Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Just For Me

Tonight, the German band I play in performed before the start of the Sound Of Music production at a local outdoor theatre. These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. Lots of fun, but exhausting. Tonight, I realized that playing in the band is one of the only things I do just for me. I was tired and didn't really want to go out tonight to perform, but I am so glad I did. It was fun, relaxing and meditating. I am not the best player in the band. Because of that (and the general relaxed nature of the band), there is no pressure. I can just be in the moment and enjoy the experience. I felt myself unwind and my mood greatly improve. Playing in the band is completely outside of everything else I do all day. As parents, it is easy to become so wrapped up in our families, that we lose a little bit of who we are as individuals. There is nothing wrong with loving to be with our spouses and children, but taking time to develop ourselves only adds to the greater whole. I guess what I am saying to all of you, is make sure you do something you love, just because YOU love it - not because you are expected to, need to, or feel obligated to. We all deserve to live a complete life.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Too Busy

(I have been eating this a lot! Nothing like a bumper crop of summer squash from the CSA)

It seems like a lot of things are coming to head in the next few weeks: daughter's German dance performance, my German band performance, desperate need to do some canning and preserving (blackberry jam, pesto, sun dried tomatoes, pickles, various herbs), trip to Philadelphia, back to school shopping, soccer practice, book clubs, orthodontist, finish a mini quilt, plan winter garden, plus regular household chores. I don't know why, but it seems like it all needs to be done NOW! I will be back when I have a better hold on my life. Hopefully sooner then I think!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Drama Queen

There is a long standing joke within the family that my sister is a Drama Queen. She is well aware of this title. Drama just continually surrounds her. In her youth, you could say that she was the source, but now it just finds her. There are never quiet moments. I am not sure why, but my guess would be that she is so open-hearted and believes the best in everyone (plus being extremely social) that she has an energy that attracts everything to her. Her wedding was no different.

Overall, it went beautifully. It may be best to just stay on that level.... But, the stories are more fun. The day before we all get there, her son wakes up with a horrible tooth ache. She takes him to the dentist and he decides it needs to be pulled. After a lot of hard work, the tooth finally comes out with the longest root attached the dentist has ever seen. This is a baby tooth and it won't fit into the holder! Her son, of course, is in a lot of pain. They get home and proceeds to throw up all over her couch. Not the bucket in front of him, but the couch, with company coming the next day.

We, then, all descended on her house Friday. She lives outside St. Paul, Minnesota. Pretty much all the family had to travel to her. Her finance's family is also from out of state. T and I were very nervous because this would be the first time our divorced parents and their new spouses would be in the same room together. It actually went well, if not a little awkward. Then I find out that T. saw dad's wife totally upset with him that my mom was there. What did she expect? That my mom wouldn't show up to her own daughter's wedding? Thankfully, my dad held his ground and as time went on, things warmed up.

The next day, the friend/decorator was to come and get all the decorations for the party. My mom had to meet her to drop off our surprise cake*. Of course the lady was two hours late and didn't know how to back up her own car(!). Thank God my mom and J. were there to help her get everything on to the boat because you had to back the car down this long ramp. I also need to note that Saturday was a gorgeous day except this pesky weather report stating a monster storm was headed our way.

In T.'s wedding invite, she stated that the actual service was going to be on a cliff. Supposedly it was a gentle walk up it. Since she said "gentle" most of us opted to go up. Well one person's gentle is another's rock climb. Amazingly, all of us made it. The view from the cliff was beautiful. It was all well, until they start the ceremony and I realize that my dad is not there! He is helping his 87 y/o dad walk up this "gentle" cliff. I am about to start waving my arms to stop, but thankfully as they are just about to say the I dos, my dad shows up. He and T. would have been heartbroken if he had missed it.

We slowly make our way down and the rain starts. It is gentle and we think that we have lucked out and missed the big storm. The boat is packed but we are all having a nice time. The view is just beautiful and the kids are loving it. We eat dinner and people start milling about. Thankfully T is upstairs because all of sudden a guest passes out, hits his head and falls to the ground. Minor chaos ensues and yells of 911. I wonder though, we were in the middle of a river, I am not sure how they would have gotten there. Evidently, the EMT kit is on the top deck, where T is. She sees it and the captain get nervous and thinks a child has gone overboard and starts to panic. After some tense minutes, the guy wakes up and manages to sit up. He has a nice lump on his head, but refuses to see a doctor.

