Tuesday, June 28, 2022


Receiving Blessings

“Count your blessings” we tell ourselves, by which we mean “remember to be grateful for each good thing in our lives, each thing that could have been otherwise”. We remember to be grateful for our privileges, for our gifts. We are grateful for those things which came to us, unearned, through inheritance or good luck. We are grateful for those things which resulted from our own work, which doesn’t always guarantee a particular outcome, but this time turned out the way we wanted.

In their book Jewish Ritual: A Brief Introduction for Christians - By: Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky & Rabbi Daniel Judson, They write:

“There is a blessing for almost everything in Judaism. There is a blessing for getting up in the morning, for going to sleep, for eating, for seeing wondrous things, for experiencing new things, for the occurrence of good things, for the unfortunate occurrence of bad things, for hearing the news of someone's death, for seeing someone you have not seen in a long time, for going to the bathroom, for studying Torah, for going on a journey, for fulfilling almost any religious commandment, and for just about everything else in life.“
Not all of those are occasions which we would consider a blessing, but blessings are not only the good things that happen in our lives, but the sacred which can be present in the ordinary things, and the hard things too. I have often read from the poetry of Jan Richardson during these challenging times - she writes blessings for hard times, confusing times, even in grief and despair and anger. These are what some would call spiritual blessings, that we receive and know or wish for one another. In her beautiful book "Circle of Grace" Richardson writes:
“I found myself enchanted and compelled by the power of a blessing; how in the space of a few lines, the stuff of pain, grief and death becomes the very substance of hope.” [xiii]

“The best blessings awaken our imaginations. In places of difficult, struggle or pain, blessings beckon us to look closely rather than turn away. In such places, they challenge us not to accept how things are but to dream of how they could be transformed. They invite us to discern how God might be calling us to participate in bringing this transformation to pass [xvi-xvii]”
Blessings help us to be open to grace, encourage us to stay open to that which we can’t control, but most deeply wish.

In our congregation, we gave out tiny jars of strawberry preserves, so I invite you now to hold in your hand or in your minds eye a jar of something delicious as you consider...

What blessings do you need?

Blessings for the hard times as well as the good...

What is your hearts deepest wish, your spirit’s hunger?

And when it is time to eat your jelly, imagine your heart and spirit being nourished as well, taste the sweetness of that blessing.

Blessings for the World
"You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?
Choose to bless the world."
Rev. Rebecca Parker encourages us to be a blessing to the world. Whatever blessings or privileges or gifts or consolations we receive, these are not for us alone. Our Unitarian Universalist theology calls us not to an ultimate fulfillment of our own peace or hope or healing or joy, but to bless the world with all we receive. In my own practice I have noticed that sometimes my own gifts are actually amplified when I share them, when I understand myself not as a repository of those gifts, but a channel to keep those blessings moving out into the world to whoever else needs those same blessings I have received.

Certainly, if you have been in grief and received comfort, if you have been lonely and been blessed with companionship, you may find you also have an increased sense of calling and capacity to notice others who might need that blessing, and some sensitivity in how to pass it along.

Once you have enjoyed the contents of your jar, I invite you , over the summer, to fill up your jar with water from wherever you find yourself, whether that be the kitchen sink, the garden hose, the water cooler at work, or the lake you visited.

I also invite you to imagine filling up your jar with blessings -- to notice, what blessings you are receiving and how do you want to bless the world? In the fall we will gather for our water in-gathering, and bless one another.
As you hold that jar in your hand, I invite you ask your deepest truest self a question we can live into all summer long:

How is each of us is called to bless the world? 

How are You called to bless the world?

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Gold Star!

I want to let you in on an inside joke in our family- it started one day when I proudly explained I had finished some household chore, and my partner replied “what do you want, a gold star?” “Sure!” I replied. We give out imaginary gold stars all the time these days, and sometimes real ones, like the giant gold star he got me for Christmas a few years back that hangs on the kitchen wall where so many chores are done.

I give myself lots of gold stars, now that I know the trick of it. For example, whenever you complete a chore you’ve been dreading, especially if it involves waiting on hold for a long time, or cleaning up something smelly, feel free to give yourself a gold star. When I completed our taxes, I let Eric know I had given myself 4 gold stars. “How many gold stars can you have?” he asked “as many as you need’ I said. “You can just give yourself gold stars any time you want? As many as you want?” “Any time you think you deserve one” I replied.

It doesn’t have to be a chore, I gave myself a lot of gold stars after my father died. I wanted to remember that grieving is hard, that just staying present, just making it through one more day of grief was something I could affirm. In a moment when I needed some encouragement I found a gold pencil and started drawing gold stars in my journal as a reminder that it's okay to encourage myself when the going is hard.

On the day we celebrated graduations in church, I brought  several sheets of gold stars and stars of all colors and shapes and invited the our members and friends, as I invite you now, to think back over this past year...

What things did you accomplish , survive, recover from, grow, achieve that you know in your heart was hard for you?

Perhaps it would help to think of your inner 4 year old- imagine your little 4 year old self-- what would she/ he/ they want to be celebrated and seen from this past year? If that's too much to contemplate, please just give yourself a gold star for waking up this morning, for facing a new day.

