of Thich Nhat Hanh. That felt good. One of the simplest meditative practices that I use is to make a gratitude list in my head, in alphabetical order. I'm grateful for asparagus, and brussel sprouts, and my cat Chuy, and my dog Celie and electricity, and fiber optic networks... If I really cannot sleep after going through the list twice, I start backwards with "Z." My mind is so focused on finding a word that begins with a particular letter, that there is no room to worry about anything else. I've yet to get through the alphabet backwards.

I am a great admirer of another minister back east, Naomi King. She has a wonderful online ministry of prayers, chalice lightings, chalice closings, and blog posts giving inspiration on Twitter, as @revnaomi, Tumblr, and Facebook. She wrote a blog post recently, that I shared with the other congregation. In it she addressed coping in the fraught world that we find ourselves in. Before I share that, her twitter posts from her account @revnaomi yesterday, 8/12/17, read thus:

  • Love gather us in our grief. Help us hold fast to supporting equality & inclusion. #defendcville #prayer
  • #Love unite us in stopping hate with compassion, care, & hope. #prayer
  • Breath of Being call us into this life of courage, faithful risk, & generous joy. #chaliceout #uu

(Silence, 3 beats)
So, as a UU nerd that one inevitably turns into when pursuing ministry, Rev. Naomi ministers to those tender places that I will admit that I hide while being in a congregation. As a ministerial candidate there is a required distance, but we UU's, in general, do spend a lot of time in our heads rather than our hearts. In these trying times, we must challenge ourselves to make it a both/and, rather than an either/or.

In her blog post called 3 Spiritual Practices for the Long Haul, Rev. Naomi challenges us first to allow ouselved to grieve. Let us acknowledge and mourn for the injustices that grow day after day. Only then can we have compassion. Some days, compassion has been a big challenge for me, probably because I have not allowed myselt to grieve as much as I could. When I am lacking compassion, I do use a Buddhist prayer(practice) for each person to be happy, healthy and free. One must include oneself, which can often be the hardest part. This practice is called metta in the Buddhist tradition.

Next, Rev. Naomi challenges us to practice gratitude. I already gave you the alphabetical practice, but writing down what I am grateful for makes a growing list of the things that have the potential to make me happy in the moment. I cherish the list, and those stolen moments of happiness. I would be of no use, or really help, to others if I was angry all of the time. Another practice is the Ignatian Examen, a Christian practice, in which, one thinks of what one is most grateful for and least grateful for at the end of the day. It is great to do in the family or with a partner. What you are least grateful for will at least give you something to sleep on, or work on the next day. If you want to make your gratitude practice even more spiritual, just light a candle, and be fully present.

Last, Rev. Naomi challenges us to "live with reverence and awe." Back to those tiny moments of happiness: my particular moments inevitably come in nature. Fluffy clouds, a wild animal, trees, I'm a tree hugger literally and figuratively, plants, happy children, beloved pets; All of these are gifts that can heighten our spirituality, and make us aware that we are part of the interconnected whole, the web of life of our seventh principle.

As a part of the interconnected whole, we are part of an association of Unitarian Universalist Congregations. If not at church, where can we discuss the tough topics, like domestic violence, racism, homophobia, islamophobia and anti-semitism? If not at church, where can we build a community that is accountable beyond our family of origin, or our chosen family? If not at church, where can we tend to our spirit, as we face yet another justice issue, and keep faith in humanity? One of my favorite ministers preached that Unitarian Universalism is where we practice right relationship, allowing us to further offer those skills to the rest of the world.

Finally, I'd like to close with a short reading from one of our Unitarian Universalist Minister/Professors, Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison Reed. He writes:

The central task of the religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind each to all. There is a connectedness, a relationship discovered amid the particulars of our own lives and the lives of others. Once felt, it inspires us to act for justice.

It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community. The religious community is essential, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen, and our strength too limited to do all that must be done. Together, our vision widens and our strength is renewed.

