November 19


By iquillen

When I came to Marsh Chapel during my freshman year, I quickly became known for being the person who was always cleaning up after community dinner. It didn’t matter how many dishes were involved, nor the amount of effort needed to clean everything. At some point during the meal I would get up, head over to the kitchen, grab a sponge and some soap, and start running water.

When most people ask, “What do you like doing in your spare time?”, I imagine cleaning isn’t a frequently-heard answer. To be honest, I don’t recall ever answering this myself. The acts of washing, straightening, tidying, vacuuming, and reorganizing can be chores, things that are not pleasant to do but are more or less necessary, depending on what people find tolerable in a living space.

And yet, I find something incredibly satisfying in the simple act of washing. Perhaps the satisfaction comes from watching effort produce visible results: if you scrub hard enough, usually the food and residue will go away. I say usually because the one time I had to clean a rice cooker was, for lack of a better word, involved. Or maybe it’s because in order to clean something, you almost always have to be willing to get dirty in the process. If only all problems were that easy to solve.

It’s difficult to come to terms with the events that have happened worldwide, in the U.S., and on campus this past week. It is also disheartening to acknowledge that there isn’t a lot I can do, as an individual, to heal the pain and suffering that has arisen from them. And so often, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the tragedy and grief that the world and one’s peers are experiencing.

One of the most challenging things I’ve had to accept about ministry is that sometimes, the most we can do to help is be present. As much as I can wash the grime away from dishes, I can’t wash away the marks left behind by violence and tragedy, no matter how much water and soap I use. But I can bear witness to the tragedy and not be complacent. I can listen to the stories of those around me, and lend support where I am able to. And most importantly, I can tend to myself to make sure I am able to do all of these things. As we move through the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I encourage you to be present for yourself and for others as much as you are able. Let us be present so that with time and healing, the marks that have been left on the world recently will slowly be washed clean.

November 18


By cbjones8

In light of all of the things that have been happening, it can be difficult to find the light.

People all over the world have died, terrible deaths.  Earthquakes, terrorist attacks, shootings, bombings, all make it hard to cope with the day to day.  On top of that fear makes everyone a little bit crazy.

Finals are approaching and students everywhere are feeling the weight of racial divides, exams, world terror, studying, paying bills, and the stress of the approaching holidays.

I am definitely feeling the pressure.

But then something really amazing happens.

This morning, my sister brought a tiny human, 6lbs 15 oz, into this Chaotic world.  Kaya Gadell.  My niece has finally arrived, healthy, and happy.  Mommy is tired and doing well.  I can not wait to meet her.

In the chaos of all that is happening, a miracle has happened in my life.  A tiny, precious, little miracle.

It reminds me of the value and the beauty of all human life.  People opening their homes for people in Paris.  Some states here in America are opening their borders to the refugees who so desperately need somewhere safe to go.  Not everything is doom and gloom.  Sometimes in the worst of times the best of humanity shines through.  And that, that gives me hope.  Amen.

November 12

My Faith and My Body

By jdingus

Tonight at my first official event as president of the Interfaith Council at BU, I moderated a panel discussion called Faith and the Body. In this discussion people from a couple of different faith backgrounds came together to talk about the intersection of our religious and spiritual lives with our human, body-having lives. One of the questions I asked was, “Do you think your religion has affected your body image?” The topic of Body Image is really important to me, and so I decided I would answer that question in my blog post.

Like, I would guess, a good 80 to 90 to 100% of women in the US I’ve definitely struggled with my body image. I have always been fat. I was a fat little kid and I’m a fat adult. (I’m trying to reclaim the word “fat.” It’s an accurate description of my body composition, but not a projection of my self worth or inherent value as a person.) As a child I was always the fattest and the tallest of any of the kids in my classes. I started noticing that I was getting bigger than adults by age 10. I was never able to shop at the stores that my friends shopped at, because I was wearing women’s clothing by middle school. I was fortunate not to have been teased very much growing up. (I know a lot of children experience hateful amounts of bullying, and I’m privileged to have avoided most of that) But I do remember the boy who called me a whale in 5th grade, the doctor who has shamed my body so incessantly that I basically refuse to go to the doctor now, and the parents and relatives who put their own body shame on me, making me feel disgusting; like I was too big, and too awkward all the time, like my body didn’t fit in and was never good enough.

