UU

Sunday Sabbath: Fire & Rain

How can we touch each other, my sisters? …
We keep our tenderness alive and the nourishment of the earth green.
The heat is central as lava.
We burn in each other. We burn and burn.
We shout in choruses of millions.
We appear armed as mothers, grandmothers, sisters, warriors.
We burn.

–Meridel Le Sueur (in Open Mind)

“The element of fire represents passion, veracity, authenticity, and vitality. If the chalice is the supporting structure of Unitarian Universalism, then we are the flame. We are the flame, fanned strong by our passion for freedom, our yearning for truth-telling, our daring to be authentic with one another, and the vitality we sustain in our meeting together. In all of this there is love.”
–Unitarian Universalist minister Sarah Lammert (Spirit in Practice)

I have a practice of keeping a digital sabbath in Sundays. I actually had quite a few thoughts for a post as well, but decided I’ll keep my digital stillness and share brief quote-based posts on Sundays during this daily writing experiment.

I do want to say that my presentation at the UU church today went wonderfully. I drove home smiling and with a nice, warm, satisfied feeling of connection and community. We did sing and we sounded great. And, I drove home still singing…

It rained today and everything was wet and drippy, which is funny because of the fiery quotes that initially caught my eye to use today.

Raindrop on a thick wild grapevine:

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Tiny little puddle on my favorite rock. Reflected on how no rain can collect on the hillside and yet, it is due to the shaping influence of water that this terrain exists in the first place.

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Stepped in a mole hole!

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Approaching the overlook. The orange left in the dry leaves stood out to me today and I thought about how these photos still say “autumn,” but really spring is almost here. Before I know it, it will look like a gorgeous, deep green rainforest out there again.

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Categories: community, quotes, readings, UU | Leave a comment

Woodspriestess: Spirit in Practice

March 2013 004Gathered here in the mystery of the hour

Gathered here in one strong body

Gathered here in the struggle and the power

Spirit, draw near.

–Gathered Here, Hymn #389 in Singing the Living Tradition (UU Hymnal)

Tomorrow, I’m presenting the service at my tiny local UU church. I’ve spent probably a lot more time than I should have getting ready for my presentation. I’m using the first part of the Spirit in Practice curriculum which is part of the vast treasure-trove of resources available from Tapestry of Faith via the UUA. My goals for this presentation are threefold:

  • To connect us to a sense of larger UU identity
  • To give us a taste for the resources available at our fingertips via Tapestry of Faith
  • To help us understand that “spiritual practices” are appropriate, desirable, and meaningful for UU’s too

Our local fellowship leans very heavily towards the secular humanist and academic in regard to its services and shies away from anything “spiritual” in nature (for more on this broad UU habit of avoiding matters of the sacred and how that hurts our communal, religious experience, see the wonderful article, Imagineers of Soul from UU World magazine). I really, really want to offer the possibility tomorrow that we can both be rational, logical, social justice-oriented UUs and have a shared spiritual experience. As Christine Robinson explains:

Why do people come to church? It is not to learn. People don’t even go to museums to learn. It’s not to be entertained. People don’t even go to Disneyland just to be entertained. They come to church, especially they come to church, to quench a thirst, find meaningfulness, to have an authentic experience, or, in a more traditional religious language, to connect with mystery and see their everyday lives reflected in the mirror of eternity. Churches, then, and the lay and ordained people who lead them, are Imagineers of Soul, sorcerer’s apprentices in the art of quenching thirst, filling voids, opening the doors of meaning.

We do lots of things as church people, of course: teach the children, comfort the dying, change the world. When we do these things as religious people, they evoke the “holy”and if they don’t, we’ve failed at the only thing the church can uniquely do. And the truth is, we fail a lot, sticking to the safely secular, avoiding reverence, skirting awe, and missing opportunities to conjure up a sense of the spiritual. That failure comes in spite of the fact that significant lay and ministerial voices have been saying for two generations that we Unitarian Universalists are missing something important if we take a secular, hands off the spirit approach to our life together.

One of the reasons I stopped attending church regularly was because too often it was missing the “imagineers of soul” connection and was instead an intellectual discussion. I love intellectual discussions just fine, but I live 22 miles from church AND I greatly value weekend time with my family. It became so if I had to choose between listening to a presentation about foxes or hanging out at home, I’d choose home every time. What I hope to explore tomorrow is the role and value of regular spiritual practices in both group and individual life.

