Click on the link below to view the Companions in the Dark Sermon • May 2021
Click on the link below to view the Acceptance Sermon • May 2021
Mindfulness Worship Service - April 11, 2021
Prelude music: "When Our Heart is in a Holy Place" "When Our Heart is in a Holy Place" - UUSGU
Ruth: Opening Words:
Suspended Between by Rev. Linda Barnes
Suspended between all that was and all that might be,
we struggle to find this very moment—to live this very moment.
Let us sit together for a moment, and savor this moment.
Let us relish this between time where past meets future,
Let us harbor a faith that reminds us that right now, right here, is enough.
Fred: Lighting the Chalice (This one, or one of your own choice.)
Chalice Flame Contemplation by Rev. Samuel Trumbore
In this time of long nights and short days,
let us seek the light within …
by contemplating, through our mind’s eye,
the image of a candle flame.
Notice how the soft, quiet, and gentle flame
tamely rises from the wick.
Yet, just by touching a dry twig,
it has the power to become a raging bonfire
to light up the night.
Let that little candle flame be your friend this morning.
Allow it to quiet your mind,
as you attentively watch its flickering glow.
Allow it to calm your mind in a way that brings a stillness
that can light up the interior of your being
that can help you find the wellspring of your feelings.
Allow it to show us our inner sense of knowing that
can help us notice the ways we’ve strayed or harmed others;
to warm us, reflecting on the ways we’ve been touched and
the ways we’ve opened our hearts;
and inspire us through making new connections and discovering new insights.
May this simple flame
touch the dry twigs that guard our hearts
allowing the power of light to penetrate our self-protection
and show us the amazing potential for heat and light
that resides within us.
Reciting the Covenant: Fred share screen
Leslie: Candles of Joy and Concerns:
To close: For the joys shared, we join you in celebration. For the sorrows and concerns spoken here, may you feel our sympathy and compassion. For all that remains unspoken, both joy and sorrow, may the caring of our community offer you both kindness and hope.
Ruth: Wisdom Story:
Which Gift Will You Offer by Sarah Conover
One day, the Buddha and a large following of monks and nuns were passing through a village. The Buddha chose a large shade tree to sit beneath so the group could rest awhile out of the heat. For a time, he sat in meditation going deep into himself as he sought to still and clear his mind. Slowly, he became more and more relaxed and his followers saw the change on his face. When he opened his eyes, he looked around and carefully took in the details around him: the fragrance of the blossoms on the tree, the breeze providing some relief from the heat of the sun, the faces of the many villagers who had heard about a visiting teacher and had gathered to hear him, the isolated trees and the simple dwellings of the villagers in the distance, and, finally, the mountains rising in the east beyond the fields where the villagers grew vegetables. Out of this mindfulness, the Buddha began to teach. As he spoke, the people became quiet, wanting to hear every word.
One surly young man stood to the side, watching, as the crowd grew larger and larger. To him, it seemed that there were too many people traveling from the city to his village, and each had something to sell or teach. Impatient with the bulging crowd of monks and villagers, he shouted at the Buddha, “Go away! You just want to take advantage of us! You teachers come here to say a few pretty words and then ask for food and money!”
But the Buddha was unruffled by these insults. He remained calm, exuding a feeling of loving-kindness. He politely requested that the man come forward. Then he asked, “Young sir, if you purchased a lovely gift for someone, but that person did not accept the gift, to whom does the gift then belong?”
The odd question took the young man by surprise. “I guess the gift would still be mine because I was the one who bought it.”
“Exactly so,” replied the Buddha. “Now, you have just cursed me and been angry with me. But if I do not accept your curses, if I do not get insulted and angry in return, these curses will fall back upon you—the same as the gift returning to its owner.”
The young man clasped his hands together and slowly bowed to the Buddha. It was an acknowledgement that a valuable lesson had been learned. And so the Buddha concluded for all to hear, “As a mirror reflects an object, as a still lake reflects the sky: take care that what you speak or act is for good. For goodness will always cast back goodness and harm will always cast back harm.” Because of this, practice mindfulness in all that you do so that your reflection is the one that you intend.
Listening with the Heart by Rev. Gary Kowalski
Maybe prayer doesn’t mean talking to God at all.
Maybe it means just listening.
Unplugging the TV, turning off the computer,
Quieting the mental chatter and distractions.
Maybe it means listening to the birds
And the insects, the wind in the leaves,
the creaking and groaning of the trees,
Who else is out there, not far away but nearby;
Sitting so still we can hear our heartbeat,
Watch our breath, the gentle whoosh of air,
The funny noises from our own insides,
Marveling at the body we take so much for granted.
