Spirituality

Beatitudes and Black Lives Matter . . .

Union of Black Episcopalians Fourth Lenten Service

There is something about Episcopalian services, or black church, or good music. Once a decade or two I experience that je ne sais quoi that puts me over the edge. Perhaps it is just my own intensely spiritual experiences have been in the Catholic and Episcopal churches.

Sunday, I went to a Lenten service held by the Union of Black Episcopalians. This service was held in the late afternoon in Inglewood, CA, once morning duties had been completed. This was a gathering of black clergy and a black choir at one of my great favorite social justice priest and fellow alum, Francisco Garcia's, Holy Faith Church. The theme of this service was Beatitudes, #Blacklivesmatter, and the Jesus Movement. An intimate number of folks showed up to participate. There were enough though, that two Caribbean dignitaries slipped in in cognito enough to be acknowledged at the end of the service once their presence was realized.

The second hymn was Kumbya. I'm thinking okay, Kumbya. This is probably not going to be my campfire Kumbya. The rendition is incredible, and I'm good until the lyrics "somebody's in despair, somebody thinks that no one cares," and we repeat it and repeat it like in the YouTube link below. Not only did my neck hairs stand up, the star spangled banner can do that, but my hair stood on end, every last one on the top of my head. Unbidden tears just streamed tears down my face. The last time that happened as a spiritual experience was at All Saints Episcopal Church, sometime in the mid 1990s. (Tears streamed down my face as I walked to the communion rail at that church, more than once.)

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=S-a9Fk1PAu4

There are too many hurting out there. I have much brokenness inside that rarely gets activated at that deep spiritual level unless it is in a church space I feel safe in and the music is not from a short list of acceptable Protestant composers, arrangers, or songwriters. I was an Episcopalian for a few years before I decided they were not liberal enough, theologically or politically, and moved further left to Unitarian Universalism. That does not mean I do not love still the churches and services. At the time, my heart and mind wrestled weekly with the Nicene Creed in the service. There is something to worshipping body and spirit, however.

One thing I will say is that the outpouring emotion during Kumbaya was not about my grief, truly a first in recent memory. Of course the service was Black Lives Matters, but any sadness in recent memory would automatically tap grief. This was not about my fears and anxieties. The outpouring of emotion was not about me at all, but tapped into that dark place of despair and losing one's way. I have been there, but I am on the other side now. The community holding the lament, and the sense of the community's faith was strong, based on way too much experience, and tradition. The community carries the broken until they can move forward. That is something that is missing in so many white churches. They want to skip the pain, the lament, to happy, or at least numb.

The rest of the service was amazing. We invoked the ancestors. The Episcopal Chorale was beautifully directed. There was a lot of music, contemplative, mournful and uplifting, covering different styles of the diaspora. We remembered the lives stolen. What upset me was except for a few, Travon, Tamir, Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland, the Charlston Nine, I cannot keep track of the names, or the circumstances of so many dead. There are too.many.dead. This is a lament. No one person can keep track of so many names.

The collection plate was taken for the families of the man and woman, Marquintin Shandlin and Kisha Michael, who were shot dead by police just a few weeks ago right there in Inglewood. The couple was asleep or unconscious in the car. The policeman felt threatened. Between the two single parents out on a date, they left seven children. The church generously matched the collection.

The world is broken. For just a little while, in a loving strong cohesive faith community, can one feel whole again. Hopefully, those in pain will find some comfort. Perhaps there are those of us who found respite before we go back out with the foolishness we prayed for to think we can make a difference.

Things I Wish Other Religious People Knew About Paganism

I recently had the opportunity to attend an interfaith conference of religious educators.  Most of this group consisted of followers of Judaism and the largest denominations of Christianity.  They had only just begun to make connections with Buddhists and Muslims, and I supposed they would probably need time to get used to broadening the tent before being asked to encounter too much of the unfamiliar.  But sometimes things don’t work that way.

I was not, for example, only there as a Unitarian Universalist professional; I was there as a pagan, for which I was not sure they were prepared.  And yet, when I was asked to name two things of which I thought others might have “holy envy” about my religion, I wanted to tell them.  After a few people took their turn, I finally had an opportunity to share what my experience of paganism meant to me. 

It’s not a question I’m often asked.  I think people don’t believe there’s much more to say about it, or think they already know what it is and don’t need to hear my version.  But I’m a person of faith, too; passionate faith.  I wanted them all to know how much I was just like them.  Having realized I’d put it into words for the first time, I wanted to remember in case I was ever asked again.

So here they are, the things I wish other religious people knew:

Pagans can have personal relationships with that which others call “God.”

I had been a very devout Christian growing up, and a personal relationship with God - and later Jesus, when I was led to incorporate him into my idea of God - had been a real part of my formative years.   In fact, that relationship never ended.  It’s just that now, as I told them in truncation, it’s with “thousands” of emanations of God, instead of just one.

For me, the Divine exists in nuances; just as among any number of like human beings, each one has a completely unique personality and set of experiences.    Getting to know “the gods” is fulfilling, exciting, enrapturing, ecstatic. 