Thank You Body

Being religiously savvy Unitarian Universalists, most of you probably know that one of the core teachings of Buddhism is impermanence. All things are conditional and thus all things change. For example, people get older. When you're a kid this seems like a good thing. As an adult, not so much. (Young adults may not yet relate to this, but trust me, it's coming.) You probably also know that Buddhism teaches that attachment, or grasping - for example, not wanting things to change even tho all things change - is the cause of dukkha, the Sanskrit word that gets translated into English as suffering, or dissatisfaction.

Knowing this, I try to not be attached. I try to accept that everything changes, including us. People are born. People die. And those of us in between those two events, grow older with every day. So it is partly due to age (and partly due to inactivity) that my joints are far less flexible than they used to be. I’ve suffered frozen shoulder on both sides, limiting their range of motion, and my knees ache if I sit in half-lotus position (forget full-lotus). My eyes don't focus quite as well as they used to. I accept getting older with the intellectual understanding that aging is inevitable, unless you're dead, and thus there is no point in lamenting the changes that come with it. But while stoic acceptance of aging may mitigate dukkha, suffering, dissatisfaction, I can't say as there was any joy in that approach.

Back in February I took a day-long workshop at East Bay Meditation Center or EBMC, in Oakland. I really did not know what to expect from the class other than I admire one of the two teachers and wanted to learn from him. And he did not disappoint. But it was the other teacher, whom I did not know, whose wisdom that day was transformative.

One of EBMC's core teachings is to embody the Dharma. Literally. Reminding us that we are embodied beings. So I was not surprised when this other teacher started leading us in movement meditation. But I was a bit apprehensive about whether my body would be able move as requested.

I needn’t have worried. Using language that acknowledged our various degrees of mobility in the room, she guided us to stretch and bend, so far as we were able to, emphasizing that whatever we did was enough, asking us to be gentle with ourselves. She encouraged us to focus not on what our bodies could not do but instead on what they could and did do. And that for me caused a profound shift. I realized that, without being consciously aware of it, I’d been thinking of my body as like a machine that my mind rides around in, and machines break over time. But that way of thinking only looks at change in terms of loss, and the best you can do is to accept it. Instead, our teacher reminded us that whoever we are is in large part due to our bodies, however they are. We are continually becoming something new together.  AND, she reminded us of the things our bodies do for us that we usually take for granted.

Our hearts beat without us having to ask.
Our lungs breathe without us having to tell them to.
Stomach digests.
Liver filters.
Our bodies – right down to the individual cells - provide for us without our even thinking about it.

By the end of the meditation, I felt well-cared for, loved, and was overflowing with gratitude. For this body, my body. Instead of stoic acceptance of what it/i could no longer do, I felt JOY, in breathing, in moving, in being alive.

So.... we can't do moving meditation here, but I invite you to repeat these words in your minds:
Thank you heart, for faithfully pumping blood to every part of my body to nourish my cells.
Thank you lungs, for steadfastly drawing in life-giving oxygen and pushing out CO2.
Thank you marrow of my bones, for making the blood cells that protect me from infections and injuries.
Thank you muscles, for flexing and extending to the extent that you are able.
Thank you body.
Thank you. Thank you.

Gift

Author: 
Czeslaw Milosz

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early. I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Air Appreciation

Author: 
Kat Liu

These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.  This exersize is best performed outdoors.

 

When I breathe in,
I breathe in peace.
When I breathe out,
I breathe out love.

- Sarah Dan Jones

 

Take a deep breath, slowly counting to three.  Feel your diaphram expanding.

Hold it.

Exhale slowly counting to three.  Feel your chest settling back.

Take a deep breath, slowly.  Feel the oxygen rushing in to feed your cells.

Exhale slowly counting to three.  Feel the carbon dioxide leaving with the air in your lungs.

Breath purifies.

Take a deep breath, slowly. Feel refreshed, new energy.

Exhale slowly counting to three.  Feel your body relaxing, any tensions leaving with the air in your lungs.

 

 

Clean air is a precious gift.  Clean air is life.  Give thanks for clean air if you have it (and even if you don't) and think about how to make sure everyone can breathe free.

Food Appreciation

Author: 
Kat Liu

These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.

 

The seed and root beneath the Earth,
the willful, growing shoot…
the hopeful bud then flowering blossom
turned to glowing fruit.
We thank those who grew this food
from little bursting seeds,
We thank our Mother Earth,
whose gifts fulfill our needs.