Maybe it means listening to our dreams,
Paying more attention to what we really want from life,
And less attention to all the nagging, scolding voices from our past.
Or maybe it’s all about listening to each other,
Not thinking ahead to how we can answer or rebut or parry or advise or admonish,
But actually being present to each other.
Perhaps if we just sit quietly we’ll overhear a peace whispering through the centuries
That’s missing from the clamor of the moment.
Maybe prayer means listening to the silences between the words,
Noticing the negativity of space,
The vast, undifferentiated and nameless wonder
That underlies it all.
Maybe prayer doesn’t mean talking to God at all,
But listening with the heart,
To the angel choirs all around us.
Those who have ears,
Let them hear.
Music: Breathe In, Breathe Out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuAd-yImOt4
Mindfulness and Compassion by Rev. Sandra Fees
The weather has been so incredibly beautiful lately – lots of sunshine and some warm spring-like temperatures. I was drawn out into my yard the other day by the beauty of the sky and sun. Once I got into the yard and was walking around, I started thinking that soon I’m going to have to start cutting the grass, and that my butterfly bushes need trimming or they’ll quickly be overgrown. I noticed a few patches that need some work. I started writing my mental to-do list of things I don’t have time to do right now. Walking back to the house, I had almost lost my enthusiasm for what had first drawn my attention. Then, I noticed the daffodils nearest the house beginning to bloom. And there wasn’t anything I needed to do at that moment, but notice the shades of glorious yellow in the blooms and the little trumpet-y part of the flower. And the world came back to life again. This is what it means to live in the present moment, to be mindful.
Mindfulness practice has ancient roots in Buddhism. Mindfulness is what brought Buddha to enlightenment. It can also be found in Taoism, yoga, and other eastern philosophies as well as in Native American wisdom. It is evident in the writing of poets, including the work of Emerson, Thoreau, and others. While it has its roots in ancient eastern religious practices, it can be practiced by individuals of any religion. …
Increasingly it’s being incorporated into the workplace and utilized by medical professionals. In the workplace it is seen as a boost to productivity and general job satisfaction. Inside and outside the workplace, mindfulness reduces stress, which we know contributes to stroke, heart disease, and a whole array of other health threats. It is used in cognitive therapy for depression, anxiety disorders, sleep problems, and eating disorders. It is also used to enrich parenting and relationship skills, and to improve overall well-being. It’s an elixir for much that ails the modern mind, body, and spirit.
The goal of mindfulness is to foster clear thinking and openheartedness. It is sometimes simply referred to as present moment awareness. Mindfulness frees an individual from old patterns. It has to do with conscious living, offering a practical way to notice thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds, smells – anything we might not normally notice, and not to become too attached to what we notice. We become more attentive to what is happening in us and around us without becoming caught up in ruminations, old thought patterns, and judgments.
This skill is incredibly simple. And also different from how our minds are accustomed to functioning. There’s a lot of chatter and busyness that goes on in our minds all the time. Mindfulness helps us see how our own minds behave and to practice a different way of being aware of the world around us and in us. When we’re not mindful, we’re not able to fully experience the world around us. We’re not going to notice the beauty, the small moments, the people around us and what they are experiencing, the brightness of the night sky right recently and the amazing Jupiter and Venus conjunction, the subtle and significant changes happening as earth awakes again here in the northeast, and what’s happening in our own bodies – whether we have minor aches, tension, or are experiencing desire or joy.
…Here’s the thing, if I’m not mindful of others, if I’m not listening to the world around me, then it’s going to be hard to practice compassion – toward myself or others. How will I know if you are hurting if I’m worrying about the next thing I need to do rather than noticing the tears in your eyes? How will I be able to share in some important accomplishment in your life if I am rushing past you? If I come into a room completely consumed by my own busy mind, I’m not going to notice something really important going on around me. If I’m rushing around filled with thoughts and beliefs, how will I be able to look inward and observe my own inner voice? How will I even be able to treat myself with compassion?
According to Karen Armstrong, mindfulness leads to compassion. In her book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, she identifies mindfulness as one of the twelve steps. She says, “mindfulness should be something that becomes habitual, but it is not an end in itself. It should segue naturally into action….” Jon Kabat-Zinn says “mindfulness is, an appreciation for the present moment and the cultivation of an intimate relationship with it through a continual attending to it with care and discernment. It is the direct opposite of taking life for granted. … The habit of ignoring our present moments in favor of others yet to come leads directly to a pervasive lack of awareness of the web of life in which we are embedded. … It severely limits our perspective on what it means to be a person and how we are connected to each other and to the world around us.”