I buried a lot of that stuff, under humor and confidence, good grades and eyeliner. I was determined to ignore the voices in my head that told me I was ugly, that no boy would ever like me, that I wouldn’t get to have friends and jobs and a future because of my fat. I wanted to be better than the people who cared about other people’s perceptions of their bodies. And so, I threw myself into schoolwork, friends, and my church life.

Right when all the body-image stuff got the hardest, middle school and early high school, was when I really began to explore my faith. Up until that point church was just where my mom worked, and where all of my friends were. It became the place where I knew how much people loved me. It was the place where adults told me I was smart, and also beautiful. It was the place where I was passionate and where my gifts met the community’s needs. I started craving Unitarian Universalism. Joining committees, going to youth cons, leading worship services, singing in choirs; I jumped into everything. And as I really stepped into my own, it stopped mattering to me, what people thought of my body. I was 100% safe, and my heart was the valuable part not my waist. Unitarian Universalism made me, in so many ways. I owe it my confidence, and my abilities. And as I have gotten older I’ve won back my ability to love my body.

A friend of mine said, that they had always known the 1st principle of Unitarian Universalism, the inherent worth and dignity of every person, applied to all people. But it had taken them a lot longer to remember that that principle got to apply to them too. I learned that I had, and had always had worth and dignity. I internalized that my body has worth and dignity. I began to believe that the light of the divine lives in me, like inside of my body. And if there is divinity in this body, then the imperfect parts, the fat and the stretch marks and the double chin, that I hated, have divinity in them too. I am enough. And my body is more than enough. It’s the only body I have, and the only one I’m ever going to get, and it is beautiful and holy. I won’t hate it anymore.

November 11

Through the Looking Glass

By iquillen

During our weekly Marsh Associates meeting on Monday evening, Soren asked us to try an exercise. We took a field trip to the law school building and went to the Law School Cafe. Our assignment, on the surface, was simple: find a place to sit down, observe someone for ten minutes, and see what we could learn about them.

I decided to observe a pair of women who were sitting across from each other. As they chatted over open books and laptops, I started asking myself a few questions: Who are these two people? Friends? Roommates? Classmates? How did they meet for the first time? From the smiles I glimpsed on one of their faces, they seemed to be relatively close. Between glances at books and laptops they laughed as they talked. Perhaps they were classmates who were preparing for an upcoming exam. Although I couldn’t hear what they said, the conversation seemed to flow naturally.

Those were some of the details that I was able to observe. The depth of these two women’s lives, however, extends far beyond what I could simply see in that short period of time. Each one of them presumably has her own life, deep with experiences, perspectives, and thoughts. Perhaps they were thinking about whatever it was they had to do the next day. Perhaps they were just enjoying the moment, casually talking about some shared story or event. Or maybe they were wondering why some random person was watching them from several feet away, as I myself was probably being watched by some other people.

There is an idea in philosophy called solipsism, the idea that what one experiences is all that can be known to exist. In other words, what we see, think, perceive, and experience is all that we know of ourselves and the world around us. I don’t particularly agree with this point of view. We constantly pass by people each day who have meaningful life stories, and an inner life probably as rich and complex as our own. Just because we can’t see that doesn’t mean it does not exist.

I may not have been able to learn the life stories of the two women I saw a few nights ago. That’s a tall order for someone who’s known a person even for a long time, let alone ten minutes. The small details that I was able to perceive, though, gave some room for imagination about what these people’s lives are like. The act of observation gives room for imagination, which can ultimately help us brush against the depth of other people’s lives. That is a skill worth practicing. While this exercise may have been awkward and uncomfortable to do, it helped me better appreciate the fact that we are not alone with our thoughts in this world. It brought me just a little closer to breaking through the looking glass into another person’s life.