- Adapted from Anonymous

 

Next, take a moment to appreciate the food. Where has it come from? What country? Was it grown or was it manufactured? Try to imagine the different ingredients in their natural growing environment and even the types of people who would have been looking after the crops or animals.

take a moment to appreciate the fact that you actually have food on your plate.

with your hands, notice the texture as you pick it up, the temperature, and perhaps the color(s). If you're eating from a plate with a knife and fork, notice instead the texture and temperature of the cutlery as you move it toward the food, but still take the time to notice the colors on the plate.

As you move the food toward your mouth, shift the focus away from the hands and more toward the eyes, nose and mouth. How does the food smell? What does it look like up close? And, as you put it in your mouth, what is the taste, the texture, the temperature?

take the time to chew the food fully. Not only is this a healthier way of eating, but it will allow you the time to taste and appreciate all the different flavors.

bite into the food and chew, trying to omit any automatic movements. When chewing, know you are chewing.Swallow after the food has been thoroughly chewed, probably twenty or thirty times (don't bother counting; it's not a quiz). See if the flavor changes -- some food really only comes alive after ten or more chews; some disappears. Finally, when you do swallow, see how far down your esophagus you can still feel the food.

Imagine the water trickling into your stomach, and from there moving to every other part of your body.  Into your limbs.  Seeping into every cell.

Drink another mouthful, mindfully.

Think back to a time when you were really hot and thirsty.  Remember how good it felt when you finally drank liquid.
(If doing this with a family or group, encourage participants to briefly share their memories.)

 

consider for a moment all of the people involved in bringing this food to you. Farmers, truck drivers, factory workers, storekeepers -- there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose labor created the simple occasion of this food arriving in this moment. Take a moment to consider them; imagine what they look like, how hard they are working to support themselves and their families, the economic system that creates the conditions for their labor.

 

4. And, on the level of the soul, consider all the conditions necessary to have created this food. The four elements of fire (sun), water, Earth, and air; the genetic information in the plants (or animals), which I see as part of the Divine wisdom (chochmah). Consider, in Thich Nhat Hanh's words, all of the aspects of the universe which "inter-are" with this food. You are holding a small storehouse of the sun's energy, and water from a cloud.

.

Water Appreciation

Author: 
Kat Liu

These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.

 

Water flows from high in the mountains.
Water runs deep in the Earth.
Miraculously, water comes to us,
and sustains us all.

- Thich Nhat Hahn

 

Pour yourself a glass of water.
(If doing this with a family or group, use a pitcher to pour each person a glass of water.)

Look at the glass of water.  Hold it up to the light.  See its clarity.

Sip a mouthful but do not swallow.  Feel the coolness roll over your tongue, the roof of your mouth, through your teeth.

Swallow.  Feel it moisten your throat as it goes down. 

Imagine the water trickling into your stomach, and from there moving to every other part of your body.  Into your limbs.  Seeping into every cell.  Bathing each cell with life.

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Think back to a time when you were really hot and thirsty.  Remember how good it felt when you finally got to drink.
(If doing this with a family or group, encourage participants to briefly share their memories.)

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Where did your water come from?  Did it come out of the tap?  Did you buy it in the store?  Did you get it out of a well?  Imagine what it would be like if you could not easily get water. 

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

As our climate changes, it becomes harder to get clean, drinkable water.  Some places have drought, which means there isn't enough water.  Other places have floods, which makes clean water dirty.

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Despite the increasing scarcity of clean water, some companies still gather up water in order to make money from it - they may bottle the water to sell, or use it to grow water-intensive crops to sell, or use it to force oil out of the ground to sell - and do not let the people who live nearby have clean water to drink.

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Water is a precious gift.  Water is life.  Give thanks for the water you have and think about how to make sure everyone has enough.

Penniless, not Destitute or Indigent

Being penniless has not been as bad as the nightmare my imagination conjured. I choose the word penniless over words like destitute, or indigent, because those two words also mean without resources. For years I volunteered and donated to the local homeless shelter knowing, "There but for the Grace of God."