…Mindfulness allows us to embody who we already are and be connected with others. Albert Einstein described our sense of being separate from the larger universe as a delusion, a delusion that is a prison. When we free ourselves from that prison through mindfulness, we can widen our circle of compassion. We can improve our compassion with those closest to us and broaden it to others outside our kinship circle. He described it this way: “A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. [A person] experiences himself [or herself], his [or her] thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us …. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
If being compassionate – if widening the circle of compassion – seems challenging and even a bit overwhelming, you’re not alone. And I have some good news. The data shows that compassion is a universal human capacity. This means we’ve already got it in us. If we’ve got it in us, that means we don’t need to acquire it so much as we need to uncover what already exists in us – and in others. How do we make compassion real in ourselves? How do we uncover it? By simply being present to our lives
Mindfulness practices can help us do that. Meditation on the breath, devotional chanting, yoga, mindful eating, journaling, practicing gratitude, sacred art, prayer, lighting a chalice at mealtime – these can all deepen our consciousness of the present moment. They can help make it real. When they are practiced regularly with intention, they can help us uncover our human capacity for compassion. As Karen Armstrong says, “We will find that we are happier when we are peaceful than when we are angry or restless, and that, like the Buddha, we can make the effort to cultivate these positive emotions, noticing, for example, that when we perform an act of kindness, we ourselves feel better.”
In the end mindfulness helps us uncover our own ability to be loving and loving leads us to be more mindful. May we each find ways to bring mindfulness and compassion more fully into our daily lives.
Ruth: Closing Words:
Mindful by Mary Oliver
I see or I hear
that more or less
that leaves me like a needle
It is what I was born for— to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world— to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant—
but of the ordinary.
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations. Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings as these—
the untrimmable light
of the world
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made out of grass?
Fred: Extinguishing the Chalice:
As we leave this community of the spirit by Rev. Richard Gilbert
As we leave this community of the spirit,
May we remember the difficult lesson
That each day offers more things than we can do.
May we do what needs to be done,
Postpone what does not,
And be at peace with what we can be and do.
Therefore, may we learn to separate
That which matters most
And that which matters least of all.
NIUU Sunday Service - March 14, 2021
Do you hear that voice calling you, calling us?
That voice which calls us together here today made holy by our presence and by the sacred breath we share in our singing and speaking and silence.
That voice which calls us to remember that we are not alone and that we are inextricably linked to all other life—woven into a vast tapestry of existence of which we are a powerful, integral, and holy a part.
And just as we have been called together here today, we act as the voice—the heart—the hands of another call:
The call to:
Walk with the wanderers
Sing and dance with the worshipers
Proclaim the memory of those who have taken their leave
Wrap the despairing and the broken in the arms of love and community
And hold the hands of all of us who have broken our vows and call us back—again and again—to the covenant and work of justice, humility, and steadfast faithfulness.
For this we are here together today. So, my friends, come, yet again; come let us worship together.
Welcome to the NIUU Sunday service where you will hear the words offered through the Touchstone program and our theme of Respect.
Opening words - The Task at Hand
by Rev. Betty Jo Middleton
As we gather here together
May we be attentive one to another.
May we listen carefully, may we freely speak.
May we be respectful of one another.
May we be serious, yet not somber.
May we be light of heart
And full of good cheer.
As we gather here together
May we work toward common goals.
May we be mindful of our religious community
And aware of our responsibilities.
May we look into one another’s eyes
And see ourselves reflected.
As we gather here together
May we be attentive to one another
And to the task at hand.
- Hymn: Humble and Kind by Tim McGraw (4:29)
- Light the challis
As we light the chalice and fully embrace the sacred, please hold in your hearts the Unitarian Universalist principle which calls upon us to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Let us bear witness to the lives of those dear to our hearts, and the roles they have played in ours, and make stronger that web which connects us all.
- Joys & Concerns
Spirit of Life, your very presence among us is what gives us connection. Help us to sense that beneath our feet is the strength we need to keep us grounded. Help us to feel that behind our back is the protection we need to feel safe facing our fears. Help us to know that before our eyes lies the beauty we seek to feel astounded. Help us to lift our heads high enough to be aware of the vastness of our sky and of our spirit, and help us to know that within our hearts lies the love we need to complete the circle of connection in our lives.
- Hymn: A Beautiful Noise – Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yU1x-p_OdY
Meditation - In all moments and places
by Rev. Tess Baumberger
Oh, Divine Spirit,
healer of our hurts, consoler of our sorrows,
vibrant light of happiness,
birther of all life
and gentle way of death,
hear our prayer.
We raise our heart to you
as do the ancient redwoods,
rooted in the ground,
swaying in the wind.
We praise and thank you
for our life,
gifts of body and essence,
strength to bear life’s burdens,
grace to dance life’s joys.