We make a big deal when people graduate, or get a new job, but sometimes it's important to celebrate the ordinary everyday accomplishments. Whenever you need a little encouragement to do what needs to be done, feel free to give yourself a star- as many as you need.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022


Happy LGBTQAI+ everyone! Today we celebrate as a beloved community; we are gay and straight and cis and trans and fluid together. This celebration is a logical and beautiful expression of our affirmation of the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

Centering and decentering has been part of this movement since the earliest years. Some of you are old enough to remember when it used to be just called “Gay” pride, but early on Lesbian feminists spoke up, noticing that name erased them, and so we talked about “Gay and Lesbian” liberation. Bisexual and Transgender folks found themselves often at the margins of the community, and so we started talking about the LGBT community beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s. We now say LGBTQAI+ to name more of those folks who we need to name and center in the community, or as some folks call it the “QUILTBAG.” The longer we think about gender and sexual orientation, the longer we live into the fluidity of it, the more complex it becomes. There are a lot of issues we could be looking at, fighting for, a lot of voices we could be hearing today, so how do we choose? Who needs to be at the center of our celebration today? The Transforming Hearts Collective writes that:

“’Centering’ is a concept that speaks to whose worldview is most affirmed and whose voices are loudest; whose perspective is treated as “normal,” and thus at the center, and whose perspective is treated as “different,” and thus at the margins.”[i]
Part of our work in becoming an anti-oppressive faith is to “center” folks who have historically been at the margins. As a cis-bi (or pan) white woman, I don’t need to be at the center of Pride. I’ve been married to a cis white man for almost 30 years, and I have access to all the privileges that entails. Today I want to lift up today all of you who never thought you could be married, who never dreamed marriage would be legal in our lifetimes, who had to create complex legal contracts or get married multiple times in multiple states to protect your partner and your union, folks who had to adopt their own children to make sure they were legally protected. Let’s shine a little pride on those folks shall we?

Today, as we celebrate Pride month, we lift up everyone in our community who has had to chose between coming out and keeping a job, everyone who has been bullied or felt afraid for their own physical safety because of who you are. Who has lost friends or family when you told them how it really is with you.

We lift up all our elders who came out and took big risks that made a different life possible for my generation and the younger generations. Let’s sine some more pride on them.

I’d like to take a moment now and just bring in our hearts and minds what needs to be spoken this year at Pride. What would you or a family member or friend would want to be given voice in the LGBTQAI+ community?

Right now in our country there are folks who are really struggling because of their gender or sexual orientation, especially folks with multiple intersecting identities, There is, for example, a terrible homelessness crisis among trans women of color[ii] and an ongoing tragedy of violence toward trans women. I know members of our congregations have been victims of violence and bigotry in the Valley where the Athens church is located. We hold today in the center of our hearts those of us who are trans and non-binary. Let’s shine some pride there.

Consider too the laws passed charging parents of transgender children with a crime for supporting their children the best they know how[iii] so we hold with love those of us who are parenting trans or non-binary children.

In our Adult Religious Education classes we often have as part of our covenant “step up, step back” which invites people who are usually at the center of the conversation, to step back and give space for others to speak. And for those who are often quiet, or don’t speak their truth because it seems risky or because they were not given the space, to step up and let us hear their voice. [iv]

All of us UUs are invited into this exploration of centering, and a continuous discernment in each space we inhabit- who needs to be centered right now? Maybe it’s you. Maybe you know by the nervous shock of energy through your body that your voice, your truth is needed right now. That by saying what you know, by being who you are you offer an authority, a perspective that no one else in the room can offer. When Harvey Milk called us all to “come out” in 1978, hundreds of thousands of us came out all over the world our society had to come to terms with the facts that our parents, children, co-workers, bosses, neighbors were who they were. There is power in speaking the truth, there is power in your voice, there is power in taking the center when you discern that this is your moment. And there is risk. Harvey Milk was assassinated for being who he was, and there are a million other ways that we take a risk by sharing the truth of who we are. You get to decide when and how you offer your voice to the world. That’s part of the discernment each of us gets to do- we don’t have to come out in this moment if it doesn’t feel right to us.

If you are straight and cis, pride month is a great time to de center yourself, to lift up the voices of LGBTQAI+ folks to make space at the microphone, and let folks discern for themselves if this is a moment they want to speak.

As Mariella Mosthof writes in her article “How Allies Can Participate In Pride Without Making It About Themselves”:

“Straight, cis folks have to put in work to decenter themselves at Pride. This mostly comes down to policing your own identity in the space, so that others don't have to, since that can result in queer-identified but straight-passing folks feeling unwelcome in their own community. In other words, be mindful of where you are, who the space is intended for, and how you can best support that group, even if it disrupts your good time.
You can also do the work of looking out for marginalized people in our own communities. Are you supporting organizations that are accessible to low-income queers, who are disproportionately black, brown, and trans? Are you choosing accessible means for your own parties to be inclusive of disabled queers who may wish to virtually attend? Are you carving out time to do community outreach with queer sex workers, queer homeless youth, or incarcerated queers — as well as celebrating this month?
Even though Pride is a celebration, it's important to keep these things in mind and make more space.[v]
If you discern today that yours is not the voice that needs to be at the center, you can use our turn at the microphone to amplify those who do. There are an amazing abundance of expressions by folks who have chosen to give interviews or write books or articles. For example, all our readings Jackie read today, and our closing words are by LGBTQAI+ UUs.

I’m still learning how to decenter myself, and whenever we are learning new things we make mistakes, we are awkward and clumsy. That’s what learning looks like. I invite you to join me in that learning. Whenever we discern that it’s not our turn to be in the center, whether that’s pride month when we are straight, or Black history month when we are white, or the high holidays of a tradition that is not our own, decentering is a choiceful action we take in the moment, not an erasure of who we are. We don’t need to deflate ourselves, or ignore our own voices, we only step aside for a moment; “after you” we say.

For example, as a feminist, I feel called to support other women to speak their truth in a society that has often erased women, has often asked women to prioritize the needs of others. It took me a while to understand the distinction between decentering and erasing. The challenges I face as a cis woman are not what we are about this morning. That doesn’t mean they are not important, it just means today I step back, and another time I step forward. Let’s imagine this morning I hear something in this service that challenges, or disturbs me, or delights me, or reminds me of a story from my own life. Perhaps it brings up questions I want to explore. That’s great! Now I need to discern, is this a moment where those questions, concerns, feelings, memories would rightly be at the center? If I discern that this is not the moment, I can also ask, where are those spaces where my concern can rightly be at the center? I could bring it to my therapist , spiritual director, (Ministers love that stuff too) Perhaps there are other bi cis women who could listen or help me think things through. Choosing to decenter yourself doesn't mean you don't process your stuff or have your needs, just that you are offering the central space to those who most need it in the moment.