And I never get tired of it.  Each of the gods and goddesses, every spirit of land, tree, air, every angelic being, and the endless, numerous emanations of All That Is, is simply a new stream in which to taste the divine force of life, experience the sacred, touch and return to God. 

This is not an explanation of pagan cosmology, by the way; pagans are quite varied where that is concerned.  I just mean this to be the poetry of my experience in relationship to the Divine.

Pagans hold as sacred both the dark and the light, that which seems holy and that which seems profane, things of the body as well as things of the spirit. 

It is a long journey for anyone who tends, spiritually, toward asceticism, to get to a place where the messy, imperfect, aging, sexual body is just as sacred as the supposedly perfect, immaterial spirit.  But my love and celebration of the body is as much a part of my life as was once my shame of it, and of anything that involves pleasure for pleasure’s own sake.

 I do not reject the pleasurable to find the Divine in some internal desert, as if the Divine is not a part of the dirt and the earth, the sand and the wind and the mud and the rain, the blood and vestibules and muscles and nerves and hair and fur. 

I embrace the Divine in the ecstatic pleasure of just being alive, and all the wondrous experiences that make a life.  I am thankful for the uplifting of the body through its sacred ability to express the Divine in a material world.  God is not to be encountered only in retreat from pleasure; pleasure is often exactly where God is found, if you stop to notice it.

And the same can said for embracing those “negative” emotions of ours, those things out of control, that come from the shadow of the subconscious.  We know these destructive emotions serve a holy purpose.  It is appropriate that most tarot decks have a Tower card (Tower of Babel?), which people dread seeing, because it means what you’ve been building was either an illusion, or no longer serves you. 

Paganism is filled with many of us who still struggle with the idea that the best answer to everything is to be more than human, when being human is what we’re here to be.  But the point of working in earth-centered systems and of any system of magick, is that you are responsible for your own actions. 

We are not children, with a divine parent keeping us from doing something “wrong,”  or someone who knows better than us.  We must discern right and wrong according to our own conscience.  Despite all our protestations, we can actually be trusted to arrive at the “right” conclusions.  But there’s another critical piece to that:  Because we are sovereign over our choices and actions upon the world, we’re keenly aware of our responsibility for the consequences they can have.

In learning to claim my own power, to live without someone who has all the answers and can tell me what to do, to understand that divine Guidance is following my lead, and not the other way around, I am more whole, empowered, and grown up than I have ever been in my life. 

And that’s really it, the things I chose to share with those who were listening to me talk about paganism.  I have no idea how they received it, but actually being allowed to talk about it felt like re-joining a tribe.

I belong among people of faith, because I am a person of faith.  So do all pagans.  It would be nice if there were a seat at the table for us, but now and then I suppose we need to learn to invite ourselves. 

A Winter Solstice Ritual for 2014

Calling the Directions Spirit of the East Spirit of air: wind and sky, the breath of life. Spirit of possibilities with each morning sunrise. Please join us and bless this circle as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

Spirit of the South Spirit of fire: heat and sunlight, electricity energizing life. Spirit of passion as we seek justice Please join us and bless this circle as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

Spirit of the West Spirit of water: quenching, drenching, and dew, the fundamental molecule of life. Spirit of perseverance in the face of difficulties. Please join us and bless this circle as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

Spirit of the North Spirit of Earth: dust and mountains, in which life teams, and from which life springs Spirit of becoming, that each moment we may start again Please join us and bless this circle as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

Introduction On this eve of Winter Solstice, this longest night, let us acknowledge that the time has come for the Earth to rest. Just as the earth needs to rest, fields lay fallow, and seeds need the richness of the earth to seep in giving sustenance in preparation for germination, so we need a time to rest and restore. Just as our body needs sleep to rejuvenate us in daily cycles, the earth gets the rest it needs in the yearly revolution around the sun. The earth is furthest from the sun in our hemisphere, and low in the sky. Although Northern European winter is not evident in Southern California with it's nearly perpetual sun, vegetable gardens lie fallow, or freshly seeded in anticipation of the coming spring. Thus the nights have grown longer and longer until tonight, the longest night, and then the days will instead begin to lengthen.

We acknowledge pain and suffering in the world, especially the killing of innocent black men as a result of systematic racism, and the two policemen of color murdered yesterday. In this world these and other tragedies are traditionally associated with darkness. Instead of perpetuating the false association, we pray that the darkness bring healing and restoration to our broken world. May the new sun illuminate the interconnected web of life that more and more are beginning to realize.

StoryThe Rebirth of the Sun" by Starhawk

Giving Thanks Let us give thanks for that and whom we are grateful.

Prayers Let us pray for those in need.

Making Merry Feasting and Pagan Carols from Moon Path CUUPS

Dismissing the Directions Spirit of the East Spirit of air: wind and sky, the breath of life. Spirit of possibilities with each morning sunrise. Thank you for joining us and blessing this circle. Please bless each of us as we part from one another.

Spirit of the South Spirit of fire: heat and sunlight, electricity energizing life. Spirit of passion as we seek justice Thank you for joining us and blessing this circle. Please bless each of us as we part from one another.