We praise and thank you
for our life,
gifts of eyes and heart
that fill with beauty smiling,
or with pain and sadness weeping.
We praise and thank you
for our life,
gifts of ears to hear words
of grace and wisdom,
to listen to and lighten
the burdens of others.
We praise and thank you
for our life,
our voice to sing out praises,
to speak my truths and visions,
to share our selves with others.
We praise and thank you
for our life.
gifts of all our senses,
rhythm of our heartbeat,
rise and fall of our breathing,
the will to live with passion,
Spirit, guide us to a deeper knowing
of your presence in the world.
Show us the deeper meanings
of the patterns of our years.
Help us regard ourselves
and others with eyes of calm compassion.
Teach us to learn patience
with their failings and our own.
Help us accept the mold
and fashion of our life through
In the names of all
who perceive your transcendent
presence in trees and
brooks and mountains,
in work and play and resting,
in all moments and places between,
amen and blessed be.
Sermon Why We Respect Each Other
by Rev. Douglas Taylor
There is a painfully ugly trend to use our religious differences to divide the saved from the unsaved, the faithful from the infidels, the true people of God from those who are unacceptable in God’s sight. Author and social analyst James Wiggins claims, that virtually every armed conflict occurring on the planet today is explicitly driven by religious motives or by the memory of a preexisting religious conflict
There are certainly many examples of our religious differences dividing us. For all the progressive and open-minded examples, for all the extensive research surveys and reports, it is still the violence that haunts us. Yet, there are countless religious individuals and religious communities that are willing to tolerate and even respect people of differing faiths. There are countless times when people honor the commandments to love their neighbors as themselves, to wish for their neighbors what they wish for themselves, and to refrain from offering to their neighbors anything which they themselves find hateful.
There are countless times when religious people and religious communities have actually followed the peaceful precepts of their traditions. Our own Unitarian Universalism is a religion that features tolerance in a unique way. We strive to honor and accept the difference of each individual within our own community. We do not need to take ourselves beyond our own religious community to meet someone who is of different beliefs. We have humanists and pagans and theists and agnostics all mingled together in one community.
Respect of other people’s beliefs is a central aspect of our faith; it is our covenant. But I think at times, people of goodwill can go too far with such ideas. Stephen Prothero, author of the book God is Not One: Eight Rival Religions That Run the World, warns of such things. The goal is not to gloss over differences or dismiss the points of conflict. Our differences are worth noting. Radical pluralism would acknowledge that the different religions seem to be climbing different mountains, striving for different summits. Buddhism is seeking nirvana, which is nothing like heaven. The work of being a faithful Muslim is to offer your submission to God, yet the work of being a faithful Jew is to return to God from the exile you find yourself in. Prothero’s point is that it is a bad idea to focus only on the lofty commonalities at the expense of the very real differences of religions. It is counterproductive toward the goal of mutual understanding as well as global peace.
The details of belief and practice are important. The differences matter. The reality that each of the world’s major religions has divergent claims as to what is true must not be ignored. I do not believe our goal is to create such a universal religion. I think the particulars of time and place, the details of practice and culture, are important to the religious endeavor. Day to day living is intertwined with eternity. This exact spot is an important place in the effort to experience the magnitude of all existence. This tree, this river, this building, this hour, this series of steps and movements – the particulars of time and place are the vehicle by which we each access that which transcends time and place.
Our goal is not one unified and universal religion for all people for all time. I believe instead that our goal is to meet and engage with the diversity of particularities that we may learn and grow from the experiences. That is the goal of celebrating all the world’s religions. The various truth claims need not be made compatible with each other. Still, there are those who cling to the modernist view that one person’s claims at truth makes another’s claims at truth to be untrue. And certainly, the idea that all claims at truth are equally true is an unmanageable idea – it doesn’t fit objective reality. Either water is hot, or it is cold, but not both at the same time! Either baptism is essential, or it is not. Either God is one or three or thousands, but not all of the above. Either the practice of praying five times a day is the true way or it is not. When we allow truth to be relative then it loses meaning. Have you bumped into this idea? ‘Either I am right, or you are right – but it is impossible for us both to be right!’ Therefore, why bother being respectful with people of differing religions when the real work seems to be to convince them they are not right? What do we do with that?
As each tree is different from every other tree, as the coast of the northern Atlantic differs from the coast of the southern Pacific, as today’s clouds and wind patterns are not the same as they were yesterday, so too do we find our individual experiences of the holy are different yet true. We say that every person experiences and interacts with that which is holy, with the sacred, with God, in the way that fits for that person. Each person is different, like a fingerprint. What fits you will not fit me. That is how we are designed, and we honor that and find it so easy to tolerate others when we are not threatened by the differences!