Then the storm hits. It is HUGE. Everyone races to the lower deck and we close all the windows. Local parents are getting phone calls from their kids crying because they are in the basement due to tornado sightings. Parents are stressed because there is nothing they can do. To me, it felt like Gilligan's Island. We were totally stuck on this boat just rocking out the storm. Pretty soon everyone was feeling claustrophobic and a tad panicky. We eventually make it back to the dock, but aren't allowed to get off. The ramp to the boat is a huge downward incline and all the rain is rushing down it. If we open the doors, the boat would flood. We try to stay positive and eventually we are allowed out. It was a wet and dark drive back to the hotel, but I was so happy to get there! We learned that the hotel had to evacuate everyone to the basement while we were gone. I am glad I didn't know how bad it was until after it was all over.

T and T, amazingly, stayed in good spirits and were able to just go with it. Because, in the end, they got married and have lots of great stories to tell!



*My mom used to make us these cakes all the time. T. had decided not to have a cake, but a cookie bar. We felt she still needed a cake and made this up for her. She loved it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Sermon

The sermon went pretty well. Due to some things outside my control, the service was a little chaotic, but I felt like I handled it ok, and I hope people still enjoyed the program. Upon delivering the sermon, I really wished I had delved a little deeper and pushed myself to just make it a little more professional. I keep trying to remind myself, I am not a minister and have only given one other sermon, so hopefully people gave me a little leeway. It is not my best, so please don't be too critical!

Developing Your Own Spirituality: Why It Is Important

Good morning! I am T., a relatively new member to First Church A. I have been a Unitarian Universalist, though, for around ten years. In those ten years, I have been asked many, many times, so “what do you believe?” I imagine those of you brave enough to publicly declare your Unitarian Universalism have also been confronted with this question. Or, perhaps you have kept your UUism within the family. But, your child has come to you and asked “mom, do you believe in Jesus?”. “Will I go to heaven when I die?”

These types of questions can lead to a sense of panic in many UUs. We often deflect them with clumsy answers and hope the situation disappears. Or, we hope that the children’s Religious Education classes will eventually provide some sort of answers to life’s difficult questions. I find many of us tend to answer spiritual questions in the negative. For instance: Well, I don’t believe in Jesus as my Savior. Or, I don’t believe in a Heaven. Maybe we go even a little deeper and say “I don’t believe in organized, patriarchal religions.” And “My God does not discriminate on the basis of race, class and sexuality.”

Those are a whole lot of negatives, but does it really give us a clue into what we, at heart believe? What do you believe? Some of us cringe at the word spirituality. We are devout Humanist, Agnostics and Atheist and don’t see any room for spiritually in our lives. But, like it or not, we are spiritual beings. We have all wondered: why are we here? What does it all mean? Some of us push those questions away. How do we even begin to answer them? Others spend their whole lifetime devoted to seeking these answers. Because of our humanity, though, we will never really know. But how we choose to live our lives can fill the emptiness that almost all of us experience at some point.

Spirituality can be an ambiguous term. What does it exactly mean? For this sermon, I would like to use the definition that Fredric John Muir uses. “Spirituality is the word used to describe the interdependent workings of both spirit and soul. Spirituality is about this inner dimension.” It is what is deep inside us and how it manifests itself in our lives. I love this definition because it is so intensely personal. It does not require a belief in a higher being, but the thought that there is something holy/sacred in all of us. Many of us have come to church because we are looking for something more. That something more is spirituality. We are looking to fill our soul.

Why should we be bothered by explore our own spirituality? I come to church. Isn’t that filling the void? I like what the Minister says. I feel connected to the people. I get involved in all the wonderful Social Action projects the congregation participates in. Aren’t we all about “Deeds Not Creeds?” I am doing those deeds! I am living up to my idea of Unitarian Universalism! Why do I need to delve deeper? I feel good about helping others. I am contributing and living my values. I am leading by example. Hopefully those pesky questions will just disappear and people will just see that I am good person without all that baggage of creedal spiritual beliefs. I am free and happy!