Spirit of the West Spirit of water: quenching, drenching, and dew, the fundamental molecule of life. Spirit of perseverance in the face of difficulties. Thank you for joining us and blessing this circle. Please bless each of us as we part from one another.

Spirit of the North Spirit of Earth: dust and mountains, in which life teams, and from which life springs Spirit of becoming, that each moment we may start again Thank you for joining us and blessing this circle. Please bless us as we part from one another.

Our ritual is ended. Merry meet and merry part until we meet again. Image: Victor Hanacek Directions and Introduction: Kathleen McGregor

Camas Lilies

Author: 
Rev. Lynn Ungar

Consider the lilies of the field,
the blue banks of camas opening
into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the native ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers' hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?

And you—what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down—
papers, plans, appointments, everything—
leaving only a note: "Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I'm through blooming."

Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.

Rev. Lynn Ungar
www.lynnungar.com

Leaf Mandala

UU Charm

Jesus On The Mainline Fran

Author: 
Om Prakash Gilmore
Dedicated to Fran Gilmore And You

Light and love are the revolutions of the heart
gone mad
when sanity is hard and cold.

To dance with God in the midst of the fire singing
Mary Had a Little Lamb, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,
and Jesus on the Main line Tell Him What You Want,
is sheer folly leading to liberation.

When you dance with me, this foolish man
who thinks that he has kissed the Beloved,
you enter into a revolution that has been happening
since the nothingness,
in its dissatisfaction,
decided that it needed to become
stars, galaxies, planets, and that wonder called you.

And we do dance together in the Beloved's heart
creating songs and new dance steps to entertain ourselves
as we reweave light and love into a tapestry of
life eternal.

We pull aside the curtain and enter the holiest of
holies, the doorway, your sincere smile and your
laugh as I tickle you in the most deep recesses of
your soul where you don't usually allow anyone to
touch.

Don't be shy, my friend.
You, and I, and the Beloved are one
so I have seen all of your tender parts before.

Om Prakash
Copyright March 2012

The Way of the World -- Dedication to My First Gurus

Author: 
Om Prakash
The Gurus of This Young Man


Alone in my room with
my 8 track tape playing
click, by click, by click.

A medley.

Earth, Wind,  and Fire tunes spill out
filling the space with possibilities.

A barrier of love between my age of
 innocence and the drumbeat of pushers,
gangs, and guns
on what used to be my favorite corner.

The college kids, in fancy cars,
safari across the bridge that covers the
one railroad
track left over
after the six lane highway dividing the city
between black and white,
opportunity and economic depression
was constructed,
making a smooth,
swooping circle from suburbia
to drugs and back again.

Nothing as serious as crack,
that would come later,
but the same pain and suffering,
guns and gangs,
early deaths of bodies,
hopes, and dreams
that hang around the edges of the perfect
neighborhood for an economy built on the
exchange of street medicine
designed to heal the ills of a poor community,

Or keep it tranquilized enough,
at least, to suck the  blood of the people down to
the marrow
and reinstitute voluntary slavery.

But they say I should keep my head to the sky,
be ever wonderful, stay as you are,
you're a shining star,
and hearts of fire creates loves desire,
take you high and higher to your place on the
thrown.

The gurus of this young man
shut out of the yoga centers, ashrams, and
Buddhist temples through cultural
displacement
and financial segregation,
or by the fear, deeply implanted in my psyche
telling me that anything not included in the
slaver's religion is the devil.

Left to find the Beloved on my own in a city with a
church on every corner

through the magic of songs pointing to the light
that transforms the darkness and awakens the
human soul through rhythm, beat, and lyrics
saturated with living waters.

"We come together on this special day to sing our
 message loud and clear.
Looking back we've touched on sorrowful days,
 future, past they disappear.

You will find peace of mind of you look way down in your heart and soul.
Don't hesitate because the world seems cold.
Stay young at heart because you're never, ever old.  That's the way of the world." 

The way of the world.

"There I was washed upon a shore, crying my heart out, I just can't take no more.
My life had come to an end.  I was ready to give in. 
I closed my eyes for one last silent prayer, only to look up and find you standing there. 
I looked into your eyes and then I realized I'm in love. 
With you my love. 
With all my heart and you can never,
never give up on your dreams."

Om Prakash
© April 14, 2013

Hinneni

Author: 
Madelyn Campbell

I am from the Rabbi of Białystok
I am from God
I am from New York City - where the Yankees play
I am from great loss and grief
I am from a father who told me that I was someone and
I should do something
I am from the Cuban Missile Crisis and duck-and-cover
I am from one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind
I am from white gloves and pirouette dresses, the ballet
      and the opera and Shirley Temples at Lincoln Center
I am from injustice in the first grade
I am from fighting back when the boys tried to hurt me
     for killing Jesus
I am from horses, from generations of horse people
I am from sewing clothes and baking bread
     and being the only girl in shop class
I am from oops and trial and error
I am from speaking up and speaking out
I am from my children
I am from the place I just left - from the footsteps
     just behind me
I am for the path ahead
     going where each next step takes me
     following where my God leads
I have left my impression where I’ve been
And I carry the dust of my journey all about me
  Becoming with each step
I am from
 and I am for
     and I am becoming

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.

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