Your particular connection and expression of the holy is your contribution to the pattern. The differences among us beautify the pattern of the whole. There would be no harmony if we all sang the same note. Talking with people who sound like you do is like walking around endlessly in a cul-de-sac, the challenge is absent and the beauty fades with familiarity!
It is critical to discover the divine spark within you. However, the real challenge is to see the divine spark within another, the inherent worthiness and dignity of another; to see God’s image in one who is not in our image. It is one of the great tasks of a spiritual life: to allow yourself to be challenged from time to time by the perspective of another. It is one of the best ways to stay grounded in your otherwise private spiritual journey. Peace and understanding between people of differing faiths is critical for peace and understanding to take root in the world. We are one in the call to seek meaning in our lives. We are one in the call to live with compassion. I am aware that this may not be enough, but it is what we have, and it will serve if we allow it. Hans Kung has written, “There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions.” Do you want to be a part of such a dialogue. Consider yourself invited into the conversation.
- Offertory – Fred will now share the information about our Charity of the month for March.
- Extinguish the Challis - Carry the Flame by Rev. Brian Kiely
The Chalice is now extinguished, but its light lives on in the minds and hearts and souls of each one of you. Carry that flame with you as you leave this place and share it with those you know, with those you love, and most especially, with those you have yet to meet.
An Inner Whisper Not Obvious or Known to Others-John O’Donohue
Somewhere in every heart there is a discerning voice. This voice distrusts the status quo. It sounds out the falsity in things and encourages dissent from the images that things tend to assume. It underlines the secret crevices where the surface has become strained. It advises distance and opens up a new perspective through which the concealed meaning of a situation might emerge.
Its intention is to keep the heart clean and clear. This voice is an inner whisper not obvious or known to others outside. Yet much depends on that small voice. The truth of its whisper marks the line between honor and egoism, kindness and chaos. In extreme situations, which have been emptied of all shelter and tenderness, that small voice whispers from somewhere beyond and encourages the heart to hold out for dignity, respect, beauty and love. That whisper brings forgotten nobility into an arena where violence has traduced everything.
This faithful voice can illuminate the dark lands of despair. It becomes both the sign and presence of a transcendence that no force or horror can extinguish. Each day in the world, in the prisons, hospitals and killing fields, against all the odds, this still, small voice continues to echo the beauty of the human being.
In haunted places this voice carries the light of beauty like a magical lantern to transform desolation, to remind us that regardless of what may be wrenched from us, there is a dignity and hope that we do not have to lose. This voice brings us directly into contact with the inalienable presence of beauty in the soul.
Invocation in Hard Times
by Rev. Maureen Killoran
Welcome, you who come in need of healing,
you who are confused, or have been betrayed.
Welcome, with your problems and your pain.
Welcome, too, your joys and your wonderings,
welcome your need to hope, your longing for assurance.
Instead of answers, here may you find safety for your questions.
Instead of promises, may you find community for your struggles,
people with hands and hearts to join you
in engaging the challenges and changes of our day.
Chalice Lighting: Still There is Light
by Nadine McSpadden
During our darkest moments, still, there is light.
When facing our biggest challenges, still, there is light.
When all we can do is put one foot in front of the other, still, there is light.
When we can’t see the way out, still, there is light.
When all we can do to help is hold someone ís hand as they cry, still, there is light.
We are the light. For ourselves and for one another.
Always, there is light.
Meditation on Letting Go
by Rev. Thomas Rhodes
Let us enter into a time of meditation, contemplation, and prayer. Feel the earth beneath your feet as it supports you. Feel the love of this community as it surrounds and enfolds you. Feel your breath as it flows in and out of your body. Listen to your heartbeat. Listen to your heart.
Take another breath, and hold it. The air you hold in your body is the most precious thing in the world, for your very life depends on it.
And yet, none of us can hold on to it for more than a moment, or else we would strangle and die. What is most precious to us must be released, [exhale] so that we may live, and live fully. Look into your heart, find what is there, and hold it.
The love you hold within your heart is the most precious thing in the world.And yet no one can hold on to it any more than your heart can withhold its blood, or else we would die from loneliness and misery.
What is most precious to us must be shared, so that we may love, and love fully. Look into your life, at those things that are most precious to you. Look again, you will find that their value lies not in being held, but in being shared.
Life, love, laughter, longing, may we share these precious gifts that they may return to us, multiplied beyond measure.