November 11

Poem Prayers

By kmshultz

At Holden Village, the Lutheran retreat center where my family has lived for over five years, we join together in worship every day. As a result, we are able to explore a variety of styles and formats of worship services. One of these forms is ‘praying the headlines.’ Essentially, someone reads a few headlines about things going on in the world—both abroad and at home. In between each headline, we sing a verse of a hymn or a chant, for example ‘Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying.’ I found this practice very meaningful. For one thing, given our remote location and limited contact with the outside world, it was a reminder of what was going on outside our little valley. But it was also a way of sitting in prayer together for the world, for the country, for the state, for our valley, for people near and far.

This month, a dear friend from Holden has started a website called This Week in Poetry in which she posts poems centered around a headline in the news. It’s a way to focus in on what’s happening right now in the world and an effort to create poetry that speaks to what’s going on right now. Like our news headline vespers services, the poems others have submitted have drawn my attention to stories I would never have seen on my own. And I have found that writing my own poems for the site has become a form of prayer. Similar to the practice of praying in color, where drawing and embellishing around a person or word held in prayer is a way of focusing in on a prayer, writing these poems have been my way of simply spending time with the people or places I’m writing about and lifting them up for others to spend time with as well. And whereas my regular prayers often just turn into lists of things I’m thankful for or lists of things that I want to pray for, my poem prayers hold the emotions I feel while I’m dwelling in prayer on an issue—joy, anguish, outrage, pride, wonder, anger, tranquility.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines prayer as “a solemn request to God…a supplication or thanksgiving addressed to God.” But I don’t like that definition—it makes prayer sound stuffy and more like writing a legal document to God than anything else. Prayer can be so many more things than a solemn request—it can be a bubbling over of joy, a sharp jab of anger, a crushing load of questions, a quick check-in, a settling into silence, a splash of color. Prayer can be our poem to God.

Lord, listen to your children praying. Lord, send your spirit in this place. Lord, listen to your children praying. Send us love, send us power, send us grace.

November 11

So much to do…

By cbjones8

As I enter into the second wave of endless assignments that pile on top of each other I am beginning to be filled with anxiety.  The 24 credit course load has certainly taken it’s toll.  It is pretty okay, except when I have major assignments due in all 6 classes all within about three days of each other.  Chaos then ensues.  I made it through the first wave of chaos and came out with grades I was proud of, and I survived.  There were many tears and many nights when I wasn’t sure there was any way in the world I could get everything done in time.  But it happened, I did it.

But now it is happening again.  I did it once, I can do it again.  There is a reassuring confidence that I am just starting to find.  I have made it this far, I can make it to the end of the semester.    I am almost there.  I am running a marathon and have maybe seven miles to go.  I can do this.

If there is one thing I have learned through all of this is that self care, and time for prayer are critical.  I know that there will be seasons in ministry where it feels like everything is falling apart all at once and so much of me is needed.  It feels like that sometimes for me now.

I have found that if I take time to run or to exercise, and I take time to pray, things are just a little bit easier.  I pray for focus and patience with myself.  I pray for clarity.  I pray for calm, that I might not get so overwhelmed that I can not do those things I am needed to do.

We have five weeks to go.  I can do this.  Not on my own. With the help and support of my loved ones and friends, and more importantly with divine help.  The power of prayer is great, and no request is too small.  Lord, help me make it through these next weeks with patience, clarity, and strength. May we all survive and thrive during the last weeks of the semester. This is the final stretch. Amen.

November 5

It’s Enough

By jdingus

I’m feeling all of the feelings right now. I’m tired, and overwhelmed with all of my classes and commitments. I’m so unbelievably excited about graduating soon and applying for Divinity school, and yet I’m a little terrified about this next big step in my life. I’m struggling to keep up with all of things I’ve promised to people, and I’m worried about disappointing people. It’s November, and it’s been over 2 months since I’ve seen my mom or my best friend, so I’m home sick. Basically I’m excited, happy, sleepy, terrified, confused, anxious, joyful, and about 400 other emotions. And all of these feelings are making me doubt myself just a little.

