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?