Desolation and Consolation – Within
by Sue Hansen-Barber
In the Hulu series – Zoe ís Extraordinary Playlist, the main character, Zoe, hears the inner thoughts and feelings of others around her, through songs they sing - only to her.† The show portrays how this is both a blessing and a curse.† Yes, she knows what people are feeling and thinking, and because she does, she feels compelled to help them, and sometimes... that gets messy.††
I, like Zoe, am a fixer, someone who wants to always make things better when I sense or I know that someone is in pain.† And if I can ít fix the problem, I feel like I have failed; and that can lead me to bowing out of the situation altogether.†††
Our hiking and skiing buddy, Bill died on Dec. 22.† Two weeks earlier, he and his partner Karen had come to visit us.† Bill was not usually a come visit you kind of guy - Covid or no Covid.† But he had wanted to hear the story of my hiking accident - and so they came.††
We had a nice visit.† My hiking accident story was told - complete with sharing of xrays and scars. † We heard about Bill ís immunotherapy treatments for his late stage melanoma.† We cheered on his efforts to beat this cancer.† We reminisced about hiking and skiing and the weather.† At various points in the conversation, my brain would scream - That sucks!† I’m so sorry you have cancer, but no one voiced those sentiments - least of all, me.† Granted, Bill was not one to discuss his health with friends.† We were surprised that he was allowing Karen to tell us about the melanoma, the treatments, the pain.† We were also quite shocked that Bill was consenting to be treated, as throughout his life, he had avoided doctors at all cost - even with some very serious injuries and illnesses.† I suppose that all fed into our responses - we wanted the problem to be solvable.† We wanted to believe it could be fixed.††
But now we know - Bill didn’t.† Perhaps he believed that it was hopeless, or he despaired of ever being healthy and able-bodied again.† Maybe the pain was so great, it was more than he could bear.† Did the conflict he felt about trusting his health to doctors - and paying to trust them - weigh heavy on his mind?† Whatever the sadness, pain, despair Bill felt, he began making decisions.† He quit the immunotherapy, and planned for the final solution - to take his own life.††
And, on Dec. 19, he attempted to do just that.† Except he didn’t die - and it was in the not dying that Bill ís family and friends were able to sit with him in his despair, in his pain, and say goodbye.† Friends came to his bedside who hadn’t seen him in a long time.† No more was anyone trying to fix things - this couldn’t be fixed.† But we could - at his bedside - and from far away - say those things that we had been thinking all along.† This sucks!† I’m so sad this has happened to you.† You have meant a lot to me.† Goodbye.† I will miss you.††
I believe in my heart - as confirmed by others, that Bill heard those words and was comforted in those moments.† He felt loved.† And in the act of speaking those thoughts and wishes aloud, we found consolation too.†††
As the Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist episodes progress, there are a number of sad - and even tragic events that occur.† And Zoe can’t solve them, even with her powers of knowing the thoughts and feelings of those involved.† Sometimes, she just lets the people involved know that she is there for them - should they want to talk.† Sometimes, she just sits with them.††
The lesson for me† - I believe -† is to know some problems cannot be fixed - by me or anyone else.† Sometimes, you just reminisce about skiing, and hiking, and places you have been together, and look forward to better days - whatever those might be.† And then Ö...you sit.
Comfort Ye My People
by Barbara Rohde
I wasn’t flattered when one of my daughters confided that she had thought of me as The Big There-There when she was three years old. If I remember correctly, I was in the middle of a phase where I was hoping to reassure myself that I still had a fertile mind as well as a welcoming bosom.
Now, years later, I can admit that the role of Big There-There is a necessary part of parenthood not to be disparaged. At times even the most mature of us want someone to dry our eyes, encircle us with welcoming arms, and offer us a cup of hot cocoa. I shall be forever grateful to my friend Ruth, who interrupted her political campaign to ride to the hospital, make her way past the folks in intensive care with convincing stories that I was her little sister, and reach bravely through the thicket of I.V.s, heart monitors, and breathing tubes to embrace me.
Still, the origin of the word comfort means to make strong. As comforters, we often believe we have to take away the pain, only to discover that we are only able to help those in pain find the sources of their own strength. At times it is our mere presence. I am here. I see your suffering. I care for you. î At times it is a helping hand. I’ll vacuum. I’ll wash up these dishes. I’ll drive you. At times, it is a few words that put things in perspective.
We’re never quite sure what will truly comfort another, or what special act will comfort us. We go looking for a Big There-There and find instead that the excitement of a new idea lifts us from despair. I expected little solace from my frail ninety-year-old father when he called me in the hospital to see how I was, but when he called me Punky for the first time in fifty-four years, I felt the fidelity of that relationship. My narrow room was filled with memory and hope.
Perhaps those of us who would be comforters could learn from the medieval scholastic who wrote so long ago, Work, therefore, in what you do, from love and not from fear.
If we can put aside our fear that we might say or do something to add inadvertently to the suffering of those we would comfort, if we can put aside our fear of our own loss or the pain of our own pity, then love might find its way of bringing strength to the weak and light to those in the shadows.