Last night at Sanctuary we sang, Rickie Byars Beckwith’s song We Let It Be. These are the lyrics:

We let the love wash over us, we let, we let it be”

I’m trying to use them as a mantra for this turbulent time in my life. I know that I’m feeling a lot, and doing a lot. I know that everything that I do right now is important. (That’s a lot of pressure) And I know that people depend on me to do the things I’ve promised. But what I’m trying to remind myself is that more than just depending on me, and needing things from me, and setting expectations for me, there are a lot of people in my life who love me. And as I feel everything; as my mind races around, flitting from one idea to the next, as I make list after list of the things that I need to get done. These people who love me are there unconditionally. That’s what the divine looks like, it’s the unconditional love that surrounds me and reminds me that even when I’m feeling out of control I’m loved. I’m trying so hard to let that love wash over me. As I do everything that I can do. And when I mess up, when I fall short, when I should have written this blog post two days ago and it’s going up right now. I have to let it be. There is a love that surrounds me in the form of my community, and that has always been enough.

November 4

Day of the Dead

By iquillen

Death has been a recurring theme over the past week. On the one hand, Halloween surrounded us with constant reminders of it: you didn’t have to look very far to find skeletons, ghosts, and grim reapers wandering about the streets. These may be costumes, but they certainly resonate with the origins of Halloween, Samhain. This Gaelic festival marks the day when the spiritual world comes closest to the physical world, and the time when the souls of the dead return to the realm of the living.

On the other hand, the next day was Dia de muertos, the Day of the Dead. This day and its traditions originating from Mexico honor and celebrate those who have passed on from this life. The Mexican Students Association hosted a Day of the Dead celebration on Sunday evening in the basement of Marsh chapel. Several dozens of people gathered in the Marsh room over food, conversation, and the festivities of the day. A table had been set up, decorated with skulls and pictures people had placed of individuals who had passed away.

One picture in particular caught my attention as I looked at the photos and images. It was a picture of a young man who resembled a student who lived on my floor during my freshman year. When we were away on spring break, he was killed in Mexico City, his home. I remember hearing the news at first from friends who were posting on Facebook in response to his death. I remember the shock, the inability to speak or cry or respond to this loss of a person that I knew and saw regularly.

As I stood before this photograph that reminded me so much of him, a new sensation crept in among the liveliness and uplifting mood of the evening. The sensation was bittersweet, almost as if a cloud had silently passed by and settled over where I was standing. My words alone wouldn’t nearly do justice in attesting to the life that he lived, nor in describing the person that he was.

Still, the moment I saw the photograph and thought of him was a poignant reminder of how we as humans respond to death and loss. Grief and shock are emotions that weigh all too heavily on us when we are mourning loss. More difficult, still, are the continuous reminders of a person that is no longer present. I believe Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem phrases it pointedly in her poem, “Dirge Without Music”:

“The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.”

Remembrance of loss can be as painful as the loss itself. And yet, I had to remind myself that the evening was meant to remember and celebrate the life of those who have died. That isn’t always easy, especially when we are mourning. The dead never completely die, not for as long as we remember them.

It seems fitting that the Gospel reading from this past Sunday was the death and resurrection of Lazarus. The image of the stone being pushed aside and Lazarus emerging in his bandages is evocative of the eventual resurrection of Christ. Unfortunately, I know of no instance where a person has miraculously been resurrected. But I do know that death, as well as life, is a transition. As my fellow Marsh Associate Courtney said in her blog post, grieving for loss is okay. It is okay to recognize that in the present moment, life does not feel fine, and that it may not feel fine for a very long time. One can acknowledge that few spoken words can comfort, and that there isn’t much anyone can do to help. In time, though, by remembering and honoring that which was, perhaps we can begin the transition to life after loss. With time, perhaps we can transition to life after death.