This month as we celebrate Pride, I invite us to step up and step back. When you feel called to share your truth as an LGBTQAI+ person, in invite you to step up and take the risk, to share your voice, to share your stories of struggle and celebration. When you discern that this is a time to decenter yourself, I invite you to step back and leave space for other voices, then to listen deeply and support and amplify those voices that need centering. As a community committed to the work of anti-oppression, we are all invited to this dance, even though sometimes we may trip over each other’s feet. The more we dance together, stepping up and stepping back, the more graceful our dance of centering and decentering will become, until every dancer has a moment to shine as only they can.

[iv] In our UU Minister's association we have adopted something called the “progressive stack” which invites the people to speak first who have historically marginalized identities. We hear a lot of words from cis white people all day long, it’s good to center folks we don’t hear as often, to hear those voices first.

 [v] https://www.bustle.com/p/how-to-participate-in-pride-without-making-it-about-you-9548726

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Like Shadow Puppets

One morning this past week the dogs got me up way too early, and there followed the usual daily conundrum- our rescue dog Rosie is afraid to go downstairs. She wants to go outside with us, she wants help, but also she’s afraid of being picked up or touched. This negotiation is particularly challenging when one is bleary eyed in the early morning. I became frustrated and impatient with the dogs. As I went about my morning chores, I noticed I was also angry at the practitioner who couldn’t fit me into her schedule, the wedding inquiry I was playing phone tag with, and the writers of my TV show that had “ruined” the season with their bad decisions. I have a guideline for myself- if I am angry with one person, maybe it’s about them. If I’m angry with everyone that’s about me. At its simplest level, that’s projection.

Fortunately, on this morning, I noticed the pattern of anger I had projected externally around me, and then traced it backwards to its source inside me. In this case, so you don’t worry, I took an early morning walk to the creek all by myself and found myself standing still watching the sun and the quiet birds on the water. The anger had somehow run its course, or was perhaps had been trying to tell me that I needed a quiet moment to myself to move at my own pace, and when I returned home though nothing had changed- the dogs still get up too early and cannot go downstairs, the practitioner still can’t fit me in, the phone tag continued, but things looked different because something had shifted inside me.

All this year I’ve been taking a class called “Practicing Spiritual Direction in a Time of Deepening Shadow” One of our teachers, Don Bisson, shares his training in Jungian Analysis, and defines projection this way: “Projection is a process where an unconscious characteristic, a fault, or even a talent of one's own is seen as belonging to another person or object. It is normal and natural process and can be positive or negative in character. It is always accompanied by a strong emotional reaction to a person, object or situation.”

Miss Angie at Grass Roots Music Festival

Consider shadow puppets --  we never see the puppets, we only see the shadows of the puppets which were made by casting light on them. It might be fun to play around with shadows and light as we play around with projections today. We had these shadow puppets in our gift bags, but any object will do. If you get a good single light source, like a flashlight, you can see how the image changes depending on the angle and intensity of light. The puppet hasn’t changed at all. In this metaphor the light is coming from us- from our own light with which we view the world.

Is there someone in your life right now who really gets you riled up? I invite you to bring to mind a time when someone did or said something that really pushed your buttons- there was a charge of energy, a reactivity. I encourage you to pick an event that wasn’t too challenging, let’s try an easy one. Here’s an easy one for me. Recently someone in my dream group was talking and talking and just not listening or giving anyone else a change to talk. I felt a charge of anger and distaste for them. Now, because I’ve worked with projection a lot, and because I already know that I have a lifelong habit of pouring out all my ideas in words and sometimes getting carried away and not letting other people get a word in, it took only a fraction of a second to close the loop and notice that I was projecting, and why I was projecting, and to draw that projection back to myself. I don’t like the part of myself that talks without listening, it doesn’t feel good to see that in myself, it feels better to see it in my dream friend, and externalize that distaste onto them.

Sometimes it’s not so easy to trace the projection back to our selves. For example, I had a friend who was making bad choices with money, and hearing about her choices got me really riled up. Why? I wondered. I’m so careful with my money that doesn’t sound like me. I’m practically legendary in my family for being so conservative with our family finances, or “penny pinching” as others would say. It took me a while to return that projection back to myself- I put a lot of energy into being careful with money and even so it’s never perfect- no matter how carefully we try to make decisions there’s always that undisclosed fee or service in the final bill, or the purchase that seemed like a good deal but turns out to be a waste of money. I so strongly identify as someone who is careful with money, that it’s hard for me to be relaxed about the times when I inevitably waste money. It’s easier for me to reject that part of myself and see it in someone else. That extra charge of energy reflects that “push” of externalization.

The same can be true with positive projection. Call to mind now someone you really admire. My seminary professor Jeremy Taylor used to say that if we can notice something in someone else it’s only because it’s also present in ourselves. The trouble comes if we externalize that gift, we may never own or develop those innate talents in ourselves. For example, when my son was little, it was hard to be patient while helping him get ready to go to daycare in the morning while I was getting ready to go to work. I felt like I was the least patient person in the world. I longed to grow in patience. I noticed people who were patient and wished I could be like them. I was actually pretty hard on myself. Recently at the end of a circle discussion, one participant said she appreciated my patience and grace, and her words reached right into my heart. Someone had experienced ME as patient! I was so busy noticing patience happening outside of me, I never noticed it growing inside of me.