Extinguishing the Chalice:
The Work We Share by Rev. Krista Taves
It is our work, shared with each other in covenant,
That creates and sustains this beloved community.
We extinguish this chalice, but its light lives on
in the directions we have chosen today.
The light of this faith lives on in us, together,
in our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits.
Amen and Blessed Be.
Be a Branch of the Tree of Life
by Rev. Norman Naylor
Our eyes and minds turn now toward the ordinary. Leaving this space made sacred by our presence, take with you at least some seed of understanding, hope and courage and drop it into the confusion of the world. Nourish the seed that it might grow as a tree of life-giving shelter to the weary and hope to the despairing. Be yourself a branch of the tree of life. Amen.
Neal Schindler's links for more info about Being Jewish in Spokane:
www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org and www.myjewishlearning.com
Things to look up and read:
Haaretz, Jewish Currents, Jewschool, New Voices, Lilith, Tikkun, the Forward, Tablet, Times of Israel, JPost
Contact info for Neal Schindler:
NIUU Sermon 12/13/2020
By Connie Johnson
My mother’s mother, Grandma Mary, spent her childhood in Scotland and came by ship to Canada in 1910. Learning about her life is my ongoing life pursuit.
What I knew about my grandmother was this: she rarely smiled or spoke, if she spoke, she used a very quiet voice and her eyes looked down. She was overwhelmed by our family of twelve children and wouldn’t visit much at our chaotic house.
So she invited me and my siblings one at a time to stay in her tiny downtown Victoria, BC apartment where she lived alone with her parakeet, Paulie.
During my first visit with her I was about six-years-old and became curious, like children do, about everything in her life. She took me along on her regular routines: her strolls through Beacon Hill park, her work as an elevator lift operator for an office building, her stops at the nut roasting shop and her checking the marquee for newly released movies playing at the theater next door to her apartment.
In my twenties and on a college break, I travelled to Auntie Thelmaís house in Victoria to tape record a dialogue with Grandma Mary. We hoped to hear stories about Scotland but after posing the first question to my grandma, my aunt insisted we turn off the recorder.
I realized then that my aunt was protecting a family secret.
Sadly, grandma died several years later.
More years passed and I was experiencing a troubling time with my mom. So I attended a personal 3-day spiritual retreat. The second night there, I fell asleep listening to ancient cedar trees at my window.
I had a powerful dream which awakened me.
My Grandma Mary appeared to be sitting in a chair next to my bed.
I looked at the shoes she wore, the sturdy English walking shoes like those of Mary Poppins. That was the clue that this was my Grandma Mary as I remembered her.
She talked softly and told me to travel to Scotland to find her birthplace. She promised that the journey would help me heal the strained relationship with my mom.
When I awoke, I dismissed this dream as strange and puzzling.
Nowadays the dream reminds me of the Beatles song: When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
Back home from the retreat I forgot about the dream. After a couple weeks the dream niggled at me again, so I decided to go through my mom's old papers in order to find my grandma's birth certificate.
When I found the birth certificate, I read it, I read it again. I was stunned.
I had the dream of Grandma Mary exactly, to date, on her 100th birthday!
As human kindness goes, huge kindnesses happen when there are hard times, like overwhelming poverty, homelessness, hatred and wars.
We might think of small kindnesses happening as one-on-one encounters when someone makes an attempt to improve a person’s situation or help them to understand their life.
Particular attempts at kindness seem impossible; some seem small and simple. All efforts toward kindness are important for the ripple effect that creates more kindness.
The First Kindness
My Auntie Thelma broke the family secret and said that Grandma Mary Gwynn was a child indentured servant sent to Canada. We learned that the Canadian Home Children, as they were called, were shipped to Canada as young as two-years-old. My grandma was ten when she lived in an orphanage and learned to work in a laundry. She arrived in Canada at age twelve.
Sometimes when a family situation improved, the parents returned to the children’s home society orphanage and asked to take back their child only to find that the child had already been shipped to Canada.
As adults, Home Children could not vote or own land in Canada. They weren’t given citizenship.
From what I was learning, my grandma’s real-life story is nothing like the sweetened version of child indentured servants told in the Anne of Green Gables series.
I’m happily an American and Canadian citizen.
The Second Kindness
I was convinced to go to Glasgow Scotland. My husband Chris encouraged me to take the trip and Cathy insisted she come as a friend support. She gave me a journal and challenged me to write each and every day. "This isn’t a vacation’s she said, this is a pilgrimage! So we nick-named the pilgrimage, The Quest for the Holy Grannie
The Third Kindness
Cathy and I landed at Heathrow airport, claimed our bags and headed onward. A kind woman helped carry our bags onto the Underground. The three of us had five minutes to discover our kinship: Her name was Connie which is a pretty good name, if I do say so myself. She was an American living in London but from Seattle where I grew up. Plus she was a teacher like me and Cathy.
