Archive for November, 2017

Nov 22 2017

December Journal: Why Do We Unitarian Universalists Do Christmas?

Published by under Minister's Musings

Why Do We Unitarian Universalists Do Christmas?
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
On October 22, during our Diwali celebration this year, Sundar Mudupalli begins his reflection with these beautiful words:
“In preparing for this service, we members of the worship team have a robust discussion about why we celebrate Diwali in our church. Are we being cultural voyeurs? Is this another aspect of white supremacy benevolently accommodating other cultures when convenient?”
Then he answers: “What I see is not voyeurism, but a wholeness that comes from incorporating aspects from other cultures that speak better to me than my own. For example, in the spiritual practice of my birth, I don’t have a way of honoring the dead. I find that the Day of the Dead celebration incorporates my desire to respect and honor my ancestors. So, too, from Diwali, we can incorporate the long view presented in the Ramayana into our spiritual practice.”
Just a couple of weeks later, a Worship Associate asks a similar question: Why do we at the First Unitarian Church of San José make such a big deal about Christmas? We light the Advent candles every Sunday of the season. We offer a candlelight Christmas Eve service.
It’s a great question, and I hope it sparks a robust discussion among us!
We are a purposely diverse group. Some folks feel oppressed, overwhelmed, or disconnected by the wider culture’s focus on this radically commercialized holiday. They wish that we would offer relief from the Christmas onslaught during this time of year.
Others among us would be devastated if we dropped any of our Christmas rituals. And still others would feel better about the Christmas acknowledgments if we would just give equal time to the other festivals of light and darkness at this season, like Chanukah and the Solstice.
This is what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist!
Sure, our faith’s tendency to question absolutely everything can be frustrating, but it can also lead to depth. It can shake us out of sleepy habits. It can awaken us to systemic injustices and oppressions. As a spiritual practice, such questioning is a lot of work. But it can also show us how to build Beloved Community—if we hold our questions and our diverse answers in a curious, compassionate, and openhearted spirit, ready to learn from each other even as we clarify our own beliefs.
So: Why do we do Christmas? Here are few of my own answers. I would love to hear yours.
·        Our religious roots lie in Christianity. The earliest understandings of “unitarianism” and “universalism” lie in interpretations of Jesus’ life and messages from thinkers in the first centuries of the Common Era. These understandings were declared heretical, but they stayed alive counterculturally, because—like the best seekings of any religion—they continue to ring true to some of us. They crack open ideas about what we humans are called to be and do on this earth. I like mining Jesus’ teachings and even the myths around his birth in order to incorporate those core ideas—core ideas about the inherent belovedness and beauty of everyone, and about our human agency to create heaven or hell here on earth through our actions.
·        Our religious ancestors in this country were religious rebels, trying to get back to those core messages from Jesus’ life. Honoring the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter guarantees that I will spend some part of each year deepening my own understanding of this heritage. Our Living Tradition draws on wisdom from six rich sources, including “wisdom from the world’s religions” and “Jewish and Christian teachings,” and I want to explore them all!
·        In general, we Unitarian Universalists are ritual-poor. Ritual speaks to mind, heart, body, and spirit; it offers experiences beyond a long string of interesting words, and opens a window on wonder. Lighting the candles at Christmastime, building our Día de los Muertos altar, celebrating Flower and Water Communions, lighting the diyas for Diwali, kindling candles or dropping stones for our Joys and Sorrows—these rituals connect us through time to those who come before us and who will come after. They remind us that we are embodied, whole-bodied beings. That feels important in our information-overloaded world.
·        The best spirit of Christmas offers delight to many. The light in our children’s eyes; the toddlers rolling about on the labyrinth in the candlelight on Christmas Eve; the tears as we listen to Crystal Isola sing “O Holy Night”; the sound of our youth’s voices reading new or ancient texts—these bring me home to hope, love, joy, and peace (the themes of this holiday season). And that, my friends, is priceless.
I don’t identify as Christian, though I love Jesus’ witness for love and justice. Every year, the work it takes to find our Unitarian Universalist way into Christmas leads to some new discovery. I hope we can have a robust and openhearted conversation about why we do Christmas, how we can make our reasons ring loud and clear, how we can invite the Christians in our own community to help us lead these services, and what all of us might incorporate from these traditions, even if they are not part of our own culture or theology.
This year, we will lift up Chanukah on December 10 and 17 in worship. We will celebrate Solstice twice—through the Holiday Play on December 17 at 11:00 a.m. and the Solstice service on December 21 at 8:00 p.m. And on Christmas Eve, Sunday, December 24, we offer two different services: one in the morning at 11:00 a.m., and our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at 7:00 p.m.
May these celebrations feed your spirit! May we experience a “wholeness that comes from incorporating aspects from other cultures that speak better to me than my own.” May we continue to grow together!
Yours in the searching,
Rev. Nancy

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Nov 20 2017

December Journal: What does it mean to be a People of WONDER?