But wait, you might say, what about the other person, maybe they really are patient, or bad with money?” Jeremy used to say “Just because something is a projecting doesn’t mean it isn’t true, and just because it’s true doesn’t mean it isn’t a projection.” The invitation to notice projections doesn’t mean that person who we are angry with WASN'T rude or selfish, and my awe for people who care selflessly for others doesn’t diminish their gifts. This shadow puppet really is shaped like a gingerbread man, but when we work with projections, it’s a cool kind of mirror to help us see the parts of ourselves we can’t usually see, to help us grow in self-knowledge.

Rev. Jeremy Taylor, a UU ministry whose life’s work was spent developing and practicing “group projective dreamwork” grounded his practice in the inevitability of projections, and what they could teach us about ourselves. As soon as someone tells me their dream, and I picture it in your mind, it is no longer their dream, it is now my dream. My subconscious is taking their few words and painting in the details. It’s so natural to say “Your dream about waiting at the airport for your plane to come is about how your life is on hold because of covid” and maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. But Jeremy suggests we own our projections by saying “In my imagined version of the dream, waiting at the airport is like how I am in this long period of transition waiting to get moving”

I’ve been doing dream work this way for so long, I now use that technique when someone tells me the story from their waking life. Have you ever noticed that on Facebook you can post a sentence or 2 like “Anyone know a service in Ithaca that gives rides to doctor’s appointments? I have a family member who can’t drive themselves and needs help” and the comments will fill up with really strong opinions and suggestions some of which seem to come out of left field- including sometimes harsh judgements about me or my family member, or some comments so far off base you wonder “did you even read my post?” Those are projections based on the pictures the emerged in my Facebook Friend’s minds as they read just those few words, filling in details that have no relationship to the situation in my life.

Knowing this, when a person asks for advice I will say in my mind, or sometimes even out loud, “in my imagined version of this situation, I can imagine myself wanting to call 211 to get more information.” Or “I imagine I would feel very frustrated that there is not more support for people needing to get to the doctors… is that similar to how you feel?” I’m still surprised when my friend says “no, that’s not it” but I’m ready – knowing that their experience of the world is different than mine. When they say “no that’s not it” I realize I am getting a glimpse of the gap between their experience of the world and my projections onto it.

Angeles Arian lays out for us a process by which projections are created, and then reclaimed or integrated.

The first part happens totally unconsciously, that part where we project without even realizing it.

But then, perhaps our hero on whom we projected perfect integrity, is caught in a lie, and we can make excuses “everyone lies sometimes, or “that’s just fake news” but each time the real human person differs from our projection, it weakens the projection’s power. We might get really angry at that person for what feels like a betrayal of who we thought they were.

Often, at this point, we will just find someone new to project that thing onto. But if we are ready to grow in self-knowledge, and on the look out for projections, this might be a chance to notice the gap. Perhaps we are able to recognize that it is a projection, “and we see that it is our own material. As Arian says this “ is the stage of grief: grief for the lost part of ourselves that has been away for so long; and grief from the recognition that we didn't see the other person for who he or she was, and now recognize the intentional harm that we may have done..”.

Finally we may come to “compassion for and integration of the projection. In this stage we have compassion for ourselves and others with similar issues. We model the quality that we once projected rather than continue to place the projection outside of ourselves. We move into a state objectivity and carry no charge one way or the other about what we once had projected.”

Don Bisson notes that integration includes “a conscious search for the sources and origins of the projection. This will also include the sources outside yourself, like collective prejudices and biases which influenced your projections.”

So whenever you are noticing that charge of energy about someone else, you have the choice of redirecting that light back on yourself. Notice any resistance you feel, the more you resist “no this is not about me at all, it’s ALL bout them” be gentle and just keep returning the light to yourself.

As Don says “The general result of projection is impoverishment of the personality.” Who we are is shrunken, constricted by whatever pieces of our full humanity we can’t own and integrate. What Arian calls “the lost part of ourselves that has been away for so long.” When we integrate our projections we get those lost pieces back. We grow in wholeness, freedom and consciousness.

This practice is important right now not only for our own personal and spiritual growth, but because our projections impact others. As Laurie Penny said in her piece about how women are objectified, that is, when the projections of others keep them from being seen in their own wholeness and subjectivity “There are none so emotionally blind as those who look at a person standing right in front of them and see a mirror, not a window.[i] Racism also arises from projections onto other people we may have never met, or know only superficially -- those unconscious implicit biases that lead us to jump to conclusions about people. Our projections directly contribute to the polarization in our country. This polarization where our side is “all good” and the other side is “all bad” is a collective form of projection.

Projections are rampant throughout the liberal conservative divide. Consider the common projection we northerners often make- that racism is a southern problem. – sure the history in the south is filled with terrible racist things that happened and continue to happen there. But did you know that “The most intense school segregation happens in large Northern metropolitan areas surrounded by white suburbs?“[ii] Someone once stated in a community conversation on racism “we have no racism here in Ithaca” and a person of color gently shared experiences of discrimination and racism over her decades living in my home town.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ admonition in the Gospel of Matthew “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” [Matthew 7:3] Projecting onto others it can be a way of avoiding seeing ourselves.

