Archive for April, 2015

Apr 27 2015

May Theme: Awe and Wonder

Published by under Minister's Musings

Awe and Wonder in the Everyday:

Join Us for 31 Days of Noticing, Creating, and Posting!

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 Are you the kind of person for whom “Awe and Wonder”—May’s theme—seem extraordinary, something you experience only on rare occasions when the immensity of the universe or the miracle of life takes your breath away?

Or are you the kind of person who experiences a sense of amazement, of connectedness, of curiosity—all symptoms of “awe and wonder”—every single day?

Last month, I run a pilot test of the spiritual practice I want to propose for May. And I learn a little about the kind of person I am. (Let’s just pretend for a moment that the above two are our choices.)

Day one: I ask myself to notice something that inspires awe or wonder.

Just moments later, I am amazed when I walk into the big post office on First Street and find no one in line! I marvel at the warm, friendly conversation I have with the person at the counter. I rattle off my enthusiasm for our Unitarian Universalist faith when he asks about my chalice necklace. “Awesome!” I think, as I head back to the office. “Piece of cake, this spiritual practice. I’ll try it for a second day.”

Day two: ………………………………….

Nothing. Nada. Tumbleweeds drifting across the barren landscape of my wonder-less life.

And so on for the next few days. Somehow I forget to look up from the to-do list to notice some sweet special-delivery message from my senses. Somehow I lose my confidence that it’s OK to call the “small” encounters awe-some or wonder-full. Evidently I think “awe and wonder” must represent something rare indeed.

Yet the experience of wonder lies at the heart of our religion. The very first of the six Sources for the ever-unfolding “living tradition” of Unitarian Universalism is “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.”

A renewal of the spirit. An openness to life itself. Those sound like much-needed refreshment for all of us, whether or not we can connect with the “transcendent” part.

So let’s invite awe and wonder back into our daily lives this month. The spiritual practice is simple: all we need to do is to be on the lookout—using all our senses—for what amazes us or awes us, one day at a time. What gives you a sense of wonder today? What makes you curious today? Here’s how it works:

The Practice

Please join me for thirty-one days of experiencing awe and wonder in the everyday!

  1. Notice: Find below the list of prompts for each day in May. The prompts suggest where you might look for experiences of awe or wonder. For example, on May 1, “Small,” ask yourself: “What tiny thing or small experience amazes me today?” Whether it’s the bones in your little toe, or a bee dipping into a flower, or a momentary sweet encounter with a stranger on the street—there can be wonder in what’s small.

Note: These prompts need not limit you! Use them or ignore them—the point is to take a moment each day to slow down and simply notice. If you only do those two things—slow down and notice—then you are contributing to our communal spiritual practice! Yet we hope you’ll take the next step, too:

  1. Create: When you notice that flicker of wonder or curiosity—when you notice something that amazes you in a large or small way—take a picture, write a poem, or scribble a descriptive sentence or two. Have some fun with this second step. No need to be literal about the prompts—just play. Or if being literal increases your wonder, then mine the meaning of each prompt to your heart’s content. See if you can capture in words or imagery some of that childlike amazement that comes with seeing the world “for the first time.
  2. Post: Share your photo or your writing. First post it to our Facebook group at (you can sign up for Facebook for free). In this way, we will inspire and encourage each other through the month. Then send it to our newsletter editors at We’ll publish some of the photos, poems, and paragraphs in our June journal.
  3. No worries! There is no right or wrong way to engage in this practice, as long as your intention is to reawaken your sense of wonder. Some days will be more of a challenge than others. Don’t worry if you miss a day. Just keep coming back to the practice, and noticing. We can bet that this spiritual practice gets easier with … practice.
  4. Want some more inspiration? Read “In Our Own Voices” in the newsletter. Our congregants’ responses go deep on this theme. Then join us for worship and Small Group Ministry sessions as we pause to marvel and wonder.

I look forward to “wondering” with you!


Rev. Nancy

The Prompts


  1. Small
  2. Large
  3. Touch
  4. Heavy
  5. Unexpected
  6. Familiar
  7. Light
  8. Orange
  9. Violet
  10. Smell
  11. Sharp
  12. Soft
  13. Loud
  14. Silent
  15. Swift
  16. Lingering
  17. Young
  18. Old
  19. Earth
  20. Water
  21. Fire
  22. Air
  23. Emptiness or Energy
  24. Taste
  25. Surface
  26. Depth
  27. Separate
  28. Together
  29. Same
  30. Different
  31. Your own awesome self!

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Apr 01 2015

April Theme: Transformation and Rebirth

Published by under Minister's Musings

“Say, Rev. Nancy, How’s That Book Coming Along?”

