Thinking to share something from my recent trip to the southern Republic of Ireland, I read Seamus Heaney’s poem “Postscript” as Chalice Lighting words for the monthly meeting of the Worship Associates last Saturday. I was struck as I read his brilliant words how much his description of the dramatic landscape of western County Clare also describes what happens when worship works the way it is supposed to. The beauty that comes toward you out of the mist is there for you only for a moment. The more you try to capture it, the more distance you put between yourself and the revelation that is seeking to enter you. That moment best takes you off guard, as the poet notes, so that your heart, blown open, takes in the experience while it is alive, still pulsing with the mystery of that particular collision of shapes and colors, textures and sensations, memories and meaning. No photograph can hold that slow tide of wonder. If you give your attention to creating a record of the moment, you miss it. But we took photos too.
Postscript (Seamus Heaney)
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
Donnchadh Gough, uilleann piper (L); Robbie O’Connell, guitar; WGBH Boston’s Brian O’Donovan clapping. The Cliffs of Moher.
Thank you for this precious time away.
I’ve got a hodge podge of little things to share with you this month. Linda and I are adventuring in Ireland October 1-10 (I’ll be back at the job on Saturday the 14th—leading Session I of the Belonging series). I have been a Celtophile ever since I was given my first Clancy Brothers album, The First Hurrah! (1964), when I was maybe nine or ten. Recently I discovered that Celtic music pairs wonderfully with gym workouts. One spring morning while I was tackling random hills on the stationary bike to the tunes Brian O’Donovan was spinning on his WGBH Boston Public Radio show, Celtic Sojourn, I heard that he and Robbie O’Connell, a Clancy nephew and musician, were leading a musical tour of southern Ireland. We signed up! We’ll be seeing the sites around Clonakilty (Cork), New Ross (Wexford), Clonmel (Tipperary), and Ennis (Clare), plus enjoying guests and “sessions” most evenings!
My Ancestry DNA analysis last year revealed that 23% of my DNA is Irish in origin. Even though I haven’t yet tracked down the names of those ancestors, I am grateful to be able to explore in situ the roots of my deep resonance with Celtic music. And Speaking of gratitude, on Sunday, September 17, I declared this this year in our Fellowship as “A Year of Counting Blessings.” What does that mean? It means we’ll be taking regular opportunities on Sundays and at other times to lift up our personal and collective gratitude for gifts received and goodness noted. For instance, look for the appearance of a Gratitude Book on a music stand in the foyer or Sanctuary. One Sunday a month I will read a composition of what is written there as part of the service. Anyone can write in it any time, anonymously or not, about a blessing they have received for which they wish to give public thanks. This is a time, in our country and our Fellowship, for making sure we notice and share the good things that are still happening every day. All is never lost. How can we keep from singing?
NOTES: 1. Our orientation to UUism and UUFSB, called Belonging, starts on Saturday morning, October 14th. Yes, it’s a newcomer class, but if you’ve never taken it—no matter how long you have been with us—please consider attending as a way of serving new seekers and as a renewal of your own connection to this faith and community. Stories, conversation, learning and good food! 2. Our very popular contemplative evening services called “Vespers” is returning. We’re offering four services between now and June and the first is Friday, October 20th, 7-9 p.m. 3. I am presenting a 4-hour introductory workshop on nonviolent (compassionate) communication on Saturday, October 28. This is a profoundly effective method of communication in times of peace and conflict. Join us! Sláinte (slawn-cha), Cheers!
I hope you’ve had some time this summer to relax a little, enjoy the outdoors, soak up some sun, maybe travel a little. I’ve been back on the job for a few weeks now, a couple of Sundays already under my belt. Our Homecoming service is coming up on September 10th. Many hands are working on music, our annual photo, worship to launch our year, a little tribute to our amazing Congregational Administrator, Susan Catanzaro, who begins her 21st year with the Fellowship this fall, a fabulous barbecue picnic and—new this year—a post-service mini-concert to accompany our meal! So gather some water for our communion, put on your water colors, work up a little side dish and come celebrate!