In his book "Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill" Rev. Jeremy tells the story about how he developed created the group protective dreamwork process during his anti-racism work with white people back in 1969. When the group became stuck, Taylor suggested they begin sharing their dreams which included racial themes. The sharing not only shifted the dynamics among the people within the group, but also made a real difference in their work with communities of color, so noticeable was the change in how they showed up to their interracial work that the minister organizing in the black community said when he heard of Jeremy’s use of dreamwork as a tool for anti-racism “it sounds crazy but look at the results!” Jeremy explains the impact this way: “As the repressed seemingly ‘negative’ emotional energies that wore the masks of nasty people of other races in our dreams were admitted more into consciousness in the simple act of sharing and talking about them, the tendency to suppress and project those same energies out onto others in waking life began to diminish.” [p. 109] People looking at their dreams together realized that their dream figures actually had nothing to do with their neighbors in the world community, but had everything to do with themselves. “These ugly, scary, dark, powerful, sexy , violent, irresponsible, dangerous dream figures are vitally alive parts of my own authentic being and you know what – they aren’t so horrible after all”

My teachers have suggested that taking back our projections is one of the most important spiritual practices of our times, not only because of the polarization that happens when our projections are unacknowledged and unchecked, but also because whenever we lose or reject a part of our own self it makes us smaller and more constricted. So I encourage you, whenever you feel that charge of energy about the Other who fills you with anger, or makes you swoon with admiration, to remember the shadow puppet, and turn your light inward with compassionate awareness for yourself and others. As Jung says, our projections an be a helpful tool for owning and integrating the parts of ourselves we have rejected or neglected. As part of our commitment to spiritual growth and ethical living, may we bring ever more of our own selves into the light of consciousness.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Cycles of Sun and Moon

Years ago a member of my congregation asked “why do we still take summers off -- we’re no longer an agrarian society.” By which I think he meant, we no longer need all the kids to be home in the summers to help their parents harvest the crops. And certainly when I lived and worked in Silicon Valley the seasons were milder than here in the North East. If you lived in the south bay the summers could get hot a few weeks a year, but if you were working 12 hour days in climate controlled building, it seems like a valid question- why does it matter what season it is?

Here in the twin tiers where I live now it’s hard to ignore the freezing cold of winter, that creeps into our houses even if we have a robust heating system. Some snow storms are impossible to push through. And of course with our quick growing season, anyone who has a garden or a farm is like a sprinter at the starting block this time of year.

By being mindful of passing of the seasons of the year, by making an intentional practice of it, I’ve also come to notice the impacts of these cycles on my body mind and heart. If I find myself holed up in January wanting nothing more than to read a good book and go to bed early, I have seen that cycle enough to know “that’s just January.” Because I observe these cycles year after year I don’t take it personally when attendance at zoom events drops off the first beautiful days of spring. It feels good when we harmonize our goals and our activities with the cycles of nature, with the realities of the seasons that we share with all the living creatures in our eco-systems. And it’s better for our eco-system too when we don’t use extra energy to fight the natural cycles and seasons. This culture that pretends we can always produce at maximum capacity ignores the ancient wisdom of living in a body on earth, that there are times to produce, and times to pause and let ourselves and the earth recover, to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and to prepare for seasons which might not be quite so abundant.

The calendar we all use in the US at work and at school, is a form of solar calendar. It is calculated without any acknowledgement of the moon. For the most part the Christian liturgical calendar is the same way- in fact at the time when this calendar was implemented the church and government were very intertwined. Because this is the only calendar I’ve ever lived with, I didn’t understand until quite recently that our calendar, while culturally normative for us, is not universal, and could be otherwise.

The Jewish Calendar, for example, includes the cycles of the moon. A Jewish month always starts on the new moon- historically the day that the first little sliver of moon is sighted in the sky by 2 witnesses, and validated by the trained astronomer Rabbis. It blew my mind when I realized that a Jewish holidays always, by definition, take place in the same phase of the moon. Many of the feast days are on the 14th o4 15th of the month, and so will be celebrated with a bright full moon. But Hanukkah is celebrated on the 25 Kislev, and will always start near dark of the moon, and continue through the sighting of the new moon and the head of the month. [mind blown]

The solar year takes 365 days, which is how long it takes the earth go around the sun. The lunar year is about 11 days shorter. So the Jewish calendar has a little leap month “adar” every 2-3 years so that generally Hanukkah is always in the winter, and Rosh Hashanah in the fall. The fancy word for a calendar that is lunar but keeps the solar seasons is a “lunisolar” calendar. Many traditions use this combined approach, [i]Hindu festivals can be linked either to the solar calendar or to a lunisolar calendar, such that certain festivals always fall on a full moon or so many days after the new moon.

But the Islamic calendar is purely lunar, “based on the appearance and disappearance of the moon at the beginning and end of the month… It is for this reason that the beginning of Ramadan every year differs in relation to the Gregorian calendar, and as a result of that it moves through the four seasons.”

Many Wiccan, neopagan, eco-spirituality practitioners follow the cycles of both the sun and moon, without any attempt to reconcile them into a single system. There’s a cool feminist calendar We'Moon that tracks moon, sun and stars all within the Gregorian calendar. Musawa explains that “We experience each of these cycles in the alternating rhythms of day and night, waxing and waning, summer and winter. The Earth/Sun/Moon are our inner circle of kin in the universe. We know where we are in relation to them at all times by the dance of light and shadow as they circle one another. The Eyes of Heaven as seen from Earth, the moon and the sun are equal in size: “The left and right eyes of heaven,” according to Hindy (eastern) astrology. Unlike the solar dominated calendars of Christian (western) patriarchy, We’Moon looks at our experience through both eyes at once.”[ii] [iii]

I thought for a while I hoped to be part of a full moon ritual group, many pagans are, but it hops around all over our solar calendar, and bumps up against our “Third Thursday” way of scheduling. It’s challenging to observe a lunar calendar when you live in a culture whose official government function (like schools and government offices) all follow an exclusively solar calendar. Our Gregorian calendar was introduced by pope Gregory in 1582, and adopted by the British empire on behalf of its colonies in 1752 as part of the cultural hegemony of empire, erasing local and cultural difference to increase centralized control.

Because so many traditions around the world use a lunar calendar, or some combination of lunar and solar, it is actually quite curious that we mostly ignore the moon here in our culture. Because the moon is often associated with the female aspects, and because the cycles of the moon are traditionally linked to the menstrual cycle of women in the middle of life, many feminists and pagans feel this is part of the patriarchal hegemony, erasing the feminine, and so honor the cycles of the moon as a way of remembering the feminine. There is a common noticing in feminist and eco-spirituality and in Jungian thought that there is a symbolic linking of women with the earth and her cycles, that our western culture has for the past millennia have relegated both women and nature in the “shadow” -the unseen rejected part of our culture. It follows logically that a culture that de-centers non-male bodies and nature would culturally ignore the cycles of the moon.