I think we all realize that life throws us curveballs, though. It is hard to see the grace in a beautiful rainbow when your life is stressed out by work, health, and family and church is just one more thing on the to-do list. Where do you go when you have had enough? What do you fall back on when you need strength and hope? For more creedal religions, it is easy to turn towards scriptural doctrine. Just have faith! God has a plan! What do you do, though, if you aren’t sure you have faith? Where do you go when you just don’t know? How do you answer your child’s need to feel secure in something?

Spending time nurturing your spiritual side can lead us to be more centered, happier, able to handle stress better and lead a more meaningful life. We only get one chance at this life, why not make it the most fulfilling it can be? Jeanne Nieuwejaar, in her book The Gift of Faith, notes that “spiritual well-being, hope, faith, and inner peace all contribute to physical well-being. It has been well documented that people we are devout, who are clear in their faith, who are meaningfully connected to religious communities, and who are actively engaged in prayer or meditation recover more quickly and fully from serious illness and injuries.” The Rev. Barbara Wells observes that her spiritual practices helps her “stay centered on who I am, why I am here, and what I am to do. I believe I am a better person because of the spiritual path I have chosen.” Thus, not only does an active spiritual practice provide practical benefits, it also helps fill that deep need for greater meaning in our lives. Who wouldn’t want this?

I need to take a moment here and also make a special appeal to parents. You are your child’s primary religious educator. Sending them to Sunday School is just one small aspect of nurturing their spiritual development. We only have them for, at the max, forty hours a year. Where are they the rest of the time? With you, friends, family and a million other outside influences. Children are innately spiritual beings. Whether you help guide them or not, they will find answers to their questions. I remember a spiritual crisis I had when I was thirteen. All of a sudden it dawned on me that I was just an insignificant speck in the universe. It was a full blown existential crisis in the middle of South Dakota! I would have loved it if my parents had been open to theological discussions. I think it would have provided a lot of comfort that summer. Nieuwejaar states, “parents should take seriously their own religious grounding, their own religious education, their own spiritual nurture.” Only then can we provide our children with a deep, unified faith that will follow them to adulthood. It is yet another reason to purse spiritual development and practice.

Exploring spirituality and establishing a spiritual practice can seem daunting. Does it require special equipment? Do I have to walk in the woods and commune with nature? Do I have to pray every night? The beauty of spiritual practice is that there is no one size fits all. There are many ways to delve into your spirituality. The Rev. Scott Alexander considers spiritual practice to be any regular, intentional activity that serves to significantly deepen the quality and content of your relationship with the miracle of life.
Rev. Wells broadens this thought to include three components: personal devotion, finding a mentor, and worshipping in communion.

I find these definitions really encompass what I believe is important to spiritual development. To me, personal devotion has to be regular. Now regular could mean once a day, once a week or once a month. Something that is consistent. Many find prayer and meditation are invaluable. Others may find their morning run to be the most spiritual part of the day, while others journal in the evening. When was the last time you heard silence and could just be alone with your thoughts? In our over connected world, we are often hard pressed just to be alone. I challenge you all to find just ten minutes in your day to devote to some sort of spiritual activity. These can be the above mentioned ideas or uniquely your own, but something that brings you more deeply into yourself. If you are feeling that you need some more guidance, participate in an Adult Religious Education class. I have taken many of these (and I believe Rev. V. will be offering on in the fall) and have found them wonderful starting points in my personal mediation and prayers. Remember, there is no one prescribed way!

Rev. Wells also suggests finding a mentor. When I read that, I wondered what exactly is a spiritual mentor? Then I realized that I have had several religious mentors, but I considered them friends and hadn’t thought of them in those terms. To me, a spiritual mentor is someone I can freely bounce off spiritual ideas. They challenge me and question my thoughts. They listen to me and I listen to them. There is no right or wrong, but just an ongoing dialogue of discovery. Hopefully the mentoring is mutual and you both deepen and broaden your spiritual practice. Mentors can be found at church, in Chalice Circles or even friends of different faith traditions. I have even found some of mine through a theological book club that meets every couple of months! You may be surprised in how much you learn when you put yourself and your beliefs out there. The discussions can be quite dynamic and enlightening.