- You need a sympathetic ear for problems with your job, children, marriage, relationship, or anything else; you are feeling confused, depressed, or isolated or have a joy to share.
- You or someone you love is ill or facing surgery; perhaps you notice that someone you know in the congregation needs support.
- Someone you love is near death or has died or and you need help with end-of-life planning or a service; you’re planning to marry, struggling in a relationship or contemplating divorce; you’re pregnant but wish you weren’t or are thrilled you are; you would like to have a child dedicated; you are undergoing a major transition in your life and would like to create a ritual to recognize the threshold you are crossing.
- You or someone you know has questions about religion or Unitarian Universalism; you want to build your theology, deepen your spiritual life or are in spiritual crisis; you’d like to join the congregation or are already a member and are wondering how you can participate more fully in congregational life; you’d like to share your talents and gifts as part of one of our groups, committees, or classes, or serve as a volunteer in some other way.
- You want to affirm something good going on in the congregation or would like to discuss a congregational issue that is troubling you; you have ideas about sermons or programs or have a project you would like to initiate; you’re mad at me or someone else and want to air your feelings and work it out…
Maybe you’d just like to come sit with me and see what may open to us out of the silence. The point is, as much as it may seem that preaching on Sunday is What/All Ministers Do, my deepest call is to support you as individuals and families when you are struggling. Troubles don’t keep business hours. Just call.
Greetings from fair Brewster on Cape Cod Bay where I have been reeling in inspiration for the congregational year that takes off this September 10th with our 7th annual Homecoming Sunday service. On that morning, don’t forget to bring some water in a small container (maybe a cup or two, but could be less). This can be water you collected from some distant sea or river or glacier or lake you loved on your travels this summer. It could be water from our own long island water-ways and -bodies. It could be water from a neighborhood puddle or from your tap or from Splish Splash or your own pool. Wherever you find it, water is the fluid through which Earth circulates the nutrients we need to live. In all indigenous traditions water is held sacred, cherished and protected. And water is the substance we share in this year’s Homecoming communion. Bring yours to our confluence on the green outside our sanctuary windows the Sunday after Labor Day. Wear clothes the color of water—blues and teals and maybe white for the rapids and whitecaps. We will be awash and a wave, drizzle and flow, a delicious cool communal sharing to start out a promising new year.
Here’s a little taste of how I’ve been spending my time during study leave (I’m in week two of four). I watched the eight-part TV documentary mini-series on Native American history that aired on PBS in 1995. Watch it yourself here. You will come away wiser. On your courageous path into undoing racism in your life and in our world, try this: “Under Our Skin,” Seattle Times , short videos of people of various races and ethnicities defining in their own words today’s vocabulary of race and privilege. I’ve devoured the second of two books by Octavia Butler: Parable of the Talents. It is a continuation of the story of a utopian dreamer in a dystopian world that resembles ours in uncanny ways. Start with Parable of the Sower and read on. Google “Eli Saslow, ‘The White Flight of Derek Black,’ Washington Post (10/15/16) for the story of the education of a white supremacist. Fascinating and heartening. Other books: Nate Walker’s Exorcising Preaching; Paula Cole Jone’s Encounters: poems about race and identity; Robin Wall Kimmerer's, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants; and Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau (who turned 200 on 7/12). Wishing you each summer ease and joy, and I’ll see you soon,
Many workplaces and other communities recognize, if only at a folk wisdom level, some variation of the rule of three. When I was a nurse, for instance, emergencies in the nursing unit seemed often to occur in groups of three. As far as I know, there is no statistical reality behind such beliefs, but we’d nevertheless worry about who the third in a series might turn out to be, the same way nurses on the maternity unit worried about working on full moons. And of course, we always acted “as if” we were completely in charge of sanity and survival and with real confidence, invested our hearts and skills in good preventative care.