Published by under Minister's Musings

In Our Own Voices: What does it mean to be a People of WONDER?
“In Our Own Voices” shares congregants’ free-flowing responses to the theme of the month. We draw these responses from on-line surveys and use them in creating worship, small-group ministry content, and other opportunities for spiritual growth. Look for news of the latest survey in this edition of the newsletter!
When we mention the word wonder, our spirits rise. Respondents’ words lift off the page. We get a physical sensation—a “sense memory,” we call such moments in the acting world—of an opening in the chest, a gasp of breath, a widening of the eyes, a release of endorphins and peace that floods through our body. We stop in our tracks. The corners of our mouths turn up into a gentle smile. Our minds spark with curiosity and eagerness to learn. We feel connected to something larger than ourselves.
Yes, we have to slow down in our hectic, sometimes overwhelming lives in order to notice the moments that bring wonder into our lives. We have to be looking for those moments, open and available to them. But they are there, moments large and small, waiting for our mindful attention. Once noticed, these moments of wonder can change how we move into the next moment—with our broken-open hearts, Love spilling out, and a calm assurance that we are part of an interconnected web of all existence.
May we deepen our practices that lead us to wonder this month! What a great way to enter into the New Year!
With love and wonder in our resilience and strength,
Rev. Nancy
Curiosity as a Path to Wonder
·        Approaching the unknown with an attitude of gentle curiosity
·        Curiosity and deep exploration
·        The mere word WONDER opens up a space in my chest and makes me realize that sometimes I live too tightly bound—in my heart, mind, and body. To be a People of Wonder, or a Person of Wonder, I will ask more questions, be more curious, not jump to conclusions or offer advice and my own opinions, instead of seeking to understand others more deeply first. “I notice …, and I wonder …” is a great formula for getting at difficult conversations. Yes, yes, of course this theme crops up in December when the world’s religious holidays encourage us to experience awe and wonder. But I hope we figure out wider ways to apply this invitation to transformation.
·        The world is a fascinating place, with ever more things to discover. To lose our curiosity and our sense of wonder at the evolving universe would be a terrible thing. What new thing can you see or learn today?
The Opposite of Limitations
·        Instead of thinking in terms of limitations, think: What would my life be like if I learned to identify and to question my self-limiting thoughts?
·        We remind ourselves and each other to wake up and perceive (see, hear, touch) with Awe all the amazingly diverse manifestations of existence. We struggle to understand, and when we arrive at the edge of our limited ability to explain, we step back, gasp a breath, and are struck with a spiritual “Wow!” Without that awareness (Awe-wareness?), our lives would be flat.
Spiritual Practices of Wonder
·        Make time for the natural world, for poetry, music, animals, babies, stories, laughter, and connection.
·        Showing appreciation for things beyond our understanding, like children do—not trying always to appear Cool
·        We notice works that seem beyond the ordinary, casual, and mundane. And we thank or acknowledge the people who are responsible.
·        Ah. We are such a busy society and we seem to be proud of our inability to slow down. How can we find what to wonder about, if we can’t slow down? And now we’re so busy with the political news that it’s tough to remember why we are alive. I love the way friends post pictures of flowers to Facebook; it encourages me to look for those places in my life that renew my spirit.
Staying Open to the “Something More”
·        Wonder, I believe, keeps us grounded in miracles. To be a people of wonder is to be a people that count blessings and see silver linings. A people of wonder may or may not believe in capital-G God, but they often have a connection with a higher power, a sense of universal goodness and creation. In my book, scientists are a people of wonder and appreciation for the wonders of the world. Lastly, wonder keeps us open to welcoming the next person, the next example of creation and life.
·        To me a moment of wonder is when we release our attachments to all we think is real and allow the presence of the NOW to fill our mind and heart. It creates an instant when all is perfect within us, individually and as a whole in Oneness. We really cannot create that moment of wonder by ourselves. It comes when we release ourselves to the Oneness we are in joining, in unity, leaving ALL separation behind. I call this a holy instant.
·        It means to see the world through the eyes of a beginner, a child, or anyone who casts aside their normal way of thinking to view everything anew. It means to hold all life, life forms, and creation as miracles of nature/divine and to treat them as such.
·        There is much to wonder at in the material world, human relationships, and human achievements. But we need to be open to the ineffable, the divine, as well.
·        Of course all things are related. Wonder and Appreciation (November’s theme) can easily be connected. But wonder feels more introspective. There is Wonder in complexity. Wonder in simplicity. Wonder goes beyond noticing to joy and awe.

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