Finally, worshipping in community is one of the best ways to deepen and discover your spirituality. Coming together in the spirit of communion connects us to the greater whole. We are not alone in this world. Our lives have greater meaning and worshiping together helps us realize that larger focus. We are in this together. We celebrate together and mourn together. We grow and love together. Whether we are in a church, conference or retreat, coming together nurtures our souls and is as important as individual practice. While spirituality can be deeply personal, being with people who support your choices can be very life-affirming.

I have briefly listed three aspects of developing a spiritual practice, but I want to reiterate that there is no right path. There are as many paths as there are people. The path you choose now, may not be the one you need later in life. Almost every great spiritual leader has explored many different ways to their spirituality. The Buddha is an excellent example of going from one extreme practice to finding enlightenment in the middle way. It is okay to try several different methods. If journaling doesn’t work for you, try yoga. Just make sure to give it some time. Spiritual enlightenment doesn’t happen overnight (if it happens at all). Like most things, it takes practice and commitment.

Lastly, start small. Make little changes at first. A spiritual practice is not an all or nothing venture. One small thing my family does is light a chalice at dinner time and say a grace. The chalice connects us to our faiths tradition while the grace helps instill gratitude for the food we are about to eat. I especially like this tradition because it demands that we all be at the table, settled, and focused. It also, in a small way, helps the children connect with their own spirituality. It is a sacred moment for our family. Spirituality and spiritual practice are life long pursuits that begin when we are born.

In your order of service, I have included some Spiritual homework. I encourage you take a moment to reflect on some of the ideas I have listed and choose one to put into practice. My hope is for all of you to live the most meaningful life possible. We may never be able to answer all of life’s hard questions, but we do all have a soul that needs to be filled. Whether you choose to fill it is up to you, but the benefits of a happier more centered life are hard to ignore. Please give this gift to yourself and family. You deserve it!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Late/Early

This cute little boy was SEVEN days late. Seven days where the average temperature in St. Louis was 100 degrees. I had pretty much given up any hope that he would ever make an appearance. I had mentally resigned myself to being forever pregnant and uncomfortable. So much so, that when I finally went into labor, I didn't believe it. I just thought I had ate some really bad food. Husband had to convince me to go to the hospital (even though I was almost doubled over in pain). It was three in the morning and I didn't want to go out and I especially didn't want him to call his parents to come and watch Daughter! Insist he did and a few hours later he was born. Then a year of colic progressed and a borderline "failure to thrive" diagnosis. He weaned himself at nine months on a car trip to Pennsylvania. I sometimes wonder how we made it through that year, but we did.

And what a difference time makes! Today he is NINE!!!! He is never late for anything. In fact, he is the first up and the first ready. He gets things done quicker then anyone. His brain is constantly working solving problems. You can almost see the wheels turning. He is compassionate and caring (although this doesn't always extend to his little brother ;-). His love of animals is amazing. I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a veterinarian. That is, if engineering doesn't get him first. He has an awesome sly sense of humor and quirky smile. We are so lucky that he is part of our lives. I love you, J! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Prayer

Last night I was working on my sermon for this weekend. It revolves around developing your own spiritual practice. I wanted to give some examples on ways to bring this into your life and suggested prayer. This got me thinking about all the prayers I know "by heart." Thanks to my Catholic upbringing, I can reflexively say the Our Father and Hail Mary. With some help I can say the Apostle's Creed and, on a small scale, know several dinner graces. When I think of Catholic prayers, I think of these. I know prayer's don't have to follow any pre-described plan and are often free flowing, but it got me thinking, what is a UU prayer? We quote lots of poets and wise people, but what would be a traditional UU prayer? What could I say when I just need to focus my mind and enjoy the flow of the words? I think I will again be demonstrating my conservative UU nature by wishing that we had some sanctioned prayers - ones that our children begin to memorize at an early age and that will stay with them through adulthood. Our diverse nature will probably prevent this from happening, but are we missing out? I know many bristle at the thought of losing our congregational nature, but why not make a few touch points that connect us all together? Sometimes I wish we could just push our need to be so open and individualistic aside and work together to make this religion more cohesive and unifying.