Today when I went to the woods, I sat on a rock and sang the song I’m going to use tomorrow over and over, louder and louder. I’m a terrible singer, but I’m no longer willing to let embarrassment over that win and stop me from trying. I’ve also learned with my women’s circle that after we get through that first, awkward, discordant, confusing round, we actually end up sounding pretty awesome. Too often, groups stop singing after the first run through and what builds is a collective sense of, “we can’t do this,” or “don’t bother, we’re hopeless!” Tomorrow, I plan to “make” us go through Gathered Here at least four times–I hope to demonstrate to the group how much better we get with just a tiny bit of practice and that also singing together is a powerful, communal experience that can solidify and strengthen our sense of having a shared “faith tradition” (rather than solely a shared tendency to vote Democrat). And, that we individually don’t have to be “good singers,” but that in community we can even sound kind of beautiful.

I’ll don’t know if the group will appreciate my offering tomorrow, but I have to try. Maybe next time, I’ll actually talk them into making UU prayer beads 😉

The other thing I thought of today was how my woodspriestess daily practice has been steadily been moving up in priority in my days. That is part of having a robust daily practice. I have to do it. Name it as valuable and take regular action to bring it into life. If I put things off until “later,” I end up staggering out to the woods at 11:30 p.m. with a flashlight and a sense of obligation. Now, I do it first, regardless of what the rest of my to-do list says. Seriously, if I “don’t have time” to take five minutes to restore my soul in the woods each day, what kind of life am I living?! When I first became a student at OSC and was taking the Ecology and the Sacred course, one of the things that I was hungering for was a regular, spiritual practice. That class helped me evolve in several ways and I feel I’ve finally found the kind of integration between theory and practice that I was seeking (I have ways I’d like to take it deeper too. More on that some other day).

The things that are holy and sacred in this life are neither stored away on mountaintops nor locked away in arcane secrets of the saints. I doubt that any church has a monopoly on them either. What holiness there is in this world resides in the ordinary bonds between us and in whatever bonds we manage to create between ourselves and the divine.
—Patrick O’Neill, “ Unitarian Universalist Views of the Sacred

On a not-totally-related  note, something that interests me, but that I have little experience with is “augurs,” or the reading of natural “signs” and learning from them. It is almost like a form of divination in a sense, or a type of listening to a response to a prayer, or the receiving of a message from the world. Today as I reached the rocks, I saw this little arrangement on the ground. I didn’t touch or adjust it. It doesn’t intuitively mean anything to me, but the shape of the sticks and the “arrangement” of the items in what looks like a deliberate sort of way, caught my eye. If I was good at this augur stuff, I could probably have learned something else today!

March 2013 002

Categories: resources, ritual, spirituality, UU, woodspriestess | 2 Comments

Essence of Paganism…

20121202-135542.jpg One of the things I enjoy about the UU church is that it can be distilled into a set of principles. No unnecessarily complex theology and layers of religious history and meaning, no convoluted mental gymnastics required to reconcile logically bizarre, but theologically required beliefs and practices, but instead some clear, basic, direct, assertive statements to which, I think, ANY reasonable person should agree with and support—and, indeed, if everyone did, the world would probably be a much better place. I also think many, many people are actually UU without knowing it—particularly those who describe themselves as, “spiritual, but not religious,” as “liberal,” as “humanist” (whether spiritual or secular) and even as, “progressive Christians.” I certainly was UU for approximately 7 years before knowing that I could be “labeled.” There is a broad understanding of the UU umbrella as welcoming everyone and accepting everything, but I don’t think that is really true (or desirable). Indeed, within the principles are strong statements for a certain way of being in the world and in viewing the world. Many, many people can find a spiritual home under the UU umbrella, but they are unlikely to be those who identify strongly and in a fundamentalist manner with the Abrahamic religions (though, the UU religion does draw upon the teachings and stories of all major world religions), or, quite frankly, Republicans.

I just had a discussion with a friend online in which I explained it like this: we do have a set of “principles” and people disagreeing with those principles wouldn’t actually be welcome. My favorite description is that we believe the light shines through many different windows in different ways and the only people who aren’t welcome are those who think the light only shines in their window and that we should throw rocks through the windows of everyone else who disagrees with us…. 😉

The discussion with the friend was prompted by my mention of using readings from the UU hymnal Singing the Living Tradition in the ceremony I held after the miscarriage-birth of my third baby. I explained that I sometimes describe my miscarriage as a “religious experience” of sorts and that’s because it wasn’t until then that I realized I do have a religious language, symbols, and resources I draw upon in times of need. I spent years describing myself as “areligious” (funny, since now I’m working on my D.Min degree). Her response was: “What’s the best way to label yours then, Molly? Unitarian? or something else? Unitarians kinda fit with everybody and nobody at once…”

The statement in bold is an issue the UU movement has struggled with for years. I responded that UU is fine (or Unitarian Universalist). They’re a good umbrella religion, but definitely don’t fit with everybody—I don’t think most “traditionally” Christian people, for example, who would recognize anything familiar in most UU resources/services.