The indigenous people of the Americas noticed the cycles of the moon, and though each tribal culture is unique, it seems that most tribes also follow a lunar calendar of 28 days each, adding an extra month every 3 years to keep the moons in their season, because the names of the moons and what they meant were deeply connected to the local seasons. So for example the Ojibwe people (northern plains and Midwest) in their western dialect name their months (starting with the full moon the month  I call January):
  • Great Spirit Moon
  • Suckerfish Moon
  • Snowcrust Moon
  • Sugarbushing Moon
  • Budding Moon
  • Strawberry Moon
  • Raspberry Moon
  • Ricing Moon
  • Leaves Turning Moon
  • Falling Leaves Moon
  • Freezing Over Moon
  • Little Spirit Moon
Whereas in their neighbors in the Cree nation (mostly Canada) [learn more here]
  • FROST EXPLODING MOON - Trees crackle from cold temperatures and extreme cold starts
  • THE GREAT MOON - Animals do not move around much and trappers have little chance of catching them.
  • EAGLE MOON - Month the eagle returns
  • GOOSE MOON - Month the geese return and indication of the coming of spring
  • FROG MOON - Arrival of warm weather and open water. Frogs begin to become active in ponds and swamps.
  • EGG LAYING MOON - Month when the birds and water fowl begin to lay their eggs
  • FEATHER MOULTING MOON - Month when young fowl are moulting
  • FLYING UP MOON - When the young fowl are ready to fly
  • RUTTING MOON - the bull moose scrapes the velvet from antlers as a sign of mating to begin
  • MIGRATING MOON - Month when birds begin their flight south
  • FREEZE UP MOON -Month when lakes and rivers start to freeze
  • FROST MOON - Month when frost sticks to leaves and other things outside
Notice how the one naming tradition names and notices the seasons of the plants, and the other focus on birds and other 4 legged beings. One of the power of calendars is helping us remember important things. I notice that my calendar reminds me when the banks are closed, and some important moments in American history, but our neighbors are sure to remember when ricing season is, or when the birds are laying their eggs. Calendars have power in our collective memory. Religious traditions are often have an important role in tracking cycles because tradition takes the long view, and remembers larger patterns. How helpful it has always been, and still is, to remember that it is a natural part of the cycle for winter in our part of the world to be cold, to be a time of short days crackling ice and scarcity of food. Religious traditions also help us remember that eventually Strawberry season returns, not only in the physical world but also in the seasons of our spirit.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, whose lands we in Cortland and Ithaca inhabit, holds 13 ceremonies each year in honor of the 13 full moons, not spread out evenly like in the Neo-Pagan calendar, but honoring important milestones in the seasons- there are a number of them in May including the “Sun and Moon dance – Beginning of May to give thanks to the sun and second week of May to give thanks to the moon in the morning and evening respectively”[iv] How lovely that today’s service coincides to the time of the Moon days in the Haudenosaunee tradition.

That’s a lot of information, and I share it this morning for 3 reasons:
First, because among the sources of our tradition we draw from
·Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
·Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature

Our living tradition encourages us to seek out and learn from these important sources of wisdom.

Second, because as part of dismantling white supremacy culture, it’s important to notice that while our culture seems normal to us, it is just culture, created by humans over time, and it is just one of many. Looking at the great diversity of calendars in our world gives us a concrete example of how our culture shapes us in ways that are invisible to us unless we can step outside them. Notice how we center the Gregorian calendar, and this makes it hard work for our friends and neighbors and members who have a practice aligned with the lunar calendar. How challenging it is, for example, to celebrate Ramadan in a country that doesn’t include this sacred time in our natural calendar.

Third, I hope to encourage you to notice the impacts of cycles on your own body heart and spirit. I encourage you to take up a practice of noticing natural cycles that are new to you. If you are stuck in a climate conditioned cubical with artificial lighting all day and all year long, noticing the seasonal changes or maybe the moon is something you might notice each day get off work. This time of year can be a great time to watch the sunset. If you are normally in the garden this time of year, perhaps you would like to gaze up at the sky and see what you notice there each time you pause to give your back a break. Noticing natural cycles is a form of contemplative practice- a long loving look at the real. Notice the beauty of each season in turn. Notice when you live in harmony with natural cycles how that feels, and when you have to push against them how that feels.

When I was on sabbatical many years ago at the University of Creation Spirituality, our teacher Larry Edwards encouraged us to notice the cycles of the moon. I explained that the moon was never where I thought it would be, and I was having trouble figuring out where it would be when. He encouraged me to go stand someplace outside each evening at the same time, and just track the moon in the sky. Unfortunately, between the wonderful tree cover, the hills and the fog, I only ever saw the moon a couple of days a month when it appeared in the gap overhead. 20 years later I’m still looking, and though I can’t even remember the basics like “ the new moon rises and sets with the sun, the full moon rises before sunset”, or even what direction to look, the symbolism of waxing and waning has helped me grow in wisdom. Brandi Plaster of MoonCrafted Essentials encourages us to align our own rhythms with the cycle of the moon; there are times to start things, and times to wrap things up. When I have a deep desire to clean out the mud porch, I go with it, and when I am excited to start a new project I start it, and don’t get down on myself for the pile on the mud porch. Sometimes that syncs up with the moon, and sometimes it doesn’t, just as the seasons of our spirits don’t always sync up with the seasons of our eco-system. But I hope each of you will be encouraged to notice what you notice about the cycles and seasons of moon and sun, and those of you who are traveling this spring and summer, I encourage you to notice how those cycles are different in the places and cultures you travel to.