Last Saturday (4/15), Matt’s kitty, Molly, began to signal that she was ready to die, months after diagnosis with lymphoma. She and her tortoiseshell sister, Quellie, had provided sweet companionship for Matt for more than 14 years. Matt decided he wanted to be sure to be with Molly when she died, so the Anderson-Allens took her to the vet on Monday (4/18) to assure her a peaceful and accompanied death. She was a purry-furry up to the very end. We will miss her.
Then my uncle Bill Haynes died unexpectedly early in a hospital admission on Tuesday night (4/18). The funeral was yesterday in Monticello, GA, in a hard to get to place in the mountains south and east of Atlanta. No matter how we worked the flights (or the $$), there was no way I could make the service. My mother was the oldest of five and my uncles Bill and Charlie the two next in line, and all three are gone now (Bill is on the right in the picture). I am hoping Bill’s death will spur my growing southern family to hold a reunion soon. It’s been many years since we’ve come together. I miss them.
Yesterday morning (4/22, Earth Day) we woke to the sound of the huge 100 year-old healthy maple tree being chainsawed down in our across-the-street neighbor's yard. They erased all trace of it in 90 minutes. Even the stump is gone; even the story of that tree's life, extinguished.
Spring. Loss is hard. All our relations. Threes.
The beautiful handmade pulpit that graces our sanctuary is made of seven panels of walnut wood, one for each of the seven principles our faith has drawn out of our history as sure guides for healthy human relationships and communities. It is, for anyone who stands behind that pulpit to speak, looking out over a crowd of expectant and often beloved faces, both a distinct privilege and an honor, given and accepted in reciprocal respect. The pulpit is a symbol of freedom, power, inspiration, and integrity. History eddies there, cranks up the gravity, electrifies the air, demands of you, whoever you are, more than you believe you can be or offer. Our pulpit is the center around which our collective search for truth and meaning orbits. What is said there really matters, the truth, as the speaker understands it. Not the big “T” Truth, the only Truth, the Truth everyone has to swallow hook, line and sinker, but the little “t” truth, yours and mine, delivered honestly, humbly and as clearly as possible with the goal of shared understanding. The speaker at our pulpit is not there to convince or persuade, to rally or disabuse, to shame or flatter, but to describe something important about being human in a way that makes their personal point of view clear and respects that others may see things differently.
We gather on Sundays to hear our companions-on-the-journey speak about matters that move them, to listen carefully and enter into their perspective, and then to find the courage to use what we hear to re-explore, again and again, our own convictions, as malleable or calcified as they may be, with the understanding that openness to new revelation is the foundation of spiritual growth. We’re here to grow, and sometimes the process of growing can be as uncomfortable as it is exhilarating.
Our Promises to One Another When We Gather
- We promise to speak honestly and humbly out of genuine familiarity with our topic and deep respect for our listeners.
- We promise to be inclusive of human difference in the language we choose to use, that there may be as few barriers as possible to full engagement.
- We promise to avoid demonizing individuals or groups, labeling or name-calling, reducing complicated issues to either/or polarities, assuming “like-mindedness” on any topic when we are speaking with others in a congregational setting.
- We promise to focus on the moral dimensions of public policy in our common life as citizens and not on particular political parties or politicians, except to invite interested others to join in specific actions (such as lobbying, letter-writing, demonstrations or marches) designed to protect the rights and meet the needs of human beings, our many relations and the Earth.
- We promise, during election seasons, to be familiar with and adhere to “The Real Rules” in order to protect our tax-free status with the IRS.
- We promise to make verbal allowance for differing opinions when we take strong stands in our presentations, remembering our forebear Ferenc Dávid’s words “We need not think alike to love alike.”
- We promise to listen to opinions that oppose our own with the openness we hope others will offer us.
Love alike, friends.