The Affordable Care Act aka "Obamacare" is a godsend. This year it made me eligible for Medi-Cal, which had been limited to Social Security recipients, and children. Upon becoming eligible for Medi-Cal, Kaiser Permanente re-enrolled me  on the smallest of technicalities. I had Kaiser the first three weeks of 2012, which were my last three weeks of seminary. This enabled me to go to the doctor today to get prescriptions refilled, and while I was there, a flu shot. No charge. On the county insurance for the indigent, my prescriptions were no cost, but it took getting a lawyer to go after the homeowners insurance of where I fell to get the necessary care for my back and neck. Prior to the last year of seminary, the cost of COBRA plus medication was astronomical.

Although I loathe asking for help, my circumstances have forced me to ask, learn, and be subject to the capriciousness of public assistance. My second year of CalFresh, food stamps in the old parlance, started without interruption in spite of my turning in the wrong paperwork. The worker and I went back and forth until we realized that we were talking about two different packets. Food stamps are great, except any goods that are not food, are not eligible. Soap, shampoo, toilet paper, laundry detergent, pet food, and any other non-food items in the store are ineligible.

My post earlier this spring, touched on all of this. I overcame my shame and applied for cash aid this time last year. Through a clerical error, it was taken away early this year. I neglected to follow up that post, which detailed some of the trouble. The aid was reinstated in April. That lasted until the end of June. In July, a representative from another program that I had been  limbo for told me an answer would take two months. I was expecting an answer in September. I preached a few times for small stipends during the summer. Knowing the cash aid would have been stopped for earning the stipends anyway, I let it go. Either were to have held me through August, which they did.

September came and went. So, too, October. Mid-November brought the realization that taking the other program at its word, even with diligent follow-up, was not in my best interest. I returned to the county office to reapply for cash aid, only to learn that the reason it ended in June was another clerical error.  The past few months have been exceedingly difficult. If not for the graciousness of the woman who has allowed me to stay, things would be  much, much worse. Now that autumn, or winter, has finally arrived I am even more grateful.

In the days leading up to  Thanksgiving, I was struggling. I spent too much early in the month on groceries; I was going into yet another holiday season without enough to buy raw materials to make gifts in time; Here was another season of being unable to donate; Here was one more season of not supporting my faith community to which I'm still unable to drive. Nonetheless, Thanksgiving did remind to be grateful, despite indigenous history. My list of complaints is a list of first world problems. I have healthcare that includes mental health, a place to sleep, bathe, and keep my laundry clean and inside. I regularly have access to a car. I have food and clean water, not only to eat and drink, but a place to keep and prepare the food. I have good weather the vast majority of the time. I had a few weeks in July in which I did not worry about the future. I have a dog who thinks it's the best day ever every single time she returns from her walk to find me home. I have a neighbor who walks her daily and keeps her when I'm not there so that the dog does not have to be kenneled too much.

I have faith communities that regularly invite and/or welcome me to their midst: the Pasadena Mennonites, a supper club, a new Buddhist sangha, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, the newly interfaith Peace and Justice Academy. I am grateful for dear friends and my parents who have been generous and encouraging. Kimberly, too. Recently, I posted someone's meme with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It was the normal pyramid, but underneath, two new layers were added with a digital pen. The first meme added wi-fi. The humor was that it was under the very basic needs, implying that it was most important, the foundation. Next, someone added second layer below wi-fi. Bicycle became the foundation for the most basic need to be met. Therefore, in addition to the things I am grateful for listed above, I still have a bicycle and access to wi-fi. Life is, dare I say it, good.

It seems too much to ask, then, to stop being in limbo so that I can begin to move forward. I am going to house-sit over the holidays, but it is time to find another place to live. In the meantime, I take pleasure in the little things and stay focused and present each day. Most of all, I am not alone. I do have resources. My imagination conjured much worse. I am reminded of another quote I read often. "The misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never happen." -James Russell Lowell

Cultivate the Habit of Being Grateful

Author: 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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.

i thank You God for most this amazing day

i thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes (i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth day of life and love and wings:and of the gay great happening illimitably earth) how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any--lifted from the no of all nothing--human merely being doubt unimaginable You? (now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

- e e cummings

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