A Story of Transformation in Progress

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 In September, I announced to you—with joy and a tremor of terror—that my co-author Karin Lin and I had signed a two-year contract with Skinner House Books (one of Unitarian Universalism’s presses). After months spent drafting our proposal, we had a few moments to savor those signatures and celebrate our official go-ahead. Then we gulped and plunged into the actual work of researching, writing, and producing the book.

The Joy of the Journey: Unitarian Universalist Congregations on the Road to Multiculturalism is the working title that will surely change. Here at First Unitarian we know that the journey to living out our faith in multicultural, antiracist, antioppressive ways is joyful at times and also difficult, frustrating, and long. Yet even with the stumbles and detours, the confusion and discouragement, progress on this path is necessary, rewarding, and profoundly spiritual. It is truly a “journey toward wholeness” in body, mind, heart, and spirit for individuals and community alike.

As Karin and I build our own multicultural relationship and connect with other Unitarian Universalists on the journey, we find ourselves in the midst of many “transformations and rebirths.” I long to share more of our discoveries with you.

 Progress on the Book

Through the last six months, Karin and I have talked weekly (she lives in Cambridge, Mass.), reviewed the current literature on our topic, interviewed teams from congregations we will feature in the book, refined our vision, revised our table of contents, drafted many paragraphs, designed a requested pamphlet that congregations can put in their entryways, and planned our first site visits to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis (UUCA) and to the Leading Edge Conference in New York City later in April. We have heard powerful personal testimonies and gathered a list of core principles. Here’s just a sample:


  • Karin Lin, lay leader at First Parish, Cambridge: “What would I have wanted to know when I first began this work of building multicultural Unitarian Universalist community? That the journey is going to be 10,000 times longer than I thought it would be. And the resistance is going to be hurtful and heartbreaking, but it’s also going to change me more than anything else in my life.”
  • Fred Muir, senior minister at UUCA: “I really do think that our congregations becoming multicultural is an issue of whether Unitarian Universalism will make it into the next century, or even complete this century. It’s a faith I love, [and it] has to begin to change and evolve as the country is evolving.” He reminds us that it took about 300 years to get our congregations to be the way they are now, so he urges us to stick with it for the long haul. “It will take more than a three- to five-year strategic plan to redirect us,” Fred says.
  • John Crestwell, associate minister at UUCA: Ministers must have a fierce commitment to this work, John advises. After all, “it’s my responsibility to take people to task when they are not living up to Unitarian Universalist values,” he says. He finds hope in the diversity of the ministry team leading UUCA now: an older white minister (Fred), an African-American man (John), and a young-adult white woman (Christina Leone Tracy). “Hope is in who is on the chancel leading worship—that’s progress, that’s hope.”

John’s words echo one of the core principles we are discovering. Fred’s words do, too: “Keep your eyes on the prize knowing that there will be detours, stops and starts, frustrations, and disappointments, as well as times of joy and celebrating. It helps to meditate, pray, sing, and look onward to the next milestone.”

As I work on this book, I feel ever closer to you, Beloved Community, and ever more committed to the long and winding road toward multicultural community that you launched at First Unitarian decades ago and along which we continue to move. Please join us on this journey of “transformation and rebirth,” as we sing and meditate and celebrate our way forward this month!

With fierce commitment and abiding love,

Rev. Nancy

Core Principles for Multicultural Congregations

Although there is no single roadmap for navigating this journey, there are certain core principles confirmed by the current literature on multicultural congregations and by the experiences of our Unitarian Universalist conversation partners. These include:

  1. Theological Vision: A powerful commitment to an overarching goal—something higher even than multiculturalism itself. A commitment to living our faith with integrity, which in turn calls us to a life of radical inclusivity.
  2. Clear Mission Statement: A congregational mission that states this commitment clearly.
  3. Equitable, Accountable Governance: Ensuring access and accountability for all and institutionalizing growing our self-awareness around systems of power and privilege. Opportunities for multiculturalism and antiracism trainings are ongoing, with everyone encouraged to participate.
  4. Inclusive Worship in Style and Message: People from nondominant cultures need to be able to see and hear themselves reflected in words, music, leadership, and sacred space.
  5. Diverse Leadership: Having multicultural teams lead worship, serve as ministers, and participate in governance communicates that the congregation values everyone and recognizes their gifts.
  6. Commitment to Working for Justice in the Community: A way of living our faith out loud and of letting the community know that all are welcomed and valued here.
  7. Relationships Are Central: Like all spiritually infused justice work, relationships form the beginning, middle, and end of this work. These relationships meet people “where they are,” while encouraging everyone to grow, stretch, and be open to change.
  8. Patience, Perseverance, Adaptability, a Willingness to Try and to Try Again: A sense of humor and a grounding in Love are crucial, too!

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