We often mark changes in season here in our Sunday services, -- as a religious tradition do our part in tracking and remembering (or ignoring) larger cycles and patterns. The cycles of the sun show us that there are times of growing and dormancy, of bright warm light and cold delicate light. They remind us that there are shorter cycles and longer cycles that sometimes sync up and sometimes move out of sync. The moon teaches us that things not only grow but become small, that things disappear and return. The cycles of Sun and Moon teach us about impermanence, but also the show us what lasts, helping us imagine the cycles that were repeating long before we were born, and will keep cycling long after our brief and beautiful lives. 

[i] Notice that it says “appearance” Often if you go to look up the date of a Muslim holiday you get only an estimate on some sources, because some Islamic sects use the actual sighting of the moon, while others use a table to set the dates.

[ii] Musawa c Mother Tongue Ink 2008 [p. 199]

[iii] Modern practitioners and seem to enjoy the mathematical precision of the modern astronomical calendars. We rely not on sighting, but on math and science. (It’s interesting to me that since I don’t do that math myself, I kind of “take it on faith” when the solstices and full moons will be, as opposed to our neighbors who rely on the evidence of their own eyes)

[iv] https://www.haudenosauneeconfederacy.com/ceremonies/

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

More Than Flowers- part 2

When I say “More than flowers” I also want to look beyond reproduction into a more holistic picture of what it means to live a full and meaningful human life.. For centuries a woman’s life has been framed in terms of reproduction, as if flower and fruit were the culmination and meaning of ones life. That whole “maiden, mother, crone” thing really centers reproduction in a way that no longer represents our lives today. Currently 15% of people my age and older have no children, but we expect that number to rise given surveys about younger generations choosing not to be parents. Given the impact of humans on our planet, that seems like a wise choice for many people to make.[i]

Many years I skip the Mother’s Day sermon because I know it is a privilege to be able to choose to be a gestational parent, I know our culture normalizes the whole 2 parents 2 children thing. As a cisgender woman and birth mother to a son I have had the privilege of watching grow to adulthood, I hesitate to reinforce that culturally dominant story line.

I understood this in a new way when my son went off to college and I came home at an empty nest. I turned, as I often do, to nature to help find a symbol to be a touchstone for this next phase of my life. I found this plant life cycle diagram that supposedly shows the circle of life, but look- do you see that the parent plant actually disappears once the offspring enters the picture? Try it yourself- go search and find a diagram that doesn’t end with the creation of a seed, try to find one that doesn’t INCLUDE a seedling!

I have an amaryllis I bring out of dormancy every year, (it's the very same plant who inspired me a few years back). [slide] Some years it goes through its whole cycle and just never flowers. It grows all the way from a dormant bulb into a huge beautiful green plant that grows and thrives and looks delightfully happy and just never has a thought of a flower. Because I’m a plant geek and a softy, I keep my amaryllis friend year after year. It seems to be having a rich and full maturity and is content to be done blooming. It’s just we humans that think that every plant has to flower every year or it’s a failed plant and needs to be composted.

This metaphor is not useful parents done parenting, nor for people of all genders whose life does not include parenting. What does it mean to value the whole life cycle, not just the flower? Mature plants provide many important gifts to their ecosystem and to their plant community, whether or not they are fruiting. Mature plants provide shelter for those younger and more vulnerable. They are literally changing the atmosphere and the soil around them to be more hospitable to their species. Their roots stop erosion and hold valuable nutrients, and many participate in that mycelium network we are beginning to learn about, trading sugars and nutrients through that complex root network. Mature plants provide protection from disease and predators, and crucial support in storms. They prevent erosion, add goodness to the soil, prevent invasive weeds form taking over. And are, just …beautiful in their own unique ways.

Even in the final stages of their own lives, and beyond, they offer invaluable gifts to their communities. For example, as a tree comes to the end of their life if they are not disturbed they can become nurse logs, which can provide support for new life for as many years as they lived standing up. [ii]

The other problem with this diagram, this way of imagining the cycle of life, it that it invisibilizes people of other genders, and anyone who is not a birth parent who do all those things we have historically called mother’s work. This we actually see quite well in the plant world- plants have pistol and stamen (that is to say they make and fertilize eggs). Some plants, like Moss, change reproductive organs as the need arises. I’d love to honor that fluidity today- that we are growing in the range of support that we are able to offer the next generation as we nurture them into being.

As we know, it can feel lonely not seeing the stories and lives of people who look like you, As Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, one of 2 female 4 star generals in the country today said this week “You can't be what you can't see. When you look up and you don't see someone that looks like you, it's very hard to think that you could actually do that, right?”[iii] We need images of parenting and care-giving and the holistic role of a community beyond the flower, beyond the archetype of the individual cis-woman conflated with the complexity of how life really works. And we need a view of our own lives that honor our wholeness and not just the flowers we may or may not produce.

Wolves are like this too, the life of the community or pack includes only one breeding mother at a time, and all the other members of the pack have their own roles to play in their shared lives together. Wolves evolution over millions of years demonstrates the wisdom that there is plenty of important work that supports the pack that has nothing to do with reproduction. They also model how many in the pack collaborate to raise the next generation safely to adulthood.

How can we, as a faith community, honor this wholeness? The wholeness of all that it takes to gestate, bear and nurture a child, then support them into adulthood? The shorthand of the word “mother” usually understood to mean a cis-woman who does all those things by herself just can’t communicate the true complexity of our lives. This is not new, it has always been complicated, and because we rarely talk about how complicated it is, Mother’s Day has been a time, for many, when they felt left out, unseen. Sometimes that’s why we come to church, to make the simple complicated, that is to say, to hold with love and care the reality of our lives, and of others in our community whose experience is like ours, and different from ours. We honor the blossom, leaf and root. We honor birth and struggle, body and spirit. We honor the messiness of life, always changing and growing in a complicated web. All are needed for wholeness of living system that holds us all.