She clarified that, “My (admittedly minimal) experience with UU is that they welcome pretty much anybody believing whatever works for them… but that there are many who don’t accept UU’s.” And that is when I used my light and windows example.

It seems funny to argue for exclusion, but I can think of many who would not be welcomed by UU’s! That guy telling rape jokes, that woman picketing Planned Parenthood, those people leaving hateful comments on YouTube videos, that company blasting the mountaintops off, and those people who protest marriage equality, to name a few. Within the UU world, the personal is political and political beliefs are entwined inextricably with our “religious” values. Standing on the side of love and all that. Indeed, as UU’s, “We seek to act as a moral force in the world, believing that ethical living is the supreme witness of religion. The here and now and the effects our actions will have on future generations deeply concern us. We know that our relationships with one another, with diverse peoples, races, and nations, should be governed by justice, equity, and compassion.” (http://www.uucfm.org/information-for-newcomers/what-is-unitarian-universalism)

In my own tiny church, to which I have not actually been for many months now, at the closing circle we hold hands and read the following from a cross stitched picture on the wall:

As Unitarian Universalists we cherish
The importance of individual thinking
Respect for the convictions of others
The warmth of caring
The perspective of humor
The dreams of the mystic
And the methods of the scientist
A way of life that avoids harm and scorn
A quest for justice through peaceful methods
A religion that is broad and encompassing
Personal, yet universal.

This is simple, direct, and clear and it is something I can stand behind for the rest of my life, regardless of how many times I actually attend a church service.

Apparently not every church uses this same reading, I couldn’t readily find it online, but I did find another short explanation I enjoy: “We encourage individuals to garner insights from all the world’s great faiths, as well as from Shakespeare and from science, from feminism and from feelings. We invite people to explore their spirituality in a responsible way. We ask Unitarian Universalists to cherish the earth, to free the oppressed, and to be grateful for life’s blessings. Out of this combination of reflection and experience, each one of us shapes a personal faith. For Unitarian Universalists the individual is the ultimate source of reality.” (http://www.uucfm.org/information-for-newcomers/what-is-unitarian-universalism)

Principles and sources

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

These principles and sources of faith are the backbone of our religious community.
UUA

Wait a second, what does all of this have to do with my post title and about paganism? Well, I just read an article, surprisingly in Brain, Child magazine, called Beltane Flowers by Brit St. Clair, in which the author describes attending her first pagan ceremony. What I appreciate particularly about the article is how tidily St. Clair describes the core beliefs of Wicca, specifying that these concepts were beliefs she already held firmly, long before she realized they were also embraced by Wicca:

find divinity in self and nature; practice meditation for strength and balance; spirituality is individual, personal; don’t proselytize, but help others less fortunate anyway; examine your intentions; harm none; feel free to view a symbol like ‘God’ or ‘Goddess’ as just that: a representation of a creative life force energy we can possibly understand…

I appreciated this essence of paganism description, much as I appreciate the essence of UUism as described in the principles. And, I’m curious if there are other succinct, yet fully descriptive (i.e. not just, “harm none! Now, let’s party!”) explanations out there that my readers connect with in particular?

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Categories: spirituality, UU, womanspirit | 1 Comment

How the UU Church Introduced Me to the Goddess

Two blogs that I enjoy reading—Bishop in the Grove and Love, Joy, Feminism—both recently wrote about their personal experiences attending Unitarian Universalist Churches and the sense of community/value they found there. It made me think about the role of the UU Church in my own life and I decided it was time to give a shout-out to the UU Church and how it introduced me to the Goddess and to religion in a form that I not only could find palatable, but also deliciously meaningful and enriching. My first cause in life was feminism—a sense honed by my experiences as an agnostic homeschooled teenager amidst mostly fundamentalist Christians. I could not help but stand up for women’s rights and challenge the rhetoric my peers often shared about a “woman’s [lesser] place” in life and society. Because my developing sense of feminism burgeoned in response to patriarchal religious beliefs about women—the only religious beliefs I had yet encountered—I also developed a sense that feminism was not compatible with religion, period.