Kin is the root word for kinship and kindness. To treat one another with kindness means treating them like kin or family, our human family.
For many reasons like genetics and survival of the species, kindness is an amazing human attribute.
On the Tube ride, Connie said, " I want to hear more about your Quest for the Holy Grannie." So just before her station was called, she gave us her address and number, inviting us to come stay with her, which we did.
Meeting Connie was Synchronicity.
Synchronicity is essential, especially when committing random acts of kindness.
In the short story video, we saw earlier, the veteran soldier took his time and became aware in the moment of the homeless vet asleep on the street. He made a choice to help. That is synchronicity.
The Fourth Kindness
There was no GPS to guide us back then and we circled round Glasgow searching for the address on my grandmother is birth certificate. We got lost, tired, hungry and snippy. Of course, we needed a bathroom. In Glasgow, when all else fails, stop at a pub.
Although the whole pub was speaking English, we couldn’t understand the brogue.
A barmaid pointed out the women’s bathroom. Then she followed us there where it was quiet enough to talk. I asked her for directions to Society Street. Did I hear her correctly? She said her own grandmother grew up near Society Street!
Many of her words went over my head as she quickly gave directions.
But after two minutes of listening, I suddenly understood every word she spoke.
I’m wracking that up to my Scottish DNA.
Christine, the barmaid explained, society Street is a short crossroad down a few blocks from here. The older buildings are gone now. I
Then she gave a history of the area and drew back a curtain in time.
She said, the main street outside the pub's door is where your great grandmother and grandmother as a child would have strolled each day to do their shopping. And they would have hurried passed the convicts who were hanging by rope in the prison yard. That prison is long gone.
You’re lucky, she told me, because this area of Glasgow called Gallowgate looks very similar to the photos taken a hundred years ago. Go to the bookstore kitty-corner from the arched gate which leads into town. The original arch is still standing. Buy the book with the collected Gallowgate historical pictures. If you match the photos to those buildings in the area, you’ll find places where your grandmother may have dwelled.
So, we followed Christine’s advice. My grandmother is childhood world came alive as we found places like the large stone archway, the bookstore, the tearoom and the marketplace.
Christine was also right about Society Street; there were new apartment buildings, and nothing looked like the late1800ís.
We stood near the new buildings on Society Street as questions about my grandma’s childhood filled my mind. I had a feeling like the planets had aligned themselves in the sky above me.
I felt gratitude and simply blessed the sacred bonds of my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mom, me and my sisters.
When I returned home, I did more research but many records on Canadian Home Children were not available at the time.
Within a month, my oldest sister called and invited me to meet with mom and my sisters. The meeting was a wonderful family healing, and the promise of the dream was complete.
I traveled to Victoria BC to visit Grandma Mary’s grave and to place there a sprig of purple heather straight from Scotland.
My kindness to Grandma Mary is to honor her life.
I discovered that over a hundred-thousand children were sent to Canada from 1869 to 1932. The law that allowed this in Great Britain was finally overturned in the1970ís.
Through my research, I recently received an email from the Canadian Home Children’s Association with a photo of the group who sailed with my grandmother in June 1910. I recognized my grandmother as a young girl.
I began planning a trip to Bridge of Weir, Scotland to see the Scottish Presbyterian Children’s home society where my grandmother lived for two years before the home society sent her to Canada. That visit is on hold because of the pandemic.
I remembered the grandmother pilgrimage when practicing Venerable Pema Chodron’s meditation on how we have received kindness throughout our life.
Venerable Chodron says kindness began when we were growing in our mothers’ wombs. Doctors and nurses cared for us when were a fetus, an infant, monitoring our mother’s health while our families prepared to receive us into our home. For most of us we were provided space, food, clothing and care.
Now that we’re adults there are workers we’ve never met performing kindness for us all dayworkers who are: farming food, stacking the store shelves, building houses, installing electricity and furnaces, sewing our clothes and shoes, building cars, teaching reading, teaching nursing, creating art, cleaning streets, answering our phones calls and emails, making our appointments, collecting garbage, digging graves, holding hands at hospices, creating vaccines, listening to us and loving us.
Many of those workers say their life goal is to be helpful. Helping others makes them happy and so the work isn’t just for the paycheck.
By looking at the many life kindnesses we’ve received we can explore values that motivate us to be kind to others.
Ask yourself how to have your received kindness in childhood and throughout your life?
What synchronicities do you notice that have motivated kindness?
What values do you hold that help motivate your acts of kindness?