More Than Flowers- part 1

Mother’s day is complicated

It’s complicated because each of us has a completely different experience of being mothered, or not being mothered, of being a mother ourselves, or not mothering by chance or choice. It’s complicated by loss and grief and hardship.

And its complicated this week by the leaked supreme court decision that would take away the choice from people with uteruses about whether and how to experience pregnancy and birth.

But despite all that complexity I want to start by centering mothers, because mothering is hard and often invisible work. And to do that I’m going to get nitty gritty about this- because mothering almost never looks like it does on the Hallmark cards, a fuzzy pink image of a smiling woman receiving flowers. I’m going to say the word “uterus” more times today than you’ve ever heard in church before, because at this moment in our history we cannot afford to overlook or make invisible or minimize the role people with uteruses have in sustaining life on our planet. Our culture encourages us not to talk about such things in public, about the muscles and nerves and blood vessels and hormones of gestating new life. Once a person becomes pregnant their body begins to change, and never changes back.

And if you are able to carry the baby to term and deliver it, the changes are profound. I’ve been in the pulpit for 20 years since I gave birth to Nick, and even standing pregnant in the pulpit I never mentioned any of it, because, you know TMI. But perhaps it’s because we don’t talk about such things that roomfuls of male lawmakers believe they are wiser than I am about gestation and birth. Maybe if decisions choosing to carry and birth a child are now public decisions, maybe the realities of our private experiences need to be public as well.

My generation of mothers was taught that you should not tell such stories from the pulpit, in fact people don’t want to really see you mothering, or know that you are mothering, because parenting is a hobby you do in your free time, and should not be visible or in any way reduce your productivity at work. And we as faith leaders have colluded with this, because we let these messy embodied parts of parenthood be invisible, we don’t name them as holy sacred mysteries, Even our sacred scriptures say things like “she brought forth a son” [Luke 2:7]

The days when I can deliver a vaguely sweet and nostalgic mothers day service are gone, I think. If we are going to talk about motherhood, honor motherhood then it’s time to get real.

Survival of our species depends on many people with uteruses giving birth to the next generation. To carry new life in their own bodies, to go through the profound physical and emotional challenges of pregnancy. As a gestational parent, I want to share with you that moment in the 3rd trimester when you realize there is no easy path ahead. In the best case scenario, after hours or days of pain and work and probably medical intervention, you will greet your new child. But is no guarantee- Not every mother makes it. Not every child makes it. The risks to your own body and to the child are real. So I want to just extend a prayerful space to every person who carried a child, and never got to meet that child. They are mothers too and I stand in solidarity with everyone who ever lost a child to a miscarriage or a still birth, to parents who have lost children at any age.

And though I count myself lucky to have come through a long, complicated labor that ended in medical intervention, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done- even though it was my choice which I entered into with the support of a partner and good medical care and the means to care for the child we now know as Nick. Every person with a uterus deserves the right to make that choice.

Then I want to center those people who care for infants and small children, sometimes the same person who gave birth to those children, sometimes not. Tremendous gratitude to those who lost sleep night after night waking to the cry of a hungry or wet or colicky child. Gratitude to all those who have cared for an infant or high needs child alone, had to chose on a given day whether to nap or shower or pay the bills because there was never time to do more than one.

Recently I was watching the show “Life & Beth” and our heroine was holding celebration of life for her mother, a mother with real problems, whose life choices caused harm her children, damage they were still living with. One daughter offered "She wanted to be a really good Mom, and sometimes she was" The other offered, "Our Mom... she made our meals and put our band-aids on, and picked us up from practice." As I heard those words I felt the reality of that, no matter how troubled our relationship to our parents - wow, that’s a lot of work! A lot of mostly invisible work, that often is thankless.

Consider that for everyone sitting here today, we made it to adulthood because someone fed us, clothed us, cared for us in times of illness and injury. Maybe that was a parent, maybe that was a sibling. Maybe you had to parent yourself in some hard years. I invite you to call to mind the person or persons who day after day made sure you were fed, made sure you survived.

Perhaps that was the same person who nurtured your spirit, who taught you how to love and be loved, who taught you to celebrate and cultivate your unique gifts. Or maybe the person who made sure you were fed didn’t get you, didn’t see you, and it was other people who taught you to love and be loved, who nurtured you. Call to mind that person or persons as well.

Parents were never meant to do this alone, since the beginning of our species we worked together in communities to raise our descendants. What one person could be good at everything a child needs their whole life? What I hear young parents say today, when we say “I don’t know how you do it” is “I’m not doing it, it’s not working, Help!”

When I think of Mother’s day I don’t think of fancy meals at restaurants, I remember with great vividness cancelling a mother’s day reservation and instead scrubbing up puke because I was the only one in the family well enough to do it. I bet every parent has a story like that- fitting in a way, it gets to the core of something important and invisible about parenting.

So when I say “more than flowers” today let that phrase remind us that more than the most beautiful gift of flowers on Mother’s day if we are really going to honor Mothers, we make sure that people with uteruses have a say in whether and when and how to birth new life.

More than flowers, caregivers need to be seen and supported in the critically important work of shaping the lives of a human child. Parenting is not just a hobby some people choose. Each of us knows the power that being parented well or badly, generously or neglectfully, with sufficient resources or struggling to get by has on our lives and our communities.

Today, we stand with all people with uteruses, that they may be free discern with their own innate wisdom whether or not to become parents. So today we center those gestational parents who carry, birth, new human life, and the caregivers who and raise the next generations, please notice and honor and support them today and every day. . Support them not only with gestures of beauty and poetry and flowers, but by honoring their wisdom to discern what they need, and giving them the support they so urgently need.