In college in the 1990’s as a psychology major, I always chose “women’s issues” as my main area of focus and I went on to graduate school in clinical social work, doing my internship at a battered women’s shelter (I also volunteered in one during my undergraduate years). My sense of the Goddess that later emerged is very intertwined with my deep beliefs about the inherent value and worth of women. After finishing graduate school in 2000, I started to have lots of “searching/seeking” conversations in the car with my husband–trying to find something to “plug into” and saying, “maybe I need to get religious?” But, there was no religion I could find that fit me/matched me and I decided it probably didn’t exist. As time passed, I continued to seek/discuss/ponder and a different friend mentioned her UU church and it being a “perfect spiritual home for her”–I dismissed it because of the word “church,” but in 2005, I took the infamous Beliefnet quiz and got a 100% match for Unitarian Universalism. Lo and behold–my beliefs about social justice and about the inherent dignity and worth of each human being, as well as about the deep mystery and wonder of the natural world were “pluggable” after all! By this time, we had moved and so I started attending my very, very tiny local UU fellowship.

Cakes “Gaia” logo

In 2003, my good friend had taken a women’s studies class in college and lent me the books When God was a Woman and The Chalice and the Blade and we began to have discussions about the Goddess and to explore our feelings about religion and meaning. She was the first person I was ever able to speak to deeply about spirituality. I was raised as a fourth generation “non-religious” person—my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents all had/have no religious or church affiliation. My friend and I talked a lot about Wicca and paganism and as I read more books, I realized something was missing for me in most pagan literature. I eventually discovered the “missing” element, for me, was the Goddess emphasis of feminist spirituality.

After beginning to attend the small local UU church that I jokingly refer to as the Church of Democracy and Evolution, I discovered the fabulous Women and Religion subgroup within the larger UU world and started to realize that my strong draw towards Goddess actually had a place and a home under the UU “umbrella” and that I didn’t have to self-identify as pagan or Wiccan in order to explore a relationship with Goddess. I trained as a Cakes for the Queen of Heaven facilitator in 2008 and discovered something every powerful in these resources. At the conclusion of the training, I had profound sense of THIS is what else there is for me! It was a pivotal moment.

After the empowering and transformative births of my sons in 2003 and 2006, I became deeply enmeshed in birthwork—expanding my senses of women’s issues and social justice into birth activism and birth education. Then, in 2009, my third son died during my second trimester of pregnancy. My birth-miscarriage experience with him was a powerful and transforming experience as well and I was left with a sense of openness to change. A receptivity to larger forces and powers in the world.  Indeed, it felt like a spiritual experience of sorts. After his birth and in my journey through grief, I experienced a sense of myself as inherently worthy and valuable—that I didn’t need to do anything special to be a worthwhile human being. I also had the revelation shortly after his birth that the power of women that is so present in birth, is present in women, period. I realized that this sense of “birth power” could be found in women’s spirituality and I found myself irresistibly drawn to more and more reading and study of feminist spirituality and Goddess thealogy. However, reading wasn’t enough. I felt the thread of Goddess that had danced at the edges of my life for so long, had finally become a distinct and extremely important presence in my life and I felt a call to more formally dedicate myself to a Goddess path.

On my son’s due date on May 3, 2010, which was also my 31st birthday, I did a small, private ceremony in the little stone labyrinth in my front yard in which I formally declared to myself and to the nature around me that I was now committed to practicing the presence of the Goddess in my everyday life. In May of 2011 and May of 2012, I renewed that commitment in another private ritual. Also in May of 2010, I went to a healer for “somatic re-patterning” (or, as I call it, “reprogramming my brain!”) and let go of the remaining neural pathways doubting my own worth and value. During our session, she told me that my healing gift is in words (not in physical touch or treatment) and that I live my spirituality, I don’t have to explain it. She also told me that something big was shifting inside of me and that I was opening up it a new direction. She asked if I perceived that shift in my life and I said, YES, knowing that it was this new sense of connection to the feminine divine.

In November of 2010, I attended at women’s spirituality retreat at a UU church in St. Louis and we did an exercise in which we each wrote a “gift” on a piece of paper (following a guided meditation) and then put them into a communal bowl and each drew out another’s woman’s gift–she was sharing it with us. I drew out “sacred words.” My friend told me she thought it was perfect for me because talking to me about her own experience of spirituality had been deeply meaningful to her. When I got home, I started looking for study programs/schools online because I knew in my heart that the time had come to deepen my personal study/experiences. After this retreat, I also started planning and facilitating quarterly women’s spirituality retreats locally. And, in January 2011, I gave birth to my own baby girl. She was born at home into my own hands, alone, under my own power and with my heart full of hope and joy and the promise of new beginnings.

In March of 2011 I started working on my D. Min degree in Thealogy/Goddess Studies at Ocean Seminary College and in July of 2012 I became ordained as a priestess with Global Goddess. Without my tentative steps into the UU church, I do not know that I’d be where I am right now. As is kind of the tagline of the program, I can honestly say that, “Cakes changed my life!”  😉

Categories: feminism, feminist thealogy, Goddess, spirituality, UU, women | 3 Comments

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