November 4

Renewing Waters

By kmshultz

At Holden Village, the Lutheran retreat center where my family will live for 19 more days, we have a summer theme around which to organize our programming. Every Monday, our vespers service revolves around the theme and one of the visiting teaching staff will give a homily about that theme and the passage it comes from. Three years ago, in the summer of 2012, our summer theme was ‘Where the River Flows, Life Abounds.’ This phrase was taken from Ezekiel 47, where Ezekiel is describing a vision he had of the temple and a man shows Ezekiel a river that flows from the temple and brings life and renewal to everything that it touches. It was a nice passage and very apt in our situation because the village was in the middle of an enormous remediation project to clean up the water leaking through the waste piles from the old copper mine and into the creek. In the midst of heavy construction and a creek coated with heavy metals, the image of a renewing river of abundant life was apt. I know that the teaching staff gave thoughtful and meaningful homilies full of images of hope and new life. However, I do not remember any of them. The only thing I do remember is that, as the summer continued, and we continued to hear the same passage week after week, the homilies turned stale. There can be a lot of value to sitting with a specific text over a long period and continually coming back to it because each time, I hear it in a different way. But after three months of the seeing the same people all the time, being limited in where I could go hiking because of the preponderance of heavy machinery, and just being tired of summer, all the water metaphors and imagery in the homilies came to sound exactly the same and the Ezekiel passage became meaningless, the waters stagnant.

The only vespers that I do remember from that summer is when our artist-in-residence led the Monday Theme Vespers. She started by saying that she was sick and tired of hearing about water flowing and life abounding. So instead of delivering a homily full of more water metaphors and messages of renewal, she set a bowl of candles on the altar and we sat there watching the blue silks draped from the ceiling undulate and dance and flow as the heat from the candles wafted up to them. It was a simple gesture, but as we sat there, mesmerized by the water-like movements of the silks, we felt renewed. Even though the silks had been there all summer, we finally took the time to look and them, allowing us to experience the theme in a new way and once again engage with a text that had become tired to our ears.

This is the kind of renewal that I have wanted to bring to the vespers services at Marsh. I love the 11 am Interdenominational service, but sometimes it becomes routine and I zone out or the words feel tired. Sometimes, I need to sit at a table strewn with colored pencils, markers, and crayons and spend ten minutes drawing my prayers. Sometimes I need to share a meal with fellow seekers, laughing and talking and thinking within the frame of the communion meal. Sometimes I need to sing familiar words that remind me of a community that embraced me for six years of my life. Sometimes I need to sit in silence and not worry about the radio broadcast. Sometimes I need to hear the same text three times in a row before I can pick out the phrases that God is speaking to me. Sometimes I need something different, something that pulls me out of my routine, something that helps me see the undulations that the Spirit is causing all around me. Something that helps me see God.

November 4

Grief is hard. That’s okay.

By cbjones8

This past week one of my close friends lost a dear and beloved family member.  It has been hard, as it always is when someone we love leaves us.

As I sat with her and held her hand I thought about what I wanted to say.  Pastor type people always know what to say.

Then for a moment I reflected on all of the things people had said to me over the years after I had lost a loved one.  I realized that the pastor who helped me the most just sat with me, held me, and let me cry.

I looked at my friend and I said, I don’t have any magic words.  I don’t think I can say anything to really help.  This sucks, and it is allowed to suck.  It is going to suck for a while, and that is okay.  I am here for you.

So often when people are sad we want to help.  We want to say something, anything to make them feel better.  Unfortunately, those sayings do not actually make anyone feel better.

“Everything happens for a reason”

“They are in a better place now”

“God needed another angel in heaven”

I only remember the anger that I felt for people as they offered me condolences.  When I was 16 one of my Best Friends Bobby died from a rare heart condition in his sleep.  17 year olds don’t die for a reason.  I don’t care if he is in a better place I want him here with me.

Last April my Dear Friend Autumn Jenkins was struck and killed by a drunk driver.  God has plenty of angels, why did my friend have to go?

Grief is hard. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just sit with that, and sit with our loved ones who are grieving.  Excusing away the reality of the pain does not help us deal with it.

Grief is hard and that is okay.   Amen.